Tuesday 11th April
The staff at the Burns Monument Centre in Kilmarnock were very excited that their stylish new archive building was going to get a bit of publicity.
They welcomed me very warmly and gave me a cup of coffee in their staff room while I waited for GMTV’s weather presenter Kirsty McCabe and producer Michelle to arrive.
I was also given a guide tour of the rather chilly archive room where precious documents going back to the 16th century are stored.
The white sterile room is one of the only ones of it’s kind in Scotland. The chill feeling is because the atmosphere is strictly controlled.
The temperature and humidity are set to be the best to prevent any deterioration in the stored records.
It was a pity that we would not have enough time in the piece we were doing to include the room.
Starting in the centre’s library, for the next couple of days we would be filming Kirsty finding out about her family tree.
Michelle had done a stack of research along with various other archivists to trace Kirsty’s parental line back as far as possible.
She knew a lot about Kirsty’s past, but had not told her anything wanting it to be a bit of a journey of discovery for her.
Linda, one of the ladies had drawn the short straw and would be starring on our little production. She would be guiding Kirsty through the history of her family in and around the Kilmarnock area.
She was a little bit nervous about her part in the filming.
Although we try make people feel as comfortable as possible when you wire them up with microphones and blast them with lighting it is understandably difficult for those non exhibitionists amongst us not to feel quite daunted when they need to perform in front of a camera.
Shooting Kirsty and Linda Checking the Records.
Our next stop on our Kirsty’s quest was her mum and dad’s house in the town.
Now, Patrick, her dad was a different story. He was what one would describe as a bit of a character.
As soon as I was introduced to him I realised that I should not take him too seriously. The mischievous glint in his eyes gave away that I would need to use liberal pinches of salt to accompany most of what he said.
He was a Chiropodist or as they now call them a Podiatrist. I thought that they were different things but in a fleeting moment of believable seriousness he put me right.
We did a little piece in his consulting room where he and Kirsty swapped stories about what they knew about the family history.
The foot doctor thing went back almost to the time the McCabes came and settled in Scotland from Ireland a few generations ago.
Kirsty’s dad’s name, Patrick might have been a bit of a clue.
Patrick, Kirsty and an Old Photo.
So after Kirsty’s mum gave us a bit of a feed and her dad went off to entertain another one of his patients we headed to Glasgow airport to catch an early evening flight to Belfast.
Wednesday 12th May
Our hotel was a good hour and a half drive into County Monaghan in the southern part of Ireland.
We had had a late dinner and a reasonable sleep in a slightly bizarre hotel where the restaurant and function rooms were named after famous painters and the decor based on shades of purple.
I would have liked to have the time to have a look at the Edvard Munch suite.
The library at Clones, a half hour drive from the purple padded palace of the Hillgrove hotel is another modern stylish building.
Librarian Catherine and local historian George had done a bit of digging in the archives and traced Kirsty’s ancestors to before the potato famine when they fled to Scotland to escape the death and disease of the time.
George and Kirsty Talk Before the Interview.
One of the birth records found in Kilmarnock mentioned that one of Kirsty’s forebears came from a place called Black Quarter.
None of the old records in Clones contained any hint of a place with the same name. Catherine and her staff had scoured lots of leather-bound books and painstakingly hand written records going back many years to no avail.
The consensus was that there might have been a mix up in the pronunciation of the name and the registrar in Edinburgh had misheard Blackwater for Black Quarter.
That’s because there is a Blackwater river that flows close to the various other towns mentioned in the family documents.
That all seemed perfectly possible.
Michelle and Catherine were having a look at a modern OS map to get an idea of the surrounding area when Michelle pointed to a tiny name not far from a town called Keady.
It read “Black Quarter Fort”.
Could this be the area he came from?
This discovery lead to a reopening of a number of books which turned up a clutch of McCabes in that area.
Although not, as far as the experts could tell, directly related to Kirsty we were off to see a famous McCabe, author Eugene.
A small, balding, bearded elderly chap with a tuneful Irish lilt met us down a rough track that lead to a memorial to the victims of the famine in the mid 1800’s
It was the man himself. He chatted away to Kirsty and they discussed the extended McCabe clan. He was convinced that somewhere down the line that there would be some connection between them.
We were setting up to record a chat with Kirsy and Eugene by a gate to a field when I noticed a dark line on the back of Eugene’s head.
It was a row of stitches to repair a gash on his head that he had sustained in a fall a couple of days ago.
Kirsty Chats to Author Eugene McCabe.
He had gone to answer the phone. In his rush to get to it before the answering machine kicked in he tripped and clattered his head against the corner of a wall.
Michelle blushed a bit when he told us that as he hit the floor the answering machine picked up the call.
Clambering back to his feet, blood gushing from the cut in his head he heard Michelle’s happy voice talking about the arrangements for the filming that we were now doing.
We did another bit of filming beside the memorial, but not before a local photographer had taken a few photographs of us that appeared in the Monaghan Gazette.
Set up Shot for the Monaghan Gazette.
The memorial itself is one of the most understated yet emotional monuments that I have ever seen.
It is a life size figure of a young person in, I would say their mid or early twenties laying under a thin shroud.
The peaceful face which could either be a male or a female is half covered with the cloth.
An inscription is carved on the part that covers the legs.
It is not possible to do the burial area and mini monument justice in words. There are none adequate to convey the emotion that is evoked when you see the serene face devoid of life next to a small lumpy field covered in rough grass under which are the bodies of many of the victims of the cruel famine that took away so many lives a hundred and fifty years ago.
Back at the library Catherine treated us to a cup of coffee and fantastic local bread.
We were interested to see if we could see any of the area that spawned Kirsty’s Irish ancestors so we went off in search of the Black Quarter.
When we got to the area Michelle started asking locals if they had heard of the place.
Some had, some had not.
One chap busy digging in a trench at the side of the road was particularly helpful giving Michelle some very precise and lengthy directions.
Although, once he had finished he said that he did not come from round here and didn’t really know where the Black Quarter was, but the directions were to a nice place.
After a lot of driving around narrow country lanes and asking more folk we ended up at an area that the majority of locals agreed was the Black Quarter area.
We stopped the cars and got out ready to do a quick piece to camera beside a hedge. We wanted to be quick because we had to get back to Monaghan and it was starting to rain.
Kirsty was just about to start talking when a figure in a scruffy Barbour type jacket came striding up a lane swinging a walking stick.
He didn’t look too happy.
“Yer on private land y’know!”, he said rather aggressively.
His demeanour changed completely from one of preparing to do battle to one of jolly helpfulness when we explained who we were and what we were doing.
He went back down the lane to his house and quickly came back with a little map and gave us the name of a local man who according to him would know all that there was to know about the local area and that he had indeed heard of a property that had been owned by McCabes in the area.
Sadly, we did not have time to pursue that avenue of enquiry.
Our final bit of shooting was a kind of scene setter in what we hoped would be a busy typical Irish bar with a little bit of Irish music that Michelle had organised.
We were keen for the bar to be lively and busy for two reasons.
Firstly from a professional point of view we wanted to convey the atmosphere of Ireland that we are all familiar with and secondly from a personal point of view, we were all quite hungry having given up lunch to hunt for the mysterious Black Quarter.
When we got to the closed doors of the bar we were disappointed on both counts.
The only action in the pub was Simon the sound recordist setting up some of his kit, the fiddle player from the band taking her fiddle out of it’s box and a woman sweeping up the broken glass on the floor.
Although quiet it was a large dark bar.
To make it a bit more intimate I pulled a few bits of bar furniture into a small area and lit it with my little lights trying to maintain a feeling of happy warmth.
When the other two members of the band arrived and we had managed to enlist a couple of members of the bar staff who had been working in the back along with Rory from Failte Ireland we did a quick bit of filming.
The Band, Pipes, Fiddle and Guitar.
The band played a jolly Irish jig.
It did not take too long to shoot the little sequence of Kirsty coming into the "busy", "bustling". bar and chatting to a couple of locals discovering that the name McCabe is a very popular one in and around Monaghan.
I then had to get back to Belfast as fast as possible to catch my flight back to Glasgow.
I just made it before the gate closed.
None of us had managed to get anything to eat since our sample of the local bread all that time ago in Clones Library.
As soon as I got off the short flight I headed for food before my drive back to Edinburgh.