We left James and Graham’s fabulous wedding in the morning and set off towards the west of Ireland on the Mulligan’s trail. Jenni’s father has researched their family history and has traced them back to when they left Ireland in around 1860. The Mulligan’s lived in a small village called Castlederg just before they departed for Australia as willing, paying passengers, not convicts and it was there we would be staying this night. There are also links to Enniskillen, Sion Mills and Donegal. so we planned to stop in these places on the way to Castlederg. The Mulligan trail went cold at around 1860 due to the fact that a fire destroyed all the records in the Dublin records office in 1922 and almost everything before this date was lost. Ironically all the local records were centralised in the building to preserve them, the local records that were not centralised were in churches that had fire protecting safes, and there were a few of these old parish records still around. The only chance of finding any more clues was to go local and see if anything in the local parish records added any clues. Therefore the (almost) final part of our journey was set aside to play ancestral detective and try and uncover some clues as to the history of the Mulligan clan.
The song goes, “Augher, Clogher, Fivemiletown, Six Mile Cross and Seven Mile Round”.
Fivemiletown is 16 miles (26 km) east of Enniskillen and 26 miles (43 km) west-south-west of Dungannon, in other words isn’t five miles from anywhere of significance. However a bit of detective work (Wikipedia) and you discover the an Irish Mile is 1.27 statute miles and it is 5 Irish Miles from it’s nearest neighbour Clougher.
We arrived in Fivemiletown on a grey day, it’s a small village with one Main Street. We did a bit of a walk and took these pictures.
Fivemiletown was once one of the main stops on the Clougher railway. The trains stopped at the Buttermarket on Main Street and the creamery to be loaded or unloaded with goods. Unfortunately the railway closed in 1941 and the towns prominence dwindled after that.
In and around 1860, a few years before the railway was built, the Mulligan ancestors lived here. They were recorded to be in a house at 47 Main Street which we discovered was still standing and had a 1780 date stamp above the door, not the date we had hoped but a good photo opportunity nonetheless.
On the way back to the car I commented on the fact that many of the houses on this street probably had some history to them. I cited a house with a three raised steps to the main door and commented this was likely from the time before the road was nothing more than mud and stone.
The “H” shaped iron device was there to scrape the mud off the soles of your boots before you entered the house.
The next stage of the trail took us through Enniskillen where we stopped to take a look at St Michael’s Church where a pair of the Mulligan ancestors were married.
It didn’t look like the sort of church where you could go for a look around, more like a functioning place of worship. People were coming in and out and praying inside so all I was comfortable doing was sneak a picture of the interior and move on.
Donegal Town and Lough Eske
Whilst the Mulligan trail included family links to Donegal town, this was not our primary reason for the visit. We went in search of “The Best Seafood Chowder in Ireland”. Our pre-trip research came up with a restaurant on the banks of Lough Eske just north of Donegal Town which claimed this boast and being a lover of seafood we couldn’t resist this as we were so close.
The restaurant was at a place called Harvey’s Point and it was a beautiful hotel on the banks of the lough. It was a real gem of a place, hidden away. If ever you find yourselves within driving distance of Harvey’s Point it’s worth a visit.
One Guinness, one wine and two seafood chowders were ordered and consumed with delight. Can’t corroborate if it is the “Best Seafood Chowder in Ireland” as our experience was based on a sample size of one but I will say it was very, very good. Well worth the trip.
They also had the world most accurate weather forecasting system I’ve witnessed installed at the hotel entrance. It was on it’s default setting that day.
We were staying at the Derg Arms on the Main Street in Castlederg, a quaint family run pub with rooms. On the drive to Castlederg from Donegal we fantasized about the type of conversations one might have in a small pub in and old country town with some of the older locals sitting at the bar that supposed when we mentioned we were on the trail looking for historic details about the Mulligan family one of the locals would say “Ah you’d best be speakin’ to old Paddy Mulligan there in the corner, he’s traced his clan back to 532BC!” or something like that. Well, as fantastical as that sounded, that is almost the way it went!
After checking in I was having a Guinness at the bar when the owner of the Derg Arms, 81 year old Sammy Walls, started up a conversation. When it came to the point of answering the inevitable question, “So what brings you to Castlederg Jim?” he replied, “Well you’d best be speaking to old Mr. Emery, he’s the local historian, knows everything about this town and its history, written books and everything about it. I’ll give him a call see if he’s free to come chat if you like?” I nearly fell off my chair. Sammy picked up the phone, dialled a number from memory, spoke to Mr. Emery who agreed to come down right away and bring all his historical documents with him.
Mr. James Emery arrived in about 5 minutes with an armful of books and scrolls. Mr. Emery, who was awarded the British Empire Medal for his work in the 2018 New Years Honours list, was dapper, distinguished and extremely generous with his time and knowledge. He has written several books on the history of Castlederg, available from Amazon, and his knowledge was/is encyclopedic.
With the documents Mr. Emery brought we were able to corroborate some of the details Jenni’s dad had uncovered doing his research from 10,374 miles away, statute miles not Irish miles however Mr. Emery suggested we visit the local parish church St. John Church of Ireland Church, that had kept it’s records and therefore they were not destroyed in the fire of 1922. Mr. Emery pulled out his phone and dialed the Warden of the church and although he had a funeral to arrange for the next morning he agreed to help us go through the records before the funeral. The hunt was on.
Mr. Emery met us at the gate of the church and introduced us to the Warden , who was a delightful man, friendly, funny and keen to help. First he opened a small filing drawer with cards.
They were index cards and were in alphabetical order of names, there were cards for births, marriages and deaths. The Warden explained the local school kids went through all the records as a project and did all the indexing. When we found some Mulligans and Milligans of the correct era, the names, he said, were interchangeable he opened the heavy doored wall safe and pulled out a few ancient record books.
The script in the books was in script handwriting and was hard to read but the name of John Milligan was quite clear.
Jenni and I were surprised that we didn’t have to wear gloves to touch the books but the Warden was fine for us to browse through them. We took detailed pictures of all the relevant pages, unsure if there were any more clues in them and before we left the Warden asked us to sign the visitors book and gave us a small booklet of the church. Interestingly the visitors book had entries from many religions and dozens of countries. Before we left we bought one of his books from Mr. Emery. He said all proceeds from the sale of his books goes to charity, the man deserves his medal.
The Mulligan Trail also had some links to Sion Mills, another larger village not far from Castlederg. We detoured through Sion Mills on our way back to Belfast.
Due to the interesting development in Castlederg we had limited time to spend in Sion Mills so explored just a little.
The Church of the Good Shepherd was designed by architect W.F Unsworth who designed many of the buildings in this model village. He chose to model Sion’s new centre of worship on a church near Pistoia, in Tuscany and the design is in elaborate Italian renaissance. Sion House and the Gate House adjacent to it, just a short distance from the church were also designed by Unsworth for the Herdman family (owners of the flax spinning mills after which Sion Mills today is named) in 1884.
This bronze sculpture is at the top of the Mill lane where the girls who spun the flax at Herdmans Spinning mill would pass daily. The spinning room was kept damp for the spinning of flax and the girls worked bare foot.
We were staying back in Belfast that night and had planned a scenic drive across the Sperrins, an mountain range awarded and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it fulfilled this brief spectacularly. None of the several dozen pictures I took during the many stops did it justice.
For our final couple of nights in Belfast we had booked the most wonderful Airbnb in the city in the new Titanic Quarter. The picture above and the headline picture of this blog was taken from the balcony. It was a beautiful place with all mod cons and a few mod cons I had never heard of like Amazon Alexa. I had so much fun with that.
Anyway, what of Belfast. Jenni and I had breakfast at a small and very cosy cafe in the Titanic Quarter called the Dock. The cafe is unique as it is run by volunteers and there are no prices, instead there is an “honesty box”. You pay whatever you feel the food or drink was worth.
They had soups, pastries, teas and coffee. The clientele ranged from students to suits. There wasn’t a matching pair of chairs or tables in the place but somehow it worked. We loved the place. I got talking with one of the manager/volunteers. The place has been open 4 years. They use each days takings to buy food for the next day.
Amazingly they even allow you to bring your own food in and sit in the place, I saw one girl, looked like a student from Belfast Metropolitan College across the road, with a plastic box of her own food while we were there. It’s a real eye opener and a testament to the goodness in all people.
Black Taxi Tour
One of Jenni’s goals on this trip was to do a famous Black Taxi tour of the Murals and we booked a tour for the afternoon. Chris and Becky, two of my offspring joined us for the tour, and to confuse us Gerard the driver turned up in a white taxi but was the real deal. The tour was supposed to take an hour and we were more than 2 hours. The detail he went into was amazing.
For those reading this who are unaware of what a Black Taxi Tour is let me briefly explain. During the violent times in Belfast known as The Troubles there were two main factions, Republicans and Unionists. They inhabited separate areas of the city, the Falls Rd. and The Shankill Rd. They have marked their areas over the years with paintings on the walls called Murals. When the Troubles were at their height buses would not enter these areas so the local residents bought a load of old London Black Cabs and used them as transport in and out of these areas. Nowadays Belfast is peaceful and buses go everywhere but the Black Taxis have remained. They offer tours around what were the most troubled areas which is one of Belfast’s most popular experiences. The following two murals are probably the most photographed in each area.
King William of Orange Mural Shankill Road
Bobby Sands Mural Falls Road
Apart from these two famous ones there are dozens Gerard showed us. We visited the Peace Wall and checked out the famous signatures, Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama among others.
After the comprehensive taxi tour we went for a pint in the only pub owned by the National Trust, the Crown Liquor Salon.
The place is a stunningly beautiful pub, one of the nicest I’ve been in and I’ve been in a few. No trip to Belfast would be complete without a pint in this pub.
Chris left us and Becky, Jenni and I went for a superb dinner in Made in Belfast restaurant.
The waiting staff in Made in Belfast were lovely and the food was fabulous. We had a great time on our last night in Northern Ireland.
After dinner we retired to our luxury apartment to relax, watch TV and play with my new friend Alexa. I also took some more night time pictures of the stunning Titanic Quarter from the Balcony.
In the morning we flew to England, hired a car, drove to Peterborough, which has a pretty good cathedral, so it must be a city then!
We concluded our business meeting, drove to Heathrow airport got on a plane and flew back to Australia. The end of a fantastic experience.