Tuesday, June 25, 2024


KILKEEL warmly welcomed a group of international visitors last week. Hosted by the Clan Hannay Society, there were two days of special events that anyone with the surnames Hannay, Hannah, Hanna or Hanney was welcome to attend.

Local people had the chance to catch up with distant relatives and make new friends at the gathering, last Monday and Tuesday (29 and 30 May). On Monday afternoon, the group, many of whom had been at a similar gathering at the ancestral home in Sorbie, Scotland, over the weekend, got off the ferry from Scotland and took a coach tour of County Down. This was followed by a town hall meeting and an Ulster-Scots dinner at the Kilmorey Arms Hotel in Kilkeel. The local Schomberg Society provided entertainment for the event. Keith Hanna, the Clan Council Historian and Genealogist, said the tour of County Down was a chance to share some of the rich history of the area.

There were a lot of stops along the way to Kilkeel, including one in Ballynahinch to hear about the 1798 Rebellion. It was an opportunity for the visitors to discover aspects of the past they weren’t familiar with. “A lot of them are not really aware of the UlsterScots culture,” Keith said. “I gave them about 1,600 years of history on the bus.” He said they had about 75 people at the meeting and dinner on the Monday night. “We had a grand night of entertainment,” he added. Keith explained the Clan Hannay Society was set up by an Australian around 60 years ago and they now have about 700 members worldwide. “About 75 per cent of our members are American,” he said. The organisers of the trip are hoping this gathering will stimulate renewed interest in the Clan Hannay Society, especially in Northern Ireland. “We’re looking to reenergize it with this meeting,” he said.

Last Tuesday, some of the group visited Hanna’s Close, a group of seven traditional cottages. The cottages, located at Aughnahoory Road, can be rented by holidaymakers but were of special interest to the Clan Hannay Society members. It is understood that some of the Hanna family moved from Sorbie in Scotland to Ireland in the 17th century, becoming a substantial presence in the district by 1696, after the Williamite Wars. Hoping for a better life, the Hannas were granted the lease of some acres of land at Aughnahoory. After clearing trees, bushes and rocks, the Hannas built their cottages close together on the bank above the Kilkeel River flood plain. The cottages were occupied until the 1990s.

There were about 25 people at Hanna’s Close on Tuesday morning, who were welcomed by Ballymartin resident Norma Hanna Fisher. Norma was the last Hanna to be born at Hanna’s Close, where she lived until she got married in 1959. Seattle, Washington, resident Frank Lawler, a Clan Hannay Society member since the late 1990s, was one of those who had made the journey from the USA to Hanna’s Close. “Being able to go to Hanna’s Close is very, very special,” he said. “A lot of diaspora of the Hannay clan went through Ireland before they went anywhere else.” He said he was glad to take part in the gathering in Northern Ireland. “I think we should do this trip more often,” he said. “The links are so important between Ireland and Scotland.” Another tour group member, John Hannay, of St Petersburg, Florida, USA, said he was interested in learning more about the historical links between the United States and Northern Ireland. “We’ve got a very basic view of Northern Ireland history in the United States,” he said. “It’s much richer and more complicated than that.” He said it was also interesting to see the influence the culture from here has had on parts of the United States where many immigrants from Scotland and Ireland settled in the 1700s, such as the traditional Highland dancing. “There’s a lot of similarities between that and American folk dancing,” he said. John said he hoped the gatherings would promote conversations and friendships between the various Hannay descendants and support the restoration of Sorbie Tower.

The Clan Hannay Society owns and is renovating the 16th century tower, which is located near the village of Sorbie, Scotland. Patricia Hannah, from northern Scotland, is the wife of the Clan Constable. She was enjoying her second visit to Hanna’s Close, having stayed there about 20 years before. “It was great,” she said. She also thought the Monday evening dinner at the Kilmorey Arms Hotel was “excellent”. Katie Rowan, who lives in Belgium, but is originally from Calgary, Canada, was on the tour with her partner Massimo Farrugia and their young son Charlie. Katie said she was quite interested in the historical side of the gathering. “I’m really interested in my family tree,” she said.

This led her to get in touch with the Clan Hannay Society and to go on this trip. “We’re enjoying it very much,” she said. “It’s been very interesting to see how people lived before they came to Canada.” After their visit to Hanna’s Close, the tour continued with stops at Reivers House and a stop at the Sgt Major Robert Hill Hanna statue at Lower Square, Kilkeel.

Robert Hill Hanna received the Victoria Cross for his heroism in World War I as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was born at Aughnahoory townland, near Kilkeel, in 1887 and emigrated to Canada in 1905. When he returned to Kilkeel in December 1917, more than 3,000 people turned out in the town square to welcome him back and thank him for his bravery.

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