Thursday, November 28, 2013

When the Orange Lodge protected the local Priest (part 2)

Here is the full story as told in Betsy Gray and the Hearts of Down (first published in 1896):

'... THE TOWN of Lisburn not only supplied the noble and generous hearted General who commanded the troops of the United Irishmen, but it also played an important part in the short but sanguinary struggle. During the winter of 1797, a shuttle-maker who lived in an entry off High Street, Belfast, worked eighteen hours of the twenty-four in making pike-heads and handles. He and very many similar experts were, however, outdone by a Lisburn white smith, who, during the winter of 1797 and spring of 1798, forged upwards of 500 pikes without leaving undone any of his ordinary work.

Many years before the rebellion of 1798 the Presbyterians of Lisburn had proposed to build a new house of worship. Lord Hertford gave them a handsome site, and subscriptions were collected towards defraying the cost of erection. Amongst the contributors were the Rev. Father Magee - the parish priest - and several members of his congregation. Father Magee gave £10, and the donation was very much prized by the Presbyterians. He was exceedingly popular, and, when any works of benevolence were to be performed, he was always beside the Rev. Dr. Cupples, Protestant rector of the parish, and the Rev. Andrew Craig, Presbyterian minister.*

There was wonderful excitement in Lisburn and its neighbourhood on the night of the 12th of June, 1798. A report had been circulated that. Harry Monro and a large body of his men would that night descend upon the town and destroy it by fire. Soldiers, horse and foot, paraded the streets in large numbers; the inhabitants were ordered to close their doors and put out their lights after eight o'clock, and every measure was taken to prevent a military surprise.

In a house in Market Square sat an Orange Lodge. At a late hour one of the members of this Lodge looked out of the door and saw the parish priest making his way homewards. The Orangeman was a member of the Rev. Craig's Church, and he had a kindly feeling towards Father Magee, because he remembered his kindness. Stepping up to the clergyman, he said -

"You are out very late, sir, in such troublous times."

"I am, indeed, my friend," replied the old gentleman. "I have been out on a sick call."

"It is a mile to your house, and you can hardly get there in safety," said the Orangeman; "our lodge is now sitting, come in for a moment and we'll see about guarding you home."

The priest entered the lodgeroom, where he was hospitably received, and, having remained there for some time, he was escorted home by four of the members...'

*Rev Andrew Craig is another man with a fascinating story. That's a story for another day.


Lisburn Mechanics LOL 557, The Twelfth, Main Street, Hillsborough
Here is a fuller account by Hugh McCall, again from this website:

'... Priest Magee.
Reference has been made to the kindly spirit that had prevailed in early times between the people of this town and the clergy of all sects. The Rev. John Magee, who had been curate of the chapel from 1762, and parish priest from 1770, was very popular. When the Presbyterian meeting-house in Market Square was in course of erection, he handed ten pounds to the building fund committee as his own and that of a few of his people's contribution towards the good work. Like the Rev. Edward Kelly, P.P., who has held that position in Lisburn more than one quarter of a century, and while zealously attending the duties connected with the creed of his fathers, never interfered with the private opinions of those of other denominations. Priest Magee delighted in cultivating social harmony with all around him, and by his own followers he was held in special veneration. He took much interest in the Volunteer movement, and, when leisure permitted, was among the spectators who usually assembled in large numbers to witness the parades of the local troops, as the men met for military exercise on Gough's Hill, now a portion of the Wallace Park. And at the tables of Poyntz Stewart, Commander of the True Blues; Thomas Ward, Captain of the artillery; as well as those of other Volunteer officers, Priest Magee was ever a welcome guest. With the popular rector of Lisburn and the Presbyterian minister, he lived on terms of the utmost friendliness. Among the many unwritten histories of the Irish Insurrection, the following incident, as taken by the narrator from the lips of one of the Orangemen who took part in it, will be read with some interest.

The Priest and the Orangemen.
An Orange Lodge was sitting in the front room of a house in Cross Row. Two members of the lodge who had come downstairs to look on the stirring scenes on the street were at the door, and while standing there they recognised the parish priest passing along on the opposite side. Both these Orangemen were well-known to Mr. Magee, and immediately on seeing that gentleman they rushed across the roadway, and, after apologising for stopping him, they added that such was the state of the town, and the excitement of party spirit, it would be very dangerous for him to attempt making his way home, "Gentleman," said the venerable clergyman, "I have been out attending a sick call; one of my people, who lives at Plantation, became suddenly ill, and I have got so far on my return. It is exceedingly kind of you to give me the information about the unsettled state of affairs, but I hope to get on my way without molestation."

"We cannot permit you to go alone," replied the younger of the two; "our lodge is sitting in Jemmy Corkin's, the business of the evening has been settled, and if you come over with us we will arrange for your safe convoy home." It was then nearly seven o'clock: all was excitement in the Square, dragoons were dashing furiously round the Market House, and heavy artillery guns had been placed across the head of Bridge Street. After a few moments' hesitation, the priest said he would place himself in the hands of his friends, and on entering the lodge-room the Rev. gentleman was courteously received by the master and members. Having partaken of some refreshments, half-a-dozen stalwart men, well armed, rose and proceeded to escort Mr. Magee to his cottage home, which was situated about a mile distant on the Moira Road. It was nearly midnight when the party arrived at the priest's dwelling. A suitable entertainment followed, during which the hospitable host once again gratefully acknowledged the special attention that had been paid him; and, to the latest period of long life, the old clergyman was wont to relate the romantic story of his having been escorted to his home at Lissue by six Orangemen the night before the Battle of Ballynahinch ...'


Postscript: In O'Laverty's An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, he says that Father Magee was from Corbally in Ballee parish near Downpatrick. During his time as a priest in Lisburn he lived on the Maze Road, and was responsible for building a Catholic church at Chapel Hill in Lisburn in 1786 which was then enlarged in 1841. The tower of the building is recorded as having a plaque which read 'This chapel was built by donations from the people of every religion in the county, to preserve in grateful remembrance such Christian concord this stone is erected'. This was assisted by Dean Stannus, on behalf of the Marquis of Hertford, who gave land and money to the project. In 1792 Magee officiated at a Mass in Lisburn chapel which was attended by 'The Volunteers accompanied by many Protestants'. The Northern Star of 16 May 1797 printed this story: '...Daniel Gillan, Owen McKenna, William McKenna, and Peter McKenna, privates in the Monaghan Militia, who had been tried by a Court Martial in Belfast, were conveyed to Blaris Camp on cars, accompanied by two priests (Rev. John Magee and Rev. Peter Cassidy, C.C.Belfast) and by a strong guard of horse and foot, and shot at two o'clock. They seemed very sensible of the awful change they were about to make ; and at the same time behaved with the greatest firmness, choosing rather to die than turn informers ...' More of this story can be read here - beginning on page 11 with an account of the Portaferry-born informer, Bell Martin.

Hugh McCall of Lisburn (1805-1897); when the Orange Lodge protected the local Priest.


Hugh McCall is one of the many forgotten men of Ulster history. In his day he was a renowned writer, collector of folk stories, founder of a literary society, chronicler of the linen industry, occasional editor of The Banner of Ulster and expert on the 1798 Rebellion. He also took a prominent part in the Burns Centenary commemorations in Belfast in 1859. There is a memorial plaque inside Lisburn Cathedral to him, which reads:

Hugh McCall
1805 – 1897
One who was given to Philanthropy
Justice and Truth
A Journalist without fear
An Accurate historian
A Painstaking Chronicler
This Tablet
Is placed where he worshipped
To his remembrance by his friends
This above all to thine own self be true
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man

I came across his work a few years ago. His grandfather left Argyll for Ulster, around 1714, and came to Donaghadee but then headed into the Lagan Valley area. Hugh was born at Chapel Hill in Lisburn. Joseph Carson of Kilpike regarded McCall as a 'brother poet', and wrote this verse to him:

To Mr. Hugh M'Call, a Brother Poet.

Lord, man, I think it dev'lish queer,
We've bardies been this many a year,
Baith bustling on in life's career,
Unknown to ither,
An' neither wrote ae line to cheer
His rhymin brither.

Had I but known, my cantie blade,
Ye plied sae weel the "rhymin trade,"
I would hae some bit sang convey'd
To thee lang syne,
Ere friendship's lamp was quite decay'd --
Dear light divine!

The dearest blessings o' mankind,
Are no' to rank an, wealth confin'd --
The cottage wight an' labouring hind,
Fu' aft enjoy them,
While lords to mak an riches join'd.
As aft destroy them.

When life's lang toilsome day is o'er,
The question, were ye rich or poor?
Will no be asked, on death's far shore,
To us poor mortals,
Ere mercy opes the narrow door, --
Heaven's shining portals.

Lisburn Mechanics LOL 557, The Twelfth, Main Street, Hillsborough Here is a great 1798 rebellion story which McCall collected, reproduced here from this website:

'... In these perilous times Mr. McGhee, the Parish Priest, was going out one night to visit a parishioner in Blaris. An Orangeman, who knew the popular priest told him of his great danger owing to the mob on the road, invited him into the house where an Orange Lodge was sitting, where he remained in safety, and was afterwards accompanied by a guard of Orangemen ...'

In Betsy Gray and the Hearts of Down, WG Lyttle recounts that Father Magee and some of his congregation had helped to fundraise for the building of Lisburn Presbyterian Church, giving £10, - '... and the donation was very much prized by the Presbyterians...'.

The loss of stories like these impoverishes the Northern Ireland of today. Men like McCall deserve to be more widely known.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sounds for a Saturday morning - Willie Watson, Pokey LaFarge and The Cactus Blossoms

Friday, November 22, 2013

Two Holestones - Ulster and Scotland

As far as I am aware, there is only one 'holestone' left in Ireland. It is near Kilbride Presbyterian Church, on the slopes of the Sixmilewater Valley of southern County Antrim (click here).


There is I understand just one more in the British Isles, called the Crouse Marriage Stone or Crow Stone, near Wigtown in Galloway, Scotland (click here). #alttext#

If anyone can tell me of others, I would appreciate it.

Mandolin tuning - "It's never perfect, but we do the best we can"

When in tune, the sound is wonderful. When even slightly out of tune, it is woeful. As the man below says, "if you've been playing mandolin for 30 years, you spend 15 of those years mandolin tuning and the other 15 years playing out of tune".

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Official Tourist Guide to County Down and the Mourne Mountains, 1924

Image above - ©NITB

I picked up a great 89-year-old book for a few pounds recently. It begins with this -

"The delightful air and scenery of the County of Down, and the retention within its boundaries of so many remains from Pre-Christian, Early Christian, and Norman times, and by its people of so many characteristics of speech and manners from Plantation days, make this territory, for the tourist, one of the most interesting in Northern Ireland..."

and goes on:

"... One thing which will be apparent to even an unobservant tourist is the Scottish character of the people over large area; indeed until recent times, when school attendance was enforced, the language of the people in large parts of the north and east was purely lowland Scotch. The reason for this is that among the early acts of James I were the grants of large areas of land to his Scottish favourites, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery. Both these adventurous spirits were first knighted, and later both attained the rank of Viscount. Hamilton made his headquarters at Bangor, then a little village on the southern shore of Belfast Lough. Montgomery settled a few miles further south at Newtownards. Both men were followed by a number of their relations from Scotland, and both brought over large numbers of settlers; and all the Ards area, or say the upper half of the county to the eastward, may be said now to be peopled by the descendants of those settlers, who, as stated above, spoke, until very recently, the Scottish tongue of their forefathers ..."

It is always remarkable how mainstream and understood our connections with Scotland were to previous generations. Today you'd be hard pressed to find a history teacher in a secondary or grammar school in the area who could give such a succinct and accurate account. And we wonder why Irish history is sometimes a 'battlefield' - it must be because so few really know it today. It is selectively deployed for devious reasons.

"... GOLFING - County Down is one of the most important centres of the ancient and royal game of golf outside Scotland..."

The descriptions of the towns and villages are packed with references to Hamilton and Montgomery, and an account of the Con O'Neill escape from Carrickfergus is included too - sitting comfortably within information about local landmarks, hotels, and recreation facilities, painting an overall picture of the places. It mentions the Bible texts which Montgomery had carved into the entrance of Newtownards Priory (the originals are long eroded, and the 1988 reproduction did not include the original texts, probably an editorial decision by some anonymous bureaucrat). The insert map as well as the text refer to St Patrick's Well at Templepatrick, south of Donaghadee, where "we get pretty views of the coast and of the Copeland Islands with the Scotch hills beyond".

Bear in mind that this isn't a 400 year old document - this was published just about a decade before my parents were born - and yet popular awareness of the knowledge it contains has been almost completely lost over the past two generations!

As high-level political discussions continue here in Northern Ireland which seek an agreement on 'the past' - the question arises, "What version of the past?". The one which is reduced to nothing but a "them against us" two-tribes political stereotype - or the fuller, more accurate, cultural past from which this generation and the next generation can learn so much?

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

From Portaferry to Belfast to Australia


One of the joys of blogging is the contact it has allowed me to have with many people around the world. I have recently been corresponding with a man who now lives in Australia, but who was born and grew up near Portaferry. When he was a boy his family moved (back) to Belfast and much of our discussion has been about the culture shock that this caused him as a child. He has allowed me to post some excerpts here, which I will add little bits of commentary to.

'...I find myself describing the cultural and geographical background of my early childhood in similar happily reminiscent terms as your article; having been born and in early childhood bred environmentally on the Ards Peninsula nearby Portaferry...'

He shares my frustrations at the present-day media insistence of Ulster-Scots as a recent 'invention':

'... I never had personally any impression that "Ulster" and "Scots" effects have only recently been imported from Scotland... I was born on the Ards Peninsula because my mother basically fled Belfast due to the forthcoming Blitz in the war (WW2). But back in Belfast (outer west Belfast) in 1948, my father worked the barges etc., for the Belfast Harbour Commissioners on Victoria Channel and Belfast Lough and quite a familiar familial topic my father regularly commented to us about was the "Portavogie Scots" (he called them) coming up and in effect taking jobs from Belfast's own "local" harbour workers...'

His father was a man more concerned with an invasion of Portavogie men, than he was of the Russians:

'... My parents were oul ones and my father's way of the oul ones was hilarious. We never had news in our house. Everybody round our direction in the 1950s had Moscow as the place of much invisible threat to our future security. But for us with my father it was grim talk at the dinner table about the perils of Portavogie ...'

And he was a man with a long memory:

'... One interesting rival for the much feared Portavogie in our house in the 1950s was always announced by my father in the exact same omen-fraught words. "The Norwegians are in the night". Even the Dutch were a breeze in comparison to the primeval Norwegians as far as my father was concerned. The amazing thing was it didn't matter what part of Belfast you were from out on the Lough, they all never forgot how the Norwegians came and burnt down Holywood and all along the shore towards Bangor and Donaghadee. I think it was 800 AD or round about then. Apparently my father and the other bargehands never got over that. So I always kept out of the road of the Norwegians myself when I got up...'

He described himself to me as 'ethincally Celtic Irish in today's popular observations', but with 'a British birth certificate' who enjoyed childhood on the 'Norman-French estates' of the Ards Peninsula.

'... When I (with my parents) moved to Outer West Belfast in 1948, I felt always an immigrant from the Ards Peninsula and the view of the Mountains of Mourne overlooking the Ards Peninsula encouraged memories of the above background, environment and geographies of the Ards when I was a child ...'

So, a complex, interesting, humourous, down-to-earth series of memories and observations. I'd love to meet him some day, he sounds like a man with oceans of stories to tell.