Dromore and District Local Historical Group Journal

Volume 3



by John McGrehan

During the past months there has been great activity in the town with the laying of new water mains and although traffic has been subject to some disruption, yet with the use of present day machinery the work has been carried out very quickly.

When the original water scheme was completed nearly 70 years ago, with the laying of cast iron mains, the work was done mainly by manual labour and it took the contractor, Grainger Bros. of Holywood, much " longer to complete the scheme in comparison. In the original scheme, which was carried out to the order of Dromore Urban Council, the water supply was extracted from a stream which started on one of the Dromara mountains. A reservoir to assist in conserving this supply of water was erected at the top of Bankhead's Hill. This scheme provided for the erection of fountains off the water main in different places in each street in the town, from which people were able to draw water and carry it home.

However, it was not long until it became evident that this scheme was proving insufficient to meet the needs of the town and during the summer it was common for the supply of water to be turned off at night, so that it could gather sufficiently to satisfy people's requirements when turned on again the next day. Since that time, Dromore had joined the Portadown & Banbridge Regional Joint Water Board and with the erection of different dams and the construction of new trunk lines we were assured of an adequate supply of water at all times.

While we appreciate how convenient it is today to just go over to the tap and get as much water as we want, it is well to reflect on how we got our water before these schemes came into being.

In the Square opposite Messers Neeson's shop just outside the low wall which once enclosed the Market Yard, there stood a pump which always had a plentiful supply of water at all times throughout the year. There was also a granite drinking trough at this pump which served the purpose of providing drinking facilities for horses. As a matter of interest, it is pleasing to see that this pump, together with the trough, has been preserved and erected within the Market Square on the opposite side of the Town Hall from it's original position.

In Meeting Street there was also a good pump, the same style as the one in the Square, which provided a bountiful supply of good cold spring water and no matter how warm and dry the weather was in the Summer we were always assured of a good supply of water. This pump was erected about a quarter of the way up Meeting Street hill and was nearly in the centre of the road.

While this pump gave great service, if the wheels were not regularly oiled, when it was being used it made a screeching noise which was very disturbing, especially late at night or early in the morning. Brewery Lane also had a pump, but during the summer it was not reliable as the spring would dry up and you could not get any water. At the back of a house convenient to this pump there was another pump from which you could get water, but to get to this pump you had to go through a blacksmith's shop and when there was a good number of horses waiting to be shod it was not a pleasant task going past these animals! Rampart Street too, had a pump which served the needs of the people in that locality. Up in that direction there was also a pump up at Barban Hill. The pump in Church Street was situated at the bottom of very steep steps and it was not too handy to carry full cans or buckets back up these. Mount Street, Gallows Street and Cross Lane each had their pumps and some people had quite a distance to carry the water for their daily requirements. As one lady observed, "You made a can of water last a long time!"

There was a pump in Weir's Row and some people from Princes Street carried water from it as they preferred this source of supply. Outside the town there were also pumps at Holm Terrace but there were two well known pumps: one was at the top of Circular Road, Known as Peggy's pump and the other at Drumbroneth, known as Cherry's pump. Peggy's pump was situated a short distance from the road and sometimes as you went to get water, you had to take the top off the pump and put some water in to get the pump started. The pump in Drumbroneth took it's name from a family who lived in it's vicinity.

There were also a large number of spring wells from which people drew their drinking water without the assistance of a pump. There were two of these which were , better known than the others. One in Ballynaris called Bishop's Well and the other known as the Fairy Well. The Fairy Well was situated in a field belonging to Caughey. Brothers at the side of the Weir's Stone. This well was known to many locally and people came from a distance to get water from it as they felt it tasted better.

For washing some people liked to obtain soft water, so they placed a barrel at the end of the down pipe and collected the rain water from the roof for this purpose.

In those days it was a common sight to see a person carrying two buckets full of water, with a hoop between them to keep the water from spilling round them.

FOUNTAINS:   (a) were used as a method of drawing water, by the simple turning of a knob, from the piped main water supply system
PUMPS:   were used to raise water from various spring wells prior to the introduction of a piped mains supply. This was by the laborious up and down action of the handle (b) or by manually turning the handle in a circular motion (c).


By Harold Gibson

Rev. Dr. J. K. StrainThe name of James Kirker Strain is virtually unknown in Dromore and district today yet he spent some 48 years living in the town and was the minister of First Dromore Presbyterian Church from 1863 until 1907 having been assistant to the Rev. James Collins from his ordination in First Dromore in 1860. After the death of Mr. Collins in 1863 Mr. Strain became the Minister in full charge.

James Kirker Strain was born on June 19th 1834 and was the son of the Rev. Alexander Strain who was minister of the Presbyterian Church at Cremore, near Tyrones Ditches in County Armagh. Rev. Dr. J. K. Strain M.P.) The days in which he lived were difficult times both socially and politically. Little is known about his early days but as a student he achieved academic distinction and he graduated from Queen's College in 1856 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Strain was a brilliant pupil and records show that he carried off many prizes both at Queen's and at Assemblys College. His brilliance did not leave him in later years as he was awarded a Doctorate in Law from the Royal University of Ireland in 1885.

Great things were happening in the life of the church at this time. Revival had been sweeping across America and the effects of this revival continued into 1859 moving into Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Dromore, whilst not directly affected by the revival did witness a marked increase in church attendance and an increase in the number of prayer meetings in the district. It was in such a heightened time of spiritual awareness that James Kirker Strain came to Dromore. An account in the News Letter dated Saturday, 10th September, 1859 tells of an open air service being held on Sunday, 4th September, 1859 in a field belonging to Mr. John McDade, convenient to the town. "There were present at least 1000 persons, comprised of the middle and respectable inhabitants of the town and surrounding district".

Mr. Strain first preached in First Dromore on 4th December, 1859. He was one of a number of men to preach with a view to receiving a FIRST DROMORE CHURCH DURING HIS MINISTRY (F.G.)call to the church. On hearing him preach Thomas Jamison records in his diary "He is clever". However the congregation issued a call to another candidate, Mr. Boyle, on the 14th December, 1859. Mr. Boyle declined the call the next day and on 22nd January, 1860 Mr. Strain was back again in the pulpit of First Dromore and in the words of Mr. Jamison "he preached a most impressive sermon" using as his text "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Mr. Strain again conducted evening worship and preached from the text "What must I do to be saved." Mr. Jamison recorded that this was the most touching sermon that he ever heard. Mr. Strain was not the only nominee for the vacancy as a poll taken in the congregation on the 29th January shows. Two other men, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Arnold each received 1 vote but Mr. Strain received 73 votes. On the 7th February, 1860 Mr. Anderson and Mr. Jamison presented a call to Mr. Strain at a meeting of the Belfast Presbytery. Mr. Strain accepted the call at once and so his ordination took place on 27th March, 1860 in the presence of a large congregation in First Dromore Church.

As we have already mentioned he came as assistant to the Rev. Collins and spent those first three years under the guidance and influence of his senior. At this time Mr. Collins lived in Parkrow House while it appeared that Mr. Strain lived in rented accommodation in the town. Mr. Strain appeared to settle in to his new surroundings fairly quickly. Notes from Mr. Jamison tell of his sermons often accompanied by comments such as "this was one of the best sermons." The times in which he lived were marked by large attendances at public worship and by large numbers of pupils attending Sabbath school. For example, a prayer meeting held in Belfast on 2nd July, 1860 saw an attendance of around 20,000 people. This was one of many such gatherings that was held in the aftermath of the Revival and the Belfast meetings usually took place in Botanic Gardens. On July 12th, 1860 a social was held at which 310 Sunday school pupils had tea and Mr. Strain was presented with a preaching gown. On 2nd September, 1860 Mr. Strain preached to an immense congregation on the subject "The Signs of the Times" and the offering amounted to �6:10:0d.

Ireland was still recovering from the Potato Famine and all the consequences that had come upon the land were still keenly felt. Industry in Dromore was mainly hand loom weaving much of it being done in the homes. Ship building had just begun in Belfast a few years earlier and so the industrial future of Ireland was beginning to take shape. During Strain's ministry in Dromore much political change was attempted with Gladstone seeking to introduce Home Rule for Ireland. "My mission is to pacify Ireland," Gladstone remarked as he set off for Windsor to be accepted by Queen Victoria as her Prime Minister. These were also days of political uncertainty and the "Irish question" still dominant. It was in such days that James Kirker Strain lived and ministered among the people of Dromore. In 1881 the population of Dromore was given as 2491 and it is reported that the previous 15 years had witnessed a great change for the better at Dromore.

Queen Victoria was reigning the Empire so Victorian values and standards were very much to the fore.

A Visit to America

THE MANSE (W.P.)Travel was somewhat slower than it is today and given the account of Strain's visit to America he tells us that he left Dromore on 26th July, 1870 at 11.00 a.m. and eventually arrived in New York on Monday, 8th August, 1870 though he did not get off the ship until the next day due to custom house arrangements. It would appear that the reason Mr. Strain visited America was in order to raise funds for the building of a new manse. Parkrow House, where Collins had lived was not the property of the church. Mr. Strain undertook some preaching and gave lectures while in the States one of which was entitled "Happy Homes" and he tells us that there was a good attendance and the collection "amounted to the magnificent sum of $13:50c". On the Sabbath 3rd September he preached in Third United Presbyterian Church in Pittsburg after which he went West to Petersburg in Illinois before returning to the East and visiting Philadelphia, Baltimore, Princeton, Albany, Troy, Kinderhook, Newburg, New York, Brooklyn, Jersey City and many other places. He also went to Toronto and gives us an account of seeing the Niagara Falls. His was one of temporary disappointment and as he records, "The longer one looked at them the more awful and awe-inspiring they became". He was a man who enjoyed good preaching and in his little book he tells of the various preachers he heard. Some he heard gladly and others he described as being profane in their handling of the text. He was a man with a great sense of humour as is shown when he tells of falling asleep while listening to one preacher. He says "I fell asleep actually with my eyes open- a new plan which I would recommend to all sleepers in church!" On his last Sunday in America, the 6th November, 1870 he preached in 7th Avenue UP Church in New York at 10.30 a.m. He went to church in the afternoon and again in the evening and heard two other preachers, one whom he described as good and the other as no preacher at all!

The Remaining Years

Mr. Strain was a man who enjoyed preaching and he seemed to have gifts in that direction. He was what may be called a textual preacher and from records available together with the comments of Mr. Jamison he must surely have been one of the foremost preachers of his day. Now back in the work of the ministry after his tour of the United States the task that lay ahead of the people was the building of the manse.

During the 1870's Strain gave himself to the work of the ministry. His powerful preaching and winsome character won the hearts of many people. It was during this period that he met Maria Lousia Greer, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Greer of Annahilt and they were married by special licence during 1873. Their marriage was blessed with two sons and a daughter. They were the first family to live in the new manse in which Strain had been so instrumental in seeing its construction and which is still the manse of First Dromore to this present day. Dr. Strain was not immune from much of the suffering that life in those days had to offer. Their only daughter Lizzie, born on 3rd November, 1880 died just a few months before her 16th birthday on 26th August, 1896. Dr. Strain was never a robust man and had never enjoyed good health and the death of his only daughter was a severe blow to the family. Just a few years earlier, in 1881 he had been granted special permission by the General Assembly to retire on the grounds of ill health, something he declined to so. In fact in the next few years he seemed to be even more diligent and studious as he gained his Doctorate in 1885.

His two sons graduated, J. K C. Strain with a B.A. and T. G. Strain who received his B.A. from Cambridge. With the death of his daughter adding to his afflictions Dr. and Mrs. Strain continued in the work at First Dromore. He continued to preach and to catechise as health permitted. He saw his work in the congregation and with his people otherwise a man of his gifts and talents may have been widely used in the various courts of the church. During 1884 the World Presbyterian Alliance was held in Belfast and it is most likely that Dr. Strain would have been present at such a gathering considering that some of the finest theologians and outstanding preachers of the day were in attendance. However any mention of his membership of Committees or Boards of the General Assembly are not recorded and would confirm that his work was within his congregation. Dr. Strain carried on and as a report in The Irish Presbyterian of February 1908 states "he continued to work on and died in harness." On the 28th December, 1907 Dr. Strain left this scene of time having served all his ministry in First Dromore. The account of his death was recorded in The Witness of Friday 3rd January 1908 and read as follows "We deeply regret to have to announce the death of the Rev. J. K Strain LL.D., minister of First Presbyterian Church, Dromore, which occurred on Saturday at the Manse". The report of his obituary ran for almost two columns and gave details of the funeral service.

The Final Farewell

New Year's day 1908 was a solemn and sad day for Dromore and especially for the people of First Dromore. This was the day that Dr1922. THE GRAVESTONE OF THE STRAIN FAMILY (F.G.) . Strain was buried. A service was held at the Manse and the Rev. J. W. Gamble read from the Bible and the Rev. W. G. Glasgow led in prayer. The funeral cortege was large and impressive as it made its way from the Manse towards the church. Children from the Sabbath School preceded the hearse as the coffin was borne from the manse to the church by relays of the Session and Committee. Following immediately behind was a number of his fellow ministers including Rev. Dr. Davidson, Moderator of the General Assembly, Prof. S. L. Wilson, R. W. Hamilton, J. Rentoul, (Banbridge Road), J. W. Gamble, T. Dunn, J. Mitchell and James Irwin, Moderator of Dromore Presbytery.

At the church the funeral service was conducted by the Rev. R. W. Hamilton who spoke of Dr. Strain as a man "of exceptional abilities, of strong and intelligent convictions, of powerful and persuasive speech, of high Christian character" and went on to say that he had been an able minister of the New Testament that needed not be ashamed. Dr. Strain was described as a preacher with fine Evangelical fervour, devoted to the salvation and edification of your souls.

So after 48 years in Dromore the remains of James Kirker Strain were laid to rest in the adjoining graveyard. His widow left Dromore shortly afterwards and went to live in Dublin with her sister. She attended Adelaide Road Church until at the age of 76 she died unexpectedly on 24th February, A fine tombstone was erected and still stands in the graveyard today, at the rear of the church. An inscription reads: "He was a faithful earnest and eloquent preacher of the Gospel, a true friend to his flock, a man greatly beloved."


The story of a Visit to America. J. K. Strain, Belfast 1871.
The Church on the Hill. Donald Patton, Banbridge 1981.
County Down, A Guide and Directory, George Henry Bassett, Dublin 1886. Republished by Friars Bush Press, Belfast 1988.
The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland, edited by R. F. Foster, Oxford University Press 1989.
A History of Ulster. Jonathan Bardon, Blackstaff Press, Belfast 1992.
The Second Evangelical Awakening. J. Edwin Orr, London 1955.
The Year of Grace. William Gibson, Belfast, 1860.
The Witness and The Irish Presbyterian (Presbyterian Historical Society, Church House, Belfast.)


By Sam Johnston

Sam Agnew was born in the Kilntown district of Dromore in 1880 and died 1963. He was a many faceted, if unpolished rough diamond. Just the type that would have appealed to Charles Dickens who would most certainly have incorporated him, as he did with Mr. Micawber and Barnaby Rudge, as a captivating character in one of his novels had he ever encountered him.

He was a boot and shoemaker. He was a violinist. A flautist (tin whistle and fife). A timpanist (Lambeg drummer). A hunter (greyhounds, terriers and ferrets). A witty raconteur. And being my mother's brother he was my Uncle Sam; and thereby hangs this tale.

Sam plied his trade in a room off the kitchen in his house in the Cross Lane. There he would sit on a low bench with his implements on either side. The shoe, with a metal last inserted, was held in place on his lap with a loop of rope that went round it's instep and was tensioned by the instep of his foot at the other end. It was the custom of cobblers to use their laps in this way, and legs had to withstand the pounding of hammers necessary in the mending of footwear. This crouching posture was superseded - (in Dromore at any rate) by John Andy Magill who pioneered the method of standing at a workbench whereon the footwear was mounted on lasts which could rotate in any direction. This speeded up the task immensely and was much less laborious. Allied to that was a machine with whirling buffs and brushes which gave a "good as new" appearance to the repaired footwear at the touch of a button.

Sam looked what he was - a character. A small stout butt of a man with powerful arms and strong neck leading to a mobile face that mirrored his many moods. Atop of all this was a thick crop of hair that stood up as stiff as a yard-brush and was underpinned by eyebrows of like density. A squat nose with a convenient upturned tilt prevented his metal-rimmed spectacles from falling over it's edge. The old adage warns not to judge the book by the binding, and Sam's physiognomy belied the prodigious memory housed behind it. As my mother used to say, "Your uncle Sam has a head like an almanac". He could recite every town in the 32 counties and his favourite ploy was to ask schoolchildren to name them, which none of them could. His next question would be, "Do they teach you nothing in school these days?". Or he would ask them, "If the third of six was three, what would the fourth of twenty be?" I gained his respect when I answered that one correctly!* Then there was his great conundrum which still puzzles me to this day. It posed the question. "If a farmer sowed a field of corn, he was sowing, and if his wife was sewing a dress, she was sowing. If the farmer later said "We have sewn to-day" would it be spelt `SEWN' or `SOWN'?

After some fifty years I'm still awaiting the answer.

Sam started his working life in Ligoneil with a watchmaker and jeweller. He told of a man who brought in a watch which wouldn't go and said he would call for it next day. Sam watched carefully as the boss examined the works through his eyepiece and gave them a sharp puff with his mouth, whereupon the watch started working. "If I'm not here when he comes back for the watch, charge him five shillings for it!" he told Sam. The client returned and as the boss was absent, Sam charged him ten shillings. "Why did you charge him twice what I told you?" asked the boss on his return. "Because", said Sam "I blew into it too!!"

But life in the big city did not appeal to young Sam and yielding to nostalgia he walked the twenty miles home. He was soon apprenticed to a shoemaker named Mr. Purdy, who was a master craftsman by all accounts. Then, on having his time served, he married his wife Rachel and started his own business in Dromore.

Flexi-hours may be a modern method of conducting business but Sam was working this system 70 years ago! Being his own boss he could lie in bed as long as he liked before starting to repair some footwear, but often when the sun penetrated the workshop window the call of the open country would be too much for him and he would down tools, put on his outdoor clothing, open the door to the backyard to admit a greyhound, a lurcher, an Irish terrier and a Jack Russell, all barking and whining in anticipation of the impending hunt for hares and rabbits. Then, putting a leash on the greyhound, he would open the front door through which would cascade this canine cavalcade which petrified passing pedestrians as the hairy horde swarmed around them.

The Magherabeg district was his favourite hunting ground and he found it convenient to get there by walking the railway line from the Maypole bridge. He would tell of two near mishaps which befell him on such journeys. Seeing a train approaching he went a few yards down the very steep embankment and held the greyhound until the train passed. The dog panicked as the engine went by and leaped out of his grasp, sending his roly-poly body tumbling over and over down the steep slope. He feared for his limbs, if not his life, but fortunately a clump of whins brought him to a prickly halt half-way down.

The other episode he told, tongue-in-cheek, was when he was walking the line with the rocky walls of the `cutting' on either side. The strong wind blowing in his ears muffled the sound of the overtaking train. It was only the vibration of the sleepers that made him look around to find the engine almost on top of him! So he took to his heels and ran in front as hard as he could. The engine driver spotted him and shouted, "Run up the bank man! Run up the bank!" Whereupon Sam shouted over his shoulder, "Bank hell! It's taking me busy beating you on the flat!"

The hunting over he would return to his workshop and work until nearly midnight. It was an ideal existence which many envied.

His workshop was seldom without company and at times overflowed with people who congregated there to enjoy the crack and music, for he loved to entertain with fiddle, fife and tin whistle. In those pre-T.V. days Agnew's was the place to go for guaranteed pleasure.

UNCLE SAM ON ONE OF HIS OUTINGS TO 'THE FIELD'His floor was strewn with footwear, newly repaired, awaiting repair or beyond repair. Once when a farmer sought him to fix a pair of boots, Sam looked them over in disgust and gave his opinion. "If there had been uppers on them I might have been able to put soles on them, or if there had been soles on them I could have put uppers on them, but they're clean done." The farmer asked despairingly, "Surely you can do something for me?" "Well," said Sam, "I could sell you a pair of laces, for the eyeholes aren't too bad!"

A good selling line was second-hand Army boots which arrived from time to time in hessian bags. They were not always tied in pairs and the prospective buyer had to sort through them to get a pair that matched.

They were priced at 15 shillings (75p.) and according to Sam, he had little or no profit at the price. So much so, that when a client asked him to wrap his purchase in paper, Sam refused, saying if he wrapped them he would be giving away his profit.

The snag about the Army boots was that they were studded with broad headed nails called protectors and if one fell out with usage it left a small hole in the sole through which water would seep on rainy days.

A purchaser was leaving the workshop with a pair under his arm and with an afterthought turned and asked Sam, "Will these boots keep out the wet?" "What age of a man are you?" asked Sam. "I'm 64 come June," he said. "Well surely to goodness a man come to your time of day knows to keep out of puddles," said Sam.

One of the eternal snags in commerce is getting prompt payment for services rendered. Sam had been bitten too often in that respect, so he had several notices hanging in eye-catching positions. Here are some of them.

`My work is good. My price is low.
Cash on the nail before you go!'
or `Good friends did come and I did trust them
I lost their money and their custom.
To lose them both did grieve me sore,
So I've decided to trust no more.
And hanging on an ancient clock that hadn't worked for years was the short, blunt reminder: `NO TICK HERE'.

With so many demands on his time and passtimes customers would sometimes find that their shoes that should have been ready and mended, still hadn't been touched. He would promise sincerely that they would be ready early next week. "Sure you told me last week," ranted a disappointed lady, "And you'll never get to heaven for telling such lies".

"Them's not lies, M'em", explained Sam, "Them's what you call `business fibs"'. Implying that one could tell `business fibs' with impunity while other untruths condemned the teller to hell's fire!

One of the reasons for the late delivery of day-to-day repairs was when Sam undertook to manufacture handmade footwear. This was a time-consuming job and entailed the addition of little leather patches on the wooden last or pattern to allow for the client's bunions etc., and only those people with above average wages could afford to pay for the handmade article. If they squeaked when walking this was regarded as a status symbol, denoting one could afford such up-market footwear. My wife tells me that around Comber way people translated the `squeak squeak' as saying `not paid, not paid'. Sam confided in me that to guarantee the squeak he would insert a piece of felt between the leather in the sole and that gave the required sound as the leathers flexed when walking.

Uncle Sam, being self-taught, played all his instruments by ear and his stance when he played the fiddle was unique for instead of resting it under his chin, he held it low on his left breast, and his head was turned away at right-angles instead of in line with the strings. His face was set in an impassive mask as he gazed fixedly at the wall. Then with the tune finished he would explode in a hearty laugh and ask, "What do you think of that one, bhoy?" And what titles he had for them! Such as `Erin's Farewell', `The Liverpool Hornpipe', `The Irish Washerwoman', `The Cuckoo's Nest', `The Blackbird', `The oul-rag-a-doo', "The Mason's Apron', `The Wind That Shakes the Barley', Pop Goes The Weasel', `The Oul Sows Ramble To The Pratie Bing', `A Cup of Coffee' ("There's no sugar in it!" he always remarked) `The White Cockade', and so on and so on. The titles are still etched in my mind though I have forgotten some of the tunes.

He would tell the true story, punctuated by much chuckling, of hearing about a man called Pat who was learning to play the fiddle by scraping and scratching at a tune called "Sausages for Tea", which was putting his brothers round the bend, and his own life in danger. One day Pat's brother Joe dropped in to see Sam and after a bit of chat, Sam reached for his fiddle and said, "I'm going to play you a great tune called `Sausages for Tea'." "You'll do damn all of the sort!," snorted Joe, making for the door. "I've had `Sausages for Tea' for the last fortnight and I can't take any more," and disappeared like a flash. By the time Sam dandered to his front door Joe was disappearing round the Gospel Hall corner some sixty yards away, with his coat tails flying!

Sam's other instruments were the tin whistle, the fife and the drum. Orange parades would find him fifing to Lambeg drums and how he detested aimless blattering by beginners. "That rumbly-dumbly sort of playing is just a waste of my music", he would say, sticking the fife in his hip pocket where it remained till more competent drummers took over. He had a miniature drum about half scale in his workshop and I used to whistle a tune and He would drum to it, - and what drumming! The staccato reverberation and changing tempos and rhythms in that small room, produced a tingling in the spine and a stinging in the eye that was exceedingly exhilarating and perhaps primitive. It had nothing to so with political connotations or religious undertones, for Sam was not a bigot, as the multiplicity of his customers testified. It was an extrovert expression of the rhythms housed in that barrel of a body. Invariably he would remark after such a `rivetting' session. "That will help to soften the wax in your ears".

There were other music-makers in the house in the form of canaries and `mules' and when silent Sam would encourage them to sing by calling, "Bully Dick, Bully Dick!" and invariably they would respond with their sweet trilling. The mules were dark feathered birds and were the offspring of a canary mated with a goldfinch, which resulted in above average singing ability, but, being hybrids, they, like the four-footed mules they were named after, were unable to reproduce their species.

As a teenager I would frequent Uncle Sam's about three times a week and would lend a hand by stripping off worn soles and heels ready for repair. To the repaired footwear I would apply an inky wash to the soles and heels. The sides of the heels and uppers were daubed with a pitch-like substance called `heelball' and gave the footwear a pleasing aspect. I mention the foregoing so that the reader will better appreciate another of Sam's favourite stories. He was coming home one evening and noticed a publican standing in the doorway of his premises trying to hold upright a noted tippler who, with a skinful of drink and dearth of cash in his pocket, had become a nuisance to other customers. Sam was hailed and entreated by the publican to take the drunk home, to which he replied, "When I get my job done and nicely heelballed, I put it in the window for the public to see my handiwork, so I suggest your man should be put in your window and let the public see what you can do!"

Before myxomatosis ravaged the rabbit population they were the poor man's chicken, and indeed, when properly cooked, were every bit as nutritious and tasty. They were trapped in great numbers by being driven into nets placed at the ends of their burrows down which they were pursued by ferrets. Sam bred ferrets for this purpose but so great was the demand for them, he had to buy them in from outside sources. Most of these were delivered by rail and were ravenous when they arrived. One such consignment was released from their container and commenced to quest all around the room in search of food. After several re-counts it was agreed that one was missing from the original order. With an after thought, Sam upended the box and out tumbled a handful of straw and the pelt of the missing ferret! It had been cannibalized by it's ferocious `friends'. When I expressed regret at his loss of profit, Sam consoled me by saying he would spread the cost of the dead one over the price of the others. "Sure", he said, "They're getting a ferret and a bit anyway!"

He had fished every river, Lough, lake and dam for miles around, and I would listen enthralled as he told of big fish he had caught and the even bigger ones that got away. I had been taken by my father to fish at a Lough at Shanrod for perch - I still have vivid memories of knocking back the buns and lemonade that Da bought in a wee shop nearby. Sam enquired how we had got on at the fishing and I told him we had caught a dozen medium sized fish, but the big one, as always, got away. We actually had it in the net but it gave one almighty leap, broke the line and escaped; which was a pity for it weighed two pounds exactly! He was briskly hammering in nails as he listened and as the tempo of hammering eased I could see he was turning over in his mind what I had just told him. Finally he stopped, looked over the rim of his glasses, pointed the hammer at me and said accusingly, "Houl on a minute, lad. How did you know it weighed two pounds if it got away?" "Because," said I, "It had the scales on it's back!" "Oh! Go to hell!" he exploded and vented his anger with a venomous attack on the nails. He had `walked into it' and I felt sorry for leading him on, for a great maxim of his was, "Chaff will not catch an old bird, it takes corn." But he soon forgave me and caught out lots of others as he retold the tale again and again.

I mentioned his dogs earlier. The only one he would let out on it's own was the big lurcher - a cross between a greyhound and a large collie-and as I was crossing the Square on my way to Sam's, I noticed this dog scavenging in entries and shop doorways. I told Sam what I had seen and he gave a great laugh and said, "He's a quare dog thon! He lifted a pound of sausages out of a woman's basket in the butchers last week, and I'm waiting on him coming home now to see what he's bringing me for the dinner!"

He took to wearing the inner tube of a bicycle tyre and I asked the reason. "Well." he explained," I can't be bothered adjusting my belt after I've had a big feed, but the tube is handier for it comes and goes with the tide".

The coalman called one day and accused him of not speaking to him when he passed in the street last Saturday night. "Sure I didn't know you," said Sam, "You must have had your face washed!"

There was the occasion when, as a lad, he was walking along the road eating a piece of bread. He met a woman with a small dog which kept jumping annoyingly around him, trying to get the bread. "Shall I throw it a piece?" asked Sam. "Please do," she replied. Whereupon Sam caught the dog and threw it over the hedge!

He liked a game of football and often told of when they were boys, his brother and he were on the same side, playing with a hanky ball' in the roadway. As Sam dribbled through he was fouled with a painful kick to the shin. He went down, crying with the pain and eventually his brother came over and said, "Stop your blirting! Sure we're getting a penalty!"

I could go on but I'll end with the story of the night his wife burnt the porridge! My father and I were having a great chat with Sam in the workshop and Rachel, Sam's wife, who had been making a pot of porridge for supper, joined us. Suddenly Sam's nostrils twitched and he let out a gulder, "You've burnt the porridge, woman!" Up we all got and made for the kitchen. Sam, in a towering rage, shouting abuse at Rachel, who panicked and grabbed a wooden spoon and would have stirred the porridge but my father stayed her hand. And, trying to pour oil on troubled waters, admitted to occasionally burning his, but if one spooned off the top layers carefully they tasted not too bad. But Sam was furious and yelled "If they taste as good as you say we'll burn them every bloody night from this on!" My whole body vibrated with suppressed laughter at the thought of Rachel presenting a burnt offering ad infinitum. Though I expected Sam to hit me a clout in his anger, I had to explode with one great bellylaugh which triggered off a chain-reaction which left the four of us hilariously helpless. Thus the situation was defused in humour.

When Sam died, old Aunt Rachel was taken to live in her son's home where she spent the rest of her days in a serenity and style she had never known before. Whenever I visited her she was always sure to place her hand in mine and shaking gently with laughter she would say, "Sam, will you ever forget the night I burnt the porridge?"

As I grew older I met the girl who became my wife and our `coortin' left me with less time to see Uncle Sam. He noticed my absence and asked me had I got a girl? I told him all and jokingly said I hoped my infrequent visits wouldn't result in him removing me from his will.

"No. I haven't struck you off, but now you'll only get a 'mention'," he said.

However, he did leave me a legacy. A legacy of homespun anecdotes and yarns, memories of quaint figures of speech and his inimitable ability to cheer up the cheerless.


Looking down the years I can remember cobblers in every street in Dromore. There were the Cammock's, Billy and Johnny, Harry and Johnny Morgan in Meeting Street. Rampart Street had a Mr. Clokey. Bridge Street had the Wilkinsons and there were various men who worked for Castles Bros., one of whom was Charlie McKee. John Andy Magill wrought round the Rocks along with his son Billy and Bobby Carr. Jemmy Walker and Son operated in Church Street. Gallows Street had Stanley Jess, Tommy Rice and James McComish. Uncle Sam Agnew plied his trade in Cross Lane. Geo. McCalister had, besides himself, his son Charlie along with Willie Cherry, Thomas Beggs and Herbie McClune and Mount Street had Billy Barr and Robert McDonald. There was plenty of work for them all until synthetic soles ousted leather in footwear, making shoes much cheaper.

Indeed it was more economical to buy new ones than to have the worn ones repaired. So cobblers became a dying species, with Wilfred Mason being the last craftsman to close his door in 1992.

* Answer to question = 71/2