Sandy Small of Markethill

Vol. 7 No. 1 - 1995

Sandy Small of Markethill

a County Armagh merchant

by Rev Dr G.B.G.McConnell

Sandy Small

Alexander Small was born in the year 1812, the son of Alexander Small of Rose Cottage, Shanecracken, a long low house which can still be seen on the Markethill - Poyntzpass Road. The farm on which the house was built had been in the family since the middle of the 18th Century.

When Sandy grew up he decided to start a drapery business in nearby Markethill, in some small premises on the main street of the town, and (according to tradition) worked such long hours in the early years that he sometimes slept under the counter. He used to travel to England to buy stock, and en route stayed with his uncle Hugh Small, a leather merchant in Belfast.

United Irishmen

Hugh must have been an interesting character. As a young man he had joined the United Irishmen, and fought at the battle of Ballynahinch. He managed to escape from the field, and is reputed to have hidden in a turf stack, and been provided with food by some lady friends. Later he reached the Mourne Mountains, and eventually got from Kilkeel to England.

Some time later he was able to return to Ireland, and became a respected citizen in the leather business. The name H. Small is recorded as a member of the Board of the Belfast Town Mission, and may well be his. His grave may be seen in the Old Clifton Street burial ground where many other well known inhabitants of Belfast were buried, including Mary Ann McCracken. A small portrait of Hugh used to hang in Lattery, the house to which Sandy retired in later years. There was originally a matching picture of Hugh's first wife, but his second wife is alleged to have put out the eyes in this picture of her predecessor!

When Sandy called with Hugh in Belfast Hugh would ask "Have you money?" and, when Sandy would reply, "I have enough", Uncle Hugh would retort gruffly, "I asked have you money?" He was undoubtedly generous towards his nephew who in his turn worked hard and managed his finances well. The success of his drapery business, probably helped by the boom in linen in the 1850s and 60s, led him to build a large house-cum-shop in the main street of Markethill. He acted as his own architect and these very substantial premises still bear the name "Small", although no longer belonging to any of the Small family.

Sandy married a Miss Fisher, and she bore him a son John, who emigrated to America and died in the Civil War in 1864. After the early death of his wife, Sandy courted one Margaret Stewart, of Heath Hill near Glenanne. On one occasion he went there to buy a horse from the lady's mother. He mounted the animal, and tried to get it out of the yard. This it refused to do, and he told Mrs. Stewart that it was no use to him, for it wouldn't obey him. She replied "If you can't manage that horse, you can't marry my daughter". Sandy then said "Give me a stick", and with the aid of the stick he managed to get the horse through the gate, and married the daughter. I am glad he succeeded in this, as otherwise I might not be here!

It should be added that Sandy was, in fact, a fine horseman. On one occasion he found his way blocked by the cart of a road mender, so he simply put his steed to it and jumped over it. On complaint being made to his father, the latter asked was any damage done? The reply being in the negative, there was no more to be said.

The Small family were at this time Covenanters (members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church) as were also the Stewarts, some of whom still are of that persuasion. In those days the Covenanters followed the rule of boycotting the British Government, on the ground that in the 17th century that Government had broken their undertaking to establish Presbyterianism as the official Church in the three kingdoms.

An independent mind

Sandy, however, was of an independent mind, and refused to conform to this tradition. His first offence was that he paused one Summer evening to listen to some preaching which he could hear emanating from the open door of the Seceders Church. Then later on when he was well established in business, he was summoned to serve on the jury. As a Covenanter his church told him that he must refuse. However, as no one offered to pay the fine which would be laid on him for refusal, he duly served on the jury. This too was overlooked. But when he finally became a Justice of the Peace, and a member of the Armagh Union Board of Guardians, he was expelled or ex-communicated, and joined the larger Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Perhaps the most notable of Sandy's experiences as a J.P. was the occasion of what came to be known as the Cassidy Riot. One twelfth of July the Orangemen were processing along Newry Street in Markethill when one of them taunted Cassidy, a local poultry dealer or "henman" as they were known. Cassidy was mending his cart in front of his cottage, had a hammer in his hand and struck the Orangeman with it. He then rushed back into his house to escape from the wrath that was to come and the crowd, in ugly mood, sought to follow him. At this point Sandy Small was summoned to deal with the situation and (as the story goes) he stood in the door of Cassidy's abode to prevent the mob breaking in. Every time his tall hat was knocked off a little man at his side put it back on again.

Read the Riot Act

It was then realised that Cassidy had escaped by the back door and, when the mob pursued him, he sought refuge in a hardware shop. The door was closed in his face and the excuse for this refusal of asylum was that the shop was full of scythes and other implements which could have been used to inflict serious injury. Fearing the worst, Sandy ordered the police to arrest Cassidy for his own safety and escort him to the barracks. Having got Cassidy safely inside, he ordered the sergeant to line up the constabulary with loaded carbines, read the Riot Act, and warned the mob that if stones were thrown at the barracks he would order the constabulary to fire. Realising they could do no more, the crowd dispersed.

Sandy Small's second wife bore him eight children, and they illustrate well the experience of many families in those days. The first died in infancy, another died while at school in Coleraine Academical Institution and a third died from consumption while young James died on his way to Australia; Hugh was drowned at the Chulkill Falls in Pennsylvania. The survivors were Elizabeth, William and my grandfather Robert, who all lived to old age.


In his later years Sandy and his wife retired to a house near Rose Cottage, on the Markethill-Tandragee Road, which is known as Lattery (being in the townland of that name). By this time he had handed over the shop and house in Markethill to his eldest son Robert. One small incident which has been handed down from those days may illustrate how customs have changed. Sandy's wife looked out of the sitting room window one day and saw the minister coming up the drive. Turning to her husband with alarm she said, "Sandy, here's the minister. Remember there is only a quart in the house!"

Sandy died on the 18th October 1890, and his funeral to Mullabrack graveyard was evidently an impressive occasion. Blinds were drawn in the houses in Markethill, and it is recorded in the Armagh paper that the cortege "embraced over one hundred carriages" and was over a mile long. The same paper added in its tribute to the deceased that "Mr. Small was no stranger to Armagh. A member of a good old family, he was for many years Vice-chairman of the Board of Guardians, and it was seldom that his tall and striking figure was not to be seen on a Tuesday morning moving through our various market centres prior to his arrival at the Boardroom where he was seldom absent, and where, either as a guardian, a member of Committee, or a vice-chairman, his presence was felt and his voice listened to and respected."

The memorial minute of the Board of Guardians records the fact that "at all times he rendered his valuable aid, and contributed his sound judgment in the successful management of the business of the Board, and was ever ready to lend an attentive ear to the appeal of the destitute and distressed".

4 February 1995

Note. Most of the anecdotes in this article have been handed down in the form of oral tradition, but the source was thoroughly reliable. G.B.G.McC.