Love, island royalty and local historical colour

18th-century Donegal, the late King of Tory and travel diaries all make good reading

Patsy Dan Rodgers  was adopted by a caring couple on Tory in the late 1940s at the age of four. He became the King of Tory in 1993.

Patsy Dan Rodgers was adopted by a caring couple on Tory in the late 1940s at the age of four. He became the King of Tory in 1993.

 

An insight into life in late 18th-century Donegal is revealed in Love on Inishcoo 1787: A Donegal Romance (Matador, £15) edited by Martin Sheppard. The romance revolves around a series of letters of a young couple, Edmund Cobb Hurry, a merchant from Great Yarmouth, and Eliza Liddell, a governess in charge of five young girls on the remote island of Inishcoo next to Rutland Island in The Rosses.

They were both drawn there by an ambitious plan, based on the red herring, to create an industrial hub and develop a northwest fishery. They fell in love but after just five weeks he was called away to sea through his job and the result was a series of passionate letters between them. Typical of the Romantic period, the letters present an intimate portrait of their lives and sharply observed details on residents of both islands as well as occasional visitors.

Remarkably a total of 51 letters over 13 months have survived, shining a light on an area which was at the centre of a major fishing port. They reflect a range of subjects, graphically documenting the wind and weather, nautical observations and food. The letters cover their feelings, love and separation and show her anxiety for his safety. The story has a happy ending since they married at St Mary’s Church in Putney on the south bank of the Thames on August 20th, 1788, one year after they met.

Fisherman and artist

Another Donegal island, several kilometres north of Inishcoo, is celebrated in The King of Tory: From City to Crag, Patsy Dan Rodgers (Ben Madigan Press, £20) edited by Dr Art Hughes. Rodgers, who was born in Dublin, was adopted by a caring couple on Tory in the late 1940s at the age of four. He was elevated to the position of king in 1993 and died on October 19th this year.

As a fisherman, farmer, artist and musician he fiercely resisted lengthy attempts to have the island abandoned in 1980. Hughes recorded Rodgers in detail, arranging his life thematically around 16 chapters. The book recounts, in both Irish and English, the main events from ships and boats wrecked on Tory, to music and song, the decline of the corncrake and the arrival of the chough. With the help of English artist Derek Hill, who came first to Tory in 1956, the island developed a school of naive painting. Locals brought Hill milk and eggs, as well as mackerel and pollock, and in return he supplied a nip of whiskey.

Ballyhaise census

With an imaginative mix of authoritative articles, Familia Ulster Genealogical & Historical Review No 33 (Ulster Historical Foundation, £15) edited by Trevor Parkhill, presents a bumper edition of 300 pages. Through scholarly and extensive articles, along with 14 separate book reviews, the hungry historian’s curiosity is well sated. One feature focuses on the study of a surviving pre-1901 census return for the parish of Ballyhaise, Co Cavan, in 1821. Most records were destroyed in the burning of the Public Record Office in Dublin’s Four Courts in June 1922, but fragments still existed for roughly 44 per cent of Co Cavan. The census shows that the biggest surprise in the town, then with a population of 726, was the large number employed in construction. The author describes the census return as an almost two-hundred-year-old treasure.

A fascinating story in Familia relates to Charles Coslett’s travel diaries from a journey round Ireland and Britain in the 1790s. Two diaries are held in the archives of St Malachy’s College, Belfast, while the other six are in the Library of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. It is not known how the diaries came to be in the States nor how the first two arrived in St Malachy’s, although research is ongoing.

Coslett recorded his travels on horseback in Ireland, England, Scotland and the Isle of Man from 1793-1795 when he was between 18 and 20. It was a time when Ireland was increasingly threatened by the unrest that would erupt a few years later in the 1798 Rebellion. In the eyes of the author, Hugh O’Neill, Coslett, who was of the landed gentry, was snobbish and enjoyed a social whirl. The diaries are strewn with famous names of Irish history such as John Philpot Curran, Tom Lefroy and Archibald Hamilton Rowan.

The diarist was outspoken in some of his comments on the places through which he passed, offering fragmentary glimpses. He found Newry “a mean one, dirty with narrow streets and bad houses”, while Larne was “a good large sea-port town but contains nothing worth the attention of the traveller”. Belfast was celebrated for the “active, tho’ of late rather violent, part it has always taken in the defence of the Liberties of its Country against the arbitrary hand of a corrupt Government”.

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