Moneyrea school where Henry McD. Flecher was a teacher. "I taught about six years in that friendly and more than friendly district."According to modern technology and mapping systems the distance from the doorstep ol a residence in the townland of Derrykillultagh to the entrance of Knights of Honor Cemetery, Blossom, Texas is 4336.625 miles. Those places proved to be significant during the lifetime of one 'local son' Henry McDonald Fletcher, also known as "Henry McD. Flecher."
There are several sketches of Henry's life recorded in early 20th century newspapers and other published sources, but there is little detail about his early life. Some of the published information about him is in fact incorrect.
One fascinating insight into the life of Henry is set out in a set of ten letters penned by him from January to July 1902. They had been sent to the home address of Francis Joseph Bigger, the noted historian and antiquarian, at Antrim Road, Belfast. Henry had sent F.J. Bigger a review copy of his last poetry book and he was providing a pen picture of himself.
Henry states that he was born in the parish of Ballinderry about half a mile from "the shore of the king of lakes' - Lough Neagh, and less than half a mile from Lough Beg also known as Portmore Lake. He reminisces about his first lesson at his mother's knee and later how he accompanied his brothers to school at Ballinderry when he was old enough to walk the two miles to get there. He claims that by the time he started school he could read the Bible.
The change of the surname from Fletcher to Flecher is explained in a letter written on 19th May 1902. He claims the family were of French extraction, the source of the name being "fleche" - French for arrow. Henry took the liberty of taking the 't' from the surname to make it a "properly spelled word."
Henry informed J. Bigger there were two possible theories for the settlement of his family in the area. It was believed that the Flecher ancestors, associated with the Protestants, were forced to leave France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and subsequently settded in the Lagan Valley area.The other theory suggested by Henry was that King I William III, during his march to the Boyne, encamped somewhere in the Ballinderry neighbourhood for a short time. He encountered one of his officer soldiers called Flecher gazing at the top of a little hill.
"What draws your attention so strongly?" queried the King. "Looking, your Majesty, at the lovely lands out yonder," and he pointed to the tract which has since embraced the parishes of Aghalee and Aghagallon.
"Well, Flecher, if we win tomorrow's battle, all that fine country will be yours."
Henry explains that his wish was granted, but Flecher "had contracted some bad habits." He was stripped of his privileges "and turned him loose to work as he ought." Henry informs J. Bigger that took the initials 'McD' as a his middle name. His grandfather Flecher had married into the McDonald family in the Ballinderry area.
The Fletcher family were to relocate from their fertile lands on the shore of Lough Neagh to the Derrykillultagh farm in Upper Ballinderry which his father purchased.
The Fletcher family can be found in the few remnants that survive of the J851 census for the Ballinderry area. William Fletcher, aged 79, his wife Rebecca and daughter Mary were residing in the townland of Derrykillultagh in close proximity of the location of the old Killultagh School. At the time of William's death on the 22nd April 1854, there were a number of surviving children including Sophia Ervin, Thomas, Edward, Joseph, Mary Jane, William and Henry. There are a number of records including American census returns and local references that provide contradictory birth years for Henry. Assuming the headstone inscription in Texas is correct then the 25th October, 1825 can be taken as correct.
He writes fondly of the surrounding countryside and recalls that his father taught them during the winter and his mother during the leisure hours of the other seasons. He also recalled his father going to town on an errand and returning with several books and some gingerbread.
At some point during his childhood he was to dislocate his left elbow and he claims that the actions of an "unskilful surgeon" resulted in his arm becoming almost unusable.
He left school at about the age of 15 and he continued to read and study at home. Interestingly, he tells Bigger that he threw himself into the great Repeal agitation. This was in the early 1840s and was under the auspices of Daniel O'Connell. Henry states that the reality of life set in on the collapse of this campaign and he sought employment. At this time he had set his sights on becoming either a teacher or a missionary minister with the Moravian Brethren. He refers to the Moravian congregation at Ballinderry, of which he was a member, as "excellent Christians."
Frank Magee of Hannahstown national school asked him to take up the post of a substitute teacher after which he moved to Colin school and Upper Falls. During this period he took a course at the Dublin normal academy. He writes that his income was the combination of the Board's salary, the pupils' fees and several small salaries from gentlemen of the neighbourhood who employed him as a visiting tutor.
In February 1850 Henry, then a schoolmaster, married Eliza Clarke from Waringstown. The marriage record shows he was living at Derriaghy at this time. Henry claims he had a quarrel with the Board and left teaching and opened a business house in Belfast.
He was soon to discover he was unsuited to business life and was restored by the Board and commenced teaching again. A short biography published in the Lisburn Standard in 1917 informs readers that he also taught at Ballymaglaff and Moneyreagh in County Down. Henry informs Bigger that he taught at three schools in County Down and he added that "no school excelled Moneyrea" where he taught for about six years.
The Lisburn Standard informed readers in 1917 that in 1866 Henry moved to Belfast where he would take up a post at Springfield National School. Henry, in his own words, says this "was not a triumph" and he readily accepted an offer from Sir William Ewart to take up a position in the Crumlin Road Mills. Published sketches of his life state that he was employed there as a cashier. In 1868 when his daughter Eva Grace was born, the family were residing at Tudor Place, Belfast. Henry was to spend almost four years in his new career before he succumbed to his dream of leaving Ireland and setting up in a country that he describes as The Land of the Free."
The Digger can be contacted at The Ulster Star office or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEXT: Henry McD Flecher in America. "A friend to the friendless and a sympathizer with the oppressed."