DISCLAIMER: Reproduced with permission as Published in TIARA Newsletter Fall 1998 Volume 15 Number 4

You Should “Go Back” Again

by Dennis J. Ahern #0826

I had learned from naturalization records that my great-grandfather, John Higgins, was from County Antrim, but I had not made any further progress and did not expect much as I had no clue how to narrow it down.

Last year I attended the Ulster Historical Foundation's annual conference in Belfast. I had submitted what was known on my Higgins line in advance of the conference and they did an assessment of where I should look, but I got sidetracked when I stumbled on a collection of family letters that had ended up in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

These letters were filed under an unfamiliar name and I only looked at this item because they were supposedly from a McAlister family that owned a shop in Cushendall where my great-grandmother, Elizabeth McAteer, was from. Imagine my surprise when the third letter I examined gave details of my great grandmother's baptism. It turns out, these letters had been in the house of a niece of my great-grandmother when she died and the contents were auctioned off.

The most important thing I learned from these letters, which included one from my great-grandmother and several from her relations, was the return address of her brother who emigrated to Australia and about whom little was known by cousins still living in Cushendall. By sending a postcard to the last known address I have regained the connection with our Australian McAteer/McIntyre cousins.

Several weeks ago I got a letter from one of these cousins and she was very interested in what I had learned of the family history. It turns out she had written to one of the older McAteers in Cushendall back in the early 70's and had drawn up a family tree based on that information. I had already worked out most of the connections that she had, and in fact, thanks to the Australian/New Zealand Usenet genealogy group, I had even more details than she had on her own branch of the family.

But what leapt off the page at me was the notation that my great-grandmother had married “a Higgins from Glenravel”. Again back to the newsgroups, in this case soc.genealogy.ireland, where I learned that Glenravel was the next glen over from Glenballyeamon where my McAteer's townland of Killoughagh was. The name Glenravel sounded familiar and I reread the letters I found last year, some of which have been published in this years edition of “The Glynns” by the Glens of Antrim Historical Society. When she was in her seventies, my great-grandmother and two of her nephews journeyed home to Cushendall for a family reunion that included her brother Daniel from Australia. While she was there, a friend back in the States wrote to her to ask how the trip was going and, “Did you go on the visit to Glenravel yet?”.

It was at this point that I decided to take a closer look at the packet put together for me by the Ulster Historical Foundation and what did I find there but a number of references to Higgins as being concentrated in Glenravel.

Well, I just got back a week Thursday from a trip to Cushendall and Glenravel and I met a number of people who gave me leads on my Higgins line. Unfortunely, there is a several year gap in the parish records at the time my great-grandfather was born, but I did find several Higgins households in Glenravel for the Griffith's valuation. And in a final twist of coincidence, I was looking at a Website the other day that had a few pages about Johnny Joe's, the pub in Cushendall where my son and I got to join a couple of sessiuns. There were a couple of pictures of sessiuns there and one was a musician the caption identified as Alex Higgins from Glenravel. My great- great- grandfather Higgins was an Alexander from Glenravel. No telling where this will lead.¹

Sorry to be so long, but I agree, go back and review your data from time to time. You never know when things will fall into place.

1— In time my path led me back to Glenravel where I met several possible but unverifiable cousins, including Alex Higgins who let me sit in with him with my pennywhistle in a sessiun at the Skerries pub one night. Sadly, Alex has since passed away and his banjo will be heard no more in the Glens of Antrim.
     I also got to meet the Australian cousins. The letters I found had renewed their interest in family history and they made a visit to Cushendall. When they stopped off in Boston on their way home, I was able to take them to the house where their great- great- grandfather had visited his sister on his way home from a similar journey a century before.