Wednesday 13 July 2011

Upton's Wolves - A Tale of Lisnagarvey.



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A Tale of Lisnagarvey.

(From the Collection of F. J. Bigger, M.R.I.A.)

As originally published the place names in this tale were given in Gaelic. For the convenience of Ulster readers the English equivalents are here employed. The sketch cannot lay claim to any particular historical value beyond possibly portraying in an interesting manner, the state of the country in 1692, and succeeding years.

At the end of the narrative will be found a list of the names of places and expressions as they appeared in the original, with their English equivalents, and, in so far as possible their meaning. The author of the tale simply signs himself, "S. MacC."

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     Hark, the hound growling,
          Wild-dogs are abroad.
     Hark, the hound baying,
          Wolves, belike, are near.

Towards the close of the seventeenth entury -- to be strictly precise, about the war 1692 -- there flourished a fine gentleman of the name Clotworthy Upton. He was master of the glebe and manor of Castte-Upton near the village of Templepatrick in County Antrim, and, as became his position, captain of the local militia or yeomanry. A dark, dour, puritanic man was Clotworthy, close on his purse-strings, stiff to a bargain. Though curious thing, for all his hardness he had aquired the native love of sport; and where a cock-fight or a badger-bait was concerned he was, as they say, "Hibernior Hibernicis ipsis." His kennels and his cock-runs were the pride of the shire. There was not a brock burrowing in Carnmoney, that his terriers would not draw, or hare harbouring by Molusk that his hounds would not kill: no "hiding behind safety" when they were a-foot. And when it came to leading out a staff of cocks not even that crack of cockers, Randall MacDonnell, who backed his birds as the "gingerest blood that flew," could hope to stand before him. Many a bloody battle had they -- Protestant Upton and the Gaelic gentleman from Randalstown -- and many a bloodier main of eleven battles. But whether it was fought out openly on the greens of Duneane, or secretly in the famous closed pits on the Loch side of the Old High Street of Belfast, or at the flush of Ballyutog, Upton's game ever crew last in the set-to. Upton's cocks were cock o' the walk. Their match was not on Erin's ground.

So far so well, and this all by the way. It is not with my lord in his character of cocker or badger-baiter we are immediately concerened, but with my lord as wolf-hunter. Upton as Upton was known to a parish, as badger-baiter to a county, as cock-fighter to a province, as wolf-hunter to a kingdom. Humanly speaking the greater interest absorbs the less: so here's for the story of my lord and the tracking -- the tracking of the last known wolves in Ulster. 'Tis a long story, but what matters when 'tis a good one.

These were awry times. Dutch William's wars were just ended. Lucan and his Wild-Geese, broken gentlemen all, the flower of the native knigdom, had ta'en shipping for Brest:

Lord Lucan followed after, with his slashers brave and true.

There was the peace of desolation in the land -- disturbed now and again by the wanton cruelties of the yeomanry, or the fitful risings-out in reprisal of the poor native population. Robberies for food and clothing were of nightly occurrence. Not the least offenders in this respect were the "carrowes" and "reparies," as they were called -- James's camp-followers. They were the back-wash of Erin, courageless fellows who followed for adventure at the heels of the Royalist army, fought a stroke when forced to it, and ran like May-boys when the way was clear first in at a looting, and last to leave a mess. In the verying fortunes of the Irishry numbers of them were left behind. All Ulster was swarming with them. They were for the most part Catholic and Gaelic speaking. They randied together in clans, living in the open, harbouring by day in the mountains, sleeping at night up the trees. Now and again they sallied forth, as their needs demanded it, seizing a sheep in the pastures, or raiding a house for meal. "Pitch and Prog," as they say, was it with them all the time. Numbers of honest regulars were among them -- you cannot even measure the tories' corn all in one bushel! Brave fellows, they were, who had fallen doing there best, and got valour's reward for it -- a beggar's bed by the wayside, and a nod to forage for themselves. Oftentimes they, disgusted, would hook it away on their own; for they had not the rouges' gregarious instinct, and were heart glad to be freed of such pesky company. They kept a comparatively decent front to the world past Scarva, they knew, it was not safe to curse King William. They would get odd jobs about the Protestant farmers' places, white-washing out-houses or threshing corn. But on the whole they were a scurvy troop; a case of one sack one sample. They had no more stake in the country than if they were tumbling-stones of the fields. They were "poor, insignificant slaves," fit for nothing but to "hew wood and draw water" -- and barely that. The Government party naturally arrogant and flushed with recent victory, would have as soon thought of appealing to the swine for a favour as to them. Ulster, we have said, was swarming with them, the leavings-off of Derry and the beatings-back of the Boyne. A favourite rendezvous of theirs was the old Gamesters' Moat at Lisnagarvey -- partly because it was secluded, and partly because for centuries back it had been the common gathering-ground of all the vagabonds and carding strollers in the kingdom -- and your torie is nothing if not traditional and sentimental. But they only made the Old Moat their headquarters, and in their wanderings by day and their forayings by night often journeyed very far afield.

In the midst of all this pother word came in early one morning of a pack of wolves having been seen on the skirts of the town of Antrim-Antrim, of all, the dullest, drowsiest mix-up of thatch streets I do believe, within the four seas of Erin! The news was carried by a hired man, Ekey Whittle, from the King's Moss side, coming in to market with his master's produce. He had been chased by them in the dark for miles along the Old Templepatrick Road, by the Rough Forth, and Carngreine, but they had scared off as they approached the town toll-bar, and had taken away by Mucamore and the Old Abbey Demesne next Killead on the Loch Shore. His own ashen-white face and the tempest of sweat rolling off his winded mare's quarters spoke testimony enough to the truth of his story. They were big grey lads, he said, old wolves, lank and hungersome, and had come apparently off Beann Madhigan, or some other of the Belfast mountains.

Here now was a to-do. Wolves in Co. Antrim! Wolves, the very name of which had been forgotten in those parts for nigh on a hundred years back! Why, news of the Lisnagarvey 'raparies' descending on the town could hardly have been received with more wonderment or more dismay.

Where had they come from? Some said they were a stray pack, separated in the recent troubles -- by the noise of dragging baggage, forced marchings, and onset of battles  -- from their more fortunate fellows who preyed for weeks unmolested on the rotting carcases of the fallen Irishry after the disaster of the Boyne. It is a matter of sober history that Meath was over-run -- literally over-run -- with wolves, hailing principally from Connaught, after the memorable battle fought on the river-banks between the forces of Dutch William and Craven James on the 1st day of July of the year 1690. So precipitate was James's retreat that hundreds of the bodies of his fallen levies remained unburied; and the sulphurous smoke of battle clearing showed wolves and vultures innumerable gorging themselves to surfeit on the bloody, heaped-up carcases of the dead. Many pathetic stories are told of the faithfulness of wolf-hounds, the property of fallen Irish officers who watched day and night unceasingly over their poor masters' bodies, daring the carrion crew to come near them; and desisted not from their sad task till they sank through hunger and weakness by the sun-bleached bones and flaunting ragged uniforms, with the fell shadows of the undaunted wolves and royston-crows darkening over them.

Others said -- but what they did say does not matter much. Suffice to tell that the sleepy little town was soon in an uproar of dread and preparation -- dread of wolfish invasion, and preparation for its rolling-back. The farmers, come in since morning from the different outlying country districts, all left early in the forenoon, and sober for Antrim men with loose money in their pockets. They rolled home in groups, with their goodwives and buxom daughters hid among the rugs and the bundles behind them, their cart-axles giving tongue merrily in chorus, and all keeping a sharp fearful eye on the woods and waste places marching on the roads for any appearance of the dread murauders. The Killead people took especial precautions; for according to the luckless servantman who had been hunted by the wolves; and had carried first tidings of their whereabouts to the town, they had token off in the Killead direction, and were skulking somewhere along the south Loch Shore. Fires were burnt all night by watchers about Antrim town itself. The toll-bar was barricaded, and every approach and entry made secure.

Morning dawned, and with it the intelligence that a sheep-fold in the townland of Glendarragh on the Crumlin River had been entered during the night, and twenty head of sheep murderously accounted for, besides the rest of the flock let loose in aimless terror over the countryside, bleating most mournfully. The whole Loch Shore was now up. A meeting of the farmers was hurriedly summoned. Search-parties with loaded blunderbusses (Many of their number Williamite yeomanry skilled in the use of the arm) were organised, and dispatched in all directions from Antrim to Stonyford, from Glendarragh to Belfast. Night came down, and still no word of their hiding-place. Daylight broke again, and a lamb-fold broken into -- this time at Dundrod on the back side of Divis Mountain. For three nights the pack roamed at sweet liberty, the veritable terror of all Massareene. They were supposed to slink at first showing of sunrise to the fastness of the Belfast Mountains. But few cared to follow them thither, being seized with fright, or having, as they saidthemselves, the harvest-work of their fields to look after, and the traces of the night's slaughter to remove. They bore the plaque meek as Dippers, till at long last it was agreed that some desperate measure must be taken. The wolves were becoming so bold that they ventured close up to houses even in the broad light of day. And persistent rumour ran that a child had been lifted bodily from the "greens" about Old Crumlin Scutch Mill, while playing there at leap-frog with its fellows.

It was Sunday. A meeting was scratched up in Auld Rabison's Barn at Dundrod after kirk. 'Twas the Sabbath, I've said, But to make up for any seeming desecration of the holy day by talking business every man of them, wore a face as long as a Fair ballad's, or a Lurgan spade. The deliberations were protracted - and fruitless. Plan after plan was proposed, only to be rejected.

"Somethin' maun be done, surely," said Auld Rabison, shaking his grey poll seriously from the chair.

"Whit o' Maister Upton's wulf-dogs?" ventured Alec Tamson, yeoman, of Clover Hill.

"Heth ay. b' the Book," echoed Ebenezer Higgison is his wheezy Loch Shore dialect. "Maister Upton's wulf-dogs, ay -- there's nane ither i' the countryside fit."

"An' m' braw Cocker hissel' for hunter" piped the squeaky voice of Crawford from the cornstalks at the rear.

"Oo ay, ay," clamoured the meeting unanimously, and with an eye to the safety of their own canny skins.

There and then it was decided that Tamson of Clover Hill should ride down to Templepatrick, and interview the Squire with an end to having the loan of his two famous wolf-hounds for the tracking, and, it might be, the Squire himself to slip them. For it was a matter of everyday knowledge that Upton's prime element was adventure -- and here the thing was to his hand without seeking, and of a most hazardous and uncommon sort. Tamson, nothing loth, mounted his cob, tethered, since morning in the Manse byre. Ten hands were by the pillion-stone to give him a leg on, and there were three times as many behind to wave him a safe journey. He rode briskly off. It was falling dusk, what time the wolves began to prowl. But Tanison, man of blood, did not fear much, or if he did, masked his feelings beautifully. The meeting then dispersed amid a droning chorus of "Och ayes" and a general stroking of stub-beards. They moved away in companies for their own better protection, all talking of the recent ravages, and of the "Cocker's twa dugs" as the surest and speediest means to end them.

By the time Tamson reached Squire Upton's place at Templepatrick it was dark. He rode boldly through the castellated gate-piers, and clattered up the dark winding yew avenue, followed by a crew of terrier dogs clamouring madly at his heels. He dismounted at the Farmyard, giving his horse over to the care of Rab, a cottar on the Squire's estate, who was hanging around in the cool twilight air smoking his pipe.

"Is the maister wacthin, Rab?" Tamson enquired.

"Ay, man, faith," said the cottar. "But it's a gie late hoor; an' he winna be disturbed on the Sabbath day. That's aye the menner o; the Maister."

Tamson was not a whit abashed. All he wanted was to know that Upton was a bout-doors; so throwing the cottar a word to look to the mare, he strode bravely to the Big House. What under the moon had he to fear? Upton was dour in his way no doubt, and a true-blue covenanting Sabbath keeper. But he'd break more than tho Sabbath, faith, if the notion of a hunt was in the air -- and what a hunt! Besides, he had ever a gra' for Alec who had done service under him in the old fighting days, and paid his barley-corns regularly.

Tamson rapped loudly on the resplendent brass knocker. The noise was echoed by a deep bay from the big hall within, "The wulf-dugs!" said Tamson to himself. "The crathura, they'll sune get a run tae tak the itch oot o' their soles!"

The door was opened by a bouncing maidservant in a frill cap. She peered blindly out into the dark.

"Gude-nicht, Tibbie," said Tamson, recognising the girl as a "dochther" of his own countryside.

"Och, an' it's you, then Maister Tamson," she laughed. "A braw nicht wae-thoot. Cam' in man. Up aboot the rid 'moiley.' Ah'm thinkin'? The Maister was jist sp'aking o' ye -- ay, cam' the morra is twa day. Cam' in man."

Tamson entered, withdrawing his hair-skin cap respectfully. He was ushered into a small office or ante-room, where he awaited the pleasure of the Squire. In about ten minutes the big man himself came sauntering down the hall-flags, soberly humming what we in these days would call a "Methody psalm-tune." He turned the door-handle brusquely, and stepped into the room, followed by two fine wolf-dogs that scampered awkwardly at his heels.

Tamson rose off his chair, pulling his forelock.

"Ah, Tamson, it's you then?" said the Squire in his wonted blunt way. "You are late a-foot." He slouched into a spacious "saddle-bags" as he spoke.

"The wulves, sar, the wulves," said Tamson.

"It's a story, Tamson," interjected the Squire, crabbedly.

"'T may be, sar, but a true, a gie true wan. The Glendarragh men ken that tae their cost. Ane-an'-twenty head o' sheep there, Jordan Bleakley's wull, done for the nicht afore last, a chile lifted beyout Aul' Crumlin Lint-Mill, an' three yowe lambs ate alive Dundrod way no later than yestherday. It's bad work, sar, verre bad -- and ah'm thinking' there'll be no peace in the countryside 'till the dogs are an them. Cam' by, Hector," said Tamson sympathetically, stroking one of the great hounds which fawned upon him.

"You think, now, Tamson, it couldn't be the 'raparies'?" hinted the Squire. "There's a nest of them, I hear, harbouring down by Lisnagarvey, and a noted Kerry outlaw among them as leader. They make the Old Moat there their headquarters, but they wander far afield. They go robbing through half the Barony, breaking into barns and rifling hen-roosts. Why, 'twas only this very day I heard they'd been by Belfast, and over Beann-Madhigan -- the Cave Hill, Tamson -- at our very doors!"

"The wolves, sar, the wolves," said Tamson deliberately. "It's an the Cave Hill, sar, the pack's in hidin'. They lie there snug by day, an' cam' deukin' doon at nicht under cover o' the dark, ransackin' an' riflin' a' roon. The mischief's aye laid at the tories dures -- but it's no them, sar, it's no' them. I ken tae my ain knowledge, sar, that Sam Bennett's we Connaught yowe was carried awa' b' wolves, an' Sam's oot day and daily over the fiel's, shoutin' 'Tories! Tories!' an' half the waens o' Dundrod side efther him. The Biggerstown folk are clane daft wi' freight. It's the wolves, Maister Upton, the wolves -- nane ither."

Squire Upton said nothing, in reply, but thought deeply for a while in silence, his right hand resting upon the noble Hector's head, his legs crossed carelessly.

"H'm," he said, abruptly breaking the silence which, was becoming painfully monotonous. "If I give you the dogs, Tamson, will you do hunter? I have a concern for the morrow down, Lambeg way, and I may be detained there overnight. These wolves, if wolves they be, must be tackled and settled for out of hand -- you know that Tamson. I am not against the work myself but business prevents, man, business prevents."

The yeoman shifted uneasily in his chair. The proposal, evidently, was not honey to him. His dark grizzled lip quivered in suspense, and he rolled his skin cap nervously from hand to hand.

"You don't cotton to the task, I see," said the Squire gruffly, piercing his tenant through with a look, and at the same time withdrawing from his breast a curious horn box, ouf of which he snuffed volubly," 'Twas a way Upton had. He always snuffed, so, when he was nettled or in a quandary.

"Heth no, sar," blurted Tamson. "Ah'm no' the stuff for the job, Besaides, the
guid-wife's camin' in chile, an' the dhreed micht dae for her. She's a peevish, fretful boddy, onyway, sar -- ye ken't of aul' fechtin' times. An' she'll be thinkin' long as 'tis. Ah'm frae hame syne a wee afore ten this marnin', an' Ah'll sune be tae be off. Whit time is it, Maister Upton?" Tamson asked, as much for an excuse to rise as for aught else. It's gie an' late -- gone nine, Ah'm thinkin'?"

"Ah, well," said the Squire, rising briskly to his feet. "Theres none but myself and the dogs for it, then. You're riding, Tamson!"

"Ay, sar."

"Well, mount saddle and peg home as fast as old 'Lizzie Fairfoot' will carry you. It's now gone nine. Warn the countryside 'twixt The Inn and Clover Hill that nothing can be done before this time the morrow night. I'm away to Dunmurry by daybreak in the morning. It time allows I will jog on to Lisnagarvey, and get the help there of the 'Dragoon from Kerry' -- or who knows but that the rascal and his gang might challenge me on the road, and save me the bother? He's a noted hunter, I hear, and has faced fiercer than wolves in his time. Off, Tamson! Warn the countryside."

So saying the Squire strode churlishly from the room, and Tamson was left to shuffle to the door as best he could in the uncertain light of two mould candles that glimmered fitfully from their sconces in the great hall without. In a short time, however, he was a-horse, and pounding down the dark road towards Clover Hill, stopping at every wayside habitation to acquaint the folk of their coming deliverance.

(To be continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 13 July 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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