Sometimes, the strangest things get you thinking. The first I heard of this sundial was in 2001. My cousin Diane MORGAN had just come home from a visit to Ardglass with a photograph of it. She had had the great good luck to meet Berni SUTTON, who with her husband Rob are the current owners and residents of a home that had been in our family until the demise of our great-grandmother in 1921.
A few years before her parents' deaths, my grandmother had returned to Ardglass with her family to take care of her parents as they declined and eventually died (her father and her aunt Jane in 1919, and finally her mother in 1921). Then, at the direction of her brothers who all lived elsewhere at the time, she arranged for the sale of the house and contents and subsequently returned home to Canada. For the next eighty or so years, the sundial had been up in the attic of the old family home - collecting dust (as things in attics do and should).
For years, I would take this photo out and study it to see what secrets might be revealed. My own ignorance was profound. Who on earth was Lieutenant John MARTIN Esq.? Why was the date of July 12th, 1690 inscribed on this sundial? Sure, I knew by then that this was the date commemorated by Protestants celebrating the victory of their side in the Battle of the Boyne, but how was that connected to Lieutenant John MARTIN Esq.? And was it connected to me and my family history in any way other than happenstance?
All that I could contribute to this mystery was that my great grandmother Susanna BROWNE nèe EDGAR (1847-1921) was the daughter of Alexander EDGAR (1800-1885) and Susanna MARTIN (1800-1885) and that this MARTIN family had seemingly resided at Tullycarnen for generations. When our grandmother auctioned off the home and contents in 1923, the house address was given as: White Lodge, Tullycarnen (but don’t go looking for a white house - it is actually grey). The earliest date for her ancestors that we could somewhat verify was that of Allan MARTIN (1743-1820) who had died at Ringfad. Significantly, the name of the townland RINGFAD is also inscribed on this sundial.
For some time, I was confused about how the three names of Ringfad, Tullycarnen and Coney Island all fit together. Technically, all three are townlands that are cheek by jowl in the south-western tip of the Parish of Ardglass. In practical terms, the three locales were often used by my ancestors in a somewhat more elastic way. It seemed that they thought nothing of using the place name of Ringfad as an address on a Monday, Coney Island on a Tuesday and Tullycarnen on a Wednesday. No problem. Anyone whom they cared about knew where to find them. Except for this group of befuddled descendants clustered on the west coast of Canada in the late 1900s.
What happened next with respect to the story of this sundial was nothing short of amazing. A couple of years after my cousin’s visit, I made my first visit to Ardglass (as an adult) and had the great good fortune to also meet the award-winning potter, Berni SUTTON and her craftsman husband Rob. I love what they have done to the house. The marriage of her pottery and tile work with his wood work is a perfect expression of their big hearts and aesthetics. During a later visit in 2006, I just missed being able to view an installation of Berni’s work at the Arts Centre in Lisburn, but I did get to see a pamphlet showing some of her pieces and also was able to view some at her home afterwards. (Her awards are well deserved – believe me.) During this visit, she reiterated an earlier suggestion of hers that given the work that I had contributed to the understanding of our family history, that the sundial should end up in my hands, rather than continue to gather dust. Easier said than done. I backpack around and bringing home a sundial was out of the question.
Then the next bit of the miracle fell into place. In the summer of 2008, a second cousin of mine – Peter BROWNE - found me through this web site. His grandfather was a brother of my grandmother. Seemingly, we had met as kids – he remembers visiting us when our family lived at Balaclava and 39th when our grandmother was still alive (as was his grandmother - the ever-feisty Eleanor). Anyway, he and his wife visited and we swapped tales, photos, documents – you name it. And I put him in touch with Berni so they were able to stay for a couple of days in the newly renovated cottage of Tullycarnen. “What can I do to give you a hand in all this?” he asked. Well, you can imagine.
Months later, I saw the sundial packaged as only a professional potter would do (thank you Berni!) waiting in the foyer at Peter and Shannon’s for me to take home the next day. The miracle is not only the sundial, but the new connection with Peter and Shannon – and it was instant – and the joy of lifting a glass and sharing a meal and the dreaded BROWNE style of humour with more of our far flung family.
Weeks later, my friend Morgan HAY was visiting with his high end camera and he photographed the sundial for me. Then I set about deciphering what I could (with the help of others). It is clear that the sundial was not completed before it broke into several pieces (we have four of them). It includes five sundials in various stages of carving which are executed with varying levels of skill. My brother Martin who builds handmade guitars noted that the level of skill in the upper left quadrant is considerably better than the execution of the lines in the lower quadrant. Since the circumference of the two upper dials overlaps, I would also suspect that it was done by an amateur. Or knowing my family, perhaps a little imbibing affected the execution of the carving.
So, who was the carver? One possibility is Alexander EDGAR (1800-1815). He was variously described as a “gentleman”, a “carpenter” and a “foreman”. His lettering on a photo album that my grandmother had reveals a penmanship that is precise and architectural. I would guess that he was what we would now call a “building contractor”, possibly with his own business. Certainly, his wife would not have had £201.5.0 at the time of her death were he simply a hands-on type of carpenter, nor would their son Hugh have been able to receive the level of education that he did (he completed his M.A. in 1876 and became a Church of Ireland clergyman).
When was it carved? Here I defer to my cousin-in-law sleuth (November 27, 2008 email from Shannon):
Our resident Roman Numeral sleuths from Italy - Flavio our student, and his good friend Federico - concluded it has to be 1841 - MDCCCXLI. This is the only possible combination that fits because .......
1. There can't be more than 3 of any letter in a row (ie.CCC)
2. No letters other than "C" could be in those positions to make a proper number of that length
3. There is no other letter but "X" that could go before the "L" to make a proper number.
4. The 3rd "C" couldn't be an "X" because "XXL" is not how you make "30".
We carefully drew the "C's" to
match the existing one onto a piece of paper and once the slightly larger
profile of an "X" was added - it fit perfectly.
So this would seem to suggest that this sundial was carved either on or after 1841, but why that date? On this score, we are so far none the wiser. I have not been able to turn up anything momentous about a John MARTIN happening either at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 or in 1841. The closest I could come was to a listing of a Robert MARTIN in 1683 in the Viscount Mountjoy Regiment and a Foulke MARTIN in 1672 who served as quartermaster to Lord Charlemount in 1672
So then I turned back to what is carved on the face of the clock. First of all, there are five clock faces.
Given these maritime orientations, I would suspect that whoever this Lieutenant John MARTIN is – that he was likely connected to the navy but also had family in Ringfad. When? I don’t know. Perhaps someone reading this will be able to shed more light on it. Here’s hoping!
Sharon Oddie Brown. January 29, 2009.
 SEE: http://www.ardglass.net/art&craft.htm Coney Island Design 41, Killough Road, Coney Island, Ardglass, County Down BT30 7UG Tel: 028 44 841673.- Superb ceramic craftwork by Berni Sutton (a graduate of Ulster College of Art) and her husband Rob (a Master Mould Maker with vast experience in wood and clay work). Berni's hand-built ceramic 'animals' are truly a marvel, and her hand-made & decorated tiles - working with Rob - a delight . She has exhibited throughout the UK. Commissions accepted.
 Irish Army Lists, 1661-1685. Charles Dalton. 1907.
 Cook named the harbour after Sir George JACKSON, who was one of the Lord Commissioners of the British Admiralty. There is however a book, Escape from Botany Bay, 1791 : being 'Memorandoms' by James Martin; introduction and notes by Victor Crittenden, Mulini Press, Canberra, 1991. It may be that a later MARTIN with connections to Ringfad also had connections to Port Jackson.