Friday, May 08, 2009

From the Archives: The search for Thomas English

Part II — Stone walls and sheep fields

I had two goals for my trip to Ireland: to find the old Quaker cemetery and meeting house ruins in Moate, where the Thomas English family (my ancestors) had lived, and to search the meeting records for family information.
We rented a car in Dublin and hit the road — “the left side, drive on the left side!” We arrived in Moate (pronounced “mote”), a small town in the middle of Ireland, in County Westmeath. We saw stone walls, sheep fields with lush green grass, houses and old churches.
Having learned that the Quaker cemetery was on the grounds of “the Castle,” I started my search at Dún na Sí, the local heritage center. They told me where to find the Castle and its owner.
While there, I learned an important fact — that early Quakers did not believe in grave inscriptions. They would be marked with a simple stone or not at all.
The Castle is a stone manor house, once owned by the town landlord, John Clibborn, who married Thomas English’s daughter, Dinah. I found its current owner, Reggie Mitchell, working in his flower shop in town. He told me that I was welcome to look around, but I would have to climb some walls.
His directions led me down an alley between the backs of pubs and the stone wall surrounding the Castle grounds. It started to rain, but I had come so far I wasn’t going to be turned back by a little weather. I found the lowest part of the wall, stepped on a rock and clambered over the slippery stones. I thought, no hope of wearing these pants again tomorrow. I found the cemetery, just as Mitchell described, with a leaning, six-foot iron gate locked with a rusted padlock. I wasn’t sure it would even hold me.
It did. It was easier to climb than the wall, although the rain had picked up and everything was wet.
The grass and weeds were so long that I walked on top of them, not seeing the ground. I felt a stone and moved the grass with my boot to see that it was a plain one. Could Thomas English have been buried here? Near it was a newer, marked stone, one of the Clibborns.
Around the corner were more stones, all from later years (1800s). They were in sorry state. Some were readable, but many had fallen over and were buried under tall grass.
Soaked to the skin, I retreated to the inn and dried off. The next day I returned an easier way, through the sheep field, a modern gate, and over some barbed wire.
I found the remains of some rooms; apparently the meeting house was built around the cemetery. I tried to imagine what it had been like in this place where my ancestors sat and worshipped 350 years ago, but I could not quite picture it.
Dublin pulled us back to the modern world with the shock of a crowded, sprawling city. I took a taxi to Quaker House in the suburbs. They are only open two hours each Thursday; I had planned our whole week around them.
It was worth it. They graciously let me stay all afternoon.
The librarian brought me the first minute book of Moate meeting and loaned me gloves to handle the 17th century pages. It contained vital records by family, deaths and burials, including Thomas English and his children.
The marriage records were wonderfully detailed, including the vows and witnesses. One was of the marriage of Joshua English, Thomas’ great-grandson who immigrated to South Carolina, to Mary Holmes.
At a meeting in Lismoyney in 1725 or 1726, “He the said Joshua English Taking the Said Mary Holmes by the Hand, Did openly Declare...friends You Are witnesses, that I take Mary Holmes to be My wife Promising with the Lords Assistance to be Unto her a Loving And faithfull Husband till Death Sepparates us, And then And there...Mary Holmes Did In Like Manner Declare” the same vows.
I would love to have had more time, but I copied so much information that my head was spinning.
Ms. Betty was kind enough to give me a ride back to the hotel.
I happily told my finds to my sister as we packed for the trip home. I had enough research to last me a long time — at least until the next trip.

Published in the Archdale-Trinity News, August 31, 2006.

Read Part I here.

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