Saturday, December 26, 2020

Ahoghill 100-ish Years Ago - the Young family of Galgorm Estate, and poets Adam Lynn and Agnes Kerr

I'm delighted to have got a copy of Poems from Ahoghill by Agnes Kerr just before Christmas, I'd been looking for this for some time. Ahoghill is a village just west of Ballymena, and has many stories to uncover.

The Youngs of Galgorm
Today, the Galgorm Estate is a high-end luxury hotel and spa destination. I posted here a few weeks ago that in 1913 the 87 year old linen and railway entrepreneur John Young (1826-1915, portrait left is online here), who then owned Galgorm Estate, was one of the six signatories of the Ulster Provisional Government Proclamation of 24 September 1913 (previous post here). Edward Carson had inspected the UVF at Galgorm in July that year.

His son, William Robert Young (1856–1933; Wikipedia here), was one of the honorary secretaries of the Ulster Unionist Council and had organised the famous evangelistic 'Fenaghy Meetings' on the Galgorm estate grounds annually in 1887–1892 which attracted crowds of around 20,000 people. I've posted here before about their attempts to get Charles Spurgeon to preach at Fenaghy at amusingly short notice (previous post here). W. R. Young was said to have been well known to village folk as just 'Willie Young'.

• Adam Lynn (1886–1956)
One of W. R. Young's employees was Adam Lynn (1886-1956), a linen worker employed by the Youngs since boyhood, who also wrote poems. In the 1911 Census of Ireland he is given as a Church of Ireland linen beetler aged 45, living with his two sisters. His poems were eventually published his Random Rhymes Frae Cullybackey in 1911, which were dedicated to Mrs Young 'in grateful recognition of the kindness of the family to the author' (PDF edition is online here). The huge Fenaghy meetings are mentioned in some of Adam Lynn's poems, and various Youngs are listed among the subscribers.

(We had filmed a piece about Lynn for the Cullybackey episode of the tv progamme Hame back in October 2017, with a local historian who had met him, but the piece didn't make the edit.) There's a bio of Lynn online here.

• Agnes Kerr (born 1880)
Agnes Kerr of Ballybeg, Ahoghill, was a handloom weaver, and a poet. In the 1911 Census of Ireland she is given as a Presbyterian domestic servant aged 31, living with her sister and their widowed mother. She and Lynn publicly bantered - and overtly flirted - with each other in verse as 'Adam' and 'Eve' in the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph. There's about 15 of these, and as a mini-collection in themselves they're so well-attuned to each other that I have wondered if Agnes Kerr was in fact a pseudonym for Adam Lynn, ie that they were all written by the same person. For the local readership, it must have been quite exciting to see the weekly to-and-fro of a romantic soap opera between the pair, and also the intervention of other suitors!

Agnes' Poems from Ahoghill appeared in 1915 and was described in the Ballymena Observer as 'an unpretentious little volume of poems, chiefly local and personal, and many of which have already appeared in a local paper'. Bab M'Keen, the famed pseudonym of John Wier, the editor and writer of the Ballymena Observer gets a mention among them. 

Some of the Youngs, and Adam Lynn, were among Agnes' subscribers. I've not been able to find out about the rest of Agnes' life. There is a newspaper reference in 1928 that an Agnes Kerr and Sarah M'Gall of Valley of the Bann LOL No. 114 were going to emigrate to Canada and that a special evening for them was held at Portglenone Orange Hall, just a few miles from Ahoghill.

The poems of Adam Lynn and Agnes Kerr are mostly about working class community life, faith, the Boer War, the Great War, love of Ireland, love of Antrim. Any brief glimpses of politics are very much unionist (such as Agnes Kerr praising 'The Union Jack to the Ulster Volunteers') and about the typical country Twelfth (such as Adam Lynn's 'The Twalt O July' and 'The July Day') and passing references to the Boyne.

• 'Young Ireland' - Ella Young and Rose Maud Young
But that's not the whole story. Roger Casement was a regular visitor to Galgorm. The lives and cultural interests of two of the Young sisters – Ella Young (1867–1956; Wikipedia here) and Rose Maud Young (1866–1947; Wikipedia here) – were very different from the family and Ahoghill community. They are renowned for their work in preserving the Irish language, and for Ella's interest in occult-theosophy, her mystical experiences and Irish Republican political activism, their interest perhaps beginning in London where they attended Gaelic League classes in 1903. Linde Lunney's detailed biography of Rose in the Dictionary of Irish Biography is rich with detail.

It's interesting to me when wealthy - we might today say 'privileged' - children can afford to both socially and financially 'rebel' against their family and community norms; the Milligans of Belfast, Bangor and Donaghadee are another contemporaneous example of this that I have mentioned here in the past. Perhaps the wealth means that the potential 'risk' is inconsequential; perhaps that 'risk' brings with it some appeal and excitement; perhaps the family were, just like the Milligans, interested in a diverse range of ideas and cultural influences. Christmas dinner at Galgorm would have been interesting.

Charlotte Young, George C. G. Young and Henry G. Young
Throughout these years, another sister, Charlotte Young, is reported in the British Newspaper Archive as taking part in various Orange events and Royal Coronation commemorations.

A brother, George C. G. Young, was MP for Bannside from 1929 and was County Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. George's brother, Brigadier-General Henry G. Young, was Sergeant-at-Arms in the Northern Ireland House of Commons at Stormont and a District Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary. 

The early 1900s are in interesting time, and Galgorm and Ahoghill have much to reveal. Both Adam Lynn and Agnes Kerr deserve to be better known than they are.

• Back in early 2017 I worked with author Margaret Cameron on the design of Ower The Tuppenny: A collection of Short Stories from, in, and around Gracehill and Ahoghill. She grew up in the area - the book is a 140 page collection of 18 short stories.