Still Waters Run Deep at Loughmourne

Dr David Hume looks at forgotten history in a small rural community

You will be forgiven if you have never heard of Loughmourne. Even though it is a legendary place. Loughmourne lies to the north of Carrickfergus, on the inland road towards Gleno, and to the west of the village of Ballycarry. There is no centre and no village, just a crossroads with a church nearby, and the lough further along the road.

It is a rural landscape, dotted with farms and houses, the population increased by livestock which graze contentedly in the fields. The Presbyterian Church is typically Scottish in its austere design, and the area takes its name from the lough.

Beneath the surface, Loughmourne has a considerable history. History surrounds those buried in the church cemetery. Tommy Bryans, the Bard of Beltoy, and one of a lost generation of local folk poets who entertained with locally-inspired verse, is among the dead.

The congregation of Presbyterians which used to worship at Loughmourne, long before the present church was built, were Covenanters. In 1772, most of them boarded a ship bound for South Carolina.

They were part of a migration movement of five ships, led by Rev William Martin of Ballymoney. Their sons would later take part in the American Revolution.

A short distance from the main road, running from the church, the waters of Lough Mourne reservoir can be seen. Taken over by the Belfast Water Commissioners to supply water to Belfast in the latter part of the 19th century, the reservoir used the lake, which has provided Loughmourne's enduring status. The folk stories were quite clear about how it came to be.

According to legend there had been a village. One day a peddlar came into the area, selling matches to make a living. Nobody in Loughmourne would buy from him, and he was turned away.

The peddler took this badly and, amid mirth from locals, cursed the place, informing them that before the next morning the village would be gone.

Hardly had he left or the derisory laughter died away, than eels began to appear inside the houses of the village. Eels were quickly followed by water, which rose until the village had disappeared under the lough as it now is.

An interesting tale and a legend that, like many others, has some factual basis.

In the last years of the 19th century, when the Water Commissioners were draining the lough in preparation for engineering work, the remains of five crannogs (ancient island dwellings) emerged as the water went down.

Further drought in the early 1900s afforded another view of the crannogs, four linked by a causeway to the shore, and the other to the distance beyond.

Excavations were carried out and much material of interest was recovered, including items of jewellery, homeware, and animal bones. A canoe also emerged from the mud.

There never was a peddler or a curse (at least, we assume not), but there had been houses in the lake.  Houses built by ancient hands using stilts hammered into the lake bed, with foundations of stones. Trees and vegetation were placed inside the area to give stability. The house would have then been erected on top of the foundation.

One of the items of jewellery recovered looks fit for a princess. Loughmourne also had one of those.

Her name was E e-wah gang-ah moonee in the language of the Naskopie Indians, but back in Loughmourne she was Martha Craig, an intelligent and well-educated lady of science.

Born at Carneal, Craig was the daughter of John Craig and Mary Nelson, she attended the universities of Paris, Madrid and Salamanca, where some of her papers can still be viewed in the libraries.

In 1904 Martha was developing the theory - later espoused by Einstein - that the earth was at the centre of a vortex. In search of evidence she arrived in Labrador in Canada in 1904, where her aim was to travel to the wilds to see the Aurora Borealis.

As recounted in an article in the London Illustrated Mail in 1906, few men and no woman had penetrated this little-known country before.

After leaving Quebec, she sailed along the coast for 500 miles to the Hudson Bay post of Mingau, where she hired two Montagnie Indians as her guides.

It was several days into the journey to the interior that they encountered a band of Naskopie Indians, who joined Craig at her campfire. They told Craig they would make magic for her and performed a number of tribal dances, accompanied by drums.

Craig said that she too would perform magic and produced a gramophone, which she played to the astonishment of the party. The London Illustrated tells us that she then placed a blank disc on the gramophone and encouraged one of the Indians to sing, then played back the recording, causing much excitement.

Too much of a scientist to allow the Indians to believe she was a magician, Craig showed them how the gramophone worked. The next day some hard bartering began, the Naskopie wanting to own the instrument.

Refusal was impossible. They would give anything they had for the instrument. At last they agreed to exchange a gold mine for the gramaphone. Craig recalled:

'It is a country containing fair deposits of the precious metal, but although white men had searched for it in vain on many occasions, the Indians were cute enough to always lead them off the track. It was therefore only my 'voice catcher' which gave me the knowledge which I now possess of where a gold mine is situated in Labrador'.

The Indians honoured the Ulster-Scot explorer by making her a Naskopie Princess. The journey was full of other adventures too, one of them not so pleasant.

One evening, her guides having gone hunting, Craig was camped by her fire when wolves approached. They encircled her, and the fire burned low as time went on.

Craig's life was in danger. The Loughmourne woman was quick-thinking, grabbing a blazing brand from the fire and swinging it around her head, before throwing it in the direction of the wolves.

The beasts scattered for long enough to allow Craig to reach other logs nearby, and use them to build up a blaze which kept the wolves away.

Even so, the secondary fire had almost burned down again by the time the guides returned and dispersed the wolves with gunfire.

Such trauma was worthwhile, however, when Craig was able to witness the Aurora Borealis. She viewed it from a mountain ridge, and in her own words:

'Suddenly above the rugged outline of the plateau a dark, semi-transparent cloud became manifest, from the outer edge of this cloud burst a wave of brilliant crimson light of semi-circular form. The appearance of this light was accompanied by a harmonious sound like the music of innumerable stringed instruments.

'Ere this terrestrial music had died away a wave of brilliant rose light flashed upwards above the crimson.  Higher and higher rose these successive waves of colour and crimson fading into pale rose and amethyst shot with exquisite tints of pale green and purple.

'This upward rising of successive waves continued until the Aurora stretched from east to west, and reached from the earth to the zenith. Then from the outer edge of the dark disc flashed myriad swords of fire. Piercing the radiant waves of colour, they rose above them in glittering tongues of flame.

'Their upward flashing was accompanied by a continuous crackling sound, which resembled somewhat an electrical storm. I waited on the lonely plateau till the light of the Aurora had faded. Only a few hours I had stood there, but in that short space of time I had seen an unmistakable proof that the planet on which we live is the centre of a vortex', she said.

Craig travelled extensively in Europe and presented papers at various universities on her theory, combining this with a poetic bent and an interest in alternative medicine.

This article first appeared in The Ulster Scot, official publication of the Ulster-Scots Agency.