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Religion, riots and rhyme in Glenavy


An early 20th century postcard depicting St. Joseph's at Ballymacricket, Glenavy, the scene of disturbances in 1829 and 1877.THE people of Glenavy and surrounding districts in previous generations were no strangers to violence. Early records and documents that have survived the ravages of time give us a brief insight into the troubled past.

A Mrs Adkinson, wife of Captain Adkinson, related her experiences of the burnings in Lurgan in 1641 and the effects the uprising during that period had on her family. She had relocated to Glenavy according to Public Record Office of Northern Ireland D695/145.

It was often said that the Parish Church in the village had escaped the notice of Oliver Cromwell due to the density of trees in the area, unlike the churches of Templecormac, Tullyrusk and Trummery.

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs compiled in the 1830s have recorded numerous incidents of feuding and violence in the district. In Aghalee it was recorded that there were party feuds, burning of homes and chapels, including about four persons burned to death and one shot in their house. The chapels at Ballinderry, Glenavy, Derriaghy and Aghagallon were subject to attacks and some were destroyed by fire at the end of the 18th century. The early part of the 19th century was also a turbulent period, not only nationally but locally. Robert Cinnamond from Aghadalgon recorded several ballads for RTE in the 1960's. He speaks of "very much bitterness" between the Catholics and Protestants in the 19th century. One of those incidents he speaks of relates to an incident in July 1829 in the vicinity of the Chapel at Ballymacricket outside the village of Glenavy. The Belfast Newsletter dated 30th June 1829 reports that on the 24th of that month there was much rioting in Glenavy that was renewed again the following morning and became so alarming that the Lisburn police were sent for.

It had been reported that a fifer and drummer had been attending a Masonic procession, and on returning home the party were attacked and abused by some of the local Catholic population. It was alleged that they had come under attack by some 30 or 40 men who came out from concealed ditches.

Whatever the truth and circumstance in regard to the incident, a William John Ingram appeared at Carrickfergus before the County Antrim Assizes in August 1829 charged with riot and assault on a local man called Robert Heaney.

Robert Cinnamond sings about Robert Heaney in the ballad....

As God's his friend, I hope he'll mend
With Surgeon Murray's skill
For a braver chap could not be got
Around the Chapel Hill."

Evidence was given to the court by witnesses to the events, including the evidence of Surgeon Murray and the Rev. Daniel Bell, Curate of Glenavy. The Rev. Bell was a native of Glenavy and a son of a local farmer. Surgeon Murray is believed to be Dr. Murray who died in 1835 and was buried in Glenavy Parish Church.

It was reported in the Belfast Newsletter on 21st August 1829 that the jury "returned a verdict of acquittal as to the assault, but they could not agree as to a verdict on the riot and they were discharged.

Robert's song concludes...

...We fought them on right manfully
Till they had got their fill
And they'll mind the day they ran away
From the boys of Chapel Hill."

Almost 58 years later history would repeat itself in the Ballymacricket area and a series of events would assist in creating another ballad which would form part of Robert Cinnamon's repertoire. Easter Monday fell on the 2nd April in 1877. It was reported that James Evans was in custody for taking part in an alleged riot and assault on Hugh Mulholland from Ballymacash. A further three men - Robert Irvine, William Creaney and William John Wade - were charged with having unlawfully and riotously assembled together.

It was alleged that a drumming party were passing by Father Pye's parochial house which was damaged due to a stone throwing incident. Other houses in the area were also attacked.

"When they came to the parochial house
Where Father Pye did dwell
They commenst their works like any turks
Or devils sent from hell....."

The incident caused such an outrage in the district that Dr. Mussen, the local District Master of the Orange Order in Glenavy issued a statement on behalf of the Order to the press "unequivocally expressing its disapproval with the events."

A further court hearing resulted in two other men being charged and appearing before the magistrate. They were named as Thomas Edward Higginson and Samuel Eaton (or Edens).

Despite the Orange Order issuing a statement supporting the prosecution of those involved, there were many local people who were suspicious of the Orange Order and the alleged links to the judiciary system at that time.

Numerous witnesses were called during the subsequent trial but due to a lack of evidence it was reported that "the jury without leaving the box acquitted the prisoners."

The judge told the prisoners that "if it had have been clearly proven that one of them had taken part in the attack on the chapel, he would have sent them to penal servitude."

The result of the court process however did not please all concerned and the ballad concludes...

"The trial it came on and these men did all appear
Before the judge and jury their sentence for to hear
When the judge addressed the jury we all did plainly see
They were all brother Orangemen and they did set them free."

Thanks to RTE for permission to quote from archive material.

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