THE IRISH IN KINGS COUNTY (January 23/04)

Kings County has a few place names of Irish origin and perhaps a couple of famous sons with Irish surnames. If you look in the telephone directory under Kentville, Wolfville, New Minas and so on, you’ll find more than a handful of surnames that are Irish in origin. Take my surname, for example. There are a lot of Coleman’s in the Kentville section of the telephone book, most of whom have a common ancestor, a man who came from the County of Cork, Ireland, in the 18th century.

However, when compared to other nationalities, the Irish presence in Kings County is minuscule. You won’t find the word “Irish” in the index of Eaton’s Kings County history, for example. Eaton dwells mainly on the New England Planter, and to some extent the Acadian element in Kings County. He does acknowledge the Irish origin of some early Kings County families, however, among them Sommerville, Manning and Allison.

While there is no concrete historical evidence to confirm this, folklore has it that there were pockets of Irish settlements in several areas of Kings County. These apparently consisted of a few families of Irish origin who landed first in New Brunswick. According to folklore, Black Rock, and the general area around Atlanta and Hillaton once were tiny bastions of the Irish. Because of their Catholic faith, so the tales go, Irishmen were unwelcome on the Valley floor and had to settle away from the main towns and villages and on the North Mountain.

Watson Kirkconnell acknowledges some but not much Irish presence in Kings County in his booklet on place names. From Kirkconnell we find that Paddy’s Island near Medford was part of the farm of one Patrick Barnes who came to Nova Scotia from Ireland during the potato famine. Kirkconnell doesn’t have much more to say about Irish place names. About Irish surnames in the county Kirkconnell writes in effect that there is almost a complete lack. “From Halifax and Colchester counties,” Kirkconnell says “we have repaired our almost complete lack of Irish surnames.”

From Charles Bruce Ferguson’s Place Names and Places of Nova Scotia we learn that the southern end of Kings County has a community with an Irish name. This is the community of New Ross Road, the name undoubtedly taken from the nearby Lunenburg County village of New Ross. Ferguson writes that New Ross was derived from an Irish town of the same name. Dempsey Corner at the west end of the county is listed in Ferguson’s book but he fails to mention that it is named after Roger Dempsey, a native of Ireland.

Turning to Mabel Nichols book, The Devil’s Half Acre, we find that a number of Irish sons were prominent in Kentville’s early days. A native of Ireland, Henry Magee, was one of Kentville’s earliest large scale entrepreneurs. Magee is said to have built the first store in Kentville and had several mills in the county.

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