Drumgor men of war

Vol. 10. No. 2 - 2015


ye Men of War

by Douglas Mowbray

There used to be a saying in this small townland in County Armagh, ‘Drumgor ye Men of War’. This saying was associated with Drumgor’s long tradition with the military and can traced back to the Seagoe Yeomanry. This local militia was a paid military force made up of men from the Parish of Seagoe and adjoining townlands. Thomas Mathers, Joseph Lynass and John Watson are listed in the Seagoe Yeomanry pay ledger dated 1820.

Wright Lyness

Another Drumgor military connection was a soldier called Wright Lyness. Wright was one of eleven children born in1874 to parents Thomas and Ann Lyness of Drumgor.

Wright Lyness first signed up with the 3rd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, and signed up again on 3 January 1890 in Belfast with the 5th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, service number 2605. His military career would take him to Malta for three years from 1891 to 1894 and then on to India in late November 1894 to 1897.

Wright Lyness
Wright Lyness (seated)

The photograph above, probably taken in India, shows Wright Lyness with three companions in the military dress uniform of the Royal Irish Rifles. It was sent to me by a relation of Wright’s living in America.

Wright rejoined the colours in February 1900 and was sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. He was taken prisoner on 28 November at Dewetsdrop along with a garrison of 400 soldiers. After his release and the end of this conflict Wright returned home to Drumgor.

In September 1902 Wright made the decision to emigrate to Boston. He departed from Liverpool along with his wife Marcella Brown from Lurgan. The couple would finally settle in Patterson New Jersey and Wright would find new employment in a local silk factory. Patterson New Jersey was known as “Silk City” in the early 1900s. A strange twist you could say, from a linen weaver in Drumgor to a silk weaver in Patterson New Jersey.

The First World War would see friends and neighbours from Drumgor signing up to fight for King and Country: John McKerr, William McKerr, Francis McKerr, Francis Anderson, Thomas and William Gregson and the Lyness brothers, Archie and Thomas, from Drumgor Lane.

Archie Lyness

Archie Lyness, my great-uncle, was already a seasoned soldier; he had just finished his ten years of service with the East Lancashire Regiment. Archie had signed up in Dublin in 1904 when he was only 18 years old, along with his friend Samuel Alexander from Lurgan.

Archie re-joined the army when the First World War broke out. He signed up with the 16th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, service number, 16/924. This Battalion, known as the Pioneer Division, was formed at Brownlow House in Lurgan in October 1914.

Archie Lyness
Sergeant Archie Lyness (seated). His younger brother Thomas is on his right with his hand on his shoulder; the other two men could be McKerr, or McCann from Drumgor

As part of their training before leaving Lurgan these men would be seen trench-digging in Lurgan Park, road-laying from Wellington Street to Brownlow House, and some railway track laying. This training would be put to good use on the battle fields of France and Belgium.

Thomas Lyness

Thomas Lyness, my grand-father, was 21 years old when he signed up with the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, service number 14419.The Royal Irish Fusiliers came to Lurgan and to Brownlow House as part of the recruitment drive to raise troops for the First World War. There were over 2500 men enlisted from the town and country.

An article in ‘The Lurgan Mail’ reports that on Saturday 20 September 1914 the people of Lurgan lined the streets to say goodbye to their sons, brothers, and husbands. The men marched from Brownlow House to Lurgan Station to board the 1.30pm train for Belfast. After arrival at Belfast they formed ranks and marched across the city to the County Down terminus and forward to Clandeboye for further training. It was June before the Division was sent to Seaford, Sussex, to complete training before their transfer to France.

Soldier group
The 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers Transport Division. Thomas Lyness is seated in the second row from the front, one before the end.

The 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers Transport Division were responsible for moving essential stores and important equipment to and from the frontline. It was a very responsible job and required men with many skills including men who could handle horses and work independently in small groups. These men tended to stay with the transport division throughout the war.

His instinct was right

Thomas spoke little about his time in France, but one account he would tell his family was of when he found himself lost one dark and wet night along with his team of horses. Thomas had just delivered his supply of ammunition to the troops on the frontline when he found himself completely disoriented with the darkness and the noise of the battlefield. He knew how well his team of horses could find their way around the battlefield so he decided he would drop the horses’ reins. His instinct was right; the team of horses turned and made their way back to camp.

Thomas Lyness was wounded in France and on his return home spent time recovering in the U.V.F Hospital in Belfast. Archie Lyness was awarded a Gallantry Certificate for rescuing wounded men from ‘No Man’s Land’ at Hamel on 1 and 2 July 1916.

Archie was also a prisoner of war; he had been captured in March 1918 at the battle of St. Quentin, France. He was later released.

Drumgor Orange Lodge

Members of Drumgor Lodge also signed up to serve their country in the First and Second World Wars. The following family names are taken from Roll of Honour members of Drumgor Rising Star L.O.L 57.

J. Addis, F. Anderson, A. Boston, N. Boston, W.J Brown, R. Boness, D. Caldwell, J. Caldwell, W.J. Dowds, W. Gilkinson, D. Gregson, T. Gregson, W. Gregson, W. Hall, A. Hutchinson, J.A. Hutchinson, S. Hutchinson, J. Irwin, T. Irwin, J. Leathem, A. Lyness, F. Lyness, T. Lyness, W.J. Lyness, F. McKerr, J. McKerr and W. McKerr

Sadly some of these men did not return from the First World War. James McKerr died 8 February 1915. Francis McKerr died 1 July 1916; also friends from Lurgan, James Jones died of wounds 2 July 1916 and Samuel Alexander died 24 November 1914 in Belgium.

Thomas Lyness WW1 medals
Thomas Lyness, 14419 First World War Medals
1914 Star, British War Medal & British Victory Medal irreverently referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.
Archie Lyness cert
Gallantry Certificate awarded to Archie Lyness

For a single townland in County Armagh, surely Drumgor has a unique connection with the military going back nearly 200 years.

Members of the Lynas family had lived in adjacent Moyraverty townland since at least 1658, and had been involved in the Quaker movement at that time. The earliest recorded interment in the nearby Lynastown Quaker Burial Ground is William Lynas the Older of Legacorry (perhaps Legacorry/Richhill but more likely the adjacent townland of Legahory) on 20th day of the 4th month 1658. Three more members of the Lynas family are buried there, the last being Sarah Lynas, daughter of William and Elizabeth Lynas of Monraverty (Moyraverty) in 1737.

Drumgor townland is one of the largest of the 47 townlands in the old parish of Seagoe, barony of O’Neilland East in County Armagh. Extending over 328 acres in the 1851 census, it lies on the border of the parish of Seagoe (now mainly Portadown) and Shankill (now mainly Lurgan). The original Irish name, Droim gcorr meant ‘Ridge of herons’. It was at first entirely rural, but is now much built up as part of the Brownlow Sector in Craigavon – the name, Drumgor, was retained for one of the six neighbourhoods in Brownlow.

Common family names in Drumgor “pre-Craigavon” were Archer, Best, Donaldson, Gracey, Gregson, Kenny, Lyness (also spelt Lyniss and Lynas), McCann, McDowell, McKerr, McMurray, Medlow and Russell. Thomas Elias Russell, a native of the townland of Drumgor, was the father of George Russell (AE) one of the major figures of the Irish literary renaissance. AE’s uncle lived in Drumgor Lane.

Lyness house
The Lyness house in Drumgor (since demolished).