The Harland diaspora

Son of Thomas (1819) and Margaret

b. 25 May 1854

m. 23 April 1880 in Dublin; & 2 April 1891 in Portadown.

d. 15 Mar 1948

John Harland
1854 - 1948

John Harland (1854 –1948) was a big man in every way – over six feet in height, and with a strong athletic body.


He was born and brought up in Maytown, Bessbrook, Co. Armagh and educated at The Newry School ‘under Frank Annesley Potterton’. John Harland was still only 24 when, ‘in 1878, he inherited the business started by his grandfather 80 years previously, that of agriculturist and general merchant’. These data come from ‘Contemporary Biographies (1909)’. If the figure of 80 years was to be exact, this would give the unlikely date of 1798 - the year of yet another rebellion against the British Crown - and when his grandfather, John Harland (1784) , would have been only 14 years old.  This business included a grocer's shop in Bessbrook right at the foot of Maghernahely hill.


John built a home for his family near the top of Maghernahely hill.The very word Maghernahely is a rallying cry to the Harland diaspora so an understanding of its meaning is important. The word magher in Irish usually means a plain, which would be entirely  inappropriate here. It is more likely to refer to the alternative meaning, ‘church lands’; while the suffix refers to something like ‘the altar’ or ‘church relic’.  In early times this land was part of the barony of Upper Orior; which was O'Hanlons' country.   Bassetts Co. Armagh Directory reported that there had been ‘a religious house’ built on Maghernahely ‘early in the Christian era’; but only some of its foundations remained when the land came into the possession of Henry McShane O’Neill. This O’Neill had been one of Tyrone’s generals at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, but was reconciled to James l who gave him a life-long grant of the land in 1609. His successor, Sir Toby Caulfield, who also created Castlecaulfield in Co. Tyrone, built a fortified farmhouse or bawn on the old monastic site, with walls up to 14 feet in height.  It was claimed that many of the stones from the original building were to be found in these walls. Convent buildings eventually replaced this bawn.


John was a good pianist and singer, and a good sportsman too - mainly cricket and shooting.  His children always addressed him as ‘Father’, while his grandchildren used the title ‘Grandpa’. He had a firm belief in education and insisted that all his children including his one daughter should have good schooling.  This concept came from a strong Christian belief - he was raised as a Methodist but later attended the Church of Ireland service, which was under the care of his close friend, Canon Henry Todd. He rendered much valuable public service, as a Member of Armagh County Council, Armagh County Regional Educational Committee and the Ulster Tourist Development Association. John Harland (1854) became a Justice of the Peace for County Armagh in 1905 and later also sat on the Bench in Co. Down, as revealed in an illuminated address and presentation given to him by the people of Bessbrook on 1 September 1922.


John was already 60 years old at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and he then had to live through the Second World War (1939 – 1945) too. Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that he sold his business and retired early.  In his sixties he frequently announced his fears of impending early death, but these beliefs turned out to be completely unjustified, and from the age of 80 onwards he became much more positive. He routinely pumped water from the well up into the house; he sawed wood every day from the trees he had planted; and he cultivated tomatoes in his greenhouse every year. He developed Alzheimer's Disease some years before his death and was cared for at home by his wife and widowed daughter. He died at Hillside aged 93 and was buried beside his first wife in the Methodist cemetery just below his house. The Will Calendar of 1948 reported the value of his estate to be £3,308 4s 10d.


There are two Harland graves in the Bessbrook Methodist cemetery about twenty yards apart. The first headstone reads:


In Loving memory of Emma Gaynor beloved wife of John Harland who died at Hillside Bessbrook Jan 22, 1890 Also Margaret E. Harland died August 1936. John Harland born 25 May 1854 died 15 March 1948 and Thomas Harland born 29 March 1870 died 3 May 1960. Robert Wallace Harland b. 10 June 1888 died 20 May 1961.