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Wedding antics and country customs

The Digger recalls how nuptials used to be marked

A comical postcard from the early 1900's depicting newly-weds. Perhaps the couple had been "pipped-at-the-post" by the local "homers".
A comical postcard from the early 1900's depicting newly-weds. Perhaps the couple had been "pipped-at-the-post"
by the local "homers".

 WEDDINGS are often a time when some family members let their "hair-down". That may well mean participating in pre-nuptial antics at "stag" and "hen" nights, or engaging in some vehicle decoration when seeing off the newly weds.

Handfuls of confetti over the happy couple as they exit the venue, has caused much annoyance to the local sexton or caretaker over the years, who has the unenviable task of cleaning it up. That path can so often be smoothed by the discreet passing of a small gratuity.

In Victorian times, the practice of throwing rice was common. In May 1899 it was reported that well-wishers in the village had gathered outside Charing Parish Church and hurled showers of rice at the newly weds in their carriage. This resulted in frightening the horses, who in turn bolted, and running the carriage up a bank, overturning it. The couple were lucky and survived the experience, suffering from cuts and shock.

Locally, in December 1891, the press reported a "novel wedding" in the village of Stoneyford.

Mr. Robert Christie, a farmer from the town land of Bovolcan, and Miss Esther Chaine were the contracting parties "and the not least curious feature of the proceedings was that their daughter and son-in-law were witnesses to the connubial knot being securely tied." The groom was reported at the time to be above "seventy summers." Later that evening, after the wedding, on Tuesday, December 1, 1891, it was reported the more youthful of the neighbourhood had assembled in the vicinity of the residence of the happy pair and "kept up the not too musical strains of the horn, mingled with cracking of tar barrels, until an advanced hour." It was not unusual for a couple to be separated by an age gap. It was described to me recently as a large number of "summers" or "winters" between a pair of newly-weds. The couple may well have found themselves as the subject matter in a locally composed ballad which would be recited and performed in the local neighbourhood at soirees, dances and social gatherings. Sometimes they were not widely welcomed by the newly-wed couple and their family members and arguments ensued. The one-time long established bachelor who eventually succumbed to the charms of a fair maiden, is the target in some of the local ballads I have collected in the district

"The New Year is here and Christmas is past,
The bald-headed has got married at last

The custom of "horning" was popular in the country areas when local residents got married. An animal horn was commonly used, and blown, to the annoyance not only of the newly weds, but to residents in the neighbourhood.

One of the main reasons for the gathering was to collect money from the newly weds, which would be used to provide refreshments for the horning party. I have listened to many recollections of similar events and was told that failure to present money could result in some form of "divilment", usually taking the form of the tying of byre doors and removing gates and relocating them some considerable distance away. One of my old friends, who recalled many a horning in the 1930's and 1940's era, told me "They did things, that if you did them now, you would be in jail!"

In fact some of the homers did fall foul of the law during that era. The magistrates in the local courts in the 1920's and 1930's took a dim view of those engaged in the hornings. In May 1929 13 young men appeared before Crumlin Petty Sessions after having been summoned for riotous and disorderly behaviour arising out of the celebration of a wedding at Carnaughliss on the 4th and 6th May 1928. The Sergeant told the court their conduct had been very good since the event and the summonses were marked "dismissed without prejudice."

On that occasion the wedding took place on May 2. It was alleged that on May 4 a disorderly crowd gathered opposite the home of the newly weds. A rick-shifter was drawn down the road, a plough put into a ditch, a number of gates were pulled off and a bonfire was lit. Horns were blown and other instruments played. It was further alleged that on May 6 another crowd gathered. The witness at the court admitted that this was his third marriage and the second time there had been a disturbance. He thought it hardly fair that he should receive such treatment again. Three gentlemen were summoned to Lisburn Petty Sessions for behaving in a manner leading to a breach of the peace resulting from antics in October 1932 in the Poleglass area. When the bride and groom returned to their home, they were confronted by some young men who demanded money from them, five shillings to be exact. They proceeded to hammer the door and throw stones. The door of the house was damaged and nailed. The keyhole was filled up with sticks and stones. The RM asked if it was usual to give money like this when you are married, to which the prosecuting Detective Inspector, to the bemusement of those present, replied "This man has only been married once, and I don't think he knows."

The court case resulted in the defendants entering into bail to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. The court stated "It was a custom that ought to be modified very soon."

Interestingly, the complainant stated he too had been engaged before in having a bit of fun when a fellow was married, but not to the extent he experienced on this occasion.

Many would go out of their way to settle an old score. It was usual for a man to get his own back on some former perpetrator. A well-known perpetrator was visited on November 9, 1938, in the townland of Ballypitmave, by 13 local males. On leaving the horning they were accused of assaulting a passer-by on the road. One of the defendants was fined five shillings and costs at Crumlin Petty Sessions.

That horning was also mentioned in a locally composed ballad, and if the story is correct, the whole of the inside of the cottage, including the fireplace and crane had been whitewashed.

Other antics in the local area included more dangerous feats such as a bag being placed over the top of a chimney, smoking out the occupants. The releasing of farm animals from their housing was not uncommon either. On some occasions the newly weds would have found a sprig of holly placed in their bed.

Honeymoons were unheard of in those times. I was told about the custom of racing horses to the home of a married couple, outside Hillsborough, when the wedding feast was being prepared. The winner of the race picked up the prize money and then made off to purchase the bottles of porter which would be shared amongst the other males present, before the all-night horning would take place.

The Digger is interested to hear of any other similar customs in the district and can be contacted through the Ulster Star office, or by email

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