The McGoogins of Armoy,
by John H. McGuckin
John's next letter to his brother Samuel is dated 17 February, 11878. The Irish branch of the family had changed during the intervening years as well. The letter reports the death of their father James, in his nineties, on 11 February, 1878, after a three-week illness, 'sensible to the last'. The burial took place on 13 February. James had died with John at his side. John wrote, '[F]or the space of 5 or 6 hours before his departure he prayed all the time and I prayed with him and we sang a psalm to him.'
The letter also discloses that Jane Campbell McGoogan had died at some time before 21 July, 11877, when John's daughter Ellen was born. By this time, John and Mary McGoogan had had eight children in 15 years. James Campbell was born on 21 May, 1862, Samuel McClure on 3 October, 11863, John on 1 November, 11865, Hugh on 22 March, 11868, Mary Jane on 28 February, 1871, Margaret Anne on 13 April, 1873, George on 31 July, 1874, and Ellen in 1877.
James, the family patriarch, could not have died at a worse time. John wrote, 'I have to tell you that we are all but broke and I fear very much we will have to sell out. This last year was a very bad one. There was almost no crops at all of any kind by reason of the continual rains'. He solicited his brother's advice on whether to emigrate or not. 'I am in great trouble,' he confided, but he estimated that he would clear a hundred pounds if he sold his leasehold to the farm. Nonetheless, he was worried that this would not be sufficient to bring him and his large family to America. By July, 1878, when he wrote again, John had decided 'to try another year or two'. In a lengthy letter, dated 24 July, 1878, he responded to a letter from Fayette dated 6 July. The mail was surprising fast between Ireland and the United States in the 1870s
John described to his brother something of his life on the family farm in north Antrim. As in many Irish families, John had known little about the family's business affairs while his parents were alive. In fact, it appears that his mother handled all the bills and kept them secret from both her husband and her son. Life had been hardly easy for the eldest son, living with his aged parents. He told his brothers in America, I must tell you that whilst [our] parents lived they would have everything their own way. There was nothing for me but work and for the last 9 or 10 years servants' wages grew so high and servants grew so impudent that for at least the last years they [John and Jane] would have none of them but you could not expect that a farm such as ours could be laboured auit required with so little help.
Adhering to his parents' wishes, John refused to hire servants to help him on the farm, waiting until his sons were old enough to work in the fields. The price he had to pay for domestic tranquility with his parents was that 'all the labor devolved on me and my children were kept from school to assist me in such light work as they were able for.'
Once Jane McGoogan died and her son finally looked 'into the state of affairs,' he determined to break a firm family rule and borrow. It is bard to determine from John's letter if his father understood what he was doing. John clearly saw disaster staring his family in the face. When the bills came due, they were 'heavier than I was aware of,' he told his brother. Creditors had to be paid and John faced the classic farmer's dilemma: '.. to meet them [the bills] or part of the stock had to be sold reducing the means of making money'. Then, some of the remaining livestock died and the house was 'falling into decay'.
Eventually, John confronted his father with the sorry state of the family's affairs and obtained his permission to borrow. John unsuccessfully approached several sources, including, one presumes, the two banks which were doing business in Ballymoney. Alexander McGugan was cashier of the Ulster Bank branch in Church Street in 1888 and he may have already held this position a decade earlier. If so, he declined to assist his kinsman.
John eventually borrowed £160 at 6% per annum from an attorney in Ballymoney, whom he identifies as agent for the Antrim estate. In 1888, A. McDonald held this post and either he or his predecessor made the loan against the McGoogan tenancy. Like most lenders, he took a healthy percentage of the loan principal, totalling £15, as the costs for making the loan. James assigned his tenant-right to his son John, who, in turn, gave a mortgage on it to the attorney. After all costs were paid, John had little more than £145 left. He used part of the balance to buy three cows , three springing heifers and fifty slates with nails to repair the roof of the house The heifers cost between £9 and £10, 'a very high price' in John's opinion. Fortunately, all three heifers dropped female calves, 'which I look upon as a piece of good fortune and a blessing from God.'
Despite all this, John would have emigrated if his father had not lingered so long in his last illness. Now, the dutiful son felt the pressure to redeem his enormous loan before leaving Ireland. His older boys, who were opposed to leaving Armoy, were capable and willing to work on the farm and the inconvenience of taking the younger children ('who would be very troublesome to take abroad,' according to their father) to America counselled against the long journey.
Personal sorrows and troubles added to John's financial woes. His ten-year-old son Hugh had died suddenly on 21 March. 1875, and John himself had lost the hearing in one ear as the result of a cold which led to complications. He wrote to Samuel that he felt himself to be 'failing' and, then, with the resignation and sense of acceptance typical of many Irish farmers, concluded with:
But what are all the troubles of this life, which is but short, if we have accepted the salvation offered through our Redeemer. We shall despise them all trusting that we will soon attain to a life of perfect happiness where no trouble can assail or any danger affright.