Old Roads – Main Roads – How Built – Appearance of Country – Bogs – Abundance of Game – Dwellings – Examples – Mall – McAfee’s – Jean Patton’s – What a Traveller would see – Ballyclose – Kiln Knowe – Making Charcoal – The Pound Meeting House – The Pound – Village School – Village Street – Corn Mills – Linen Mills – Tuck Mills – John Dickey rides to Derry – Death of Alexander Dickey (tragic) The Spademaker – Laird Mark – W Loughridge Makes Pikes in 1798 – The Five Tinkers – John Cahoon, the Resurrectionist – Weaving and Agriculture – Old Inhabitants in 1800 –T he legend of “The Sun-dialled Church” – markstown – The Ancient Kilmakevit – Domestic Life – Utensils – Sports – Travelling – Wages – Food Superstitions – Witches – Fairies – Brownies – Fairy Thorns – Old Betty’s Hair-rope Incidents of the Rebellion.
“I looked far back into other years,
And lo! In bright array
I saw, as in a dream,
The forms of ages passed away.”
(This is an article of few pretensions. It does not aim at being an unimpeachable authority to the archaeologist, genealogist, or historian. Each of these may find something in it to admire, and much to blame; but let them remember that it is not the work of a veteran skilled in any of these branches of knowledge, but of a young man gifted with an enquiring and constructive mind, who, by the aid of available records, and the lips of “the oldest inhabitant,” hereby enables us to lift the veil of a hundred years, and look upon his native village as it was in the days that are gone. – Denarius)
He who would conceive to any extent what were the characteristic features of Cullybackey and neighbourhood one hundred years ago, must forget for the time being the numerous inventions and improvements that have appeared since that time, and, by a strong effort of imagination, carry himself back to a village that was in very many respects different from the Cullybackey of to-day. There were then only three main roads – recognised as such – leading to the village. The old road to Ballymena, the road to Portglenone, the Shillin’hill, or Broughdone Road, which was the direct way to Clough, and had just been completed. All other access to the different farms and hamlets was by means of lanes and paths traces of many of which can still be seen throughout the district, to testify how unsuitable they would have been for the passage of modern vehicles. As examples we have the lane leading into Ballyclose (at Mr Neely’s) one into Dunnygarron,and the lane which passes along the Hillhead Farm to Fenaghy, extending northwards between the sites of the present manses in the direction of Hillmount. The Station Road, the Fenaghy Road and the Hillmont Road were not yet made. The main roads, built on the principle of taking the traveller by the shortest and quickest route to his destination, led over hill and dale, if such happened to be in the straight line, without any attempt at hill cutting or filling up hollows. They were distinguished from the adjoining fields only by low ramparts, which, with the corresponding ditches, fenced them in on both sides, the ditches helping to keep the centre of the dry road, an important consideration, which partly seems to be why these roads were taken over instead of round the hills.
The face of the country had a somewhat barren, untilled appearance. Trees were scarce unless where found in plantations, and the view of the whole landscape was bleak and monotonous, save where the hills were covered with patches of yellow furze, or where the rushes and heather marked large and extensive tracts of bog. A few stone fences and fewer hedges indicated little patches of arable land. The bogs have now largely disappeared in smoke up the chimneys of the neighbourhood, their former places occupied in most instances by low-lying and uneven but cultivated ground. Game abounded. Broughdone moss, even within living memory, is said to have swarmed with these wild creatures, so that it only required the exertion of an early summer morning walk to enable one to hear the cry of the moorfowl or send the hares scurrying from their forms.
The houses of the people were erected in clusters, in some situation well sheltered by the neighbouring hills, the proximity of the dwellings to each other enabling the inhabitants to repel more effectively the attacks of thieves, madmen, and marauders of various kinds who had at this time almost a free hand in the country. These buildings were without exception, built of rough land stones undressed. Above the low walls was placed a roof of thatch, surmounted in its turn by a small sod or stone chimney. The exteriors were devoid of whitewash. The windows were of diminutive size, but perhaps on that account rendered the interior all the more attractive. I say interior advisedly, for except in the better class of houses there was only one apartment, combining in itself kitchen and bedroom. A fairly good example of these dwellings may have been seen up till about thirty years ago on the road leading to the Fenagh, about a mile from the village. It was known as “Mall M’Afee’s” from the name of a celebrated local character who lived there about the middle of last century. Another, but of a more primitive kind, stood until a few years ago on the eastern slope of Crabbe’s Hill. It consisted of one apartment, built of rough unhewn stones, the interstices filled with clay and a little lime. The back wall rose very little above the slope of the field, so that it was quite an easy matter to walk on to the adjustment of straw and rushes which composed the roof. It boasted one door, one window, and one sod chimney. Its walls were as black as the bog which it faced, yet here Jean Patton kept her little shop, her little shop presumably keeping her. It is related that during the course of a fox hunt in the early part of the century, Reynard coming along, and being hard pressed, took a flying leap down the chimney, concealing himself under the bed at the back of the kitchen, to the terror of the old woman, who was industriously spinning in the corner.
A traveller of that day on his journey from Ballymena to Cullybackey, after climbing the first hill would find himself on the borders of a large level tract of ground known as Star Bog, famous as the place where Archer, one of the most noted of the local insurgents, was captured in 1796. The highway is not at all crowded, but he might occasionally meet a wheel car (which is the most up-to-date conveyance), or troops of donkeys laden with creels, coming from some district that could not easily be reached by wheeled vehicles, carrying grain and other commodities to the nearest market, or perhaps he would meet a traveller of the better class on horseback, a method of locomotion that has not been superseded even yet. Besides these may be seen the humble pedestrian trudging along with his web strapped on his back, or the journeyman weaver setting out in search of a new engagement. These people are for the most part commonly clad in clothes of linen or woollen manufactured by themselves from the new material.
The next place worthy of note in the journey is the Woodtown, the site of a school where children are taught to read and cipher and sometimes to write. Directly in front and stretching away to the northward from here lies the wild and barren townland of Ballyclose where at a point almost central is the “Kiln Knowe” to which farmers brought their corn for the purpose of having it dried preparatory to grinding. Passing onwards the traveller soon finds himself in the low marshy ground now traversed by the railway. Here extending away to the left can be seen a long line of smouldering heaps. These are nothing else than the turf cut from the adjacent bog being converted into charcoal for the use of the smith’s forge, for it must be remembered that coal was not then to be had nearer than at Ballycastle, and that the means of transit were both slow and expensive. A disused cart way running between the old road at the “Black Gates” and the new line is still locally known as the “Coal Roads.” As it nears the village the road dips with the incline of the land, for of course it keeps the level of the adjoining fields, rising slightly, however, at the bridge over the burn. Here had just been erected the Reformed Presbyterian Church, better known, perhaps, as the“Pound Meeting House.” It was a plain rectangular structure, whitewashed outside, on old fashioned stone staircase at each gable leading to the galleries. The pound nearby, from which the church derived its colloquial name, was a small square enclosure, for the purpose of impounding or detaining strayed cattle until redeemed by their owners. The burn ran past one end of this little field, and the caretaker’s house stood at the opposite side. Here also stood the village school, where the elements of knowledge were imparted to the rising generation in the simple form of reading, writing, and arithmetic. On the erection of the new schools, in 1819, a short distance in the direction of Ballymena, it fell into disuse. But to return to our traveller:-
On entering the village he would be confronted by a long double row of houses, “a wee inhabited roadside” affair, its long, low cottages combining with its quaint inhabitants to give it a very old-world appearance indeed. The street would be noiseless save for the prattle of the children playing about or the familiar click of the hand looms turning out fabrics which have done so much to make Irish manufactures famous the world over. Besides being bent laterally, the street was humped like a modern switchback, two heights alternating with two hollows, before the road finally passed over the arches of the “hog-backed” bridge, which was guarded by low and dilapidated range walls. The road from the bridge leads on to Portglenone, the lane on the right in direction of Hillmount, where a spinning and weaving business was carried on by a family of the name of Hill- hence Hillmount. The second of the little inclines above mentioned was due to a large deposit of whinstone. On it was built at some distance from the road a small dwelling-house; others were erected in a line from it from time to time till the row extended to the very edge of the roadway, all literally founded upon a rock. It is still known as the Miller’s Row, title probably derived from the corn grinding mill which stood directly opposite across the road. As mechanical fans had not yet made their appearance, the “meal seeds” or husks of the corn were carried to a convenient hill on the Broughdone Road for the purpose of being winnowed. Hence the local application of “Shillin’” or Shelling Hill. Behind the corn mill beetling engines had been erected by a Mr.Davidson, who induced one Patrick McKee to invest his money in the concern, for Patrick, tradition asserts, had recently sold a black mare, on which he set such value that he had previously refused to sell, though offered by his landlord the half of Dunnygarrontownland as her price. This speculation turned out a failure. And the concern passed into the hands of a person called Walker, who was succeeded by a Mr Nicholl. Situated so near the Maine River, there was plenty of water power available to run these mills, but no doubt the machines were of a somewhat rude description. In addition to these, there was in Machinestown– that part of the village lying behind the Dissenting Meeting House, an establishment known as the Tuck Mill. When the wool, after undergoing the various processes between shearing and weaving, passed into the web, it was not quite finished. Cloth it was certainly, but of a texture more akin to a piece of sacking than the material of a Sunday garment. After passing through the Tuck Mill, though, the cloth took on a finished appearance, and by a reversed treatment old clothes, glossy with long wear, could have a wool or rough surface raised on them, making them look like new. Dying and bleaching seem to have been a considerable industry at Cullybackey in a primitive way at this time. A true “grass bleach” it was too, carried out on the level surface of the holm across the river, access to which was by a wooden bridge, long since demolished. It was no uncommon sight to see quilts, blankets, and other articles of local manufacture hung on long poles on the hill to dry, or young maidens carrying their parcels of goods to the mill to have them done up, as the modern housekeeper sends hers to the laundry or dye works. This was a going concern up till about fifty years ago.
A family of much repute at this time was the Dickeys, who carried on an extensive business in the linen trade at Lowpark, a beautiful spot situated down the river at the distance of about a mile from Cullybackey. As banking facilities were but few, and the means of communication in a backward state, it was Mr John Dickey’s practice to proceed to Derry market every Friday, travelling on horseback, his bag of money strapped over his shoulder. Reaching Derry early on Saturday morning, having passed the night at some wayside inn, he bought and paid for two loads of cloth, despatching his man with them at once to the green to be bleached and finished for the export trade. When this had been done, his business for the day was practically completed, he then set off home. His horse’s steady tramp was a familiar sound on Saturday nights to residents along the high road between Derry and Lowpark, where he arrived early on Sunday morning. His man with the goods turned up on Monday. Although he had the opportunities of both merchant and manufacturer, it appears he afterwards became insolvent, the place passing into chancery. It is now included in the Fenaghy estate in possession of Mr William Young, J. P. Fenaghy was then occupied by John Cunningham, who started works there for the finishing of cloth. Previously it had been the site of a scutch mill, owned by a man called McFadden. A brother of the above Dickey’s named Alexander, met his death under circumstances at the Woodhill, which caused a great sensation in the district at the time, and cast a curious light on the manners and customs of the period. It appears that in accordance with a practice which is not yet by any means extinct, a number of Cullybackey people had been treating each other in a public house in Ballymena. Here Mr Dickey made a bet with James Kinnearas to which of them could ride the faster to home; but just as they were having the last glass to seal the bargain, Mr Dickey’s tumbler split as he held it in his hand. Thereupon Mr William.Loughridge, who was present, taking it as an evil omen, did his best to persuade the two men against the projected race, but Dickey remained obdurate, with the result that Cullybackey when the Woodhill was reached he was thrown from his horse, and, falling on his head, was instantly killed.
The addition to the business of cloth working in which, happy to say, and neighbourhood still excels, a number of minor industries were carried on in the village by the inhabitants. And in a time and place when skilled artisans were rather an uncommon class of people, such avocations as clog making, woodturning, and smithwork, were looked upon with a feeling akin to reverence by rustics whose usual implements of labour were the hand loom or the spade. In the first house at the corner of Hillhead Avenue as we go towards the river, now occupied by Mary Barkley was the “spade maker’s shop”. Here John Dickson (1760-1840) and his assistant forged spades, raising the necessary heat by means of charcoal (as mentioned above) and ordinary coal. The peat charcoal was well adapted for the purpose, as it gave what a smith would call a “clean heat”, without burning or scale. As many as three hundred spades would be made in a season, even that number being less than demand. These implements had the usual wooden shaft with T head, rounded and smoothed with a piece of glass, and fitted to the mouth by means of iron straps. The cutting edge was of steel, the completed article weighing about seven pounds. In addition to spade-making, horse-shoeing, and “green” work were the principle sources of the smith’s income. John Dickson, however seems to have had a preference for the spades, as it is said he would not leave them aside to do anything for the public works, possibly on account of the fact that the latter was more laborious work, many parts of machines which are now made of castings having them forged by hand. Somewhat further along the street, where James Glass now lives, WilliamLoughridge, 1775-1833, who had learnt his business with Dickson, had his smithy. He was a true son of Vulcan, for his brother at that time was a blacksmith in Cloughmills, as his father had been before him. He it was who built the first house in the Mill Row, in addition to which he owned a small piece of ground adjoining the Pound Meeting House. He married Molly, daughter of Laird Mark, afterwards obtaining from his father-in-law the land where his descendants still carry on with credit to themselves andadvantage to the community, the family trade. This Mr William Loughridge was one of the party who brought the Masonic Order from Clough to Cullybackey; a sword which had connections with that event is still in the family possession, inscribed 999. A son of his in later years became a Presbyterian clergyman, first in Dundrod, Co Antrim, afterwards in Philadelphia, U. S. A., where he died in 1846. During the troublous time of the Rebellion in 1798, when pikes were in demand, a good many bright weapons were forged at the hands of William Loughridge and his brother, each in the other’s shop, for by this simple manoeuvre they were able to aver, if called to account by an avenging Government, that they had made no pikes in their own shops, and so by some technicality, which is not apparent, were able to escape the consequences of what to the authorities could not have been but a grave misdemeanour. Nor was the white-smith business overlooked, for tradition speaks of five tinkers, who, it is conjectured, erected the little cottage afterwards occupied by Jean Patton, maintaining themselves by the manufacture of small articles of household use, which they fashioned by the aid of rude, home-made crucibles. Fragments of charcoal and cinders still mark the site of their furnace. As vessels of domestic use in iron or tin were expensive and hard to get, people used utensils of wood or bone wherever possible instead. Consequently, the business of wood turning was a steady and profitable one, and the owner of a treadle lathe as he turned out his little cups and platters from the rough tree trunk was not the least important person in the community. Near where the Y. M. C. A. Hall now stands, Dr. Mark, a young man, carried on the business of surgeon and apothecary, dispensing such medicines as were then in common use, and practising his profession amongst the sick and suffering of the district. His sister afterwards became wife to Dr Fee of Ballymoney Street, Ballymena. Old John Cahoon did business with the doctor in a capacity now happily fallen into desuetude. He was a resurrectionist, making a living by raising the dead, with the object not of them back to life, but of selling them to medical men, who it was popularly supposed, found it necessary in the practice of their profession to keep a supply of nice, fresh corpses at hand. Dr Mark, surgeon, is “known” to have been in possession of as many as six at one time.
The house now described as “Maine Tavern” was then one of five public houses or inns which the village possessed. It was here Patrick McKee and Mr Davidsonmet to make the arrangement for investing in beetling engines. It was then in possession of a man named Vance, and except that the roadway ran on a level with the basement and there was no entrance by the street end, it presented much the same external appearance it does now. There was a public house in Machinestown, and one in Hillhead Avenue, but fortunately when the leases expired the licences were withdrawn, the houses being in a dilapidated condition.
Of course, hand loom weaving of linen, and farming were the principle sources of employment, the one an inside and the other an open air avocation. Lord Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, Lord Deputy of Ireland, in 1636 purchased seed and brought skilled workmen from France to improve the linen trade. How successful he was in laying the foundation of a great flourishing industry in Ulster we all know. Reed making formed a kind of side-line to the weaving business. Agriculture was carried on principally in the vicinity of the houses. The fields were small, but though the methods of cultivation were somewhat primitive, they produced sufficient of the fruits of the earth to meet the simple wants of a people whose chief employment was weaving of the majority of the villagers of one hundred years ago, but little record now remains. Of some, the descendants are still with us perpetuating their memory and their name, of others, alas, it must be confessed that their footprints never very deeply imprinted, are now well-nigh washed off the sands of time. John McCreight, farmer, son of the Rev James McCreight, first minister of the Dissenting congregation, was at this time an important personage in the neighbourhood. He lived still a good old age. Mary Anderson,orBuick, of Carndonaghy, was the most notable person of that quarter, while the Macilwraths flourished in Ballyclose as the Macilwraths and Macgaw’s in Dunnygarron. In the latter townland lived John Carson, not far from the homestead in Broughdone of John Killen, ancestor off the famous Drs Killen. Killen’s house is now occupied by Mr. A. Millar. There is a story related of him that his son, being killed in an accident, the body was interred in his own garden to prevent the attentions of body snatchers, being afterwards removed to the family burying ground. Robert Kinnear, the owner of considerable property, lived on the premises now occupied by Dr. Simpson. John Knowles and William Chain were also men of influence, the descendants of the latter are now living at Antrim and Larne. Thomas Adair born in Crossmarkstown is represented by the Adair family who now carry on an extensive business at Cookstown.
The Rev. Robert Charity was Dissenting minister in 1798. His residence was situated at Hillmount. James Harper was session clerk. The church then described as belonging to the Dissenting congregation of Cullybackey was built sometime about year 1727. In the “Ballymena Observer” of October 30, 1902, there is a paragraph referring to a person who died 1808 aged 126 years, who used to say she remembered hearing guns at the siege of Derry when she was a little girl, and that she carried food to the masons and carpenters engaged in building the meeting house in Cullybackey when she was 45 years of age. It was a large plain rectangular building, adjoining the riverside, with a small belfry and exterior stairways of stone. The old sun-dial, from which the church was sometimes called the “Sun-dial Meeting House,” is still preserved in the vestibule of the new church. In addition to the usual diverging lines, it bears the inscription, “John Wylie 1727”. An interesting story of these early days is preserved in the tower of the new church, which was erected on the site of the old building in 1880. Two of the gargoyles at the base of the spire are cut to represent one a wolf’s head, the other a little girls face, as a memento of an incident which occurred to a little girl from the Woodtown who, carrying her father’s dinner to where he was working at the erection of the then new church, was attacked by a wolf. Throwing the food in her hand to it, she raised the alarm with serious results to the savage beast, which was pursued and killed.
Markstown, the ancientKilmakevit, was not unworthy of note at the beginning of the last century, but not of such importance, as had evidently been, a past which yet may engage the attention of some interested writer. It had but recently acquired its present cognomen, possibly from old Samuel Mark, who was then about 98 years old, and said to be of sound mind and memory. He owned a portion of land here. His son William Mark began life as a farmer and weaver like those around him, but afterwards became a man of considerable importance through his good fortune in a successful lawsuit, which made him heir to share of extensive property in Jamaica. He is remembered to this day by the familiar title of Laird Mark.
As life was simple in those days, the domestic utensils in use were not of elaborate character. One of the most common dainties offered to a guest was a noggin of porridge, to be supped with a horn spoon. The noggin was a small circular vessel of wood, one of the staves composing it being extended above the brim to form a handle, The largest size held about two quarts. Horn spoons, wooden plates, and noggins may still be seen in museums or in some of our rare old houses. Large wooden plates are often found embedded in the bogs. Seating accommodation was supplied largely by blocks of wood and stone. Examples of these smooth “corner” stones are not yet done away with in many districts. Light to brighten the winter evenings was derived from long splits of dried bog fir, though where candles could be afforded they were gladly availed of. Heat was obtained from fires of wood or turf, built, of course on the hearth, and in some cases at a distance of six feet or so from the wall, the flue or hob being suspended, as it were, from the roof tree. This enabled the family, if numerous enough, to form a ring completely round the blaze. One or two “boles” or small recesses in the wall beside the fireplace, at a height of about five feet from the floor formed convenient receptacles for the old man’s pipe, and the guid wife’s knitting, or other small articles of common use.
The handiest place for an extensive job of clothes washing was at the river bank. A favourite spot was in the townland of Broughdone, where a large smooth boulder, called the “batten stane” formed a convenient table on which the soiled clothes were mangled (let us hope not in two senses) by a huge club. The absence of soap was compensated for, on doubt, by the plentiful supply of water.
There were but few books or other printed matter in circulation; only one person here and there was able to us the quill or, indeed any other pen. Postage was high, and intercommunication between different places was undeveloped and tedious. A friendly visit involving only a few miles of journey would require a day, owing to the state of the roads and the methods of travelling, while an excursion to places further afield such as Belfast, would mean an absence of a week or more. It is on record that a journey from here to Ayr, a town lying geographically to the north of Cullybackey, was made via Donaghadee, a town almost fifty miles in the other direction. The intended traveller in such a case had to make due preparation, and take with him to port of embarkation a complete outfit of provisions consisting chiefly of oatcake and potatoes, which could easily be preserved to last for twenty to thirty days occupied by the journey. The ordinary staple food of the time consisted of oatmeal, porridge, potatoes, buttermilk, varied with an occasional “brose,” and vegetables when in season. Butcher’s meat was practically unknown to the lower classes, but those of a higher social position slaughtered of their own flocks and herds, providing themselves with such dainties as the flesh of animals affords. Yet though the food of these people was of the coarsest and plainest, though in a trying climate they were poorly clad and accustomed to go about in all seasons barefooted, their hardihood was remarkable, and their calls on the aids of medical or surgical skill were rare indeed compared with those of their present day successors.
We can judge whether money was plentiful when we learn that a man’s wages ranged from fourpence to sixpence a day, or that a boy or girl could carry their day’s earnings home in the shape of a “meal” of potatoes. The chief outdoor recreation was “shinney” (shindy), and for this they set apart special occasions, such as Christmas Day, when every player assembled at the appointed place with his well kept “shinney” in his hand. The wood turner provided a quantity of “nags” and the game was kept up during the entire day. As might be expected in a community like this, superstition abounded. Things supernatural were matters of common gossip. Fearsome events were related by winter fire sides with much minuteness of detail. Fearsome places met the nightly wanderer at almost every turn. Old women could be found in the early summer mornings dragging over their neighbour’s grass fields a short rope. This rope plaited with the hairs of cow’s tails, became of course, saturated with the dew and had only, it was popularly believed, to be pressed in a certain way over a vessel to fill it with rich new milk – transferred by this simple means from the udder of the cow. Such people, alleged adepts at witchcraft, were naturally detested by their neighbours, as every drop of milk or ounce of butter acquired by their evil art was believed to result in a corresponding loss to the farmer whose stock had been “witched.” Old Betty McIlroy and John lived in the little house at the Pound. One summer Sunday morning a neighbouring farmer, who owned some fields convenient, on going that way to see if his cattle were alright, observed old Betty wandering about where the cattle were grazing apparently seeking for something. Going round the corner with James Kinnear they found on the fence a rope described as above. This, it was instantly surmised, was what Betty was looking for, that she might drag it over the grass to the refrain of “Come a’ tae me, come a’ tae me.” Needless to say, old Betty didn’t stripe it into the basin that morning, for the finder took it to his home where it lay about the farmyard till something occurred to their cattle, his wife let her fears get the better of her common sense, and had it burned. The fact that John and Betty were well known to have exceptional supplies of butter and milk and that John had a decided penchant for lingering near grazing cattle, did not add to their good reputation in the district. “Will o’ the wisp” was no unreal personage but while his twinkling light lured to bogs and morasses, the wayfarer on the high road was not immune from other distractions. The seeming cry of a distressed animal might lead him from the straight path to his destruction, trees by the wayside would be disturbed or violently agitated on a perfectly calm night, a pole, a deformed animal, or some hair-raising apparition would be seen moving ghost like across an open moonlight field, but keeping within the limits of the running streams. In the vicinity of graveyards strange forms and figures could often be seen. Animals were supposed to be specially sensitive to the presence of these beings, for no man, whatever his bravery, could face such a sight had his dog also seen it and fled. The brownies were nocturnal labourers but were regarded with superstition only by those who knew no better; for it would appear that in ancient times, when a man suffered at the hands of the law, or was otherwise unable to work on his farm, the clan to which he belonged gathered by night and did the necessary labour, ascribing the result to the fictitious brownie. No class of supernatural personages, however, seem to have taken hold of the popular imagination as the fairies did. They were the busybodies of that generation, their pranks forming a mine of anecdote almost inexhaustible. As according to a local belief, they had a royal residence at the “WhiteKnowe,” near Galgorm, the fortunes of the people in that part of the country were very much in their hands. It was well known that they had their favourites, for certain people would find coins of the realm, perhaps on the frame of their spinning wheel, perhaps on the toe of their boot, or it might happen that a beautiful cambric apron would be found in some unused drawer – placed there by the fairies, of course. In the “White Well” field in Dunnygarron a penny was supposed to be lying on a stone awaiting to be picked up by whoever was first to arrive there in the morning. This easy method of getting money seems to have been as eagerly followed then as Limerick “last lines” are today. These bounties alas! only held good while the recipient kept the matter to himself. If divulged some sort of calamity usually followed, and the mysterious gifts ceased. Cases are reported where people have been so unfortunate with their livestock as to be compelled to leave their “haunted” habitation and be take themselves to another part of the country. Fairies were, it was said, sure to be amongst the most punctual guests on the occasion of a birth, with, it seems, sinister intentions, so that the fond parent considered it necessary to attach the child’s garment to her own to prevent it being taken away while she slept. We are told of one child of tender years that had been missing for some time testifying on its return that it had been playing round a hill in company with a number of children like itself, dressed in little green coats. As a rule, however, the fairies appear to have been harmless, playful sprites, with a highly developed instinct for amusement. Servers set with their contents to cool would be found overturned, the byre door would refuse to admit the ingress of the milkmaid, try how she might, though when assistance was procured it would be found to be wide open, the culprits having taken themselves to another part of the house in the meantime. These mysterious creatures invariably “rode upon darkness and took their flight on the wings of the morning” for we have no hint of their giving any trouble during the day. Ancient hawthorns were their favourite haunts, and woe betide the reckless individual who would interfere in any way with one of those hoary trees. For would not the cutting of one of them would bring grief to the person of the offender, or the breaking of a twig to his property. There was no getting over this, for had not two members of the Cunningham family, of Fenaghy, awakened one morning cripples, the result of cutting a fairy thorn. At times, presumably during the celebration of some great festival in fairyland, these notable bushes would be found, as gloaming deepened into night, to be wrapped in a blaze of light, though a subsequent examination in the light of day invariably disclosed the fact that they were still unharmed – “Ardens sed virens.” These old trees, undoubtedly fostered in many instances by superstitious fears, and once plentifully scattered over the country, are fast becoming curiosities only to be found in secluded places, for the present generation has little respect for the things of the past, nor does the wind as it sweeps over the countryside spare the venerable thorn any more than it does the sapling of yesterday. A find specimen may have been seen up until a few years ago at the top of a large field at the top of Boyd’s Hill. It is recounted to have often been seen in a blaze on dark evenings, and it is related that an attempt to burn out a magpie’s nest which had been built in it had been unsuccessful, though a fire of peats had been kindled inside. This old thorn, previously injured by some vandal with a hatchet, was blown down by a storm in 1884.
Any notice of Cullybackey at the beginning of the nineteenth century would be incomplete without some reference to a few of the incidents relating to the Great Rebellion or Turn Out, which after disturbing more or less every part of the country, had just lately been quelled. Tradition has it that Molly Loughridge from the window of her house, then the only one in Mill Row, was able to observe in the moonlight companies of United Irishmen passing down the “Shillin Hill” from the direction of Clough, which was then a centre of activity. Halting on the meeting house green, which they had access to without permission, for it was then without walls, they went through with such military tactics as were possible with such rifles, pikes, clubs, and other weapons as they carried, afterwards resuming their march over the bridge and along the Maine water side towards Mount Davys. The “Cullybackey Volunteers” were a loyal body raised by Mr John Dickey in 1776. They wore a strap badge, oval and of bronze, bearing, in addition to a crowned harp the words, “Always ready,” and “CullybackeyVeterans” Of course there was disaffection, not without reason, with the Government of the day, even amongst the inhabitants of Cullybackey, and it is not surprising to find the military authorities taking occasion to visit the village more than once in search of some suspected revel. The tragedy of the arrest of young James Giffen, and his subsequent execution at the Pound Meeting House, is still remembered with feeling of indignation for what a helpless peasantry may suffer at the hand of cruel soldiery. His story has been told elsewhere by a sympathetic pen (“Memories of ’98”, W. S. Smith, Antrim), needing no further mention here, but another incident with a happier termination has never yet, so far as we know, appeared in print. During the course of one of their searches the militia came to the house of William Loughridge, who was actually at the time sheltering the person wanted. Asked by the sergeant if so-and-so was there, he replied, “Come and see.” It was Sunday morning early, and his wife was in bed, where in a twinkling the culprit had concealed himself under the clothes behind the woman, said he would not arouse her from her slumbers, and departed to look elsewhere for the man who had been thus narrowly saved.

Total Page Visits: 2516 - Today Page Visits: 1