I spent my time in Belfast in the best possible way - a daily personal tour by a local and relative of mine (I couldn’t begin to explain how he is related to me - he’s a Garland, so it’s on my dad’s side), Roy and his wife, Marion. Roy is an author and a weekly columnist for The Irish News. Not only is Roy well educated in the politics of, and trouble between, Ireland and Northern Ireland but he has done extensive research on Garland family history.
We spent part of our time driving around the notoriously troubled areas of Belfast - the Shankill Road (where Roy grew up) and the Falls Road. To possibly oversimplify things, the Shankill Road is predominantly Protestant, unionist or loyalist whereas the Falls Road is predominantly Catholic, nationalist. The two are separated by barriers called peace lines. There are murals painted on many of these buildings in these areas, generally depicting political messages, though Roy told me that lately, some of the murals have been repainted to have a more positive message than in the past.
Roy and Marion also drove me into County Louth, Ireland where the Gernon/Garland family predominantly lived. The area is called Castlebellingham, or in Irish, Baile an Ghearlanaigh, or Garlandstown.
In Castlebellingham - or Garlandstown, rather (let’s go with that - sounds much better, I think!), we first went to the Bellingham Castle Hotel in the place where a Garland castle used to sit before it was burned hundreds of years ago. We walked around the grounds, and it was absolutely beautiful. There were horses there, and one bit me - or rather, my coat - but that's a whole other story.
After we had tea at the hotel and talked to the bartender who knew quite a bit of the area's history, we visited Dromiskin Church, Round Tower and graveyard where the heiress to one of the two Garland castles we would visit was buried.
The first Garland castle we visited was the Garland castle of Milltown, which sits on land owned by a man named Paul Matthews. Paul was kind enough to let us go in the castle, despite its dilapidated condition. We were only able to go up to the second floor, as the steps were too unsafe to climb any higher.
The second Garland castle we visited was the Garland castle of Killincoole. It appeared to be in better condition on the outside than the Milltown castle, but the owners of the land upon which this castle sits were not home, so we were unable to go inside. From what Roy said, though, it is dilapidated as well.
After visiting the castles, we drove to the Killincoole Church and graveyard, which was founded by Garlands. The church was originally a Catholic church and then became a Protestant church but is no longer used. Two Garlands - Nicholas and Patrick - were buried in the graveyard in 1878, and there is a baptismal font with ancient ogham script (it looks like long etched lines) sitting in the graveyard that was given to the church by Garlands.
Beyond the Ireland and Northern Ireland history and the Garland family history, we also visited Carlingford, a medieval town in Ireland, as well as Carrickfergus Castle, which is outside of Belfast. And actually for just a bit more Garland family history, Ralph Gernon (the surname predecessor to Garland and used interchangeably for hundreds of years) traveled to Carrickfergus Castle with King John in 1210, as King John's knight and marshal.
Anyone ready for a test?