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Blarney Stone

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Mary Alice Young

Mary Alice Young was the eldest daughter of the Rt Hon. Sir F.E.W. Macnaghten, bt. When she was born in 1867 the family owned nearly 8000 acres at Bushmills, Co. Antrim. In 1893 she married W.R. Young, eldest son of the Rt Hon. John Young, owner of Galgorm castle and an estate of almost 2000 acres, near Ballymena, Co. Antrim. This family group features Rt. Hon. John Young, the photographer's father-in-law. Four years later, she and her husband went to live at Galgorm. When the Rt Hon. John Young died in 1915, her husband succeeded to the castle and estate. In her background and interests Mary Young was like many another daughter of the gentry but unlike most she was also an enthusiastic and accomplished photographer.

Mary Alice Young Hilda, the photographer's sister, with her watercolours in a cornfield. c. 1900. Watercolouring and embroidery were favourite pastimes among young women from well-to-do background.

Between 1890 and 1915 she took over a thousand photographs, often experimenting with light and composition in her work. Nearly all these were concerned with her family and life on the Galgorm estate. The subjects included family groups, the estate workers, the castle and grounds and friends and relatives enjoying themselves at croquet, tennis, fishing or other popular pastimes of the period. Her photographs provide a valuable personal insight into the life-style of the gentry in the decades prior to the first world war.

When Mary Young was born the gentry played a dominant role in Ulster society. They owned most of the land which they let to tenant farmers. As a rule they were magistrates, members of grand juries and Poor Law Boards of Guardians, which looked after local government affairs, and they often presided over local societies and associations. But, due to growing tensions between landlords and tenants in the 1870's and the bad harvests of 1879 and 1880, with the consequent growth of the Land League and tenant right associations, the dominance of the landlords was weakened. The 1881 Land Act gave the tenants important new rights over their holdings and the Ashbourne act of 1885 began a process of land purchase which, by the First World War, had resulted in most of the tenants obtaining the ownership of their farms. In addition the Local Government Act of 1898 set up county councils which diffused control of local government over a wider spectrum of society. However, the gentry still remained quite influential in the countryside.

May 3 Hilda, Mary Young's daughter, busily at work on her embroidery in the nursery, 1907. The sewing basket was a Christmas gift from the family grocer in Galgorm village. The romantic charm of the picture shows the photographer's skill in the use of light.

The Youngs had in fact been prosperous merchants in Ballymena in the early nineteenth century and had bought Galgorm only in 1850 from the earl of Mountcashel. But clearly they had no difficulty in integrating into gentry circles. Mary's father-in-law was a Privy Councillor, a deputy lieutenant and a justice of the peace. The family was on good terms with many of the other landed families in Co. Antrim and there was much coming and going between Galgorm and other county houses, especially among the younger people for parties and outings.

Most of the Youngs' land was sold to the tenants under the terms of the 1903 Wyndham Act, but the family retained the castle and about 300 acres of gardens, woods and farmland. The reduction the estate did not have much immediate effect on life in the castle. Until the First World War there were never fewer than 6 domestic servants, and labourers, coachmen, gardeners and gamekeepers on the estate usually numbered around 15. A governess came daily from Belfast to teach the Youngs' only child, Hilda Grace, born in 1896.

For Mary Young, life at Galgorm must have been quite busy. Her husband's step-mother had died shortly before she and her husband moved to the castle and she took over supervision of the household. Besides her husband, daughter and father-in-law, her husband's 5 brothers and 7 sisters requently stayed at the castle. When the war came she busied herself organising comforts for the troops and it seems to have been this which caused her to give up her photography, through lack of spare time. She died in 1946.

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