This week’s Thursday Doors will explore the connection between the town of Dundalk, the Scottish poet, Robert Burns and an old book that’s been in our family for generations. Remember that green copper spire that could be seen in the distance in one of my photos in a recent post? Well, let’s have a closer look at the church it belongs to.
The parish church of Saint Nicholas was built in the 13th century and is known affectionately as the Green Church, referring to the copper spire turning green over the years. As in many other port towns, it’s named after one of the patron saints of sailors (who is also the patron saint of children, wolves and pawnbrokers – I’m not making this up). The church was extensively remodeled in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, so that only the nave and tower date from the medieval period. In the churchyard you’ll find graves dating back to 1536 but the gates were locked when I was there and I couldn’t get close enough to take any photographs.
Now let’s see where the Robert Burns connection comes in. This memorial, just inside the church railings, is a tribute to the Scottish poet and a memorial to his sister, Agnes.
Agnes Burns was the poet’s eldest sister, born in 1762 in South Ayrshire. In 1804, at the age of forty two, she married William Galt, who had worked for her brother Gilbert at Dinning Farm. She came from a poor, hard working family and her father believed in the importance of education. This greatly attributed to Robert Burns success as a poet, along with his keen observance of everyday life.
Agnes and her husband arrived in County Louth in 1817, when William was contracted by a local landlord to build a large pond on his estate so that shrubs and trees could have water during the dry summers Ireland experienced at the time. (Yes, we used to have long hot summers in the old days). The landlord was so pleased with William Galt’s work that he made him Confidential Manager of the estate with a salary of forty guineas a year. This position came with the use of a cottage and some land for growing vegetables and keeping a cow. His wife, Agnes, received an allowance of five guineas a year for working as a dairymaid. The couple had no children and lived very comfortably for the rest of their lives. On October 17, 1834, Agnes died aged 72. William lived on until March 3, 1847 and they are both buried in the cemetery of St. Nicholas Church (The Green Church).
Across the street from the church is P J Carroll’s tobacconist shop, which was established in 1824 and developed into a large factory employing many local workers in later years.
One of their popular brand’s was called Sweet Afton. It was launched in 1919 to celebrate the link between Dundalk and Robert Burns, through his sister Agnes. The people of the town were canvassed on whether an image of the poet or a Scottish name should be on the packet, as the company wanted it to appeal to Scottish customers.
The name is taken from the poem Sweet Afton. Here’s the first few lines;
Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise
My Mary’s asleep by they murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream
This is a lyrical poem describing the Afton river in Ayrshire, Scotland and was written by Burns in 1791. In 1837 it was set to music by Jonathan E. Spilman, titled Flow Gently Sweet Afton. By now you must be wondering where an old book comes into this.
It belonged to my grandmother originally. The writing is so tiny I can hardly read it with my glasses on. What I find fascinating is what is handwritten on the first page, presumably by whoever bought the book, whether for themselves or as a gift.
Interestingly, the Afton River gives its name to the Glen of Afton, which apparantly has connections with the Scottish patriot, William Wallace. His seal is on a letter dated 1297 giving some the opinion that Wallace’s father was from that area but historians differ on this. Also, a rock further up the Glen is called Castle William. Maybe the William Wallace in my book is one of his descendants.
Thanks for coming down this week’s rabbit-hole of a blog post with me. Norm has lots of Thursday Doors over on his blog that I’m sure you’ll enjoy, just click the links in the comments at the end of his post.