Saturday, October 26, 2013

A forgotten Ulster author - Richard Cuninghame Esq. of Castle Cooley, Donegal (c. 1832 – c. 1898)


Over the centuries, some writers have published popular novels to bring Ulster-Scots history to the general reader. Richard Cuninghame is one I have recently discovered.

In Bonds but Fetterless (1875)
This two volume novel is set in 1660s County Down during the time of Captain Thomas Blood's plot to storm Dublin Castle and kidnap the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Many Ulster Presbyterian Covenanters were involved in this attempt, and more were seized and arrested on suspicion of involvement. A description of the novel reads as follows:

'... Historical fiction set in Ulster in the time of Charles II. The novel's introduction mentions details of the plantation of the Scots in Ulster under King James I. The story opens in 1661 in a farmhouse of Scottish Presbyterians in Co. Down and deals mainly with relations between the Afton family of Ellerslie and survivors of the O'Neills, who still inhabit their ancient castle, some of whom have become Protestants. The book presents the reactions of the Ulster Presbyterians to the persecution started by the 'Prelatic Church' under Charles II. A conspiracy by the Covenant is begun by two dubious characters, Blood and Lecky, but Ulster Presbyterians hold aloof. Many personages of the day are introduced and the plot moves between Belfast ('Plekopolis') and Dublin...' A quick Google search shows it among the collection of Brisbane Circulating Library, Australia, being advertised in the Brisbane Courier on Monday 3 December 1877.

The Broken Sword of Ulster (1904)
This is a popular account of events in Ulster from the late 1500s through the Nine Years War, the death of Elizabeth I, the escape of Con O'Neill, O'Doherty's rebellion and the Plantation. The scattered footnotes show that Cuninghame's story drew heavily from the accounts of Andrew Stewart, Rev George Hill and Rev James Seaton Reid. The book is now available online here. It was probably published after Cuninghame had died.

Biography
Richard Cuninghame is believed to have been born around 1832, the son of Dr Hugh Cuninghame (1794-1878) of Castlecooley, near Burt, in Donegal (Dr Cuninghame is said to have been at St. Helena while Napoloen was exiled there from 1815–1821). On 29 November 1860 Richard married Mary Henry from Tassagh, Armagh, at Tassagh Presbyterian Church - and in the 1869 Hill edition of the Montgomery Manuscripts, 'Richard Cunningham, esq., Castle Cooley, County Donegal' is listed in the Preface as one of those who assisted with the footnotes research. The National Library of Ireland has his genealogical research (see here) compiled in 1898. A collection of his papers and manuscripts may still exist.

His son was Rev Hugh Harvey Cuninghame who graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1890 and became a Church of Ireland rector at Ballywillan, Magherafelt and Arboe.

Scottish origins
The History of the counties of Ayr and Wigtown (1866) contains these details about the family:

'... Not a few Ayrshire families are represented by branches in Ireland. This originated chiefly in the colonisation of Ulster by the Scots, under Montgomerie, in the hitter end of the reign of James I., and by subsequent emigration. Amongst other still existing Scoto-Irish families are the Cuninghames of Castle Cooley, near Londonderry. The first of them was the Rev. Hugh Cuninghame, who went to Ireland in 1642, as chaplain to a regiment commanded by the Earl of Glencairn. About that period, an army of ten thousand men, chiefly from the west coast, were sent over by the Scots Government to protect the colonists there during the rebellion. The Rev Hugh Cuninghame did not return with his regiment when the army was withdrawn, but settled as minister of the Presbyterian congregation at Ray, county Donegal, about 1G46. He was ejected by the Bishop of Raphoe in 1662. From this reverend gentleman the Castle Cooley family are descended ; but to which of the Scottish houses he belonged it is difficult, or perhaps impossible, to discover. He would be appointed chaplain by the Presbytery of Irvine : but, unfortunately, their records go no farther back than 1646, and not one of the parish registers exists at so early a period. The register of the University of Glasgow shows that a Hugh Cuninghame matriculated 1st March 1630, and graduated in 1634. This is no doubt the same party, but he is
not designed. He was probably connected with the Cuninghames of Glengarnock, who sold that property, and went to Ireland about 1600. Their place, Castle Cuninghame, is near to Ray (Donegal) ...'

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