Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Temperance, bagpipes, fifes and drums - John Edgar (1798–1866)

John Edgar (1798–1866) was born somewhere around the Saintfield and Ballynahinch area of County Down in the historic year of 1798 – on the cusp of the famed rebellion, and in between two of the renowned battle sites of that rebellion.

His father was the Secession minister of a congregation at Ballynahinch and also ran a school, an 'academy', where a local youth called James Thomson assisted him. Thomson's son William would become world famous as Lord Kelvin. John Edgar's life story is told in this Memoir by WD Killen, published in 1869 (online here). A short bio can be found on the Dictionary of Ulster Biography here.

Edgar was theologically orthodox, a member of the Reformation Society, also strongly supportive of the Irish language and of evangelism across the entire island. He was also famous as a pioneer of Temperance in Europe, beginning what is thought to have been the very first such campaign on the entire continent, in 1829. It held its first meeting at 5pm on Sunday 4th October 1829 in Donegall Square Methodist Church in Belfast, the building too small to hold the crowd who has gathered. Edgar is said to have 'delivered an impressive discourse ... an energetic appeal to all the feelings of duty'. There were even centenary celebrations in 1929.

Yet Edgar is not well-known today, in contrast to his Catholic counterpart Father Theobald Matthew (1790–1856) who founded the Cork Total Abstinence Society in 1838, and to whom there are statues in various towns in Ireland.

The pages below describe a large pro-Temperance rally in 1837 in Clones in County Monaghan, cross-community in nature, and with bagpipes, fifes and drums.