New Years Day 1933
My Dear Heather,
After a good deal of thought I feel I might be able to write better notes on things past and gone by writing in letter form. I have been so long accustomed to letter writing I fear greatly I could not do as well in any other way, but I will try in this form to set down as well as possible what I have seen, as well as heard, from reliable sources of the olden times and the people who lived then. The only fear I have is that I cannot do justice to the very nice book you have been good enough to send me. However I will do my best to live over again the days of 70 years ago for your benefit.
One of my very earliest memories is being taken down to the Pottery House at Derrybroughas to see our Great-grandmother Mary Mallagh Robb aged about 100. She was small, thin and very erect with the extreme pallor of very old age. Her people claimed to have come over with William III from Holland, and was given a tract of land in Corcullintra for their Military Service. The family of Sir Robert Heart and some others claimed to have come to Ireland in this way, though their names were all more or less anglicised.
The Mallagh family had certain peculiarities which bore out this claim. First they were one and all very clean, and their houses, horses and carts and belongings generally could have easily been picked out of any Farmers gathering at Market or otherwise. Another rather striking custom was they never took milk with porridge at breakfast or supper but used home brewed ale instead. She, last of the older generation, was in face and figure a typical Dutchman, and the first Doctor that ever settled in Portadown was Dr. Billy Mallagh my Great-grandmother's brother. He built the house in Obyns Street where McDonagh the Furniture Factory is, and made money and built a lot of houses in that neighbourhood, which went by the name of Dr. Billy's Row and most of the old houses in Lower Corcrain were built by him as well. He never married and his nephew, who was his heir, lost most of all this property by litigation. It was said of him that he never wan a case.
After rambling about I must return to our Great-grandmother. She certainly seemed to have been a Personality in her day - her cast of features have I think descended to Lillie Robb now of Woodside - always erect with the long prominent chin, which usually tells of will power. Fifty years after her death her grandson spoke of the armchair she had used as grandmother's chair, and after her husband's (John Robb's) death she built a house in Thomas Street. Portadown, but never came in or occupied it at any time. She left the Hill Farm after her husband's death, and lived for 35 years with her daughter at the Pottery, who had been married to her first cousin, William Robb, usually called Black William. Father (the late Hamilton Robb, Senior) often recalled the fact that though this old lady lived in the Hill Farm all through the 1798 Rebellion she never heard of it till afterwards, when Peace had once more come to this distracted country. Father always quoted this circumstance to show how very slowly news travelled in country districts 150 years ago.
The roads all through the Parish of Drumcree were almost impassable in wet weather, and only once in a great while did a newspaper find its way to remote country districts, and one copy did duty then for a whole Town Land. After 70 years I can still see the old lady seated in her chair with a white fichu tucked in her dress and open about her throat, and a white cap on her very thin hair. She seemed even then a very dictatorial old lady, as she reproved my brother William and myself for putting peats in our pinafores for her fire. Father took us to see her when she was dying, so that we might remember her as having almost lived to complete her Century in 1860. Even to-day over 70 years after her death the farm is often spoken of by old people as Mary's land. I never knew my Great-grandfather John Robb, but Father always spoke of him with great respect as a Reformer and a man with ideas long before his time. He embraced the then very dangerous views of the men who wanted Land Reform to prevent people being so much under the control of the Landlord, and what was often worse was His Agent, who seldom showed mercy where rent was due, and even the dying were thrown out of their houses to die in the street as a warning to other defaulters.
One of the first rebellions in Ireland occurred in 1746 or thereabouts when the Presbyterian and Roman Catholics joined hand in hand to overthrow the power of the Landlord's and from that time the Robbs of Derrybroughas played their part in this very bitter strife. This led to the Church, whose Clergy, to a man, belonged to the Landowners and who frowned greatly on anyone in this Parish who cast his lot in with Land Reform. This circumstance gave a great impetus to John Wesley's teaching. He and his ministers knew no party, and very many farmers and their families, who had perhaps Presbyterian Blood in their veins, were very willing and ready to show in this way that their sympathies were with those who held no mandate from the Landlord as to whom they should vote for and support.
In most religious revivals there is a cause lying behind the movement which as years roll on is often forgotten and lost sight of, but John Wesley came to Ireland at a time when, among the farming community, there was a stirring after Liberty, and where they might worship without the shadow of Ministry, with the new Methodists, were all recruited from the people, but the Church of England, as it then was called, stood solid for Landlordism and all its privileges. John Robb, our great-grandfather, championed the cause of some evicted tenants, and opened up his Barns for them, providing them with food and shelter, till Mr. Brownlow could be seen to get some redress for these unfortunate people.
To digress a little, the townland of Derrybroughas, with most of the parish of Drumcree, was given at the 1st Settlement of Ulster, under James I, to the Ffordes of Raughlin, near Lurgan. They got the name of being very good landlords, easy to deal with, but in one way or other, sometimes by marriage settlement or else by purchase, the land passed from the Ffordes into the hands of the Brownlows, whose views on Land Tenure were directly opposite to those held by the Ffordes. Their creed was that ownership of land was a business transaction, and must be governed by the laws that ruled over all business transactions, always forgetting that it was the Tenants, and only them, who had improved their holdings, and cut them out of the Forest and the Bogs of that low-lying country.
It may now, in 1933, be a bit wearisome to you to read all this about Land Tenure, but you really cannot understand the ups and downs of a family like the Robbs, who have lived for 300 years on a farm in a remote district without this being taken into account. When James I, conceived the idea of settling Ulster in 1610 by giving or selling large tracts of Land to the men who had helped him to gain the English Throne, he never seems to have taken into account the idea held by all the Tribes in Ireland that the Land belonged not to individuals but to the Tribe, and that each Tribe had a special God, who blessed or cursed the Land in accordance to their reverence for himself, and a moments thought will show how ruthlessly King James over-ruled this, to these ancient people, their most sacred and cherished belief. They were not armed with guns etc. like these English and Scottish invaders, and though no doubt Guerrilla Warfare lasted more or less for years, yet in the long run the ancient inhabitants fled to the Mountains and Bogs and came out at night and stole and maimed cattle etc. when they were successful in the raid. To my mind this over-riding of their cherished belief has been the source of most of Ireland's woes and troubles when even in this enlightened age is still active and alive. One word in passing the names and divisions of the Irish townlands goes back to the most remote age, and were always named after a wood, or hill, or a tree growing abundantly in the neighbourhood.
Father took a good deal of trouble to find out when the Robbs settled in Derrybroughas, but all that was elicited from Lord Lurgan's Books was that they had been tenants of the Ffordes before the Estate passed into the bands of the Brownlows, and it was believed by the older generation that a Robb came from Scotland with the Ffordes, and was given the townland of Derrybroughas, and Rev. H. W. Rennison, when trying to find out the where and when of things in Drumcree Parish, saw in the oldest survey maps Robbs Ferry noted on these old maps, which alas many of them were burned in the destruction of the Four Courts in Dublin. Robb's Ferry is still more or less in existence as a boat is available to cross the Bann at James Robb's farm, and thus save a journey of many miles when the traveller wanted to go to Lurgan. Derrybroughas lies midway between Lurgan and Portadown, and when in days gone by there were many more houses and people living in the neighbourhood, many of them handloom weavers, there was much intercourse between Derrybroughas and Lurgan, as at an early date Lurgan was a much better town and better market than Portadown. As the Brownlows were alive to the idea of improving Lurgan, our Grandfather William Robb had a boat built to convey a horse and cart across the Bann.
A tradition existed years ago that the Ffordes of Raughlin offered Henry Robb the townland of Derrybroughas at 2/6 per acre for ever in the 1600's, but he rejected the offer as he had made up his mind to go to America where he would get land without being under the jurisdiction of any Landlord, showing I think clearly that even in those early days Landlordism in Ireland was more or less a burden to the Tenants. But it would not be fair or even honest to class all Landlords in one class, as in everything there were good, better and best Landlords, and on the other side there were several degrees among these Landlords, usually absentees whose one idea was how much rent could be wrung out of those who were unfortunate enough to be living under them, or which was often worse, under their Land Agent, who himself only held his office to screw money out of the Tenants.
Now that you have lived in England you will, I feel sure, wonder why Irish Tenant Farmers were always fighting with their Landlords, but you must not forget that since very early days the Land Tenure in the two countries was very different. In England the Landlord built the farmhouse, drained the land, fenced it and then let it to the Tenant, himself being responsible in most cases for repairs. In Ireland, when in 1610 or 1620 the overlord was given a tract of Land he usually brought over from England or Scotland relatives and retainers who undertook to guard their landlord in his fights with the aborigines which were of frequent occurrence . Then they were to build themselves stone houses after the English pattern, reclaim the land from Forest and Bog and, in many old leases, were never to relet the land to the mere Irish, but to see that so many of them were done to death each year. This last clause is not fiction as some of these old leases still remain in Dublin.
Time went on and the country got more settled, and the Landlords and their wives found it dull living in Ireland so they went to London or perhaps they had another country seat in England, and, to maintain their status there, money and more money was required each year, and where was it found easier than in Ireland, and so rentracking evictions began with such tragic happenings to all concerned, till Gladstone brought in his first Land Bill which granted all Tenants the right of Free Sale, Fair Rent and Fixity of Tenure. Looking back now sixty and more years one cannot see how such a measure would possibly raise up such a storm of abuse from the Landlord class and their entourage. But I remember quite well when our men went to a meeting to advocate these reforms how thankful we, the women at home, were to receive them sometimes with torn clothes and maybe stone cuts about the head. But be it said to the honour of Northern Ireland no one was killed in those land riots though many were wounded. In the South of Ireland, Landlords and Agents were shot down from behind hedges when riding along the roads. But as those days have gone, never, I hope, to return, I will give you an instance or two of what I saw and heard myself in Portadown and neighbourhood. But to understand the situation clearly one must remember that the farmers themselves in this county were so cowed and so afraid that for years they would not or dare not be seen going to a meeting where Land Reform was mentioned. In most cases they and their forebears had been so ground down that it was only here and there a man would come out and assert himself as a Tenant Righter (as they were called). One of the first of these Tenant Right Meetings I remember was held in the old Townhall, now Messrs. Burnett Drapery Warehouse. On the evening the meeting was arranged for, in 1880, to energise the farmers and their friends to select and elect a candidate for Co. Armagh as a representative of their the farming interests of the county, all went off fairly well with of course many interruptions from those who had been sent by the Orange Faction to destroy the meeting. However it was passed and carried that Mr. James N. Richardson of Bessbrook, a Quaker, should be asked to go to the Parliament in Westminster as the Representative of the Farmers.
When the meeting broke up those who had taken an active part in it were net with volleys of stones being flung on them from all quarters. Many men were cut in the face and head, and had to run into cover to save their lives. Kind hearted people who lived nearby tried to pluck these men into their houses and keep them there under cover till the disturbers had gone away. There was then a Dr. Heron in town who was accused of being a ring leader in the Tenant Right Movement. He was set on by a party of roughs, when the late David Thornton of High Street opened his hall door and pulled him in at great risk to himself as well as his business and house. When all was quiet and the Tenant Righters gathered once more to discuss the question of their being represented at Westminster many questions were asked how did such a lot of stones collect in a street like Woodburn Street. When it was asserted that the Baroness Von Steiglitz' cart came after dusk and laid cut stones close to the Town Hall side door in order that the rowdy element in the town, who when fortified with free beer, were able and willing to annoy and hurt those who came to the meeting. As to-day this would seem to be impossible, I will add that the late James McKell and others saw the cart full of stones being emptied near his back gate and wondered at the time what they were for; if for one moment he had even suspected what purpose they were left for, he would have seen the Police and had them removed. One of the Acheson family nearly lost his life, as he had very bad concussion of the brain in consequence of being hit on the head several times, and your grandfather always carried the mark of where a stone cut him on the head, and as a result hair never grew again on the spot.
Lots of instances occurred during those years of stress and strain on this Land question, but I will only mention one more which had far reaching effects. Another meeting for Mr. Richardson's candidature was to be held in a field off the Armagh Road, in the forenoon, so that the darkness might not cover up deeds of violence. Old Mr. Averill Shillington consented to take the chair on a platform erected in the field. No sooner had the meeting begun when a band of roughs rushed the platform and broke the chairs over the heads of those who had been chosen to speak. Of course the farmers and their friends did not take this lying down, but with sticks, umbrellas and rungs of the broken chairs gave as much as they got and perhaps even more, as some of the farmers and their supporters were hefty men, who went almost mad at the treatment received in broad daylight. While this free fight was going on Mr. Primus Shillington, the D.I. of Police and the District Magistrate stood on the Armagh Bridge looking down on the strife and laughing. Your grandfather Thomas Dawson, Dr. Heron, Hamilton Robb and some others made their way out of the field to where these officials were enjoying the fun, and asked very quietly where were the Police and why were they not on the field to keep order. It was always maintained that Mr. Primus Shillington said he considered it good sauce for these men who arranged for the meeting. Fortunately these men were able to keep their tempers and remain quiet, so they insisted that the D.I. should at once call the Police to clear the field, and as a parting shot announced that some questions would be asked in Parliament next day about this occurrence, and I will anticipate and say that as a result the R.M. was asked to resign at once and the D.I. was sent to the wilds in the West of Ireland, and Mr. Primus Shillington never adjudicated as J.P. again. Then your grandfather gathered up a few farmers who had suffered in the fray and who needed medical help to cover stone cuts etc. and another result was Mr. Thomas Secundus Shillington threw all his ability into the farmers cause and became not only a Tenant Righter but as well Home Ruler. When one reads in the daily press of the farmers' grievances of this day I often wonder do they never think of the hard times their forebears went through to secure to this and all succeeding generations the blessings of Free Sale, Fixity of Tenure and Fair Rent.
I fear I have wandered very far away from our own old ancestors, but I believe, to understand them and the times they lived in, you must have some idea of the conditions under which they lived and what they had to contend with during their lifetime. To-day we contend with other problems just as difficult while different.
After all this digression we return to our grandparents William and Rebecca Robb. William was born in 1780 and succeeded his Father in the Hill Farm. He was a clever pushing man, who went once a month to Dublin to sell his handmade linen webs, which he sent on by cart and horse while he rode on horseback. He was said to have always kept a very good riding horse, and there were many old stories told in Derrybroughas, 70 years or more ago, about his particularity about the fit of his Wellington Riding Boots, which it was alleged required two men to pull on. Today Norman Robb holds some letters from a London Firm over 100 years old saying how bad trade was there, but hoping sales for the Linen might soon be accomplished. This William Robb also engaged in the Peat Trade and sent to Scarva by road and canal much turf in Lighters, which sold well there where there were no bogs. Grandfather William was much older than Grandmother, and died in early middle age having caught cold on a journey from Dublin. He left behind him William John afterwards accidentally shot when fowling, Benjamin; Mrs. Jane Irwin; Hamilton, our Father; Robert Henry, died young; Fannie, Mrs. David Irwin; Eleanor, Mrs. David Thornton. He also bore during his life the burden of land reform and risked a great deal when he took into his barns evicted tenants of Lord Lurgan, as his father had done, and pleaded their cause before his Lordship.
We now come to grandmother Rebecca Dobson Robb, born about 1800. Her father had died when she was a mere infant, and her mother whose maiden name was McCausland and came from Derry, married again and had a second family. Grandmother was left well off for those times by her father. A farm was settled on her and as dowry she had £1,000. Rather curiously some years ago I met a very old country woman who claimed to be related to grandmother Dobson friends, and said as a proof that they were well and comfortably off that only the Rector and themselves had any carpets in the Parish of Grange. Grandmother called her son Benjamin after an uncle she had who was an Admiral Benjamin McCausland. Father was called for another Uncle who kept a Book Store in Belfast, Hamilton McCausland, and gave Father the old clock that Aunt Bessie still has and some books. Grandmother was no doubt a woman in a thousand. She often told me herself what when her husband died she did not know the difference between a field of oats or a field of wheat, and she had 6 children the youngest only an infant (Aunt Thornton). Her Mother had died a short time before and she brought her two stepsisters to Derrybroughas and gave one of them charge of the children and another she installed as housekeeper with of course servants and help under her.
Life in 1835 was very different to what it is today in the home. Very little could be bought, even the Linen was made for the household in the Winter, and bleached by the Spring sun on the home fields. Soap and candles were made as well as large quantities of peeled rushes for kitchen use when dipped in fat and dried. For ham and bacon a pig was killed in the Autumn, salted and then dried on hooks over the kitchen fire, and for other meat the same process went on with a little bullock in Autumn. For fresh food they had chicken, ducks and in winter geese. Then the farmhands were all fed in the kitchen and when the women servants had finished for the day they were expected to sit down, and wind bobbins for the men who wove in the shop, as the weaving place was called, when the weather was wet or unfavourable for outside work. Everything in the house was ruled by sunlight, the household got up shortly after dawn and retired to bed at a very early hour. At that period in most places travelling tailors came round at certain specified times, squatted cross-legged on a kitchen table at the kitchen window, and made clothes for the four boys, and another man, a shoemaker followed and fitted the household in boots and shoes. It was not till many years after that a pair of boots could have been bought in Portadown as it was called. Over the country all boots here about were handmade and roughly at that, but if nicer boots were required then you drove off to Newry unless you went to Dublin. Grandfather's Executors were very against her keeping on the hand loom Linen Business, and wanted her to leave the farm and take the children into Portadown. Her reply to them was often quoted "Go into town where I will have everything to buy only water, indeed I will not do any such thing." I don't think she was ever satisfied with the way she was treated by the Executors and she often told me herself how that for a 12 month she never bought tea which was 12/- or so per lb., and, as she had been accustomed to it, she felt it badly not having it.
Father always said their father, having died so young, was a great loss to his sons and daughters. He wanted them well educated and never came home from his trips to Dublin without bringing them something nice to wear or play with, and he thought that maybe grandmother had not been very judicious with the Executors. Men then were not accustomed to be ordered about by women and a young woman at that, who might marry again. For years grandmother herself managed the farm and turf business and was able to make them pay. She got a nice little pony and car and sent the boys into school the Presbyterians ran in Edenderry, what would now be called a Secondary School, getting a young man who had got no charge to come and teach there. In those days the churches one and all ran the schools and saw to it that they were kept supplied with teachers. Some of the Presbyterian Ministers who taught in that little house just opposite the 1st Presbyterian Church became very noted men, and Father was always proud that he had been taught by Rev. Moore, who years after built the beautiful church called Elmwood on the University Road.
During this time Father was not very strong, and an Aunt of his, Mrs. May of Levasagh, took him, and he always said she saved his life with the good care and kitchen physic she gave him. I know that as long as he lived he felt grateful to her as he thought his mother's methods were very much too Spartan. I think we, the next generation, gained a good many treats because of grandmother's notions. Both father and mother never asked us to eat anything we disliked, an idea that among our elders was thought to be simply preposterous. It is hard to praise or blame the notions people held years and years ago about children, and how they should be reared, but it has often occurred to me that the Religious beliefs of that day had a great deal to do with the harshness children suffered. The idea was then that the Lord God Almighty was a stern judge waiting to punish us for all slips of the flesh, so fathers and mothers took their cue from this and felt they were ruling their families as the Eternal Father ruled his. We give thanks all this is now not believed any longer.
Grandmother was anxious to put her sons to business as early as possible, as she thought her oldest son was quite able to manage the farm alone, but when he was accidentally shot on Boxing Day, 1846, she brought back the younger Robert Henry, from Derrycarne House, Maghery, Moyf, where he was learning the hand loom Linen Trade - Mr. Robert Crone being his second cousin. Benjamin the second son was intended to be a Doctor and his father left some money to put him through his Examination, but Uncle Ben had no taste for Books at any period of his life, and perhaps grandmother was more alive to this fact than his father, so he was sent to another friend in Tandragee, and Father, Hamilton, went at 15 to serve his apprenticeship with Wm. Paul. Fanny the eldest girl married her second cousin, David Irwin, and died very young leaving 4 little children. Eleanor also married her second cousin, David Thornton, and died at 86.
And now just a few words about grandmother herself for she was a truly remarkable woman. When her husband died she knew nothing about farming or any outside work, but she opposed the Executors' which to leave the country or bring her family into Portadown, so she arranged for the house and children to be looked after by her stepsisters, and turned all her attention to her farm and turf business which she made pay. She always said that she was greatly helped by the loyalty and devotion of some of the old retainers on the farm especially John Flannagan and William Wright, both of whom bought and sold her cattle for her. She not only made all pay, but she kept the house and place in nice trim order, and we were often told of how she put new stairs into the old house in Derrybroughas very soon after she took over the reign of government.
It was rather curious that when in the early days of 1800 women were supposed to be useless creatures and treated as such, two large farms in Derrybroughas were run and run successfully by two widows, Rebecca, our Grandmother, and Mary, Seth and William Robb's Mother. Even after all necessity for them doing so had passed as their sons were grown up and had assumed the reins of government both grandmother and Aunt Mary seemed unable to settle in the house not that they did anything, but they marched about and kept their eyes open, grandmother always knitting. I wish I had the ability to draw a word picture of her as she walked about the place. She was a very large woman, and as she called herself, lusty, with heavy features and bright reddish curly hair, and her thick nose descended to me. Her eyes were bright and intelligent, and able to see into people very clearly and quickly. She ruled her household very comfortably and well, and as her daughter Eleanor Thornton said of her when she died in 1877, "There was never any scarcity or want when mother managed." While I am sure everyone was kept busy at work during the day, and the feeding of the farm hands made a lot of work in the house, yet when evening came the kitchen fire was made up with peat and bog fur and the whole kitchen was aglow with heat and light from the fire, the rush light burning on its tall iron stand giving only a pale glimmer of light. Often neighbours dropped in to discuss the weather and perhaps arrange for an interchange of horses for some field work they might have on hand.
Usually William Robb from the Pottery House came across the fields to see Uncle Robert, always with his collie dog at his heels, then grandmother came into the kitchen and her two mould candles, as they were then called, came in their brass candlesticks were laid on the kitchen table, and the old Bible was brought out and a few verses read, and a few words of prayer followed from Uncle Robert and after his death from Tom Nicholson. Grandmother never believed a woman was in her right place conducting family worship. Usually the lanterns were lit and last look round was taken to see that no one was lying in the hayshed. Grandmother seemed to fear tramps setting fire to the place, but Derrybroughas lies off the main road, and so was saved that annoyance, but during the day a good few beggars found their way to the Hill Farm. These beggars seemed to make begging a profession and they had their stated times and seasons for coming round when they were quite willing to do a little work in return for a meal, but grandmother hated to see them about, and if she were visible they got a little meal and some potatoes and were shown off the Hill as soon as possible but in most farmhouses they were made much of for their gossip.
I can speak best about the years between 1860 and 1867, as I was living mostly then with grandmother. Uncle Robert had just died from a wetting he got at a camp meeting at Ashgrove, and as grandmother wanted company I was mostly with her. The farm then was Father's but as long as grandmother lived in the house I feel convinced what was done was by her orders and approval.
Life then was very different to what it is today. Candles and rush were our lights. I remember quite well father bringing in the first paraffin lamp and a tin of oil, but he gave grandmother such a lurid account of explosions etc., etc., she ordered it to be put away safely, and it was never brought out that I remember. Aunt Thornton had been only married a short time before Uncle Robert died as grandmother was left alone. She kept always two servants to whom she paid £1 per quarter to each. Of course when they came they had to get clothes as usually they had only what was on their backs. None of them could read and every evening when work for the day was over the old Bible was brought out and were told off first to teach the alphabet and afterwards short words from the first chapters in St. John, and maybe there was time for a writing lesson. I am sure I never was a good teacher, but my brother William even at that early age could interest these girls and bring them on to read wonderfully if they were keen themselves to learn. We had no telephone, wireless or motorcar, but the postman arrived about twice a week, and as father usually drove down every day, or maybe every other, be brought newspapers and books. On Saturday the surplus eggs and butter was taken into the Market and meat groceries brought out. During the week we relied on a chicken for fresh meat. Grandmother's ideas of sending eggs to market was rather different to present day practice. She liked to gather a huge basketful, as it was considered in those days a second rate idea to be selling eggs fresh laid. Indeed the regulations now in force for marketing fresh eggs is a great deal better than the method in use 70 years ago.
Derrybroughas was not so lonely then as now as there were more than a dozen workers' houses on the farm, in all of which there were hand looms going most of the time, the old people and children winding bobbins for the weavers. I don't remember any spinning of yarn going on, but the old spinning wheels remained on the hay loft, and grandmother had linen sheets which were made from flax grown on the farm, spun into yarn by herself and servants, woven by the men living on the farm, and bleached by the summer sun under her own directions.
These sheets were very pleasant to use, they were not very fine, but soft and certainly they gave everlasting wear. At least a couple of linen webs were bleached on the grass plots in the garden every year. But the day of days for us children was soap making day, and when the peeled rushes were dipped in the boiling fat, which had been gathered for months and carefully kept to this end. Of course all this was done in the hay yard as the smell of the old fat would have been overpowering if done in the house. Looking back over all these years I think grandmother was in many ways before her time as she had fitted up a boiler in an outside place to prepare food for the animals on the farm. In all the other farm kitchens in the neighbourhood the smell of burning meal or potatoes seemed never to be absent, Sunday or Saturday, and the place much upset. The kitchen place under Grandmother was always tidy, and all work was done in scullery and dairy. She kept always canaries in the sunny window, and all the neighbours used the kitchen door which was seldom shut.
As I said before the Land Question had a lot to do with our people becoming Methodist as the shadow of landlordism in religion did not tend to peace. An old Class Book dated 1800 and written up by John Robb still remains with Norman Robb, Belfast, and the names of the household are all in it. But on Sunday morning those who were able walked to Drumcree Church, the girls using wooden pattens over their shoes. Uncle William John was, in 1846, a Church Warden in Drumcee Church. At that time to be a Church Warden you required to be a man of some means as you were responsible for the cess and had charge of all roads in the Parish. Uncle Robert always drove to Church on Sunday morning and then went to a little Methodist service in the evening in some of the smaller farm houses in Derrycarne. I remember very clearly on Sunday evening when grandmother took William and myself with her. Old Mr. John Shillington was standing with his back to a great big turf fire and holding forth on how Hell Fire was waiting to receive all those who forgot God and were wicked here. I well remember William clutching my hand and we both covered ourselves up as well as we could in grandmother's very voluminous skirt which would easily have measured 10 yards. In passing Mr. John Shillington was a real character and wont to lay down the law on Spiritual matters with great force, but his own wife got up and left him and took part of the family with her, a most unheard of occurrence in those days, and especially so when it happened among the unco guid [rigidly moral and religious people - Ed.] I remember well how Portadown Society resolved itself into 2 camps, one for Mr. John and the other for Mrs. Uncle Robert fitted up a loft for meetings when he was alive and Mr. Hunt the Church Curate held a meeting one week and a Methodist Minister another week.
Perhaps this might be a favourable time to tell about the Great Revival, as it was called, in 1859. There seemed to be a widespread idea that the end of the World was just at hand and religious meetings were held day and daily everywhere. A kind of hysteria caught a lot of emotional people and they went off in trances and woke up saying they had been lifted into heaven. Grandmother Robb was one of the few who did not believe in those stricken cases as they were called, and she announced very quickly when the excitement was on that she had prepared 2 large horse buckets full of water with which she would drench anyone who was stricken in her kitchen or loft. She got lots of ill will over this pronouncement but curious to relate she saw no stricken cases in her domain. I don't think all the folk were hypocrites but this religious excitement had risen to such a head and the end of the World was considered so near nervous folk were frightened out of their wits. I remember an American Evangelist staying in Edenderry about 1862, and at that time Father was planting the garden with gooseberry and raspberry bushes, and Mr. Greeves seemed so upset as he thought it would be better to spend the time on our knees to prepare for the coming fire from Heaven, which was to burn the whole World up in one big blaze. Whether the Revival did good or harm is a much debated question, but Mr. Halahan and Mr. Rennison say that after careful study of their old Parish Books, there never were so many illegitimate children to be seen to and helped. Life in the country and over in small towns was very drab and dull and any excitement was a welcome break in the monotony.
About 1867 Grandmother built a house for herself in Carleton Street, and come in to live there as she felt too lonely in the country, and from that time none of us lived on the Hill Farm, though sometimes in the summer we were all sent down to spend our summer holidays there. We children loved it but I am sure it must have been a trial to mother as I don't believe she relished country life under such conditions.
Before I leave grandmother's living in Derrybroughas I do wish I could present you a picture of life as it was then lived in the country districts of Ulster, but I fear I cannot. The change that has taken place since then is overpowering, and would have been unthinkable in those days. In both the farms in Derrybroughas a good driving horse and car was always kept if the ladies of the household wished to do a little shopping or social visiting, or go to Church on Sunday morning. But this did not occur often as the daily round and common task seemed to absorb everyone's time and energy. I remember myself when every handkerchief was hemmed by hand, and many a tear fell from small girls' eyes over the difficulty of making stitches small and hems neat. The ruling idea in the country seemed to be buy nothing that can be made at home if possible. Then in the houses there was not any water supply. You went to the well and let down a bucket and then windlassed it up by turning the handle. All bread was baked on griddle or in a pot oven with turf alight on the lid, and all neat or fowl was roast in the same way in most houses. There was however a utensil called a dispatcher which was made of tin and the meat was hung on a hook and a clockwork fixture on the top kept the meat constantly moving round and round before the fire. This was considered a great improvement on the old spit which usually had a boy in attendance to keep the meat going round all the time. Certainly meals were served very simply, but a lot more meat was eaten then and larger quantities of potatoes were served. Always a white damask cloth covered the table in all grades of society. The only confectionery that could be bought in Portadown about the year 1865 was ginger biscuit, arrowroot and Captains biscuit, every other thing was made by the women of the household. Afternoon tea was not the function it has now become. A glass of wine and an biscuit was given always and at all times to ladies and a glass of whisky for the men. Grandmother Robb held very rigid temperance views at an earlier date than was usual as she thought if her son William John had not fortified himself with his glass of whisky before setting out on his shooting expedition on Boxing Day, 1846, he would have been more careful when going through a hedge, not to let his gun go off and shoot himself. But at the same time, while barring whisky, a glass of wine was always given to any caller Clergy or otherwise. I don't think Mr. Alexander, the Rector, even visited anyone in Drumcree Parish but his Curate Mr. Hunt often came to grandmother's and stayed to tea as the Methodist Clergy did also. Usually they stayed the night and visited all round the cottages and gave great attention to those who were sick. Now in 1933 it is the Church of Ireland who are most assiduous visiting the sick and poor of the Parish.
The Rev. Alexander, Rector of Drumcree from ... till ... was the last of the old wealthy clergymen. He never lived more than six months of the year in Drumcree, but went to the Riviera, it was said for his wife's health. He was considered a great gentleman and a scholar, and there were many stories told of him preaching a series of sermons about Darwin's Book called Origin of Species and Evolution. Few if any of his congregation had the least idea of what he really was preaching about, but some of the reading men in Portadown walked out to hear the Rector's denunciation of this most pernicious doctrine. The idea that any sane man could dispute the fact that the creation of the world was accomplished in six days, twenty-four hours in length, to dispute this fact was a mortal sin. Our relation Thomas Kernaghan often told us how he as a very small boy heard these sermons and firmly believed that Darwin and Evolution were two devils which would jump out of the pulpit and catch him unless he got himself well covered up with his mother's skirts; 60 years afterwards this seemed an unbelievable tale too absurd to be believed. Yet these views divided families and friends for many years, and the subject was argued over every tea-party we went to. A little later a book appeared called Sermons in Stones by a Scotch mason, who argued in it that creation of the world occupied long periods of years and that each day mentioned in Genesis was really a long period of time, maybe a hundred thousand years. Father, after he read this would have none of it, and died in the belief of the creation being accomplished in six days of twenty-four hours long. Even after I came to Corcrain in 1877 your grandfather Thomas Dawson was quite put out and vexed when I stated that creation, I believed, occupied long, long periods of time, and he hoped I was not going to scatter such pernicious doctrines among his family. Now a days when no one cares what beliefs their friends cherish all this will read as fiction not whether Rev. Mr. Alexander built the present church at Drumcree, but whether he gave the most of the money or was helped from some church fund is not known. The Parish certainly seems to have subscribed very little to the cost. Mr. Alexander gave himself, it was said, the East windows and Mrs. Alexander the Font. He had lots of trouble in his later days. The shadow of the coming of Disestablishment hung over many clergymen, full of apprehension as to what the result would be.
Few if any of the older clergy ever realised that the Church of Ireland, as it was then called, took on a new lease of life and became a centre for spiritual activity such as was never seen before under the old English rule. This was not accomplished without much heart burning. Gladstone was burned in effigy and every hard and bitter name was flung on him and his followers by both Clergy and laity. Time however has vindicated his policy triumphantly. Mr. Alexander had a good deal of trouble when both his children embraced Roman Catholicism. First his son Godfrey, who was acting as Curate for his father, preached one Sunday morning on Transubstantiation and at the time many thought his views might have passed without much notice had not Mr. John Sinnamon waited behind the congregation, locked the church door and took the key home to Derryanville. When the Sexton found he could not get into the church to toll the church bell for a funeral he then sped off to the Rectory with his news. But the Rector was equal to the occasion and gave him the key of the Vestry and told him to arrange to have the congregation told to enter the Church by the Vestry door, keeping carefully the key in his pocket.
Tradition speaks of a bumper congregation that evening and early next morning a new key was made for the lock. It was after stated that Mr. Sinnamon took umbrage at some sermon in Derryanville Primitive Methodist Chapel and he also locked Minister and people out, but that they broke open a window and clambered in and held the service as usual. No doubt John Sinnamon was a character. Today he would soon find himself in court for annoying his neighbours. Mr. Alexander had much trouble in the last years of his rectorate as his daughter and her husband went over to Rome, and most foolishly when staying at the Rectory went over to Drumcree Chapel for the early celebration of Mass. How the news ran round the Parish so quickly has always been a puzzle, and a band of roughs gathered to break windows and do damage generally, but the Police were able to chase them without much damage being done.
A larger body of Orangemen and their followers gathered about Edenderry House gates to stone the party on their way to the station, but again were frustrated, as a man called Gilmour, who worked at the Rectory, went to Mr. Alexander and advised him that his daughter should be got to Armagh by some circuitous route and from there take a train to Dublin. This was safely accomplished, but the annoyance Mr. Alexander suffered over the occurrence shortened Mr. Alexander's life as he retired from the Church when Gladstone passed the Disestablishment Bill and died very soon. But those who came in touch with him during this trying time always held him in great esteem for the beautiful spirit he manifested, never in any way referring to the unpleasantness, but going on with everything as if nothing had bothered him in any way. The man Gilmour, who went later to Selshion to work for your grandfather Thomas Dawson, used to say that when on that memorable Sunday he told the Rector what was being concocted Mr. Alexander kept all the time saying, "Thank you Gilmour, you have been very kind indeed Gilmour." And so the era of the Church of England in Ireland passed in stress and storm, and the new age of the Church of Ireland dawned.
Rev. Robert Hamilton was the exact opposite of Mr. Alexander, plain looking and slightly deaf with a large growing family, he settled down to work the Parish under the new Regime. As Drumcree had no resident landlord living about or anyone to see what could be got from the new Representative Body in Dublin, most of the farmers thought their best policy was not to give anything to this new demand on them for Sustentation Funds, and Mr. George Gregory often told how he was threatened by having the dogs turned on him when he went to serve these notices for payment of this fund on the church members.
Looking back over all these years, and after hearing all this debated over and over again, I am convinced the church people were badly treated by being kept in ignorance of how the church had been maintained in the past and what lay in the future for the members. Like too many great reforms (for it was a great and wise reform) the measure was rushed through Parliament and no one very well understood how it would work out. In Parishes where some man or men of means and ability lived they set to have the Rectory bought out under the Representative Body in Dublin.
In Drumcree nothing of this kind was done which was for years a loss to both Rector and Parish generally. But few if any Clergyman could have filled the position as well as the new Rector Rev. Robert Hamilton. He was intensely evangelical and held cottage meetings here and there over the Parish, and all his family worked in the Parish, in Choir and Sunday Schools very faithfully. But it is no credit to Drumcree that no record of his work for the Parish has been set up in the Church. For he well and truly laid the foundations for the new Church of Ireland, which his successors have built on with zeal and courage, having lifted the Parish from being a disgrace to one of the best run in the diocese in Armagh. Gladstone has been vindicated for his Church Bill, and had it not been for it, it is difficult to see what would have happened when Home Rule came in with a Northern and Southern Government. But the Church still remains the Church of Ireland or more properly the Protestant Church of Ireland.
When I look back quietly I can see we lived in this little town in stirring times, and my father and husband, brothers and friends, all were doing their part to bring in a better state of things generally in Ireland. If only all over the country the Extremists, on both sides could have been kept in check it would have been lots better for everybody now and the country generally. But in Ireland unless you are extreme in your views you can never get a hearing. One of Father's sayings which was long remembered and is even quoted now by the few who remember him, "I (Hamilton Robb) admire our Queen Victoria and feel very satisfied to live under her rule, but, and it is a big but, when we know three people out of every four in Ireland want some change of Government would it not be wise proceeding for us to sit round a table and see what could be evolved that might be acceptable to both side, whose views are so opposed on this subject." and save Revolution.
The late Rt. Hon. Thomas Shillington often told me that when he heard Father talk in this strain he wondered to hear such views expressed by a sane man. A revolution in Ireland was unthinkable at that time, and then he added your Father was a prophet and saw further and clearer into the future than any of us in those early days, when the spectre of Home Rule was beginning to raise its head.
All this may be only tedious to read, but to understand Ireland as it now is, crucified with two expensive governments, a poor, poor country, could folly go further. One must know the past and read early Irish History and learn how the Irish Language was banned by both Church and State, and you will soon find out the reason why Roman Catholicism held its hold on the peasantry of the country. A Church service read in Latin was quite unintelligible but a Church Service read in English was only another sign that the country had been conquered by the all powerful Saxon, and John Wesley showed his ability when he encouraged his preachers to preach in Irish in the Fairs and Markets of Southern Ireland. For years it was illegal for a Church of England Dignitary to speak or preach in Irish. Later this edict was removed, and it was said the late Dean of Rosse Rev. F. J. Halahan's father could conduct a morning service in Irish and preach as well in that language. Rev. H. W. Rennison is very clear on this question that the language bar was the greatest asset the Roman ever had in any country.
Perhaps this might be a good time to look backward to the time when Henry VIII thought fit to bring in the Reformation so that he might get a divorce from his lawful wife Catherine of Aragon. In Ireland most of the Clergy, who were in receipt of Pensions and Livings from the English Government, nominally became Protestant, but in most cases it was only done to keep their emoluments, and priests were constantly going about and saying Mass in all sorts of places. Tradition has said many a time that for years and years after the Reformation was thrust thus violently on this unhappy country Mass was said on Sunday morning in Drumcree Church, and that those who wished to show loyalty to England went off to worship in Seagoe Church. Though curious to relate there is a place in the Seagoe Rectory called the priest's hole which, though dark, in some mysterious way is always supplied with fresh air if nothing else. The Protestants here were very few and it has often been said that the stories which used always to be brought out at the 12th of July Celebration about the Protestants being thrown into the Bann River in such numbers that the Roman Catholics walked dry shod over them are simply inventions for propaganda like what we heard during the Great War of German behaviour or rather misbehaviour.
It is no doubt hard to write of old historical events with an open unbiased mind but one thing might help greatly would be to be assured in one's own mind that neither side was guiltless or free from blame and that all stories were grossly exaggerated. Tradition, rightly or wrongly, has never said much about the great change of Religion ion King Henry VIII's time, but in the existing lists of Drumcree Rectors Irish names disappear and English names took their place in all parishes in Ireland. Probably the hand of England was heavy, and when the Penal Laws came into force most of the Irish were poor and unable to fight them. For years and years Irish Roman Catholics worshipped in mass gardens, as they were called, a little enclosed field consecrated for this purpose.
It was many years before they could put a roof on any place of worship. Indeed, it is said, some of the earliest Methodist places of worship were roofless for years for this cause. Indeed I remember that most marriages of Methodist people were solemnised in Church as there was a question of legality involved. In all the troublesome times in 1746 and 1798 only one Rector of Drumcree was shot. Rev. Maunsell was returning on horseback from Armagh when he was shot at from behind a hedge on the road up to the Rectory and his horse went on to the Rectory hall door with his master, who was lying dead over the saddle. Mr. Maunsell was Mr. Alexander's predecessor and his name was perpetuated in the Parish by the place he met his death, being always call Maunsell's trees by all the older generation. When I was married in 1877 the Church Bill had been accepted as inevitable and that there was nothing to do now but make the best of it.
But Land Reform at once became the most engrossing topic in conversation everywhere. As we belonged to the tenant farming class and had no leaning to Orangeism Father espoused that side of the question with his whole heart, also your grandfather Thomas Dawson. One occurrence which had stirred him and the others up to fever heat was that Lord Lurgan, who was bent on making for greyhound coursing a second Waterloo on the Shlentry meadows near Carne and to do this as cheaply as possible for himself he conceived the idea that he would make his Tenants rear these greyhound pups for him for nothing. Of course it was most unjust and fell very heavily on poor farmers who often had very little milk, which now they were obliged to give these pups as the man came round to inspect them very often.
When the dogs were brought to the Hill Farm at Derrybroughas in a dogcart by his Lordship's orders that they were to have so many quarts of sweet milk etc. etc. daily, Uncle Robert lost his temper and ordered man and dog off the Hill as quickly as possible else he would use a whip to make them. Of course when this was repeated to his Lordship and Agent John Hancock it lost nothing in the telling of the story. As you are aware a charge could not well be brought into court to punish a tenant for such an offence, but on some frivolous pretext they refused to take the rent at that time due, with the idea that Uncle Robert might be got rid of an a charge for non-payment of rent.
When all this was reported to father he advised that he and Uncle Robert should go up to Dublin and consult Isaac Butt, a Lawyer, there, who was making an name for himself helping tenant farmers all over the country to hold their own with their landlord and his agent. In this case he gave a very simple advice for his £5 fee which briefly was as follows. Find out in what Bank his Lordship's private account is kept and be very sure you see your rent is paid in seven clear days before it becomes due, and if I know anything the Bankers will be only too glad to hold it. Though the notice to quit was withdrawn the rent afterwards was raised to about double, and Robbs still own the farm and Brownlows own no land in Lurgan or neighbourhood. But treatment such as this leaves many sores and father and his confreres left no stone unturned to curb the power of the Irish Landlord and his agent. For many years we in Edenderry House entertained the farmers with a meal on Saturdays as father could induce them to come into a private house while they dare not be seen openly going to a Land Reform gathering.
The Quakers, a few priests and the Presbyterians were all favourable to this movement. Few Churchmen or Methodist men came as usually they were too Orangey though of course there were many exceptions. But the Pauls, Tavanagh Shillingtons and Charles Johnston kept out of the strife. Mr. Averill Shillington and his son Thomas helped the movement from an early date, as at a later date it meant more to belong to the Land Reform camp than appeared on the surface for in many cases socially you were treated with great scorn. Privileges die hard and the Landlords of Ireland fought a losing battle badly. Father was a moderate man in every way and your grandfather Thomas Dawson always quoted Father has having opened his eyes to the fact that there was in this case a Landlords' side to be considered as well as the Tenant Farmers view, but all this availed nothing, he was a rebel and cut throat when not a Conservative. For years old Mr. Averill Shillington and he were the only men in Portadown who took the daily Whig then a Liberal organ. I remember quite well seeing old John Kernan handing the paper to William and myself, as if the very tough of it polluted him, and his scorn for its readers was unbounded. Daily papers at that time were not delivered and children usually went for them before school hours.
I must return to our family tree. My Father, and Great-grandfather, was married in 1852 in St. Mark's Church Portadown, to Elizabeth Montgomery second daughter of Harford and Hannah Montgomery. Both were the same age, just over 25. Mother was short and had very dark eyes and hair with a nice olive complexion. Father was fair and his complexion was, even when an old man, beautifully pink and white with keen blue eyes under overhanging brows. Your Mother was always said to be more like him than even any of his own children, and if it were possible to take a composite photograph of Dr. Elizabeth Robb and yourself I think we could arrive at quite a good likeness of Mother. Mother and her sister Alicia were sent, when very young, to the Moravian School at Gracehill, near Ballymena, Co. Antrim. At this place they certainly specialised in turning out good writing. Penmanship was made a lot of as well as fine sewing and embroidery. As there were no sewing machines invented till many years after all garments were hand made. The Moravians, though a very small Denomination, gave great attention to education for girls as well as boys which in those days was rather uncommon. As many men thought girls and women were spoiled if they learnt more than reading, writing and arithmetic. Grandmother Robb also was sent to the Moravian School in 1810. Mother was very quiet but once she made up her mind about anything she was not easily side-tracked. The family came quickly and was as follows:
Hannah married Thomas Dawson
William John died unmarried
Harford M. married Lizzie Donnelly
Hamilton married Bessie Collen
Robert Henry died young
Rebecca Dobson ditto
Eliza Byrne (Lylie) married S.P. Clark
Alice Montgomery married Robert Clark
Frances Eleanor died in California
Rachel Robinson married Dr. Hadden
Benjamin died in infancy.
Mother died aged 50 and left behind her a fragrant memory for all her relations and friend. Even yet sometimes people speak of her kindness but few remain of those who knew and loved her. In manner Rachel Hadden was most like her. Wilson Irwin and Robert Thornton both seem to remember her kindness to them when very young, and often recall her to memory. Certainly both Father and Mother gave us a very good time in our early days. We had a governess and then were sent to England to school. I went to Miss Summers in Southport, William, Harford and Hamilton to White Windows Hall, Sowerby Bridge, Halifax, Yorks. In the holidays we had lots of boating on the Bann which at that time was a nice clean river, and Father used to send a man with us during the summer holidays to teach us all about the management of sails as well as rowing. Most of the friends thought it a terrible business that I was allowed out at all times with Bass, Harford and the brothers. Then we had Croquet. William and Richard Kernan were the champions, and often finished their game by the light from stable lanterns, which they carried about with them as they went after the ball. Tennis came in about the time I was married and so I never learnt to play it. Father always kept good riding and driving horses as they were used then to go to the out offices in the Birches, Stewartstown and Moy. Of course there was no other way of getting about except walking, riding or driving. Such an invention as a motor car was not thought of and only very lately had the very high velocipede or bicycle been seen anywhere in Ireland. Such a sensation as they caused and some very terrible accidents occurred from those old bone shakers as they were called.
Nothing seemed to frighten Mother so much as when William was sent some message to the farm on horseback. On more than one occasion the horse came home of his own will to his stable, and William very tired walked after him on foot. Mother loved William. I suppose she knew he needed her, but Father being an expert horseman himself thought William should persevere and learn to ride properly, but William never either rode or drove to please him. Harford and Hamilton were both good horsemen, though Harford was sometimes reckless and when he let the phaeton on some barrels in Market Street.
Many, many years after both Father's and Mother's death Harford got great praise in Belfast as the driver of a lorry when all the men of that ilk went out on strike, and Harford volunteered to cart for Robinson and Cleaver. It was told about him that though stones were being flung to all sides of him his head never turned one way or other, but sat firm and square like am Alderman till he got his load delivered at the Docks for the Mail Boat. I often thought this episode was very nerve racking for his wife who was I am sure in a high state of tension while the strike lasted, but nothing moved him from his self-imposed task till all was settled up and peace restored.
I have reached the last page and am so sorry it is such a rambling record, but maybe when I resume I will be able to write more consecutively and concisely, and I must tell you before I stop about the Montgomery and Dawson strains in our family connection.