Our protestant neighbours

By Joe McManus

When I first started in Primary School one of the questions in the old twopenny Catechism was ‘Who is my neighbour?’ The answer provided was ‘My neighbour is all mankind of every description without any exception of person whatsoever, even those who differ from us in religion’.

In these days when ecumenical gatherings for prayer services, meetings, functions, and when politicians and others are seeking to find what the scriptures describe as ‘peace until the moon fails’ almost everyone would agree with the answer given.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to have been always so in the past. Cavan, being one of the Ulster Counties, has always had a significant number of Protestants among its population. Catholics regarded them as having their origins in the policy of plantation, the settling of Protestants from England and Scotland on land confiscated from the native Catholics. A good percentage of the settlers were Presbyterians, mostly from the English/Scottish border areas and were well versed in farming methods.

I hope that Mr. Eugene Markey will forgive me for quoting from his well-researched article on the ‘Origins of The Orange Order’ in the Lavey magazine ‘Ringfort Annual’ of 2000. In the 1880-83 period the Orange Lodges in the Cavan No. 1 District and Ballyjamesduff areas, which also covered Lavey, were: Cloonegonnell, Killananun, Coolbuyogue, Ballinagh, Ballintemple, Stonepark, Connagaul, Cavan, Oldtown, Neddiah, Drumheel, Farnham, Stradone, Clovenhill, Drumealpin, Drumcliff, Kilmore, Corcavetty, Derrybeen, Ammore, Drumkeen, Ballyjamesduff No. 2 District had seven lodges: Billises, Claudaugh, Knocktemple, Ballymachugh, Graddum, Lisanymore and Beltrasna. Mr. Markey also gives a further list of Cavan lodges in 1798 - thirty seven in all - and refers to other Protestant societies such as the “Royal Black Institution” and the ‘Freemasons’.

As we know, not all Protestants were members of the Orange Order or other Protestant societies. Some of the settlers’ descendants became ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’ to mention but a few: Henry Grattan, Theobald Wolfe Tone, John Mitchel, Charles Stewart Parnell, Douglas Hyde, down to our own time of such as the late Erskine Childers (2) and present-day Martin Mansergh.

Since this article is not meant to be one on Irish history, and since the Protestants of the present or recent eras can in no way be blamed for the sins of their forefathers I will endeavour to write of more recent times as they pertain to County Cavan.

Writing for the ’Anglo-Celt’ supplement in 1996 on the occasion of the newspaper’s 150th anniversary, the Rt. Rev. Michael Mayes, then protestant Bishop of Kilmore, Ardagh and Elphin, had this to say:- “The two principal Churches in this area have had a turbulent history over the past 150 years. Indeed, today the Church continues to be critically, if not downright cynically, observed in many quarters, not least in the media”. He goes on to state that the Church of Ireland had gone from being the established Church to that of a small minority concerned with its own survival in a cultural and religious context. Four major factors in this were: (1) Disestablishment in 1870; (2) The Great War of 1914-18 where so many Protestants fought and died, and which was air-brushed out of history; (3) the founding of the State and the ensuing Civil War when many felt there was no room for them or their children in a Society which, because of their past history, had regarded them with suspicion and distrust, and so they departed. The fourth factor was a rigid Roman Catholic policy on mixed marriages. According to the bishop “proselytising was at its height, the traffic was invariably one-way, and coupled with the effect of emigration, many smaller Church of Ireland communities died out”. He admits that in 1996 “There has been a marked lessening of the rivalry that used to poison all inter-Church relationships”.
In the days of my youth there were two Protestant places of worship in our area - one was what we called a ‘meeting - house’ at Balases, said to be Presbyterian, and another was the Church of Ireland Church at Lower Lavey. Writing in the 1998 edition of the previously - mentioned ‘Ringfort Annual’ my great friend, Sean F. Murray, states: “The Protestant ‘Church’ at the junction of the ‘broad road’ and the Lavey road was a useful landmark, but the ‘chapel’ somehow stole the limelight. It is noteworthy, too, that the Protestant place of worship was always referred to as ‘the Church’ while its Catholic counterpart was, invariably, ‘the chapel’. Younger generations now refer to both places of worship as ‘the Church’.

In an article, also in ‘Ringfort Annual’, dated 1993, another of my friends, the late Terence O’Gorman writing on ‘Faiths and Alternative Faiths’ said: “Worthy of note is the fact that we had a nation whose people had quite an immense interesting religious observance - to be a Catholic and not to be present at Mass on Sunday made one the subject of enquiries and speculation as to what was wrong, equally indeed the member of the Protestant denominations would be seen wending their respective ways to the Lord’s house on the Sabbath Day and only illness or some such urgent reason would prevent that happening”.

When growing up I must say that all the Protestant neighbours I knew were quiet, law-abiding people, very industrious, honest, and of the highest integrity. No more obliging and kindly people could be found on the face of the globe. The majority were farmers. Most of the Protestants in Lower Lavey went to the Church of Ireland there for services while those in Upper Lavey went to the Belasis. I never knew the difference, or bothered to find out, between Church of Ireland people and Presbyterians. One neighbouring family were known as ‘Dippers’ and the head of that household used to leave home on Sunday mornings carrying a large Bible under his arm. All the other neighbours said they never heard that man cursing or using a swear word.

As to their industrious nature Protestant families in County Cavan were very good when it came to providing employment, e.g. it was a Protestant family or families who provided great employment through Stradone Park Laundry and Stradone Flax Mill during the emergency years. It was also Protestant families who provided transport by the ‘Magnet’ bus and leisure facilities such as the ‘Magnet’ cinema in Cavan town. It was the Burrows family who sold the ground for Stradone G.A.A. Park of the present-day. A number of employees worked over the years on the Farnham Estate. Protestant people also provided splendid shops and corn mills throughout the County. Tweedy Aehesons and Co. Cavan Stones were well - known establishments in Cavan town. In Ballyjamesduff, the shop of the Byers family was akin to any of the present day supermarkets.

Notwithstanding the remarks of the Bishop previously quoted, I never knew or heard anything about ‘proselytising’ by either the Catholic or Protestant Churches. However, at National school that big word would not have been in use, but some boys told tales of such happenings, and I always regarded those tales as myths. At the same time some may have stuck in my mind.

When I was about eleven years old I was coming from the well-known shop of the late John Smith (Shan), Killygrogan, with a parcel under each arm. A motor car pulled up alongside me. The driver was wearing a clerical collar partly covered by a grey cardigan. He offered me a lift and I said I was near home. The good man insisted but I ran around the rear of his car. Still clutching two parcels, I crossed the road, mounted a fence, jumped a running stream and ran home through the fields. A short time later I was serving at what was then referred to as a ‘High Mass’ in St. Dympna’s Church, Upper Lavey. After Mass one of the con-celebrants came in to the sacristy and asked me why I wouldn’t sit in with him when I was coming from the shop and he offered me a lift. The priest was Fr. Keaney of Killinkere. Thirty nine years later I was sent on Garda duty for one month to Swanlinbar. I had occasion in early 1973 to travel to Cavan town and called my brother, who was then Adm. there. My brother asked me to deliver some church literature to V. Rev. Canon Keaney, PP Swanlinbar. I was in Garda uniform when invited into the Canon’s sitting room. The good priest stood with his back to an open fire and smilingly asked “Are you Joe McManus?”. When I replied in the affirmative he said “Do you remember why you wouldn’t sit into into my car when you were coming from the shop and I offered you a lift?”. I hesitated as I had half forgotten the incident, but Canon Keaney reminded me - “You thought I was the Protestant Minister from Belasis”.

The Protestants were not without their humorists. One evening, on my way home from National School in Knocknagilla with others, a Protestant neighbour (tradesman) was building gate piers on our left-hand side of the road. Another Protestant was working at turf in a bog on the opposite side. The tradesman called four of the scholars (including yours truly) inside the piers, gave us a shilling each, and told us that when passing the turf-saver to shout “You dirty auld Orangeman!”. The trademan added: - If he follows ye run for the chapel and he wont go inside the gate”. The turf-worker did follow us onto the road, swinging a buckled-belt which he had taken off, but sure enough he did not come inside the church gates and we were able to escape when he had returned to his work. We were assured beforehand that the poor man’s sight was failing and that he would not know any of us the next day.

When I went further afield to school in Cavan town, I remember counting seven different church buildings there. At school I made several friends from the Protestant community and I think that one of my teachers was a Methodist.

As to sporting activities, a goodly number of Protestants were interested in rugby, cricket and such games, while the ladies were interested in hockey and tennis. Of course, there were exceptions to the rule. The late George Malcomson (Baileboro), a Protestant, was on the Cavan junior team of 1927 which brought the first All-Ireland to Cavan and he was on the senior team for Cavan’s first All-Ireland senior final in 1928. Many Protestants played Gaelic football later, including one of my friends, the late Bertie Goggins, who was a loyal GAA man and played from Stradone.

Having lived, for the past 45 years, in an area which has a sufficient number of Protestants to maintain two Church of Ireland churches and a community hall, I am aware of the intermingling of Catholics and non-Catholics daily, their sharing in each others joys and sorrows, without a trace of bigotry or sectarianism. I understood that the same position obtains throughout County Cavan in the present-day.

Here, I may add that I had the privilege of being in the company of Jack Boothman, a Protestant and former great President of the GAA, when he went to meet his co-religionists at a service in Ballyconnell on his election to that office in 1994.

Knowing that the young Irelander Thomas Francis Meagher presented our national flag of green, white and orange to our country some years after Daniel O’Connell’s securing Catholic emancipation in 1929, and that the white symbolises the unity between orange and green, what better way to conclude than by quoting another young Ireland poet, Thomas Davis:

What matter that at different times
Our fathers won this sod
What matter that at different shrines
We pray unto one God
In fortune and in name we are bound
By stronger links than steel
And neither can be safe nor sound
But in the other’s weal

Taken from Breffni Blue 2005