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More background from Elwyn Souter (with permission to post)

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  • gilliansouthoz
    1. The tendency with farms was to leave it to the eldest son. Daughters were expected to marry, and be provided for that way, but the other sons were expected
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2013
      1. The tendency with farms was to leave it to the eldest son. Daughters were expected to marry, and be provided for that way, but the other sons were expected to leave and make their own way in the world because it was not common to subdivide small Irish farms. There are exceptions to all these rules. You will see farms with 3 brothers working together and sometimes the eldest son doesn't want the farm. And I have seen farms split between two brothers. And so on. But as a general rule it explains why so many young men left.
      2. In your case the family had a reasonably viable farm on good land, and so they were not being forced to leave by the famine. Just that probably the opportunities elsewhere seemed a lot better to them. (Who would disagree? You never get a day off when you are a farmer).
      3. I have read the minutes of Antrim town workhouse during the 1840s famine, and they make interesting reading. The potatoes were blighted the same as in the rest of Ireland but it is evident that most farmers there were growing other crops eg oats and barley, and actually were getting bumper crops those years. So that's why I say that most of Antrim wasn't the same as other parts of Ireland where they grew only potatoes, on smaller farms with poorer quality land. There are some interesting documents too in the Earl of Antrim's records at PRONI. I found one report to him from his estate manager, regarding the small farms in the Glens of Antrim. There the occupants had been growing only potatoes and the estate manager reported that he had specifically warned them against the folly of doing so. He suggested they grow turnips and other similar vegetables. They tenants responded by saying that you get more potatoes to the acre than any other crop, so they would stick with them and carry the risk. (And of course we know now that growing potatoes in the same soil year after year exhausts the soil and so they were facing disaster for that reason too). It's not necessarily a popular viewpoint but I do feel that a little of the blame for the starvation during the famine rests with tenants who ignored those warnings. (The famine itself was a natural disaster and no-one is to blame for that, but the British Government's response to it was ineffective and shameful. But that's another story).
      4. Older people tended not to want to emigrate unless it was essential (which I don't think it was in your case). That's why I suspect that James Johnston will have stayed and died in Ireland. (Even today, if you think about people who have emigrated from Australia to the US or Europe, you don't see too many elderly people going. They don't like it. I don't think it was much different in the 1860s).
      5. Where there were two people farming near each other at the same time (as in your case) they were often related. I would suspect therefore that the other Johnston farm was the same family. However proving that may be tricky if the church records don't go back far enough.
      6. But you have the exact locations of the farms on the Griffiths maps. If should return to Derrykeighan you can ensure you go to the right one. The smaller ag labourers' cottages will usually either have been demolished or converted into stores. The tendency nowadays is to knock the whole lot down and build a nice new modern building though which disappoints some visitors.
      7. Quizzing people in the area can have mixed results. Most of them only know back to their grandparents and so quite often say they are not connected to family X when the truth is they are simply unaware of the connection.
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