Back to Melody's travels
The bus pulled into a miscellaneous town on a grey Sunday morning, I wasn't
sure where or who I was but thought I'd like to find out. Soon all was divulged
- this was indeed Omagh, county Tyrone, part of the country I'd been living in
for the past five months, ignorant of it's existence. It had recently made
itself known as the place of my ancestors, a point of passing for the Nixon clan
on their migratory route from Scotland to New Zealand, and I had come to
I had two names - Gavaughy and Sixmilecross - possible leads to evidence of Nixon occupancy. Talking to a friendly lad I was told there were no buses working that day and also those two places were 15 km south east of the town, it's a Sunday morning so good luck to ya getting there, but his cousin was heading that way anyway, we can give yee a lift, and off we went.
We drove through green picturesque hills and fields, and some stilted conversation later I stood in a cloud of fumes from the exhaust of a lone car - the lads, as they drove away - and this was the main street of Sixmilecross. Nice fat drops of rain landed on me, waking me up, refreshing the long rows of attached houses that spread out from the central hub of the butchers shop, pubs and a Spar. I headed for the only place with signs of life - Big Bulls (?) pub - but another sign intervened on my way across the street - Presbyterian church, 1/2 m ^. An automatic right and there I am being herded into a friendly looking protestant church with the service about to begin. And the service was unusually good, the Reverand had some interesting things to say, made more exciting by his mention of the fact that by goodness we have a visitor today and we don't often have visitors in these parts.
Loitering about afterward I was smiled at by many friendly country folk and soon as the word was out that I was a 'tracer', I was passed on to the wise man of the village, Mr Weir. Nixons? Aye! Nixons. There's been Nixons in this here village for years and years. Well, there's none here now of course, none anymore - oh except old Lottie who's in the rest home in Omagh - her husbands in the graveyard here, there's a few Nixon's buried here Aye. Och musical people they were, musical, played the pipes like yee wouldn't believe, so they did, so they did.
A frantic woman then approached asking who I was did I have a car and more importantly where was I to have lunch? I don't know. Och well you'll be coming with us sure you will. I'll just put the spuds on, and see yee up at the house a'right!
The Reverend and Mr Weir then took me around the graveyard, showed me a few recent Nixon graves and an unmarked section of the older part which was said to be Nixon's too. A search of the church records did not show up any James' however, though our hunting was hampered by the fact all the pre-1900's records had been burnt in a bombing. James died in 1878. One of the few churches in the area without any records. I did not feel the presence of any closely related ancestral spirits and with no evidence I was unbelieving. We left the church and sauntered up a hill, and right into the Reverand's house. The frantic woman was his wife, and quite nice, eager to talk.
The grand Sunday feast was about to be embarked upon when a light joke sent order into chaos - Lucky you're not a vegetarian! She said, and visions came to me of the Sunday roast in the country and what it meant and how could I have possibly have not realised but I can't lie to a Reverand and his wife and I couldn't eat that pig/cow/ox anyway - ah, actually, yes, I am. Her recovery was quite impressive - her daughters boyfriend in the city was a vegetarian she said - and I was placated with three hearty vegetable helpings and a cuppa tae.
The Rev then took me into Omagh to see this mysterious woman Lottie, married to the last Nixon who lived in the area, Robert John, long since departed but she has a memory like an elephant, he said, she'll give you some names.
Charlotte Nixon lived now in a resthome but she'd grown up in Sixmilecross, could remember her husbands family and gave me a few names here and there. Her husband, Robert John, had a variety of sisters and brothers - Maisey, Sisey, Flo, William, - and his father was named George Nixon, and his father was also named George Nixon. They'd been involved in handyman trades - carpenters, painters, fencers. They were intelligent people, she said. All of them had been members of the Orange Order, (I'd seen a massive brick building outside sixmilecross that was the local Orange Hall) and they'd played in the pipes in the band. She was very proud of them, showed me the vase she'd been given by the Order decades ago. She couldn't remember anyone who'd ever emigrated to NZ or Australia. She'd never heard of a countryhouse called Gavaughy, her and her family lived in the village and weren't farmers. She couldn't remember that much more which was relevant to me, but she insisted we have a dash of port when the reverand had gone and then told me a few stories of her children before growing tired and looking at her watch.
Not long after I'd exhausted my last feeble topic of conversation her daughter arrived. She was quite interested in why a foreign stranger was sitting talking to her mother and became enthused on discovering I was a 'tracer', a Nixon in fact, like herself.
There were a few hours to go before my bus back to Belfast so we went off to see the town of Omagh which I imagined was the main hub of the area and once vast Nixon families would have descended on it monthly to trade farm goods and have Sunday clothes made.
Hazel worked for the council, in the water department, had lived herself in sixmilecross and then moved into Omagh and been there ever since. We went up and around the main streets, which were charming in a North Irish, winding small streets and houses scrunched together with a big cathedral on the hill overlooking it all, kind of way, with the modern influence of the 'chippie' - fast chip shops, coffee@grinders American cafe's and a few swanky restaurants. It was in no way how Grandad's nephew Lance described in back in '92 - the soldiers and barricades had gone and not many police, friendly people - however I did see where the '94/'95 (?) bomb had blown up, a few big buildings were destroyed, one still being repaired, and the street was bumpy and rippled. It obviously still had a huge effect on people. We went to the garden of remembrance and then the time came for my bus.
Hazel then decided she would draw up a family tree for me, would contact cousins and uncles and aunts out in the countryside who knew more. I vowed to return the following week so we could go and meet these other connections, go in search of Gavaughy and visit more churches in the area. She was quite excited, as was I, although my sneaking suspicions told me we were highly unlikely to have a connection it was wonderful meeting nice people from the countryside who did after all have the same last name.