The close ties between the people and the land in Ulster has only within the last two generations, been replaced by a more urban ‘modern’ lifestyle. This study of the farms and farming families, on two thousand acres of hilly terrain in two adjacent townlands, Edymore and Cavanalee, south-east of Strabane and overlooking the River Mourne, is a model for local studies.
The story is based on research in one of the greatest collections of estate records in Britain or Ireland, the Abercorn Papers in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Before 1600 the land belonged to the great O’Neill clan. After the Plantation, it was granted to the Abercorn family and the land divided into small farms. Over the ensuing centuries the farmers created well-run and profitable mixed farms.
At the beginning of the twentieth century came another great sea-change: families at last had the chance to own the land that their forebears had, as tenants, tilled for generations. If anything, changes through the twentieth century, both on and off the farms, have been greater than those of the previous two hundred years. Some farms expanded, some stayed the same size: what links them all is that the family unit remained as the cement that held them together and bound them to the land.
The development of the farms and the lives of four of the longest-surviving families are retraced in absorbing detail. So too is the social fabric which linked town and country. Strabane, less than an hours walk away, was a focal point for markets, education and social activities. More than that, the writer's own family connections with the town lands over the last fifty years provide the homely touch that gives this book such a distinctive charm.