The Jew

The north wind blew up Main Street in Moira. It was a cold Wednesday in March 1834. Trading was drawing to a close and most people were ready for home. Tethered horses whinnied softly as they waited impatiently to be free. A few children played hop-scotch in the shelter of the new Market house and a lad swung lazily on the rope that hung from a branch of one of the lime trees in the middle of the street. It was just like any other Wednesday in Moira until the stranger appeared.

He was a venerable old man and he was carrying a chair on his shoulder. Who was he and where did he come from? Nobody knew but everybody was curious. He was dressed in sober clothing and had a long beard that reached to the middle button on his waistcoat. Was he a trader? He appeared to have nothing but a chair. He could hardly be a travelling musician for he carried no instrument. The old man came up the street and turned the corner of the Market House where the children were playing. Some stopped their game to stare and some ran home nervously to tell about the strange visitor. Men having a drink in the Inn came out to watch. Women peered out of their doors to see what their children were talking about.

The old man had achieved what he wanted – a curious group of onlookers. He planted his chair firmly and carefully climbed upon it, inviting everyone to gather round. Soon he had a group of inquisitive listeners and he began to speak. His strange accent showed he was not from this part of the world.

Across the street in the Inn, a man lay dozing on his bed from exhaustion. He travelled through Ireland on behalf of the Ordnance Survey Authorities. Perhaps it was the sound of the old man’s voice that disturbed his slumber. He wakened with a start and went down to the door. He recorded what he saw.

“I started up, walked out, and being attracted by a semi circle of people standing at the sheltry side of Moira market house, I went down to them. Standing on chair, I saw a venerable old man repeating aloud one of the psalms of David. His long bushy beard, his Abrahamic countenance, and his thick pronunciation of consonants characterized him a Jew. I gazed on him with wonder, thinking I would have an opportunity of hearing him preach the Law of Moses, but I soon learned that he had abandoned the old cause of his tribe, and is now going about preaching the morality and doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yours truly,
John O’Donovan”

Nearly two hundred years later that same doctrine, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah come to save sinners, is still being preached in the streets and churches of Moira.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:14, 17.

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.


The Orange man

Gabriel winced as he climbed aboard the post chaise outside the Inn in Banbridge. Yesterday had been a long, tiring journey from Dublin and his back was sore. Fifteen hours cramped in a mail coach would have exhausted anybody but he was seventy years old now. As the yellow post chaise rattled out of Banbridge and through Waringstown, Gabriel forgot his aches. He was enjoying the warmth of that July morning and looking forward to arriving soon at his destination. His fellow passenger observed him taking an avid interest in everything they passed, continually making notes or sketching.

Gabriel Beranger was, among other things, an accomplished artist. Born in the Netherlands, he had settled in Dublin nearly fifty years previously. Many of those years were spent making watercolour paintings of old buildings and sites of interest in the Dublin area. Those were perilous times in Ireland but Beranger seemed untroubled by danger. He lived to paint and somehow he was accepted and indeed protected by whatever group controlled that region.

Counties Down and Armagh were dangerous areas for any traveller. The region had witnessed the violence of the Protestant Peep o’ Day Boys against Catholic neighbours. The Catholics had formed an armed group named the Defenders, who retaliated in kind. A major clash between the two factions near Loughgall, at what became known as the Battle of the Diamond, led to the formation of the Orange Order in 1795.

Just a year before Beranger’s visit, County Down had been in turmoil because of the United Irishmen Rebellion. The bloody Battle of Ballynahinch had taken place; some of it in the grounds of Lord Moira’s estate there. Now Gabriel was on his way to the birthplace of Lord Moira, to meet the new residents of the Castle. It was 2nd July 1799.

Beranger was very warmly received by Colonel William Sharman and his wife and by their twenty-six year-old daughter. Their home was a wonderful place. He spent days either in the library or viewing Mr. Sharman’s collection of curiosities. Hours were spent in stimulating conversation, or exploring the acres of the demesne gardens.

Miss Sharman was also an artist and most probably a pupil of his, for some of her paintings appear in a book he later published. She took him on a tour of the wonderful garden she had created in a disused quarry on the demesne and also to see the magnificent garden at nearby Waringfield House.

The main purpose of his visit seems to have been to confirm Miss Sharman’s sketch of Moira Castle and then produce his own copy. His paintings and drawings show great detail and are the best illustrations we have of Moira Castle.

Time passed quickly and soon it was the day of his departure. He was booked to travel on the mail coach to Dublin, leaving Banbridge at ten o’clock on the evening of 12th July. In the last few years, the Orange Order had celebrated their first ever “Twelfth” marches to mark the victory over King James. Those parades had taken place in nearby Lurgan, Waringstown and Portadown. In 1799, a march was planned for Moira. Typical of Beranger and his fascination with detail, he wanted to observe the annual celebrations before he left. Consequently he has recorded for us a captivating insight into one of the earliest 12th July celebrations.

“I spended [sic] time here in a most delightful manner until the 12th July anniversary of the Battle of Aughrim, when the various yeomanry of the country, divided in different bodies, each with their proper ensigns, males and females, adorned with orange lilies and ribbands, marched up the avenues. We went adorned in the same way upon the steps of the castle, to see them all pass before us; from whence they were to march to the various churches in the environs, to hear a sermon on the occasion, and then adjourn to the public houses, to spend the remainder of the day in merriment; and as all of them were strict Orangemen, and might, when in liquor, insult anyone not adorned like themselves, I was dressed out with orange lilies and ribbons, and having taken leave of this amiable family, entered in a post chaise at twelve o’clock, and set out on my return for Banbridge to meet the mail coach from Belfast to Dublin.”

Section of a Taylor and Skinner’s map 1777

Section of a Taylor and Skinner’s map 1777

The return journey to Banbridge was eventful. He described passing through an un-named village and found the way blocked by “two corps of Orangemen. I exposed to their sight my orange ornaments, and received their salutations, which I returned, and arrived at Banbridge between three and four o’clock.”

The “Orange man” made it safely across the Boyne, travelling through the night on a sixteen-hour coach journey to Dublin.

How deceptive appearances can be! Sharman had given every appearance of support to the Orange men; he welcomed them to his demesne and reviewed their parade in his Orange regalia and yet he was well-disposed to Catholics, and in the next generation his son would support Catholic Emancipation. Beranger had facilitated his safe passage home by what he wore. How easy it is to deceive others and even ourselves! But we may be sure it is impossible to deceive God.

The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7. (NLT)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:13.

Jesus said: “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honours is detestable in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15. (NLT)


The Mollycoddled Boy

Young William looked thoroughly bored as he sat in the arbour. He idly tossed pebbles into the shining water of the round pond and watched the fish that aimlessly circled in its depths. He felt as trapped as those fish and longed to be free to swim in the big world described in his father’s books. The winter breaks in Dublin, during the Parliamentary session, at least helped distract from the confines of Moira but now he was back home and thoroughly bored. “Now that my father is no longer in Parliament, will we be stuck here even more?” he thought. He was startled out of his reverie by a servant telling him his father was waiting in the library. He longed to be away from home and attend school like most young noblemen’s sons but he rose reluctantly and headed for lessons.

William was born on 3rd September,1780 to Colonel William Sharman MP and his new wife. Some few years earlier, the Sharmans moved from Lisburn to rent the Castle and demesne from the elderly Lord Moira. Sharman had a daughter from a previous marriage; she was seven years older than William and he was ten years older than his new baby brother. So life was boring and lonely.

Stepping through the library door, he was first greeted by Nurse with a spoonful of foul tasting medicine. She reprimanded him for being outdoors for so long on an overcast day. “You’ll get your death of cold,” she scolded. His mother had thought him a delicate child and tried to shield him from harm. “At least now I have a baby brother,” he thought, “she might allow me some freedom to live as a real boy instead of making me a crock and a pet.” But just now a Latin lesson called.

William had pleaded again the previous day to be allowed to go to school, but his mother said he would die if he did and his father said his morals would be corrupted. He was not even allowed a tutor like other children in noble families because his father had an abhorrence of tutors. Instead he was forced to learn at home. His father had taught him to read and write and now he was teaching him arithmetic, Latin and some Greek. These studies were set to increase now that his father was no longer a Member of Parliament.

The years rolled on and William gradually took a deeper interest in the books his father owned and began to educate himself. He studied mathematics, mechanics, geography and astronomy. Politics must have dominated life in the Sharman home. Not only was William’s father a Member of the Irish Parliament but he was also Lieutenant Colonel of the Union Regiment of Irish Volunteers and took a leading part in all the proceedings of their meetings and conventions. But later he had to disassociate himself from those planning rebellion and so he embodied the Moyrah Yeomen in 1797. At first young William was disinterested in political matters but as he grew in awareness of the issues being discussed, he began to pay attention and even to consider getting involved.

Suddenly, one day when William was only nineteen, his father was paralysed by a stroke. Though he slowly recovered, William was left to manage the family’s financial affairs. Three years later his father tragically died and William inherited his father’s estates.

William now had the freedom to order his own life and within another couple of years he married. His wife was Mabel Crawford of Crawfordsburn and a few years later he added her surname to his own to become William Sharman-Crawford. He also became Captain of the Moira Corp of Yeomen. Shortly after his marriage the family lease on Moira Castle ended and it was sold. William moved to Crawfordsburn to develop the estate there and elsewhere in County Down.

For many years Sharman-Crawford took no prominent part in politics but eventually he became MP for Dundalk and later for Rochdale and was known as a rather radical politician, whose oratory was “solid, unadorned and argumentative.” He constantly tried to improve the conditions of the tenants on his large Ulster estates. He fully supported the Ulster custom of Tenant-Right and fought for it to be adopted by the whole of Ireland.

The boy who never went to school became the vice-president of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution! A monument to his memory near Crossgar reads:

“A keen supporter of Catholic Emancipation and later a federalist solution to the Irish Question, he is chiefly renowned for his work in support of the tenant farmers of Ireland and, in particular securing the legal recognition of the Ulster custom of Tenant Right.”

The Bateson Market house built in 1810 showing the original tower.

The Bateson Market house built in 1810 showing the original tower.

In his latter years William left the established church and became a Unitarian. It was quite a denial of the faith for one who had spent all his life, since boyhood days in St. John’s, Moira, repeating the Apostles creed:

“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, … made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, ... made in human likeness … found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11.


When Footprints Fade

The afternoon wore on and my coffee cup was nearly empty. I picked up my unread magazine and enjoyed the last mouthful of the Cappuccino. I was ready to leave the table when I noticed the pavement again. The sun had come out from behind the clouds and warmed the street, and the
footprints were rapidly fading. A soft mist rose into the air; then vanished forever. By the time I had paid at the counter and left the shop, all trace of footprints and mist had gone.

Is life as meaningless as footprints that get lost in the crowd and eventually fade in the mists of time? Do we make our mark in life and then vanish forever? Surely there is more to life than passing footprints?

Jesus Christ gives us the answer. He left footprints on the Sea of Galilee for he was truly God; He left footprints in the dust of the desert for he was truly man; He left bloody footprints on the rocky hillside outside the walls of Jerusalem for He had come to give His life as the Good Shepherd.

These are His words in John’s Gospel chapter 10: “..... I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” v10.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” v11.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” v27, 28.

Those who hear the voice of Jesus and follow Him, will know the intimacy of His personal care and protection now and forever; not only in this life while our footprints are fresh, but when they have vanished in the mists of time.

The life of true joy and real peace and meaningful purposefulness begun on earth will continue with Him and be perfected in Him forever and ever and ever; long after footprints fade.

Jesus invites you to come now in all your need and enter into that life with Him. He says:

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” v9.

Gate to Trummery old graveyard

Gate to Trummery old graveyard