The latest book review features a historical look at north Armagh, including the unlikely tale of a local man who went on to modernise China in the 1800s.
The Ground We Stand On, by Tommy Glenny
By way of introduction I wish to say that local historian Thomas Glenny’s new book ‘The Ground We Stand On’ is a well researched history of north Co Armagh and in its 250 pages this Birches author unfolds for us stories which start in the local townlands but spread to involve people far removed by geography and time.
In particular his tale of local born man Robert Hart who went on to modernize China in the nineteenth century gives an interesting insight into a man and his family connections while the scope of his achievements and respect in which he was held around the world are breathtaking.
Who knew for instance that Norway presented him with the Grand Order of St Olaf, or that he was honoured by Italy, Belgium, France Japan, Russia, China, Japan, Holland, Portugal, Austria, USA, The Vatican, not to mention the U.K.!
The author mixes tales of the big names like Hart and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson with those who ventured forth without acclaim, but whose lives led them to momentous places and events such as the Maori wars, the Boer war and WW1.
The landlord family The Verners left a bolder mark than most and here Glenny’s research has unearthed some fascinating facts. The family home Churchill House at Mullankille near Peatlands Park sent forth a series of military heroes and members of parliament, and in many ways the Verners were a classic ‘establishment family’ of the time.
But from their midst emerged one Jenny Verner who was a rebel at heart and who blazed an Irish republican trail across the world, and when she died on the very last day of the 19th century the Irish community of New York erected a large Celtic Cross to her memory.
Thomas Glenny is well known as a modern day poet and he makes good use of verse and song from many ages past to illustrate and enliven the pages of this comprehensive book. He has a wonderful knowledge of shops and businesses in Portadown having worked there in times past. His stories are always entertaining recalling businesses and characters long gone.
The section entitled ‘The Moss Men of The Birches’ illustrates as to how important the peat industry once was to the local economy and he underscores his narrative with some humorous accounts associated with the now forgotten labour force. His research into the families who laboured to extract peat from the bogs reveals tales of help, kindness, and generosity among those who had little to spare.
Liberally illustrated with eye catching photography overall the book is a compelling read not only for the local but for those interested in Irelands past, and without doubt will appeal wholeheartedly to the many exiles and their descendants, who once left this land to seek a life in the wider realm.
Covering early history and going back in time to the Christian influence of St Patrick, this book is a sweeping history and the author is to be congratulated in the use of his knowledge of local families and their part in such watershed events as the Battle of the Diamond 1795 and in bringing events up to the present day.
Indeed by making good use of photography, maps, poetry, music and song, the reader can not fail but to grasp a sound understanding of the ground we all now stand on today.
Published privately copies may be had from Thomas Glenny 13 Derrylileagh Rd. Derryadd, The Birches Portadown Co Armagh. BT62 1TQ. [Telephone 028 3885 1795] email; TJRGlenny@aol.com
Reviewed by Graham Brown
Director, InHouse Publishing, Portadown Co Armagh.