Dromore and District Local Historical Group Journal

Volume 3



by Henry Murray

On an evening in October of 1992, The Dromore and District Local Historical Group had the privilege of being addressed on St. Colman, the Patron of Dromore, by Henry Murray. His erudite lecture covered the growth of monasticism in the early Church and it's spread in Europe, before being introduced to Ireland by St. Patrick and culminating locally in Colman's founding of his religious settlement in the town in the early sixth century. We have the honour and pleasure of presenting the following excerpt from Mr. Murray's address:

The first mention we get of Colman of Dromore is in the Acta of St. Coelan and the lives of St. Finnian. Colman was a disciple of Coelan when the latter ruled as Abbot of Noendron about AD 520. By this time, the monastic ideal at Armagh and elsewhere in Ireland had grown in popularity, but without serious interference with the episcopal constitution which Patrick had established within the country. Colman is referred to in different martyrologies as Colman or Mocholmoca, founder of Druim Mor in Ui Echach Ulad (Dromore, Co. Down). The foundation of Colman at Dromore is referred to by the historians as one of the more important foundations and ranks alongside those of Jarlath at Tuam, Senan of Scattery Island, Fachtna of Ross (or Roscarbery in Cork) and Bairre of Cork. All these were bishops. The Lives of the Saints describe how Coelan (Colman's first teacher) seeing the great grace with which the boy's soul was adorned and the striking miracle which he wrought "sent him safe in body and mind to other holy abbots, that he may see their rules and their manner of Life, and study the scriptures with them".

Colman, like so many of his contemporaries in the sixth century, was an abbot as well as a bishop. The question arises: "Did the head of the Monastery rule thus as bishop or abbot?" There is no evidence that the question was ever discussed. But the fashion was to emphasise the spiritual excellence of the Episcopal office by demanding of those who held it a life of stern renunciation under a rigorous rule.

For much of the knowledge of the life of St. Colman, we have to rely on popular traditions more than on reliable historical documents. According to John O'Hanlon in his "Lives of the Irish Saints," there were at least one hundred and twenty bearing the name of Saint Colman. A story is told that on one occasion, a new Abbot was appointed to a certain abbey. In order to get to know the names of the monks, he decided to bring them to the river for a swim and to call out the popular names of the time. By so doing, he hoped to get to know each monk. Unfortunately, the first name he called was Colman, whereupon, all the monks jumped into the river simultaneously. Folklore of course.

However, there are Manuscript Lives of Colman of Dromore preserved e.g. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, among the Burgundian Library Manuscripts at Brussells, the latter being described as "Vita S. Colman : E. Drum!." A further manuscript life was in the possession of the Bollandists' Library at Antwerp towards the end of the seventeenth century.

According to the "Acts Sanctorum Hiberniae" (Acts of The Saints of Ireland), St. Patrick, on two different occasions, predicted the birth of St. Colman. On one occasion, whilst travelling from Armagh to the monastery at Saul, he was hospitably entertained by a bishop (one of the many Patrick himself ordained) who at his departure offered himself and his establishment to Patrick, to which Patrick replied, "Thou art not assigned to me, but, after sixty years, one must be born, who shall found his monastery in an adjoining valley. There, a little while ago, whilst engaged in singing Mass, I saw through the church window a great multitude of angels assembled". On another occasion, to another bishop who also wished to become subject to Patrick, the latter replied "Trust me, I cannot receive you, because God has destined you for a certain holy man, who will build his monastery on the northern bank of a river called Locha. He shall be venerable in the sight of God and man."

Whilst Colman is the name most commonly invoked, the saint is referred to by other names. In the Aberdeen Breviary, he is called Colmoc and in the Aengussian Martyrology, he is referred to as Mocolmus. Other names applied to him were Colmus, Mocolmoc and Colmanelus.

There is a great degree of uncertainty about the precise date of Colman's birth, but he was probably born 470 A.D. The Act Sanctorum, as taken from the Salamancan Manuscript, assure us that St. Colman, Bishop of Dromore, derived his descent from the Dalriads of Ards territory. This district is also called Dalaradia, meaning the people or off- spring of Araidhe. According to venerable Bede, Dal signifies a part or portion, and was used to express a race or descent.

Hence Dal Araidhe or anglicised to Dalaradia. Its name seems to have been derived from Fiach, surnamed Aradius, King of Ulster. It is said that Colman was baptised by a bishop, bearing his own name who was also his uncle.

According to accounts, Almighty God caused a fountain to spring up suddenly from the earth in which Colman was baptised.

As indicated previously, St. Colman's first teacher was St. Caylan (or Coelan) who was the first Abbott of Nendrum, who was afterwards Bishop of Down. Some years before Colman's birth, a monastery had been founded by a Saint Mochaoi, at a place called Nendrum on the Shores of Strangford Lough where the ruins of three "Cashels" or concentric circles of dry built stone walls can be seen to-day after 1,500 years. They are on an island, joined to the mainland by a short causeway called Mahee Island, after the founder. The site has been professionally excavated and is under the care of the state. A little bay on the nearby Ramish Island has been known from time immemorial as Colman's Bay. It was here, at Nendrum Abbey, St. Colman studied under the aegis of St. Caylan.

During this period of study at Nendrum, Colman became noted for his performance of miracles, through God's assistance. Having received the benediction of Caylan Colman set out to visit other monasteries and to learn all he could from various abbots and their manner of living. Among those he visited were Aylbeus (Ailbe) Bishop of Emly and Maonyseus (Macnissius) Bishop of Conor. The latter has a prescience concerning his guest's arrival and ordered all things necessary for him to be prepared. Colman was received warmly by Macnissius and Colman consulted him about establishing a religious house, to which Macnissius replied: "It is the will of God that you erect a monastery and within the bounds of Coba plain". According to the advice given, Colman sought the place indicated. In a valley, and on a spot, formerly designated by St. Patrick, Colman established his dwelling, probably before the year 514 A.D. when St. Mac Nissi died. It was near a river called Locha, now known as Lagan.

This place now called Dromore, was situated in the Dalaradian territory of which St. Colman was a native. The O'Clerys gave Drum Mor the alternative name of Drum Mocholmog, in Ui Eachach Uladh, according to the martyrology of Donegal. Here, at Dromore, Colman trained a number of fervent monks in the practices of the religious life, not least of whom was St. Finnian of Movilla. During his lifetime, the abbey was raised to an episcopal see of which Colman became the first bishop. This is why he is reverenced to the present time on 7th June each year as Patron of Dromore Church and Diocese. In a very short time, his followers increased greatly in numbers and they all observed a very strict rule of discipline. St. Colman was, for all of them, an exemplar of virtue by prayer, vigils and abstinence.

No trace of the original monastery remains though it was probably on the site where the present Church of Ireland Cathedral stands. The medieval cathedral which was previously there was destroyed during the 1641 wars.

In Appendix II of "Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Conor and Dromore" reference.is made to the hostile feeling which prevailed in Colman's days between the ecclesiastical and bardic orders. This might explain the story which is told that on one occasion, when Colman was preaching in a certain wood, he was approached by a crowd of bards who demanded a gift from him. Colman said "At present, I have nothing to give you but God's word". One of them replied: "Keep the word of God for yourself, and give us something else," to which Colman replied: "You foolishly reject the best and select the worst of gifts". To satisfy their curiosity, they then asked him to perform a miracle, whereupon, the earth opened and swallowed them up.

According to the "Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae", St. Colman is said to have thrice visited the tomb of the Apostles in Rome. On one of these journeys homewards, carrying relics of holy apostles, he visited the house of a King of Britain. On the night of his arrival the queen gave birth to a dead son. Through the power of God and the merits of the holy Apostles whose relics he carried, Colman brought the child to life and that child, whom Colman fostered and taught, was no other than St. David of Wales who became a renowned Bishop of Menevia. That is possibly why, in Wales there is a place called Llangolman.

On 3rd November, 1991, a beautiful statue in stone, carved and executed by the late Father Henry Flanagan, a Dominican Priest, was unveiled and dedicated in the Catholic Cathedral of St. Patrick and St. Colman in Newry, by the present R.C. Bishop of Dromore, Most Reverend Dr. F. G. Brooks. At the feet of the Saint rests a small deer or hind. The story is told that our Saint once found a hind which had strayed from its dam, and the Saint called the animal to him, probably with a whistle or similar instrument (described as ligni sono, or by the sound of wood). Then he placed it with some heifers from which a calf had been stolen. Soon the heifers began to treat the hind as if it had been one of their own species.

At stated times, it herded with them, until at last, it returned to its own dam. This little story is told to illustrate that, although rough and rigorous in the practice of asceticism in his own life, he was also compassionate and kind to all God's creatures - man or beast.

The date of Colman's death is uncertain, but was likely towards the middle of the sixth century and he is said to have been buried in the "city" of Dromore which is most probable. His Feast is celebrated on 7th June as his name occurs on that date in the "Feiline" of St. Aengus, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman and in the Martyrology of Donegal. St. Colman is also venerated in Scotland, as, in the Breviary of Aberdeen, there is an office of St. Colmoc at 6th June. Again, in the Calendar of Drummond referred to in Bishop Forbes' "Kalendars of Scottish Saints", at 7th June is recorded Natalis of St. Mocholmoc in Ireland. Likewise, in the "Memorial of Ancient British Piety", the festival of St. Colmoc, first Bishop of Dromore, is entered at 7th June. This possibly explains why a church in Scotland is named after him, Inis mo-Cholmaig.

Historians have been unable to discover in ancient records any Bishop of Dromore after St. Colman between the date of his death and the arrival of the English in this island except Maclbrighde, son of Cathasach, Bishop and Abbot of Druim Mor-Mocholmog who died in A.D. 972 or 974 and another named Rigan who died about the year 1101. It is observed that, in the "Bibliotheca Pontificia" compiled by Pope Honorius III before his elevation to the Papacy, there is no mention of the See of Dromore. Some historians held that in the dark historic period between the 6th and 13th centuries, Dromore may have been amalgamated with the Archiepiscopal See of Armagh as the bishopric of Dromore was regarded as of lesser consequence.


"CAUGHT IN TIME" by W. A. Maguire, The photographs of Alex Hogg of Belfast.
1870-1939, Friars Bush Press. �7.50.

Dr. Maguire has given historians a permanent record of life in Belfast and beyond in the earlier part of this century, with the production of this excellent book. Alex Hogg was a professional photographer from 1901 until his death in 1939 and during that time he left a collection of photographs that capture the atmosphere of those days.

The book is divided into 15 sections which includes Places, Linen, People at Work, Transport and Travel, Hotels and eating places, City Scenes and many more.

His photographs portray the tranquility of Ardglass contrasting with that of tobacco manufacturing at Gallaher's factory in York Street. He captures the elegance of the Grand Central Hotel and the ornate surroundings of the Grand Opera House and audience as seen on Saturday 4th August 1917.

Transport is featured from horse drawn carts to Harry Ferguson's aeroplane at Newcastle.

As well as the magnificent photographs a short biography of Hogg, together with a brief history of Professional Photography in Belfast before 1900, complements the book and adds to its value as a reference work but primarily this book will give hours of pleasure during long winter evenings perusing life and work, people and places so many years ago. -Bill Laney.

by Will Patterson

Ulster QueenThe mode of travelling in the early days was by the railways which were established in the early 1800's and linked up most of the towns in Ireland.

Dromore and Banbridge lines were opened around the 1860's by The Great Northern Railways and most people travelled by train to their work all over the country. The train was the undisputed king of travel though with the arrival of the internal combustion engine other means of transport were sure to appear.

In 1923 Alexander (Sandy) Spence formed a bus service called Spence's Auto Services in Dromore. He was joined by James P McCrea who was proprietor of a well established retail business in Church Street, Dromore. McCrea had spent some time in Canada and is thought to have been responsible for bringing the first tinned fruit and food to his shop in the early days.

The bus service was then called Spence and McCrea and was the first public transport company to operate in the Lisburn area. The "UlsterThe Leader, 19/4/24 Queen", a solid tyred 36 seater was the first bus to leave Dromore Square on a Wednesday in December 1923 at 9.30 a.m. calling at Hillsborough and Lisburn and finally reaching its destination some two hours later, the Black Man in College Square, Belfast. Some three months later a second bus, the "Northern Queen" was added to the route and the return trips increased from twice daily to five times daily and two trips on Sundays. With an increase in demand from such means of transport a service to Banbridge commenced during 1924.

Others saw business opportunities in providing bus services and William Jellie of Lisburn who owned a garage and some other businesses in the town started a public transport company known as the "Classic Bus Service." This company was to provide 10 return trips during the week on the main Lisburn to Belfast route. The journey took about half an hour. There was also a service to Armagh city.

James Crothers and Alexander Dugan of Lisburn formed the "Violet Bus Service", their first bus being built by E. J. Pantridge of Dromore for the sum of �400. It was a 35 seater Maudsley and it brought competition for the Belfast service provided by Mr. Jellie.

The "Frontier Bus Service" was formed by Joseph Poots of Ashfield and William Dunlop of Dromore in 1924 and their principal route in the Lisburn district was Newry to Belfast.

As bus services increased some operators felt that the only way forward if the companies were to succeed was by way of merger. James P. McCrea made such a move during the winter of 1925/26 and as a result of his astute business acumen the "Belfast Omnibus Company" was formed on April 23,1927. The merger included the 3 main companies in Lisburn, Spence and McCrea, Wm. Jellie and Crothers and Dugan. Mr. McCrea was the first general manager of the new company and when the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board was formed some eight years later 31- he retained the position. The Belfast Omnibus Company appointed Wm. Jellie a Director. James Crothers became traffic Superintendent of the N I R T B. Wm. Dunlop of the Frontier Bus service also held a senior position with the B0C and the NIRTB From until his retirement.

The AEC (Associated Equipment Company) had a bus built by the Dromore firm of E. J. Pantridge which was described in the press as "an hotel on wheels." They operated 7 buses, 6 AEC's and 1 Lancia and were distinctive in their livery of purple and blue. Names were given to the buses, the smallest with pneumatic tyres being known as the "Wee Queen". Others were called the Ulster Queen, Downshire Queen, Royal Queen, Abercorn Queen and Northern Queen.

The advertising of the buses was most effective with the Ulster Queen and the Northern Queen being described as the "Aristocrats of Busdom" while others were advertised in more poetic terms,

"At any point without much fuss, a hand put out will stop a bus".

As competition increased the benefit was gained by the travelling public as fares were reduced. Spence and McCrea reduced their fares to 2 d for the 17 mile journey to Belfast with workmen travelling on Sundays incurring no charge.

By the early 1930's nearly every bus in the area belonged to either BOC or H. M. S. Catherwood who had commenced a bus service in Newry during 1925. All the companies were eventually merged into the NIRTB in 1935.

Other operators in the Lisburn district who became members of the BOC in 1927 were Henry Courtney who owned 3 buses with services between Lisburn and Belfast via Hillhall and G. Gillespie who ran the Lisnagarvey Queen between Ravarnet, Sprucefield and Belfast. Maxwell and McClean owned the Cosy Bus service and operated on the Lisburn, Hillhall and Belfast route.

Mrs. Peggy Craig is thanked for the use of the photographs.

School Winners - Civic Week, '93

Age 11 (joint winner) Central
Primary School
WENDY WILSON Age 8. Carnew
Primary School
St. Colman's Primary School
LYNSEY WATSON Age 11 (joint winner) Central Primary School THOMAS CORBETT Age 6.
Carnew Primary School.
PATRICK CUNNINGHAM Age 8. St. Colman's Primary School.

by Trevor Martin

Throughout the past few centuries Ireland witnessed an emigration of it's people escaping persecution, famine and eviction to find homes and enjoy civil and religious freedom in the great New World of America. The Ulster connection is well documented with no less than eight American presidents like Grant, Nixon and McKinley claiming direct lineage to Ulster. The local connection is further emphasied with John Logan a native of Lurgan becoming the first governor of Pennsylvania, a state renowned for it's religious tolerance.

In November of last year local solicitor and Chairman of Banbridge District Council, Drew Nelson set out on a trip to New York to investigate if there was any connection between Dromore, County Down and the New World. On browsing through an index in a research library he discovered a township called Drumore which was situated close to the city of York in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Determined to find out more Drew contacted the Drumore township supervisors and was soon to receive a reply from their secretary Mrs. Anna Morris who was both surprised and delighted at this Irish connection. She enclosed details of the Drumore Township including a short history of the area which revealed the fact we all eagerly sought.

Drumore was established in the early 1700's when Presbyterians fleeing Ulster as they were out of favour with a friendly government and an established Church eager to maintain it's primacy in the country. It was confirmed as a township as early as 1729 and as their town records state "it was named after Dromore (Druim Moir) which means Great Ridge a strongly fortified place in County Down". The township account books for the years 1765 to 1800 show the spelling of the name as Dromore, however over the years the name changed to Drommore and thence to its present Drumore. The area is gently contoured fertile farmland and the plentitude of water led to farming as the main occupation. With the discovery of iron ore many forges were constructed in the area and a type of grain sickle made in the area was transported and sold all over America.

The area which stretches from the Mason-Dixon Line to the Susquehanna river contains some beautiful names which conjure up peace and tranquillity such as Peach Bottom, Fishing Creek and Muddy Run. It also contains many Irish names with areas and farmsteads called Downpatrick, Dungannon, Lisburn, Lurgan and Dundrum. The census records of the early 1700's also reveal names which may be connected with Dromore, Northern Ireland, these include names like Steele, McKee, Cunningham, Knox and Patterson all still found in this area.

Although these brave settlers escaped persecution in Ireland they still faced dangers in the New World supplying many notable soldiers for the American War of Independence and the French and Indian Wars. General John Steele born in Drumore in 1758 and aged only nineteen commanded a company at the Battle of Brandywine in the War of Independence, where he narrowly escaped death. Capt. William Steele whose seven sons all enlisted on the same day fought with great distinction at the battles of Germantown and Brandywine. A distinct connection can be drawn with Lieutenant Robert King a Revolutionary company commander whose father also called Robert King emigrated from the North of Ireland making his home in Drumore.

The Drumore Township Supervisors through Mrs. Morris have eagerly taken up the connection with letters, phone calls and literature winging its way back and forward across the Atlantic. The local historical group has been heavily involved throughout with copies of our journal, old photographs and other documents sent across to Pennsylvania. The group's competition for children organised as part of Civic Week asked the kids to paint a picture of Dromore days gone by. The winning entries were sent to Pennsylvania to be displayed in their local school and hopefully further links may be forged through that contact. The possibility of twinning is currently being investigated with the Americans already taking the lead in this regard. On March 4, 1993 the township supervisors of Drumore officially declared "sisterships between the two communities", this was an officially attested document a copy of which was sent to the group. Although Dromore does not have an independently elected authority it would be nice to reciprocate in some way and further cement the link that began over 300 years ago.

The Dennison Letter

Further evidence of our early links with the State of Pennsylvania was unearthed in the Public Records of Northern Ireland in the form of a letter (dated 15th January, 1789.) home from one, John Dennison, formerly of these parts but then a new resident in the U.S.A.
Because of it's aged condition, it proved unsuitable to reproduce the original document for this publication. But efforts were made, in spite of the obscurity and ravages of time, to transcribe the ancient communication for inclosure as follows here. We are conscious of the unique glimpse of his life and times in his struggles to make a fresh home for himself in the New World. John Dennison speaks to us in a simple, unpretentious voice from long ago, in the straightforward fashion of his race.

Letter from John Dennison, Pennsylvania to Sam Dennison, Dromore 1789.

January 15th, 1789.

Dear brother I received your letter dated January the second seventeen hundred and eighty nine which gave me great satisfaction to hear of you and your family being well and likewise of my sisters and their famileys and I can inform you that I and my familey is well hoping you and yours is in the same condition at present. I am sorry to hear of the death of my father and brother but we have a right to submit ourselves to the will of providence in all things.

Dear brother as for the situation in our country. It is large and extends far to the west so that although it has suffered much by the late war and brought to the necessity of paying taxes yet by going back we can live easy but now the taxes is got (bitter/ better). I myself pay for three hundred acers of land, six horses and eight cows, no other property is taxed here.

Dear brother you wanted to know what (work?) I follow hear and my first employment in the country was weaving at which I made ten shillings a day (?) at some sort of work. The price of weaving is a penny a hundred. A labourer has two and sixpence a day. Shoomakers 3sh a pair for making shoes. Millwright for making a mill with one pair of stones �75.0.0. Our land produces between 20 and 30 bushels to the acer of wheat, indian corn and ry.

Wheat sells four shillings per bushel hear but at the Landing sometimes 6, 7 or 8 shillings per bushel. Indian corn and ry sells for 3 shillings a bushel. If you care to know I was at the war out with the militia for four months and was in the Battle of (?) ermenton but received no harm.

I now live upon the water of Iuniata province of pensylvania Huntingdon county, franklin township about one hundred and fifty miles from Baltimore and I follow farming now. Land can be purchased for twenty shillings a acer which is then free only paying the tax. I have given a small account of the contry to you and if you thought it answered you to come I would be fond to see you hear but I cannot take it upon me to advise you but if you ware hear you might do well and if you ware hear and settled nigh to me I would not see you want until you would have time to fix yourself.

When I left you I went to the mountains but I did not like that place.

When you write please let me know in particular how my sister lives and who my young sister is married to. I have three children now Samuel, James and John when you write direct your letter to the care of Samuel Edie Eq. March Creek Settlement York county province of Pensylvania and to me at the above. I and my wife joyn in sending our compliments to you and your familey brothers and sisters and all Enquirung friends and I shall subscribe myself your loving and afectionate brother until Death.

John Dennison.
To Mr Samuel Dennison
to the care of counsil J Waddel Eq
of Springfield near Dromore
County Down Irland.

(sic passim)
Where the document is unclear this has been duly indicated in the transcript.

Our readers should be aware of the importance of such correspondence in the area of local history. What at first glance may appear to be only commonplace may hold a wealth of information invaluable in `telling it as it was' for the common man. The Historical Group would appreciate hearing of any letters in private ownership from those now far afield, be it in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere abroad, which might prove to contain some insight into their experiences in encountering life in a new land. It should be borne in mind that Local History embraces not only `the rich man in his castle but the poor man at his gate'! Which is the most important is a matter of opinion. But `the poor we have always with us'!

Springfield on the Lurgan Road, near Dromore, as it is today. (G.M.)

By Muriel McVeigh

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It has been ever thus as those in the early part of the twentieth century learned when they practised their cursive writing with the aid of the Vere Foster copy books prevalent in every National School in Ireland.

`It must have occurred to the inhabitants of every locality that Jack should be prevented from becoming dull, so there was always something arranged to incorporate the inhabitants in activities designed to keep young people alive and interested as well as entertaining the more advanced in years. It cannot be denied the churches played a large part in keeping their members, young and old, occupied winter and summer by meeting together for recreation and amusement as well as worship. Garvaghy district was well served with its Church of Ireland and Presbyterian buildings situated close by while not so far away was "Big" Dromara, the local name for First Dromara Presbyterian, and "The Glen" or Kilkinamurry Presbyterian and on the other side of the hill was Ballela Chapel of the Roman Catholic faith.

I imagine it would be difficult to find anyone who grew up in the area without having been affiliated to one church and Sunday School or another.

Apart from learning the tenets of the particular denomination of the parents the children got to know all the others in the vicinity and shared in similar amusements, be it learning to make a mouse from a pocket handkerchief during the sermon when very young or mastering the intricacies of the valeta or lancers at a later age.

Not all of the churches celebrated the successful gathering of crops by Harvest Thanksgiving services, but those who decorated with fruits and flowers to hold extra services, found their buildings filled to capacity with young people from far and wide who had come on foot or bicycle hoping not only to take part in worship, but to have the added advantage of meeting someone new and alliances were formed which often lasted for a lifetime. A common sight in those days was a line of bicycles manned by young men who had managed to rush out of the church to get their carbide lamps going to light up the gateway and illuminate the young ladies as they came out, - many an offer was made to supply an escort home. No doubt quite a few happy marriages began in such circumstances. Some churches marked the dark of the winter with a `soiree' when the church building packed with young and old saw the occupants enjoy a repast of currant bread, (big fruit loaves sliced - no butter), and tea followed by a concert of song, recitation and joke. Concert parties from Dromore or Banbridge were engaged to provide this entertainment and they had to be good to withstand the keen criticism of the country youth who had no compunctions about saying exactly what they thought of the items. These evenings provided another chance for young people to get to know each other on the way home.

Schools under church management were used for evening recreation and First Dromara had a healthy Young People's Guild which met periodically and rounded off its winter activities with a special social evening held on Easter Monday when many singing and kissing games were enjoyed by young people from all arts and parts. I remember walking to one of these socials over roads white with snow which had fallen earlier that day.

Box Socials constituted another form of winter entertainment which were promoted in school houses or orange halls. Ladies came along armed with a cake generally home baked to gain entrance and males paid a nominal sum. A local auctioneer was engaged to sell the cakes to the highest bidder and when tea was ready, purchaser and provider shared the repast after which dancing was engaged in till the early hours of the morning to music provided by one or two fiddlers, notably in the Garvaghy district William Wallace or his son

John. These were occasions when it was useful to know ones way through a set of Lancers or Caledonians or De-alberts or various waltzes such as the Valeta or Pride of Erin, etc. The evening provided much enjoyment for all who came and at the same time made a tidy little sum for the promoters.

Summer saw the emergence of the "trip" or fete in a field when the church to which I belonged invited every Sunday school child to come to the field between the manse and the meeting house to partake of paris buns and lemonade at six-thirty followed by races of which the winners were rewarded with small prizes of perhaps one shilling (5p.) for first, sixpence (2p.) for second, and maybe a shiny silver threepenny piece for third. By this time the lawn had started to fill up with people of all ages led by Carnew Flute Band and big rings were formed and tigging games commenced. Racing round these big rings till darkness fell, boy chasing girl or vice versa certainly used up a lot of energy and no doubt the older folk standing around chatting got enjoyment out of just being there and sharing in the friendships.

The arrangement of such "trips" spread to other organisations as well as the churches so it was easy to find one or two to attend every week to while away the long summer evenings.

I suppose it is of such innocent occupations we are thinking when we speak of the "good old days," for indeed somehow life seems to have been simpler.


In the economic climate to-day, clouded as it is with redundancies and lay-offs, many of us have run the gamut of emotions, from defiance to resignation, when faced with those probing personal questionnaires from the D.H.S.S.

The following extract from the BELFAST NEWSLETTER of 9th February, 1757, while not solving the problem may make us a little less irascible when dealing with it.

The inhabitants of the Parish of Dromore having seriously laid to heart the distresses of many house holders occasioned by the great price of bread of all sorts; have opened a subscription for their relief and in 8 days time have been able to divide to 228 poor householders �261.17s.10 1/2d in the following manner

      S. D.  
to 53 - 3 3 each
  45 - 2 8
  60 - 2 2  
  70 - 1 7

Which benefactions are resolved to be continued and paid monthly during the present distress and in order to carry the said scheme the better into execution they have agreed to furnish the poor of said parish with badges, and give this notice to all strolling beggers immediately to return to their respective parishes otherwise they will be punished as the law in this case directs.

Source P.R.O.N.I Mic 77.

By Roy Gamble

Dromore, at this point in time, is definitely not in the running for the title of the most romantic place on earth. Despite the fact that the town is surrounded by hills and bisected by a fine river that winds under a pair of not unpicturesque bridges, similarity with the Tiber and the seven hills of the "Eternal City" is never more than illusionary.

Rome it is not!

Not by any stretch of the imagination could the town's charisma extend to the phenomenon of Frank Sinatra, resplendent in seersucker suit and snap-brim trilby, promenading past a moon-lit Neeson's corner and serenading passers-by with a spirited rendering of "Three Coins in the Fountain".

Time was though, way back in the fifties, when the well-walked streets of the town (or city, if you take cognizance of the strategically sited cathedral) possessed a decided air of romance.

Even Church Street, that melancholic alley of eye-sores, was once-upon-a-time an exciting avenue of entertainment.

Mock Not! It is quite possible that the faded facade of its several buildings once witnessed a life-style not far removed from the international bohemia of Parisian Montmartre, the Piazza De Spagna of Rome, New York's Greenwich village or arty Chelsea by the Thames. And the above analogy with Rome may be more than coincidental bearing in mind that Robert Dale's cinema (or picture house as it was colloquially called) screened a rash of Italian movies in my youth including the aforementioned "Three Coins in the Fountain".

Also, a well-thumbed, slightly risque book (for the time) by Albert Moravia entitled "The Women of Rome" may well have had a bearing on the mental twinning of the two locations.

And of course there was Nicoletti's cafe (or "Nora Nicks" as we conveniently abbreviated it in deference to the waitress daughter of the Italian proprietor). That, plus the combined imaginations of two callow romantics, me and my friend Jamesy, was enough to add the gloss to the grand delusions of two over-wrought minds.

Nora Nicks was the back-drop to our adolescent dreams. It represented the slightly down-at-heel artistic cafe of Paris and Rome and New York and London that we read so avidly about. A life-style we lived vicariously in the fetid atmosphere of sad cafe tea, rank vinegar and the bubbling fat of deep-frying fish and chips.

So much of our time was spent in the "Frying to-night" atmosphere that Mothers, sniffing outer garments, could accurately judge, nearly to the minute, the occasion of our most recent visit to the said establishment.

In a recess at the window just behind the door we slouched over the formica, discussing Picasso's cubism, the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the literary merits of the spare, staccato sentences of our hero, the luxuriant-bearded Ernest Hemingway, who, despite being true apple-pie American, wrote an awful lot about Paris and Spain and Africa.

The conversation wasn't all high-brow of course for we found time to debate our current "cops and robbers" novels borrowed from Jackie Reid's lending library. Edifying stories with homicidal titles like "Death is a round black ball" and "Kiss me deadly", usually featuring tough, hard-boiled "private eyes" with improbable-sounding names like Mike Hammer and Johnny Dark.

To the combined saxaphones of Lou Bush and his orchestra wailing out "zambesi" from the juke-box or the plaintive voice of Connie Francis we sipped our appleade, trying desperately to make believe it was "two fingers of bourbon" so often swilled by Mr. Hammer and Mr. Dark, or some of that nice red wine so beloved by Ernie Hemingway.

Often our concentration on loftier matters was shattered by a posse of cow-dung scented, sweet-toothed tillers of the earth, ravenous from an extended stout-tasting session in some local hostelry, calling for "a wheen O buns and a slabber O tay". Which was not how we imagined our idealistic cafe clientele should speak at all, at all.

Outside, even in the coldest Winter, a continuous crocodile of boys and girls passed our steamed-up window in twos and threes on their Saturday and Sunday evening perambulations.

Occasionally we joined them, sedately stepping out the time-hallowed walk from the square to the Mill turn, perhaps pausing to engage in a little badinage en route with the little groups of arm-linked girls. Which led, on one occasion, to a saddle-sore cycle ride to darkest Donacloney to keep a romantic tryst, made, if I remember right, in the heady atmosphere of the petrol pumps at the front of Thompson's Hardware shop in Church Street. The epic journey was not without incident, or accident for that matter, and the whole business was doomed from the start when Jamesy, a wobbly amateur on a machine borrowed from his cousin, made an unfortunate front-wheel contact with a certain clerical gentleman as he meditated of an evening - as was his wont - upon the little concrete bridge that spans the river at the Mill turn.

Fortunately the good man made a full recovery and went on to preach many more intellectual sermons until his untimely death many years later.

As for the rest of the escapade; memory fails me, except I am of the opinion, although I can't be a hundred per cent sure (well it was all of thirty-seven years ago) the intrepid cyclists suffered the terrible ignominy of what is euphemistically known as "being stood up".
Dromore was indeed a cafe society in the fifties. Besides the notorious Niccoletti's, there was John Murphy's in Bridge Street (managed by Jim Boal), and nearly opposite, Billy Johnston ran an eating establishment above his small confectionery shop. Here, those unfortunates, lacking the wherewithal for a fish supper, could sample the savoury delights of a mathematical - sounding dish called a "Fourpenny half and half

Further up Bridge Street, near the junction with Castle Street, Bertie Rogan and his wife Florence served fish an chips. Mr. Rogan, reputed to have sojourned a while in the great American continent, was prone to employing unique mid-Atlantic expressions as he waited on table: "Flo, a combination here please" being one of his more memorable utterances. Combinations, it turns out, being nothing more remarkable than Bertie's version of the ubiquitous fish supper.

On the Eastern side of Market Square, sandwiched between Poots' grocery store and Quail's butcher's shop, stood the tiny cafe called the "Wendy Hut", (now, apparently, a little piece of China named "Phun's welcome"). Here Kathleen Hichen (or `Kathaleen' as some locals preferred her) served meat pies and hot drinks.

The cramped pew-like seating arrangement (unlike the widely- dispersed tables in Niccoletti's) militated against the uttering of a fine flow of words. Nevertheless, insult to the sensibilities of aficionados of bohemian cafe life was often experienced as rather large gentlemen from the direction of Slievenaboley Mountain or the wastes of Blackscull, bellowed their orders, effectively killing the delicate art of conversation.

I was too young to remember the hey-day of Bailie's cafe. It stood on the North side of Market Square and was much patronised by the many servicemen who frequented Dromore during the Second World War.

Apparently its curtains became famous as look-out posts for agnostic soldiers as they skived off the compulsory Sunday parades that marched past the cafe en route to Church. And speaking of servicemen, my youth was coloured and imagination further fired as locals, serving in the armed forces, returned from getting their knees brown with exotic, and sometimes erotic tales from Hong Kong and Aden, Malta, and Gibraltar, Singapore and Cyprus.

There was even a Dromore man who came home on leave one Christmas to pass the time posing in his United States Army uniform, "Shooting the breeze" at Dale's corner.

All was grist to the mill of an incurable romantic. But things change, as they have a way of doing, for that is the way of the world. The week-end promenade out the Banbridge Road faltered and died; killed off by the cult of the car.

And when my turn came to leave home, as leave I must, the cafe life of the town had died also. John Murphy, Billy Johnston and Bertie Rogan switched off their deep-fat fryers, ushered out their last customer and shut up shop forever.

Kathleen Hichen gave way to the lure of the Orient.

As for Nicoletti's: the place of the stuff of dreams; where two idealistic visionaries talked a torrent of words on life's best laid schemes. Well, they simply pulled the plug on the jukebox, bolted the door and brought down the curtain on the end of an era.


The fourth volume of the Banbridge Historical Society is enjoyable reading. The going ons around Banbridge all those years ago were similar to what the people of Dromore were doing. Many working in linen factories as described by Ernie Gordon in writing about the Edenderry Works, playing in Bands like the Tullyglush Accordion in an article by Walter Porter.

There is a good description of Choirs, and of concerts by the Choral Society, the Magennis Clan Rally gets a good airing, and the "Burn Hill of Yesterday" deserves a mention. Andrew Doloughan pens a fine tribute to J. Harris Rea, who, I remember visited the St. John Ambulance Brigade in Dromore during the War years.

Many more contributions and good photographs of local interest, all add up to a splendid Journal. - P. Thompson.