William Fee McKinney

Sentry Hill was the name of the house and farm of the McKinney family. Situated in the parish of Carnmoney in south Co. Antrim, the land had been occupied by the McKinneys since the early eighteenth century. A member of the family, John McKinney, had been 'out' with the United Irishmen in 1798. In the 19th century a double-storied farmhouse replaced the cottage the family had occupied in the 18th century. Our photographer William Fee McKinney, was born at Sentry Hill in 1832. As the eldest son, he remained at home until was 29 years old, when he married and moved to a nearby house but continued to work for his father. On the death of his father in 1893, he moved back to Sentry Hill, where he lived until his death in 1917.

WFM 1 A Summer's afternoon in the garden at Sentry Hill, 1898. McKinney's daughter, Meg, is pouring the tea for two friends.

Besides being a farmer, McKinney was a man of many interests with an absorbing love of the countryside. He built up a fine collection of fossils, stone axes and minerals from the surrounding district, for which he built a special room at Sentry Hill. He collected ballads and books of local poetry and compiled family histories of the Carnmoney people up to the late nineteenth century. The Linenhall Library, Belfast, made him an honorary member for his many donations of rare books. A keen member of the Belfast Naturalist Field Club, McKinney was also a relative and close friend of F. J. Bigger, the well-known Ulster antiquarian and historian. In 1869 he helped to found the Carnmoney Mutual Improvement Society, a local debating and literary society.

This intense interest in his own locality was carried into his hobby of photography which he took up in the 1880's. He photographed not only his family and friends but also everyday life on the farm: the men who worked in the fields and the many craftsmen and artisans who visited the farm, such as the journeyman tailor, the carpenter and the butcher. The small farmers and their families in the area too, received the attention of his camera. Altogether 600 plates were carefully labelled and stored. His work is a fascinating study of life in this one small rural community.

William Fee McKinney Family and friends at Sentry Hill in 1900. As the eldest son, John McKinney (standing in photograph) remained at home to look after the farm, which he eventually inherited. Tom, his only son (seated in front), aged six in this photograph, died on 19 July, 1916, from wounds received at the Battle of the Somme.

The McKinney farm was a very substantial and prosperous one and the McKinneys were regarded as gentlemen farmers. Unlike most nineteenth century farms which, prior to the land purchase acts, were held on yearly tenancies, the farm at Sentry Hill was held on a perpetuity lease obtained in the 1830's from the landowners, the Donegall family, who were then in bad financial straits. When William Fee McKinney took over the farm in 1893 it consisted of 70 acres at Sentry Hill and another 30 acres nearby. Normally there were 3 full time labourers on the farm while in the house there was a maid and a daily charwoman. At seed and harvest time small farmers in the district were employed to do the extra work.