The McGoogins of Armoy,
by John H. McGuckin
Our ancestors of the nineteenth century were great correspondents. Letters containing family news sped back and forth across the Atlantic faster and more often than we imagine. Thousands of Irish immigrants sent news and money to those who remained in Ireland, often urging them to forsake the Old Country for the opportunities of the New World. Their relatives throughout Ireland reciprocated with lengthy descriptions of conditions on the family farm, in the local village.
Unfortunately, all too often the surviving portions of this correspondence are one-sided. Such is the case in a series of letters uncovered by Sherrill McGoogan of Portland, Oregon.1 This article quotes extensively from these letters, which provide an interesting and at times moving vision of the life in the parish of Armoy in north County Antrim, in the last half of the nineteenth century. Supplemented by data drawn from research in American sources, these letters present a personal view of a family of Irish immigrants and those they left behind.
In 1888, two years before the last of the surviving letters was written, Armoy was described in George Henry Bassett's Guide and Directory of Antrim as 'a prettily situated village' about six miles south-west of Ballycastle. Located on the railroad from Ballycastle to Ballymoney the land was 'fairly good' for dairy farming and tillage, with oats, potatoes and flax the principal crops. In 1881, the year after John McGoogan abandoned his farm, the village's population was 306.2
Although there were not any McGoogan families in Armoy in 1888, families with a surname pronounced something like 'McGoogan' had lived in this area of County Antrim since at least the reign of James I. On January 1, 1608, King James granted a pardon to a group of Irish rebels including men from Kilmachevet, County Antrim. Among those pardoned were Dionysius McGuiggin, Donell 0 Grougen and Eugene Crone McGyngen.3 At the time of the Hearth Money Survey of 1663 in Armoy parish, John McGugin and Manus McGugin, probably brothers, lived in separate, but neighbouring, hearths.4
It is probable that these McGugins were descended from Scottish planters: MacGougan or MacGugan is a recognized Scottish surname,5 and the McGoogans of Armoy were clearly Presbyterian. Still, there remains a possibility that the McGugins migrated to County Antrim from other, neighbouring counties of Ulster. 'McGugin' stems from a Gaelic linguistic root which was anglicized into numerous variants in Ireland, including McGoogan and McGuckin.6 Several recorded McGuckins lived in Antrim in 1663, Murt McGuckian in Belfast and Daniel McGokan in Multas, near Larne.7 It is possible that, during the Plantation era, some of the McGuckins who lived in and around Ballinderry parish in Counties Deny and Tyrone may have migrated from the western shore of Lough Neagh, across the River Bann, into Antrim. B.S. Turner suggests such a possibility for the McCaughans, another family living in Armoy parish.8 However, whatever the resolution of this debate, it seems clear that the McGoogin family under consideration here stemmed, at least in the latter part of the eighteenth century, from John McClure McGoogan, who was born in Scotland.
After the 1663 survey the next reference to possible McGoogins in the neighbourhood of Armoy is found in the Flaxgrowers Bounty Lists of the Irish Linen Board (copy available in the PRONI). Prepared in 1796, the survey lists Hugh and James McGoogin in the nearby parish of Loughguile. Neal Mecaughan lived in Armoy.
The Tithe Applotment Survey for Armoy parish, taken in 1831, evidences seven McGoogan holdings in the parish. The largest tenancy was held by John McGoogan of Crockathenagh. His 31-acre farm, valued at more than £11, had formerly belonged to Patrick McGoogan, who was probably his deceased father, Alexander McGoogan, perhaps a brother or an uncle, lived on an 11-acre farm in the same townland. Other McGoogans lived nearby: Brian McGoogan had a 10-acre farm in the townland of Altcrinagh, James McGougan a 3-acre parcel in Ballybregagh and Duncan McGoogan a 6-acre parcel in Balleny. John McGoogan farmed 8 acres in Ballykinver, in addition perhaps, to another 8 acres in the same townland formerly leased to J. Montgomery. This second farm was listed in the survey as being held by 'J McGoogan'.
By the time of the Valuation Survey in the early 1860s, there had been major consolidation among the McGoogan holdings. Only two members of the family still leased land in Armoy parish; the other McGoogan families had either died in the Famine or migrated. James McGoogan, who was probably James McGougan of Ballybregagh in 1831, leased the largest property of 50 acres and a house, valued at £31, from George Macartney in the townland of Knocknahinch. Nearby lived Andrew M'Googan, who can be identified from the correspondence as either James' brother or nephew. Andy leased a 'house' without an 'office' from Robert Smith.9 In 1831, Andrew McGoogan lived on a ten-acre farm in Ballybregagh, Loughguile parish. Because he is not listed in the Griffith Valuation Survey of the 1860s either he or his son may have abandoned the farm and taken up residence close to the rest of the family in Armoy.
James McGoogan of Knocknahinch was born in Dumfries, Scotland, in 1786. We do not know when he came to Ireland or, in fact, whether he came from a family which migrated between the Scottish borderlands and the north of Ireland. He married Jane Campbell, who was born in Ireland, in 1793. She was the daughter of James Campbell and Mary McClure. The McClures were, of course, another prolific Ulster family.10 Although family research indicates that Jane was born in Ireland, their oldest son, John McClure McGoogan, was born on November 3, 1821 in Dumfries, Scotland.
Two additional sons, Samuel Hugh and Hugh, were born during the 1820s, perhaps before James returned to Ireland to begin to farm in Armoy, During the Famine era, both the younger boys emigrated to the United States. The United States immigration records contain two records which, while not precisely on point, may be the two brothers. A Samuel McGuggan arrived in New York City on July 8, 1842, on board the New Zealand. He gave his age as 17, four years younger than Samuel McGoogan of Knocknahinch would have been. Hugh McGugan, age 20, arrived from Belfast in New York City on the Charlotte on July 28, 1848.
Whether or not these immigration records are the McGoogan brothers, Samuel undoubtedly sent for his younger brother, who followed him to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There both of them found work in the coal mines. Hugh married a woman named Nancy shortly after he arrived in America. By the time of the first of the surviving letters from Knocknahinch in 1860, he had three daughters: Jane, born in 1851/2, Sarah in 1855/6 and Mary in 1857/8.
Samuel married Almira Ann Christy of Pittsburgh on February 5, 1857. Almira had been born in Pennsylvania, probably in Pittsburgh. During the 1860 census, she gave her age as 30, putting her birthdate in 1829/30, making her only 17 or 18 years old when she married Samuel and only a year older when their son James Campbell was born on July 8, 1858. In Ireland, the oldest McGoogan son, John McClure, lived with his parents on the family farm in Knocknahinch