“Now I know where they got the inspiration to write Wuthering Heights,” exclaimed my guest.
His family was visiting from England and we had decided to take them on a tour that included the Brontë Homeland. It was early January and a very cold day at that. There was a fierce north-easterly wind blowing accompanied by cold rain which lashed across our faces.
Which Bronte sister is your favourite?
For those who are not English literature buffs the Brontës were three sisters, Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848) and Anne (1820-1849) who all became writers of renown. Their most famous work was Charlotte Brontë governess novel, Jane Eyre. Jane is a governess in Thornfield manor house who falls in love with Rochester, the manor's owner, who is, however, married. Jane stays faithful to her principles, reflecting probably Charlotte's own, as she grew up in her father's strongly religious home. Also world famous is Emily's, Wuthering Heights. Their novels caused a sensation and the they became part of the great works of English literature.
To be fair the sisters were born in West Yorkshire, England where you can still visit Brontë Country. However, their family originated in beautiful county Down in Northern Ireland, the Bronte Homeland. Their father Patrick Brontë had been a preacher and a teacher at the tiny village of Drumballyroney and you can still visit the Bronte Home.
What's in a Name?
Patrick Brontë was born Patrick Brunty in 1777. He later moved to England and changed his name to Brontë.
No one knows for sure why. Some suggest that he might have wanted to hide his humble origins while others point out that, being a man of letters, he might have chosen the name because of classical Greek influence, since in Greek mythology Brontes means “thunder” and was the name of one of the cyclops.
Patrick spelled his name with a dieresis over the “e” (Brontë) to stress that two syllables are pronounced (and highlight the second syllable as the one accented as in the Greek?).
Brontë Homeland Tour - Drumballyroney
A tour of the Brontë Homeland best begins at the tiny village of Drumballyroney a mere 10 miles from Banbridge. The road leading to the Brontë Homeland is well signposted is usually very quiet. The school where Patrick taught still stands and has been restored and functions as a little museum. Next to it the old Church of Ireland church where his family attended and where he later preached. From the church grounds you have a beautiful view over the surrounding green rolling hills of Co Down, though on in winter it can be very cold and windy up there.
You can continue your Bronte homeland tour by driving from Drumballyroney to Knockiveagh, a hilltop and excellent picnic area. From there you get spectacular views of the area where Patrick Brontë grew up. In the picnic area there once stood a shebeen, an illicit drinking house.
Alice McClory's Cottage
The cottage is situated on Brontë Road. It was the family home of Patrick's mother, Alice. Alice and Hugh (eventually Patrick's father) courted in secret and, according to some accounts, eloped to marry at Magherally church near Banbridge.
You could also visit what is called the Birthplace Cottage, a little two-storey home on Brontë road very little of which remains today. Then go to Glascar School on Glascar road where Patrick taught in the 1790's. It is said that he was a good teacher who could encourage learning by using creative teaching methods.
Meet the Brontës
The Brontë Homeland Trust responsible for the upkeep of these sites is run in part by descendants of the Brontë family. We had a chance to meet and chat with one of them and there was a certain fascination in the knowledge that we were speaking to living relatives of the famous Brontë sisters.
Brontë Homeland Interpretative Centre
Church Hill Road, Drumballyroney, Rathfriland, Co. Down BT32 5LXT: 028 4062 3322
Brontë Homeland Living Tour - Banbridge District Council
A fully guided bus tour took the literary enthusiasts through the main landmarks as they followed Charlotte Bronte in tracing her father's Patrick life journey from Northern Ireland to Yorkshire. Visitors met Patrick Bronte, his father Hugh Brunty and mother Alice, all in period costumes.
The highlights were Charlotte's replica wedding dress and ring, and props like classical books that belonged to Revered Bronte himself. Add to that the stunning landscape framed by the Mourne Mountains and you have a clear winner.
Much as we love the Bronte country in Yorkshire, this was a much needed initiative to bring to attention the Bronte Homeland; the birthplace of the man who influenced the literary genius of his three daughters.
Bronte Homeland in Northern Ireland has a rightful place in history and deserves a place in the touring plans of the Bronte fans. I am sure it will captivate their hearts.