Friday, September 23, 2016

Carrowdore, May Crommelin (1849–1930) and 'Orange Lily' (1880)


Just beside the village of Carrowdore is Carrowdore Castle. It was built by the Huguenot Crommelin family. Our Wilson homestead was a tenant property within the estate at a time; local tradition says that one of the Wilson girls was a maid in the Castle and when a Crommelin child fell gravely ill, the Wilson girl stayed at the Castle for months to nurse the child back to full health. As a thank-you, Mr Crommelin allowed the Wilsons to live in the house rent-free for the rest of their days. Dozens of children were reared in the wee house at Ballyrawer / Ballyraer, including my grandfather William Wilson and all of his siblings. When I was wee I used to visit them, and nip off to play in the ‘plantin’ across the road from the house, when it was still wide open to the public. My brother built a house nearby a few years ago, where he still lives.

Even though the Crommelins lived in the castle as gentry and our lot lived in a wee cottage merely as tenants, both families ended up being buried up at Church Hill alongside each other, and eventually to be joined by Louis MacNeice.

Maria Henrietta de la Cherois-Crommelin (1848–1930), known as May Crommelin, was born at the Castle. She moved to London when she was about 30 and became a writer. One of her first novels was set in Ulster. Entitled Orange Lily (published 1880), it tells the tale of Ballyboley Orange Lodge and a small girl called Lily. There is a smattering of Ulster-Scots vocabulary throughout the dialogue; a New York edition is now available online here.

A number of the chapters are introduced by extracts from Robert Burns poems. There are references to ‘broad words’ and ‘Ballyboley dialect’. It’s easy to criticise how light the Ulster-Scots actually is. But, put yourself in her shoes - how do you convince a London publishing house that local vernacular is going to sell to a broad readership - not far into chapter one she writes that they “spoke as broad as their Scotch ancestors did”.

I think this one is interesting because of its range of cultural references too - country dances, fiddle players, the Orange lodge, the ‘broad words’, farm and community life.

May Crommelin was far from successful as a writer and the critics have not been kind to her. However, as a daughter of the Ards who attempted to give some voice to the local folk in her surrounding area, I think she deserves some credit.