Big thank you from

Wallace Park tragedy caused widespread grief in Lisburn


A postcard depicting the pond at Wallace Park. The scene dates from around the time of the Rice tragedy

A postcard depicting the pond at Wallace Park.
The scene dates from around the time of the Rice tragedy.

WHEN Daniel Rice, the son of a weaver, married Sarah Corkin on 7th February 1882 at Christchurch, Lisburn, times could not have been happier for them.

Daniel was from the County Down side of Lisburn. They had at least three children - Eliza lane born at Antrim Street on 11th April 1884, Martha, known affectionately as Daisy born 1888 and Thomas born at Bachelor's Walk on 25th April 1892.

Daniel had found himself employment as a car driver to support his wife and family. The family were living at 61 Bachelor's Walk. looking forward to the new 20th century which would see the reign of Queen Victoria end in 1901.

Daniel Rice had made the local headlines in January 1892 when he sought damages through court against a Robert Peel (junior), who had a saddler shop. He alleged that Robert Peel had seduced his sister-in-law Margaret Corkin and she had a child to him. She had been keeping house for the Rice family allowing Sarah, her sister, to go to work in a local mill.

Margaret Corkin alleged that Robert Peel had promised to marry her but this had not happened. A decree was given for £30. Robert Peel would have to pay that at £1 per month.

Little Daisy Rice, daughter of Daniel and Sarah. was described as being above average intelligence and was known for her recitals at local events in connection with Christ Church Band of Hope and the juvenile Branch of the YMCA. We are told her favourite piece was 'Grandmother's Spectacles'.

She had visited her grandmother on Sunday 21st May 1899 at 'The Widows' Houses' and sang the hymn 'Jesus is calling. There could be nothing more poignant. as the forthcoming days were to reveal.

Queen Victoria celebrated her 80th birthday on 24th May 1899 and a large attendance of clergymen gathered at the Cathedral of Christ Church, Lisburn to participate in a service to celebrate the event.

That same afternoon, however, in another part of Lisburn town a large group of mourners had gathered round a graveside at Blaris Graveyard to pay their respects and witness the interment of two little children. The service at the graveside was conducted by the Rea. J.I. Peacocke and Rev. T. Brown.

The morning of Monday 22nd May 1899 had probably been a normal one in the Rice household. Daniel Rice was to see his children, little Thomas at 8.30am that morning and Daisy at 1.45pm that afternoon. for the last time. The children attended the Nicholson Memorial School in Lisburn. On returning from school later that day they went to Wallace Park, a short walk from their home in Bachelor's Walk. The Lisburn Standard reports the children had gone there to play.

...They left their home in childish joy
In childish glee they played -
Two happy children, girl and boy
Beneath the beeches' shade..."

It was believed the children were attracted to the large white swan which gracefully glided across the ornamental pond and they -were desirous of obtaining pos- session of some of the quills from the swan which were floating on the lake."

Daisy had lifted her brother up onto the railings surrounding the pond which were approximately four feet in height. His foot slipped and he tell in. Daisy climbed over the g railin s in an effort to assist Tommy, but she too appears to have slipped into the water.

The local papers at the time state: "With the greatest presence of mind and pluck, for a child Daisy tucked her apron round her waist, scaled over the

railing, and reached out to her brother, to whom she was much devoted."

...When Daisy saw him sink alone
Into a watery grave,
Heroic-like she gave her own

Her brother's life to save...."

Patrick McAvoy, a school teacher from 79 Longstone Street told the inquest how he had met children crying outside the gate of the park at about 4.45pm. He had asked the children to show him the place where Daisy and Tommy had fallen in, but they were frightened and ran off.

He went to call on the assistance of Mr. Tames Wright, the park ranger, who arrived on the scene shortly afterwards. They could not see any ,sign of the children and attempted to unfasten the boat.

Meanwhile. Mr. Fred G McMurray from Sylvan Hill. who had heard about the accident as he was coming from the railway station, arrived. He discarded his hat and coat and plunged into the water and retrieved the body of Daisy Rice. The boat was now in use and soon after the body of Tommy Rice was lifted from the water. Sergeant O'Sullivan, who held a first- aid certificate, and a Mr. Muholland, carried out artificial resuscitation on Daisy but they were unsuccessful. Crowds of onlookers flocked to the pond "where the bodies of the two children. as they lay side by side, presented a sad spectacle that moved many to tears."

The parents had now been informed and it was retorted their mother had attempted to make her way to the scene but turned back to be comforted by her neighbour Mr.- and Mrs. Brown.

The children's remains were placed in a car and conveyed to the family home from where "the poor children had started at little more than an hour before in the best of spirits." The sight was one not often seen, and was described as one which was enough to move the stoutest heart.

The Rev. Peacocke remained with the family through the night and returned the following evening remaining to 3am. The people of Lisburn had never witnessed such a spontaneous outburst of emotion.

The emotion was also seen in the Courthouse at Railway Street on Tuesday 23rd May. Mr. Robert Thompson, a juror, protested against the appointment onto the jury of an Urban Councillor. Mr Ritchie. The matter was soon resolved and the Coroner, Dr. Mussen, J.P. commenced the inquest.

The hearing was told two other children, Jeannie Rice and Minnie Irvine or Irwin. who had witnessed the tragic event were the children who ran off to summon assistance. Jeannie was not a sister of the two children.

The park ranger, Mr. Wright, told the inquest that in his opinion the railings were quite safe and he had never heard any complaints about their insecurity and nothing of this sort had happened before. The side of the pond had been concreted the previous Autumn. firmly fixing the railings. in comparison to other public parks with ponds in Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool. Wallace Park was considered safer due to the railing surround, despite the fact it was deeper.

The jury sympathised with the parents of the two children and commented on the heroic act of Mr. McMurray. One of the jurymen present suggested that the fowl be removed from the pond, but this suggestion was dismissed. The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death by drowning."

At 3pm on Wednesday 24 May the coffins were carried from the Rice family home, to the singing of 'Safe in the Arms of Jesus' by the children of the Nicholson Memorial Weekday and Sunday schools and the Juvenile branch of the YMCA.

The funeral procession made its way to Blaris via Railway Street, Market Square, Bow Street, Market Place and Dublin Road.

The streets of Lisburn were lined with onlookers. Many of the shops had closed and blinds in the windows of private houses were drawn. Some children were taken out of the procession as it passed Christ Church due to the inclement weather. but many refused and walked to the graveyard at Blaris.

"Beneath the mournful cypress shade
All Lisburn mourns today,
In sympathy with those who laid
Their loved ones in the clay...."

The three verses are from a 15 verse poem composed in memory of the Rice children and published in The Lisburn Herald in May 1899.

The Digger can be contacted at

Next: The Digger unfolds another tragedy to touch on the lives of the remaining Rice family members.

Visit the Diggers new web site