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Mary Ann Millar née Laverty was born in 1866 to a comfortable farming family at Deerfin on the outskirts of Ballymena, Co.Antrim, Northern Ireland. Mary Ann’s mother died in 1880. These stories of childhood, therefore, relate mainly to the 1870s.
Mary Ann was my great-grandmother. My mother adored her and brought us up on stories of “Grandma” as she called her, and “Grandma”’s Granma referred to by my mother as “Grandmama O’Hara”.
In the 1930s while in her 70s, Mary Ann wrote the memoir directly and without corrections or re-workings into three school copy-books. In the 1950s her daughter, my Great Aunt Enie (Rosena Millar), had the memoir typed by Seumas McManus, widower of Mary Ann’s late cousin Anna Johnston (poet Ethna Carbery).
My mother owned both copies of this memoir but never knew what a treasure it was, assuming it to be something by her Aunt Enie who, it seems, regularly had stories returned with regrets. I found the copy-books after Mum’s death and spent ages trying to figure out who had written them for they are rich in detail but scant on names and dates.
There is some confusion in the texts - Mary Ann is remembering stories from her childhood not writing a work of historic accuracy - in Ch. 7 “December Stillness” Father remembers his mother’s funeral while she is still alive, and the visit of Uncle James Johnston the ship’s doctor appears to be mixed up too as I have been unable to find him in the records but have found an earlier Dr. James Johnston who fits the descriptions but is dead before Mary Ann is born. Chapter 15 “Mother’s Schooldays” says that the late Margaret (Madge, Margery) Magee, wife of Robert Johnston, had made Granma’s bonnet: she may well have done so but she also outlived Granma.
When the time came for me to have the work typed (thank you, Pamela, for the typing) I used the 1950s version as it was easier to type from but realised later that Mary Ann’s colloquial turn of phrase had been tidied up in this version. I edited the work back to the copy-book text.The story of “Quilting” Chapter 4, and the description of Christmas Midnight Mass in Chapter 15 “Mother’s Schooldays” are not in the copy-books, hence a subtle difference in language; they are definitely by Mary Ann, however.
I also changed the chapters a little bit; Mary Ann had 15 chapters but the 17 presented here seems to cause less confusion than her huge chapter towards the end so full of conversation. I named the chapters and gave a list of contents for each.
Some objects survive time: photographs are included here of two of the lustre jugs (Ch. 2 “Tailor John”), two copies of Ethna Carberry’s Four Winds of Erin (Ch. 1 “Dear Granma”), “A Digest of the Historical Account of the Diocese of Down & Connor” by Monsignor James O’Laverty (Ch. 7 “December Stillness”), the 1950s typed version of “Memories of my Irish Home”attributed by great-aunt Enie to Mary Ann’s mother, and Mary Ann’s three handwritten copy-books.
Part of Ch 4 “Quilting” appeared in the catalogue Log Cabin to Lightning Streak: Patchwork Quilts from Mid-Antrim. Published 2014 by Mid-Antrim Museum.