Armagh priest, his buggy, and the Battle of Gettysburg

Peter Kelly, head of operations at the Ulster American Folk Park, with the vintage 19th century buggy that is going on display
Peter Kelly, head of operations at the Ulster American Folk Park, with the vintage 19th century buggy that is going on display

A horse-drawn buggy used by a Co Armagh priest during the American Civil War is being unveiled by the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh.

The buggy belonged to Fr Arthur Michael McGinnis, who was born in 1835 and was originally from the Dorsey area near Cullyhana. He left Ireland in 1856 for Philadelphia, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and sent to the small town of Gettysburg in 1861.

Family history has it that he was approached by a Confederate soldier one evening in late June and forced to go to the Confederate camp. The soldier had promised his dying friend that he would find him a priest so Fr McGinnis gave the dying soldier the last rites and he was allowed to return to Gettysburg.

By the time he got back to the town the battle that was to define the American Civil War was about to start.

Fr McGinnis was the first to open his church to receive the dying and wounded from both sides in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Commenting on the buggy, Liam Corry, assistant curator at the Ulster American Folk Park, said: “The buggy is a very important object which has a wonderful story. Ownership of it has moved down the generations through Father McGinnis’ family maternal line.

“This new addition to the Ulster American Folk Park’s collection tells an engaging story of the buggy itself and also an insight into emigration in the 1860s and the significant part the Irish played in both sides of the American Civil War.”

The buggy itself was manufactured in Ohio sometime before 1860 and the priest probably acquired it in his first parish in much the same way they would often be given a car at their first parish in a modern Irish setting, he said. It would have been considered a mid-range vehicle in its time, “comparable to a Toyota Avensis”.

He admitted that it “didn’t make much sense” for the family to go to all the expense of transporting it back to Co Armagh around 1922 instead of buying a new one here.

“Obviously they were quite attached to it, there is the enduring family story of its links with Gettysburg. Perhaps that was the reason they could not let it go. There is still some family pride in the story.”

A full programme of events will take place to mark the museum’s 40th anniversary this year, including an exhibition of 11 drawings by Belfast artist Frank McKelvey (1895-1974) of American presidents.

Special events planned as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations will include Easter celebrations, the American Independence celebrations in July (coinciding with the actual anniversary date) and the annual Bluegrass Music Festival which will also be celebrating its own 25th anniversary in 2016.