By Joe Graham
That St Patrick roamed the land on which now stands Belfast, is undeniable, he founded the old Church at Shankill from which the area obtained its name. The Stranmillis area could just as easy be called “Ballynabraher”(FRIARS TOWN) or even KILPATRICK”, since. he also founded a church or Friary there, and as O’Laverty points out, he blessed “A HOLY WELL where now stands Sandy Row, although strangers will chose to call it “MUNDY’S WELL”. The earliest printed reference to a chapel at Stranmillis is in an old map of 1570 which clearly shows “FRIARS TOWN”,a mere townland with three buildings, one of them ‘officially’ listed as a Church.. .but the name of the townland and the regime under which Catholic people were existing, (THE PENAL LAWS)and earlier laws explains to the most innocent reader the need for secrecy. An Drocht Shaol,(The Penal Laws) were enacted by England to destroy the Irish Catholic faith and to impoverish those who embraced that faith. And so it was that Catholics met secretly at the site on which FRIAR’S BUSH stands today to hear mass under a Thorn Bush given by a wandering Friar, The traditional story of how “Friars Bush” derived its name I will leave to Fr, Leo McKeown to relate, he wrote this in 1928, “The story is that the Friar, who is described as short in stature and having snow white hair, was accustomed to row across the Lagan in his currach to say Mass at Friars Bush. One Sunday in winter, with heavy snow falling, the arrangements were made as usual; a temporary altar of boards and canvas was erected under the Whitethorn Bush in the centre of the graveyard, an the small congregation remained .waiting anxiously,.. he arrived, however. * .said Mass, but just as be turned around to give the last blessing, he fell, shot through the heart. Consternation and fear seized the worshippers, who scattered, on their return, they found the Friar dead he Was buried where he fell and a stone erected on the spot.”
In l905,Bejfast Poet, Joseph Campbell wrote,.,
‘In ancient limes, as peasants tell, A friar came with book and bell To chant his Mass each Sabbath morn Beneath Strandmilis’ twsting thorn.
He came in sun, he came in flood
From Ard. rnic. Nasca’s holy wood.
Where Niall built his monastery
To house the scripts of Clann. Aedha. buidh
The thorn tree grew upon a bill
Above Strandmilis’ straits, and still
Grows there for every soul to See
That honours hoar antiquity.’
The boul Cathal O’Byrne and FranciS.J.Biggar have written much on Friars Bush, and indeed the “Ulster historical Foundation” comprehensively covers those who are buried there in their book, “Gravestone Inscriptions. Vol .so really we’re going over old ground here, but I still think it interesting to Rushlight readers to note some names of those buried there... The many butchers of old Hercules Street (ROYAL Avenue now) are well represented,. one being, JAMES GARLAND,died,27th JANUARY,.1834. When, MATTHEW BRACEGIRDLE, who owned a pub in Old Smithfield buried his wife Margaret,l4th Jan,1832 he had these words put on her headstone...
“DEPARTED SHADE,THY SORROWING HUSBAND HERE ERECTS THIS STONE AND DROPS THE EMBITTERED TEAR T’TS ALL ALAS,HIS GRIEVING HEART CAN DO, YET,OH TOO LITTLE FOR A WIFE LIKE YOU.” Margaret was buried alongside her four children who died in infancy. MATTHEW joined his loving wife 3oth August,1853,aged 68, added words said, “TRIFLING ARE THE DATES OF TIME WHEN THE SUBJECT IS ETERNITY.” Margaret was the daughter of Susanna Donaldson and there is perhaps evidence here that not every one buried in Friars Bush was Catholic .Susanna came from a Scottish family that settled here in 17O6,her daughter MARGARET and MATTHEW married in St ANNE’S PARISH CHURCH in 1808.! Susanna knew what it meant to mourn, she buried her husband James (72) 8th Jan,1829 from their home at Barrack Street, then her son JAMES and FIFTEEN more of her children.. she also buried no less than NINE grandchildren. . she herself is buried with her grandson JAMES BRACEGIRDLE and SIX of her GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN. . including 2 Year old baby SUSANNA named after her Great-Grandmother, about Susanne* age when she died, the headstone says 83 when she died in March 23rd, 1847,”THE NEWS-LETTER” in her obituary notice said she was 90 years of age. “THE VINDICATOR” was Belfast’s first Catholic Newspaper,, editor was Charles Gavan Duffy, who later went on to become Prime Minister of New South Wales, Australia, it was a young Kilkenny man, KEVIN.T.BUGGY, who then became editor and is now one of the many editors of Belfast Newspapers buried at FRIAR’S BUSH When Catholic Emancipation was granted in 1829, it was as if a signal went off for sectarian mob rule in old Belfast and for the next thirty years it became quite common for Catholic mourners to have to run the gauntlet as they passed Sandy Row to bury their dead at FRIAR’S BUSH .. for we even had Paisley figures in those days waving that age old sectarian banner and inciting the Protestant working classes to violence and sacrilege. A ballad popular in 1860’s Belfast relates to an on going saga of attacks at the cemetery, it refers to a wooden cross erected by St Malachy’s Chapel earlier,.. during a mission there some years “WHO CUT THE CROSS”
“In truth, good sir, I’m forced to state, My bosom’s filled with bitter hate; The Orange Boys the divil take them, And may all hope in Hell forsake them- To show that they our faith would crush have cut the cross at Friar’s Büsh.
Folklore has it that the Church Authorities had“THE WOODEN CROSS” taken down and buried in the cemetery less the bigots be further ‘offended’. ROBERT READ, the man who founded Ireland’s first penny paper,”THE BELFAST MORNING NEWS” is buried in Friar‘s Bush. his paper later merged with the “IRISH NEWS” in 1891
TO BE LOCATED IN RUSHLIGHT MAGAZINE
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