IF YOU take a drive out the Saintfield Road from Lisburn and head towards the Temple you'll pass through the townland of Ballymacbrennan. It consists of approximately 750 acres and is bordered by nine other town-lands.
There is no denying you are in the County of Down as you pass through the small rolling hills of the countryside. The horsepower of vehicles today would be far superior to the mode of transport used in yesteryear.
Imagine travelling over Tullyard Hill 100 years ago with pony and trap making your way to the market or fair and having time to take in the magnificent views of the rural district. At that time the local area comprised mainly of people with a Presbyterian background and consisted of farmers, several weavers and cattle dealers. Ballymacbrennan consisted of a number of farm houses, smaller holdings, a National Schoolhouse and a blacksmith's forge.
1865 would prove to be a significant year in the locality. It was reported in the local press that a male member of a Donegal family by the surname of Logue had settled in the nearby townland of Lisnastrean sometime in the late 1820s or early 1830s. He was accompanied by three of his sons - William, Neal and James. William was a weaver by trade.
He was later, however, fatally shot in the abdomen after local farmers set up watchmen at locations in the area. They had been losing "great quantities of potatoes." It was alleged that William Logue was the culprit and he had been shot whilst in the act of stealing potatoes from a farmer's pit.
William's brother James Logue was a labourer working on farms in the Lisnastrean and Hillhall areas. He was employed for three or four years on a farm holding of just over fifty acres at Ballymacbrennan which belonged to George Graham who had inherited the farm from his own father in the 1840s.
Reports from the period described the house as being somewhat dilapidated" but a "solid and respectable mansion, situate on the declivity of a hill on the main road to Saintfield." It was approximately 30 to 40 perches from that road with a garden to the front and outhouse to the left of the farmhouse.
James Logue had a son called John and at least one other son and daughter. In 1861 John Logue was also in the employment of George Graham for five days. But John Logue had been accused by George Graham of taking without leave a horse from the stable and causing damage to a door frame. Graham was reported to have struck John Logue for this misdemeanour and subsequently Logue "uttered a dreadful threat" against him for this.
Local press reported that John Logue had spent some time in Russia with an army pensioner and he would later admit that during this period he "was initiated into all manner of crimes."
Locally, he appeared before the Hillsborough Quarter Sessions for the alleged theft of sheep from James Wilson of Lisnastrean. George Graham was one of the main witnesses for the prosecution in that trial in June 1861 which resulted in John Logue being found guilty and sentenced to four years penal servitude.
That time was spent at Spike Island in County Cork, although the experience would not dissuade Logue from engaging in further criminal activity after his release.
Later press reports state he was obliged to work there whilst chained hand and foot. The Belfast and Morning News reported that during his time at Spike Island "he was regarded at one time a dangerous convict, and at another as a promising pupil in the school room". Officials there had given him "credit for smartness and ingenuity" and occasionally he "employed his time in writing verses."
On the 28th June 1865 he was released and went to England. He was later reported to have admitted having committed several offences whilst there including the theft of a valuable watch which he pawned. John Logue returned to Ireland and on 7th July 1865 he had been sighted again near Hillhall. His former crimes could be classed as minor in comparison to those that would follow after his return to the Lisburn area. John Logue was unwittingly following in the footsteps of his uncle James.
Over the next month a series of strange incidents and crimes occurred in the district.
The home of Mr. James Wilson at Lisnastrean, about half a mile from George Graham's home, was broken into on the 10th of July. A gun, gunpowder, shot and a double reined bridle were amongst the items taken. The gun was found two weeks later by two boys who were pulling hay from a haystack.
Rebecca Fraser, sister of James Wilson, had given him some eggs which he wrapped in a red handkerchief. It was later discovered that the eggs had been broken and the handkerchief removed.
On the 13th of July a fire broke out in a byre belonging to George Carson at Hillhall. The arson attack resulted in the death of cattle and a pig. Three haystacks were also destroyed and the total damage was estimated in the region of £81.
On 8th of August the home of Daniel and Ann Maguire, Largymore, which was within two miles of George Graham's home, was entered by a parlour window. A firearm, described as a long military gun, with brass mountings, a cast steel ram rod and marked "H.G." on the stock, was stolen. Powder, powder flask, percussion caps and a pair of sugar tongs were also taken.
George Graham himself had also lost a dog. It had gone missing sometime around the first week of August 1865. George Graham had also noticed the remains of a fowl that had been plucked at the door of his stable. Later, whilst out pulling flax in the fields he discovered where a fire had been kindled in a ditch. On closer inspection he found the bones of a turkey lying in the heap among the cinders.
But George Graham and his neighbours could never have imagined that these crimes and strange occurrences were the precursor to an event that would change the lives of the Graham family forever.
The Digger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting The Ulster Star office.
Next: The Ballymacbrennan Murder