" A ONE ARMED IRISH WARRIOR OF DAUNTLESS COURAGE "
Lt. Colonel Gerald Brice Ferguson Smyth
D.S.O. and Bar, French Croix de Guerre and Palm
Belgium Croix de Guerre, Mons Star
By Paul McCandless
Gerald Brice Ferguson Smyth was born on Monday 7th September 1885 at Phoenix Lodge, Dalhousie, Punjab, India.He was the 1st son of George Smyth who was the British High Commissioner in the Punjab & Helen Ferguson Smyth daughter of Thomas Ferguson, Edenderry House, Banbridge.
The name Gerald was new to the Smyth family, Brice was an original Smyth name having been used numerous times over the centuries & Ferguson being his mothers maiden name. He was the one of two sons, both of whom served in the army, the other being George Osbert Striling born in 1890. Osbert was murdered in Dublin on 12th October 1920.
He was educated at Strangways School, England, then at Shewsbury from January 1899 to July 1901 and finally as a private pupil of W.T. Kirkpatrick MA, from October 1901 to February 1903, Kirkpatrick was the headmaster of Lurgan College.He gained a 1st place entrance to Woolwich on 2nd September 1903, commissioned to the Royal Engineers on 29th July 1905, leaving there a 2nd Lieutenant.
He went to Chatam where he excelled at Mathematics, being promoted to a Lieutenant on 3rd Feburary 1908. He was a first class interpreter in Spanish. He went in the same year to Gibraltar, serving in the 32nd & 45th Companies for the following 5 years.
During his time on the "rock", he had the opportunity to partake in country sports and rode with the Calpe Hounds. He was also a keen Polo player.
His love of photography led him on the 2nd April 1911 to a trek into the Sierra Nevada Mountains with a fellow Officer W M Congreave. The two had set out a study and if possible photograph the Lammergeyer, a type of vulture. (Lammergeyers have a large appetite for bone marrow. They take the bones high in the air and drop them onto rocks below to smash). They were led though the mountains by one of the natives and brought to a ledge, which looked towards a cave. Congreave fired his pistol and from the cave flew the Lammergeyer. This cave was situated about 100ft from the ground but was impossible to ascend. Instead they had to descend from above the cliff, which was 350ft high. Unfortunately a fog rolled in and the attempt to ascend was put off until the next day. The day following was not much better and in the course of descent Gerald was nearly killed. A boulder fell towards him. Luckily he saw it falling and kicked the cliff face to help him swerve and avoid it but unfortunately it struck him, tore through his clothing and left a nasty gash on his shoulder. This put an end to Lammergeyer research and photography.
After leaving Gibraltar in 1913 he was appointed to the 17th Field Company at the Curragh under special request of the Office commanding with whom he had served with in the 32nd Company in Gibraltar. On the outbreak of the Great War, he was offered a professorship of Mathematics at Chatham, which he declined to remain with his unit. He went to France at the outbreak of war, embarking on 17th August 1914, still serving in the 14th Company.
The war diaries record that on the 9th September Gerald and Major Singer were on reconnaissance work with No: 2 section. Promotion for Gerald was always quick and in October he was promoted to Captain. His ability and courage attracted attention. Brig General Walker in a memoir to the Royal Engineers Journal wrote, "No words can do justice to his services during the retreat of 1914. He was the life and soul of the Company, his Irish humour and pluck did wonders in maintaining the discipline of the Company".
In 1914, a long period of time was spent in the village of Missy in the Aisne area. In September he was leading No: 1 section. On the 18th his section were working on entrenchment work from the bridge to Missy village and also clearing the field of fire. The following day they were improving defences. On the 24th September sections one and four were in Jury Valley with infantry fatigue parties of 100 men each, one at 7am another at 10am. All of the month of September was used improving defences. On the 17th October his section was with the Devonshire Regiment, the following day they advanced 400 yards and he helped them to dig in.
On the 23rd October he was at Rue de Bethune erecting wire entanglements. While placing wire entanglements the next day during the Battle of Aisne at Givenchy his section was caught under heavy shellfire, Gerald spotted a wounded N.C.O. in the open and went to his rescue. In the process he was badly wounded by a high explosive shell, which resulted in his left arm having to be amputated at the elbow, this took place at a field ambulance, he also received an 8 inch by 6 inch buttock wound. He received a gratuity of £140 for his wound and £100 per year wound pension dated from 24th October 1915 until further orders were given of any change. For his action, he was gazetted for a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on the 11th. November 1914 and on the occasion of King George V's birthday it was presented to him. He also received a 'mention' in dispatches. On 25th February 1915 Gerald was begging to be readmitted for service. An experienced Captain was needed for a field company of the Royal Engineers in the 9th division of the new 1st army, he was offered the position which he accepted, he was stated fit for service on 10th April 1915. After hospitalisation he returned to the front as second in Command of the 90th Field Company of the 9th Division.
On 27th May 1915 he was at a bomb factory at Nieppe Station, studying the art of bombing, at 5.50pm a bomb prematurely exploded killing seven NCO's and some men, four officers and men were also wounded, Gerald being one of them, he was blown out through a window. During the incident the C.O. was wounded and Gerald took over as Commanding Officer. He remained with them at Ypres during the winter of 1915/1916 where he saw action at the Battle of the Somme. He was promoted to a Brevet Major for his service. Between October 1915 and June 1916, Gerald wrote the battalions war diary. On the 13th July 1916 he was shot through the neck in the vicinity of Trones Wood at the Battle of Loos, beckoning on his men, with the stump of his left arm, the bullet passed through his neck from the left side to the front of the thyroid membrane; luckily for him it did not cause any injury to any structure of importance. He was granted leave of absence from 17th July to 23rd August, departing Le Harve for Southampton and arriving in England on the 18th. On 31st August 1916 he reported for training at the Royal Engineers depot at Aldershot England, he possibly visited Ireland as well before returning to resume command of the battalion on 19th September 1916.
His actions had been well observed, because he was this time offered any privilege he wanted not to go back to the front, but of course he declined, leaving the Engineers at Margincourt and joined the 6th K.O.S.B. Kings Own Scottish Borderers as Company Commander taking over his post on 18th November 1916 with the rank of Brevet Major. Between 26th and 28th February 1917 the battalion generally spent their time clearing up. A few hours in the morning was devoted to field training. The afternoons left time for football. All of the men where issued with new clothes. At the east of Arras on 3rd May 1917, in heavy action he was cited for a mention in dispatches for 'consistent skill and daring,' after being severely wounded, receiving sharpnel pieces in his right shoulder which at the time was believed would permanently weaken his arm. His action awarded him a bar to his DSO.
The Citation in the London Gazette of 18th July 1917 read as follows:- "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Although seriously wounded he remained at the telephone in an ill-protected trench for many hours during a critical time, to report the course of events to Brigade Headquarters. He realised that there was no other officer of experience to replace him and his sense of duty may cost him his remaining arm, the other having been amputated as a result of a previous wound." His battalion was the only one to reach its objective on 3rd May 1917.
He left Calais on the 13th May onboard the Stadt Antwerpen, arriving in Dover the same day. On the 14th May he was in the King Edward hospital and a period of absence from active service for between 3-6 months. At his own request he had written to the War Office seeking to be reinstated for active service, this was granted on the 30th August 1917, for general service only. On 22nd September he again embarked for France. On the 24th October 1917 he took over active command of his battalion. At Bois Pierre-St Vaast, Gerald, under orders, withdrew with both A and B Company under the cover of darkness and marched northwards with the idea of assisting Brigade H.Q. and the remainder of the Brigade
He had not completely recovered from his wounds, when he could be found at the front for the German Push of 1918. In the fiercest of the fighting he was holding a heavily attacked flank near Sorel. On the 23rd March he was on the new line in St Pierre Vaast Wood-Mouslains again holding a badly attacked flank and was once again wounded, receiving a gunshot wound to the left of his chest causing a Haemorrhage. He departed Calais on the same date for Dover and finally a hospital in London, the King Edward 7th annexe at 43 Belgrave. His address recorded at the time was 96 Piccadilly west; this was possibly his Mother's address. He was described as "that incarnation of the fighting spirit". On 15th May 1918 he sent a letter requesting to be examined 'as soon as possible'.
In July 1918 he had the difficult task of attacking the Hodgenocker Ridge. He led his troops up Hill 41 on the 1st October. On the 31st October 1918 a very successful battalion dinner was held at which General Smyth was present. In the same month he was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General commanding the 93rd Infantry Brigade of the 31st Division, at the age of 33 years. He remained with them until they were disbanded in 1919. When Stair Gillion wrote the book "The K.O.S.B. in the Great War". Gerald received numerous mentions; Gillion quoted him as a 'One Armed Irish Warrior of Dauntless Courage'.
After 1919 he went to Staff College for a year, after which he arrived for duty with the Royal Irish Constabulary on 7th June 1920 at Cork, commanding the 12th Field Company as Brevet Lieutenant Colonel. Through his great knowledge and skill, Major General Tudor - 9th Division, made him Divisional Commissioner of the Royal Irish Constabulary in Munster, due to his short period of time in his job, he never received a police rank but remained with this army rank of Lt. Colonel. In the Listowel Barracks on 19th June 1920 he issued a speech possibly a government document, which read as follows. "I wish to make the present situation clear to all ranks. A policeman is perfectly justified in shooting any person seen with arms (guns) who does not immediately throw up his hands when ordered. A policeman is perfectly justified in shooting any man who he has good reason to believe is carrying arms (guns) and who does not immediately throw up his arms when ordered. Every proper precaution will be taken at police inquests that no information will be given to Sinn Fein as to the identity of any individual or the movements of the police. I wish to make it perfectly clear to all ranks that I will not tolerate reprisals. They bring discredit on the police and I will deal most severealy with any officer or man concerned in them."
On the night of the 17th July, he was in the smoking room of the Cork and County Club when 14 young Sinn Feiners entered the building. Four or five of them rushed to the smoke room were Gerald, Inspector Craig and two other gentlemen were. The following is a statement made by District Inspector P. Riordan. "They burst in through the door and one of them shouted 'where is he,' the leader shouted 'hands up' then opened fire riddling his face, forehead and neck with bullets. After being shot he sprang from his seat, but it was evidently a death effort for he was fatally wounded, he rushed to the hallway but after a few yards he dropped dead.
Records dated 24th January 1921 at G.H.Q. Parkgate-Dublin state that at the time of his death Gerald was not employed under the Military Authorities. No official report was made of his death.
Problems arose in Cork when no-one could be found to drive the train. This resulted in the body having been brought from Cork to Dublin by motor transport and then by train to Banbridge. An inquest was to be held on the 19th July with 16 jurors summoned to attend. One the day, only nine did. A police constable was ordered to go and get four of the others, when he returned, he informed the court, that the others had made various excuses not to attend. The inquest could not proceed and was abandoned. His murder brought wide spread revulsion. During his funeral it is said that the 'Soldiers Song' was played from premises in Bridge Street, that night the building was burnt down.
On the 22nd July, upwards on 2000 people paraded through the town headed by Seapatrick Flute Band. After dispersing, a section of the crowd approx. 300-400 people converged in Scarva St, while there, a shot rang out from Monaghan's, now the site of the Social Services centre, and 17 year old William John Sterritt received a bullet in the head, he died at 1.30am on the morning of the 23rd. The Catholic employees of all Banbridge factories were driven from their places of employment resulting in the factory's having to close, they were permitted back when they signed a document stating that they wouldn't support Sinn Fein.
The damage claims in Banbridge totalled £40,000. This included petty damage from breaking windows, stealing goods from the shops, to burning of buildings. Monaghan's premises were also burnt, damage alone totalling £12,000. In the minute books of Milltown factory dated 11th August 1920, it states, 'upsetment in work caused by the action of the Banbridge workers as a whole, in regard to Sinn Fein'. Catholic workers were asked to swear that they would not support Sinn Fein. Penalty for those who did not co-operate, was explusion from their work place.
His funeral took place on the 20th July from Clonaslee House, Lurgan Road. It was the largest funeral seen in Banbridge and to this day has never been closely equalled in size. His coffin was draped by a Union Jack with his service cap and belt and a wreath from his Mother placed on top. At 3 o'clock the coffin was placed on a gun carriage and led through the town. The service in the house had been conducted by the Rev. H. MacPherson of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, the Rev. MacPherson's wife and Gerald having been cousins.
The streets from Clonaslee of the cemetery were packed solid with onlookers paying their final homage to their dear friend. One hundred men from the 1st. Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment accompanied by their brass band attended, as did 100 men of the Royal Irish Constabulary and their band.
Major General H. H. Tudor C.B. C.M.G. commander of the 9th Division and Police Advisor, Brig-General Sir G. Hacket Pain K.B.E. C.B. - Divisional Police Commissioner for the North of Ireland, Major Leathes (Belfast) represented Brig-General Carter Campbell C.B. D.S.O. Commander of troops in Ulster, Lt. Col. Ritson, Mr J. F. Gelston - commissioner of police -Belfast, Sir Robert Liddell and Lt. Col. W. J. Alien D.S.O. D.L. M.P. on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party. Other officers were also present.
Of the many family wreaths that were laid, there were a few from friends. Two notable ones came from the Viscountess Gort and County Inspector F.W. Craig, who was in the Cork and County Club that night and was shot in the left leg. Craig remained in the R.I.C. until 1922. and was a recipient of the King's Police Medal.
One person missing from his funeral was his brother Osbert. He was serving in Egypt and was not permitted to return home. Reasons for this may well have been political, as he eventually did return to Ireland and worked with a group of soldiers in Dublin Castle connected to Military Intelligence. These men were known by Sinn Fein as 'The Cairo Gang" or "The Murder Gang." Osbert was on a raid at a Professor Carolan's house in Drumcondra. Dublin, on the 12th October when he was murdered, being gunned down by shots fired through the door of a second floor room.
Gerald was led to rest along side his father in row B plot 101 in a grave easily recognisable with its ornate 10ft Celtic cross. The service was conducted at the grave by the Rev. D.H.Hanson after which three volleys of shots were fired over the coffin and the Last Post sounded. A separate memorial was erected by the men who had served with him in the 6th K.O.S.B.'s. 9th Scottish Division and 90th field Company the money being sent to J. Ewing former Adjutant 6th K.O.S.B.
There was a feeling at the time to rename one of the local Orange Lodges, in memory of Gerald. This occured on 4th October 1920 when L.O.L. 518 was renamed the "Colonel Smyth Memorial Lodge".
Gideon's Chosen Few L.O.L. 257 changed their name to the "William Sterritt Memorial". The memory of William Sterritt has been revived as this Lodge was reformed again on 8th January 2000.
In total, Gerald was wounded 5-6 times - 24/10/1914 (lost arm). 13/7/1916. 9/4/1917. 3/5/1917 & 23/3/1918.
Mention in dispatches. 19/10/1914, 18/2/1915, 1/1/1916,15/6/1916. 18/5/1917. 23/12/1918 and 5/7/1919. (8 times on his grave).
His medals, which I had the pleasure of examining, are still in Smyth family ownership.
G.B.F Smyth was a very brave man, whose respect for the ordinary soldier was second to none, as was that of his fellow countrymen. On occasions of free time he returned to Ireland, the country he loved. He deserves a position of the utmost respect in the history of the Great War and of Banbridge town.
THE REVEREND WILLIAM STAVELY, THE COVENANTERS OF DRUMMILLER,
SCARVA, CO. DOWN AND THE UNITED IRISHMEN
From about the year 1607 Presbyterians from Scotland began to settle in County Antrim (Dunlop p5) and within the next 10 years the trickle became a flood as more and more settlers took up allocations of land or brought their crafts and trades which were needed by their new landlord.s .,
Two events influenced this population movement. Firstly native Irish had most of their lands confiscated by the English and when those native landlords and noblemen who were powerful enough to resist the English challenge, like the O'Neill and O'Donnell clans, set sail from Rathmullin, on the shores of Lough Swilly, on the 14th of September 1607, (Mullin p96) all that land not under English rule was now declared to be forfeit. Secondly, and more importantly to the new settlers, a religious freedom could be found in Ulster whereas the Presbyterians in Scotland were suffering religious persecution resulting from their challenge to the power of the State in Scotland in 1618. Most had travelled the short sea route to Ulster rather than yield to an acceptance of Bishops and the Prayer Book.
The framework and foundation of Presbyterianism was laid in Edinburgh in 1560 when six ministers and thirty nine elders met under the leadership of John Knox, a Presbyterian form of church government. Then in 1581 a covenant of declaration of faith in the gospel was prepared. This was later to be challenged by the Episcopalian Church of England (Loughridge P5).
England in 1559 became a Protestant country with an Episcopal Church, that is a church ruled by Bishops. (Martin P7) When King James in 1618 and later in 1625 when Charles 1 ascended the throne the Episcopal Church was imposed on the Scottish people. This was opposed strongly by the Presbyterian people, as this form of state and church government was contrary to their tastes and wishes. Tension mounted, as meetings of Session and Presbytery were declared illegal,
Their challenge to this religious repression was the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. This programme of Reform lasted eleven years and is referred to as the Second Scottish Reformation. Then in 1643 a Solemn League and Covenant was signed where all pledged themselves: "to preserve the Reformed religion in Scotland, and to work for the Reformation of religion in the three kingdoms in doctrine, worship, discipline and government according to the World of God." (Loughridge p6).
James Hamilton in 1644 brought with him from Scotland the Solemn League and Covenant (Loughridge) for the now well established Presbyterians of Ulster to sign. Because of their firm attachment to the Covenants they took the name Covenanters. A further twist in the fortunes of the Covenanters came from within their ranks when in Scotland in 1690 the main body of Scottish Presbyterians accepted a variety of changes to their form of religion and worship. It was minority of Presbyterians who adhered to the Scottish Covenants that formed cottage meetings or Societies to practice their faith. These bodies were the seed from which the Reformed Presbyterian Church has grown.
The principles and doctrines of the Celtic Church in Ireland, founded by Saint Patrick, existed for about seven hundred years unchallenged, until after the invasions of the Anglo Normans when in 1172 The Synod of Cashel enacted that the affairs of the Irish Church be conducted according to the rules of the Church of England, which then was in association with the Church of Rome. Greater changes in the structure and authority took place in May 1537, when Henry VIII by the order of the Irish Parliament was declared the Supreme Head of the Church in Ireland and the Popes authority rescinded (Loughridge p9). When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 the Irish Parliament followed that of England and made an act for the burning of the Solemn League and Covenant. Anyone found defending or justifying the said treasonable covenant was accused as being and enemy to his sacred majesty and of his Church and kingdom. It was under this denial of religious freedom that one man, the Rev. William Stavely, branched out from his established Covenanter church in Knockbracken, Co. Down, built in 1776, 4 miles on the outskirts of Belfast. The spread of the Covenanter cause took hold during the latter end of the 17th centurv travelling on horseback in all types of weather on roads that hardly deserved the name, he commanded great respect for his preaching, which attracted large audiences. The Covenanters had no meetinghouses, so they held their meetings for fellowship and worship in the homes of the people or on occasions in the open air. It was not unknown for them to share a meeting house with more established Presbyterian Dissenters as was the case in Knockloughrim, Co. Derry (Loughridge p20).
The Rev. Stavely travelled in a South Westerly direction from Belfast presumably following the road from Donaghadee to Dublin as mapped by Taylor and Skinner in 1778 (Taylor and Skinner p l6) then from Banbridge to Scarva (Taylor and Skinner p 15), on his way to South Armagh, where at Dummiler one mile from Scarva a meeting house was built, some time between 1792 and 1800. Stavely was credited with the foundation often of ten or twelve congregations from the date of his ordination in 1770 till 1800 including Drummiller (Dunlop p 34). No record of the early congregation exists but it may be presumed from a remark from the Convenanter Witness 1964 p 122 referring to the congregation in Rathfriland in the 18th century "Where the Scottish strain in Ulster life was strongest the Covenanters always had a foothold" that a scattering of Scottish settlers had lived in the area.
As a result of Stavely's preaching and organisation, meetings were held in the homes of the Drummiller Covenanters for fellowship and worship. These fellowship meetings or Societies as they were called were well organised and strict supervision was exercised over their members. They functioned like miniature congregations. In the absence of a minister, which was quite often as Stavely's parish extended from Co. Down to the counties of Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan, (Loughridge p 25). They were led by gifted or godly men who had to adhere to twenty five rules of strict management. Ideally they would number eight to twelve persons of decent Christian character and the meetings would be held weekly.
These Societies were the forerunner to a full congregation, a meeting house was erected at a place known today as the junction between Drummiller Lane and the Scarva Road and was described in 1838: "In the townland of Drummiller there is a homely, thatched edifice for a congregation of Covenanters". (Day & McWilliams p4). Made from mud walls with an earthen floor, seating would have been provided in the shape of stools or forms. No minister was ever attached to Drummiller, again as no record exists it may be presumed because of its size, they relied on visiting ministers from other congregations.
In 1792 there were six active ministers in the Irish Reformed Presbyterian Church in charge of twelve congregations, Drummiller not being one of them. By the end of the century the congregations had increased to twenty, but owing to one death and two emigrations to America (Loughridge p 28) the ministerial strength was reduced to three. No Presbytery records could be found before 1810 and according to those existing from 1810, whether by bad recording or a true record, Drummiller does not appear to have received many visits from ministers. Twelve visits were recorded from 1813 to 1834, where ministers were appointed to preach and to administer the Sacraments at Drummiller. (Southern Presbytery minute book 1810 - 1845.
A meeting house was built at Ballylane near the village of Mowhan Co. Armagh in 1790 to house the Societies in that district, this was significant to the Societies of the Drummiller area as Ballylane is approximately eight miles away. The first minister, the Rev. Samuel Aiken, also embraced the charges of Rathfriland and Creevagh near Ballybay, Co. Cavan. To walk these eight miles on the Sabbath when the Rev. Aiken was preaching and to receive the Sacraments would not have posed a hardship on the Society members of the Drummiller area. As the Rev. Aiken would also be administering to his other charges on a rota basis, this trek into Co. Armagh could have been less than once a month. It is of interest to note that a man called John McEwen walked eleven miles to Ballylane meeting house for a period of twenty-five years. (Covenanter Witness p 269).
Fellowship and worship continued at Drummiller meeting house without regular ministerial presence for worship and the administration of the Sacraments until 1838. Approximately four miles from Drummiller, at Loughbrickland, the congregation of the Original Secession Church, which had existed with a meetinghouse from 1817, joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church. An opportunity arose for the congregation of Drummiller to reduce their travelling distance and with prior knowledge that the forthcoming ordination and installation of the Rev. Samuel Simms. As would guarantee a more regular administration of the Sacraments and spiritual guidance, a request was received by the Southern Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church meeting at Ballylane on the 6th of November, 1838 which read, 'The Drummiller branch of the Ballylane congregation having obtained the consent of the Ballylane Session and committee to withdraw from conection with the Ballylane congregation in future, for the purpose of forming a junction with the Reformed Presbyterian congregation of Loughbrickland. The reasons assigned were, they had the prospect of enjoying public and inavies regularly at Loughbrickland and whereas in conection with the Ballylane they could enjoy these privileges but monthly or at most every other Sabbath: and it was much more convenient to their places of residence. The Presbytery agreed.'
The first Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Samuel Simms, was ordained and installed on Wednesday, 15th May, 1839. (Presbytery minutes).
No record of the size of the Drummiller congregation could be found or if all or only some joined the Loughbrickland congregation, but it could be assumed, purely by their second reason for leaving Ballylane, that most lived nearer to Loughbrickland. Continuing use of the meeting in Drummiller would be assured initially as a place of worship, the meetings conducted by the elders of the congregation. An exact date of its abandonment is not known, but from a publication in 1877 a description reads, "The old meeting house, now an utter ruin on the roadside between Banbridge and Scarva" (Ferguson p 32).
During the latter end of the 18th century, when the Rev. Stavely was travelling through Counties Down and Armagh, it was a turbulent time in Irish history and the political situation in Ulster in the last twenty years of that century was at a height of tension.
The success of the Colonists in the American War of Independence in establishing a republic there in 1782, had an 'unsettling effect on many of the repressed Presbyterians in Ulster, as many of the colonists were the Scottish settlers from Ulster who had fled to America because of religious persecution from the English Parliament. The French Revolution in 1789 stirred republican aspirations while in 1791 The Society of United Irishmen was formed with the purpose of uniting all creeds and classes.
The situation in Ulster was quite tense and complicated. Protestants formed an organisation called "The Hearts of Steel" (Steelboys) or "The Peep of Day Boys" and the Roman Catholics, to defend themselves from Protestant attack, formed "The Defenders" or "Whiteboys". The Drummiller Covenenters were in the thick of things. Approximately two miles from their meeting house site, at Lisnagade Fort, in 1783, a bloody encounter was fought between "The Defenders" and the "Peep-of Day Boys" and it was stated that several of the former were killed. Other skirmishes and disturbances took place in the years 1788-89, then in 1796 the original Mass-house or Chapel was burned by Orangemen. (Campbell p6).
The Drummiller Covenenters must have been looked upon with great mistrust and suspicion and it would have been in a very difficult position. The Reformed Presbyterian church has always been an outspoken critic of the British Government and coupled with their refusal to take the oath of Allegiance to the Crown, they were viewed as rebels against authority and it was though they would join forces with insurgents. Suspicion increased when an earlier Volunteer movement, which was started in 1778 for the protection of the country against foreign and domestice foes, was revived to steam the threat of a French invasion in the early 1790s. The movement had support of the Covenanting ministers and some of their followers ultimately became an instrument of The United Irishmen. A company called the Drumbracken Volunteers was formed at Knockbracken, Co. Down. Members of the Knockbracken Reformed Presbyterian Church joined the company and its captain was their minister the Rev. William Stavely, (Ferguson p 42). publicly stated that he was unhappy with the direction the United Irishmen were taking, which ultimately ended in open rebellion in 1798, but had sympathy with their aims. No doubt this was a result of the frequent cases of oppression by the landlords and the instances of injustice by the Government he had witnessed during his travels in Ulster while preaching to the covenanter congregations and Societies.
Unfortunately the ministers of the church and their congregation were always under suspicion. On the Sabbath 25th June, 1797 a Colonel Barber and the Town-major of Belfast accom-anied by a considerable troop of cavalry arrested the Rev. Stavely during worship at his Knockbracken meeting house (Loughridge p 46) under the charge that a large number of pikes and other arms were concealed in his meeting house. He left on horseback flanked by two dragoons. After they had ridden some three or four miles the Rev. Stavely asked for a drink of water.One of the dragoons drew his sword and struck him on the cheek giving him a cut and said, with an oath, that was sufficient drink for a rebel. (Ferguson p 45). He was detained a prisoner for two months and granted bail on the 26th August. The charge against him was never proved and he was released.
On the night of the 13th of June 1798, soldiers returning from the battle of Ballynahinch ransacked his house at Annsborough and brought him to Belfast where he was imprisoned in the Artillery Barracks. Fortunately a letter written by him as a prisoner survived which gives an account of his arrest, imprisonment, and his denial that he had anything to do with the United Irishmen. It reads as follows:
ARTILLERY BARRACK, August 24, 1798
On the 13th of June last past, being, Tuesday, I was arrested in my house by a party of the Trainmen, a part of the Monaghan militia and some of the Fifeshiremen. No charges whatever were mentioned and no officer was present. They set fire to the house in four rooms and the kitchen. They burned my turfstack, carhouse and car, also a variety of articles. They took away my furniture, plate and apparel to the amount of £200 and upwards on that night and three succeeding nights. I was very ill-used by the military on the way to Belfast, giving me the worst of language. They even refused to give me a drink though I was exceedingly warm. I was put in the common guardhouse and kept there three full weeks: eight days and nights without having a bed to lie on or even having off my clothes.
Sundry times I was visited by the military and insulted; sundry times they threatened to hack me, hang me, burn me. One of them swore nine times by the Holy Ghost that he would shoot me before he left the yard. On the 22nd night, being Sabbath night, I was ordered out directly under strong guard and put into the Donegal Arms, where there were about 168 prisoners. I was put into a room with one John Hughes, and kept there ten days, when I was again removed to another compartment and kept there three days and nights, and then on the evening of the Sabbath, I and eleven more were removed to the Artillery Barrack and here have been kept till this instant, when on a sudden we were informed of our being ordered to go into a prison ship in the Lough of Belfast.
It is necessary that I make some remarks on the by-past part of my conduct during my confinement. I wrote on the second day after my confinement to Colonel Barber, requesting to know for what reason I had been arrested. No return was made, but a report of a malicious nature that arms were kept in the meeting house in Knockbracken, though there is no ground whatever for that report. And I do most solemnly declare that I never knew of or was concerned in, nor believe that there was any such thing in existence as arms of any kind in that house of hostile nature. I was in a little after called upon by Mr. Pollock, the crown solicitor, in the company of General Barber. He mentioned the above instance of the meeting house and added that on the 25th December he charged me with preaching seditious doctrines, but did not instance any in particular. After some time I wrote again to General Barber, to be communicated to General Nugent, requesting trial, and signifying that I was neither present, nor did I assist in the late insurrection; and yet I was taken away from my own house and my property taken away with out any known cause. Then a printed proclaimation was offered to all the prisoners signifying that the King's royal mercy would be shown, provided that important information be given and penal obligation entered into to remove to some country not at war with the King. After I read over this proclamation, I returned to the Crown Solicitor in the presence of General Barber the following denial of acceptance of said terms: "William Stavely having never taken an oath to United Irishmen, nor occupied any place or post among such men, and being declared an enemy to French principles or any foreign interference with the Government of Ireland, cannot for these reasons accept General Nugents proclamation (Loughridge p47).
Stavely then proceeded to draw up a narrative stating his principles and in it a passage that would have a direct link to the Covenenters of Drummiller, "Moreover in the Spring and Winter months past, in the course of ministerial visitation that I was engaged in, I gave solemn warning to every religious society under my inspection to be aware of and keep at a due distance from all those sinful associations now existing - "Ferguson p 50). After four months on the prison ship Rev. Stavely was released. Nothing was proved against him and in latter years it came to light :hat he was the victim of a spiteful plot.
Many of the Drummiller Covenenters would have been guided by the words and actions of Stavely, but the picture, as to their stance in the Uprising in 1798, without authentic records, is very complex and confusing. Hardships imposed on Stavely's flock by Government and society influenced his sympathetic views on the ideals of the United Irishmen and his captaincy of the Drumbracken Volunteers, who were formed to protect their country from a French invasion but would have been easily manipulated by the United Irishmen to take up arms against the ruling class and Government, who were the instigators of their oppression. The most damning evidence is to where their allegiances lay took place in 1802 when two Covenanter ministers, the Rev. Stavely and the Rev. Hans Boggs were censured by their Presbytery for their association with the volunteers.
The Rev. Hans Boggs was the minister of the Covenanting congregation at Ballylane. He was born in the townland of Creevy near Loughbrickland.Today, the Site of the Covenenters meeting house is overgrown and is almost inaccessible no trace of the meeting house exists. Flourishing Reformed Presbyterian congregations still exist in Loughbrickland and Ballylane.
Dunlop, Eull, Wiliam Stavely: Samuel Fergusons "Brief Bibliographical Sketch" (1743-025) Mid-Antrim Historical Group (1993)
Loughridge, Adam, The Covenanter Witness Vol. VI Part 8 August, PP201 -03, Part 9 eptember, PP12- 14(1972)
Day, A & McWilliams, P. Ordance Survey Memoirs of Ireland Vol. twelve Parishes of Co. own III 1833 - 1838 Mid-Down (Institute of Irish Studies, Belfast 1992)
Taylor G. & Skinner A. Maps of the Roads of Ireland Irish University Press. (Shannon 1969) Martin Mary, Magherally Presbyterian Church 1656 - 1982, Banbridge Chronicle Press.
Ferguson, Samuel, Brief biographical Sketches of Some Irish Covenanting Ministers Who Laboured in the Latter Half of the 18th Century (Londonderry 1872). ,
Loughridge, Adam, The Covenanters In Ireland (Cameron Press, Belfast, 1984)
The Federation of Ulster Local Studies, Ulster Local Studies Vol. 18 No. 2 Spring 1997 (Impact Printing of Coleraine) Ltd., Ballycastle.
Banbridge Household Almanac 1878, Historical Sketch of Loughbrickland.
Campbell, Rev. E., Aghaderg Some historical notes, Printed from the Newry Reporter, 15th December, 1938.
Ross, J. M., Four Centuries of Scottish Worship (Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1972).
Mullin T. H. & Mullan, J. E., The Ulster Clans (Northwest Books, Limavady, County
RECOLLECTIONS OF FRYAR'S PLACE SCHOOL
By A FORMER PUPIL
Fryar's Place School was situated in a narrow lane of that name, now long since demolished, which ran from Scarva Street to Reilly Street, the opening to which was opposite to where Walshs' shop now stands.
When I became enrolled in this seat of learning in 1921/22, Mr. William Simmons was Headmaster or 'The Master" as he was known, and Miss Emily Mercer was Assistant Mistress. The school building was divided by a folding partition into two classrooms, low and high infants and first class in one, taught by Miss Mercer and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th classes taught by 'The Master" in the other. The school management was under the auspices of the Church of Ireland, although all denominations attended including some Catholics; the manager was Mr. Samuel Fryar of Fryar and Gordon Solicitors.
The facilities in the building were most primitive, the water supply was carried in buckets from a public fountain In Scarva Street, lighting if needed was by oil lamps, and heating was provided by a coal fire in each classroom. At the beginning of October each year the pupils were asked to bring a Half Crown (22 l/2p) as a contribution towards the winter's coal supply, but due to the hard times which families had to endure in the surrounding district this was not enforced. The toilet facilities were more than primitive compared with those in use today; they consisted of two noise some, two-seater dry lavatories which were cleaned out by the Urban Council about once every month.
On the death of Mr. Simmons in 1924 he was succeeded by Mr. S.G. Johnston MA. who continued until the school was closed and absorbed into the new Abercorn P.E. School in 1932. Our school day began at 9.15 a.m. with a mid-morning break at 11 a.m. Lunch break was from 12.30 p.m. until 1.15 p.m., the day finishing at 3 p.m. Each pupil brought their own "piece" or lunch and those who were able to go home did so.
We learnt to write by copying specimens in "Vere Foster" copy books which cost 1 1/2 pence, jotters were 1/2 penny each and pencils were a penny each. The class reading books were approximately one shilling (l0p) each but were only charged at the discretion of' The Master". The school holidays consisted of six weeks beginning in the second week of July, seven or eight days at Christmas and Easter, St. Patrick's Day and Whit Monday.
We sat on long benches or forms, but when writing sat at desks which held about six pupils. I remember an occasion when new desks were required as the old ones became unstable. The new ones were constructed by a local joiner, and we all took part in a school concert to raise the money to pay for them; large Government grants were not available in those far off days.
The school turned out pupils who achieved much success in later life: a university professor, teachers, a doctor, and craftsmen in different trades and professions.
In these primitive surroundings we were entirely well taught despite there being approximately one hundred pupils on the roll under the care of two teachers in cramped accommodation - the teacher's unions of today would have something to complain about. The three "R's" were well ingrained in our minds at all stages and remain vividly to this day, laggard and unruly pupils being urged on to greater things by a very pliant cane wielded with dexterity.
Religious Instruction, as it was termed in those days, played an important part in the curriculum, culminating in an oral examination each year, supervised by a Church of Ireland clergyman. In this examination great stress was placed on the Ten Commandments which each pupil had to learn and recite by heart. This is something which sadly seems to be lacking today.
These were happy days despite the many hardships and vicissitudes of life which prevailed at that time; these probably helped to create a certain bond between teacher, pupil and parent thus enabling the school to achieve a modicum of success. Teaching in those days was most certainly a vocation; it was evident that they did not work solely for money as they received very little.
It is with a great sense of pride and satisfaction that I look back at my schooldays in Fryar's Place School.