Reminiscences of my Grandfather James Brown 1904-5


As recorded by Alice G. G. Brown for George Ithell in 1982.

Part 1


            This is Alice Brown. (see footnote) speaking at Balrath Beg, Donaghmore, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone in February 1982. I am going to read the reminiscences of Old Donaghmore dictated by my Grandfather James Brown to my Aunt Miss Nora Brown during the winter of 1904-05 when he was in his 82nd year.

            I was born on July 25 1823 in the old house in Donaghmore in our part of the Soap Works. My father was David Brown son of John Brown who married Miss McClennant and lived in Mogmore. Miss McClennant’s brother married my grandfather’s sister and also lived in Mogmore.

            My father had one brother John who lived in Irish Street and carried on a bakery, he married Miss Jane Mcdowell. My mother was Betty, daughter of Henry King of Middletown Co. Mahone. When just married my parents lived in a small house in Mogmore, since pulled down, and afterwards in a house in Donaghmore opposite the Chapel, from there they moved to the house where I was born.

            They had ten children, Mary married Richard Terran, Henry married Jane Carr, Ann and Thomas who died in childhood, Margaret who married Henry Oliver, Eliza married Robert Swift, Jane married Thomas Layborn, Amelia married Joseph Acheson, Isobella married John Beatie, and myself who married Jane Ellen Nicholson.

            The first thing I can remember is a servant of ours Mary Layland going to America on St. Patrick’s Day 1828. She and the rest of the party drove to Belfast in a cart to sail hence to America. They took with them provisions for the journey, chiefly oat cakes as then was the custom. The outward voyage averaged 30 days, but occasionally was 6 or 7 weeks, and on these occasions provisions ran short and the poor people were in danger of starvation.

            Another early recollection is being taken into a darkened bedroom to see a little play fellow who was ill of small pox, there being little knowledge of the risk of infection then.

            My first teacher was Mr Richard Robinson whose school was in the space now planted with trees behind the cross. It was then the only school in the Village. Later I had lessons at home from Mr Stuart who taught at the Roman Catholic school in Dungannon. After leaving the Village school I was sent to my sister Mary Terran in Firth Street Dungannon where her husband had a grocers shop, and I attended a school kept by two teachers from the South of Ireland Messrs Murphy and Reardon.



The David Brown Soap Works in Main Street, Donaghmore.


            Afterwards I lived with my sister Margaret in Church Street where her husband carried on a saddlery trade and I went to Mr Bether’s School in Castle Dillin?

            I went there until I was nearly 13 when in the summer of 1836 I went to the Rev John Blackleys school in Mahon. There I stayed until I was sent for, to come to the death bed of my father on November 17 1837. He died on November 22, and I did not return to school but went to business with my brother in Donaghmore.

            Previous to the year 1816 my father was engaged in the linen trade, giving out home spun yarn and getting it woven in hand looms in the cottages. At that time a great deal of the loom trade was transacted in Dublin, not Belfast, probably in consequent of better banking facilities. My father used to go to Dublin to sell his linen in company with other merchants. They rode on horse back in parties for protection from highway men. The journey up to Dublin occupying three days. The later years when linen trade in Belfast had increased, buyers for the pieces came to Dungannon every Thursday and took their places on the standings on the East side of the square, where the farmers brought the webs woven by their families and servants. The standings were benches with boards in front of them on which the webs were thrown for examination. When the price was arranged the buyer put his mark on it and the seller took it to Mr Robin Teller in Perry Street who measured it. He got a few pence for each web measured in consideration for which he supplied the buyers with dinner.

            Travellers then wishing to go to Belfast used to leave Dungannon at 4 a.m. on a long car (see footnote) which took them by Moy and Loch Dorn? to Portadown. There they joined John Barrs coach running between Amagh and Belfast, reaching the latter place about 1 p.m. During the war with Napoleon, prices for agricultural produce were high but the peace of 1815 was followed by a time of great depression partly caused by two bad seasons, a very wet summer and a very dry one, during the latter the corn was so short it could not be reaped in the usual way, but had to be pulled. The depression in the linen trade caused my father to open a bakery in Donaghmore, and I remember his telling me that the first flour he used was American and cost four guineas a barrel.

            About the year 1820 (see footnote) partly from the wish to find employment for an old and respected friend my father conceived the idea of beginning soap and candle making. This being before the days of railways the materials were brought chiefly by canal either to Moy? or Connant? except what was produced locally. In those early years of the last century each market town had one or more tan yards and a candle factory, sometimes including a soap works. Now in the following century, the soap trade has left those country towns and settled in the sea ports, so that the Donaghmore factory is the only country one still working in Ireland. There used to be




           Robert Brown                                    David Brown married Ada Wilson

The twin brothers responsible for the 1908-1910 Ballymaclinton Village at the White City


two tan yards in Dungannon, one in Beragh, three in Omagh and several in Strabanderlay?, but that business has practically ceased in Ireland after centring in Dublin for a time.

            Another extinct industry is the making of nails which was carried on by the Huggett’s, father and son until a comparatively recent date. Each nail was made separately with a hammer of small iron rods supplied for the purpose. These nails cost four pence to eight pence per hundred according to size. Now they are made by machinery at a quarter the price. The open window of the nailers shop was a very favoured spot at which to linger and stop, and watching  him busily hammering and chopping of the nails and giving the chat of the village without stopping his work.

            Few people nowadays would know what a ‘shelling’ or ‘shelling in’ was, this was a usual adjunct to the village corn mill in my young day. The oats were dried in the kiln and after shelling were fed into a sack, this was thrown over a horses back and taken to the nearest rising ground where the chaff was removed by the wind. After this process which is now superseded by the use of fans the winnowed grain was refilled into the sack and taken back to the mill to be ground into meal.

            When I was a boy, my father began to make mould candles in addition to the dips which were the first candles made. The old process of making dips was a very slow one, one man only making about twenty dozen pound per day. With improved appliances a man afterwards could make eighty dozen pounds. In those days tallow alone was used but in later years paraffin wax has supplanted it, and dip candles are no longer made.

            Rush lights also were made and were used as night lights they gave a small slowly burning light. The partially paid? rush taking the place of candle wick. A strip of paid? was left on each side of the rush and the ends of the strips being knotted they were suspended from the dipping rods by this means.

            The wicks for the dips were made from flax too, which was loosely spun by Rowan? and after boiling with alkali was pitched on the grass. This made a very rough wick. Later cotton was used, being supplied from Manchester ready for use.

            Prior to the Blows? discovery of the process of producing alkali from salt, the river? of kelp was used for soap making. The Kelp was made on the sea shore and brought inland to the factories at Castle Fin where the Messrs Baird had a soap works in the early part of last century. An autumn morning would find the fair green crowded with horses laden with trays of kelp brought from the North West coast of Donegal to supply these works. Russia was the main source of imported tallow and Barilla (see footnote) was also brought from the Mediterranean.

            When the soap box was started Mr Martin the traveller for the brewery introduced our manufactures on his journeys and brought orders from Omagh and Eskrinega? which assisted us considerably, afterwards Mr William Owen and Mr John Clark travelled for the firm, an occupation which I took up about 1842. As this was before the days of railways I drove my own horse and gig once a month through Tyrone and Fermanagh also parts of Amagh and Derry.

            In this way I became well acquainted with these districts and with our customers. During the early years of my business career our principal competitors were in Belfast, the chief makers there were Mr Findlay Messrs Greir and Mr Glenfield. Locally we had Mr John Shlington of Portadown and later on Mr Robert McClennon in Dungannon while Mr George and Robert sons of Mr John Teller started to make soap and candles at Marie. This came to an end in a few months however. Robert McClennant had a tannery and also sold tea in the same districts which we visited, so he was a serious competitor. He and his nephew Joseph moved to Belfast later on, but afterwards returned to Dungannon and bought the Spinning Wheel off Messrs Hail and Martin.

            Up to the opening of the railway in 1865 our goods were entirely delivered by our own Carter’s, until 1830 we had no Post Office, letters were brought from Dungannon by a messenger to the brewery and he also carried those to the village. The Mail Coach from Dublin took our own letters to Dungannon. Our first postmaster had the munificent salary of £3 annually. In my boyhood there was no place of worship in Donaghmore but the Chapel of which Prior Conway was priest, Rev. Thomas Carpenter was Rector of this Parish and Rev. Robert Fraser was his curate. The Parish Church being in Castlecaulfield.

            The Chapel of Ease in Donaghmore was built in 1836 or 1838 through the influence of Mr McKenzie who up to then had been a Presbyterian and attended the First Dungannon of which Church Rev. Mr Bennet was minister. The Church at Donaghmore was enlarged and altered during Rev. James McNeeses incumbency about 1866.

            The levying of tariffs caused a very bitter feeling so much so that on one occasion a mob of angry Protestant parishioners surrounded the Glebe House and threatening to hang the Rector on one of his own trees. About 1845 the matter was altered so that the landlord paid the tariff being empowered to add it to the rent.

            Prior McCaughlin was the Parish Priest who rebuilt the Chapel about 1845. My father always lived on very good terms with his Roman Catholic neighbours, as an instance of this, on one occasion when the weather looked threatening the priest gave him the use of the Chapel as a temporary store for his corn. A funeral had to take place in the morning before his offer could be taken advantage of, and as the sky became more overcast Prior Conway more than once, anxiously went to the top of the hill, looking down the road by which the funeral was to come, at last he came back to my father “Here they are” he said “Coming as if they were on their way to the gallows”. The funeral took place and the corn was safety housed in the Chapel before the storm came.

            In October 1845 came the first potato blight, we had a field of potatoes that year on the back lawn and in one night they were struck with the blight and both tops and roots were blackened. The damage done in 45 was only partial, that is to say only a portion of the country was affected and the blight did not strike the plants until the crop was almost matured. Only a part could be used for food, the rest was given to pigs or used to make starch. We put up a small machine to grind them and extract the farina but for this purpose they still served very well.

            On the night of August 3rd 1846 came the bad potato blight. I remember driving to Dumbordin? through County Fermanah with my sister Bella on August 3rd and as we went, seeing the fine crops of potatoes in the fields. We spent three days in Bundorra? and returning found these same crops blackened and useless.

            The same state of affairs prevailed practically over the whole of Ireland, and in consequence 1847 was the famine year, it was felt severely here, but nothing like so much as in the South and West. Indian corn and meal were introduced for the first time from America and I remember the poor people coming into the shop and asking to see this yellow maize, they would then take some in their hand, ostensibly to look at it as a novelty but truly to satisfy their hunger with it. It was an anomaly at this time that open and Indian meal rose as high in price as fine flour, owing to the fact that as parched meal, could be used more economically than flour in bread.

            A committee was formed in Donaghmore which met in the schoolhouse at the Cross, and contributions were raised for the relief of the worst cases. In other parts works were began such as cutting views? on the roads but they were found a wasteful and useless means of relief and eventually the Government made a grant of £7,000,000 to be used directly to supply the starving people with food.

            The fever followed the famine and broke out in the emigrant ships in which the poor people were flying to America. These were sailing vessels and far inferior in speed and comfort to those now used, and many of the passengers never reached the other continent. Those who did

were taken to a hospital near the battery, New York and there numbers died of the fever they had contracted before leaving Ireland. The fever was not so rife here as further West and South but I remember feeling nervous about it when in Ennispring two of our oldest customers there, contracted the disease and died. They sold meal and bread and probably the poor starving people who came to seek for food had brought the infection.


© Exhibition Study Group 2009