Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Written in Gaeilge script, it translates as:
In the Ards of Uladh, scarce and starving,
A country without happiness, without religion,
Where Savage, the foreign hangman,
Scrapes off the limpets with his knife.
The Savages arrived with John de Courcy in 1177. In 1180 de Courcy established the ferry service on Strangford Lough connecting Lecale and the Upper Ards where the Savages lived. The family owned large tracts of land in Lecale, including the town of Ardglass. They resided in Portaferry until the 1980s which means that for 800 years they had an unbroken connection with the area. In 1812 Andrew Savage changed the family name to his mother's maiden name, Nugent. Through doing this he was able to then inherit her part of the family lands in Dysart, Westmeath.
At the time that Angus was writing there were two families laying claim to superiority. In local folklore this argument was settled by a race. Both had to get to Portaferry from the same spot in the heart fo County Down. Both cousins set off but on the way around the Savage from Ardkeen was told that the ferry was not running. On hearing this he decided that he should go through Newtownards and down the peninsula.
The Savage from Portaferry upon reaching Strangford was told the news. Undettered he jumped into the Lough and swam the half mile across the treacherous Narrows. He arrived in Portaferry victorious!
I was last year astounded to uncover a personal connection to this family. Knowing my ancestors held the title Baron Crolly of Swordes, I thought I would have a quick check in the archive at PRONI. Documents relating to this family are pretty scarce even their biographies have tantalisingly scarce details. Lo and behold there was a will from 1780 belonging to a Lucy Crolly. Not expecting much from it, I did the obligatory order.
Much to my delight this Lucy was a determined character. Being the relict of Baron John Crolly of Ballykilbeg I was surprised that in her will large amounts of money were being bequeathed to her nephews and nieces who were the children of Andrew Savage of Portaferry. On closer examination of Burke's landed gentry I uncovered that I could trace my line back to my 9th Great Grandfather Rowland Savage of Portaferry who died in 1572! This means that the ruined Castle standing in Portaferry is actually an ancestral home!
The ruins we see today were repaired in 1643 by the Montgomery family. As it turns out Jean Montgomery married Patrick Savage. Her brother not seeing the home fit for purpose gave her the money to fit it out after Patrick's death (probably waiting until then to avoid insulting him). This would very much imply that Angus O'Daly words had a ring of truth to them!
In February 2018 I was delighted as part of the digital archive project at The Portico of Ards arrange a site visit to the ancient homestead at Ardkeen. Here is a photo of us all standing on the ancient motte taken by Elaine McVeigh. Amazingly the ruins of the castle are still partially intact. The nearby Church was in use until the 1700s.