Drumbeg Community Association

The Ulster Star 27 Jan 1962


The Drumbeg area, near Lisburn is one of the most picturesque parts of Northern Ireland and many people visit at week-ends in the summer time to stroll along the canal towpath or through the Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park which was presented by Lady Dixon to Belfast Corporation in 1959. The well-kept and well laid-out park has a fine display of flowers, particularly roses, plants and shrubs and an added attraction of children is the goldfish pond. In a corner of the park is a dogs’ cemetery where many of the Dixon family pets are buried and on the wall above the graves are tablets recording the names of the dogs and the dates of their deaths.

The whitewashed slated two storey house with its green door and windows on the Lagan bank at the Drum Bridge has for 25 years been the home of the lock keeper Matthew Irvine and his wife Mary. Mr. Irvine says the canal was a busy waterway 60 years ago when some 20 barges passed along it daily for Lisburn and elsewhere with loads of barley, wheat, corn, coal, peat and other commodities.

“It was hard work for the horses pulling heavy loads in the barges”, chimed in Mrs. Irvine, who added. “I always told the men in charge of the animals to take it easy, especially going up the old ramp.”

Mr. Irvine had his first real "taste" of the canal in August 1911 when as a youth of 21, he saved a lad named George Geoghan from drowning at Hogg’s Locks behind the Lagan Valley Hospital. Geoghan later went to Canada. Mr. Irvine’s courageous conduct was recognised when he was awarded a certificate by the Royal Humane Society and it is still one of his most prized possessions. He was an American when the award of the certificate was made and it was sent on to him.

Mr. Irvine worked for Lambeg Weaving Company after leaving school. He married in 1923 and Mr. and Mrs. Irvine left for Canada a few hours later. They were in the land of the Maple Leaf for ten years until the big depression of the early thirties when they returned to Ulster. In Canada, Mr., Irvine was a fire inspector in a departmental store. Before starting in his present job with the Lagan Navigation Company he was employed by the linen firm of John S Brown and Sons, Ltd. Shaw’s Bridge. Mr. and Mrs. Irvine have a son Harry, who is with the Atomic Authority in Warrington, Mrs. Irvine is a member of the Drumbeg Women’s Institute. The knocker on Mr. and Mrs. Irvine’s house is a rather unusual and ornamental one with a canal connection. It is a brass swan.

The canal is now deserted and over-grown in parts for the last barge passed along it to Lisburn some seven years ago. The sluice gates at Drumbeg which controlled the water level are now being removed as they are no longer needed. The foreman in charge of the work of dismantling the gates is Mr. James Hanna, of Lisburn whose family have been associated with the Lagan Navigation Company for many years and men working on the removal of the weir included Mr. Hanna’s son Dickie a well-known boxer; Mr. Albert Spence, of Church Street, Lisburn; and Thomas Cordner, of Canal St. Lisburn. Dickie’s grandfather, Mr. Dick Hanna was formerly in charge of the Lisburn weir, but his son, Dick has now taken over. A former member of the Lisburn Amateur Boxing Club, Dickie took part in many contests and was in South Africa for a period. He has not been boxing for some time but is back in training and may be seen in one of the supporting bouts to the Gilroy-Rafferty contest in the King’s Hall, Belfast, in March.

Thomas Cordner is also a former member of the Lisburn A.B.C. and up to five years ago featured regularly in lightweight contests. He lost only ten fights out of sixty during his boxing career.

Mr. Spence who has been with the Lagan Navigation Company for 20 years is engaged in repair work along the canal bank from the Stranmillis Locks to the Six Locks on the Dublin Road end of Lisburn. He is a keen pigeon fancier and is a member of the Lisburn and District H.P.S. some of his 27 birds won the Young Bird Average Cup last season, runner-up award in Combine Average, and secured four cards in the County Down show.

The Charley Memorial Primary School, Drumbeg on rising ground overlooking the River Lagan with the Black Mountain and Divis as a backdrop was erected in 1892 in memory of William Charley, D.L. of Seymour Hill by his sisters Mrs. A. J. Stevenson and Emily Charley. There are 43 pupils on rolls and the school has 3 rooms, toe which are used for classes and the third as a dining room, and occasionally for physical training exercises. Mr. Robert Gurd was the first principal and he was followed by Mr. L. L. Connor in 1931.

The school buildings were reconstructed and extended some 30 years ago and in recent years the school was equipped with a modern kitchen, spacious cloakrooms and central heating. The school meals are brought in special containers from the Hillhall meals centre. Mrs. Hill Dugan, the school caretaker, who lives in a house beside the school, is also the dining room attendant.

Mr. C. R. Gray, BSc, principal of the school since 1948 lives in Belfast where he was formerly an assistant in St. Marks Primary School, Ligoniel. His assistant is Mrs. T. Hanthorne, of Derriaghy. An ex serviceman, Mr. Gray served with the Second Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles throughout the Second World War. He was in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, was evacuated from Dunkirk and n June, 1944, was among the first troops to again set foot on French soil in the Normandy sea landing on D Day. Mr. Gray attained the rank of Major. Now in peace time, he is continuing to give service and for the past ?? years he has been associated with the Army Cadet Force in the Belfast area.

Grocer, newsagent, hardware merchant, stationery supplier, garage owner, petrol and oil salesman – that’s Mr. Robert Smyth.

Mr. Smyth’s son, John helps in the business, has been in his present premises in Drumbeg for the last seven years and has carried out various improvements, including the provision of ornamental shutters on the wall of his premises. A Ballymacash, Lisburn man Mr. Smyth formerly lived at Knockbracken and was for more than 30 years a breadserver. Most of his years were spent with the Belfast Co-operative Society, for whom he also delivered milk, beef and groceries.

An aerial photograph of Mr. Smyth’s premises taken a few years ago shows byres where there are now garages.

The road past the shop was formerly a peaceful, rural highway, but to-day it is bustling with heavy traffic including lorries drawing loads from the vicinity of the Ballyskeagh bridge, part of the gigantic new South Approach Road scheme, now in an advanced stage of construction. The traffic form the new road has made the existing roads in the area very muddy and overboots would seem to be the best type of footwear for pedestrians using them. Even the footpath is difficult to walk on. Houses too, have not escaped the mud thrown up by the wheels of the passing lorries.

In the old days stage coaches passed through Drumbeg on their way between Belfast and Dublin and at inns in the vicinity of the church horses were changed.

It is also believed that William of Orange passed that way with his army on his way to the Boyne.

There has been considerable building development in the Drumbeg area over the past few years and more is planned by private builders and the local authority, the Hillsborough Rural Council.

One of the Council’s 12 houses in the area is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. William Alexander and their four children. Mr. Alexander, a local man is a motor engineer with G.P.O. in Belfast and was formerly in Lisburn. Mrs. Alexander, a Scotswoman is from Glasgow and has been living in Northern Ireland for 13 years now, seven of them at Drumbeg. “I love the Ulster people. They are very like Scotch people”, she said. Members of the Alexander family are Denise, at Fort Hill Girls School, Lisburn; Isobel, a pupil at Drumbeg Primary School; Ronnie who works in the cleaning house of Thompson’s Dyeworks nearby, and Gail the youngest of the four children.


The Parkes family, of Drumbeg formerly lived in England, Holland and Germany, when Mr. W Parkes was in the Royal Air Force but he is now with the Ulster Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Department.

One of Drumbeg’s oldest residents is the local shoemaker, 82 year old Jimmy Stewart, who has been turning out shoes in the workshop beside his home for 63 years. He is athe only shoemaker in the Drumbeg district and one of the few left in the country who still makes handsewn footwear.

Jimmy was born in his present home in 1879 and at 14 entered the shoemaking trade by starting to serve his time with Blakely’s of Bridge Street, Lisburn. He finished his apprenticeship with Mr. James Thompson of Bow Street. He walked to Lisburn and back through the fields every day in all weathers with his trousers rolled up to keep them clean.

“Sandy Loanin was only a by-pass then. It was not a public road until 1908, said Jimmy, who earned half-a-crown a week during the first year of his apprenticeship. Whenever you got tuppence in those days it was something to look at”, he added. His apprenticeship completed when he was 19, Jimmy started up on his own at Drumbeg in 1898 and he has still a reminder of the important year in his life – a pair of calipers made for him by John Davidson, Edenderry, Shaw’s Bridge a mechanic in the weaving factory there at that time. They are dated 1898.

“When I was a young man I could make a pair of boots or shoes in less than ten hours and I have on occasions, made them in seven hour, but I don’t work long at a stretch nowadays and it takes me a couple of days to turn out a pair” said Jimmy.

He spoke of the time when a “young fellow” called John McClelland from Drumbeg, back fro the Boer War in 1903 and out of a job asked him what he would advise him to do. Said Jimmy: “I told him I would make a shoemaker out of him in a year and would give him 10s a week.” It was coming up to the Twelfth and there was a big demand for the new boots for the march to the field. McClelland and I got down to it and as well as doing repairs we made 18 pairs of boots in a fortnight.

Jimmy’s workshop was formerly a barn. From it he has a clear view of the County Down hills on one side and those of County Antrim on the other side. All round him are relics of the past, including some of his first tools and on the window ledge in front of him are a number of dust covered books going back over the years and recording orders for hand made boots. He spent six months in Canada in 1908 working on the railways and was in the Army Pioneer Corps for a period in 1918. he was discharged for health reasons. Jimmy was a good bullet-thrower when he was a lad and it was a popular pastime in days when television was unheard of. In the game an iron bullet about the size of a tennis ball was used and the number of throws to a mile were calculated. In his younger days he was an athlete of note and he recalled waking in the Championship of Ireland at Celtic Park, Belfast, covering the two miles in 14 minutes and 10 seconds. The winner was a man called Hanna, a Lisburn blacksmith Jimmy had dead-heated with him in a previous trial.

Jimmy belongs to a family which has been connected with the Drumbeg area for 200 years. From his window he can see land which has been earmarked for building development.

“This place is all changed from when I first knew it and there will certainly be more changes within the next few years,” he said. But despite the changes Jimmy thinks Drumbeg is “still the nicest place in the world”.


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