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Remembering Old Armagh

Updated: Feb 15

It was one of those hot Clare days in January. I was walking, or toddling, along from Clare on the road to see my Grandmother at Armagh.

The settler, seeing me trudging along the hot road, gave me a lift.

It was a drought year, and the dry season was the chief topic.

To show how man-like a little boy can be I repeated what I had heard scores of others say : 'My word, isn't it dry?' He agreed.

I continued. 'They are praying for rain in all the churches next Sunday.'

His response was. 'Do you know the divverence between the English farmer and the German farmer ?' I said 'No.'

He answered: 'The English farmers pray for rain; the German farmers build dams.'

I said in wonderment, 'Don't German farmers pray for rain?' 'Yes, they do, but Mein Gott, they build the dams too.'

In those days the Germans played a big part in the community life of the district, and, of course, the brogue of Ireland was common in the town, and to a lesser extent the Scotch accent was noticeable where ever people gathered.

From - The Clare I Remember, Pages From the Past Number III, By J J Simons, now of PERTH WA

Friday 13 October 1944

Jack Simons - John "Jack" Joseph Simons (also widely known and referred to as J. J. Simons and J. J. "Boss" Simons) was an Australian businessman and politician, best known for establishing the Young Australia League.

When I think of the mixture of tongues and accents of the old Clare days I think of the lines of Henry Lawson: —

'The homely tongue of Scotland and the brogue of Ireland blend

With the dialects of England from Berwick to Land's End.'

An annual event at the Sevenhill Hibernian Sports on Boxing Day was a Tug o' War 'Pull' between a team representing Ireland, and another representing Germany, and much money changed hands in bets over the contest.

What characters there were among the Irish ! Like the other races they had their percentage who could neither read nor write.

Their countrymen, familiar with the history of Ireland, used to explain that their lack of education was due to bad Government, but as there were illiterates in the representatives of all the other races, lack of education must have been general in the old countries at the time.

There was the dear Irish lady who lived at Armagh. Her only son had gone to Broken Hill. She had never received a letter in her life and if she had she could not have read it.

In her words her son, Terry, who had been to the local school, had "larning," and when he left Armagh he promised to write.

Came the day when she trudged over Hope's Hills for the expected "letther".

Knocking at the shutter of the window through which letters were handed out, she asked : "Have yeeze a letter from me son, Terry. Him that's at Broken Hill"?

The good-natured clerk (Frank Reynolds) looked through the mail and said: 'No letters to-day.'

'Heaven help me. It was kinder than that I thought you'd be to me."

Half way across the footpath she turned back. There was another knock at the window and the shutter went up for the clerk to hear:

"It is a long way to come again those hills from Armagh. - You might as well tell me now when you will be expecting a letter.'

There are many stories told of this delightful soul. She was making the journey over the hills to Clare when she stopped half way to rest, and instead of continuing the journey unconsciously retraced her steps, not realising that she had faced the wrong direction and had arrived at the point she had left.

I remember a kindly old Irishman, named Pat O'Neil, whose sublime and touching faith in everything religious was of a kind which I have seen only in people of his race. He had the gift of alliterative expressions.

My sister had been ill and I remember his remarks when meeting my mother one evening.

'Is your child any better, Mrs. Simons?' he asked. '

'She is not so well, but Dr. Bain is doing his best for her.'

Mr. O'Neil's response was : 'Lookut here, Mrs. Simons, take my advice. A little prayer to Almighty God will do your child more good than all the pills, plasters, potions or poultices any Doctor can concoct.' Pat O'Neil was Dr. Bain's gardener.

Looking down from Hope's Hills on the Armagh of years gone one beheld a scene from a picture book. I have only seen villages like it in England or Ireland.

Of the group of twenty or thirty houses of those days not five remain.

Some of the cottages were built of sun-dried pug. In California they call it adobe, in South Africa pise. It is made of puddled clay.

Some were built solidly in layers, each layer being allowed to harden before the next was placed in position.

Others were built of sunbaked clay bricks, which while still wet were sprinkled with wheat husks, or as it was called, 'cocky chaff.'

When the wall was finished a light lime plaster was applied and covered with a thick layer of whitewash.

The roofs were built of beams in most cases cut from cypress or pine trees brought from the Blyth Plains, and the covering was deep thatch.

In manhood I saw many cottages in the old country which were replicas of early Armagh.

Many legends were crowded into what passed for its unwritten history.

John Butler, who was always talked of as the oldest inhabitant, claimed that Armagh was really older than Clare.

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The old stagers used to tell tales of the copper mines and point to the ruins of the mine workings north-west of Armagh, at a place called the Mine Hills.

Of the Mine Hills themselves there were same eerie tales, and boys spoke in hushed breath of the depth of the main and other shafts.

'They are thousands and thousands of feet deep.' As a fact I believe none was over one hundred feet deep. There were still walls of the old buildings standing when I was a boy and one was known as the Captain's house, for in those days each mine had a Captain.

Mine Hills was the scene of a tragic happening. A Mrs. Naulty, suffering from an illness, was missing in her night-dress.

A black man found her tracks— men were lowered into one of the old shafts from which the body of the unfortunate lady was recovered.

That must have been a long time ago, for it was in the days before Victorsens established 'Ingomar' in the Armagh Hills, not far from the old copper mines.

'Ingomar' in the Armagh Hills

In the Armagh of my days most of the houses were built along the Armagh Creek. Further south was Lloyds, then Millers, MacDermotts, Hickeys (2 houses), Ambrose, Stevens,' O'Tooles, Gordons, Naultys, McDonohue, Butler, McNeil, Owen, Clark, Mclnerney, Scales (2 houses), Buzacott, Jones (the headmaster) Giles, Creasy (2 houses).

Then north of the little foot-bridge, along the road which leads in a northerly direction out of the village, were Crosses, Johns, Kennedys, Hague, Foreman and Ashby.

Naulty's house had nearby a stone building used as a barn, which was later, for a time, used as a School, presided over by a strict Headmaster named Crosby.

One of his sons was elected to the Senate in South Australia, but died a few weeks after election.

Another is Marshall Crosby, the celebrated actor and singer, still often heard over the radio and seen in Australian films.

Marshall Crosby (1 882-1954) was born on 18 February 1882 in Caltowie, South Australia, Australia. He was an actor, known for Clara Gibbings (1934), Wings of Destiny (1940) and His Loyal Highness (1932). He was a leading radio actor, remembered for his role as "Josh Roberts" in the long running ABC radio serial Blue Hills. He died on 1 January 1954 in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia.

A close relative of the Buzacotts, Senator Buzacott, was elected in Western Australia.

There were many tales of floods, as there were, of course, droughts, and all the old settlers remember all the dates when the Armagh creek ran a 'banker'.

One night in flood time a number of Armagh people were at the crossing on the road to Blyth watching the foaming waters.

A farmer in his buggy, mistaking the depth, and ignoring warnings from the

opposite bank, whipped his horses into the stream.

He was washed out of the buggy, and in response to his cries for help my Grandmother, then nearly sixty years of age, rushed into the torrent.

The man had only one arm. The stump of the other was covered in a leather casing strapped to his shoulder, and on the end there was a pointed hook with which he used to lift bags of chaff.

By some act of good fortune my Grandmother, with one arm around a post which was left from the footbridge which was washed away, threw out her skirt which caught the hook and held the man afloat until men from the bank came to the aid of rescuer and rescued.

The buggy was washed down the creek and both horses were drowned.

The little village of Armagh, so small that it is seldom marked on any recognised map, came into official records because someone mistook it for my birthplace.

In 1917 when the conscription campaign had reached its full fury in Western Australia I excited much enmity through being a member of a speaking team against the proposals.

In Western Australia an anti-conscriptionist was anathema to the great majority, and any weapon, no matter how cruel, was considered fair to use aginst him.

I received a letter from an Aunt in Clare. This was in it: 'What have you done ? If you have done any wrong you know we will forgive you, but don't let us hear of it from the lips of strangers. There are two detectives in Clare making some inquiries about you. Do let us know and put down what it is all about, and so put our minds at rest"

I wondered what such a story could mean. A later mail brought this message:

'We are very relieved. Detective Trestrail has told us they had been sent to try and prove you have German blood in your veins, and you know how silly that is.'

I usually spent a little time with Syd. Trestrail on my visits from Perth to Adelaide until his death few years ago, and he never failed to recall with good humor the pleasant quest on which he was sent to Clare.

When I remarked to Syd, 'You. could have found all that out at the Registry,"' he replied : 'We had to do as we were told,' and with a knowing smile he added,

'Do you think I minded a fortnight rambling around the highways of the dear old town ?'

To read more of J.J. Simons on Remembering Old Clare, buy the booklet:


by J. J. 'Boss' Simons.

A series of 13 articles published in The Northern Argus in 1944, describing the Clare of Simon's boyhood in the 1880's and 1890's.

Fully Indexed. Released Dec. 1994. New Printing. $15

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