Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   
Ros Davies' Co. Down, Northern Ireland Family History Research Site
© Rosalind Davies 2001
Permission granted to reprint research for non-profit use only

Articles from Mourne Observer newspaper 'Meet the Old Folks'- published 1959
& Newtownards Chronicle article

 

Story by John McCarthy of Drumena Story by Sarah Mussen about Old Dromore Aughanskeagh Band, Dromara story
Death of Thomas Watson, Comber 1906    

 

Told by Mr. John McCarthy of Dromena in Kilcoo parish who was 86 years old at the time-page 3 ; Fairies Kept Man on Tullyree Hill All Night:

Mr McCarthy first related the story of a man named Paddy Rodgers of Dromena, whose one and only encounter with the fairies was anything but a pleasant one. Mr Rodgers, it appears, was on Tullyree Hill when night fell and a lot of the wee folk gathered round him and led him around and around the hill about ten times. They danced round him and kept laughing at his plight, as he was unable to find his way off the hill. Then in the early hours a cock crew, the fairies scattered and Mr Rodgers was able to fins his way home.

"I have often heard it said," added Mr McCarthy, "that if you take off your coat and turn it inside out, the fairies will leave you, but Paddy mustnít have known about that." A married man, with a family, Mr Rodgers died about 24 years ago. (i.e. 1935)

Never Cut Fairy Thorns!

Weíve all heard the old saying "Never cut a fairy thorn," and Mr McCarthy gave me two instances which go to prove that this advice should never be treated as a joke.

There was the unfortunate case of Mick McCabe, of Tullyree, who went to uproot a fairy bush. Out jumped a hare, which ran round to the side of the hill. Mick turned his head sideways to look after it- and his head remained in that position until he died, about 40 years ago. (i.e. 1940)

Then Mr McCarthy told the story of Micky McCartan, who lived on a neighbouring farm. Of the devil-me-care type, Micky insisted on cutting away a fairy thorn despite pleadings by his mother not to touch it. Even as he started to saw the bush his mother kept pulling him back by the coat-tail. On he went, but suddenly blood appeared on the saw blade and Micky, despite his insistent boldness was petrified. He stopped sawing- and just in time, before doing irreparable damage to the thorn and consequently no ill befell him.

Owen Kelly, who lived on the Dublin Road, outside Castlewellan, was another who suffered for his foolishness in cutting down fairy bushes, despite warnings by neighbours. That night and also the next day, none of the cows in the byre was able to get up. He was advised to repair the bushes as best he could and with scutching tow he tied the branches back on the bushes after which all his cows returned to normal.

"I remember seeing the bushes being tied up myself, " said Mr McCarthy. " That was about 60 years ago." ( i.e. 1920)

The Story of the "Wee Woman"

Next, Mr McCarthy told the tale of a mysterious wee woman, who appeared to a neighbouring farmerís wife, Mrs Kelly, and asked her for some milk. Mrs Kelly fulfilled the request but in return the wee woman gave her bad news, telling her there would be a four-footed animal dead about the house before night. The wee woman then left and Mrs Kelly looked up the yard to see what way she went- "but devil the bit of a woman could she see." However, the wee womanís words came true, for next morning Mrs Kelly found a sow dead in the pigsty.

The Leprechaun and Tunnel Tragedy

Mr McCarthy was able to verify a story concerning a man who was employed in the construction of a tunnel through the mountains from the Silent Valley for the Belfast Water Commissionerís conduit. This man , it appears, was warned by a little stranger that he was not required at work on a particular day and he turned and went home. That same day some of his fellow workers were killed during a blasting accident in the tunnel. Those in charge of the job said at the time that they gave no instructions for anyone not to be at work and the identity of the little man was never known.

Mr McCarthy was able to go into the story in still greater detail. The manís name was John McEvoy, of Tullyree. "I knew him well and he went to work through Rodenís demesne," went on Mr McCarthy. "At a place in the wall, which is now built up, there was a small gateway and as he was going through it a man of very small stature appeared and told him not to go to work that day. No one could tell him who the little man was and he as never seen afterwards. But it was generally believed that he must have been a leprechaun. That happened about 60 years ago. ( i.e. 1900)

A Foundation member of the Emmet Memorial Flute Band

Mr McCarthy proceeded to tell about highlights of former days around Kilcoo.

He was a member of the Kilcoo Emmet Flute Band in 1901. The band was started by a James Hagan of Moyad and the tutor was Mr. George McKee of Annsborough. The members wore band caps and jackets. As far as he knew, only four others who were members of that band were still alive, namely, Mark Maginn of Dunturk, John McManus of Dromena, and Arthur Morgan of Ballymoney, Kilcoo and Charles Woods of Drumbroniff.

The possessor of a retentive memory, Mr. McCarthy was able to recall the names of practically every member in the band. They were:- James Fegan of Slievenalargy (big drummer) ,James Hagan of Moyadd (poleman or drum-major), Stephen Rodgers of Tullyree, John Johnston of Dromena, Richard Prey of Tullyree, James Sawey of Slievenalargy (all drummers) , Stephen McClean, Jim McGeown, Paddy McCartan, John McCarthy, John McManus, Owen Mallon, Frank Fitzpatrick, Paddy King, Daniel Fegan Arthur Morgan, Mark Maginn, James Fitzpatrick, Barney King, James McClean, Tom Cunningham, John McClean, Jos McLoughlin, Paddy McConville, and other James McClean, Mark Darby, James McAlinden, Charles Woods and John Rodgers.

Carrying pikes at the side of the band were Dennis Rodgers, Peter Murnin, Owen McEvoy, and Henry Hughes.

"On Our Ladyís Day every year- the 15th of August- we went for a dayís outing," said Mr. McCarthy, "to either Warrenpoint, Rostrevor or Newcastle. We set off on horse- brakes and always had a jolly good day. We were generally accompanied by two policemen."

They also had outings on the 29th June and on St. Patrickís Day, generally to Kilkeel or Newry. He well remembers at parade of about 30 bands marching one 15th August from Newcastle to Castlewellan and back again. That was about 55 years ago. "Newcastle wasnít as big then as it is now," he said, "but it was a very popular place."

Two Famous Kilcoo Tug-O-War Teams

Turning to sport, Mr McCarthy recalled some outstanding feats of two famous Kilcoo tug-o-war teams. There was a first team and a second team, he explained. The first team travelled to Newry, Kilkeel, Ballyroney, Castlewellan and Newcastle- and never was beaten. "Both teams practised together and when the first team gave the second team an extra man, Iím telling you," says he, " it was some pull." Master Breen was captain of the first team and John McClean, Tullyree, captain of the second team.

A Revolver in the Basket.

"One day I was coming out of Newry with a load of goods and a woman asked me for a lift. I stopped and she out her basket into the cart. Then I reached out my hand to giver her a lift, but I thought her hand too big and rough to be a womanís so I gave the horse a whip and left "her" behind. When I got home I found a revolver in the basket. "

Mr McCarthy remembers Fr. OíConnor as parish priest of Kilcoo. He was succeeded by Fr. Magee, then Fr. McKenna and Fr. Eardley.

Fr. McKenna later went to Castlewellan, where he subsequently became Dean and is still reverently remembered by the people of both parishes. Next came Fr. McGrath, followed by Fr. OíNeill (now P.P. of Newcastle) and then Fr. Walls, the present P.P. of Kilcoo.

The existing chapel at Kilcoo was built in 1901, during the pastorate of Fr. Magee, replacing one which had been built in 1802 in what is now the graveyard. The old chapel contained to galleries and seated approximately 300 people.

Mr McCarthy, who is aged 86 years, was one of a family of six, having two brothers and three sisters. The only other surviving members of the family are his two sisters- Mrs Hugh McClean, Tullyree and Mrs Peter McCormick, Slievenalargy.

Email me if youíd like a photo of Mr John McCarthy beside a fairy bush.

 

Mrs. Sarah Mussen of Hilltown reminiscences of Old Dromore- page 5

This article is about Mrs. Sarah Mussen of Ballymaghery near Hilltown who was known around Dromore as Miss Sarah Clarke of Lurganbane.

Mrs. Mussen was married around 1890 when she was 25 years old. She and Mr. George Mussen, a member of a well known and respected Dromore family, were united in St. Colman's Catholic church, Dromore, by the late Very Rev. Monsignor McCartan, a beloved priest whose name is still a household word in that parish.

Soon after their marriage, Mr. Mussen bought a farm from Mr. Thomas Pantridge at Mount Hill, Dromore. Here they laboured for 30 years, until about 1920, when Mr. Mussen purchased the farm of Martin's of Bannvale, Hilltown which comprised a flax mill and corn mill.

Hand Loom Weaving
But wait, we're going back too fast. Let's go back to Dromore and Lurganbane for a while. Mrs. Mussen's father, William Clarke and her mother were hand loom weavers and she can well remember them carrying their webs into Dromore. The recompense for their labours was little enough on which to rear a family for the web inspectors were very quick to make substantial reductions for the slightest faults. But hand weaving was the one thing in those days which enabled thousands of country people to make needs met.
Mr. Clarke also worked for the late Monsignor McCartan for 32 years, as the parish priest in addition to pastoral duties conducted that large farm at Ballela now opened by Mr. Joseph Hale.

A Relic of Famine Days
Though times were anything but bright in her young days, Mrs. Mussen can recall her father telling of the dark days of the famine years. A grim, reminder of those times is the ruins of the old starch mill which still remain in the meadows a short distance from the Ballynahinch road about half a mile outside Dromore.
After the Famine had passed, potatoes were still very scarce and of course, were fetching a good price for the extraction of starch. The better-off farmers in the locality who had potatoes to spare took them to sell them to the starch mill owners, while the impoverished people around them were still literally dying of starvation.
Few Nowadays- in these islands at any rate- have experienced the pangs of constant hunger, but anyone who has, would readily forgive the enraged- indeed almost demented- populance who burned the mill to the ground and it was never re-established
But let's not dwell on unpleasant history, but move on to the life and conditions of the people as our subject remembers them.

The Linen Boom
After leaving school- and school days weren't so many then- Sarah Clarke got a start in one of the linen warerooms in Dromore where two of her sisters were already employed.
On a good run of work she was often able to earn 10/- a week, which was a big wage for a girl then, considering that men in the fields were then getting only 1/- a day and their food.
Like most Ulster towns, Dromore benefitted from the linen boom and Mrs. Mussen remembers the firm of Murphy & Stevenson building Holm Factory in the progress of which the late Mr Doak played such a prominent part.
She also remembers the late James Dickson coming to Dromore and establishing the hem stitching factory at Brewery Lane. "He was a fine man, " she said. For some years she was employed by Jackie Hamilton (now Hamilton & McBride's ) but she did not care to dwell on that gentleman's attributes.
Then there was William Jardine & Co's laundry and dyeworks owned then by Miss Jardine, who paid daily visits from her home at Clanmurray in an open landau and little missed her eagle eye- but she had a kindly side for all that.

Changes Around Dromore
Mrs. Mussen reminisced of John Mulligan, who owned a public house and played a leading part in organising concerts, dramatics and other social events; George Preston, the auctioneer; T.B. Wallace, the fiery solicitor who rose to be Chief Clerk of the Law Courts; big Charlie Baxter, Miss Jardine's nephew and successor, Paddy Neeson, John McDade and so on.
Mrs. Mussen still pays occasional visits to the old town to see her daughter and family and other friends and she observes many changes from her early days, particularly in the ownership of businesses. Mr. Herron's drapery shop is now owned by a Mr. Small; Martin's delph and grocery store has long been Dunbar & McMaster's (now owned by Mr. James Hamilton). Mercer's drapery shop is now Mr. William Herron's and Barr's on 'the bridge' is now a car showroom; Edgar's large drapery shop at the Square corner is now owned by Messrs. Neeson; John Caulfield's is Mr. Keenan's - and so the changes go on.
Mrs. Mussen remembers the first car coming to Dromore and "speeding" up the Bann Road. "The people were all out watching it and saying that it must be the end of the world."
In addition to Monsignor McCartan as parish priest of Dromore, Mrs. Mussen has pleasant memories of Canon O'Hare and Father Greenan. The last named always travelled on horseback when visiting in his subsidiary parish of Ballela.

Over to Hilltown.
When Mr and Mrs. Mussen and their young family came to Hilltown around 1920 they soon settled down and began to play an important part in the life of the local community.
Mr. Mussen already knew something about the working of a corn mill and flax mill and under his able supervision business steadily increased. From miles around farmers brought their corn for grinding and throughout the season flax scutchers had steady employment. During the war (1938-1946) as many as 25 hands were employed constantly on night and day shift.
But all that has changed now too. As synthetic materials came on the market the demand for linen declined, the price of flax growing became uneconomic and rapidly faded out (though an effort is now being made to revive it). With the growing tendency for increased grazing , the cultivation of oats is only a fraction of what it was and in addition the ready made meals provided by many firms have made the grinding of corn less necessary than heretofore. So it is that the once humming machinery is now silent- but one never knows when the cycle will make its turn.
Probably best known of Mrs. Mussen's family is her son George, who runs the home farm. He is a foundation member and secretary of the Mourne Sheepbreeders' Association Ltd and has also been appointed secretary of the recently formed Hilltown Farmer's Attested Sales Ltd.
Of the grandchildren, most prominent of course, is Willie's son Kevin, who has captained the Co. Down Gaelic football to new heights of glory during the past few years.
Mrs. Mussen is herself the last of a family of four sons and three daughters. Her life partner passed away five years ago at the advanced age of 86 years. They had nine of a family whose names (in order of seniority) are Mary (Mrs. James McGreevy of Newry); Margaret (Mrs. I. Martin of England); Annie ( Mrs. Joe Downey of Dromore); Willie of Hilltown; Alice (Mrs. P. Rooney of Hilltown); George and Dan of Hilltown; Eileen (Mrs. J. Fegan of Hilltown); another daughter Catherine (Mrs. O'Hagan of Hilltown) passed away some years ago.

The Crock of Gold
The Dromore locality, like most other places, abounds in fairy lore and Mrs. Mussen narrated the gem of a fairy story which is unique in any local meanderings.
There was a legend that a crock of gold had been buried by the fairies at Pat McCann's forth in the townland of Lurganbane. Overcome with curiosity and eager to obtain a ready-made fortune , a couple of men from Mount Street in Dromore one day started digging around the forth. But their search was cut short, for it appears some unearthly spectre rose up out of the ground and scared them completely out of their wits. One of the men died of shock next morning and the other went stark raving mad and died shortly afterwards. And the crock of gold was never found!
This week Mrs. Mussen had a letter from an old Dromore friend, Alice McCartan now living in Omeath, congratulating her on agreeing to have her reminiscences published in the Mourne Observer. In her letter she recalls that Pat McGrady used to dig for coal on the Bann Road - "which shows how rich our town was in mineral wealth as well as in linen industry".

 

Recollections of Mr. Joseph Graham - foundation member of 71 years old Aughnaskeagh Band ( Dromara parish)- page 10

1959-"When Aughnaskeagh Band parades this Twelfth to Banbridge it will be its 71st year on the road and a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of chatting to one of its foundation members- Mr. Joseph Graham, a native of Aughnaskeagh but now residing at Tullynisky (Garvaghy parish).
And all being well Mr. Graham will be in Banbridge on Tuesday too, and there'll be no prouder man as he watches marching by the Orange Lodge and Band which he had been so long associated.
Mr. Graham was only a lad of eleven when a number of the Lodge members and boys around Aughnaskeagh Corner decided to form a band.
Up till then the Lodge had two big drums, or "slashers" as they are commonly known.
"There were only about six members of the Lodge could beat them," Mr. Graham told us. In those days the Lodge walked every Twelfth to the Demonstrations at Hillsborough, Banbridge or Rathfriland etc. and when you walked that distance and back home again, beating the big drum and your knuckles all skinned, I can tell you you were ready for a rest."


Whistles and Tin Cans
Mr. Graham recalled the night when a decision was taken to form a band. "There was a gang of us standing at the corner and for a carry-on we got some whistles, tin cans and a fife, banded ourselves together and formed a sort of band and paraded up and down the road.
"After hearing ourselves we had the inspiration to start a real band. Alex Elliott, the leading side drummer of Gransha Band,(Dromara parish) agreed to come down one night in the week to learn someone the side drum."
"That was in November and we were on the road the following Twelfth when the demonstration was held in Banbridge, which is also this year's venue."
"On out way to the demonstration field we were able to play seven tunes, including The Old Soldier, The Shepherd Boy, The Girl I Left Behind Me, St. Patrick's Day and See the Conquering Hero Come. By the way, we never played party tunes and that, I believe, is still the policy of the present Band."
Mr. Graham said there were about twenty members in the band at that time, mostly fellows who wrought in the scutch mills or on the farms.
Amongst the foundation members were five Walkers, and seven Grahams. Of the Walkers, Samuel & George are still alive, but John, William, Henry and Robert are deceased. Of the Grahams, John, Robert, James and William George have passed on, but Tom and John C. are still happily with us.
Others whom Mr. Graham recalled were- William Ringland, James McLaughlin, Samuel Biggerstaff, all deceased, Robert McLaughlin, who is still to the fore. Joseph McClune, who lives at Dundrum, is another early member and his younger brother, Robert James (who emigrated to U.S.A) joined shortly afterwards.
Others- all deceased- were: James McVeigh, William McElroy, Lazar Martin, Isaac Allen, Robert Gamble.
Mr. William James Graham, of Gransha, the present W.M. of the Lodge, joined the Band when he was only six years old as cymbal player.

Mr. Graham mentioned that Mr. Joseph McClune, who resided at Dundrum (Kilmegan parish),was one of the early members of the Band. So we called on Mr. McClune, who is head of a local firm of building contractors.
Mr. McClune told us that he was able to stay with the Band for only a few years, his work as a joiner taking him to other parts of the country, until he settled in Dundrum. Mr. McClune was able to recall the band's early efforts and outings and the interest its formation aroused in the countryside. One day after one of its evening parades, Mr. Tom Graham asked a Mr. Bawn what he thought of the Band. "Well," said the latter,"them that wouldn't rose from the fire to see it should be burned!"
Mr. McClune who is aged 79, enjoys excellent health and assists his son Mr. Jim McClune in running the family business, which is noted for its high- quality craftsmanship.

Taught by Willie Wallace
The first tutor of the flutes was the late Willie Wallace, of Waringsford (Donaghcloney parish) who will be well remembered by flute band old-timers. For almost half a century he taught practically every flute band in the countryside within a radius of 10 to 15 miles. At first the members paid a penny per night towards band funds but eventually the amount was raised to three pence in order to pay Mr Wallace his moderate fee.
The first set of flutes cost 7/6 a piece and were purchased in Leathem's, of Belfast by Mr. Wallace. Mr. Graham's brother, Thomas J., joined the Band shortly afterwards and he eventually became the band-master and remained so for 41 years, a position from which he retired only six or seven years ago. He was also a W.M. Of the Lodge for many years.
In later years the Band was taught by Mr. Samuel Halliday of Belfast. The present silver band was first taught by Mr. Samuel J. Withers of Donaghcloney, and was taken over recently by Mr. Leslie McDowell, Banbridge when Mr Withers resigned.
When he had grown to young manhood, Mr. Graham was promoted to bass drummer and for thirty years he carried the bass drum single-handed. In later years when a relief drummer was appointed, he would take turns at beating the cymbals. Altogether he walked with the Band of over sixty years.
He was able to recall many big outings and events in connection with the Lodge and remembers the famous William Johnston, of Ballykilbeg (Down parish) speaking at the opening of Gransha Orange Hall.
The Orange Lodge
Turning to the Lodge, Mr. Graham said his uncle, George Graham, was one of the main foundation members of No. 1030 and held the position of W.M. for several years.
In the olden days the Lodge sat for a long time in several local houses, principally in Katie McIlroy's and in a wee house at John Dennison's, at the Tory Brae. A wooden Orange Hall was built about 65 years ago and served its purpose for some 20-30 years until the present Hall was built in 1925.
Mr. Graham's son Hugh, has been secretary of the Lodge for the past 24 years and his son Robert, Secretary of the Band for eight years so the tradition is still being worthily carried on.
Hiring out at farming
Mr. Graham went on to tell me something about himself and his family. A son of the late Mr and Mrs. James Graham, he was one of a family of seven girls and four boys. The names of his family were- Prudence (Mrs. W. Hamilton of Aughnaskeagh); William George (also of Aughnaskeagh); Thomas J. (Aughnaskeagh); John C. (Ballysallagh, Dromore); Mary (Mrs. S. Walker; Margaret (Mrs. John Walker of Carnew ( Garvaghy parish): Sarah (Mrs. W.H. McIlroy); Ellen (USA); Emily (Mrs. J. Biggerstaff); Annie (Mrs. J. McLoughlin of Aughnaskeagh). All are still alive, save Prudence, William George, Mary and Annie. He himself has a family of eight boys and one girl, namely: Samuel (of Drumnaconnor, Kilmore parish), Hugh (of Fedany, Dromara); William George (Principal of Magheraknock Primary School (Magheradrool parish); Woodrow, Helen, Robert, Lewellyn and Raymond (all of Tullynisky, Garvaghy parish) All are married except Raymond; and there are also nine granddaughters and three grandsons.
Born and reared on an eight acre farm in the townland of Aughnaskeagh, which was insufficient to support such a large family, Mr. Graham left home at the age of 14 on a Wednesday morning in the month of November and arrived in Ballynahinch "There I hired out to a man for £4.5.0 a half-year. I came home at Christmas, which cost me 1/8d travelling expenses. That was all the money I spent until I came back home in May, and gave my mother the £4, which was very useful in the house. I spent nothing and took up with nobody . I would hire during the winter and in the summer I wrought at home with my father at pulling and retting flax, which was the main crop in the area in those days. There were three scutch mills in Aughnaskeagh townland at that time , two owned by the Corbett family and one by the Jones family.
In the Church Choir
Always keen on the music, Mr. Graham was for thirty years one of the mainstays of 1st Dromara Presbyterian Church choir. He was a choir member during the ministry of four clergymen- Revds. Shepherd of Glasgow, F.S.K. Jamison and W. Wilson. When he retired from the choir about eight years ago, he was presented with a Tilley-lamp as a mark of appreciation of his outstanding services over such a lengthy period. And the lamp, incidentally, is still giving good service.
A Young Evangelist
Speaking of the Church, he remembers many big services and meetings there, amongst them the evangelistic campaigns of Lonnie Lawrence Denniss, the famous coloured boy preacher of almost 60 years ago. "The big Meeting House, as the church is still familiarly known," said Mr. Graham, "was crowded every night of the week and the eleven-year-old preacher captivated the minds of his hearers by delivering most inspiring sermons. He was quite a marvellous boy. Hr prepared his sermons in a peculiar way- by reading a passage from the Bible and then lying in bed on his mouth and nose studying out what he would say each particular night. His mother, who was a lovely singer, accompanied him. I can remember the Rev. David Baird coming over from Garvaghy church and saying that the boy's evangelistic powers were supernatural."
Mr. Graham also recalled the work of the late Mr. James Guiney, who, for almost half a century, was the esteemed sexton of the Church and knew every burial ground in the graveyard. Before he died, at the age of 99 years, Mr Guiney assisted the Session and Committee in having the graveyard mapped out in grave plots.

 

Newtownards Chronicle 13 Oct 1906 Body Found on Comber Racecourse

On Sunday morning the police at Comber were informed by Mr David McDonald of Castle Hill that he had found the dead body of a man lying in the stream near the old castle grounds in the vicinity of the racecourse. Constable Walsh went at once to view the body with several civilians. The body was found lying on the back in a deep “shough” about nine feet in depth, and amongst the very long grass of over three feet in growth, and behind a big whin bush, so that it was difficult to see. Constable Walsh obtained a large canvas sheet, and with the aid of Messrs Hugh Skillen, Samuel McGreegan, John Allen, Robert Patton, James Dugan and Joseph McIlveen wrapped the body in it, then placing the remains on a door and carrying them to the old mill. The face and skull were completely without flesh, also the hands and part of the chest, the rats having left the lower part of the body untouched. It is surmised that the body may have lain from last Comber steeplechases. There was nothing in the pockets to lead to identification, the only contents being an empty tobacco box, 1½d, and a lead pencil. The deceased was wearing two striped cotton shirts, dark coat and vest, and pair of shabby trousers, thick knit woollen drawers, and pair of half-worn boots.
One of the rumours that gained currency in the district was that the remains were those of a Scotchman who had been at Comber races, and had not since been heard of; while others declared that the body was none other than that of a pensioner named Thomas Watson, who had resided in Brownlow Street, Comber, until about ten weeks ago, when he left his residence, and had not since been heard of. As his pension papers came to his address at the first of the present month and these had not been called for up to the present, it looked as if the body was his. Yet although Watson was well known in the little distillery town, no one could definitely say that the body that had been taken from the river was that of Watson, as the head had completely disappeared and only a part of the skull remained. The trunk of the body had been burrowed by the rats, and the clothing was so much discoloured that any person might have been deceived as to the original colour of the garments that the dead man had been wearing when alive. The only part of wearing apparel that had not almost disappeared from the body was the boots, which were of strong leather. His shirts had been, by appearance, one of a blue check and the other of a red and white.
On Monday Dr R C Parke, Coroner for North Down, and a jury, of which Mr Matthew Kerr was foreman, opened an inquest touching the death of the unknown man whose body was found on Sunday morning in a stream of water at Comber racecourse. The inquiry was held in the old flax mill, and Constable Walsh conducted the proceedings on behalf of the Crown. The first witness was David McDonnell of Castlehill, Comber, who stated that on Sunday morning he was proceeding along a stream at the bottom of a field that adjoined his house, and, on noticing something white in the drain, which he thought was like frost, against a rock, he stopped to examine it. Not feeling satisfied that it was frost, he made a closer examination, and came to the conclusion that it was the carcase of a sheep. As he was not then satisfied, he made a further examination, and found the body that the jury had viewed. He was of opinion that owing to the long grass growing across the stream until recently, it was quite possible for the body to be where he discovered it without having been noticed. Only that witness was looking for rabbits and rat burrows he might have passed the body without noticing it. Dr Robert Henry was then called, and in reply to the Coroner stated that he had examined the body, and found that it was that of a very robust man about 6ft 2in in height, and on the body he found around the waist a small sixpenny belt. The body was greatly decomposed; in fact it was in a state of putrefaction, and the man might have been dead for four months. It would be impossible to tell the cause of death owing to the decomposition, but there was no fracture of the skull that witness could discover. There might have been wounds in the chest of the man, but that portion of the body had been almost carried away by the rats. A Mr Campbell was then called to say if the body that the jury had viewed was that of the man Watson, but in answer to Dr Parke he said that he would not swear that it was Watson’s body, nor yet would he swear it was not. The jury then found a verdict to the effect that they had no evidence to show who the deceased man was, or what was the cause of death.

Newtownards Chronicle 20 October 1906 – The Comber mystery
Constable Walsh having received special instructions from headquarters to try to secure the identification of the man who was found lying dead in the shough near the Castle Hill, Comber, on Sunday morning 7th inst, spent considerable time at the work. Being under the idea that the deceased was Thos Watson, he visited the various parts of the country where Watson had worked, and from the information gathered little doubt is now left. There was too short a time between the finding of the body and the holding of the inquest on the following day to allow of much investigation. One of the boots having four cuts over the joint of the right toe, the cotton shirts, which were purchased in Mill Street, Comber; the pipe, the belt, and the deceased having one prominent tooth in the upper jaw, all of which tallied with the body found, leave no doubt but that it was that of Thomas Watson, but as to how he came to his end there is nothing to show. Thomas Watson was born in the parish of Comber, and enlisted in Belfast in the year 1861 when 19 years of age in the 3rd Brigade of the Royal Artillery, and was discharged after 21 years’ service – over seventeen of which were spent abroad – with a pension of 13d a day. His conduct and character with the colours was good, and he was in possession of three good conduct badges, and of the Afghan medal with clasp. He was 64 years of age, and was of a quiet disposition, and for the last fifteen years had at odd times followed farming and gardening work in the Comber district. He had been missing for over ten weeks from his lodgings at Todd’s Cottages, and his pension certificates entitled him to the quarterly pension of £4 18s 11d, payable on the first of this month, are left unsigned.


by Ros Davies