The Harshaw Diaries assessed

The launch of Marjorie Harshaw Robb’s book reminded me that I had not yet offered a critique of the historical significance of The Harshaw Diaries. I do so now.

The Harshaw Diaries (1830s – 1860s) offer a small insight into life in Donaghmore ..

John Martin’s Grave, Donaghmore Churchyard

… (~ four miles North of Newry) in the mid-nineteenth century, from the perspective of the diarist, a prominent Presbyterian farmer and land owner. 

But for the occasional reference to two of Harshaw’s kin by marriage, the patriots John Mitchel and John Martin, they are of no interest to the general reader – and of very limited interest to all but the social and Church historian. Even references to these local titans of Republican history display no sympathy for the patriots’ chosen paths, but refer only to family grief at the fate that befell them.

That said the diligent reader can, from careful scrutiny, extract a few nuggets of precious local information, some of which are reproduced here.

The six volumes (not chronological) are in the nature of account books (of the business of the farm), note books (of miscellaneous happenings and activities of the diarist) and diaries proper. There are details of deaths, marriages and births of family members, a great deal of poignant references to many emigrations to America and Australia and much Church business, which seemed to dominate the life of James Harshaw as much as his farm and business interests. There are notes for example, on the two types of Unitarians (the Mitchels, John and his Minister father were of one), on lists of tenants who for whatever reason were served notices to quit, administration of wills, many references to Orange parades and riots that occasionally ensued (Dolly’s Brae earning one mention: ‘..Orange procession attacked by Roman Catholics at a place called Dolly’s Brae beyond Rathfriland: the Orangemen fired, a great affray ensued and several Roman Catholics were killed and some Orangemen wounded..’), evangelical church services (more than one reference to the famous Rev Henry Cooke), attendance at Dispensary meetings and at Meetings of Boards of Guardians, sermons railing against horse races and steeple chases, even lists of jigs and reels, and so on.

The family historian or general genealogist will find much to absorb him. James (in Diary 3, for example) refers to those known to him travelling to Belfast on their way to emigration to America; Andrew McClelland and family, Mrs McVeight, William McVeight and wife, Thomas Clegg and wife, Thomas Boyd and wife, Mrs Dell and son Samuel.  Some emigrants were his immediate family and they were furnished with letters of recommendation from local dignitaries (.. copy, letter from John Smyth & Co, Banbridge to Messrs J & J Stewart, New York, introducing William Harshaw and recommending him as a good employee). Joseph and Willy (his sons) left too and we learn details of their progress. ‘ .. sailed on board the Janet about eight o’clock this morning from Warrenpoint to New York..’. Later ..’post woman handed me a letter informing me that they had reached New York in good health after passage of 65 days ..’. More emigrations follow, confirming that the better-off and Protestants continued to emigrate to the New World, even as the mass migration of the dispossessed Catholics was beginning.

James Harshaw (the diarist) was born in 1799 and married Sarah, daughter of William Kidd of Kiddstown in 1816. They had twelve children whose names and dates of birth are recorded in Volume 4.  James was an elder in Donaghmore Presbyterian Church and some of his children entered that Church as ministers. James also served as a local legal figure, arbitrating in land disputes, executing wills and serving on Relief Committees and Dispensary Committees. More than anything else the diaries record the everyday, mundane affairs of the farm: practices and accounts related to potatoes, oats, flax, cattle and vegetable crops. The diaries also contain mildly interesting accounts for scutchers, ‘streekers’, beetlers and attendants, farm labourers and of farm goods sold. These accounts give details of the work done by farm labourers, how many days they worked and how much (little?) they were paid.

James Harshaw’s sister Jane married a Samuel Martin, whose Presbyterian family were also prominent in the area. Their son John, the patriot and Repealer, became a colleague of Gavin Duffy as did his childhood friend and relative John Mitchel. Indeed after the arrest and transportation of Mitchel, John Martin took over editorship of the paper The Nation. He wrote too for The United Irishman and eventually he also was arrested and transported. Harshaw in his diaries comments …

… In consequence of having heard yesterday evening that Mr Gavin Duffy of the ‘Nation’ was arrested and in Newgate in the same room as John Martin, I slept sounder .. because he (John) felt much more comfortable ..

‘received a note from John .. informing me that the judge had charged against John Martin which grieved me much .. second note informed me that the jury had found him guilty, with a recommendation to mercy – James Martin (brother) immediately after, challenged the foreman of the jury to mortal combat .. he was then arrested and lodged in jail..’

‘Honest’ John Martin, as he was widely known, was sentenced to transportation to Australia but later returned to Ireland and served as MP for Meath 1871-1875.

PRONI has now possession of these Diaries (D/4149) and also a microfilm copy of the final diary (MIC/39). This latter contains the last entries of James Harshaw and a sketch by his son Andrew, telling of his father’s illness, death and funeral.

We are unlikely to return to this theme, so in consequence we note below a further dozen or so entries from the Harshaw Diaries which some Newry Journal readers may find of interest.  The numbers that prefix these notes refer to the Diary number.

1 .. attending the General Assembly in Belfast … attending a meeting of the late relief committee .. when we agreed that the proceeds of the broken stone should be laid out in the purchase of blankets .. for the poor of Donaghmore and Glen ..

.. notes for the publication of the United Irishmen by John Mitchel, 12 Feb 1848, judgement and sentencing of Mitchel, 27 May 1848 ..

great provincial tenant-right meeting in Dungannon .. .. disease first appeared in the potato tops 7 Aug 1848 .. spread of disease .. Barney Cooke and wife left for America 24 Oct 1848 .. copy of a letter to Dr Henry Cooke, from (author) James Harshaw, asking him to watch out for his son, a ministerial student at the Assembly’s college .. ordination of new elders etc …

2 .. Orange processions in Loughbrickland and Rathfriland 13 July 1846 ; ..a procession of Ribbonmen at Downpatrick on St Patrick’s Day and the shooting of an Orangeman 28 Mar 1849 ..

3 .. being examined by the Landlord and Tenant Commission in Newry .. death of sister 16 July 1847 .. Mr Moore gave a short address to those about to emigrate (listed before) .. potato disease ‘continues to spread all over the tops’ (of the plants) 31 Aug 1849 .. copy letter re. James Harshaw (son) from John D Martin, Presbyterian minister at Tullyallen, recommending him to whom he might encounter in a foreign land 27 Sept 1849 

.. sheevers had eaten bread, butter and cheese, and drunk some whiskey and they danced until about 12 o’clock – John played the fiddle .. (i.e. re. harvest celebration) .. taking of the census 31 Mar 1851 .. election of Dr Saunderson as surgeon at the Donaghmore Dispensary .. James Wright and sister Eliza leave for New York 7 Jun 1851 .. farm’s agricultural return: wheat 6.5 acres, oats 11, potatoes 7, turnips 0.5, mangel 0.25, carrots 0.5, flax 8, meadow and clover 8. Remainder grass. Horses 4, cows 11, heifers 10, sheep 5, pigs 5, fowl 100 4 Sept 1851.

4 .. copy promissory note

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