The homecoming Earl

Moira had never before seen such a day and maybe never has since. Work had stopped and everyone was dressed in their Sunday clothes for the Earl was coming home.

Twenty years earlier, the Earl of Moira had moved his seat to Montalto, Ballynahinch but he was still remembered with fondness by many in the community as a gentle, polite and unassuming man. John Rawdon was born in the castle. Many recalled their parents talking about being present when Sir John was buried; they told of little three-year-old John following his father’s horse-drawn hearse up the drive to the partly finished parish church. John was reared by an aunt after his mother remarried and he had grown up to become a highly intelligent man, appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society and made a Doctor of Law. To the ordinary people of Moira, he was a fair and esteemed landlord.

He was also respected for his hospitality to all sections of the community. When an ancient relic belonging to the Catholic Church in Magheralin was under threat, he gave it safe keeping in the castle. He extended hospitality to Magheralin priests, even though the Penal laws forbade it; one priest was even known as an “intimate friend of Lord Moira’s.”

John Wesley was always welcomed and the Earl showed great concern for his safety in Ireland by providing him with a letter that ensured his right to travel where he wanted. For a while the Earl and Countess even opened the great hall of their mansion for weekly public services conducted by Methodist preachers. At the same time, the Earl was committed to his own church and
served as Churchwarden in St. John’s for a record thirteen years.

It was Wesley who told of the Earl’s hospitality to French invaders. During his visit to Moira Castle in 1760, Wesley met Major Brajelon, a wounded French officer who along with his Commander, General Flobert, had recuperated in the comfort of Moira Castle. They had been officers in the French invasion of Carrickfergus Castle but had been wounded and were left behind when the French attempted to flee.

So on that momentous homecoming day, people from all sections of the local community gathered in Moira but it was not a joyful gathering. The Earl of Moira was dead. News of his passing on 20th June had reached the village a week ago. He died at his Dublin mansion, also called Moira House, but he was to be buried in his home village of Moira. It was 3rd July 1793.

The night before had seen a succession of travellers seeking accommodation at the inn. It is likely the immediate family found accommodation in their old home where William Sharman was known as a man of the greatest hospitality.

As the day went on, Moira was almost overwhelmed with people. Visitors from Ballynahinch, Dublin, across Ireland and even from England arrived in their carriages, dressed in their
mourning finery.

Someone had obtained a newspaper and read the Earl’s obituary to a crowd gathered under the four trees. (The Earl of Moira) “acted on every occasion and every question as an honest independent peer of Ireland. His house will not easily be forgotten. It was always the residence of the most unaffected hospitality, the most perfect ease, and active, efficient benevolence. His cultivated understanding, aided by that of his most excellent lady, and now illustrious (widow) and his peculiar and charming urbanity of manners, will make Moira-house and Montalto live long, very long, in the memories of those who partook with him in his hours of social or lettered retirement.”

As the time of the service drew near, villagers strained to catch a glimpse of the Countess and her son Francis. Francis had left the village as a lad and now he was one of the most famous soldiers in England and Ireland. It was not easy to see anyone, for the funeral was described as the largest ever seen in Ireland. Someone tried to count the carriages and people; there were almost eight hundred carriages of various kinds, and a train of four thousand people. Three thousand hatbands and scarves were distributed to mourners.

The funeral service was conducted by the Earl’s good friend, the Rev James Forde from Magheragall. The Earl’s remains were laid in the family vault beside his father and brother, both of whom had died seventy years before him. That day marked the last Rawdon footprints ever in Moira. What an impact that family made and what a legacy they have left! But eventually all footprints fade.

We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.

Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.

Who can comprehend the power of your anger? Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. Psalm 90:9-12. (NLT)

Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death. Psalm 68:20.


The Soldier-Statesman

Francis was a typical boy who loved the outdoors. His playground was the enormous demesne surrounding his home in Moira; among the trees was the perfect place for war games. But war games can make boys cry and particularly when the weapons use real gunpowder! When Francis was ten years old, a gun exploded injuring him in the leg. He survived to become the most famous son from the village of Moira.

Francis Rawdon was the son of the First Earl of Moira. He was educated in Harrow and later enrolled in University College, Oxford but discontinued his studies to serve his country. From his earliest days in the demesne, Francis had wanted to be a soldier.

His first experience of war was in the American War of Independence as a Lieutenant of the 5th Foot. He was just nineteen years old but quickly distinguished himself, though once he came very close to being killed when two bullets passed through his hat. He later became Adjutant General of the British Army in North America and is said to have been one of the best and most courageous Generals in the whole war.He became known as Lord Rawdon.

After eight years of almost incessant fighting in America, Francis’ health broke down and he was obliged to leave America. The vessel in which he had sailed for England was captured by the French and taken to Brest. Thankfully an exchange of prisoners soon afterwards brought about his
release and he returned to England.

In 1782 Lord Rawdon was made a Colonel and was appointed aide-de-camp to George III. He also entered political life, first in the Irish Parliament and eventually in England. As a parliamentarian, Francis was extremely critical of English repression in Ireland.

Wolf Tone sometimes visited Moira House, Dublin where Francis’ mother constantly entertained. Tone actually contemplated a leading political role for Rawdon in Ireland. In October 1792 he wrote, “I fear after all Lord Rawdon will not have the sense to see what a great game he might play here. He would rather dangle at the tail of an English party, when, I think, he might be everything but king of Ireland.” But Tone’s proposal had no hope of succeeding.

Francis Rawdon - a copy of an original drawing

Francis Rawdon - a copy of an original drawing

Francis’ uncle died and decreed in his will that his nephew should take his name; so he became Francis Rawdon-Hastings. After his father’s death, Francis became the 2nd Earl of Moira and served in the Irish House of Lords. He was commonly referred to as Lord Moira.

But he always saw himself as a soldier. When France declared war on Great Britain, Francis was appointed Major General and fought the French Revolutionary Armies in the Low Countries.

On one of his visits in 1795 to his home in Montalto, he tried his best to prevent the horrors of the United Irishmen Rebellion in his own town of Ballynahinch. He held a meeting in his newly-built Market House and persuaded his tenants to pass a resolution of loyalty to the Crown. But in 1798 some of those same tenants joined the rebellion and fought within the demesne surrounding his mansion.

In 1800 he sold both Montalto and Moira estates. In 1808 he inherited his mother’s titles along with much of the estates belonging to the Huntingdon dynasty but sold his House in Dublin and ended nearly two centuries of family associations with Ireland.

In the early 19th Century, while the country was at War with France, an attempt was made to form the strongest possible British government. Past differences were put aside for the sake of national unity. A Cabinet was formed and Lord Moira was appointed Master General of Ordnance in charge of
everything military. The Government fell the following year but one notable achievement was the abolition of the Slave Trade.

Lord Moira was a very close friend of the Prince Regent in London and indeed was extremely generous to him. In 1812 the Prince gave him an opportunity to be Prime Minister in London. Unfortunately he was unable to form a coalition government and so, as a consolation, he was sent to India in 1813 to act as Governor General of Bengal. Francis was largely responsible for the incorporation of Central India and Singapore as part of the British Empire.

Rawdon-Hastings, or Lord Hastings as he came to be known, was often engaged in wars in India and Nepal. During his time there, he also built roads and bridges and dug canals. He encouraged education among the Indians, founded the Hindu College at Calcutta and encouraged the setting up of a printing press and a college by missionaries in Serampore.

A missionary in Serampore at that time was William Carey, the great Baptist Missionary known as the “father of modern missions.” Carey had very close associations with Lord Hastings, who even became a patron of Carey’s College.

Lord Hastings was later appointed the first Commander-in-Chief of Malta, probably because his great debts meant he could no longer live in Britain. He died in 1826 but had left clear instructions that he was to be buried where he fell, if his “adored wife had no objections.” Also, in a quixotic demonstration of his love, he left instructions “that his right hand be cut off and preserved, so that it may be put with her body into the coffin when it please the Almighty to decree the reunion of our spirits.” This “last earthly token” of his and his wife’s “attachment”, he declared, “shall not be an idle lesson for our precious children, to whom I now give my fondest blessing.”

He was buried in Malta. His sarcophagus stands in Hastings Garden, Valetta, overlooking the Grand Harbour. His hand was eventually buried with his wife 14 years later!

During his life, Francis held many aristocratic titles and moved in the highest of circles. He was extravagantly wealthy and foolishly extravagant. His memory lives on in so many of his achievements in these islands and across the world. But like all mankind, he was a mere mortal. We, who walk on the lands on which he walked, also leave footprints on this earth for a time
but we all have an eternal soul.

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. Mark 8:36-38.

Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9.


The hero

The lad wrapped his threadbare coat around him against the chilly east wind. He took the path through the newly cultivated fields down by the river and paused to watch the workers digging the new canal that was supposed to open up access to Lough Neagh. As he walked on, immersed in an idle daydream, he was suddenly arrested by the sound of a horse and carriage on its way to Hillsborough. He stood still with his cap in his hand to show respect but there was no respect in his
heart. The Lady ignored him.

“How different life might have been,” he mused as he continued his aimless walk. All this land could have been his. His great grandfather, Murtagh O’Lavery, had been given this land by King James I but now Dennis O’Lavery had nothing. He was condemned to poverty. Living in his area of “The Bogs” or “marshy Moira” was hardly to be called a life. Now he was supposed to respect those who had robbed him of his life! He spat on the ground.

A few years later, Dennis saw an opportunity to get away from the pit in which he lived. Like thousands of Irishmen, he joined the Army and was soon far from the home and land he knew well. He was shipped off to fight for the British in the American War of Independence.

Dennis determined to be a successful soldier and was soon made a corporal. He quickly realised what a small world he lived in. His commanding officer was Francis Rawdon, son of the Earl who lived in the big house at the top of the hill in Moira; the son of the Lady who passed by in her carriage and never acknowledged him. He smiled weakly at the thought.

Respect for officers was demanded in the army and Dennis gave it, not just out of fear or duty, but also out of a growing regard for a great Commander.

In 1781 Corporal O’Lavery volunteered for the task of carrying an important dispatch through a dangerous wooded area. He knew that at all costs he must guard the document from enemy hands. En-route Dennis was seriously wounded. He crawled to a hollow tree stump but was afraid his secret would be found. Then he had an idea. To avoid the secret message falling into enemy hands he hid the dispatch inside his wound. The message was saved but the consequences of his action were fatal for Dennis expired soon after he was found. Some time later a poet recorded Dennis’ actions:

“Within his wound the fatal paper placed,
Which proved his death, nor by that death disgraced.
A smile, benignant, on his countenance shone,
Pleased that his secret had remained unknown:
So was he found.”

Dennis O’Lavery was eulogised in the House of Commons. Francis Rawdon never forgot him. Although Rawdon never returned to live in Moira, it is recorded that he built a monument here to pay his respects to a real hero. A military letter of the time describes O’Lavery, “... in rank a corporal, he was in mind a hero; his country Ireland and his parish Moira in which a chaste monument records at once his fame and the gratitude of his illustrious commander and countryman Lord Rawdon.” The location of the monument here has never been established and his sacrifice almost forgotten.

It is not the only sacrifice to be overlooked and even despised. Jesus Christ made one sacrifice for sin forever.

He was despised and rejected by men, … but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:3,5,6.

Don’t despise or reject Him. Place your trust in Him and say:

I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. 2 Timothy 1:12. (NLT)


The Farm Labourer

Thomas Gallagher and his workmates ran for shelter. They had spent the morning in the fields in the parish of Magheramesk. It had been a calm, sunny day, perfect for digging potatoes. The unexpected cloud-burst looked like it would last a while so the farm labourers headed for the tower beside the church just up the hill.

Trummery Tower had once been one of the magnificent round towers of Ireland. Thought to have been built around the thirteenth century, it stood sixty feet tall and was fifteen feet in diameter all the way to the top - a rather unique feature in Irish round towers.

However, the shelter was far from ideal for Thomas and his fellow labourers. The rain still beat in through the great hole in one side. The damage had been caused long ago by the English garrison at Innisloughlin who used the tower for cannon practice! Over the years it had gradually fallen apart
but ivy spreading up the walls had somehow held much of it together and gave it a rather romantic appearance. Then local builders decided the fallen stones were perfect for their purposes and so, piece by piece, the tower was weakened.

As the rain shower continued to beat down, some of the labourers started discussing the safety of their shelter but since it had stood as long as any of their families could remember, they had no real fears. After half an hour, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started and the men headed back to their task in the field.

Within a few minutes they were startled by a loud rumble; the ground seemed to shake as though in an earthquake. The labourers turned in time to see the dust settling over a heap of rubble that had been their shelter until a short time ago. It was a very narrow escape.

Today only a few fallen stones remain to mark the spot in the old graveyard where Trummery Tower once proudly stood. The refuges of man endure for a while and then decay or get
destroyed; but our souls need a refuge that lasts forever.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1,2.


Trummery Tower

Trummery Tower

The woman preacher

Little more than leaves stirred on that quiet, pleasant Sunday afternoon in Moira at the end of the 17th century. Several children from one family sat lazily in the shade of the four trees outside their door, waiting hungrily for dinner to be ready. The sound of hooves caused them to look behind them and they observed a stranger in unusual clothes ride up to the Inn door. As he dismounted, the children ran into the house, eager to describe the stranger to their father.

Ralph Lutton was a wealthy man and his home was one of the three-storey houses on Main Street. He was nearly blind but he and his wife were both unusually intelligent. Ralph listened to his children and immediately concluded the stranger was likely to be a Methodist preacher.

Although he was an Anglican, Mr. Lutton was sympathetic towards Methodist preachers. When he was just a boy, John Wesley preached in the churchyard in Moira and it is quite possible that Ralph was in the crowds listening to the travelling preacher. So much did he admire Wesley that he even named one of his sons John Wesley Lutton. Ralph Lutton knew that travelling preachers were generally very poor, so he generously invited the stranger to dinner. His early conclusions were right. The gentleman introduced himself as John Grace and confirmed that he was a Methodist preacher.

That Sunday afternoon Mr. Grace made quite an impact on the Lutton family. Much later Anne, the youngest member of the family, wrote about it: “That memorable Sabbath, when my father invited the Methodist preacher to come in and eat bread with him, was the beginning of days to a household which hitherto ‘sat in darkness’. The little circle sat wondering, and delighted to find that religion was not clad in sable, repulsive and exacting. From that day the Methodist preachers were regularly entertained at my father’s house; … his parlour and hall were the places where sat the congregation, whilst the laborious and pious men of God sought to save the souls of them that heard them.”

The Luttons attended the Parish church in the morning and Wesleyan preaching on Sunday evening, probably in their own home, for there was no Methodist church in the village at that time.

Ralph Lutton’s family became a great witness for Christ in the village. The Moira curate was one of many invited into the Lutton home to hear the humble Wesleyan ministers. He was “blessed, and made a blessing, finding Christ crucified for himself, and zealously proclaiming Him to others, in the church, in barns, in cottages.”

65 Main Street, birthplace of Anne Lutton

65 Main Street, birthplace of Anne Lutton

Strange as it may seem, Anne’s spiritual interest decreased and her desire to acquire knowledge increased. The hunger to learn was incredible, considering she had no formal education. The first attempt to make her attend school had failed miserably, so the youngest child was spoilt and indulged. The only formal education she ever had was at seventeen when she attended a Moravian school to learn a little grammar, geography and embroidery. Her father was a scholar and the house was full of books. Anne was entranced with these books and as soon as she learned to read, she devoured every book she could get her hands on. She studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew, followed by a range of European and Asian languages. She could understand more than fifty languages and speak fifteen accurately. In addition, she became an able metaphysician, mathematician and musician.

What was the point of all this study? Here was a retiring young woman living in the backwaters of society acquiring the most wonderful education that was of little apparent use in Moira or in Donaghcloney to which the family moved for a time. Only later did Anne see the purpose. “It was a training process for higher and more hallowed duties,” she said.

As she grew into a young woman, Anne at first felt no need of a Saviour, despite the powerful Gospel witness all around her. She believed herself to be upright and holy and encouraged others to live pure lives but was not converted and did not seek to be.

God, however, was seeking her. One day, a great conviction of sin came upon her. The burden of her sin became intolerable and she longed to find freedom from it in Christ. Anne began to think of nothing else. She sought incessantly for peace over a period of weeks. She was almost hopeless, until one day her father pointed her simply to Christ as the only Saviour of sinners and assured her that by faith in Him she would be saved. With childlike faith the young woman knelt before God and cast herself at His feet. Here is her own account of her conversion:

‘Mother!’ I exclaimed, ‘if I do not get my sins pardoned, I shall perish everlastingly!’ I went to my own room, knelt down at the bedside, clasped my hands most imploringly, and with streaming eyes said, ‘O Lord God, I here most solemnly and heartily, with all the faith I know how to use, cast my whole
soul at Thy feet, and take the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour from this moment, and my Master and portion for time and for eternity, and will henceforth believe I am forgiven for His sake.’
As I abandoned myself to Him, so He gave Himself to me. There was an immediate sense ofacceptance. Oh, such a love as never, never had I before conceived!’

The date was 14th April 1815 and Anne Lutton called that day the commencement of “her happy existence.” She was twenty-four years old. “I praised the Lord with a loud voice; I was too happy to keep silence,” she said.

Anne began to have a growing conviction that she should be “proclaiming to her fellow-countrywomen the love of the Saviour.” Despite her great learning, Anne was a shy, retiring woman. Yet she resolved to preach the Gospel to women.

She preached in Moira and beyond, always excluding men from her meetings. Anne believed that as a woman she should preach to only women.

By the 1830s, male followers of Anne Lutton even went so far as to dress in women’s clothing in an attempt to hear her preach! The attempts were in vain, because Miss Lutton posted keen-eyed gentlemen at the chapel door while she was conducting a service.

Yet one young man, whose disguise was obviously very good, escaped detection. He was moved under her preaching to turn to God in repentance and follow Him. The man later owned up and told how he was converted. Anne was encouraged to relax the rule she had laid down but even this event would not make her change her conviction that she was called to preach to women only.

God used Anne Lutton greatly in Moira and her ministry widened, preaching as far as Belfast, Banbridge, Scarva, Tullymore and Bryansford. She loved most of all to preach the Word of God in the village where, as a little girl, she first heard the Gospel from John Grace. She is regarded by many as the founder of Methodism in Moira. Anne died at ninety years of age but her message to Moira echoes through its streets and homes to this day.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:20-21.

Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17.

The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news. Mark 1:15.