AN OLD TIMER TALKING
 

 

Chapter 1. 

EARLY DAYS AROUND KILKEEL 


HUGH MARKS, of Kilkeel, is one of the most interesting personalities it has ever been my pleasure to interview.
To start with I would like to say something of the impressions which I formed of this grand old man during the varied discussions I had with him. I formed the opinion, and strongly, that his is a singularly unselfish character. It would seem to me that during the ups and downs of his long, busy and crowded life he never seemed to think of himself or of his own comforts, or his own convenience when there was a question of serving others, I feel that he never looked for praise, never bothered about thanks for what he did in the interests of his employers, or for what he did in helping lame dogs over stiles. I would say of Hugh Marks that his word was always his bond. I may, however be giving readers the impression that Hugh, possessing the virtues I have enumerated is rather a formidable character of the old school of thought, severe and straight-laced. Well, let me assure you that he is nothing of the kind.
He is a chatty little man, effervescent with sparkling wit and humour, with a ruddy complexion as fresh as a ploughboy of 21, with scarcely a wrinkle in his face; and he has two of the brightest, merriest, dark twinkling eyes I ever saw. They are certainly not the eyes of an old man and Hugh does not talk or act much like an old man either. His out-look on life is bright and fresh and his keen sense of humour helps to lighten and brighten the autumn of his years. I met Hugh in Kilkeel on his 81st birthday, He says, "I am 81 the day". "Well," I replied, "that calls for a celebration". So we both went round to "The Bridge Bar" and in the bar parlour of that celebrated hostelry I drank the bould Hugh's health and wished him many happy returns and so did the genial and obliging manager of the licensed premises, Mr. Jim Cunningham, an old and valued friend of mine. Jim doesn't drink but he was so enthusiastically interested in the interview and so helpful with the vital parts of Hugh's story that he forgot about his thirsty customers in the bar down below, and I could hear loud, impatient and repeated knocking on the counter, for sea-going men have naturally a thirst, but Mr. Cunningham said, "Och, let them wait a minute, they're taking no harm", so engrossed was he in our friend's wealth of interesting facts and stories of the distant past. And it just goes to prove that there is indeed genuine kindliness in "Kindly Mourne" for when the bartender apologised for keeping the customers waiting and explained the reason, up came a series of creamy stouts for which this hostelry is noted, all for Hugh to mark the auspicious occasion and help to stimulate him in recalling his reminiscences. But wise man as he is, our friend has to refuse much of the proffered hospitality saying"Thanks boys, but no more now. A know when A've had enough." Well, to get on, here is the story as he narrated it to me:- 

"A was born in the townland of Carginagh in the middle o' Mourne on the 4th May, 1879. A was wan of a family of 14, 6 girls and 8 boys. A was christened in the ould chapel at Ballymartin by the Parish Priest, Fr. James Keatings. Fr. Keatings was a native of Ferns Co. Wexford and he was Parish Priest of Lower Mourne for 40 years, from 1856 to 1896. The ould people called him Priest Katins. Me father was John Marks from the Longstone district and me mother was Catherine Reilly who hailed from the Valley Road, Moneydarraghbeg, near Ballymartin. Me father died when A was very young, A just min' him and no more. Me mother had to work hard and sore to rear such a big family, workin' out by day for long hours, 6 o'clock in the mornin' to 7 o'clock at night for 6d to 9d a day wi' the local farmers and "flowerin'" (doin' hand embroidery) on handkerchiefs be candle-light at night. Sometimes two inches of embroidery on four corners for 6d or 8d a dozen. She is about 50 years dead, Lord rest her. "What woman would ye get to do that now?"

"Oh none at all" I agreed. "No, I think not", replied Hugh. "A don't know what the world's goin' to come to at all. Look at the cut of some of them nowadays, weemin trying to look like men wi' tight trousers on them and their hair cut up this way and that way, and ivery way and some o' the men ye see nowadays are wearin' things ye wouldn't have been seen dead in in my young days." "A have a brother and a sister livin' yet. Me sister lives at Quilly Burn, near Dromore - Kate Kelly. A rode a bicycle there to see her not long ago. She is 90 years of age. Me brother, Tommy is about 86. He lives in Drumaness. He was up seein' me a while back. Our family left Carginagh when A was 7 years ould and went to live at The Millbay. A went a while to Lisnacree School. It was a mixed school for all denominations. The teacher was a Mrs. Orr. She was wan of the Fishers of Ballymartin. Oh a fine woman she was and a good teacher too, but A didn't learn much. She caught me chewin' tobacco wan day and gave me a canin' that ended me career at school for A never went back. Me education was badly neglected but they weren't so particular in them days. The Star of the Sea' School wasn't built then. Dr. Marner, the Parish Priest built it afterwards, A mind him well goin' round in his wee pony and trap an' sometimes on horseback. A min' Father Hamill who was P.P. after him and Father McAllister who came after that then Canon Laverty and Father MacGowan who died three years ago. And now we have Canon Cahill, 'who is all their daddys - a great man, God bliss him. He has done a lot of work since he come and has a lot more to do yet, but trust him, he'll do it before he finishes.

A min' a curate called Father Eardley. He was a great friend of the Kilmoreys and used to ride and hunt wi' them often. In the Lower end parish, A min' Father Murphy who came after Fr. Keatings. A heard tell of Fr. O'Loan and Fr. Smyth but they were long after my time in the parish and A don't know much about them. A hear them sayin' that the Father Murphy who is the Parish Priest in the Lower end now is a nephew of oul' Father Murphy, who built Ballymartin Chapel, Moneydarra School as' a lot of other buildin's as well. Well, judgin' by what this priest has done since he came to the Lower end, he is a chip of the oul' block. The Murphys were grand men. They come from Erinagh, near Downpatrick. "A was 9 years ould when A left school and A hired for work in McMurrays of Greencastle to herd cows and sheep. The wages were ten shillin's for the half year. A also worked in Newells of Benagh and in McElroys at Greencastle but the toughest place of the lot was me start. A was only 9 years ould, ye see, and it was in the winter time A started. A was put to herd sheep and cattle on the Islands off the Millbay from 5 o'clock in the mornin' to 9 o'clock at night wi' only a piece in me pocket. Many and many a coul' winters day A burned dry wrack and sticks to dry me feet and keep myself warm. A was on the Islands from the tide went out in the early mornin' until it came in at night wi' little in me or on me, and ye know it was very hard on a wee fella.

"Newells' was a good house to work in; there was a roughness of everything and plenty of good home-baked wheaten bread and sweet milk and good fresh butter-milk. There was no such thing as flu in them days for there was plenty of good strong rum at 4d a glass that wad kill any germs. Tobaccy was only 3d. an ounce and stout 2d a bottle, and ye got cheese and biscuits free wi' it at Tom Briens' pub in the Millbay.


 

Chapter 2.

THE STORY OF GREENCASTLE FAIR; AND THE CASTLE AND ITS GHOST
 


"While A was in McElroy's at Greencastle me hours were from 5 o'clock in the mornin' until 9 o'clock at night", Hugh told me. The doors were locked after supper - about half-nine and any of the workers who wasn't in by that time had to be out all night. A used to take an odd run to the town after A finished work and of course it was long after half-nine when A got back. So A used to go into the stable and lie down in the manger and pull the hay over me. That and the ould mare's breath as she ate the hay kept me warm and A was up in the mornin' at 5 o'clock fresh as a linty picker and no remarks passed. A stayed in McElroy's for 5 years and me wages were 5 a half-year. "If ye are iver out at the ould Castle, just take a look into the stables and ye might see me name on the ould manger yet - that's if they haven't made alterations since my time, for that's over 60 years ago. If ye drive up to the farmhouse and go through the gate on the right of the ould Castle the first openin' ye come to in the ould walls of the Castle was the stables. A'm sure there are not many horses there now."

Well, it will interest readers to learn that we did go out to visit the Old Castle and we took Hugh along with us. The first part of the ruins we reached were the stables and sure enough on the wooden manger of the first 'stand', almost as fresh as the day he painted it, was the name "Hu Marks". So there was no doubt it, Marks left his marks for future generations to see. And for a man who declares "A'm no scholar", the big bold block capitals he inscribed could not have been excelled by a University graduate.
With Hugh as our guide we climbed to the ramparts of the Old Castle, visited the old banqueting hall, the tower and keep, and also the dungeons underneath. An account of the history of Greencastle may be of interest.

HISTORY OF THE CASTLE

Though the only inhabitants when we visited it last Saturday were a couple of cows and some pigs, it was once upon a time one of the most important fortresses in Ireland, guarding the entrance to the Kingdom of Mourne, stand sentinel over Carlingford Lough and sharing with the corresponding fort of Carlingford, supported by the Block House in the middle of the Lough, the responsibility of keeping the so- called "wild Irish" in check, and baffling the French when they tried to force the gap of Uladh. It was built by John de Courcey about the year 1264 and was the scene of many a fierce siege between the Anglo Normans and the Irish clans, changing hands several times during those bloody conflicts. It was also besieged by Cromwell's armies and partly demolished by them, but the keep, towers and basement arches are still intact and the historic ruin like a grim sentinel still stands guard over the Kingdom of Mourne.
The late Monsignor J. O'Laverty, M.R.I.A., in his Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, treats of the history of the castle as follows : "It was erected by the early English invaders to guard an entrance to the Lough of Carlingford, and to secure a line of correspondence between the Pale and their out-lying possessions in Lecale. A sad eyesore to the native Irish that Anglo Norman fortress perched on an abrupt rock, and flaunting its red cross of St. George in their faces as they looked from their own mountains to the waters of Cuan-Snamheach, by which name they still loved to call the lough on which the Norsemen had imposed the outlandish name of Carling ford. The red cross is gone, and the rank grass waves from the ruined keep, but 700 years have not been able to remove 'the Irish enemy' whose descendants still cling to the soil . . . .This castle, with its lands, was one of the many lordships belonging to the powerful Earls of
Ulster, the De Burgos or Burkes . . . In 1495 it was considered of such importance that the crown felt it necessary to decree that none but Englishmen by birth were eligible to the office of Governor. In the reign of Edward VI. the castle and lordship of Mourne were granted to Sir Nicholas Bagnall (who was represented by Lord Kilmorey) . . . . Part of the castle, fitted up for a residence probably by some of the Bagnall family, about the latter portion of the seventeenth century, is at present the residence of Mr. McIlroy" The farm on which the Castle stands is still owned by the McIlroy family. Archaeologists excavating there a few years ago found nothing but a skull with a bullet hole through it, probably the skull of one of the Cromwellian soldiers or of some one of the defenders of the Castle during the Cromwellian siege. We cannot be certain, but if those grim old walls could only speak, what stories they could tell of doughty deeds of daring from the dim and distant past.

THE RETRIEVER AND "CONNEMARA" DISASTER

Our picture shows our esteemed guide, Hugh Marks, looking out towards the old Block House in the middle of Carlingford Lough. He also recalled the worst sea disaster ever to happen off the Northern coast. It was the collision between the S.S. "Retriever" a collier bound from Garston to Newry and the "Connemara" passenger boat bound from Greenore to Holyhead. The tragedy occurred about 9 p.m. on the wild stormy night of the 3rd November, 1916. 93 people perished. Mr. P. Boyle, Warrenpoint, still living, was the one and only survivor from the "Retriever", and there were none at all from the "Connemara". Fifteen of the unclaimed, unidentified bodies were washed up along the shore between Greencastle and Derryogue Point and were buried in the old Kilkeel Churchyard. Captain P. O'Neill, from The Ballagh, near Newcastle, his son Joseph, and his brother-in-law Joseph Donnan, who were drowned from the "Retriever", were waked in James Donnan's house in Newry Street, Kilkeel. Capt. O'Neill's wife, formerly Miss Margaret Donnan, was a cousin of Mr. Tom Donnan, Kilkeel.

THE GHOST WHO WAS BANISHED FOR 520 YEARS

Before we left the old Castle, Hugh enquired if we had ever heard the ghost story in connection with it. We admitted we had heard something of this, but didn't know the whole story. "Well," continued Hugh, "it was long before my time and A don't know it all, but as far as A heard there was a strange boat came into Greencastle pier wan time and a wee man came ashore and made his way up to the ould Castle, He didn't come out again but that night at 12 o'clock and for long after that at the same time every night the cattle kept roarin' all night and burst their tyin's to get out. They near went mad. The very pots an' pans in the house kept rattlin' and an old 8-day clock fell off the wall and never 'went' again. Well, the ructions went on every night for a long time and A heard the ould people say that there was a Council of Clargy got together to lay the ghost. They ordered him to be banished to the Red Sea for 520 years. The ghost pleaded wi' them to throw off the 500 and make it only 20 and he would call again at the end of that time, but they stuck to the 520. A suppose there's 120 years of the time up now".

GREENCASTLE FAIR

"Och, Greencastle is an ancient oul' place. They used to ship cattle and horses from it to Greenore and Holyhead, but that's stopped donkey's years ago, more's the pity. An' A suppose ye heard tell o' Greencastle Fair? A never was at it but A was talkin' to them that was There was a song about it. Me mother knowed it, God rest her. "Who has had the luck to see Greencastle Fair? A Mourne man all in his glory was there". "That's all A know of it, but A think the Mourne man mentioned in the song was a man called Dancin' Tam McCartan from the Longstone. He was a champion step-dancer, none to touch him. The last fair at Greencastle was about 70 years ago. It was always held on the 12th August, and on that mornin' the roads wud be black wi' people from all airts and parts and say wud be black as well wi' all kin's o' wee boats and yawls filled wi' people from Cooley and roun' there. There wud be great fun wi' the boatmen, wan tryin' to outdo the other in sailin. "There wur no end o' tents and caravans. It was mostly in the tents that the dancin' took place and ye may be sure the music wud ha' been worth a listenin' to - pipers and fiddlers and fifers. There wur prizes for the best step-dancers and they wud ha' danced jigs and reels and hornpipes and Irish set dances. There wud ha' been all kinds o' 'kereckters' at the fair, jugglers and spey-men and spey-weemin, and men sellin' all kin's o' things lek churns and tubs and other wudden veshils that's not used nowadays, and cloggers sellin' clogs, for nearly ivery man, woman and wean in Mourne wore clogs in them days, and then there wur woollen waivers sellin' pleadin' and banyins; nearly all the men wore banyans in them days. In troth ye cud ha' bought everything from a needle to an anchor at Greencastle Fair. An' there was lashins and leavin's o' all kin's o' atin and drinkin'. Whiskey at 3d or 4d a glass and porter at 1d or 2d a bottle. The stir lasted to the early hours o' the morning and many an ould horse or donkey made their way home themselves wi' their owners lyin' stocious' in the carts. Och, them was the days. It's mebbe just as well drink's not as chape nowadays or there'd be whole lots wud never be sober, troth naw".

THE BLIND FIDDLER

Further light was shed on the Greencastle fair by Mr. James Cunningham, manager of the Bridge Bar, Kilkeel, who remembers his grandmother telling him of the blind fiddler who came across from Cooley every year to play at the fair. This fiddler, who had been blind from birth, attended all the festivals throughout Ireland, and also taught people to play the violin. "I heard my grandmother say," recalled Mr. Cunningham, "that one year when he was fiddling for the dancing competitions he said 'If Dancing Tom McCartan's alive that's him I'm playing for now.' And so it was."
We are indebted to Mr. Arthur Doran, Glasdrumman, for a historical note that at one time fairs were held at Greencastle in 1st January and 1st August, and were changed with the new style calendar to 12th January and 12th August. With the passing of years, the January fair died out, but the August fair survived long after. Mr. Doran has an interesting collection of Mourne ballads, and the following lines are taken from one on the old Greencastle fair :- "The violin's sweet inspiring tone, Proclaimed that ancient fair, The dance with Irish brilliance shone, In style unknown elsewhere". The night before the fair lots of people would come over in their little boats to Green Island and rest there for the night, and next morning complete the journey to the fair green.
So, with our curiosity aroused, we set off again with Hugh as our guide to see the old fair green. It is about a quarter of a mile on the Cranfield side of Greencastle pier. Right on the beach at the end of the Fair Road, it is convenient to the house of a Mr. Doyle. The place which was once so lively and gay is desolate and forgotten now, and the former dwelling houses are in ruins. Then we visited the pier, and were pleased to see that improvements have been carried out recently. Above all we were delighted to see the Slieve Foy, one of the Carlingford Lough Co.'s boats, tied up in port. But otherwise the place seemed dead, and Hugh could not help giving a sigh "for the quare times there used to be roun' here". Whereas Massforth Church is seven miles from Greencastle, St. James's Church in Greenore is only 2 of 3 miles distant across the lough, and prior to the erection of Grange Church in 1926 it was quite common for the local parishioners to go across by boat for prayers in St. James's.



 

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