Monday, February 26, 2018

Part 5 - The Milligans in North Down

Hamilton Villas

Seaton F Milligan (1836 –1916) was a key figure in Ulster Victorian society. His father was Kennedy Milligan from Glencon near Dungannon, his mother was Sarah Ann Boyd, On 28 January 1862 he married Charlotte Elizabeth Burns from Omagh, in the ‘Wesleyan Chapel’ in the town. Her parents Samuel Burns (d. Feb 1860), and Letitia Burns (d. May 1858) had owned the Scotch Haberdashery Warehouse, Main Street, Omagh.

Seaton was a Sunday School teacher in the church and an insurance agent in the town. He and Charlotte went on to have a reported 11 children; they relocated to Belfast where he took the position of Managing Director of Hawkins, Robertson & Ferguson, of Bank Buildings in the city centre.

He began to give historical lectures in the city, for Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, on exotic subjects such as Peruvian textiles (one of Charlotte’s Omagh cousins, named Alcorn, was a civil engineer working on railways in Peru - he came home with a pile of stuff from antiques and rugs to shrunken heads in jars) but mainly on Irish antiquities such as giant’s graves Seaton had visited in Sligo, standing stones and Irish mythology. He donated objects to the Royal Irish Academy such as an ancient cauldron he had found at Drumlane Lake in County Cavan. He gave many lectures, such as ‘The Forts of Erin, from the Firbolg to the Norman’, and ‘Ireland and the Scottish Isles: Ancient Connection’. He wrote a paper for the Ulster Journal of Archaeology about one of my interests, the Clandeboye O’Neills and their Coronation Chair. He led at least two steamship cruises around the entire coast of Ireland, for the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. He rubbed shoulders with the best historians and antiquarians of the day. So the children were raised in this environment – with a fascination and reverence for history and tradition.

He was a successful businessman, well used to the company of the gentry and entrepreneurial élite of the times, a respected antiquarian, a frequent public speaker at august gatherings around Ireland on antiquarian subjects, and well-regarded author.

16872sm1 98a7f61c16bd472551bf72344845a6ee 1In 1888 he and his daughter Alice Letitia Milligan (1865–1953; Wikipedia here) co-authored a book called Glimpses of Erin (online here). She went on to become a significant figure in the Irish nationalist and cultural movements. In 1896 she began to publish a magazine called Shan Van Vocht (online here). Another daughter, Charlotte Milligan Fox (1864–1916) was a trained classical singer. She authored Songs of the Irish Harpers (online here) and was highly influential in the preservation of Irish traditional music, founding the Irish Folk Song Society. Both are remembered on an Ulster History Circle blue plaque on Omagh Library (see here). One of the songs they published, around 1903, was written by another sister, Edith, and was entitled Ochanee: Ulster Folk Song. As far as I know, 'ochanee' is an Ulster-Scots term, one my mother used in short rhymes as various weans and grandweans were being bounced on her knee:

Ochanee when I was wee
I used tae sit on my grannie's knee
Her apron tore, I fell on the floor
Ochanee when I was wee 

It's also in the Dictionary of the Scots Language here, and on the Ulster-Scots Academy textbase here.

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• Holiday homes in north Down
The Milligans had a few different holiday properties around North Down, the first of which was ‘Angus Cottage’ in the countryside near Portavo north of Donaghadee in the 1870s and early 1880s. Next was ‘Hamilton Villa’, part of the ‘Dufferin Villas’ terrace along the seafront at Ballyholme (as described by Charles F Milligan (1883-1983) in his three memoir booklets: My Bangor from the 1890s, Second Thoughts and Bangor and Belfast Lough Yesterday and Today). The last was a house called ‘Eastward’, one of the 'Ward Villas' on the Clifton Road, overlooking Royal Ulster Yacht Club, which they bought around summer 1906. They are recorded as living there in the 1911 census. The Milligan parents both died at ‘Eastward’ in 1916.

All three were fairly prestigious addresses, suited to a wealthy Belfast merchant family. Back then Ballyholme was its own distinct community, not yet swallowed up by the expansion of Bangor. According to Charles they ‘came down about Easter and stayed until Halloween’, from their city addresses at 1 Royal Terrace, a 9-bed 3-reception property which they sold in August 1899, and later 1 Malone Road. But they mingled with County Down locals as well as the swish Belfast vacationing set. 

• A Bangor network of cultural writers
Even though Methodists, Charles recalled that the family had some involvement in the Parish Church and also Presbyterian Church in Groomsport, and various churches in Bangor. In October 1892, young Ernest Milligan is recorded as manning the ‘flower and candy stall' for Groomsport Presbyterian Church Bazaar, an event at which both Mr and Mrs W.G. Lyttle were on the ‘refreshment stall’. Whilst the Milligans summer residence was at the country end of the Ballyholme Road, Lyttle’s property ‘Mount Herald’, his home until his death in 1896, was at the town end, at the junction of Clifton Road. Sadly the building is long-gone, its site supposedly a car park today (see here).

[In later years, both Sean Lester (1888–1959; a Carrickfergus-born Protestant who joined the Gaelic League, the IRB, and had a political career which took him to the position of Secretary General of the League of Nations) and Ernest William Blythe (1889–1975, a Lisburn-born Protestant Irish Nationalist, a one-time Orangeman, IRB member and eventually senior figure in the government of the Irish Free State) would both work for the late Lyttle’s North Down Herald newspaper.]

Another Bangorian at the time was Florence Mary Wilson (1870-1946, link here), best known as the author of the poem The Man From God Knows Where, a tale of the United Irishman Thomas Russell who was hanged in Downpatrick in 1803. It, and some of her other poems, include a sprinkling of Ulster-Scots vocabulary - the 1918 edition is online here. She lived in the same part of Bangor, on the Groomsport Road. In July 1907, Florence, Alice Milligan and Ernest Milligan are recorded as having worked together on a ‘Carnival and Fancy Fair’ bazaar handbook to fundraise for Bangor Endowed School, later Bangor Grammar. The venue was the grounds of Bangor Castle, with the ‘great and the good’ thronging the place. The school was also on the Clifton Road, just behind the Lyttle home.

This was an impressive network of north Down literary neighbours, and all with a deep interest in local history and traditional heritage, with what we would today regard as a culturally Irish nationalist perspective – yet also all with varying degrees of Ulster-Scots influence in their writings, with Lyttle’s of course the most important.

If you broaden the catchment area just a little more, it’s very likely that they would also have known William Hugh Patterson (1835-1918; previous post here), his 1880 Glossary of Words in Use in the Counties of Antrim and Down, and Patterson’s relatives by marriage, the Praegers. It’s not just the geography, it’s the social world of golf clubs, rugby clubs, sailing clubs and antiquarian societies.

• 12th July and the 1798 Rebellion
But the Milligan family must have a very broad range of cultural interests - Charles wrote fondly of his memories of the 12th July mornings:

“I have a very high regard for the people of Groomsport and for the Orangemen there, in fact as a very small boy the highlight of a summer holiday at Dufferin Villas was to go down to the end of the laneway joining the county road and watch LOL 589 pass by on its way to join the brethren at Bangor. I also remember a lady who marched with the lodge dressed for the occasion with a hat in the colours of the day and a blouse to match’.

Charles also visited, and photographed, the reputed home of 1798 heroine Betsy Gray at Six Road Ends, around the time that Lyttle had immortalised her story and Alice had been involved in centenary commemorations at Betsy’s grave site (previous post here). Here’s the photo and caption from Bangor and Belfast Lough Yesterday and Today:

Betsy Milligan

The caption above indicates that Charlotte Milligan knew W.G. Lyttle, who died when Charles was just six years old. However Charles here also repeats an error that W.G. was from Omagh - he definitely wasn’t.

• Military Service
In 1914, Charles joined the Royal Navy, following in the footsteps of his brother Captain William Hanna Milligan RGA (1872–1937) who had served in the Boer War in 1900 and had been stationed in Chicago for a time. William’s knowledge of the city led to the arrest and execution of a German spy in 1914; Carl Hans Lodz had been in Belfast, masquerading as an American called Charles Inglis, but was actually gathering intelligence on the city’s shipyards. Both Charles and William are named on the roll of honour in Wesley Centenary Methodist Church, Hamilton Road, Bangor.

In later years, Alice Milligan looked after William - that particular story is touched on here. They had lived in Dublin from 1917-1921, but had to flee within 24 hours due to William receiving a death threat from the IRA due to his earlier British Army career. They went to Bath in England where younger brother Ernest Milligan (1879–1954) worked as a School Medical Officer around the same time. Perhaps Ernest was the first safe haven that came to mind in this emergency. Alice, William, his wife and son later returned to Ulster and settled in Omagh. (A PDF of a biographical booklet by Dr Catherine Morris is online here).

• Ernest Milligan
So Ernest Milligan had also grown up in the midst of all of this cultural milieu. He was a bright young man, like the other Milligans he had been educated at Methodist College Belfast, and then studied medicine at Queen’s. He had passed his First Examination in July 1899 – and around that time he was introduced to an emerging radical political movement through his increasingly activist older sister Alice...