From Milltown to Milltown Cemetery, Belfast.
Milltown cemetery is a special place in the city of Belfast. In this letter one of our readers treats us to a personal tour.
One of our readers – Pádraic Mac Coitir (that translates into McCotter or Cotter in English – a fine Irish Viking name!) – was on to me during the week. Pádraic is a local tour guide in his home county of Antrim and also writes some very nice pieces for his local paper.
So, Páidric is going to be our guest letter writer this morning with his piece “Milltown to Milltown”. He has a lovely style in his writing with wonderful observations threaded into the history of the places he walks through. Before you read, I’d also like to explain a couple of references that you will come across in the piece. You will see a reference to “H-Block” – you see, Pádraic was a political prisoner in the north in the late seventies. Also, later you will see a reference to “Antrim shirts” – meaning the colours of the Antrim GAA football team. As he points out, sections of the loyalist community can choose to see this as a provocative gesture.
As I read this piece it reminded me of how much things have changed in the north of Ireland over the past 10 years – and how hard it is to understand the deep-seated cultural divides that exist unless you live there, like Pádraic. So, I hope you will enjoy this “walk with Pádraic” – and the colour and insights he offers into life in parts of the north of Ireland today and in the recent past.
Milltown to Milltown.
Sometimes we tend to think that going on a journey full circle involves a cruise or going from the Glens of Antrim to the hills of Donegal and back again. I’ve been to Donegal many’s the time but still waiting to go on a cruise!
The other day I went on a far shorter, but just as enjoyable, journey from Milltown cemetery to Milltown near Derriaghy and back again. I’d never walked this particular route but my friend Tommy runs it often and assured me that it’s ‘only a stroll’. So off we went up the Glen Road, past the Glenowen Inn (even though we were tempted to get a bite to eat after the smell of the cooking hit our nostrils) and on to where the brewery is being demolished. It brought back memories of when I worked there on ‘summer relief’ in 1976 only for that particular job to be cut short when I ended up in Castlereagh and then the H-Blocks for the first of my time in prison.
As we went on up the road we commented on the changes happening with the new housing developments. There’s an obvious need for homes so hopefully this will be the start of a new and positive community. St.Theresa’s CLG will no doubt benefit from this and perhaps they will take on the mantle of a successful club. Despite the temptation we hurried on past the Roddy’s and headed into the country (yes, only a half hour’s walk from the bottom of the Glen Road!).
While walking along the Colinwell Road we had to be wary of the traffic, especially the many lorries that passed. I’ve spoken to Brendan from the Farmer’s Inn about this and I’m sure he’d love to see a footpath along this part of the road which no doubt would make it easier for people to get to his pub. The Farmer’s Inn is one of the best bars you could visit, especially when Brendan is there to give a brief history of the place in which it’s located. On this occasion the mission was still on so no stopping at this water-hole!
The Barnfield Road is about half mile from the bar and once on to it the views can be appreciated as far as the Mountains of Mourne to the right and Strangford Lough to the left. Further down the road is a small church with a graveyard beside it. I never knew this church existed but it’s been there a long time. In fact there’s a cross above the door which proclaims the church was ‘rebuilt’ in 1755. Tommy told me someone told him that Oliver Plunkett had worshiped there at one time. Is this the reason for the name of the parish in Lenadoon? Finding places off the beaten track throws these questions up!
So after walking around the cemetery we went on down to Milltown village. Wearing our Antrim tops we were wary walking past the shops which welcome visitors to loyalist Milltown – and just in case one couldn’t make out the writing the many flags were there to remind us that bigotry is alive and well. The last time I’d been there the village pub had a thatched roof and it was always a place I’d love to have had a pint in, but again the number of loyalist flags put me off.The pub had a sign pointing out that it was built in the 17th century. This area is obviously steeped in history and as a political tour guide I’d love to find out more about it.
Our final destination was the local church and its graveyard. Going through the main gates it’s clear the place is very well maintained with the graves clean and the gardens full of flowers. One of the first graves we saw was that of the Duffin family. Being interested in our political past we noticed that there was reference to a William Gould Duffin who died of gunshot wounds on the 15th February 1922. There was nothing to indicate how William met his fate so I said to Tommy I’ll check it out when we got home. We spent a bit of time in the church grounds checking out other interesting graves but I wanted to find out more about William Duffin – we walked on down the road to the library in Dairy Farm but the internet didn’t have any information.
When I got home I went into the index of Jim Mc Dermott’s book, ‘Northern Divisions’ and saw a reference to William Duffin. He was working as an apprentice manager at his father’s spinning mill in Northumberland Street when a number of IRA men approached and killed him. No-one knows for sure why he was shot but Jim asserts in his book the that it may have been because his brother was a member of the ‘Northern Ireland Senate’. William lived a short distance from where Tommy and I started our walk – Roselands on the Andersonstown Road.
Thanks for that “letter” this week Pádraic!
And that’s it for this week. As always, do leave a comment below if you want to share a story, ask a question about your Irish surname or just to say hello!
Slán for now – Mike.