McClellands return home to former Islandmagee farmstead

Mike and John McClelland at family graves in St. John's Church in Islandmagee.
Mike and John McClelland at family graves in St. John's Church in Islandmagee.

Standing on the headland above Portmuck, with a brisk breeze blowing across the hills, Mike and John McClelland knew they were home.

The father and son from Mooresville in North Carolina were standing yards from the original farmstead of one of the McClelland families of Islandmagee, where William McClelland once farmed – and indeed smuggled if local legend is correct.

There is a long history of McClelland connection to Islandmagee and the first of the line appears to have come from Kirkcudbright in Scotland in the 17th century.

An earlier William McClelland was a Presbyterian minister and after coming to Islandmagee he was encouraged to cross the Atlantic and begin a new life in Maryland and then Pennsylvania.

The North Carolina residents known that a John Barnhart McClelland was born in County Antrim in 1710 and migrated to America in 1733, settling near Somerset, Pennsylvania.

Had a son named John who was born in 1734, just a year after John and his wife Ruth arrived from Antrim with their baby son William.

“John was the first of our McClelland family to be born in America. His birth home was listed as “in Brown settlement” in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In 1759 he married Martha Dale. He took up a tract of land (Land Grant) in Franklin Township, lived in that part which fell within Fayetteville County and was founder or co-founder of what became McClellandtown, Pennsylvania (about eight miles southwest of Uniontown),” said Mike.

The family played a part in the American War of Independence, and served in the Westmoreland County Militia.

Major John B. McClelland was to lose his life when he was captured and horribly tortured by the Shawnee Indians, who were allied to the British during the Revolution. His body was fed to dogs by the Indians but a memorial marker pays tribute to him at the family burying ground in Trent Church Cemetery, Uniontown. McClelland also has a Memorial Foundation named in his honour.

The Mooresville McClellands have tracked down a number of their ancestors in old cemeteries in Pennsylvania but this was the first time they have crossed the Atlantic to their land of their origins.

During their visit to Islandmagee last week, John and Mike visited McClelland graves in St. John’s Churchyard and they were grateful to the Islandmagee Community Development Association for assistance during their visit.

Eric Bailey, who is chairman of ICDA, took the pair on an extensive tour of the island as well as helping them locate gravestones.

“We spent an absolutely wonderful day with Eric. He gave us more than four hours, drove us all around, pointed out scores of sites and took us through the cemetery to see the McClelland markers,” Mike said.

“Finally, he gave us two books relating to the history of Islandmagee, even marking sections relating to the McClelland family. John and I simply could not have asked for a finer day.”

He said it was his intention to return with his wife and looked forward to returning again.