OBSERVING ST. PATRICK’S DAY (March 12/04)

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around next year I’ll be able to celebrate it appropriately on an Irish musical instrument. By that time I’ll have a set of Irish or Uilleann bagpipes, which should arrive here late this year.

Until the pipes arrive I’ll have to settle for observing St. Patrick’s Day the way many people do who have Irish ancestors: A meal with Irish flavour, some home-made Irish music and, of course, the wearing of a patch of green to proclaim that not that many generations ago our ancestors lived in Ireland.

As I’ve mentioned here before, the Valley isn’t noted for its Irish connections. Before and after the potato famine, Irish immigrants came to Nova Scotia in fair numbers. However, the Valley received few of these people. There were tiny pockets of Irish settlements around Kings County, but nothing like areas such as Halifax and Colchester County which received great numbers of immigrants thanks to the plan of one Alexander McNutt of County Donegal who hoped to make New Scotland into New Ireland. In 1760 McNutt was promised a large grant from the crown on the condition that he settle Irish people in Nova Scotia.

Still, if you look around, you’ll see there is an Irish element here. Some of Kentville’s most prominent early citizens are of Irish extraction, for example. One of them was Henry Magee who is said to have left Ireland in 1771. As a result of remaining loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution, Magee was given a large land grant in this area. Magee settled in Kentville where he opened a general store and operated several mills. While he is said to have been Kentville’s first merchant, few people remember him today.

One of Kentville’s earliest mayors had an Irish surname. Kentville businessman James Ryan served two terms as mayor, the first in 1894, the second in 1913. Ryan’s son, Robert, had an outstanding military career; his brother Walter made his mark in the electrical engineering field in the States.

On a lesser scale, one of the county’s longest serving jailers was of Irish extraction. My great uncle John Coleman, whose grandfather came from Cork, served as jailer from 1896 to 1928.

Now how can there be a more Irish surname than Nowlan? And who among us of the older generations doesn’t remember George Nowlan? He first served as MLA for the riding of Kings County and from 1948 to 1965 represented Digby-Annapolis-Kings in the federal government, rising to the position of finance minister in the Diefenbaker government.

According to the census of 1881, Blue Mountain, the community south of Kentville on the New Ross road, was settled by a handful of Irish families. Some descendants of these settlers still live in the area. North of Kentville in Sheffield Mills is an old homestead that may have been first settled by an Irish family. Donald Dodds tells me the dwelling on this site is known locally as the “Irish house.” Patrick Barnes, a potato famine immigrant gave us one of the few Irish place names in Kings County, Paddy’s Island, near Medford.

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