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Descendant shares story of American frontiersman who hailed from Co Antrim

Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Alderman Stephen Ross chats to 89-year-old Robert Kirker, who travelled to Northern Ireland from New Mexico to trace his family history.

The descendant of a pioneering Co Antrim man who helped tame the American frontier has met with the Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Alderman Stephen Ross to share his remarkable story.


Robert Kirker, aged 89, travelled from New Mexico this week with several members of his extended family to visit the birthplace of his great grandfather, James Kirker. James was born in the parish of Killead, just outside Antrim in 1793, and at the age of 16 he left to join a navy frigate on which his older brother served.


The young man ended up crossing the Atlantic and arriving in New York, where he embarked on an incredible journey across the American frontier, leading wagon trains, fighting native Americans and leading troops in the Mexican-American war. At one point, James was even offered the governorship of New Mexico, which he declined.


Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Alderman Stephen Ross with Robert Kirker from New Mexico and members of his extended family.

He finally settled in Contra Costa County in California, where he was so highly regarded that a major highway was named after him – the Kirker Pass. James’ amazing story has been the subject of books and television documentaries.


Now, over 200 years after his great grandfather first left these shores, Robert has finally visited the old family homestead, which still exists in the townland of Carnaghliss. Remarkably, Robert was even treated to a surprise meeting with his newfound cousin, Maureen McCourt, who was born at the property and still lives on the grounds.


During his visit to Northern Ireland, Robert - himself a former mayor - felt it was important to meet the Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, to cement his family’s New Mexico roots with Co Antrim.


Incredibly, several members of Robert’s wider family who made the pilgrimage to Northern Ireland hail from Gilbert, Arizona, which is Antrim and Newtownabbey Council’s sister city.


Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Alderman Stephen Ross with Robert Kirker from New Mexico and his newfound cousin Maureen McCourt, who still lives at the old family homestead in the Borough.

Alderman Ross said:

“I was delighted to host Mr Kirker and his wider family in my parlour during his visit to our borough. Robert is a fascinating character with an equally fascinating family history.


“Robert actually worked in the same silver mine his great grandfather; he too was a leader and visionary who, as an engineer, designed drills that made life in the mines more bearable for the miners.


“Our borough already has strong connections with the Southwestern United States, with our sister city Gilbert in Arizona, so I am thrilled to be able to strengthen those ties whenever possible.”


Speaking after his meeting with Alderman Ross at Mossley Mill, Robert said:

“I would personally like to thank the Mayor, Alderman Stephen Ross for the work he is doing in Gilbert, creating new financial opportunities for the people of Antrim and Newtownabbey.”


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