Thursday, January 09, 2014

Shared Past


There is a lot of talk in Northern Ireland about a 'shared future'. The trouble with this term is that its repeated usage implies that there was never a shared past. Which there was, on many levels. I am often reminded of George Orwell's 1984, where the Ministry of Truth tells the population that they have always been at war with their latest enemy - '...Oceania was at war with Eurasia; therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia...'. Some people need to tell us this, in order to sustain their own present-day support base.

Anyway, here is a lighter example of a 'shared past'. The Newtownards Chronicle for 26 December 1936 has a brilliant story of (what I suspect was) cross-community co-operation:

Entitled 'Poteen in the Ards: Portavogie Man Charged', it is a long account of a trial at Greyabbey Petty Sessions where a potato farmer called William Piper from Portavogie got three months jail for having a large supply of poteen (illicit home-brewed alcohol) and a loaded 422 revolver and 81 rounds. Piper (its fair to guess he was a Protestant) claimed he'd been given the drink by a man called Samuel Doherty from Ballygelagh (its fair to guess he might not have been a Protestant), and that the gun had been brought from America by his uncle 40 years earlier, as a present for their father. Willam Piper said he'd been training his wife to shoot it as they kept 'a good deal of money in the house.'

Sergeant B McFetridge said he raided the place on 16 November, and found a 10 glass bottle of poteen in the dining room, two more bottles with about 3 glasses each still in them, and an empty bottle on the scullery floor. Piper then dashed for the cattle shed where the Sergeant found him, between two cattle, with a large stone jar of the stuff wedged between his knees, trying to get the cork out. 29 empty bottles were also found.

Doherty had a track record for distilling his own stuff, and had been raided himself on 13 November. Doherty told the magistrate that he'd arrived at Piper's with 'a wheen of bottles of poteen'; and that Piper used to shoot the revolver at the pig-house door in the farm yard. Doherty also then squealed that Piper had a double barrelled shotgun as well, but had a licence for it. Full of wit and banter throughout the detailed report, Doherty then went on the claim that all of the bottles were only for lemonade and that they couldn't make him confess to any charge.

Piper got three months hard labour. The article went on to say that a neighbour of Samuel Doherty's, possibly a cousin, William Murphy of Ballycran, was also charged with 'having in his possession spirits for which duty had not been paid', which amounted to 3 bottles found in his house, 4 bottles hidden in a haystack, and 1 hidden in the hedge. Murphy's wife confessed that they'd had 2 more bottles which they used at their daughter's wedding. The bottles matched the ones Doherty had supplied to Piper.

I'm sure my grandfather would have known, or at least known of, these men!