Thursday, 14 February 2013

Celtic Roots Craic! 56 – 'The Cock Corner' & Co. Down Railway

Downpatrick BCDR Railway Station
We've been having untypical snow here in Ireland, recently, which, thankfully, has now disappeared.  We're not used to extreme weather here, so it always throws us into chaos – not like my friends in Canada, etc., who are always ready for extremes.  And the great news is that our little cottage project has finally got official Planning Approval so, as soon as the weather gets a little warmer, I'll be able to start turning what looks like a glorified garage into a proper home.  That should be fun.

The stone building was probably erected around the late 1850s, and I've been intrigued to find out more about its history.  It sat on its own, beside a couple of thatched cottages with some farm outbuildings, another farm on the other side and one across the road.  Apart from the church across the road, which dates back to the 1700s and earlier, and a hall just up the hill from us, these are the surviving original buildings of Listooder, Co. Down.  There are also the remains of the stable for donkeys and the minister's horse.  Other cottages were unfortunately demolished by the landlord many years ago, when the tenants had the cheek to ask for some improvements to their properties.  Instead, about a dozen families were all summarily evicted.  The school was demolished around then, as well.

The hamlet has always been  a mixture of Roman Catholic and Protestant right back to the 17th century.  We are right on the crossroads of two country lanes and across from us is a large field, with these two roads and the main road nearby making a rectangle cut off from other fields.  It's called Leggycurry Field, with the main road crossing the small Killygartan River via Leggycurry Bridge, just a quarter of a mile from us.  In that field are two small disused stone quarries, which may have been used to provide stone for the church and houses in the past, but I have another idea.

Travel about a mile north or south from Listooder and you will come to the remains of two railway bridges from the old Belfast and Co. Down Railway, which took passengers and goods to the city from both Ballynahinch and Downpatrick/Newcastle (and on to Castlewellan and Banbridge).  The two lines separated just a mile and a half north of us at a place called Ballynahinch Junction.  The Ballynahinch Line was opened in 1858, while the Downpatrick Line was completed a year later.  The old line used to cross both roads near us on an embankment, which required local stone to be quarried for its construction – perhaps from those selfsame quarries in the field next to us.  Which in turn could mean that our building might have originally been built to house carts and tools connected with the quarry?

The Downpatrick-Newcastle and Ballynahinch lines were closed back in the 1950s.  Incidentally, the other branch of the now defunct line went just behind our present house on its way from Newtownards to Donaghadee.  The only BCDR line still functioning travels from Belfast to Bangor – two miles away from our current home.  When we first moved here we explored the old cutting behind our house and recovered four ends of the original bench seats from a BCDR carriage – the seats themselves having been burnt.  Some day I hope to make these into a couple of outdoor benches for our new place.

By the way, a couple of miles of the BCDR track has been restored in Downpatrick, so in the summer you can take a steam engine trip on the Co. Down Railway from Downpatrick Station out to Ballydugan Mill and lake – mebbe have meal there? – and to the ruins of Inch Abbey in the other direction.  Newcastle Station still exists, but no longer a station, but the Queen's Quay terminus in Belfast is long gone.

While researching the history of our proposed new home I learned that, although Listooder is the name of the townland it belongs to, that was not the original name of the hamlet.  The farm building next door had a shop-cum-pub at the end next to us, known as The Cock – what is known in Ireland still as a 'spirit grocers'.  In other words, it sold hardware and groceries to local farmers and kept beer and spirits in the back for those who required them.  Stories are told of the local minister having to give stern sermons on the evils of drink, after his parishioners had consumed a 'liquid lunch'  between morning and evening services!  While excavating inside the building and to the rear I found quite a collection of very old beer, whiskey and medicine bottles – several still intact – complete with several glass stoppers.  Less than a mile away was another little 'spirit grocer', known as The Hen – now completely gone.  So our hamlet was previously known as The Cock Corner, and is shown as such on old maps of the area.

Belfast's new Titanic Quarter is now the home of a brand new building for the Public Records Office (PRONI) and here I discovered old Rates Records for our property dating back to 1936, when it was shown as a house and shop until 1957.  After that, John McCullough – who could conceivably be a distant relation – presumably got too old to run the shop and just lived out his days in a room at the rear.  He had no electricity and had to go to the farm next door for water and to use the toilet – even though there was a perfectly good well behind his house.

Before he opened his shop the building was the original home of Listooder Mission Hall, which still survives in a wooden building just down the street.  After John became ill and moved to his brother's farm on Listooder Hill, the building was inherited by a relative, who kept horses at the rear while her two brothers ran both a car repair and a landscape gardening business from the building.  We bought it from this lady in 2007.  Quite an interesting little history, eh?

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