The Carrier

Vol. 2 No. 2 - 1973

The carrier

by SJW Cooper

In the developing Craigavon Area were many people whose names have appeared in documents recording events extending over the past two and three centuries.

Mr. Johnny Kirk, of Monbrief, who died in January 1972, aged 88, belonged to a family that lived in the area for more than 300 years. Johnny was an interesting conversationalist. His family were carriers, conveying goods between the Lurgan area and Belfast warehouses and docks, and the horse and cart provided the means of transport.

Many people of an older generation, in the area, will remember the horses and carts of the Kirk family. The distinguishing feature of the cart was the long extension of the shafts - the "trams", at the rear end of the cart. Both men and horses had to rest on the long journey over roads that had poor surfaces compared with those of the present day motorways. The horse was taken out of the shafts and a slight tilt of these shafts caused the load to balance when the long trams at the rear rested on the ground.

The Kirk family owned many horses of the Clydesdale breed [of the type pictured], even till very recently.

Johnny Kirk would leave Monbrief at 12 midnight on a Sunday with ten to fifteen horses and carts, and in Lurgan he would team-up with J. Gallery of Garland Avenue, and George Jameseon of Edward Street.

With a string of 30-40 horses and two-wheeled carts previously loaded, mainly with linen and linen goods, the convoy would set out for Belfast.

Coach Inn at Derriaghy

The first resting place was the Coach Inn at Derriaghy. On Monday evening the convoy would reach Belfast where the webs of linen were discharged and men and horses were rested for a day. On Tuesday evening the return journey to Lurgan began with carts loaded, generally with raw materials for the many factories in Lurgan and the surrounding villages. Wednesday was resting day again, and at midnight the next journey to Belfast began.

Sharing a pipe of tobacco

Johnny had many interesting stories to tell about the people encountered in his journeys to and from Belfast. Many of these were of the itinerant type who would join the carriers in the early hours of the morning. Often a pipe of tobacco was shared and the conversation between carriers and itinerants seemed to shorten the twenty miles between Lurgan and Belfast.

The Kirk family had a long connection with the area. Quaker records show that Robert Kirk and his wife, Elizabeth, and five children arrived from Yorkshire in 1658 and "dwelt in Tollygally". One son, Alphonso, was born in that townland on May 14th 1659, and another son, Robert, on January 28th 1667. The latter married Ann Halliday. Christian names in the Kirk family in the late 17th and early 18th centuries like David, Robert, Jacob, Dinah, Mary, Nancy and Rachel are still retained by present-day descendants.

The Kirk family farm in Monbrief, only a short distance from Tullygally, suggests, especially from the out-houses, that the original dwelling was of the traditional thatched type. In the gable wall in one out-house is a large flat stone suggesting that this was the back for the fire on the hearth as in the house when built probably 300 years ago.

Some members of the family are living in the Monbrief home which only two years ago was surrounded by pleasant green meadows. Today, modern roads and roundabouts have almost isolated the farm. The heavy tramp of Clydesdales is no longer heard.