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1. My Portaferry connection - page 4
2. County Down Historical Outline – Chronology - page 13
3. The “ Savages “ of the Ards - page 21
4. The “ Shrine of Saint Patrick’s Hand “ - page 26
5. The Rev John Orr ( Extracts from Autobiography ) - page 30 •
Introduction / Sketch of Orr Family / Rev. John Orr at Glasgow University / Ordination in Portaferry – page 30 Description of Portaferry 89 years ago ( early 1800’s ) / Mr. Orr, Assistant to Rev. William Moreland / Teaches Classics – page 34
First Temperance Society in Portaferry / Portaferry Penny Bank – page 38 Cholera Epidemic / Boating Accident on Strangford Lough / Storm of 1839 – page 42
Building of Portaferry Presbyterian Church / Formation of General Assembly / Father Matthew’s Temperance Movement / Question of Presbyterian Marriages / Potato Famine / Emigration – page 46
Revival of 1859 / Mr Orr’s interest in Church Courts / Mr Orr as Preacher / Introduces Innovations – page 51 • Pastoral Work / Resignation / Address and Presentation / Illness / Death and Funeral / Conclusion – page 54
6. James Shanks ( Extracts from Autobiography ) - page 59
Portaferry Tenant Farmer’s Defence Association – page 59
Downpatrick Board of Guardians – page 64 Rev. William Steele Dickson D.D – page 67
The Walter Meadow – page 69
Purgatory – page 69
Sweet County Down – page 70
7. 1798 attack on Portaferry by the United Irishmen - page 72
Attachment A / 1901 Scotland Census Record / page 74 Attachment B / 1901 Ireland Census Record -/ page 75 Attachment C / 1891 Marriage Record of my Great Grandparents / page 76 Attachment D / 1866 Marriage Record of My Great, Great Grandparents / page 77 Attachment E / Some middle to late 19th century photos from old postcards / page 79 Copyright and Dedication / page 80
Chapter 1 - My Portaferry Connection. Recently, during 2002, I set out to research my Family Tree, initially on my Father’s side, and with the assistance of the excellent information sources available within the Scottish Records, I was able to trace my ancestors back to around 1770. My Scottish ancestors came from in and around the Dornoch Firth area in the Highlands of Sutherland, and they made their journey to the Lowlands of Ayrshire, here in Ardrossan, around 1840, in search of a better way of life following the Highland Clearances,at a time when sheep had become more valuable than people. Later, I set out to establish my Irish roots on my Mother’s side but unfortunately the records were not so good and I did not get as far as I had anticipated. The reasons that I did not get very far turned out to be threefold. Firstly, the 1821, 1831, 1841 & 1851 Census Records were destroyed during 1922 in a fire at the Dublin Records Office. Secondly, and prior to 1922, the 1861, 1871, 1881 & 1891 Census records were also destroyed, on that occasion, by order of the government. The 1901 Ireland Census Record is available to view at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland ( PRONI ) in Belfast, the 1901 and 1911 are both available for searching at the Record’s Office in Dublin, but neither are available online ( yet ). Thirdly, Civil Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages did not become a legal requirement until 1864 later than England ( 1837 ) and Scotland ( 1855 ), and even then, these records are not complete due to the prevailing political and religious circumstances existing in the 19th Century in the island of Ireland. Prior to 1864 there are Church Records, but these are not centralised and available online like the equivalent Old Parish Records in Scotland are for example. Consequently, you have to deal with individual Churches and Cemeteries which can be extremely time consuming. I was very disappointed at the lack of data available, but I was still interested in finding out more about the area my Mother’s people had came from and set about researching the background to where they worked and lived. In the beginning I struggled to find this “ background information “ although there were bits and pieces on the internet about the County in general, there was very little
about Portaferry in particular. There were a handful of “ reference only “ books written about the area available in some of the larger public libraries, but these were written around a hundred tears ago and were not widely or easily accessible. It was then that I decided to draw together information from various sources and incorporate them into a Historical Booklet that I might be able to publish either in book form or electronically ( as a website or a blog ). The following Chapters are the result of this research, I hope that it may be of interest to the reader, whether you come from County Down, elsewhere in Ireland, or even if you are a part of the wider Irish Diaspora throughout the world. Joseph Collins, my Great Grandfather was born in the County of Down on 29.1.1867 and his birth was registered in Strangford ( source - International Genealogical Index ), exactly where he was born is not certain but it is thought that it might have been nearby in Killard or Kilclief on the Strangford side of the Lough. Joseph’s parents were Alexander and Eliza Collins nee Dor( i )an and they would have been born circa 1840, marrying circa 1865, and going on to have two more sons, Alexander Collins born 13.5.1870 ( source - International Genealogical Index ) and Tom Collins ( date of birth unknown ). It is thought that Alexander and Tom died as young men, possibly drowned at sea, and they may have had some involvement with the Coastguard at some point in their lives, although I have been unsuccessful in establishing the full facts. However, the direct ancestor is Joseph and I will continue along that line. Joseph Collins, my Great Grandfather would meet and later marry, my Great Grandmother, Ellen Jane Sweeney, at Portaferry on 9.7.1891. The Marriage record informs us that Joseph was a Seaman, aged 24 and living in Portaferry at the time. Joseph’s Father was given as Alexander Collins and his occupation was stated as Coastguard. Ellen was also aged 24, living in Portaferry at the time, and her Father was given as John Sweeney with occupation also stated as Seaman. They were married by the Rev. Richard Killen at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Chapel in Portaferry. Ellen Jane Sweeney ( born 31.8.1867 at Portaferry ) was one of five children, all girls, that my Great, Great Grandparents John & Ann Jane Sweeney nee Convery would have, the others were Margaret ( Maggie born 28.10.1870 ), Mary ( born 13.11.1872 ), Ann ( Annie born circa 1876 ) and Catherine ( Kate born 11.3.1877
). To the best of my knowledge they were all born in Portaferry. Maggie would die young and never marry, whereas Mary married a Dummigan, Annie married a McMullan and Kate married a Lennon. All these surnames are prevalent in Portaferry today and along with other names such as Collins, McPolin, Falloona, Gibson, Convery, Dorrian and a few more, are of course my relations. Where the Sweeneys originated from is uncertain but it is said that it might have been County Donegal. It is thought that John Sweeney worked for the Customs and Excise Service and that he came to Portaferry through his employment or to take up a position there, whereas Ann Jane Convery would probably already have been in Portaferry during the 1860’s but this is not certain either. St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Chapel at Portaferry was built in 1762 by the Rev James Teggart and prior to this there had been a Priest in the area from around 1704 ( Rev Patrick O’Prey ). It is thought that there had been a Mass House on the site from at least 1744. Earlier Priests included Rev O’Doran, Rev John Fitzsimmons ( 1780 ), Rev Patrick McGrievy ( 1786 ), Rev Edward McQuoid ( 1812 ) and Rev Peter Denvir ( 1815 to 1825 ). The Church was rebuilt in 1831 by the Rev James McAleenan with some of the original walls and stones reused in the construction at a cost of £600 and the labour was provided by the congregation. The Rev James Killen presided from 1843 to 1881 followed by his brother Rev Richard Killen, ( 1881 to 1898 ) who married my Great Grandparents in 1891. The Chapel’s twentieth century Priests were as follows: Rev Hugh Magorrian ( 1898 to 1912 ), Rev George Crolly ( 1912 to 1916 ), Rev James Kennedy ( 1916 to 1928 ), Rev Patrick McKillop ( 1929 to 1945 ), Rev George Watson ( 1946 to 1960 ), Rev Patrick McAlea ( 1960 to 1965 ), Rev David Morgan ( 1965 to 1985 ), Rev George Laverty ( 1985 to 1992 ), Rev Brendan McGhee ( 1992 to 2000 ) and Rev Martin Kelly ( 2002 to present ).
Ellen Jane & John Sweeney nee Convery, my Great, Great Grandparents ( photographed during 2003 at Portaferry, from an Oil Painting done of them late 1860’s or early1870’s )
All the Sweeney sisters remained in Portaferry except for my Great Grandmother Ellen Jane, although she would return to Portaferry, sooner rather than later. Enough of the Sweeney’s for the moment and getting back on to the direct line with my Great Grandparents, Joseph and Ellen Jane Collins nee Sweeney. Following their marriage on 9.7.1891 at Portaferry, their first born Alexander Collins would arrive during 1894 in Portaferry. Between Alexander’s birth and the arrival of their second child John, born on 15.1.1898 in Glasgow, they had made the move from Ireland to Scotland, most probably in search of work and a better standard of living, as many of their generation did around that time. The 1901 Scotland Census placed them at 107 Stobcross Street, Anderston, Glasgow, and present on the occasion were Joseph Collins, Ellen Jane Collins and children Alexander ( 5 ), John ( 3 ), Joseph ( 2 ) and Annie my Grandmother ( 11 months ). Also present on the day was Ellen Jane’s Sister Catherine Sweeney ( Kate ) aged 23, and denoted as visiting. Joseph & Ellen Jane would go on to have four more children, Lizzie, Tom, Edward & Maggie, all born in Glasgow in the first decade of the new century, making eight in all. Of the eight, Alexander the eldest would emigrate to America settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ( circa 1922 and stay there throughout his life, to the best of my knowledge ). Prior to emigrating, Alexander would meet and marry Margaret Collins nee Parkhill on 20.4.1922 at Glasgow. John Collins, their second born would meet and marry Margaret Jane Bell ( born in Ballymena ), on 9.11.1932 at Glasgow and they would also emigrate, in their case to New Zealand and remain there where today they have family in New Zealand and Australia. Maggie Collins would go to Portaferry around the late 1920’s where she would meet and marry William Gibson and they would remain in Portaferry until her recent death ( 30.9.2005 ) at the age of 95, William had predeceased her. My Grandmother Annie Collins would meet and marry my Grandfather, Ambrose Armstrong at Glasgow, and later, around the mid 1930’s, they would come to Ardrossan in Ayrshire where they remained for the duration until their deaths, more about them in a moment. The other four siblings would remain in Glasgow throughout their lives all having families ( except Tom who died young ), many of their descendants are still in Glasgow today, although some of the younger ones have left and are scattered throughout the world. My Great Grandparents, Joseph and Ellen Jane Collins also returned to Portaferry, I am not sure when, but
probably around the late 1920’s, probably at the same time as Maggie. Ellen Jane Collins died in Portaferry on 23.11.1941 aged 74 whereas Joseph Collins nearly attained the grand old age of one hundred passing away on 1.3.1966, a month short of his hundredth birthday. The lady who came to Ardrossan from Glasgow around 1935, Annie Collins, my Grandmother, was born at 107 Stobcross Street, Anderston, Glasgow on 11.10.1900. Annie would meet and marry my Grandfather, Ambrose Armstrong ( Ambrose’s people had also made the journey from Northern Ireland to Glasgow but a bit earlier than Annie’s family around the early 1870’s from Fermanagh ) on 16.6.1924 at St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Anderston, Glasgow, and they would go on to have three children. The first born was Joseph ( Joe ) circa 1925, the second was my Mother Ellen ( Eileen ) born on 23.10.1928 at 152 Abercromby Street, Anderston, Calton, Glasgow and William ( Billy ) made up the trio arriving shortly before their move to Ardrossan around 1935. My Mother Eileen would meet and marry my Father Daniel Mathieson at Ardrossan on 24.12.1952. My Father’s ancestry is a mixture of Scots / Irish and although I have researched that side of the family back to 1770 it is not relevant here. I myself ( Daniel ) was the first born of Daniel and Eileen and they would go on to have another four children, my siblings, William, John, Eileen and Maria. From right to left, my Mother Eileen, My Grandmother Annie, my Uncle Josie ( Josie’s ashes were scattered in the water on the other side of the wall he is sitting on in July 1998 ), the girl on the bike is Annie Dummigan, my Grandmother’s Cousin. This picture was taken on the Lough Wall at Portaferry circa 1933.
My love affair with Portaferry started when I was a young boy at my Mother’s apron in the kitchen, where she would be making the dinner or doing a washing, listening to her reminisce about the summer holidays she had spent playing along the shore at the Walter Meadow and up the Windmill Hill, learning the old Irish standard ballads ( Kathleen, The Rose of Tralee etc ) . To the best of my memory she also went to school in Portaferry, although be it briefly, as did her elder brother Joseph ( Joe ). Joe was given the nickname of “ Trout “ during his time in Portaferry for his antics of swimming in Strangford Loch, with its notoriously strong currents, and this stuck with him throughout his life. Later she would take my sisters over as children and later again I would make my own way there, sometimes with her, sometimes venturing alone as I started to discover my “ relations “ and making new friends along the way. This year ( 2008 ) will be my 27th Gala Week ( God willing ) with the exception of a couple missed along the way through work commitments, such is life. Last year was also the 40th anniversary of the Portaferry Gala. I endeavour to get over for long weekends outwith the Gala whenever I can, but there is no definite pattern to my visits. As I have already said, my first intention was to research my family tree on my Mother’s side, but it soon became apparent that I was not going to get very far. During the time I spent carrying out the early research at Ballynahinch Library Headquarters in County Down and PRONI ( Public Records Office of Northern Ireland ) in Belfast, I came across other interesting material that had not been available locally in Portaferry or even on the Internet. It was at this juncture that the idea came to me to pull some of this data together into the format of what you have before you now. The following is a brief description of what Chapters 2 through 7 contain. Chapter 2, page 13, ( County Down Historical Outline Chronology ) gives us a brief timeline of how the County was formed and the subsequent settling of the area through to the present day. Chapter 3, page 21, ( The “ Savages “ of the Ards ) contains extracts from a book ( only available on a reference basis and not in the Portaferry Library, as far as I could ascertain only a few copies still exist anywhere ) titled, “ The Savages of the Ards “ , Author G.F. Savage – Armstrong, published London 1906. This book, which I originally managed to locate at Ballynahinch Library Headquarters in County Down, was kindly loaned to my local
library in Ardrossan, Ayrshire at my request on a temporary loan basis of one month enabling me to extract the information pertinent to Portaferry. It is quite a lengthy title and I have reproduced what I hope might be meaningful to the present day reader with an interest in the history of the Portaferry area. Chapter 4, page 26, ( The Shrine of St. Patrick’s Hand ) is also extracted from the same source and I am grateful to Ballynahinch Library in general and librarian Ann Magee in particular for their kind cooperation. Chapter 5, page 30, ( The Life and Times of the Rev. John Orr, Ballybeen, Comber, 15/6/1796 - 4/11/1878, ordained Portaferry 2/10/1822 ) contains extracts from the book of the same name Author – James C. Rutherford, Portaferry, published 1912 by Davidson and McCormack Limited, Northgate Works, Belfast. Again, this book is only available on a reference basis and was also lent by Ballynahinch Library to my local library enabling me to carry out this research. As it is not too lengthy a book most of it is transcribed here. Chapter 6, page 59, ( Extracts from biography of James Shanks, Ballyfounder, Portaferry, 1854 – 1912 ), Author, James C. Rutherford, Portaferry, published in 1913 by Davidson and McCormack Limited, Northgate Works, Belfast. Once again, this book is only available on a reference basis and was part of the package that winged its way across the water from Ballynahinch. Mr. Shanks was a well known character in Portaferry in his day and his many interests included Geology, Botany and Poetry ( to name but some ). I have only extracted a small part of this title and anyone interested in learning more about Mr Shank’s rich and varied life can view the full version of his biography at Ballynahinch Library on a reference only basis as I myself did. Chapter 7, page 72, is an account of the part that Portaferry played in the 1798 Rebellion ( from several different sources ). While appreciating that Chapter 1 will be of more interest to my friends and relations and not necessarily to a wider readership, but if you stick with it, there is a lot of interesting information about Portaferry and the Little Ards.
Chapters Two and Three give us a brief outline and background to Portaferry and the surrounding area from 3000BC through till the present. Chapters Four, Five, Six and Seven give us a flavour of what life would have been like for my ancestors ( or yours ) and their contemporaries in and around Portaferry during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While acknowledging that my lead in to this book in the early part of this chapter may not have been of great interest to most people, I would hope that the subsequent chapters would be of some interest to the present day population of the “ Little Ards “ and the wider Irish Diaspora, who left the area, for one reason or another, like some of my own ancestors did, throughout the years. Below is a photograph of the headstone in Portaferry Roman Catholic Graveyard commemorating my Great Grandparents Joseph & Ellen Collins ( nee Sweeney ) and my Great, Great Grandparents John & Ann Jane Sweeney ( nee Convery ), along with Maggie Sweeney their daughter, and James McMullan their Grandson.
Chapter 2 - County Down Historical Outline – Chronology. Portaferry ( Irish: Port an Pheire / Port na Peireadh ) is situated at the southern end of the Ards Peninsula near the entrance to Strangford Lough known as the Narrows. The meaning of the name is “ Landing place of the Ferry “ and the name dates from circa 1617. The earliest human settlement around the area we now know as Portaferry would have been about 3000BC. Prehistoric burial remains have been found at nearby Millin Bay just outside Portaferry. A popular school of thought suggests that people lived in the area as far back as 9000BC. Tradition has it that in the 5th century St Patrick made his way by a small boat through the Narrows into Strangford Lough landing at Castleward. It is thought that it was there at Saul ( five miles outside Strangford ) that he founded the first Christian Church in Ireland. The distance from Strangford to Portaferry by road today is 47 miles, though by boat it is less than a mile. There are many traditions about St Patrick and many peoples and areas claim him for their own, but for the purpose of this research I will settle for what I have just said here. Later, around the 9th & 10th centuries the area would be visited by the Vikings, initially in the form of raiding parties, and later, to some extent, settling the area. The settlement at Strangford and the Lough were named by the Vikings from the “ Strang fjord “ ( Strong Ford ), it had been known formerly as Lough Cuan. Located just outside Portaferry at Derry, are the remains of two early churches, the larger dating back to the 12th century, and the smaller to perhaps the 10th or 11th centuries. It is thought that they may have been connected to a Monastery dedicated to St. Cumain. Another notable landmark is Portaferry Castle, built in the 16th century by William Le Savage. It is of the “ Tower House “ design and is a square building with a small projecting turret in the South corner. The structure is of three storeys high with an attic but no vault. A curved stairway inside takes you to the first floor and on
that level a spiral stairway takes you to the roof level. The entrance at the Tower base is protected by a machicolation, an opening in the wall, which allows the occupants to fire arrows or throw rocks / burning objects on to any would be attackers ). The ground floor access is also protected, in this case by a murder hole, similar to a machicolation, but usually found in the ceiling of a gateway or passageway within a structure. The County of Down was formed around the beginning of the 14th Century and was first colonised by the Normans. The Knight John De Courcey took the area around Downpatrick following the Norman Invasion and the main Norman family who settled the area was called “Savage “. The major Gaelic families at the time were O’Neill, McCartan, McQuillan, McGuinness and Mac Gilmore. Around 1569, Sir Thomas Smith made an unsuccessful attempt at settling the Ards Peninsula. Hugh O’Neill, the Ulster Chieftain began a rebellion in 1594, briefly putting a stop to the attempted settlement but later at the start of the 17th Century another attempt at Plantation was undertaken with thousands arriving in the Province, brought here by mercenaries who in return were rewarded by land and title. It is thought that one of these mercenaries brought over about 10,000 settlers to North West Down ( mainly from Scotland ) with names such as Boyd, Fraser, Johnston, Lindsay, Morrison, Patterson and Maxwell being prevalent amongst them. English settler names in Down include Wilson, Johnson, Young, Taylor, Walker, Jackson, Watson, Bradshaw and Bradford. The relative proportion of people of ( 1 ) Irish / Norman, ( 2 ) Scottish and ( 3 ) English descent in Down can be assumed from the proportion of (1) Catholic, ( 2 ) Presbyterian and ( 3 ) Episcopalian persuasion noted in 1841. The respective percentages were ( 1 ) 32%, ( 2 ) 45% and ( 3 ) 21% from a population of 368,000. County Down was less badly affected by the Great Famine ( 1845 to 1850 ) than other parts of the Country. Nonetheless, between 1841 and 1851 the population reduced by around 10% with some of this attributable to starvation and some by the movement of people from the rural areas ( where the crop failed ) to Belfast and other larger towns.
Emigration would also have been a contributory factor, although it is said that in comparison to other Irish Counties, the average rate in Down was around 6% compared to an overall country average of 12%. It is estimated that between 1845 and 1850 in Down, 50,000 people died as a consequence of the crop failure. Emigration ships sailed from the Port of Portaferry to America and Canada and some of these ships would have been built at Portaferry, but more of that later. The population of Portaferry at the beginning of the 18th century was just over 2000 but by the late 1860’s this had fallen to around 1500 due to the trinity effect of the population moving to larger towns, emigration and famine. Portaferry’s heyday would have been the early to middle 1800’s when ships were built there and the Port would have been busy with the coming and going of ships from all over the world, while other industries such as Rope Making, Linen Production, Alcohol Distillation, Beer Making, Tobacco Manufacture etc thrived. It is said that Sand Smelt landed by the local fishermen at Portaferry were sold in the Market at Belfast as “ Portaferry Chicken “. This would have been a stark contrast to Portaferry in the middle of the 17th century when all it would have consisted of would have been the Castle and a few fishermen’s cottages. Prior to the Portaferry Hotel there were three Hotels in the square, Elliott’s, McCauslands and Parks. The Portaferry Hotel began life in the 1860’s as a licensed grocers on the corner of the present day building, and was leased by a chap called Edward Bryce. Prior to this, a distillery and earlier a Mill, had occupied this part of the shorefront. The Hotel was established around 1880 when it was bought by Henry McGrath ( and his wife Hannah ) and became known as “ McGraths of the Quay “. Henry would continue to be the proprietor until his death in 1927, when his son James would take over until 1933 when it was purchased by William Lyons. Later it was purchased in 1936 by a William McMullan ( possibly one of my relations, I am still on the case ) and there have been several other owners since then. With the closure of the Narrows Hotel, also on the shorefront, the Portaferry Hotel is now the only Hotel in Portaferry. Today, the population of Portaferry is about 2500. The 2001 Census taken on 29.4.01 tells us that the population was 2461. A detailed breakdown tells us that 25.1% were under the age of 16 and 18.2% were over 60. Gender percentages were 50.4% male
and 49.6% female. The Religious split was given as 89.1% Roman Catholic and 9.7% Protestant. The unemployment rate was given as 4.6%. A vital element of Portaferry life today is the Ferry link to Strangford. The Ferry carries passengers and cars ( MV Portaferry 2 can take 28 cars, an increase of 40% on the capacity of the standby vessel MV Strangford ), crossing the distance of less than a mile ( 0.6 nautical mile ) in about eight minutes, avoiding the journey by road, which as I said earlier is nearly 47 miles, and can take as long as an hour and a half. It is estimated that the Ferry carries around 500,000 passengers every year. The MV Portaferry 2 was built in Liverpool and came into service on 18.12.2001. The first steam ferry between Strangford and Portaferry was the “ Lady of the Lake “ and she went into service during June 1836. Prior to this there had been organised crossings between Strangford and Portaferry of one kind or another since the early 17th century, when James the First set aside land on both sides for that purpose. The steam ferry, the first of its kind in Ireland would beat Belfast and the Lagan by 36 years. In early 1946 two flat bottomed vessels came into service with a view to carrying 36 passengers and 2 cars, but very quickly there was a capsize and the loss of a life. The McDonald family ( Strangford ) soon took over with a replacement “ passenger only service “ and they were followed later, by amongst others, the Quail family ( Strangford ) and the Trainors ( Portaferry ). These private enterprises lasted until 1967 when the Government finally took over. The first State owned ferry was the MV Strangford built in Cork and launched on 6.9.1969. In 1974 the MV Portaferry arrived having been purchased from a Welsh company and refitted at Harland & Wolff before coming into service as a standby vessel. Later a further vessel, the Isle O’Valla arrived and for some time acted as a standby in the event of both vessels being out of action. As I stated at the beginning of the paragraph, the MV Portaferry 2 was introduced into service in 2001 and the MV Strangford became the standby with the MV Portaferry being sold in 2002. On the subject of transport, plans were drawn up in 1907 for a rail connection down the Ards Peninsula but they were never approved and to this day there is no rail link. Other plans for a proposed Tramway from Newtownards to Portaferry never materialised either. With the coming of mechanised road transport in the early
1900’s a regular bus service was introduced from Newtownards to Portaferry, said to be the first of its kind in Ireland at that time.
Another important aspect of life today in Portaferry is the Lifeboat. The present Lifeboat House in Portaferry ( opposite the Portaferry / Strangford Ferry Slipway ) was opened in 1987 and came about largely from monies raised from the Belfast Newsletter Lord Louis Mountbatten Appeal. The Lifeboat Station in the area had originally been at nearby Cloughey, established in 1884. Cloughey closed in 1965 and relocated to Portavogie which closed in 1981. Prior to the closure of Portavogie a station opened at Portaferry on a trial basis and was so successful that it became a 24/7 all year station in 1982. In 1994 the Atlantic 21 ( Blue Peter V ) which had been in place since 1986 was replaced by an Atlantic 75 inshore Lifeboat ( also Blue Peter V ), the fastest inshore type of the RNLI Fleet, capable of reaching a speed of 34 knots. A popular attraction for the visitor to Portaferry is the Northern Ireland Aquarium which opened in 1987. The Aquarium was extended in 1994 ( reopened by Prince Charles ) and renamed Exploris. It allows the visitor to walk through and experience a taste of life in the adjacent Lough and surrounding waters. It is the largest of its kind in Northern Ireland and contains a diverse variety of marine life. It is estimated that it contains around three quarters of all species found in Northern Ireland waters. Exploris was
extended again in 2000 to include a Seal Sanctuary for injured and orphaned animals. Portaferry is also notable for its Gala Week, usually held during the third week in July. The Gala was born in 1969, though some sources say a year or two earlier, and has steadily grown in stature over the years ( Ruby anniversary celebrated in 2007 ). The week usually starts on a Saturday and has events for all ages every day and night, culminating in the Float Night / Parade on the Friday. The events are funded by local businesses and to some extent Local Government, while the Gala Committee is drawn from local volunteers. The Floats are the main attraction and can take months to build, with a great deal of secrecy attached to what they might turn out to be on the night. The Floats are usually sponsored by local businesses ( mainly pubs though not always ) and their themes usually take the form of what is topical or current at the time. The award for the best Float is a Ceramic Poe ( Chanty ) and this is usually carried around the town doing a visit of the local refreshment houses the day following the Parade, where it is normally filled with alcohol and everyone is invited to have a drink from it. The Poe is held and displayed for a year at the winner’s premises, which is usually a pub, and the prestige and rivalry attached to the whole thing is enormous. In recent years the Health and Safety lobby has put a bit of a dampener on events connected with the Gala in general, and the Floats in particular. More recently the cost of insurance covering certain aspects of the occasion have become financially prohibitive. The political correctness influence is also a consideration, such are the times we are living in, but when all is said and done, it is still a fantastic week for both residents and visitors alike. Before I finish this Chapter, I would like to say a few words about a man called William Steel Dickson. Later, in Chapters 6 & 7, the reader will find out more about this extraordinary man, but here are a few facts from my own research. William Dickson was born on Christmas Day, 1744 to John ( tenant farmer ) and Jane Dickson nee Steel at Ballycraigy, Carmoney, County Antrim, he was their first born. As was the custom, he took his Mother’s name as a middle name and became William Steel Dickson. He attended Glasgow University in his 17th year and matriculated in1763. One of his lecturers was none other than the Scotsman Adam Smith, the Father of modern economics and a world
renowned figure today ( as I am writing he has in fact become the first Scotsperson to appear on an English £20 note – fame indeed ). On leaving Glasgow he returned to Ireland where he began his studies to become a Pastor. Such were his achievements and promise shown while studying, the College conferred on him the degree of “ Doctor of Divinity “. On completion of his training his first Ministry was at Ballyhalbert in 1771. In 1780 he moved on to nearby Portaferry where it is said that he developed his interest in politics. Later, he would become the Moderator of the Synod of Ulster in 1793. Prior to 1793 he had become a volunteer in the United Irishmen’s Society when it was formed in 1791 at Belfast, and by 1798 ( it was alleged but never admitted ) he had became the Adjutant General for the County Down Forces. He was a fervent supporter of Catholic emancipation and political change in those difficult times on the island of Ireland. On 5.6.1798, two days before the attack on Antrim that started the rebellion, he was arrested at Ballynahinch in County Down. He was kept in various jails in Belfast and later moved to a prison ship in Belfast Lough, where he remained until his transfer to Fort George, Inverness, Scotland, arriving there on 9.4.1899. He was released on 13.1.1802 and returned to Ireland where at first he was unemployed, but eventually given a new congregation at Second Keady ( after much debate ). While he was there he set about trying to clear his name and reputation and finally in 1813 the Synod came to the conclusion that “ his words had been incorrectly used “ and all seemed to be well again. A year earlier in 1812 he had published “ A narrative of the confinement and exile of William Steel Dickson, DD “. He retired from his congregation in 1815 and settled in Belfast, where it is said, that he lived in poverty and was supported by charity. The Rev William Steel Dickson, DD, died on 27.12.1824, two days after his eightieth birthday, and was buried in a paupers grave at Clifton Street, Belfast. Today there are two places named after him in Portaferry ( Steel Dickson Avenue & Steel Dickson Gardens, ) and more recently a plaque in his honour was unveiled at the Church he had built and once preached in at Portaferry ( unveiled March 2007 ). He would of course have preached in the old Church that is referred to as the “ Meeting House “ prior to the construction of the present
building in 1841.The old saying “ better late than ever “ certainly springs to mind. Another of his legacies was the building of a new school in Portaferry in 1781. I have gone in to more detail in Chapter 7 concerning the part that Portaferry in general and Steel Dickson in particular played in the 1798 Rebellion. He is regarded by many as one of the most influential of all the United Irishmen in the North of Ireland.
Chapter 3 - The “ Savages “ of the Ards ( extracts from the book of the same name published 1906 )
Of the ancient and noble Norman family of Savage – or, as the Normans wrote it, Le Sauvage – the first who came into these kingdoms passed from Normandy into England with the army of the Conqueror, AD, 1066, and settled in Derbyshire. From Derbyshire the Savage family branched out into several English Counties; and from Derbyshire, in 1177, they established themselves in Ireland in the person of William Savage, one of the twenty – two Knights who fought by De Courcy in the subjugation of Ulster, and subsequently one of the Ulster Palatine Barons. In England the Savages became owners of extensive estates, held high offices, contracted noble alliances, distinguished themselves at decisive political conjunctures, amassed great wealth, attached themselves to successive monarchs, were advanced to various dignitaries, and the Viscounts Savage and Earls Rivers transmitted royal blood to their descendants. The family contributed its share of illustrious men to the state, to arms, to the church, to literature. Their names are found among the Crusaders, among the warriors knighted at the Siege of Caerlaverock, among the Knights and Esquires who fought at Agincourt. Sir Arnold Savage, in Henry IV’s
time, was twice Speaker of the English House of Commons.; Sir John Savage, commanding the left wing of Richmond’s army at the victory of Bosworth Field, helped very materially to establish the House of Tudor on the English throne; Thomas Savage , in the following reign, was Bishop of Rochester, of London, and ultimately Archbishop of York; and the world of letters has been enriched from the Savage stock by the poet Richard Savage, the poet Walter Savage Landor, and the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. In Ireland their sphere of activity was narrower than in England, but their position relatively was no less eminent. Assisting in the Ulster conquest, William Le Sauvage won with his sword lands which for over seven hundred years have remained in the possession of his posterity. As Palatine Baron he helped to lay in that valuable province the foundations of the supremacy of England. In the accounts of successive conflicts with the Irish of the North the names of his descendants figure conspicuously for centuries. As time went on, by conquest and royal gift the possessions of the Savages of the Ards increased until they became the lords of territories wider than those of any other Ulster feudatories. They were summoned to Parliament, and as Barons by Writ – of Summons were known as the Lords Savage. By one English monarch after another they were entrusted with the foremost offices in the district. From time to time, as Seneschals of Ulster and Wardens of the Marches, they swayed the North and held it against the enemies of England. At the direst moment of danger and depression, when the inhabitants of the little English colony of Ulster were threatened with destruction at the hands of the Irish swarms, it was round the Seneschal Savage that they rallied, it was to his “ faithful liegeman “ the Seneschal Savage that they prayed the King to send succour for their preservation. The descendants of almost all the other Anglo - Norman conquerors of Ulster – the Mandevilles, Jordans, Chamberlains, Copelands, Martels, Ridals – were swept away or rendered utterly powerless. The Savages still held their ancient inheritance in the Ards, unsubdued. In them, as a recent Irish antiquarian truly states, “ all the English interest centred.” It is hardly an exaggeration to assert that, but for the bravery, the determination, and the tenacity of the Savages at moments of supreme danger, the Northern Province might have been brought completely under Irish control, and with that subjection the whole current of Ulster History might have been changed. They often held the gap, and held it alone. They helped prominently to hand on the succession of Ulster from the first
conquest in 1177 to the final “ Settlement “ of the Seventeenth Century. But loyal at heart to their kings as the Savages of the Ards undoubtedly were, they were not always permitted to be so in act. It was the old story. The loyalist in Ireland was frequently sacrificed in those early centuries by blundering or dishonest rulers just as he is at present. Unsupported by the arm of England, he stood face to face with the implacable enemies of England. If his territory should be invaded , if his cattle should be driven off by the combined forces of Irish chieftains, he seldom obtained protection or redress. With his dependants, his own little army, he had to fight his own battle as best he could. If it did not suit the policy, or the convenience, of the Lord Deputy to defend the King’s liege against the King’s enemies, he was declared to have made war on his own authority, and was treated as a rebel – perhaps to the personal aggrandisement of the Lord Deputy himself. On one occasion the Savages were reported to be amongst the “ English noble folk “ who were in rebellion against their monarch, and a portion of their territory of Lecale passed into the hands of the then Deputy, the Earl of Kildare. When Anglo – Norman Ulster became completely separated from the Pale, the Savages and their few allies were practically isolated. Pressed upon on all sides but the sea by the Irish hordes under the leadership of their old enemies the O’Neills, in alliance with their rivals the Bissetts and MacDonnells of Antrim, they gradually lost their once firm grasp of their outlying possessions. But in the Little Ards they were immovable. Tradition states that when the O’Neills and their confederates under the famous Shane, attempted the invasion of that corner of the Savage estates, and laid siege to the Castle of Ardkeen, they were driven back by the Savages with such effect that they never ventured to undertake the same enterprise again. Unlike their English kinsmen, the Savages of the Ards were not courtiers. Had they been less independent and less stiff necked, had their chiefs ingratiated themselves with their Monarchs or their Irish Deputies, it is possible that neither the abortive attempt of Smith to occupy the Lower Ards, nor the successful efforts of Montgomery to plant the same territory, would have been sanctioned and supported, the former by Elizabeth, the latter by James and Charles. It is possible that to them might have been granted the mission entrusted to others, that they might have been reinstated in all they had lost, that they might have become once
more, and continued to this day to be the most powerful, as they are unquestionably the most ancient, of the English families of Ulster (1). It is of the fortunes of the Irish branches of the Savage family only that the Editor of the following pages has attempted to preserve any minute record. A brief preliminary sketch of the English Branches has been deemed necessary as introductory to the main portion of the narrative; for the English and Irish branches never forgot their consanguinity; even until within comparatively recent times their representatives corresponded as “ cousins ; “ (2) and the feeling of kinship is as lively, and its recognition as general, amongst the members of the Irish and English branches today as it was in the days of their ancestors. But a full history of the Savage family in England must be left to some other pen; and the writer who attempts it will find the State papers and other public records teeming with information about them. The present editor has contented himself with putting together, in as orderly a manner as other and discordant occupations would permit, a considerable mass of information concerning the Ulster family which had come into his hands, and which appeared to him well worthy of preservation in some king of permanent form. The memoirs of a family that has taken an active part in the history of an important portion of our empire for seven hundred years, cannot but be interesting and precious to its members and to all who are connected with it by blood or by friendship; and it is for these that this compilation is principally intended. But it may perhaps be found to have a wider interest, as throwing, indirectly, some light on a period of Anglo – Irish history which has yet to be thoroughly investigated, and in which lie the germs of political problems with which we still have to grapple. (1)They are at present represented in the Ards by Lieut. General Andrew Nugent of Portaferry, whose Grandfather, Andrew Savage Esquire of Portaferry assumed the name of Nugent. Their kinsmen, the Russells of Killough, now represented by Thomas John, Count Russell, of Quoniamstown and Ballystrew, Co. Down, are alone coeval with them.
(2) “ My father, “ writes Mr Thomas Vesey Nugent, January 29,
1881, “ had often showed me a letter from Lord Rivers, dated some time towards the end of the 17th century, addressed to Roland or Patrick Savage ( I forget which ), commencing ‘ My dear Cousin ‘ and requesting him to procure some falcons or hawks from the Isle of Man. This letter was quite legible, but the paper was in a very dilapidated condition. I am certain that it is not now in existence. “ And Mr Arthur Nugent writes: - “ Among the papers at Portaferry there was a letter from the first Lord Rivers, whose name was Savage, addressed to a Mr Savage, of Portaferry, thanking him for some hawks, and asking him to send him some more. He addressed him as ‘ My dear Cousin. ‘ I have often heard my father mention it. The letter concluded with the words, ‘ Your Cousin, Rivers.’ “ ( Letter to Editor. ) The letter was preserved with care by the late Mr Andrew Nugent ( Savage ), of Portaferry House, being “ very old, quite yellow, and falling to pieces. “ It appears that the Isle of Man hawks were considered of superior breed, and the proximity of the Ards to the Island suggested the request.
Chapter 4 – The Shrine of Saint Patrick’s Hand ( In transcribing from the original I have done so verbatim, using the grammar of the day ), from the same source as Chapter 3. The Savages of Portaferry were for a time the possessors and guardians of the remarkable and interesting relic known as the ‘ Shrine of St. Patrick’s Hand ‘ . Of the history of this relic and its association with the Savage family, the Rev. Father O’Laverty, than whom there could hardly be a better authority on such a subject, writes as follows: “ Father M’ Aleenan, when parish priest of Portaferry, having understood that some Protestant gentlemen were desirous of purchasing for the museum of the Royal Irish Academy the Shrine of St. Patrick’s Hand, which was at that time in the possession of Miss M’ Henry, of Carrstown, directed the attention of the bishop and clergy to the matter, and obtained from them a commission to purchase it for the diocese. Father M’ Aleenan succeeded in purchasing it for £10. The following is the substance of the interesting account of that reliquary in Miss Cusack’s Life of St. Patrick, which is principally supplied by Mr. J. W. Hanna: - It is probable that the hand and arm were placed in the present shrine by Cardinal Vivian in 1186, when he translated the relics. Nothing farther is known of it until it came into the possession of Magennis of Castlewellan, possibly from some of the Magennises who were at various times Abbots of Down. In the early part of the 18th century, George Russell, of Rathmullan, married one of the Magennises, and the relic passed into the possession of their only child Rose, who married Rowland Savage. Upon the failure of male issue, the Portaferry Estate, and with it the relic, passed to another branch of the Savages, one of whom, on becoming a Protestant, gave it into the custody of the Rev. James Teggart, then parish priest of the Ards. After Father Teggart’s death , about 1765, Mr. Savage of Portaferry, handed it over to the guardianship of Mr M’ Henry, of Carrstown, in the custody of whose family it remained until it passed into that of the Bishops of Down and Connor. The tradition of its transmission, as told to Father M’ Aleenan by Mrs. Crangle, of Carrstown., is as follows: - When Down Cathedral was plundered, Magennis saved the reliquary, which passed, on the marriage of his daughter, to Carr of Carrstown, or Ballyedock. After the death of Magennis ‘ daughter, Carr married one of the Savages, who, surviving him, bequeathed
the reliquary to her own relations, the Savages, and they retained it until Mr. Savage , the Grandfather of the late Colonel Nugent, on becoming a Protestant, gave it to Father Teggart. It passed on his death into the possession of his niece, who was his housekeeper. She, however, knowing that Mr. M’ Henry, of Carrstown, was maternally descended from the Carrs, and consequently a relative of the Carr who once possessed it, gave it to him, and thus it passed into the custody of the M’ Henrys. “ Mr. Arthur Nugent gives a more particular account of the manner in which the reliquary passed out of the hands of his family, as follows: - A curious old reliquary called “ St Patrick’s Hand “ was in possession of the Portaferry Savages at one time, and up to 1842, as well as Mr. Nugent can recollect, was retained in trust by a farmer on the estate, named M’ Ennery. He, having lost his farm, took it to the late Colonel Nugent, of Portaferry. , in Mr. Arthur Nugent’s presence, saying, “ Here, your honour, I surrender into your hands St. Patrick’s Hand, which me and my forebearers have held in trust for the Savages of Portaferry for several generations. “ Col. Nugent replied, “ I won’t be bothered with it; for, if I take it into my house, all the beggars in the country will be at my door. “ When Mr. Arthur Nugent followed M’ Ennery out of the door, the latter said to him, “ here Mr. Arthur, take it yourself. “ But he refused, fearing that his father would be displeased. He immediately however, wrote to the late Dr Dawson, the then Dean of St. Patrick’s, who was a noted antiquarian. The Dean replied, “ Give the man £25. At the same time, I don’t believe it to be anything connected with Ireland; but in my opinion it is the relic of St. Fillan, the Patron Saint of Robert Bruce, who usually carried it at the head of his army, and it is well known that Edward Bruce brought this relic over to Ireland, where it was lost. “ This was the Dean’s idea of the hand, and in the museum at Edinburgh the Curator told Mr. Nugent they had ( which he saw ) all the relics of the Saint except the Hand. Before Mr. Nugent could get possession of the reliquary, the Priest heard of what he was about, sent in for it, and gave poor old M’ Ennery only £7 for it (1). Mr Nugent believes it came into the Savage family from the old family of Russell, of Killough, by marriage. Still, his father in law knew nothing of its history, except ( which all the country knew ) that the M’ Ennery family held it in trust for the Castle family ( ie the Savages of Portaferry Castle ). It is long since a particle of bone has been inside it. It contains now nothing but a small bit of yew. Mr. Nugent’s own idea is, as to the
Savage family, that during the period of the penal laws, when they turned Protestants, the Savages got rid of the reliquary for fear of losing their estates. He thinks that it was most likely his Great Grandfather who parted with it. He had been a Captain in the Spanish army, and had turned Protestant to claim the Estate (2). Father O’Laverty describes the reliquary thus: - “ The Shrine is silver, and of antique workmanship; it represents the hand and arm of an ecclesiastic of rank, covered with an embroidered sleeve, and wearing a jewelled glove. It stands 1 foot 3 ½ inches high, but there is no inscription except I.H.S. so that it is difficult to estimate its probable age. The reliquary was opened in 1856 by Dr. Denvir. It contained a piece of wood of the yew tree, about nine inches long, which was bored lengthwise with a hole sufficiently large to receive the wrist bone of a human arm. The wood was smeared over at both ends with wax, obviously the remains of the seals which had authenticated the relic. The wood appears to have been intended as a receptacle for the bone, for the purpose of preserving it in its place, and preventing it from rubbing against the outer case. When it was examined by Dr. Denvir no portion of the bone remained. It had probably been dissolved by the water which persons were in the habit of pouring through the shrine, in order that they might wash sores with it, in hopes of obtaining thereby a miraculous cure. About the commencement of this century, the shrine was despoiled of some of the Irish diamonds, with which it was studded, by one of the M’ Henrys, in order to bring them with her, as a protection against any misfortune, when she was removing to Ballymena with her husband Richard Colly or Collins. It is not unlikely that they are still in the neighbourhood of Ballymena. The late Dr Denvir had the lost Irish diamonds replaced with new stones, and the shrine completely repaired by the late Mr. Donegan, of Dublin, who, out of devotion to the Apostle of Ireland, refused to charge for his work. Dr. Denvir intended to have inserted under a large crystal , which ornaments the back of the hand, a portion of the relics of St. Patrick which he obtained from the Cardinal of St. Mark’s Church, in Rome, where a portion of the relics, which were carried to Rome by Cardinal Vivian, are preserved . The shrine of St. Patrick’s Hand is now deposited among the archives of Down and Connor, which are under the special custody of the bishop (3).
(1)The Rev. Father O’Laverty ( as quoted above ) says £10. However, old M’ Ennery ( rest his soul ) was the poorer, through the transaction, by at least £15. (2)Substance of a letter to the Editor from Andrew Nugent, Esq., of Quintin Lodge, Leamington dated Oct 21, 1886.
(3) Diocese of Down and Connor by the Rev. J. O’Laverty, P.P;
MRIA, Vol i; pp 71 – 73. In the possession of the Savages of Dunturk, Co. Down ( no doubt in some remote way connected with the Savages of the Ards ), it appears that there was formerly another relic of the Patron Saint of Ireland, viz., “ The Shrine of St. Patrick’s Jawbone. “ Of this relic we may quote Father O’Laverty’s account. which is as follows: - “ The most Rev. Dr. Dorrian has also a silver reliquary which he purchased from a family named Cullen, who resided in the parish of Derriaghy, Co. Antrim, at the base of Collin Mountain. It consists of a silver box or shrine , inclosing a human jaw - bone, in a perfect state, but now only retaining one double tooth. It had formerly five, three of which were given to members of the family when emigrating to America, and the fourth was deposited under the altar of Derriaghy Chapel by the Parish Priest, when the Chapel was rebuilt in 1797. The outer case is of antique appearance, fitted with a lid, and has a hall – mark of some early date impressed upon it. The bone is that of a male of rather large size. The family believed that it was the jaw - bone of St. Patrick , and a tradition to that effect has been handed down for generations. The Grandmother of the old men the Cullens, who sold it to the bishop, bought it from her relatives, the Savages of Dunturk, in the County of Down. Formerly water, in which the bone was immersed, was administered to persons afflicted with epilepsy. See Ulster Journal of Archeology, Vol ii; which contains drawings of both the shrines. “ – Diocese of Down and Connor, footnote, pp 73 – 74.
Chapter 5 – The Life and times of the Rev. John Orr, Ballybeen, Comber, 15.6.1796 – 4.11.1878, ordained Portaferry 2.10.1822.
Introduction – Historical Sketch of Orr Family – Rev. John Orr at Glasgow University – Ordination in Portaferry. ( Bear in mind when reading this Chapter that it was published in 1912 and talks of times in the 1800’s – this is a verbatim inscription including the grammar of the day ). In writing a sketch of the Life and Times of the Rev John Orr, I find myself at a disadvantage because I do not remember him, and therefore I am dependent on other sources for the material of my lecture. To me, as to the generation to which I belong, Mr. Orr is one of the mighty dead of Portaferry “ who live again in lives made better by their presence. “ But fortunately the time in which he lived can be recollected by many amongst us ; the pictures of him that hang in the chambers of memory are still vivid, and retain much of their original colouring ; and the personality of the man has proved sufficiently distinct to defy the obliterating finger of time. The ancient Romans had a proverb which read – “ De mortuis nil nisi bonum “ – ( of the dead say nothing but good ). That proverb is a Pagan sentiment which finds an echo in Christian times, but when we look at it in the light which is purer than that of Roman
Mythology we can see that the proverb should read – “ De mortuis nil nisi verum “ – ( of the dead say nothing but the truth ). That will be my motto tonight, and if I fail to state the whole truth it will be for the reason that it is not within my grasp. In that greatest of merely human biographies, Boswell’s “ Life of Johnson , “ the author is careful to point out that the most trivial features in a character may help us to form an estimate of it. “ A straw best shows how the wind blows ; “ and seemingly unimportant details may show the tendency of life when the outstanding events in the same life, determined as they are in the stream of the world and performed before the public gaze, may show only the set of the current at particular times. For this reason I shall relate incidents which may appear to some to be trivial and uninteresting. The Rev. John Orr, the subject of my lecture, belonged to an old and historic family. There is a tradition in the family that the original name was McLean, and that in the troublous times in the beginning of the 17th century, two brothers to avoid persecution swam the river “ Orr “ or “ Our “ in Wigtonshire, and saved their lives in that way. They crossed in an open boat from Portpatrick to Donaghadee, and in thankfulness for their escape they took the name “ Orr, “ by which their descendants have been since known. One of the brothers James Orr, settled at Ballyblack, to the south of Newtownards. He was interred in Movilla graveyard, Newtownards, in the year 1627. Janet McClement, his wife, died in 1636. Miss Orr, of Portaferry ; her brother, Mr. William Henry Orr ( Murphy and Orr ), Belfast ; and their cousin, Mrs. Wilson, Northern Bank House, Ballymena, daughter of the late Rev. Malcolm Orr, of Newtowncrommelin, are in the ninth generation from James Orr, Ballyblack, who left Wigtonshire about the year 1607. Soon after the death of James Orr the family removed to Ballybeen, near Comber. In Hills Montgomery MSS ; p. 66, we read that “ A large number of settlers had come with Sir Hugh Montgomery to the Ards during the first four years of his colonization, among them were several named Orr, who appear to have originally settled in the Townlands of Ballyblack and Ballykeel, and were the progenitors of a very numerous connexion of this surname throughout the Ards. The earliest recorded deaths in this connexion after their settlement in the Ards were those of James Orr, of Ballyblack, who died in the year 1627, and, Janet McClement, his wife, who died in 1636. “
The genealogy of the family of James Orr, of Ballyblack, was drawn up from inscriptions on tombstones by the late Gawin Orr, of Castlereagh. Doctor Gawin Orr, Ballylesson, in whose possession it now is, very kindly allowed me to inspect this beautifully executed genealogy of the family. The Rev. John Orr was the eldest of five brothers, the youngest being the Rev. Malcolm Orr, of Newtowncrommelin ; thus there was a minister at each end of the family. Mr. Orr was born at Ballybeen, Comber, on the 15th June 1796. His father’s name was William Orr, and his mother’s was Margaret Malcolm. This lady had the reputation of being one of the handsomest women in the Co. Down. She died on January the 9th 1861 at the advanced age of 98, and so handsome did she look in death that her Minister, the Rev. John Rogers, of Comber, wanted her relatives to have a cast of her features taken. There are a few still alive in Portaferry who remember Mr. Orr’s mother, and all agree that she was the most beautiful woman they ever saw. When Mr. Orr was quite an infant, the “ Croppies “ visited his Father’s farm, but the family was left in peace. His maternal Uncle, William Malcolm, of Moate, was shot at Saintfield in 1798 in an attack by the United Irishmen on the Newtownards Yeomanry Cavalry. Mrs. Wilson, Ballymena, has in her possession a Spanish doubloon which William Malcolm gave as a keepsake to his sister, Margaret, mother of the Rev. John Orr. Her initials and a heart transfixed by arrows are engraven upon it. Mr. Orr spent his childhood at the old homestead at Ballybeen. His Minister in boyhood and youth was the Rev. Fletcher Blakely, of Moneyrea, and when he joined the “ New Light “ party, the Ballybeen family helped to build and establish the congregation of 2nd Comber, of which the Rev. John Rogers, D.D. , was Minister before he became Professor in Assembly’s College, Belfast. In October, 1812, when the trees were being stripped before the autumn breeze, a youth of 16 years of age might have been seen leaving his father’s homestead near Comber and making towards Donaghadee on his way to Scotland. That youth was Mr. Orr, who had set out for Glasgow to enter the University. Often in after years did Mr. Orr describe that first journey to Scotland. He crossed in the usual way, that is, in one of the “ Bullock Boats “ – so called
because they carried cattle as well as well as passengers – that sailed from Donaghadee to Portpatrick. A description of these boats may be seen in the Belfast Magazine. There we are told that they “ were of small draught of water and poorly prepared for the accommodation of passengers. “ The mail at this time was carried by the first boat ready to sail after its arrival, the owner of the boat receiving a half – a – guinea in summer and a guinea in winter for the transport. When Mr. Orr arrived at Donaghadee that October morning 99 years ago, there was a head wind blowing, and the starting of the boat was delayed for above a fortnight. Eventually he reached Portpatrick and made his way to Glasgow, where he arrived exactly three weeks after leaving home. Mr. Orr pursued his studies at Glasgow University for the usual time, and took his degree of M.A. there. The Matriculation Album of Glasgow University for the year 1812 contains the following entry : - “ Joannes Orr, filius natu maximus Gulielmi agricolae in parochia de Comber, in comitatu de Down, in Hybernia. “ He attended the class of logic in 1812 / 13 ; the class of Moral Philosophy in 1813 / 14; and the class of Natural History in 1814 /15, gaining in the latter a prize “ for propriety of conduct, exemplary diligence and display of eminent abilities. “ At the termination of his Arts course, Mr. Orr took out Divinity classes, and having passed through the “ trials “ and anxieties of a Probationer, he was ordained in Portaferry on Wednesday, 2nd October 1822. It is interesting to turn up the files of the News – Letter, and to read the description of his Ordination. From the account there given we learn that the Rev. James Templeton, Ballywalter, preached an excellent sermon from the text 1 Corinthians i, 21 ; that the Rev. William Campbell, of Clough, explained the institution of Ordination ; and that the “ charge “ was given by Mr. Campbell also. The after proceedings of that day may be described in the words of the News – Letter : - “ The solemn and impressive services of the day having been terminated, the Presbytery, with a large party of the congregation, sat down to a truly hospitable dinner at Keown’s Hotel. ( this hotel was situated where Mr. Lawson’s shop now is. ) Unanimity characterized this assembly, composed of persons of different religious persuasions. A more gratifying scene has seldom been witnessed than that evening presented – each individual of this numerous company evincing his anxiety to promote the harmony and conviviality which dignified the event they had met together to celebrate. “ ( News – Letter, October 15th, 1822. )
Description of Portaferry 89 years ago – Mr. Orr, assistant to Rev. William Moreland – Teaches Classics And now that we have brought Mr. Orr to Portaferry, and that he is going to remain there for 56 Years, we shall call a halt to our narrative in order to get an idea of the state of Portaferry when he came to it 89 years ago. Just as a trout takes the colour of the bed of the stream in which it lives, so a man takes a mental and a moral tinge from the nature of his surroundings. What were the surroundings into which Mr. Orr came on his advent to Portaferry ? . Compared with what it was then, Portaferry is now a veritable deserted village where “ all the bloomy flush of life is fled. “ A few years ago an American described it to me as “ a fine place to sleep in. “ When Mr. Orr came to Portaferry 89 years ago the town boasted ( if so we may apply the word ) of a distillery and a brewery. Whiskey of the best quality was sold for three halfpence a glass, and tenpence purchased the pint. Drinking was universal and there were 33 public houses in the town. But drink was not the only manufacture. Ropes were made on the ropewalk by John Drennan of Mill Street and within a stone’s throw of the rope walk was a tan - yard and tobacco factory. Many are still alive who remember Jack Beattie, who spun the tobacco. Shipbuilding was carried on, and vessels up to 400 tons burthen were constructed. The principal vessels belonging to the town were the “ Andrew Savage, “ a brig of 180 tons, built in Portaferry in the year 1810. A poem written on the occasion of the launch of this vessel may be found in Mr. Savage Armstrong’s book “ The Savages of the Ards “ ( p 323 ). Another vessel of almost the same name was launched in Portaferry on Thursday, 26th January, 1826 ( News – Letter, Tuesday, January 31, 1826 ) states that - “ Notice having been given that a very beautiful vessel of 300 tons would be launched from the shipyard of Mr. Thomas Gelston at one o’clock, the fineness of the day, and the novelty of the scene collected together an immense assemblage. On the signal being given the ‘ Andrew Nugent ‘ glided majestically into her native element amidst the cheers of thousands of spectators. “ Mr. Orr, describing the launch in a letter to his brother, Malcolm, says : - “ I never saw so many people in Portaferry on any occasion. In the evening about 30 gentlemen sat down to dinner in Mr. Gelston’s, I had the honour of being one of the party. “
The “ Maria McLeery “ was another vessel built in Portaferry. She left our quay on her maiden voyage, and was never again heard of. The “ Dorcas Savage, “ another Portaferry vessel, was named after one of the Nugent family, who was noted for her charity. This lady had a cloak with numerous pockets and these she filled with presents of tea and sugar, which she distributed to the poor. The last vessel launched in our town was a small one named “ The Barley Rig. “ She was built in the field behind the Presbyterian School House, and was so called because she was launched when the field was sown in barley. At the time we speak of, home industries flourished to an extent undreamt of at the present day. Every home had its spinning wheel, not for ornament but use. Weaving was a regular trade, and the sound of the shuttle could be heard in many a house in Portaferry. We learn from Dubourdieu’s “ Survey of the County Down “ ( p 223 ) that Portaferry had a linen market, and that the linen woven in the district was of more than the average fineness. This writer tells us that a good weaver could earn one and fourpence to one and sixpence per day, and this was considered good wages, seeing that a labourer was paid six and half pence a day and his meat. The hours of the labouring man in summer were from six till six, and in harvest from the time the grain is dry in the morning till dark in the evening. At present I only know of one house where the old home made linen is still in use, and it seems as if it would last till the crack of doom. Kelp was made from the seaweed all along the shores of Strangford Lough. Between 400 and 500 tons were made every summer. The kelp from Strangford Lough was considered the best along the East coast of Ireland. ( Dubourdieu ). The great trade of our town was however shipping. In the mercantile Ireland of that day Portaferry was a name to be conjured with. Its ships were found on every sea, and the wind could blow from no point of the compass without bringing our sailors home. Its captains crossed the Western ocean and rounded the Cape to furnish English and Irish homes with the spoils of two Continents. Its vessels carried emigrants from the County Down to the El Dorados of the Western world. Timber vessels discharged the logs of Quebec in front of our town ; but over this chapter in our history we may write – “ sic transit Gloria “ ( for the glory has departed from our midst ).
We get a glimpse or two of Portaferry Shipping from the following extracts taken from letters written by Mr Orr to his brother : “ November 25th 1824, You no doubt heard of the arrival of the ‘ Dorcas ‘ and the ‘ Portaferry ‘ and of the crew of the ‘ Maria, ‘ of Milford, six of whom Captain Pollock rescued from a watery grave. A subscription was raised here and in Strangford for their relief, and nearly £20 collected. Each of the men was furnished with a new suit of clothes complete, and also from 20 shillings to forty shillings each were allowed to bear their expenses home, according the distance they had to go. The crew of the ‘ Portaferry ‘ had a dance in the Market House on Tuesday night, preparatory to which they fired a cannon from the rock which made the whole town resound. Fourteen panes of glass in Mr. Warnock’s, seven in Mrs. Dalzell’s ( cum multis alus ) added to the music. “ “ April 3rd 1828. ‘ The Hibernian ‘ ( Captain Pollock ) sailed today for St. Andrews ( Canada ), with, I believe about 135 passengers. Such a multitude as was on the quay, and along the shore, when she loosed off about 3 o’clock, I have seldom witnessed in Portaferry. Among the cabin passengers are Messrs. Samuel Gelston, Thomas Grey, John M’Burney, and William Warnock. The latter intends returning with her. We conjectured that the ‘ Portaferry ‘ ( Captain Donnan ) from Belfast to Quebec passed the bar about an hour before the ‘ Hibernian ‘ started, as a vessel was seen to pass with colours flying. “ It is, as I have said, 89 years since Mr. Orr came to Portaferry, but after all that is a short space in a life of a world. It does not count for more than a single grain in the running glass which Time turned downwards at the beginning of the years to mark their progress ; but yet in that short space a wonderful change has come over the face of society in Portaferry. Old customs have given place to new, old superstitions have died out. The Keen or Irish Wail could then be heard at funerals in the streets of our town. My father told me that the last time that he heard it was in the year 1833, when he was a lad of 7 years of age. Ghosts more real than the Cock Lane ghost of London, haunted the Ghost Meadow, the Glebe, and Jack’s trees. Fairies ruled the destinies of all, and witches had the power to take away the milk from cows, and the butter from churns. But perhaps the most wonderful change of all is in the relationship of man to man. 89 years ago society in Portaferry was a unit. The misery of one was relieved by others, and the joys of
one were the property of all. Of Portaferry at that time it could be said and said truly that – “ The great man helped the poor, and the poor man loved the great. “ Such is a very meagre sketch of our town when Mr. Orr entered it in the year 1822. From the records of the Synod of Ulster we learn that at the Synod held at Armagh, 1823, Mr. Orr was present. The Bangor Presbytery reported “ that on the 2nd of October last, they ordained the Rev. John Orr in the congregration of Portaferry, as assistant and successor to the Rev. William Moreland. “ It is wonderful how history repeats itself. Mr. Orr came as assistant to Mr. Moreland, and when the burden of years fell heavy on himself half a century later, he handed over the work to his assistant and successor, the Rev. T.E. Clouston ( now Doctor Clouston of Sydney, Australia )
Mr. Orr came to Portaferry as a young man, and if he could have “ dipped into the future “ and looked down the vista of the years he would have seen that his first congregation was also destined to be his last. He would have seen himself pass through middle age into old age, carrying with him the increasing esteem and affection of his people. Four things he owed to Portaferry – a congregation, a wife, a home and a grave.
When Mr. Orr first came to live here, he stayed with the “ Old Surgeon, “ Doctor Chermside, in the house lately occupied by his mother. Soon after his coming, he opened a school for Classics, and taught many of the sons of the well – to do people of the town. A Classical school had existed in Portaferry from the days of the Rev. William Steele Dickson, D.D., and for aught I know it may have existed earlier than that. Doctor Dickson tells us in his “ Narrative “ “ that by teaching Classics he added to his income £100 a year. “ The Rev. Wm. Moreland continued the school as long as he was able, and afterwards brought a Classical teacher to Portaferry. But his ministerial duties and his teaching did not occupy all Mr. Orr’s attention. A young lady had a share, and soon he was married to Miss Jane Eliza M’Cleery. The early years of his residence in Portaferry were spent in quietness, and in the diligent discharge of his pastoral duties. Such times are wanting in incident, and where, as in the present case, no diary was kept, little remains to be said. First Temperance Society in Portaferry – Portaferry Penny Bank. In the year 1829 the Rev. John Edgar inaugurated his Temperance campaign by opening his parlour window, and pouring out into the court before his house in Alfred Street, Belfast, the remaining part of a gallon of whiskey purchased some time before for family use. Two years later, that is 1831, Mr. Orr followed the lead given by the Rev. John Edgar and started the first Temperance Society here. The full title of the society was – “ The Portaferry Temperance Society : Auxiliary to the Ulster Temperance Society. “ The second resolution of the society reads as follows : - “ That its object shall be to denounce ardent spirits as not only useless, but destructive. “ You will see from this resolution that ardent spirits alone were banned, but wines etc., were permitted to be drunk. The fourth resolution states that “ persons under the age of 14 are inadmissible “ At present it is just the boys and girls under that age that we wish to get hold of. The first name that appears on the roll of the Society is James Baird. It is worthwhile giving at length the minutes of that first Temperance meeting in Portaferry : - “ July 15th, 1831. The Rev. Professor Edgar, of Belfast, having been solicited to come and establish a society in Portaferry, accordingly
this evening at 7 o’clock, in the Market House, he addressed a large assembly on the evils of Intemperance in a very masterly and impressive manner. Immediately after the discourse a meeting of the friends of Temperance was called, and the above gentleman ( Professor Edgar ) submitted a constitution that was accepted, and to which there were 15 names subscribed. “ When the Society had been at work for about a year, the number of members on the roll was 92. The minutes of July 15th, 1833 , are interesting. They are as follows : - “ In consequence of considerable excitement in the town by the return of John Nugent Esq., and his bride, and preparations for a general illumination, the members present retired to the Session House, when it was determined to adjourn the meeting to this night week, at 7 o’clock. “ We can hardly understand now what the establishing of a Temperance Society must have cost Mr. Orr. It required no ordinary amount of resolution and perseverance, but Mr. Orr possessed both. I have already described the state of the town as to drinking and the drink traffic – 33 public houses, a distillery, and a brewery, and what was harder to combat than all, the established drinking customs handed down from generation to generation. The rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant, the elder and the ordinary layman, nay, even the clergyman himself, thought it no harm to drink, and no disgrace. It was the custom of the age. The article was regarded by many as a necessary of life. It was necessary for giving an appetite, helping digestion, and insuring sound sleep. If a man were sick his medicine was punch ; if he were dying he was sustained by punch; if he died, those who attended the funeral were “ served “ with punch. If a coach was about to start the passengers kept out “ the weather “ with a little punch. No bargain could hold unless cemented with punch ; no debt could be paid unless over a tumbler of punch. Whiskey was kept in the Session House of almost every Presbyterian congregation, and the day following each communion the elders met together, as if by Divine command, and consumed the wine left over from the Sacrament. At the sale of a clergyman’s effects in the year 1824, his library was sold for £3, and the liquors in his cellar for £348 and 15 shillings. No doubt this clergyman said to himself – “ The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. “ Mr. Orr was always temperate, even when he first came to Portaferry, but he was not a total abstainer, as who was 89 years
ago ?. He used to say that he never could forget his first visitation of the congregation. Scarcely would he be seated in a house when he would hear the clink of the glasses and the sound of the bellows, two things which were the invariable forerunners of the punch. That Mr. Orr was always temperate may be learned from the fact that after his coming to Portaferry, Mr. Moreland was still on demand on state occasions, notably baptisms. No birth or baptism was worth the name if the child were not ushered into the world to the clink of glasses, and “ christened “ to the same music. No wedding was then complete without a drunken jollification, which went beyond Mr. Orr’s ecclesiastical notions of decorum. Mr. Orr used to tell how he remonstrated upon one occasion with a bridegroom when the man put up the defence – “ Sir, you know marrying so often ends in misery that you might let it start in mirth. “ It seems almost incredible to us, yet it is the truth, that it was considered a defect in the young clergyman that he did not drink enough. “ Mr. Orr is too grand to drink punch. “ Such was the expression used by the ordinary man in the congregation. One of the oldest ministers of the General Assembly now alive told me a short time ago that he preached in Portaferry when he was a student, and Mr. Orr told him of the difficulties he had to contend with in propagating temperance principles. “ One of the hard drinkers of the congregation, “ he said, “ had been appealed to again and again by Mr. Orr, but at last he found refuge in the excuse – ‘ Well, Mr. Orr, I wouldn’t drink but for one thing, and it is this – it’s only when I’m half drunk that I can pray, and sure you wouldn’t have me stop praying, ‘ “ About a couple of years ago an old lady told me that when a girl she witnessed a drunken row in Church Street. The parties concerned were a brother and sister. Mr. Orr was sent for, and came upon the scene just in time to see the brother knock down his sister. “ It is only a coward, “ said Mr. Orr, “ who would strike a woman. “ “ Her a woman ! her a woman ! “ said the man, pointing to her, “ She was meant for a woman, but the divil stole the pattern. “ Had Mr. Orr lived a generation earlier, and attempted to start a temperance society in Portaferry, he would either have been boycotted or else granted a fool’s pardon on the ground that every man is mad on one point, but he would have had no supporters. The time, however, gave the opportunity for reform, and all honour to Mr. Orr, he availed himself of it. At first he merely denounced
ardent spirits, but soon he found that no middle course can be taken in Temperance reform. Total abstinence alone is the cure for drinking. This was brought home to him in a very striking fashion. One day a member of his congregation was reeling drunk outside Mr. Orr’s house. He spoke to him about it, and the man retorted : – “ if you can take your glass of negus, why should I not take my whiskey punch. “ That answer determined Mr. Orr. From that day till he died, he was a total abstainer, and advocated total abstinence. Mr. Orr was not given to exaggeration, and we can see from his own words the difficulty he had in starting a Temperance Society, and the opposition he had to overcome. On the 2nd February, 1876, four months after he laid aside the active duties of the ministry, he used these words in this very room – “ In July, 1831, we formed the first Temperance Society here to the great dismay and deep mortification of several of the inhabitants, both of town and country, and in working it we encountered no little opposition. However, we persevered in the good cause, and have reason to believe that much good has been the result. “ ( Mr. Orr’s reply to Congregational Address. ) These words show the pioneer work and the uphill work he performed. Their very essence is, opposition overcome by perseverance. But Mr. Orr was too good a student of human nature not to see that a negative policy alone is little better than no policy at all. It is not enough to eradicate a bad habit or custom ; there must be a good one substituted in its stead. It is not enough for man to give up drinking, and yet go on spending his money in other ways almost as bad. In such a case all that is gained is a substitution of a smaller for a greater evil. Accordingly, we find Mr. Orr establishing an institution in Portaferry to inculcate habits of thrift and forethought in the minds of the working people. That institution was a savings bank. At the time of which I speak there was no bank of any kind in Portaferry. The nearest banks were those of Downpatrick and Newtownards, and through them the business of our town was largely conducted. So far as the working man was concerned these banks might just as well have been in the moon. Mr. Orr, however, brought the advantages of a bank to their own doors. Nor was his Savings Bank for the benefit of Presbyterians alone – he made it open to all, irrespective of class or creed. Every Monday morning he attended in the Market House to receive deposits, and needless to say the depositors had unbounded
confidence in him. As time went on he affiliated his bank to the Savings Bank in King Street, Belfast. There an account was opened on January 22nd, 1861. Mr. R. A. Drean, the present Actuary of the Bank, was kind enough to have a search made for me for this old Portaferry account. I found that it was headed Portaferry Penny Bank, Jane Ellen Orr, Treasurer. From this it would appear that Mr. Orr had got Miss Orr to assist him. I need hardly say that just after this time the Post Office Savings Bank rendered the Portaferry Penny Bank unnecessary, and hence a few years later the account in King Street was closed. Mr. Orr, you see, showed himself to be a true philanthropist and friend of the working man. He allied himself with the people, and made their temporal welfare his concern. He sought to teach them forethought and self reliance, while at the same time he struck a blow at a demoralising habit. Cholera Epidemic – Boating Accident on Strangford Lough – Storm of 1839. The year 1832 will long be remembered in Portaferry, for in that year an epidemic of Cholera visited the town. The immediate cause of its coming is a matter of conjecture. Some said it was brought here by sailors, and others that the infection was carried by clothes which were picked up in the tide. Some more superstitious said that the cholera was a direct visitation of Providence, and brought forward as proof of their statement the fact that a comet was then visible. It would be interesting to trace this old superstition that comets foretold disaster and pestilence, but that would be foreign to our subject. For some months before the cholera appeared in Portaferry it had been ravaging several towns in Ireland. However it came to our corner of the land the results were sufficiently appalling. Every morning brought the news of fresh deaths, and every evening witnessed fresh burials. Many of the people of the town, and especially those living in the Back Lane and Cook Street fled to the country, and did not return until they thought the danger past, but in many instances they returned only to be stricken down by the fell disease. I believe there were only three houses in the lane in which there was not a patient, and to quote the words of an old lady who remembered it well, and whom I heard describe it, “ When the cholera was over there was hardly a smoking house in Cook Street. “ Shopkeepers compelled
their customers to drop their money into vessels filled with water, lest the coins should carry the infection. In every street tar was burned and lime was strewn as disinfectants. The serious nature of the epidemic may be learned from a paragraph in the News – Letter, of Tuesday, October 16th, 1832 – “ Cholera broke out in Portaferry on the 6th ( this should be the 4th ). At 9 o’clock on Saturday last ( that is 9 days after it broke out ) there had been 78 cases, 30 deaths and 20 remaining. An hospital had been established, and a number of medical gentlemen are using their best exertions to suppress the epidemic. The shops of Portaferry are almost entirely closed up, and many of the inhabitants have left the town. The disease is chiefly confined to the fishermen. Two of the medical attendants ( that is, Dr. Filson and Dr. Chermside ) were seized with cholera, but they are expected to recover. The majority of the nurses were also attacked. Medical assistance has been sent from Belfast to Portaferry. “ All the cases which occurred in the first week were in that part of the shore beyond the Kiln Brae. The first person to take the disease was John Gribbon. Doctor Filson was called in, and pronounced the case to be cholera. Then a ferment was raised such as no one alive had witnessed in Portaferry. The news spread like wildfire over town and country. The Board of Health was at once called, and Mr. Nugent occupied the chair. Mr. Orr, who was a member of the board, offered to give a couple of houses in the Kiln Row to serve as a hospital and a convalescent room. The patient Gribbon was removed to the hospital, and died two hours after admission. At first there was a great aversion to the hospital, but after a few days those attacked were anxious to get into it. On the Sunday following the outbreak a resolution of the Board of Health was announced from each of the pulpits to the effect that – “ The Board did not expect the medical attendants to visit patients in their own houses unless to ascertain whether that were the disease, but that every possible attention would be paid them in the hospital “ ( Letter from Mr. Orr to his father, October 11th, 1832 ). The first case of cholera occurred on the 4th October, and the last on the 27th October. The epidemic lasted therefore 24 days. During this time there were 123 cases of cholera, and the total number of deaths was 54 ( Northern Whig, November 1st, 1832 ). Of these, 44 deaths were those of persons who lived in Cook Street. On the 8th October, that is 4 days after the cholera broke out, a soup kitchen was established in the town, and from “ 70 to 80 gallons of broth per day were distributed to the poor,
together with a sufficient quantity of bread “ ( Letter from Mr. Orr to his father, October 11th, 1832 ). In such a state of affairs as I have described what action did Mr. Orr take ? He played the part of a Minister faithfully and fearlessly. As we have seen, at the beginning of the outbreak he gave a couple of houses in the Kiln Row to serve as a hospital, and he visited it regularly every day. He spent from 6 to 8 hours each day at the Board of Health ( Letter to his father, October 11th, 1832 ). He visited the sick and dying of his flock. He attended the dying. He helped to coffin the dead and to bury them. A few years ago the world rang with the account of the heroism displayed by a Doctor on the Island of Achill, and rightly so. But Mr. Orr displayed as much heroism in the homes and hospital of Portaferry, and for his work at that time he deserves to be locally immortalised. One is tempted to ask what gave him so much courage at such a time. I think I can tell. At the time that the people were flying from Portaferry, Mr. Orr writes to his father – “ But why remove ?, God has been with us and protected us hitherto, and I feel assured that a person is never safer than when in the discharge of his duty. We cannot fly from His presence, and we cannot be cut off without His permission. “ During the eight years succeeding the cholera epidemic there is nothing of importance to chronicle in regard to Mr. Orr. But during these eight years two incidents occurred which are still remembered by a few of the older people amongst us. One of these was a boating accident on Strangford Lough – one of those accidents which from time to time cast a gloom over our town. On the forenoon of Tuesday, 12th August, 1834, some gentlemen, together with one or two boatmen, 7 in all, went from Portaferry in a yacht on a pleasure excursion up Strangford Lough. They were accompanied by another yacht, the property of Colonel Nugent. The day was squally, with a stiff breeze from the South. When the boats were running between Audley’s point and Killileagh , the boat containing the seven persons was capsized. The crew of Colonel Nugent’s yacht picked up three of the drowning men, but the remaining four were lost. These were Mr. John Millar, son of Mr. Cunningham Milllar, of Portaferry ; Mr. M’Clintock, son of Mr. M’Clintock of Drumcar, formerly M.P. for the County of Louth; the Rev. Andrew O’Beirne, Principal of Portora Diocesan Seminary ; and Nolan, the boatman ( Northern Whigg, Thursday, August 14th, 1834 ).
The second incident is the famous storm of Monday morning, January 7th1839. The following is Mr. Orr’s description of the storm, as given in a letter by him to his father, written January 10th, 1839 : - “ Never was there such a tremendous hurricane witnessed in this place. I awoke about ten minutes before one o’clock when it was truly terrific. The appearance of the moon and the sky was indeed awful. We were afraid the house would have fallen. I have not lost more than 100 or 150 slates off the dwelling house. Our friends, the Glasses have suffered more severely. Mrs. Caughey’s house on the Market Square has been more than half stripped. However, there is scarcely a house in town but has suffered more or less. The blades of Mr. M’Cleery’s windmill have been destroyed. The top of Mr. Maxwell’s mill at Ballyherly was blown off, and killed four sheep that had taken shelter there. Six vessels were driven ashore in Ballyhenry Bay – only one rode out the gale. Two vessels at the quay became complete wrecks, and four others were considerably damaged. Many of the farms in the country have suffered severely. Doctor Filson’s houses at the Abbacy were stripped, and his grain and hay, much of it, blown out of the stackyard. I have heard of stacks of wheat, both at Cloughey and Kearney, being carried into the sea. Some grain, supposed to be from Killinchy, came in at the shore at Bishop Mill, and I heard of sheaves of oats having been blown completely over the ferry from Kilclief to Bankmore shore. The destruction in Mr. Nugent’s demesne has been very great. Some of the oldest and largest trees have been rooted up. He told me today that there were upwards of 400 blown down. Echlinville has suffered very severely. The family fled from the house. Ardkeen church has been unroofed. One window in our Meeting – house was blown in – the one at the pulpit door – and a part of one at the north - east gable. Never, I suppose, will a text be so long remembered by those who were present as the one from which I addressed them on last Sabbath – Proverbs xxvii. 1 : - ‘ Boast not thyself of tomorrow ; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. ‘ Suddenly, awfully, and literally, were many of the statements I then made verified. Oh ! that its practical lessons may be remembered. “ The News – Letter of January 15th 1839 gives a description of the storm at Portaferry, but that description is not nearly so graphic as Mr. Orr’s.
Building of Portaferry Presbyterian Church – Formation of General Assembly – Father Mathew’s Temperance Movement – Question of Presbyterian Marriages – Potato Famine – Emigration. The picture below would have been taken around the late 1800’s / early 1900’s.
In 1840 Mr. Orr undertook the great work of his life, viz – the building of our church. His own account of it is this : - “ The great storm of January 7th, 1839, so long well remembered, was the precursor of the erection of our present unique and commodious church. It rendered the old house of worship not only uncomfortable, but unsafe, so that we determined to ‘ arise and build. ‘ “ ( Mr. Orr’s reply to congregational address, Feb, 1876 ). The decision once formed, Mr. Orr threw himself into the project with might and main. Single – handed he roused the people and raised the money, for in those days there were no bazaars and sales of work. He was determined, as he said, to build a house worthy of the Presbyterians of Portaferry and worthy of their religion, and who can say that he did not attain his object ? I never look upon our church without feeling admiration for the man who built it. It must be remembered that the beauty of the building is no small tribute to Mr. Orr’s breadth of mind and liberal ideas, for it
was erected at a time when Presbyterians thought that a beautiful church was a mark of Roman Catholicism. The teaching of John Ruskin had not as yet inspired Presbyterians to raise their noblest buildings to the honour of the King of Kings. Doctor Cooke, with all his eloquence, had not yet succeeded in getting the country congregations of Ulster to put up churches which would not require the inscription – “ This is no barn. “ Mr. Orr in his ideas was ahead of the great majority of his time, and he put up a church of which succeeding generations need not feel ashamed. Yet with characteristic modesty he did not so much as put an inscription upon it to show to prosperity that it is to him that we owe it. “ Who builds a church to God and not to fame, Will never mark the marble with his name. “ Mr. Orr built the church not for cheap notoriety, but to the honour of God, and so he has not marked the marble with his name – he has not put upon it an inscription commemorating himself. But if he has not done it, surely we ought to do it for him. In the Historical Sketch of the congregation, written in the year 1891, we find the words : - “ This church remains as a noble monument. “ The writers of that sketch might have added that it is a nameless monument. But a word or two as to the building itself – it is erected upon the site of the old Meeting – House, which was a rude and old fashioned building as compared with the present beautiful structure. In the old building utility more than ornament had been aimed at by our Prestbyterian fathers of a past generation. It was built in the cruciform shape, popular in the 18th century among country congregations, and was furnished with three aisles. It was large, and evidently intended to accommodate the whole Presbyterian population before their numbers had been thinned by emigration, and before the new congregations of Cloughey and Strangford had been formed. The present building combines simplicity, solidity, symmetry, and elegance of form. The style of architecture of the church is Doric. I have taken some pains to discover the style of architecture as nearly as possible. Mr. Dawson, Headmaster of the School of Art in Belfast, says that the church belongs to the Doric style – the earliest of the Greek styles of architecture. He would describe it as modernised Doric, differing from the original Doric chiefly in having no flutings on the columns. The basement is modern, and presents no architectural features. The inside pillars have Ionic capitals, but the real Ionic pillars are
fluted. It is the outside features, however, that decide the architectural style of the building. The foundation stone of the building is at the north - east corner. From the day when it was laid till the church was ready for use was over a year. During the building Mr. Orr’s attention and supervision were incessant. There was not a ladder put up that he did not climb, and not a scaffold erected that he did not stand upon. He could say of the church with absolute sincerity that he took “ pleasure in her stones. “ The church was opened by Doctor Cooke on the morning of Thursday, 2nd September 1841. The severity of the morning kept many away from the opening ceremony, but yet the house was well filled. The Newsletter, September 14th 1841, states that – “ Doctor Cooke’s discourse on the occasion was a clear and masterly exhibition of Gospel truth, and though long, the attention of the audience, composed of persons of every religious denomination, was fully kept up. “ The collectors on this occasion were Andrew Nugent, Esq., Portaferry House ; John Nugent, Esq. ; George Johnson, Esq. ; and William Greer, Esq. Doctor Cooke’s text was 1 John v. 12. The praise service was as follows : - 122nd Psalm ( omitting 3rd, 4th and 5th verses ), tune Hepzibah ; 102nd Psalm ( from 16th to 22nd verse, omitting verse 18 ), tune New Sabbath ; 20th Paraphrase ( first 4 verses ), tune Howard. How did Mr. Orr raise the money necessary to build such a church ? The answer is contained in two words – “ By example. “ The first name on the subscription list is that of the Rev. John Orr, who gave the largest donation towards the building of the church. It is pleasing to note on the subscription list the names of persons of every religious denomination. The names of several clergymen of the Roman Catholic Church ( including that of the Rev. James M’Alenan, P.P. Portaferry ) appear on the list. On the first Sabbath of October 1841, the first Communion Service was held in the new church. Mr. Orr took the whole service himself. In describing this Communion he says : - “ Never was there greater regularity or greater solemnity. The death like silence in that house full of people was one of the most impressive, soul subduing scenes I have ever witnessed. We had three tables and 300 communicants. “ The year 1840 is a memorable one in the history of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. For in that year the Synod of Ulster
and the Secession Synod united to form the General Assembly. The Rev. John Orr and Robert M’Cleery ( elder ) took part in the historic procession through the streets of Belfast to Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street, where the Act of Union was read and assented to by the ministers and elders present. During this same year Father Mathew’s wonderful Temperance movement was spreading to the remote villages and towns of Ireland. From the strife of politicians and the religious controversies of the day, Father Mathew kept aloof. Thackeray, in his Sketch Book, says of him – “ He is almost the only man that I have met with in Ireland, who speaking of public matters, did not talk as a partisan. “ After labouring for a quarter of a century in the City of Cork he was appealed to by some of his friends to place himself at the head of a Temperance Society. On the 10th April, 1838, he signed the pledge of Total Abstinence, using the words – “ Here goes in the name of the Lord. “ He was invited to visit the principal towns of Ireland, and everywhere was received with respect and with entire confidence in his sincerity and singleness of purpose. Towards the close of the year 1840 Father Mathew’s movement reached Portaferry. It began among the fisherman at the shore, several of whom set off one Sunday to Killyleagh to take the medal. Mr. Orr seized the opportunity to advance the Temperance cause. While the excitement lasted he held one and sometimes two meetings every week. These meetings were held in houses in various parts of the town, eg., one was held in Alec. Rutherford’s, another in William Tuft’s and so on. By means of these meetings Mr. Orr added 74 names to his Total Abstinence Roll. Seldom have the feelings of the Presbyterian people of Ulster been deeply touched as they were in the years 1843 – 44 over the question of marriages. The House of Lords pronounced that marriages celebrated by Presbyterian Ministers in Ireland, one or both of the parties married being of the communion of the Irish Established Church, were illegal and invalid in law. Presbyterians felt aggrieved that the highest court in the land should fix an unmerited stigma on their ministers, and degrade them to the rank of “ buckle – beggars. “ In the spring and summer of 1844 great public meetings were held in towns and in country districts all over Ulster, at which ministers and people spoke their minds freely on the injury inflicted upon them and the church by the recent decision of the House of Lords. One of these public meetings was
convened in Portaferry by Mr. Orr, and one of the petitions signed and forwarded to both Houses of Parliament was from our congregation. This agitation over Presbyterian marriages was at length successful. The year 1847 and the words “ Potato Famine “ are almost synonymous terms in Ireland. The effects of the famine were not so dreadful with us as they were in the South and West; still, they were bad enough. About this time the population of Ireland reached its highest point. It was estimated at eight millions and a half. The famine was most intense from November, 1846, till August, 1847, when the new crop of potatoes became available for the starving population. During the famine a Relief Committee was appointed in Portaferry. This committee, of which Mr. Orr was a member, raised £416. The government granted a like sum; so that £832 was the amount spent in relief in this district. The Committee distributed meal to the deserving at a nominal rate, and in many cases gratuitously. In May, 1847, there were 172 names on the gratuitous list and 189 for payment at a halfpence or penny a pound. Just as we might expect, Mr. Orr did not forget the moral lessons that might be taught at such a time. He held a special meeting in the church for humiliation and prayer, and addressed the meeting from the first chapter of Joel. During the famine year and the ten or twelve years following, the amount of emigration from Portaferry and district was unusually great. The conditions of life in the old emigrant ships could scarcely have been worse, and in almost every case numbers of passengers died on the voyage. In the vessel in which Robert Bowden sailed to Quebec in 1847 there were 17 deaths. In other vessels there were from 50 to 100 deaths during the voyage. This same year some families emigrated from Knockinelder and all died on the voyage, or soon after landing, except two persons. At a visitation of Presbytery here in 1849 it was reported that 260 families belonged to our congregation, and that since the previous visitation the church had lost 160 families by the erection of Cloughey and Strangford, and by emigration, At a visitation of Presbytery in 1860, it was reported that 70 members of the congregation were in Australia. Of these 51 had gone since 1852. It was also reported that 51 had gone to America, and 108 removed elsewhere since the same time.
Revival of 1859 – Mr. Orr’s interest in Church Courts – Mr. Orr as a Preacher – Introduces Innovations. The year 1859 is remarkable in the history of the Presbyterian Church for a great revival in religion. Vast crowds attended numerous evangelistic meetings, and for the first time in the history of Ulster Presbyterianism, laymen became prominent as preachers. I offer no opinion on the subject of lay preaching, but many writers of the present time think it not an unmixed blessing in our Presbyterian Church. About 20 years ago prior to the revival Mr. Orr’s brother, the Rev. Malcolm Orr, wrote a pamphlet against lay preaching, taking as his motto : - “ Let all things be done decently and in order. “ The Revival is within the memory of many here present, and the facts connected with it are tolerably well known. When the Revival reached Belfast, Mr. Orr went there to see the results for himself. He attended some of the meetings, and took part in them. Soon afterwards he brought the Rev. Mr. Black of Ballycopeland, and one of the Connor “ converts, “ to Portaferry. A meeting was held in the church, which was crowded to overflowing. During the months of June and July the Revival had been strong in Killyleagh. A number of people from Portaferry went there, and were greatly impressed by what they saw and heard. One cannot measure spiritual forces by money values, but the fact remains that the collections for missions were at this time largely increased in our congregation. In Gibson’s “ Year of Grace, “ Edinburgh, 1860, Appendix E, we find the following particulars about the Revival in our congregation : - “ Missionary collections doubled ; 20 prostrations in this neighbourhood ; only one such in the church, that of a strong, able – bodied man. “ I might say a good deal about the Revival in Portaferry, but one hesitates to give names and state facts in matters that occurred comparatively recently. I turn now to consider Mr. Orr as a Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. In Church Courts, especially in Presbytery meetings, he took the greatest interest. He served on four committees in connection with the Synod of Ulster, and fourteen in connection with the General Assembly, and was a member of some of these committees for a long number of years. On four occasions he was Moderator of Presbytery. In the year 1856 he was chosen as Moderator of the Synod of Belfast. He was Clerk of the Bangor Presbytery from 1835 till its absorption into the
Presbytery of Ards. I think that no Presbyterian minister attended the Church Courts more regularly than he. Out of the 53 General Meetings of the Synod of Ulster and General Assembly which took place while he was Minister in Portaferry, he was only absent from 4. These were held at Coleraine, 1831 ; Dublin, 1845 ; Dublin, 1871 ; Derry, 1875. Mr. Orr’s interest in these meetings was not merely the fact of an annual holiday, or the pleasure of meeting old friends and companions. He took an intelligent interest in the business and when he spoke in the Assembly he was listened to with the greatest attention. The Records of the Synod of Ulster show that Mr. Orr upon more than one important occasion voted with the minority. I cannot say with truth that the elders of the Portaferry congregation attended these meetings as regularly as their minister. From the Records of the Synod of Ulster we learn that from 1822 till 1840, the date of its absorption into the General Assembly, the only elders which attended from Portaferry were William M’Cleery, 1822 ; Hugh Bowden, 1825 ; Hugh Bowden, 1829 ; Robert Welsh, 1835 ; Thomas Gelston, 1837 & 1838 ; James Stewart, 1839 ; Robert M’Cleery, 1840. But while Mr. Orr took a prominent part in the business of the Church at large, he never forgot that the first concern of his life was the congregation over which he was placed as minister. As a faithful preacher and a pastor he had few equals. His attitude in the pulpit was that of reverence, as if he felt that he stood in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He always seemed to feel the responsibility of one who tries to “ vindicate the ways of God to man. “ He spoke the truth fearlessly as a minister should speak it, and none could do it with more authority than he, for he had the consciousness that none could lay his finger on a blemish in his character. His sermons were sensible productions, sound in doctrine, and direct in application. They were thoroughly practical. They neither soared into the regions of sublimity, nor did they descend to metaphysical foundations of things. They were not weary wildernesses of barren sand and waste declamation. He was a painstaking and energetic preacher, and no moral cowardice ever restrained him from openly saying what he thought it his duty to say. Some of his sermons are remembered to the present day, eg. , that preached from the text – “ Your fathers where are they, and the prophets do they live forever ? “ Another, on a religious choice, from the text - “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve. “ The most notable of his sermons, perhaps, was one preached in the year 1842, that year being the bicentenary of the establishment of Presbyterianism in Ireland. Mr. Orr belonged to a true blue
Presbyterian family, and it was only natural that upon such an occasion he should wax eloquent as he thought of the past history and the future hopes of the Church. Mr. Orr was a clear and distinct reader, and could place the proper emphasis on the passage read. I have heard that he excelled in reading the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians – that chapter which is so often read at the graveside of the departed. When he reached the close of the chapter his voice had in it the ring of triumph as of one who had experience of that Saviour and that Gospel that have brought life and immortality to light. When reading the 24th Psalm he would draw himself up to the height of his figure and look round the church as if uttering a challenge to the Powers of Unbelief to produce an equal to the King of Glory. It is said of Parnell that he had the power of leaving upon his hearers the impression that he believed every word he spoke. Mr. Orr had that same power – a power which is far superior to any mere rhetoric or oratorical display – the power of speaking straight to the hearts and consciences of men. He felt what he spoke, and spoke because he felt. Mr. Orr introduced several innovations into the public worship. On the first Sabbath of January, 1823, “ he commenced the practice of reading the Scriptures in the public services of the Sanctuary “ ( Funeral Sermon, by Rev. T. E. Clouston ). In the “ Orthodox Presbyterian, “ vol 1. , page 339, there is an article in support of the practice of reading the Scriptures at public worship. There we read that the practice, “ though enjoined in the standards of our Presbyterian Church, has been suffered to fall into utter disusage in many congregations, especially in Ireland. “ In February, 1865, he introduced the “ Weekly Offering. “ Another innovation which he introduced was the practice of delivering a short address at the graveside. Slight as this innovation may seem it met with opposition. Some said he was a new light, and hinted that there was no knowing where such practices would end. The matter was brought up at a Presbytery meeting and “ he narrowly escaped censure from that body “ ( Funeral Sermon by Rev. T. E. Clouston ). Presbyterianism in the North of Ireland followed the Scotch custom in having no religious ceremony at funerals. In the first book of Discipline the Reformers said – “ We judge it best that neither singing nor reading be at the burial, and that the dead be conveyed to the place of burial with some honest company of the kirk. “ It was not considered necessary that either a minister or an
elder should be present at a funeral. The following description might have been written for Portaferry : - “ At funerals of the well – to – do there was an extravagant luncheon provided. This luncheon was called the “ service. “ There was always a plentiful supply of liquor. Such entertainment was preceded with a grace, and concluded with a thanksgiving ; and it was by way of sanctifying the feast, not of solemnizing the burial, that anything in the shape of a prayer was heard at funerals. “ A funeral was a grand and general convention, and when people went to a funeral they just made a day of it. It is right that we should oppose change which is merely for the sake of change, but stubborn, unreasoned opposition bars the road to progress. Surely speaking at a graveside gives a minister a rare opportunity for showing how solemn a thing it is to live ; for showing the vanity of human life; the need for holding loosely by the world ; and the bright prospect of immortality through the Gospel. Pastoral Work – Resignation – Address and Presentation – Illness – Death and Funeral – Conclusion. To describe the pastoral work of Mr. Orr for 53 years is quite impossible in a lecture. The amount of work he did in visiting was truly wonderful. It must be remembered that Mr. Orr had between 400 and 500 families to look after and visit prior to the erection of Cloughey and Strangford. He visited frequently and regularly, and had he not economised his time he would never have been able to get through the work he did. He rose early in the morning, and was a familiar figure on the Market Square to those who travelled by the coach. Such a busy life as Mr. Orr’s afforded little time for literary work. He was connected with every philanthropic and social movement for the welfare of the people in our town. He was secretary of the Dispensary Committee from 1854 till his death. The only literary contribution of his which I know of is a sketch of the Portaferry Presbyterian Congregation, which appeared in M’Comb’s Almanack, 1857. This was afterwards reprinted in Killen’s “ History of Presbyterian Congregations “.
Perhaps there is no part of a minister’s work so laborious as visiting, and yet this was the very part in which Mr. Orr excelled. Day in and day out he was found at his work, going from house to house in town and country. He knew the minutest circumstances of every family, and people wished that he should know them, for he was a true and sympathetic friend, and a wise counsellor. He was a friend whom the members of the congregation grappled to their souls “ with hoops of steel. “ A short time before his death, the late Mr. Henry Donnan was telling me some stories about a well known character, Sam Bailie, who lived in Portaferry a generation ago. Incidentally he said to me, “ Did you ever hear Sam’s opinion of Mr. Orr ? “ Here it is : - “ If any man, woman or child in Portaferry were in trouble, Mr. Orr would stand by till the last bell would ring and the last gun fire ; and when we get to Heaven’s gate we shall find Mr. Orr inside waiting to see that every Portaferry man gets in, and to give him a shake of the hand. “ Both Sam and Mr. Donnan have got their handshakes already. I cannot imagine a finer tribute than to the faithfulness of Mr. Orr, the pastor, than that. It makes his faithfulness exceed the limits of time and space, of life and of death. When Mr. Orr visited a home he always asked to see the children, of whom he was very fond. He knew the name of every child in the congregation, and he never left a home without catechising the young. He was a strong advocate of bringing young children out to church, in order that the habit of church going might be formed as early as possible. He would say to the child, “ Mind now, when you come to Meeting, you musn’t talk. Nobody talks there but me. “ In Mr. Orr’s early ministry children were all baptized in the homes of their parents. In these “ degenerate times “ tepid water is sometimes used for the purpose of baptism, and only a few drops are sprinkled on the face of the child. It is doubtful if the people of Portaferry 70 or 80 years ago would have considered a child to be fairly “ christened “ under such circumstances. Certain it is that Mr. Orr believed in cold water and plenty of it. He used to relate with great delight an incident which happened on one occasion at a baptism in a country house. The house was one of a kind common in those days, having two apartments, a but and a ben. During the time that the ceremony was being performed the old grandfather of the child was “ sitting ben, “ and the door into the kitchen was left open so that he might hear all that was said. Mr. Orr must have applied a more liberal dose of water than usual, for the child set up
an awful howl, whereupon the old man exclaimed – “ Dang it a’, he’s droonded him. “ The Shorter Catechism was the one book next to the bible which Mr. Orr laid stress upon. The question which he liked best of all is number 21 – “ Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect ?” The effecient manner in which he taught the Catechism may be learned from the fact that I have known old people who had passed the allotted span who could repeat accurately the answer to almost any question in the book, and they have told me that they learned it as children from Mr. Orr’s teaching. If any of the congregation were sick, Mr. Orr was specially attentive. He seemed to fear neither disease nor death in the discharge of his duty. Mr. Clouston, in referring to the point, says “ When cholera visited the town and nearly all were afraid of the dreadful pestilence, he risked his own life to point dying sinners to a Saviour, if so be some might find Him at the eleventh hour. These things you know, and surely they are rising up to your memories as this day you are thinking you will see him no more till you meet him on the other side of the river in the land to which he sought to direct you “ ( Funeral Sermon ). Towards the close of the year 1875 Mr. Orr retired from the active duties of the ministry. For 53 years he had worked and laboured in Portaferry, and though still hale and hearty the signs of age had come. “ No snow falls lightly as the snow of years, None lies so heavy, for it never melts. “ His hair was silvered, and his step was slower. He still retained the enthusiasm of youth, but the physical energy of bygone days had departed. He felt unfit for his work, and on the 5th October, 1875, the Rev. T. E. Clouston ( now Doctor Clouston ) was ordained as his assistant and successor. In February, 1876, four months after his retirement, the congregation gave an address and presentation to Mr. Orr, and surely if ever a minister ever deserved it that minister was he. The chair on this occasion was occupied by Doctor Filson. Mr Henry Donnan read the address, and Mr. Thomas Park, the senior elder of the congregation, handed a purse of sovereigns to Mr. Orr.
Spontaneously the whole audience rose to their feet to do him honour who had done so much for them. That occurred 35 years ago, and of the 110 subscribers to the testimonial only 18 are now alive, so far as I am aware. I have spoken of Mr. Orr’s retirement, but it was retirement only in name. He continued to visit as usual, and to work in the Band of Hope, where Mr. Clouston says he delighted to point himself as an octogenarian whom 40 years of water drinking had not injured. He preached frequently in neighbouring churches and when he occupied his old pulpit the people were delighted. There is a charm in the unfamiliar, and that charm the people felt in Mr. Clouston, but Mr. Orr stood upon an entirely different footing. By this time he had become locally historical, and figured in the records of every family in the congregation. He had buried the grandfathers of those in the rising generation, and had baptized and married their parents. Every significant event in the family was associated with him, for he was present to rejoice and weep with those that wept. At the close of October, 1878, Mr. Orr was feeling unwell, but no one thought that the end was near, yet on the 4th November he passed away. It is not too much to say that he was mourned by the whole community. The poor especially thought of him with genuine sorrow. Mr. Clouston says that a poor woman told him, with tears streaming down her cheeks, that she had lost the best friend she ever had. Well might the poor mourn his loss, for genuine distress never failed to be relieved by him, and the amount which he gave in charity will never be known in this world. He knew that it is not always real distress which hangs out a flag of distress, and there were many instances where he relieved want and poverty by sending things to the poor through the medium of a third person, lest it might be suspected that he was the giver. His funeral took place on Thursday, 7th November 1878. He was buried in the old graveyard of Templecraney. The young men of the congregation bore his remains to the church, where the funeral services were conducted by the Rev. John Meneely, ex Moderator of the General Assembly, and the Rev. T. E. Clouston, of Portaferry. The funeral was a large one, representing not only the congregation, but all denominations of the district, and ministers from his own and neighbouring Presbyteries ( Down Recorder, Nov 9, 1878 ). When a friend dies we scarcely realise at first that we shall hear his voice no more at his ordinary pursuits. It is only
when we see the coffin laid in the grave that we wake to the fact that a voice is hushed for ever, and a hand is still in the last long sleep. As the clods fell upon the coffin of Mr. Orr everyone standing in Templecraney that day realised that he had lost a true friend; that a blank was left which could never be refilled; that one was added to the countless number of the redeemed saints who wear the spotless robes. If spirits be allowed to come back from the strange shadow land of mystery, the spirit of Mr. Orr must linger round the town of Portaferry. But in a more real sense his spirit still lives amongst us in lives influenced for good by his teaching and example, and in organizations founded by and carried on by him. The influence of a life like his will only be known when we reach the land where sight fades into insight. No life is perfect, and neither was Mr. Orr’s. The proverb, “ To err is human, “ is as true as it is old, and he was no exception to the general rule. But there are faults which the recording angel blots out with a tear as he makes their entry, and such were the faults of the Rev. John Orr. During the 56 years that he lived in Portaferry he wore “ the white flower of a blameless life.” He was indeed an Israelite in whom there was no guile. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has had many devoted ministers who have upheld the “ Banner of the Blue “ in our Island for three centuries ; and when we think of all that Mr. Orr has done for Portaferry – the part which he took in establishing Temperance in our town ; his starting a savings bank to inculcate habits of thrift in the working classes ; his work during the cholera epidemic, when he risked his life every day to point dying sinners to a living Saviour ; his building of a church which is second to none amongst Presbyterian churches in towns of the size of Portaferry ; his 53 years of honest, earnest, Christian work, spending and being spent on behalf of the people of this place – we may be allowed to voice the wish that ministers such as he will ever be found in the Church of the Covenant and the Martyrs.
Chapter 5 – Extracts from the biography of James Shanks, Ballyfounder, Portaferry, 1854 – 1912 ( again it is a verbatim transcription and bear in mind it was published in 1913 and relates to events of the 1800’s )
Portaferry Tenant Farmer’s Defence Association. During the later years of his life Mr. Shanks took no active part in politics. It was at the time of the land agitation, in the early eighteen eighties, that he became a leading spirit in the local political association. Mr. Shanks could hardly be called a full blooded politician. His interest in politics was for the greater part confined to land reform and to fighting for the 3 F’s – Fair Rent, Free Sale and Fixity of tenure. In this land war the tenants in Ireland who did not join some association were few and far between. Certainly in the Upper Ards almost all of the farmers of whatever class or creed were members of the Portaferry Tenant Farmer’s Defense Association. There can be no question that associations like this all over the country greatly strengthened Mr. Gladstone’s position and increased his power. From the tenants’ point of view the Land Act
of 1870 had been a failure. They held that the Act did not prevent unjust eviction and that it did not protect tenants from an arbitrary increase of rent upon their own improvements. What the tenants wanted were the 3 F’s. The year 1879 was one of the worst on record as regards weather and crops, and was preceded and followed by bad harvests and in places by low prices. These things were the means of automatically drawing tighter the cords of discontent that bound the tenants. Occasionally owing to the extreme tension a cord would burst, the lawful limits of human passion would be exceeded and despite Miss Fanny Parnell’s advice to “ let the pike and rifle stand, “ these would be grasped , and an attack would be made upon an agent or a landlord. The year 1881 gave promise of better things for the tenants and they hailed with delight the coming of the new land bill. Tenant Farmers’ Associations sprang up all over the country, and from these numerous addresses were presented to Mr. Gladstone. So far as I can ascertain, the Portaferry Association was formed at a meeting of farmers held in Mr. Russell’s Loft on the 14th January 1881. After this, all the regular meetings were held in Mr. Henry M’Grath’s Loft. At the first regular meeting of the Association, Mr. Shanks acceded the chair. The address which he delivered on that occasion will likely be of interest to many and so I give it. Mr. Shanks thus describes it: - “ Address and Speech from the Chair at first Land Meeting, H. M’Grath’s House ( at the Quay ), January 1881.” “ Gentlemen – As we have heard from our Secretary, a meeting was held in Mr. Russell’s Loft on the 14th instant; and after hearing several speakers on the land question we considered it prudent to take the minds of the people who are more directly interested in this important question. To my mind our chief object was to make, it possible, arrangements for holding a large open air demonstration, at which speakers, friends of the cause, could address the people and present matters of interest more favourably to the masses.
I may say that I think we have grievances in this part of the country as well as the people in other parts of Ireland. You all know our circumstances mostly arising from bad crops, low prices and high rents. Our markets are deluged with the produce of other countries, chiefly America. Our harvests for three or four years past have been unproductive. Our pockets have been drained these several years to cover pressing demands. Notwithstanding all this, our rents are sacrificially large and unrelenting. Now, Gentlemen, we have made land out of wilderness, arable land out of whin stone. We have drained marshes, dug fences, built and improved houses, and the landlord comes and takes possession. Verily ‘ one soweth and another reapeth. ‘ What can we do in this matter. ? We want a fair rent, a rent that we can pay, a rent which will be a fair interest on the landlord’s investment in the estate, not what the office may feel proposed to levy upon us. We want fixity of tenure, that so long as a man pays that fair rent, he is not at the mercy of the landlord, but is an independent, thinking freeman. We want free sale, a right by law ( we have a right by conscience, yet dare not use it ) to dispose of our created and invested interests at market value. While all hold their several opinions, I ask as far as possible for a spirit of unanimity in considering the remedy for the necessities of the present pressing occasion. Gentlemen, it is for you to determine as to the advisability of holding an open air meeting, a meeting of the masses on this great momentous question. I feel that at the present crisis we, as men, are justified in seeking redress from our endless destroying grievances. “ This meeting decided in favour of an open air demonstration, and on the 10th, February 1881, was held the locally famous Land Meeting at Ballyridley. According to the ’ Northern Whig ‘ account
there were about 200 present. Mr. Hurst, J.P; Drumaness, occupied the chair. At the reporters’ table, in addition to representatives of the press, there were a government shorthand writer and two policemen who took notes in longhand. Mr. Henry Emmerson ( secretary ) read the resolutions; Mr. W. S. Young, Gransha, moved their adoption; Mr. Richard M’Nab, Ballyblack, seconded the motion. The Rev. Father O’Boyle, P.P; Saintfield, supported the resolutions. Mr. Henry M’Grath, the Rev. Rylett ( Unitarian Minister, Moneyrea ), and the Rev. Smith, Carrowdore also addressed the meeting. The resolutions were unanimously adopted. In the evening the farmers were entertained to dinner at Mr. Henry M’Graths. The mention of policemen at the Ballyridley meeting recalls an incident which Mr. Shanks related to me on two or three occasions. One night about this time there was a meeting of farmers in the ‘ Big Barn ‘ and some one in the audience discovered that the police were keeping watch outside. “ Well “ said Mr. Shanks, “ we are not doing anything that is illegal, and we’ll invite them to come in. “ This was done and the police sergeant joined the meeting, and was told that in future he was quite at liberty to attend the meetings of the farmers and hear all that was said. “ The police “ said Mr. Shanks to me “ got the idea into their heads, that the Portaferry Land Meetings were places for hatching sedition and treason, and that I was the arch incubator.” The Land Act of 1881 was considered a great boon by the farmers, but they were not satisfied with the way it was administered by the Sub Commissioners of Down and Antrim. The farmers thought that the reductions which the commissioners recommended were too small. The Portaferry Association asked Mr. Shanks to send a memorial to Mr. Gladstone setting forth the grievances of the farmers and asking that the Act be more justly administered. Mr Shanks wrote the address as requested , and forwarded it on January 9th, 1882. In Mr. Gladstone’s reply he stated that he had read the resolutions from the Portaferry Tenant Farmer’s Defence Association” with attention ,“ but that it was impossible for him to give an opinion on judicial proceedings taken in certain particular cases.” The Portaferry Association continued in existence for several years until the need for it had passed. The leading member of the Association was Mr. Shanks, as the minutes held in existence
clearly prove. The speeches which he delivered, the letters which he wrote to officials and politicians in power, the resolutions which he drafted, the memorials which he prepared, in connection with the Association were a work involving much time and labour. To the credit of the farmers of the Upper Ards it cannot be said that “ eaten bread is soon forgotten “, for when an accidental occurrence crippled Mr. Shank’s material resources they came wholeheartedly to his assistance, they stood by him loyally, and in memory of the work which he had done on behalf of the farmers they presented him in January 1885, with an address and a purse of sovereigns, and they ploughed his land in a single day. The address and Mr. Shank’s reply are too long for publication here, but I take an extract from each. In their address the farmers say: - “ We need not tell you of the gratitude we feel for the services you have rendered us during a trying crisis in the history of our country. The time which you have spent, the labours which you have undergone, the strain – mental and physical – which you have endured in the interests of us, your neighbours and fellow farmers, have been too great – not to be noticed and appreciated and could we do you more honour or reward you more generously – our hearts and our hands would also be yours as your brain and pen were ours – we ask you to accept accompanying purse of sovereigns – as a token of our gratitude for the eminent services which you have done in the great battle for the land on which we live; but above all, as a mark of approbation for the modesty, unselfishness and truth which have been the distinguishing features of your career.” This address was signed on behalf of the subscribers by George M’Nabb, Chairman of Committee; Henry Emmerson, Secretary; William M’Mullan, Treasurer. Mr. Shanks in his reply says: - “ When I see the great amount of work you have this day done ( referring to the ploughing of his land ), it brings home to my heart the kindness of my neighbours, and causes me to think lightly of the few losses I have lately sustained – I may well think lightly of them today when I see the substantial assistance you have given me in replacing them, and for which I feel very grateful indeed …… Any little service ever pondered to any of my neighbours I considered due to them and much more. When I was assisting the cause of the farmer I believed I was advancing my own …… The work done this day may be forgotten, the purse may be emptied, but that address so kindly presented by
the farmers of Ards I will preserve as one of the dearest treasures to hand our happy memories to the future generation.” Downpatrick Board of Guardians. I suppose a Board of Guardians can hardly be called a political body, and the word political can scarcely be applied to its discussions. At the time that Mr. Shanks was a member of the Downpatrick Board of Guardians the questions sometimes introduced were political, or at least verging on politics. The Land Act of 1881 had given to the farmers a feeling of freedom and independence which they had never before enjoyed. This feeling was manifest in the Public Boards, and gave a new temper to public discussion. Perhaps no Board of Guardians felt the new influence more than the Board at Downpatrick. In April 1882 Mr. Shanks was proposed as Vice Chairman and he took advantage of the occasion to make a speech against ex officio members of the Board and against Landlords. In the course of his speech he said: - “ I hold, and will hold until proved to the contrary, that all ex officio board members of this Board represent mainly there own individual interests. On the other hand, the elected Guardians represent the interests of the toiling masses, who, having lately risen to a true sense of their position and responsibilities, and by a noble spirit of independence in the face of bitter landlord opposition sent us here to represent their interests.” In consequence of the refusal of the Chairman ( Colonel Forde D.L. ) to put to the meeting a motion of Mr. Shanks on the Grand Jury Laws, there occurred at the Board of Guardians, Downpatrick, May 20th 1882, a scene perhaps unparalleled in the history of the Body. At the close of the ordinary business of the Board, the Chairman said, “ that this concluded the business, but there was one notice on the paper which he was sorry that he must refuse to put to the Board. “ He referred to Mr. Shank’s notice of motion relative to the Grand Jury Laws. He considered that Mr. Shanks resolution did not come under the heading of any of the subjects that were given in charge to them by the Act of Parliament, and he must therefore exercise his authority as Chairman to prevent that resolution coming before the Board. ( Down Recorder 27/5/1882 ). At the same time Colonel Forde stated that personally he was in favour of the motion, and that if the Local Government Board
sanctioned its discussion Mr. Shanks “ would find him on his side “. A section of the meeting , whose principal spokesmen were Mr. Richard M’Nabb and Mr. Henry M’Grath was opposed to the ruling of the chair. Mr. M’Grath put the case of the opposition when he said that Mr. Shanks had given notice of motion four weeks previous, and that it had been received by the Deputy Vice Chairman, Mr. John Perry, who was then in authority; that as a matter of course it came as a resolution on the books, and that the Chairman had no right to rescind it. A few exchanges then took place between Mr. M’Grath on the one side and, Mr. Pilson and the Chairman on the other. What followed is best stated in the words of the Recorder 27/5/1882: - “ Here there was continued confusion, several Guardians standing on their feet at the same moment and trying to make themselves heard. In the midst of this disorder, Colonel Forde left the room, and was followed by a large number of Guardians. Those who remained were: - Messrs Jennings, M’Grath, Russell, M’Nabb, Shanks, Hastings, Digney, Mageean, Green, Boyd, Polly, M’Cann, Laverty and Murray.” On the analogy of history what we may call the “ rump “ Board of Guardians appointed a new Chairman. Mr. Shanks read his resolution as follows: - “ That we deplore and condemn the evil effects of the unrepresentative nature of the Grand Jury system imposed upon this country, and would urge upon the government the necessity of abolishing such systems and substituting an electoral board representing the suffrages of the cesspayers of the country “. In support of his resolution Mr. Shanks read a paper the climax of which is contained in the following words: - “ I ask you to look on an antiquated system of imposition and aggression by a self appointed group without a shadow of the principle of representation, built upon a forced creduility, at a time when men breathed the air of slavery and serfdom, or dare not express their convictions – a system now proudly lauding its loyalty and independence, yet with tottering gait and hoary zeal stipulating its own destruction.” ( Down Recorder May 1882 ). This statement is characterised by intensity of feeling, and that probably accounts for the mixed metaphor which it contains. Mr Shanks was so modest that I cannot think he put himself on a par with Emperor Sigismund who declared that he was not bound by the rules of grammar.
At all events the motion was seconded by Mr. M’Nabb, supported by Mr. M’Grath and Mr. M’Cann, and passed unanimously. As might be supposed a crop of letters referring to this meeting of the Board of Guardians appeared in the press. One of these letters signed ‘ A Ratepayer ‘ was evidently inspired by malice against Mr. Shanks, but to those who knew him, whether political friends or foes, the malicious sarcasm of an anonymous scribbler could not touch his character as a man. Whatever else he may have been James Shanks was a Gentleman by nature. To many who knew Mr. Shanks this account of his political work will likely seem meagre, I have however given all the information I possess. He himself never looked upon the land question as a political one, but a social one. He thought that the settling of this question, if it had been properly done, might have brought about a happy and united Ireland. He was of opinion that if Parnell – but why go further. This little word ‘ if ‘ forms the great watersheds of life and conduct, as well as of politics, and in this case Mr. Shanks was on one side of the ridge and I was on the other. Ballyfounder House, Portaferry, home of James Shanks
Rev. William Steele Dickson D.D. The period of modern history which interested him ( Mr. Shanks ) most was that of the 1798 Rebellion and the events which led to it. His sympathies were all on the side of the United Irishmen, and to him the Rev. William Steele Dickson of Portaferry was a hero. One evening about two years ago, at Ballyfounder, Mr. Shanks told me that he contemplated writing a biography of Doctor Dickson and desired my opinion as to the project. I asked him if he had read the sketches of Dickson written by Witherow, Latimer, Classon, Porter and Gordon, and he said he had. “ Well “ I said, “ can you show that your sketch will supply something that is lacking in these – something that will enable us to get a truer and fuller idea of the man, else there will be no point in writing it. ? “ He said he thought that none of the sketches I had mentioned did full justice to Dickson, and that they were too short. I replied that I would prefer he should write a history of the Little Ards and that in it he could introduce whatever he had to say about Dickson. “ No “, he said, “ the writing of the history of the Little Ards would require more time than I could give it. “ Then he added, “ will you supply me with any materials that you can obtain. ? “ I assured him that I would give him all the aid in my power, and so we parted. As I was walking home that night I felt that he thought I was only lukewarm about the scheme, and that I was not a sufficiently ardent admirer of Doctor Dickson. I believe my surmise was correct, for a few days later I received from him the following note: - Dear James, I hand you enclosed musings of Doctor Dickson. The language is not all I could desire, but you will excuse where faulty, Yours Faithfully, James Shanks. These are the musings: At an interval of a hundred years on looking at the character and record of Doctor Dickson, we notice his straightforwardness of speech, his honesty of purpose, and his self sacrificing spirit and behaviour. We cannot but admire the great man, who, free from the slavish fears, the time serving motives, and the worldling efforts of some of his brethren in the Ministry, dared to meet destruction and death itself, or be the means of raising his countrymen and advancing their happiness.
Tis true, a few men, lay and clerical who now enjoy the blessings he became a sacrifice to obtain and wont to sneer at Doctor Dickson’s activities, forgetting that in his efforts on behalf of truth, justice and liberty, he chose to risk the worldly prospects of himself, his wife and his family. He valued not his own comfort, safety or worldly advantage, and the great loss to him and his has been great gain to us. That his ideas, though premature were founded on justice and right, is witnessed by the fact that the legislation for which Doctor Dickson struggled and suffered has been an accomplished fact long since; and in the Ards District his name will be revered and cherished and his memory kept green until farmers and farming will be no more. How far Mr. Shanks had progressed with his sketch of Dickson I do not know but he was working at it up till the time of his last illness. Dickson was his idol and ideal, and I have no doubt that the ‘ narratives ‘, ‘ retractions ‘ and ‘ sermons ‘ moulded Mr. Shank’s political views and inspired his political addresses. At times we are struck with the peculiar fitness of things which we observe amid the seeming tangle and chaos of events that constitute our everyday world. The “ fitness “ is only discerned in retrospect when we look back and see some special event in its proper setting and in the conditions of light and shade which surround it. My last visit to Mr. Shanks was at the end of the summer 1912. I left Ballyfounder at about 10 o’clock at night and he insisted on coming with me as far as the foot of the Windmill Hill. As we were shaking hands to part for the last time he said, “ I have been working at ’ Dickson ‘, and, do you know, if the people of Portaferry and the farmers of the Ards realised all that he had done, they would erect a monument to him on the market square. “ These were the last words I ever heard him speak. Before the biography of Dickson was completed, the drowsiness of the heaviest sleep of all overtook him, the pen fell from his grasp, and his last literary work remains a broken record of the ‘ blighted life of Dickson. ‘ Whatever may be our attitude towards Dickson’s life and work, it is pleasing to think that his grave in Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast, which for 90 years was nameless, is now marked by a simple slab erected by J.F. Bigger Esq. MRIA. In the NJA ( new series ) Volume 15, will be found a copy of the inscription on the stone.
The Walter Meadow. Ballyfounder House / Ballyfounder Farm lies a couple of miles from Portaferry, the former home of the Rev James Armstrong who died October 1779 in his seventieth year. As I write it is the home of the subject of this book. Mr. Shanks was educated at Portaferry Presbyterian National School ( born 1854 & died 1912 ). While there he wrote a schoolboy essay called ‘ The little Town of Portaferry ‘ wherein he describes the ‘ Walter Meadow ‘ as: “ The scenery of the town on every side is exceedingly fine, but particularly that expanse known as the ‘WALTER’ which is unrivalled per here in Ireland for the striking picture it presents to the mind of the observer. No eye ever beheld a spot where nature more beautifully displays her charms, no ear ever heard of a landscape more sublime.” Purgatory – Portaferry. The scene is laid in ‘Purgatory’ – that lane in Portaferry which leads to or from the Presbyterian Church, according to your fancy. I give the story as nearly as possible in Mr. Shank’s words – “ One day about two o’clock James M’Manus and I met in ‘ Purgatory ’ . We began to talk about the antiquities of the Upper Ards and neither of us knew the time passing until one of James’s family, who had been hunting over the town for his father to go home for his tea, happened on the two of us in ‘ Purgatory ’. It was more than half past six o’clock. He promised to go home at once. But at seven o’clock another messenger arrived and said “ If you don’t come home you’ll get no tea.” “ Well, “ said James, “ Just go to the ‘divil ’ and tell them at home that I want no tea, for I’m feasting with the King of Tara ‘ forth ‘. “ Whoever heard of as pleasant a stay in ‘ Purgatory ’.
Sweet County Down. Dear are thy hills to me, Sweet County Down. Lov’d thy glens are by me, Dear County Down. Wherever I wander, I grow but the fonder Of thee and thy wave like hills, Sweet County Down. In city or wild wood, My thoughts turn to thee. Dear home of my childhood, My heart clings to thee. Nor grand choral measures, Nor city’s gay pleasures, Move my soul as the songs And homejoys of Down. Thy quoile’s limpid waters, O fair County Down, Thy Ards’ gentle daughters, O rare County Down. They make yonder stronger, Dull passionless ranger, Aglow with their beauty, O beautiful Down. I see thy Mourne Mountains, Oft in my dreams; Hear the gush of their fountains, The rush of their streams. I climb up the craggy path, But stay the old shout and laugh, For my eyes suffused, rest on The broad lands of Down.
Portillagh’s broad oaks oft, In fancy I view. Hear their blackbirds’ clear notes, Their cushats’ soft coo. The quoile whisp’ring near me, As if ‘twould endear me To itself and the fields That it flows through in Down. O! Erin Mavourneen, The gem in thy crown. Is this, our fair County The County of Down. Hurrah! For her hills and dales; Hurrah! For her glens and vales; For the men, wives and maidens Of rare County Down. It is noted in the book that this was sung by the Rev. David Gordon at Downpatrick on the occasion of a visit to Ballywhite, by the ‘ Belfast Naturalist’s Field Club, after the more tangible proceedings and speeches were over. ( seemingly to have been modelled on the better known ‘ Bells of Chandon ‘ according to the author ).
Chapter 7 - Some extracts from the H(e)arts of Down ( WG Lyttle 1896 ), relative to Portaferry’s part in the 1798 Rebellion. United Irishmen attack on Portaferry 1798 ( Pike Sunday ).
Photograph of plaque on the front of Portaferry Presbyterian Church commemorating W S Dickson. It was estimated that the number of members in the County Down Division of the Society of United Irishmen was around 24,000 although only 7 to 8,000 took an active part in the fighting. On the 10th of June 1798 ( Pike Sunday ), while members of the Northern Ards were assembling, those of the Southern Ards were marching from Newtownards for an assault on Portaferry. On the government side, the garrison at Portaferry was led by Captain Mathews, and on hearing that the rebels were on their way, set about his preparations. To assist him in this, a revenue cutter lying in the Lough just off Portaferry, commanded by Captain Hopkins, was requested to train it’s guns on Portaferry Street. Mathews then proceeded to fill in the arches of the Market House, in order to prevent the rebels setting fire to the structure. He then ordered his troops to assemble in the upper section of the Market House in ready for the rebel assault. The rebel plan was to secure Portaferry before crossing the Lough, regrouping, and marching on Downpatrick. Had they been successful at Portaferry ( which they were not ), as it transpired,
they may have prevailed at Downpatrick, as the garrison there had already left for Ballynahinch and what would become to be known as the “ Battle of Ballynahinch “. However, as they approached Portaferry, they were met by musket fire from the garrison at the Market House and the guns from the cutter in the Lough. Against the trained and professional soldiers of the yeomanry, and armed only with pikes, they were routed. In W.S. Dickson’s book, “ A narrative of my confinement and exile “, it is stated that there were seven deaths on the rebel side. The rebels then retreated along the shore of the Lough about five or six miles to the residence of Bailey at Inishargy. One of the rebels gives us an eye witness account of their arrival. “ The army lay doon the lawn, while the offishers tuk possession of the hoose, whaur they sut doon in the parlour, an’ made themsel’s free wi’ the contents o’ the cellar. As they sut enjoyin’ themsel’s, me an’ yin or two mair o’ us went up to the open wundae and says – ‘ merry be yer hearts, genteels, an’ what’ll ye hae the army tae drink ! ‘ ‘ ‘ Hooch, sed this yin and that yin, there’s a water cart in the yard, tak it doon tae the river an’ gie them a drink ! ‘ ‘ Heck, surs ‘, sez we ‘ is that the was o’ it. Gin we’re tae be soles an’ the uppers we may jist as well serve King George ‘. “ As far as Portaferry was concerned, following the failed rebel attack, most of the action would take place on the other side of the Lough, in particular at Ballynahinch. The rebels were routed again at Ballynahinch on the 12th / 13th June with losses of several hundred, whereas losses on the government side were only a handful. The rebel leader, General Monro ( a shopkeeper from Newtownards ), was captured and hanged outside his own front door a few days later, the insurgency in the North East was over, It would continue in the South for a few more weeks with a flurry again in August of that year in Counties Mayo and Longford, but without success. The casualty estimates vary, but overall it is thought that total losses were five to six hundred on the government side, and possibly as high as twenty to twenty five thousand on the rebel side. The aforementioned Market House stands to this day in the Square at Portaferry and still serves the community in a variety of different ways.
Attachment A 1901 Scotland Census Record showing my Great Grandparents, Joseph ( 33 & Quay Labourer ) & Ellen ( 33 ) Collins in Glasgow, having arrived there in 1895 from Portaferry, also present on the day were Alexander ( 5 ), John ( 4 ), Joseph ( 3 ) and Annie my Grandmother aged ( 5 months ). Also present was Katie Sweeney ( 23 ) my Grandmother’s Aunt ( visiting ). You can see from this that Joseph, Ellen & Alexander were born in Portaferry and John, Joseph and Annie were born in Glasgow.
Attachment B 1901 Ireland Census Record showing Anne Jane Sweeney, my Great, Great Grandmother aged 50, widowed and occupation stated as Seamstress, with one of her daughters – Annie Sweeney aged 24 and occupation Embroiderer, both at New Shore Row, Portaferry. The address is not on this document but it was on another page which I have seen but was not able to copy at PRONI ( Public Records Office of Northern Ireland ). Note – unfortunately this image would not upload for some reason but anyone interested in a copy of it need only ask and I will email it to them.
Attachment C 1891 Marriage Record of my Great Grandparents who were married at Portaferry on 9.7.1891 by the Rev R Killen. Joseph Collin’s occupation is given as “ Seaman “ and his Father Alexander is given as “ Coastguard “. Ellen Jane Collins nee Sweeney is given as “ Servant “ and her Father John is given as “ Seaman “ The witnesses were given as James Collins and Mary Sweeney.
Attachment D The 1866 Marriage Record of my Great, Great Grandparents, John and Ann Jane Sween(e)y ( nee Con(v)ery ), who were married at Portaferry on 27.11.1866 by the Rev J. Killen. John Sweeney’s occupation was given as “ Sailor “ and his Father Francis’s also “ Sailor “. Anne Jane’s occupation was given as “ Sewer “ and her Father William’s was given as another “ Sailor “. The witnesses were Thomas Keating ( McKeating on another version of the Marriage Record that I looked at online ) and Catherine Mullen ( Mullan on the other certificate available online ). I have not included page 2 of 2, all it shows is the word “ Mullen “
Researcher, Danny Mathieson, 56 Chapelhill Mount, Ardrossan, Ayrshire, Scotland, KA22 7LU. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Collins Family Crest
Attachment E Portaferry Quay with the Castle in the background ( middle to late 1800’s )
Portaferry, looking South along the Shore ( middle to late 1800’s )
Market House in the Square at Portaferry ( middle to late 1800;s )
Notes regarding copyright, usage etc
The photograph on page 1 was downloaded around 4 years ago and I cannot now locate it on the net to seek permission for its use, should the owner recognise it and be agreeable, I will of course give him the credit to the effect that is customary, he or she only has to email me their particulars. I am unsure if the information that I have taken from the books published in the early 1906 and 1912 are still under copyright, the publisher has not existed for many years, the books have not been available either for a long time, and I have been unable to ascertain the years of death of the authors, although they have been clearly dead for many years, but how many I could not establish ( following extensive research ). I wish to exercise my rights under the Copyright & Patents Act 1988 to protect this document. In the event of this work being published at any time in the future as a book / booklet, by myself, or someone else authorised to do so by myself, it would be my intention to donate a substantial part of the royalties to a Portaferry charity or cause. However at this juncture, the posting of it on this web hosting site is the only place it can be found, and is done so on a strictly non profit basis. Any person wishing to copy the material for academic, educational or other research purpose may do so but I will not allow publication of any of this article for payment or profitable reasons. I dedicate this article to a number of people. Firstly, my Uncle Josie ( Armstrong ), whose ashes were scattered over Strangford Loch in the Summer of 1998 following his cremation in Scotland, ( although he himself was a Scotsman, it could not have been more appropriate, as his nickname had been “ Trout “, a name that had stuck with him since he had been a boy learning to swim in Strangford Loch ). Secondly, my late Mother Eileen ( Armstrong ), who although Scottish as well, spent many happy days as a child, playing along the Walter Shore or up the Windmill Hill. Finally, Seamus ( originally Sligo ) and Heather ( originally Portavogie ), adopted by Portaferry but sadly no longer with us, two of many dear friends that I made down the years on my many holidays to the “ Pearl of the Loch “. May they rest in peace. The End Danny Mathieson @ July 2008