Monday, April 20, 2020

Betsy Gray, the 1798 Rebellion, and further evidence for the Six Road Ends traditions - draft

I've posted here about 1798 Rebellion heroine Betsy Gray before, and I was very pleased when Professor Guy Beiner made contact with me to ask permission to incorporate some of that information in his 2019 book Forgetful Remembrance; Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (available here). Betsy's birth place / home place has been contested over the years. The strongest likelihood has always been Six Road Ends outside Bangor. I have visited the ruined cottage, which is in the grounds of Summerhill Nursing Home.

Recently I managed to pick up a fairly obscure little 40 page booklet which was published to mark the 200th anniversary in 1998 by Newtownards Historical Society, Upper Ards Historical Society, the North of Ireland Family History Society and Ards Borough Council. It has seven chapters, all of which are strong, but in particular the one entitled 'The Betsy Gray Legend Revisited' by the late Dr Hugh H. Macartney (1926–2015) stands out as particularly important. As a boy in the 1930s he often visited his relatives who lived in the cottage. He wrote that the family traditions of the Grays and Macartneys at Six Road Ends had not been published elsewhere before, but I think that the NIFHS published them simultaneously in their own journal. He also makes the point that the very well respected late Jack McCoy's booklet Ulster's Joan of Arc made some errors. I have taken the liberty of posting the pages below due the the rarity of the booklet, as I am sure the information will be of interest to some of my readers.

Often, these stories are only mined when they are politically useful. For me, enduring community traditions are far more important. What do we choose to remember? What does our community choose to retell, and how is it retold? What does civic society decide that we should know about? We all bring on our journey the baggage we think important. We all have gaps of important stuff which have been left behind.

Betsy and her continuing appeal is a fascinating phenomenon. Perhaps there is a project in that. But 1798 as a whole is a story which needs to be fully told one day.