Somme memories

In an Irishman’s Diary this morning, my namesake Professor Brian Walker gives a very simple and moving account of the death of a young soldier badly wounded a fortnight earlier at the Battle of the Somme, and the impact it made on his family. By the standards of the time, the story of Tom McKinney was tragically typical. What strikes me today is the serenity and faith with which his family and Tom himself came to terms with his death. That philosophic approach although by no means universal, must have made life bearable for millions. It was finally gangrene that took Tom off. In the later war, he might have been saved. If only.. In World War Two, it was another Ulsterman, our most illustrious surgeon Sir Ian Fraser, who made one of the greatest contributions to war medicine by introducing an early version of penicillin right to the battlefield itself.

The great interest of the McKinney family today lies in how the history of Ulster runs unassumingly down their line. They were of Scottish Presbyterian stock. They had fled to Ireland after the 1715 Old Pretender rising and were United Irishmen in the ’98. They lived on their substantial farm at Sentry Hill Carnmoney on the northern edge of Belfast until the last of them died out just before the turn of this century. One of them ( Tom’s grandfather?) William Fee McKinney was an enthusiastic amateur antiquarian, a collector of fossils, stories, poems, whose papers are thankfully lodged in the Linenhall library. Brought back to life with family possessions supplemented by other artefacts, Sentry Hill is now open to the public. Visiting it makes you wonder what our generation will leave behind.

  • niall

    We have a bit of story before 1715.

  • Ulster McNulty

    “We have a bit of story before 1715”

    I’d agree

  • willis

    Yes indeed

    Did any of you see the programme about Sentry Hill transmitted by BBC NI in February? It was part of the ‘Family Album’ series. Hopefully it will be repeated soon.

    Plenty of Walkers on these links:

  • caulfield

    I thought that you were that Brian Walker! You’re not from the Moy by any chance???

  • HeadTheBall

    Agreed that our history goes back at least a hundred years before Sherrifmuir but it is important to be reminded that the Presbyterian community did not arrive in a single incursion in James I’s reign, often did not involve expropriation of the native property holders and was often caused by hardship and injustice at home as much as opportunity in Ireland.


    Thank you for the link to Prof. Walker’s excellent article. We need to keep clearly in view the sacrifices of that quietly heroic generation, now sadly lost to us.

  • Brian Walker

    I obviously did not claim that the ENTIRE history of Ulster runs down the McKinney line. Thanks for the references to earlier coverage. No, I’m not from the Moy. I’m from within the walls of the Maiden City.

  • alan jones

    Interesting piece on the McKinney’s. On my mothers side, the Straghans land lay into the McKnney’s. On Carnmoney’s Presbyterian records we date back to around 1700. I guess we Presbyterians do have a sense of place after all?

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