Tuesday, October 19, 2021

DA Chart – "A History of Northern Ireland", 1927


I picked this book up recently, as I was keen to see how Northern Ireland 'officially' presented itself in the years following its establishment. Published in 1927, D.A. Chart (1878–1960; biography here) was the renowned Deputy Keeper of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland from 1924 – 1948. There are some interesting narratives in it (it starts in ancient times, it agrees with the Patrick & Clyde origin story, the Edward Bruce campaign of the 1300s is in there, and his summary of 1798 is interesting). The county descriptions are pretty much the same as the Ulster Tourist Development Association publications from the same decade, which were written by people like St John Ervine.

Given Chart's soaring scholarship, the book is disappointing. As an example of his true mastery, his 1942 paper The Break-Up of the Estate of Con O'Neill, Castlereagh, County Down, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Vol 48, is quite brilliant. It's also a critically important piece of work as it presents a detailed analysis of contemporary sources on the historic land transactions in north and east County Down which took place from 1571–1623, from an original Chancery Inquisition that PRONI had just acquired in the 1940s, with original letters patents. Perhaps PRONI still have it. Chart's paper starts with the Sir Thomas Smith failed English colony of 1571–5, and then jumps forward to 1605 and the James Hamilton & Hugh Montgomery era.

Of particular interest to me within it are –

• an Articles of Agreement document dated 24 December 1605 in which Hugh Montgomery and Con O'Neill "covenant not to injure each other, but to aid assist and defend each other and their tenants from wrong. If controversy arises amongst their followers, it is to be judged by the parties or two or four of their most discreet and impartial followers. At the time of the ensealing of any deed or feoffment each party is to deliver to the other a bond of £1,000 for observing the covenants".

A man I know who did a PhD on the era told me he'd found evidence that, in the decade prior to this Agreement, the Montgomeries had been supplying the O'Neills with arms during the Nine Years War. The Montgomery-O'Neill relationship is a fascinating dynamic.

• a document dated 25 April 1606, written by Hugh Garvan, the Clerk of Crown in Scotland, in 'Ervine' / Irvine in Ayrshire

The Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement began just days after, in May 1606. Some people today assume, or allege, there has only ever been perpetual adversarial conflict here – but often the primary sources erode those claims away. It is dangerous to overlay present-day assumptions on the past. We all have much to relearn and to reassess.