Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Devoys of Portavogie, Anglo-Norman influences, and Mount Stewart


• Extract above from Roots of English; Exploring the History of Dialects, Cambridge University Press (2012)

The townland I live on is called Ballyfrench, but the placename experts think that the ‘French’ part is a corruption of a name like ‘Ballifranish’ or ‘Balleffringe’ - perhaps itself a variant of something like ‘Frenes’ townland’. Some of the names around here do indeed date back to the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century - and it’s known that there was a John de Freines and Henry de Frenes in the Anglo-Norman settlement area around Dublin in the 1300s. So maybe some of them came north in the wake of De Courcy & co.

As far as the Ards Peninsula goes, the surname Devoy is pretty unique to the Portavogie and Ballyhalbert area. The tradition I have heard is that sometime in the 1700s a French ship was wrecked off the coast at Ballyfrench and the survivors came ashore, some of who were called Devoy. They were welcomed by the Ulster-Scots inhabitants and settled here. The name does appear elsewhere in Ireland, such as the prominent Irish nationalist John Devoy who was from Kildare (Wikipedia here). There’s a Devoy family today in Dublin in the midst of a high profile crime gangland dispute (see here). So maybe the shipwreck story isn’t true, but has emerged as somebody’s attempt to explain the name.

The book extract shown above is an excerpt of an interview with a Kate Devoy from Ballyfrench about speaking ‘Ulster-Scotch’. The same page compares Cumnock in Ayrshire - a place I know fairly well and visited just a few weekends ago - with Cullybackey, Portavogie and Maryport in Cumbria.

The Anglo-Norman influences here in the Ards Peninsula were on the news during the week, with the discovery of a major motte at the National Trust property Mount Stewart (see BBC report here). No wonder that when the Scots arrived they called it Mount Pleasant for about 150 years, until the Stewart family arrived from Donegal, bought it from the Colvilles, and renamed it after themselves.

Northern Ireland today needs to understand that we have multiple, interwoven, cultural and linguistic influences.

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