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The 'Buchanan Clan Gathering' in Co Donegal

30 June 2010

Board member, Jacqui Reed provides an account of a recent event held at the Ulster-Scots / Scots Irish Heritage centre in Monreagh, Co Donegal.

On a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon at the End of May the Ulster-Scots / Scots Irish Heritage centre welcomed the Buchanan Family for their first Clan Reunion. This came about when Jacqui Reed who works at the centre met Rene Martin some months before when she was filming with the BBC on a programme on The Buchanan Family and the family’s connection with the US President Buchanan. Some of the televised interviews took place at the centre and the idea of a Clan Gathering being held there took form.


Rene Martin’s story and the huge amount of research she put in to tracing the family tree began some years back, being told many stories back before 1984 by her father’s sister, Aunt Rae Wilson from Court near Milford, whose mother was Margaret Buchanan, of Garrygort, Milford. Sadly her Aunt Rae passed away in 1989 and left her research to Rene, and there the stories stopped for a while.

Just over 3 years ago Rene picked it up again while doing her Masters in Irish Migration Studies at Queens University and at the Centre for Migration in Omagh. While researching there the BBC contacted the centre to see if anyone was related to the President James Buchanan and the connections were made. For Rene it was time to see if the stories she’d always known were true and if these places really existed.


Rene traced the Buchanan Family back to the Anselan O’Cahan family of Limavady. Anselan fled to Scotland in 1016 to King Malcolm II of Scotland, after the battle of Limerick. It was from Blairlusk at Gartocharn, south east Loch Lomond that in 1674 one member, George Buchanan, one of Aneslan’s descendants, came back from Scotland to Deroran, Omagh, in Co Tyrone. George Buchanan’s 4th son Thomas left Deroran and moved to Carn, Ramelton in 1700. His grandson, John Buchanan married Jane Russell and the Russell grandparents raised their grandsons James and younger brother John  from the ages of 7 and  5 years old when they became orphans. In 1783  James Buchanan, then 22 years old, sailed from Derry on the boat Providence  to Philadelphia where his uncle Joshua Russell met him at the port and together they rode horseback to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to “Russell’s Tavern”.


Russell’s Tavern sheltered travellers along Black’s Gap Road, which ran through the South Mountain and connected York to the east with the Cumberland Valley to the west. Black’s Gap was only the second road in Adams County, constructed in spring of 1747. Enterprising citizens began operating taverns along these roads and towns sometimes grew up around them. Joshua Russell, an Ulster Scots immigrant from Ramelton built a stone dwelling in 1777. In 1781 he obtained a license for operating a tavern and paid taxes on his revenue. Five years later, James Getty established Gettysburg four miles south along a third road. While engaged in confronting the Whisky Rebellion in October 1794, George Washington dined and may have slept at Russell Tavern. There is a sign erected in the garden to this effect.  When Joshua Russell died in 1805 his son Samuel inherited the business, but he died the next year. His widow Jane McClure Russell married Enoch Hamilton and they operated the tavern until her death in 1847. Members of the Russell family owned the property for seventy years. Russell Tavern stands in its original location not far from Gettysburg. The current owners restored and expanded the original structure. It has been in their family more than fifty years.


James Buchanan married Elizabeth Speer, their son President James Buchanan was born on April 23, 1791 at the trading post in the mountains at  Cove Gap. He was born in a log cabin on property owned by his father. The complex was known as Stony Batter, named for the Grandparents Russell family home near Ramelton, County Donegal. At the time of Buchanan's birth the Cove Gap area was on the edge of the American Frontier. Today it is a quite isolated area, but when President Buchanan was born it was a centre of frontier commerce. Stony Batter was a complex of cabins, barns, stables, storehouses, a general store and an orchard. Pioneers travelling from the East Coast through Cove Gap stopped at Stony Batter to rest and restore their supplies. Buchanan lived at Stony Batter until he was six years old, when his father moved his business to Mercersburg.


Finally for Rene her journey had come to an ending and to mark it, we held the Clan Gathering at the Ulster-Scots/ Scots Irish Heritage Centre.