Stoneyford on the Twelfth of July back in 1875

by The Digger

The following article appeared in the Ulster Star on Friday 19th July 2013.

Edmondson Fleeton

Edmondson Fleeton, who originated in Ballynacoy townland near Stoneyford. He attended Stoneyford school and through association with Edmonson’s family members, the local lodge in Stoneyford, L.O.L. 1253 was referred to as “Fleeton’s Lodge.” Edmondson joined the Royal Irish Constabulary in c1879

A number of years ago I was given a copy of a local poem or ballad titled “The 12th of July in Stoneyford” by an Ulster Star reader. It consists of thirteen verses by an unknown author who appears to have penned it sometime after July 1875. It is one of many local ballads that circulated in the district many years ago. Although the content may not appeal to everyone, it has to be stated that the ballad, and others like it are very much sought after by family historians and researchers who are trying to piece together the jigsaw of yesteryear. Fortunately this one has survived the historian’s worst nightmares – the dreaded ravishes of time and house clearances. It contains an account of the Orangemen in Stoneyford on the twelfth of July around 1875.

“The year was eighteen seventy five.
‘Bout that I make a guessin’,
But Stoneyford was much alive,
Which needs no more confessin’.

‘Twas summer time an’ steaming hot,
Where grows the reeds an ‘sedges
The robins must their time forgot
Were dosin’ in the hedges.

Now seasons creep by cunnin’ stealth,
To charge us with neglectin’,
Yet who could miss a comin’ twelfth,
The boys were most expectin’

So long as summer brings July,
An’ peeweets to the heather,
So long as rainbows span the sky,
Will orange-men meet together.”

In those times many Orangemen had an early start and a long day ahead of them. They had to resort to “Shank’s pony” in order to reach the main demonstration. If they were fortunate enough there may have been a railway station or halt close by they could use.

In 1875 the local celebrations were reported to be at demesne of Sir Thomas Bateson, M.P. situated in Moira.
The Lisburn brethren, headed by their District Master, George P. Johnston, were reported to have assembled that morning at half past nine in the New Market, Hillsborough Road.

In most districts the sound of a drum thundering across the area at an early hour on the twelfth morning was not unusual, but perhaps not as early as the inhabitants of Downpatrick were to experience. It was reported that they were aroused from their slumbers shortly after midnight by the ringing of the church bell and the sound of fife and drum.

In Stoneyford the balladeer informs us that:

“The morning’ broke with roul of drum,
Yet clouds were looking’ quarely,
But rain, or shine, or Kingdom Come,
The stir was bright an’ early.

In, sashes decked, an’ hats askew,
The boys were braced securely,
While lasses in their orange an’ blue
Were hangin’ roun’ demurely.”

It was reported locally that the “little village of Moira” was handsomely decorated for the occasion and on display were several prettily decorated arches composing of orange lilies, evergreens and flags.

“An’ when the march was set to plan,
Each man was sworn a lifer,
An’ every man a drummer man,
An’ Irvine was the fifer.

‘Twas Grogan’s lodge that took the lead,
Defyin’ law or libel,
With warrant held ‘tweed Clark an’ Steed,
While Grogan held the Bible.

But McIlwrath although behind
Had all his men jumping’,
For Paddy Close went colour blind,
When Abbott started thumpin’.

He flailed the drum an’ souced it hard,
Till men beyond Glenavy,
Swore by the candle-light an’ card,
The drummer-man was Ravey.

So off they stepped in double file,
As game as Elliott’s banty,
What mongrel would the cause defile
From palace, dome or shanty?

Down o’er the bridge, pass’d Connelly’s byre,
Till sightin’ Annett’s arches,
Which set their martial blood afire,
To blaze in dusty marches.”

The Glenavy brethren were also en route to Moira that morning. The Crumlin lodge had left their village at 9 am that morning and walked to Glenavy to meet their counterparts there. A special train for the Orangemen left Glenavy station shortly after eleven o’clock having on board an estimated number of 800 persons.

It was reported that it was shortly after one o’clock when the lodges arrived at the field.

At last the field came clear in sight,
With tents an’ big battalions,
An’ wagons built a dizzy height,
With whisky, beer an’ scallions.

An’ loaves o’ bread, an’ cakes, an’ buns,
On donkey’s carts, an’ barras,
Brought there to feed the hungry ones,
An’ nothing’ for the sparras.

The speakers on that occasion did not take the platform until 3 o’clock and it was reported that some of those lodges who had travelled considerable distances had already begun preparation for the long march back to their home destination. “The delay in getting the speakers forward was the subject of general complaint.”

The meeting opened with prayer and was chaired by the Reverend Charles Waring. The resolutions proposed and passed during the meeting included the issues of the Constitution , Home Rule, the right for all to walk in public procession, the concurrence in the object of closing public houses on Sunday and the use of the bible in schools without a restriction on the particular time of day it was used.

The balladeer sums up the meeting in the following verse:

“From platform, spakers cursed Parnell,
To screwin’ wrecks an’ thraldom,
They cursed his up an’ down to hell,
To let the divil scald him:

Three cheers were given, an’ three times three,
For England’s Queen and Country,
King William, dead, as dead can be,
An’ all the landed gentry.”

The Northern Whig reported that “with the exception of a couple of showers of rain, the weather was beautifully fine. After the meeting separated the entire party – numbering between eight and ten thousand people – left the town immediately, and shortly after six o’clock Moira presented its usually quiet and monotonous appearance.” The Belfast Newsletter reports the events terminating in a similar manner stating that “all proceeded to their respective destinations, the utmost quietness having prevailed.”

The balladeer in Stoneyford however presents a slightly different picture. There is no apparent explanation given in any of the verses I have in my possession for the conditions described.

“The evening’ brought the brethren back,
Leg-weary, tired, an’ hazey,
The noisy drums were all a wreck,
An’ fifers drunk an’ crazy –

The sashes torn, the knuckles skin’d,
The noses needin’ mendin’
Yet spite of how they fought an’ sin’d
It was a glorious endin’.”

If you have in your possession any other local ballads that may be hidden within the pages of an old book or lining the bottom of a drawer, I would be pleased to have a copy to add to the collection.

The Digger can be contacted via our Contact page or by contacting the Ulster Star office.

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