By Ken Austin
There have been many local characters in Lurgan, but the biggest one of all must surely be Dan McCrory. Mention his name to anyone in the town and they'll come back with:
“I'll tell you a story about Dan McCrory a hole in the wall and that is all.”
But who was Dan McCrory? Very little is known about where he was born or when, he doesn't appear in any census records for example. In fact the only clue we have comes from a letter he wrote to a magistrate in 1912:
“I enclose my pledge, also my baptismal certificate. I do not want any stain or mark against my character that would deprive me of the old age pension. I will have reached the allotted span if spared to December.”
The “allotted span” was 70 years of age – three score years and ten. The Old-Age Pensions Act of 1908 provided for a non-contributory old age pension for people over the age of 70. So if Dan is to be believed – and this wasn't always an advisable thing to do – he would have been born in December 1842. It is said that he came from Donaghmore or Magheralin and lived in Lurgan Park.
Undoubtedly well educated, he was said to have entered the Priesthood in his youth, but was asked to leave because of discrepancies in the accounts of the communion wine. He suffered from alcohol dependency, (although he would never have called it suffering) which plagued him all his life and was the source of his many deeds. To maintain his addiction, Dan lived off his wits. One such example was when Dan went into - some say O'Hara's public house and others Doyle's bar on the corner of Carnegie Street - and asked the landlord for a pint, but said he didn't have any money, but could pay for his ale in stamps. The barman agreed, served up the pint which Dan drained in one. When asked for payment, Dan stamped his foot four times on the ground and bolted out the door.
Dan had many jobs. He was the singing doorman at Fosters' Picture House and would entertain the queues with songs and Limericks, many made up on the spot. He tramped the streets of Lurgan with sandwich boards for Queen Street baker, James Berwick, shouting:
“The bread of youth, this bread contains
ingredients that defy aging,
if it doesn’t work,
you get your money back”
Some time later Dan was sacked by the baker who was in financial difficulties. He stole the sandwich board and walked the streets shouting
“Don’t be eating this bread, fish in the lake are dying after eating it.”
He composed a new song that went:
“Bread that will stick to your belly like lead,
It is not a bit of wonder
You will fart like thunder
After a feed of this ole bastards bread”.
Dan applied for the position as an actor and performer advertised in the Lurgan Times by a Dungannon soap manufacturer, who made green soap under the brand name “Collen“. Dan got an interview and secured the job after his rendition of Wagner's 'Gesamtkunstwerk'.
The Lurgan Mail of June 1904 reported that Dan had been charged with being drunk and disorderly, but had failed to appear at court. He was hiding out at the Lurgan Workhouse infirmary. He wrote a long apologetic letter to DI Owen Mahony Esq and was ordered to pay £5 or spend 10 weeks in jail. One religious leader of the time wrote in the Lurgan Mail, “I think that if some of our Temperance Reformers could find Dan employment away from the puplic houses, there might still be hope of reforming him”
Dan was well known to the local police as he was often found singing under a lamppost in the town having taken 'one too many'. He spent many a night in the cells, until one day a local magistrate decided it was time to teach Dan a lesson. He was sentenced to a months hard labour in Belfast Prison. Poor Dan was led to Lurgan Station in handcuffs, remarking that this would be his first day trip on a train. At the ticket office, the officer asked for one single and one return to Belfast, Dan inquisitively asked, "Are you not coming home officer?" On reaching Crumlin Road, Dan stopped to admire the prison remarking it was a splendid piece of architecture and said he had wished he was here a month ago. He was reminded it was no hotel, but replied he had heard that said, but had he been here a month before, I’d be going home with you today.
Dan appeared at the Franco-British trade exhibition in 1908 suitably attired in knee breeches and green jacket as ”The great Daniellensis” who had just finish a sell out season in the Abbey theatre Dublin. He also signed autographs for his fans! (The Franco-British Exhibition was a large public fair held in Shepherd's Bush, London in the early years of the 20th century. The exhibition attracted 8 million visitors and celebrated the Entente Cordiale signed in 1904 by the United Kingdom and France). The most popular attractions at the exhibition were the two so-called "colonial villages" - an "Irish village" and a "Senegalese village", which were designed to communicate the success of imperialism. The Irish village ("Ballymaclinton") was inhabited by 150 "Colleens" who demonstrated various forms of domestic industry, as well as displays of manufacturing and even an art gallery. The "Senegalese village" was a so-called "native village" displaying day-to-day life, as well as various artefacts. Press reports commented on the "surprising cleanliness" of the Irish, while readers were reminded that the Senegalese were "cleaner than they looked".
Limericks were used to advertise this event, some attributed to Dan McCrory:
In Elite Gardens
A maiden of coy disposition,
Met her fate at the Bush Exhibition,
When his great love he told her,
Placed her head on his shoulder,
And enjoyed the happier position.
In an Anglo-French section one night,
A Youth met a Maiden, gay and bright,
But her idea of pleasure,
Was of such boundless measure,
He left with heart heavy – purse light.
Dan was again called before Magistrates at Lurgan Petty Sessions in August 1912. A newspaper at the time reported:
"At Lurgan Petty Sessions yesterday, before Mr. H. D. MacGeagh, D.L., and other Magistrates, an adjourned case of drunkenness against Daniel McCrory
came up for hearing. Head Constable Deeves stated that the case was adjourned in order that the defendant might leave the town. He had since done so, but in the meantime there was another charge of drunkenness
against him. Writing to the Petty Sessions Clerk from Donaghmore, in the course of a lengthy epistle, the defendant said:
"I am sorry to say that I have not got over all my trouble that I had in Lurgan during my July holidays. I got a summons to appear tomorrow for the old fault
(drunkeness) on the 16th ult. I enclose my pledge, also my baptismal certificate. I do not want any stain or mark against my character that would deprive me of the old age pension. I am now in the sere and yellow leaf. (Sere and yellow are descriptive of an autumn leaf. Thus “in the sere and yellow” is a metaphor for being near the end of one's life.) I will have reached the allotted span - three score and ten - if spared to December. It's not too soon, nor I hope too late, for me to turn over a new leaf, to give up all folly and lead an exemplary life. I am heartily ashamed of myself. The pledge I have taken, with the assistance of God, I will keep to the letter and, sir, as one last favour, I implore you to ask the magistrates to give me this last chance. I will feel under a deep debt of gratitude to both you and them. Wishing you health, prosperity and happiness, and every other blessing that Heaven can bestow. (Laughter) Your obedient servant, Dan McCrory." The case was adjourned for a month.
So what of that rhyme we started this piece with?
“I'll tell you a story about Dan McCrory a hole in the wall and that is all.”
Apparently, there used to be a thoroughfare that led from Black's Court to the Park. The council, for reasons best known to themselves, blocked it up with a brick wall. Dan, who used this route regularly, was beside himself when coming upon the wall and took a sledge hammer to it, so he could pass. Such are Legends made.
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