Dromore and District Local Historical Group Journal

Volume 2-1992





To a whole generation of Dromore folk the name Robert Burns does not immediately suggest the immortal Ayreshire bard.

Instead it conjures up in the mind's eye a small man in a flat cap and well-worn showerproof who was once as much a landmark in the Market Square as the Town Hall, which had been build by his father many years ago. Robert, who was feeble-minded, appar ently having no living relatives, was well cared for by a lady in Meeting Street who saw to all his needs. He spent most of his time meandering slowly around the town where he seemed to enjoy the daily excitement of the town Square. Over the years he gradually became one of Dromore's best known and much loved characters, with his Chaplin-esque walk, wide grin and his greeting of "Hi-ye King William?" to every male he encountered.

Robert was not averse to indulging in a little begging by asking for a "harp" which was his name for a penny. At one time this coin bore the replica of an Irish harp on it's reverse side. When asked to choose from a handful of proffered coins he would ignore the silver coins of anykind, thinking them to be of less value than his "harp".

Robert was generally quiet and inoffensive. Although it was soon discovered that certain words or phrases would have the effect of arousing in him quite an inexplicable fury and rage. Sadly, human nature being what it is, there were those who's perverted idea of fun led
them to ignite this reaction in him before moving away, leaving him swearing loudly to himself. Much to the bewilderment and consternation of innocent by-standers.

Around about the 1950's Robert Burns died and the Rev. Kilpatrick in announcing his funeral in the Cathedral, expressed the hope that many would pay their last respects to the old man by attending. In the event a vast multitude followed the cortege to his last resting place in the churchyard. So great was the concourse that a stranger could have been forgiven for presuming that some person of great distinction was being interred.
As I sat in the church, before and during the burial service, my mind was full of thoughts of this old man I had known so well. There came, unbidden, into my mind the following lines in a metre I had never used before. A ready-made epitaph for this fellow townsman who had found fame in his own humble way.

  "You know old Robert Burns?"
Well, Robert's dead!"
"That old man of queer turns?"
"Yes. Robert's dead."
And all those folk who tempted Robert sore
Their shameful tricks will play on him no more,
For Robert's dead.
  For pennies he would plead,
"Give me a harp".
His was a trivial need,
"Give me a harp".
And daily as he shuffled through the town,
He would'nt take your "bob" or "half-a-crown".
"Give me a harp".
  I like to think he'll get
To Heaven's gate.
I think that he'll be met
At Heaven's gate
And bidden "welcome! come and meet your kin,
You've naught to fear, fools cannot err herein
-----------------and here's a harp!"

CHAT LINES - yarns from the Station yard
as told to me by a former porter at Dromore Station.

I started at Ashfield Halt in 1943, as a boy porter. I suppose I was about maybe sixteen then. A vacancy occurred in Dromore and I got down in there before I was twenty.

The Station Master in those days was R. H. W. Reevy - he was very regimented of course - he talked very quick! There were usually two clerks, a chappie called Mason and another one was Frank Boal. There were three signalmen, John Fallon, Bob Eliot and Fred Savage.

In 1943 I earned a pound a week and of that, 4d went to the pension and if I had went on according to plan, I would have got ten shillings aweek when I retired. In those days ten bob was a decent pension because a ploughman was getting twelve and six for working! In fact, old railwaymen, you would have thought, should have been much sought after! There was a steam crane man and that was a highly specialised job, he could lift things and set them down, like he was using a knife and fork. He only got seven shillings and sixpence a week of a pension when he retired.

The wages were paid in shillings and pence. If say, you had to get five pounds, well that was a hundred shillings. They didn't mention pounds at all, because I suppose you see, the wages were so small. This happened up to about twenty-five years ago. The late Brian McConnell M.P. expressed his amazement at this "In the name of goodness", he says to me, "they're not still at that auld game are they?" We were paid on a Thursday, which was unique, and there was a time when we were only paid once a fortnight! And when you joined the railway, you didn't have to have an unemployment thing and a sickness one. You only had the sickness benefit because you would never be unemployed on the railway. It was like joining the army nearly.

I was never on the Bureau in my life. I went to Dromore, to the Town Hall, and got my Bureau card and and handed it in. The only time I was ever back in the Bureau office was in Lisburn. There was a dispute on and they had laid us off. I promptly went to my local Social Security office, and the girl asked me when I was there last and I said, "I was never here before but I was in the one in Dromore in 1943!" And in fact, that was in July of that year, and I have a letter there from them, saying that the adjudicator had looked at my case, and had decided that I wasn't entitled to any money, because I wasn't unemployed - I was just laid off- or something to that effect. But, it took from July to September to tell me that, so I'd have been hungry, if I had of needed money!

Dromore station in its heyday.

Starting times at Banbridge were 4 a.m. if you were signalman and 4.30 a.m. if you were shunting. I remember when I was living at Mullafernaghan; at that time there was a guard on the train called Ned O'Hagen. When he heard I lived at Mullafernaghan he says, "Sure we'll pick you up and bring you up (to Banbridge). You needn't ride the bicycle away up here." I thought that was a good job, but next morning I was wakened by him coming shouting round the house, "Are you going to lie all day?" It was about a quarter to four in the morning. That was the morning I slept in. I very rarely slept in. You were normally rostered for eight hours but you could be asked to do another four hours for which you were given so many hours notice, unless there was an emergency.

You were paid time and a quarter for overtime work between six in the morning and ten at night. If you were on night duty you got time and a quarter from ten o'clock at night to six in the morning. If you were on overtime during those hours you got time and a half. You got time and a half on a Sunday. Eventually there was a double time on a Sunday. Then we got British rates and they put it back to time and three-quarters for a Sunday and to this day it is time and three-quarters except for P-way men (menders!) they get double time. There used to be a saying that, when railwaymen went to church, they had to take a piece of bread for the Sexton's dog - for he didn't know them.

The uniform came with the job and of course it was in various grades. The travelling ticket collectors, they were usually measured by two tailors who came over from England. You were measured on the spot. In the case of the Banbridge line you would have been notified that the tailor was going to be on the train, on such and such a day, and the Station Master had to have all staff on the platform to get their measurement done. There is a story that, one day when the Enterprise (Dublin Express) was going through Lisburn this man says, "Oh look, there's somebody lookin out" and this fellow replied "Yes, that's the railway tailor, he's measuring us!" Some of the uniforms they sent out were terrible, not the right size at all. Bob Eliot got a form for measurements for an overcoat. In those days they were a big heavy overcoat and they were puce, a sort of purply colour - a terrible lookin thing! But Bob, he thought they were the greatest thing at all for putting over the bed in the winter-time. So he got me to measure him in the cabin. "Put plenty of length on it," he says - so I, of course, put it away down near his ankles, and it just came back the normal size.

Bob had a funny way of saying things. One day, he was leaning over the handrail of the signal box, puffing away at his pipe and he observed "I see there's going to be another concert the night agin" "What d'ye mean?" I says. He says "I see an auld fella there (a tomcat) goin' round puttin' up the posters!"

The railway carried all the general merchandise for the shops - jams and all the different grocery stuff. There was a lot of meal and fertiliser. Fertiliser was a big thing. I think it was carried very, very cheaply and then it was stored there at the station. In fact, the late Francis Russell was the biggest merchant for that fertiliser in those days. Tucker Thompson and - Gamble, they were sent up to help us store the stuff. It was taken out of the wagons and piled up about twenty bags high in the store. And those boys were tough. Bear in mind they were two hundredweight bags at that time. They had a barrel, so the two of them set the bag on the barrel - then one of them put the bag on his back and walked up the stack to the very top - dumped it and came back down again. Och, it was hard work.

There was a lot of coal brought in. There was a Murphy about Dromore in the dim dark days. He had an office beside the Rectory, if I remember right. There was bad coal at one time and somebody gathered up a lot of stones and set a sign on it "Murphy's Coal!" Tom Carlisle, was the last one to get coal at Dromore Station. He also done the cartin' down to the town and old Bob McIlrath, I think was the man who drove the horse. That big black horse went on until he died of pneumonia or something. After that goods were taken up and down in Tom Carlisle's coal lorry. During the war there was a heap of coal behind the store. It was piled up by German prisoners of war and painted white so that if any was stolen it would show up.

Of course all the bread came that way - McCombs, Barney Hughes and Inglis. Inglis bread went into Princes Street to an agent that Davy Wilkinson and all them worked for.

Loads of spuds were sent out on the trains and it was usual for the farmer to tip the porter who loaded his crop onto the train. One farmer who was remiss about this was seen searching for something on the platform, whereupon it was duly remarked "Mister, if your'e lookin' for your purse ye didna loss it about here!"

There were certain things I would never forget. Like, I remember one morning when I lived in what was known as the Moss Loanin and I was riding to Ashfield Halt to start at a quarter past six. It was during the blackout. The blackout suited me well for my battery lamp was very poor anyway - so I was keepin within the rules - in a sense! There was a kind of dampness in the road and sometimes I would have come on the B men. On occasion, they would have stopped me but eventually they got to know me and might even have said "Good morning" when I was going past. But, this particular morning, with the B's shadow on the road and with my poor light, now and again I slowed up, because you would have thought there was something there ye see. I turned off the main road onto the Ashfield road at Mullen's Corner and this particular shape became so real that I put my hand out. It materialised into a horse - boys the hairs stood on the back of my neck and I went off the bicycle. It must have kicked out but I was very fortunate I only got a stay of the mudguard broken.

It was all steam trains in those days. I remember the first diesels on the Banbridge line. In fact, the GNR pioneered diesels. A Dromore man was actually in the middle of that - a Mister Hobart. He wanted Harland and Wolff to have a separate laboratory for diesel traction, because, he said they were foremost and had the railway more or less at their disposal for trying them out. There is one of the old GNR diesels in the Isle of Man.

When I was a ticket collector at Banbridge, an American arrived lookin for the train for Dublin. At that time there was a wee diesel, some of them called it the "Dinkie", which made the connection between Banbridge and Scarva for the Dublin train, but when it had to be serviced, there was only one ye see, it was replaced by a small B engine and one coach. So, when this small engine and one coach came in the American said to me, "You did say I would get the Dublin connection here?" I says "Yes, that's right, that's it now". He took one look and said, "I guess I'll take one of those home to the kids!"

I was transferred the year we got the prize for the best kept station. Old Bob Eliot, smokin' the pipe as usual, he said "Ye know, yez wouldn'tlisten to me when I was tellin yez about these flowers". Ye know they sent seeds and all for it, and we put in a lot of work makin' beds ye see. He said, "The company could see yez were doin' nothing when yez don all that work. I told yez at the start, when yez got the cheque that was when they were soapin' yez now they have started to shave yez!" So they transferred me to Lisburn!

It was a good old job. I worked for them for forty seven years and they never caught me on yet!

The Ulster Railway Co. gave financial encouragement to other smaller companies - one of which was the Banbridge, Lisburn and Belfast Co. The line was opened on July 13th, 1863. It was fifteen miles long and branched South from Knockmore Junction. Like many other lines it fell to the Beeching axe in 1956.


There it stands almost unchanged since 1915 when I stumbled over its doorstep at the bright old age of four, the building that was then known as Garvaghy National School, just one of hundreds perhaps thousands such erections put there by the churches throughout this our "land of saints and scholars". Someone with more pretensions to historical know-ledge than I will be able to date these buildings of which not too many, I imagine, remain materially unchanged over the years as this one.

It was the centre of my life for the next decade, and so many memories crowd each other out that I am finding it hard to focus on any one. There were those frosty mornings when we chased each other along the road to get to break the ice that had formed in the potholes during the night, the stove in school had not been lit long enough to destroy Jack Frost's artistry on all the school windows and the remains of yesterday's drinking water in the bucket in the school porch had a lovely coating of ice to be lifted out and thrown at any convenient target by those on their way to the well to fetch water for today's consumption. Delight when snow had fallen to enable slides to grow from school gate to church gate ably produced by the hobnails in the `big' boy's boots while the smaller children had their own private slide to help each other negotiate without falling in the little playground inside the gate. Traffic on the road was not a problem since bicycles had bells and farm carts had noisy iron-shod wheels.

On occasional rainy days the porch reeked of wet overcoats and caps and it was a comfort to gather round the stove to get stockings dried before the serious day's work began with religious instruction, as stated on the card hanging by the door. This card was carefully turned at the end of the half-hour to proclaim to anyone who came in that secular instruction was now the order of the day. Those were the days when the lunches, mostly consisting of soda bread and butter washed down by fresh sweet milk out of a bottle carried in the satchels of sixty or so noisy children had to be consumed inside the building during the half-hour allocated to `playtime' no peace for the teachers on those day's, fortunately few.

Spring never failed to provide us with so many new experiences, new leaves to enable us to identify all the trees in the locality, new flowers toJohnny Bryson & Minnie Mills with James Stirling outside his chemist shop in Market Square in 1932. (F.G.) be found in the hedgerows and recorded in the nature study book which hung on the wall, bird's nests to be found and the variety of size and colour of eggs learnt and most of all winter boots or clogs discarded when bare feet were again in evidence and toes were `crigged' or scuffled along the dust at the sides of the roads. What a relief it must have been to the ears of the teachers not to have to put up with the noise of studded boots or shod clogs on wooden floors.

In school as well as introducing us to cursive handwriting, transcription, dictation, composition, analysing, parsing, parts of speech, literature, poetry, geography, history, multiplication and division tables and application, decimals, fractions and such mathematical exer cises even up to stocks and shares Miss Clinton presented us with the rudiments of science viz. properties of gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide, astronomy as in the movements of earth and moon in relation to sun causing seasons and day and night and particularly natural history I can still remember the thrill of learning about dicotyledons and monocotyledons.

When we reached the senior classes we donned our white aprons and learnt to bake bread and scones, cook dinners such as Irish stew and a favourite of mine to this day boiled bacon and cabbage. We even had lessons on how to keep certain household artifacts clean. It was a red letter day when I took our halldoor brass knocker to school to learn how to keep it shining and bright though I must confess that I've forgotten most of the commodities that we used like the powder we called whitening, bath brick and black lead for the stove. Well, household maintenance was never my forte.

Perhaps more important were the incidental lessons of behaviour when we learned to get along with our neighbours by being tolerant, forgiving, truthful, observing others right to privacy and respecting other people's property, lessons not always easy to learn. Of course we had our disagreements over which we fought with whatever weapons were available as fists for the boys, words by those able to use them and even hair pulling shame! Yes, shame was instilled in us too. I can hear the admonition 'you ought to be ashamed of yourself coming at me over the years and I am sure it deterred many of us from indulging recklessly in unacceptable behaviour.

Yes, there stands the building now used as a church hall where hundreds of children spent their early years willingly or otherwise, a monument to those who went on to live out their lives all over the world and adjusted to fit into whatever environment fate placed them.


The Irish News of 28th May, 1920 contains the following story in connection with Dromore.

"During a violent thunderstorm over Dromore and district on Wednesday evening, a farmer, Robert Thompson, of Islanderry, and his nephew, a young man named Walter Arlow were struck down by lightning. Two horses, valued about 100 pounds, with which they were working at potatoes, were killed instantaneously.

Gable end of a new bungalow now occupies the possible site of the lightning strike. (G.M.)Arlow was the first to recover from the shock, and on coming to, succeeded in calling help and having Thompson removed home. Dr. Carlisle was quickly in attendance and it is stated that, although partially paralysed, the patient will eventually recover. Arlow says that his forehead was scorched, and that when he recovered consciousness, he noticed that the dead horses appeared to be enveloped in a blue smoke, and that a heavy odour exuded from their bodies.

The rainfall which followed the thunderstorm was the most extraordinary ever known in the locality. Few of the local water channels were able to contain it, with the result that many parts of the town were flooded."

Lightning is caused when there is a discharge of electricity either between clouds or between clouds and the earth. Although most lightning storms pass peacefully there have been many fatalities. In Zimbabwe in 1972 a bolt of lightning hit a building killing 25 people. The injuries caused by lightning can be varied depending on the severity of the strike. What actually happens is that the body is subjected to an electrical discharge which interferes with the body's own electrical system. In severe cases this is so great that the heart will stop altogether, it additionally can cause the skin to be burned to a significant degree.

Intrigued by this I set out to find out some more information and indeed to see if anyone could recall either of the two gentlemen concerned. We contacted a president of Islanderry who was able to supply us with the following information.

There was a seam of an iron substance contained in the ground at least 500 yards long that emerges to the surface in various locations in the area. The map shown on the opposing page gives you an idea of the extent of the iron area and also shows the spot where both men were struck.

My informant cites several places where this seam surfaces near his hedgerows pointing to the fact that lightning hApproximate position of lightning strikead struck those places burning his hedges out. He also recalled that Robert Thompson was using an iron plough and that the harnesses of the horses also contained a great deal of iron.

The lightning struck the plough killing both horses and running up the handles of the plough injuring Robert Thompson. Young Arlow who was in the vicinity was hit by the force of the strike but was able to summon help to get Robert to hospital.

He spent some time in hospital recovering from his ordeal and the marks of the strike on his body, two blue almost bruise like marks the size of a farthing were with him until the day he died. The psychological effects also stayed with him throughout his life and he could tell of the onset of thunder storms, hiding in the corner of the room with his eyes closed until they had passed overhead.

An interesting aside was that after being struck by lightning Robert developed the power to divine water saying that he could feel it under his feet. He was much in demand in the area and his skill developed to such an extent that he could tell the depth of water when using a divining rod.