Glarryford is some seven miles north of Ballymena.  It was known to me (when I was growing up, in the 1970s and early 80s) for two things – the famous Glarryford Young Farmers, and the great church parties that were held over there.  It was some 15 miles from Eden. To get there, I would drive the seven miles to  Kilrea, then out over the Bann bridge, up past McLaughlin’s Corner (close to where dad’s sister lived) and on, for another 8 miles or so.

On recently encountering an old local story in the newspapers of a bare-footed thief, from the late 1870s, I tallied it up with an upgraded old photo of Samuel Coleman’s shop at Glarryford.  The shop photo is from the early 1900s.

The story is about things going missing in the area, from the mid 1870s until late 1877.  The thief would often take things and place them somewhere else. Admittedly, he did take nearly 700 items and hide them at his own residence. He also applied his trade to most of the local churches.  I guess you could call him an ecumenical thief.   But the bit that stuck out was the sheer volume of his work, and the fact he would often leave a bare-footed print at many of the locations.

Here’s the story from the Ballymena Observer, Saturday 22 September 1877.

Singular Recovery of Stolen Goods at Glarryford

During the last three years, this neighbourhood has become remarkable for the number of burglaries and petty thefts. Nearly every week last winter, there were two or three  reported, but, although the constabulary were exerting themselves to the utmost, no discoveries were made.

Several places were broken into, in the neighbourhood of Clough, and several articles stolen therefrom.

Occasionally, the singular freak of stealing articles from one place, and bestowing them on another, was indulged in; as, for instance, a clock was stolen out of Laymore schoolhouse and left at the Craig school.

A dairy at Ballyreagh was entered, and the works of a clock left, but nothing stolen therefrom.

The Ahoghill Episcopal Church was entered, some surplices, and the cover of the communion table, with other things, were taken, and the next morning the table cover was discovered carefully arranged over a pig-house at the end of the town.

These freaks looked more like the doings of the Cookstown ghost, than a rational thief.

But this was not all. The Catholic chapel in Ballymena was broken into, and candlesticks and other things taken. The Third Presbyterian Church in Ahoghill, was ransacked, and about a fortnight ago, a blacksmith’s forge was entered, as was the Reverend Kirkpatrick’s harness-room at the Craigs, and Mr. J. Patrick’s, junior, Dunminning, about the same time.

All these occurrences put the police doubly on the alert, and on Wednesday night last, Sub-Constables McAleer and McGivney, Cloughmills, were on patrol at a place called Dougry, and about 11.30pm were lying in ambush on the road, when they saw a barefooted man just making away from near where they were. They immediately gave chase.

McAleer throwing off his tunic for greater freedom of action, and after a run of half a mile he caught his man, very much exhausted. He had on a coat, since identified as of the Reverend Rentoul, underneath was a shawl the property of, John McTier of Cloughmills, while round his waist he had fastened a boxing brace and bit, together with a small piece of iron.

He was then taken to the Cloughmills barracks and found to be a young man named Hugh Douglas, from Kildowney, where his mother holds a small farm of five acres.

Constable Corkil then went to the house with three sub-constables, whom he placed in charge, and preceded to Mr Patrick’s, at Dunminning, to get a search warrant. He returned about 630am, from which time to 11am, he gathered up one of the greatest finds it has fallen to the lot of the Royal Irish Constabulary, to lay hands on, in this part of the country.

A miscellaneous collection, comprising clergymen’s surplices, one of which was stuffed in a broken pane, candlesticks, catholic missal, bibles, catechisms, a great variety of tradesmen’s tools, school books and diagrams, driving whips, fishing rods and baskets, blacksmith’s apron, six pitchforks, four steel grapes, nine horse rugs, four handbaskets, a great number of fowls, eggs, etc.

The treasure was conveyed in two cribbed carts to Cloughmills police barracks.  The remainder of the party, consisting of the mother, Esther Douglas, daughter Esther, and two sons, George and Stewart, were placed under arrest, and conveyed to the barrack, whence they were removed to Ballymena bridewell, and after being brought in front of Mr. Montgomery, R.M., were remanded til today (Saturday).

The prisoners have all a simple, idiotic expression, and have been looked on by their neighbours as ‘odd,’ but the slightest suspicion was never attached to them.

It has been remarked that in the vicinity where the robberies were committed, the mark of a large bare foot was generally observed.


Glarryford, Coleman's Shop, now Post Office

Glarryford, early 1900s, Samuel Coleman’s shop

As well as the story making the local newspapers, at the time, it also attracted some interest in the southern media.

Special Court in Ballymena

Nine days later, on Monday 1st October 1877, a special court of Petty Sessions was held in Ballymena.  The presiding magistrate, Mr. Montgomery, R.M., oversaw proceedings.  The four prisoners, namely the Douglas family, belonging to Kildowney, were brought up on remand.

They were charged with having in their possession, at their home in Kildowney, on the night of the 19th September, 1877, some 691 miscellaneous articles, and of knowing the same to have been stolen.

The legalities having been completed, the wigged magistrate, in all his pomp, suggested that the mother, Esther Douglas, and Hugh Douglas, might be sent for trial at the forthcoming Quarter Sessions Court in Ballymena. The other family members, namely George, Stewart and Esther (junior), were free to go home.

The Kildowney Barefoot Goes Down

By the end of October 1877, Hugh Douglas, the Kildowney Barefoot, was back in court.  The young man, who was the talk of the local area, was in court in connection with a number of thefts committed in various locations during the previous two years.

Hugh pleaded guilty to several indictments charging him with having, on the 1st October 1877, stolen a coat, which was the property of Thomas Pyper, and also stealing a shawl on the 18th September 1877, belonging to James McTier.

The leader of the proceedings summed up the case, by concluding that the prisoner’s case was a very extraordinary one. The lad had pleaded guilty to two robberies. These robberies were committed over an extended period of time.   It appeared that the prisoner had not robbed for money, nor for gain, but for the simple purpose of taking other people’s property.

His crimes had to be punished of course, but in considering all the circumstances of the case, judge and jury agreed that justice would be satisfied by sentencing young Douglas to six months imprisonment. The entire circumstances were not clear.  Given the hundreds of items stolen, he seems to have got off very lighty.

The Mother – Esther Douglas

Esther Douglas, an old woman over sixty years age, and mother of the thief, was then brought forward to face the same court, and to answer four different indictments.

She was charged with stealing, and knowingly having in her possession, the following articles:

– two waterproof covers, one horse rug, two whips, and a small padlock and key, belonging to the Reverend Alexander Thomas Kirkpatrick, from the Craigs in Cullybackey;

– one missal and two charts, the property of the Reverend Father Lynch, and stolen from the parish priest in Ballymena;

– two candlesticks, one altar stone, three charts, one crucifix, and an altar cloth, the property of the Reverend Father Stewart, stolen from the parish church in Cullybackey;

– two white communion table cloths and one crimson table cloth, stolen from the church at the Craigs in Cullybackey; and

– one table cloth, one napkin, and two hymn-books, stolen from the Ahoghill Episcopal Church.

Esther pleaded not guilty, and thus a jury was to decide her fate.

Mr. McLean, S.C.S., prosecuted on behalf the Crown in this and the other criminal cases. Mr. Alexander O’Rorke represented the prisoner.

The articles mentioned in the indictment (see above) were stolen in the previous twelve months.

The jury was told that it took the local constabulary considerable time to find the person responsible for the thefts. But by the the 19th September, they had evidence, and after deploying a number of police, under the charge of Constable John Crorkin, made their way to the prisoner’s house at Kildowney.

On searching the said house, several articles mentioned in the indictment, along with a quantity of other items, were discovered. Most of the things were stored away in a loft. The prisoner and the other members of the family — all in all five people, were arrested.

The five were all duly cautioned.  The jury was told that on arrival at the barracks, Esther Douglas asked Constable John Crorkin to do all that he could for her. She went on to tell him that she had tried, without success, to prevent the stolen items from coming into her house.

The Reverend Kirkpatrick was then called to the witness stand.  He said that the waterproof covers, the whips, the horse-rugs, and the padlock and key, were taken out of his coachhouse after dark. The premises, he went on to say, were forcibly broken into.

It was established that the two white communion cloths, and the crimson cloth, were stolen from the church during the night, about twelve months previously.  It was also found that items were stolen from Cullybackey Catholic Chapel, Ballymena Chapel, and Ahoghill Episcopal Church, at the same time. The items taken were subsequently identified by the clergymen and caretakers of the various churches.

Mr. O’Rorke, in his address to the jury, felt that he was sure that, on hearing all the ‘real’ facts of the case, they would acquit Esther Douglas of all the charges.

Esther’s son, he argued, was the person who had committed all the larcenies, and had already admitted doing so.  Her son, Hugh, was somewhat “weak in his mind” and took no heed of the advice given by his mother and brothers.  Hugh would stay out at night, and would bring items home, in the early hours, concealing many of them in the loft.

The prisoner would see the articles coming in, and she spoke to her son about them, but he disregarded her. She was unaware of where they came from.  Local witnesses corroborated her statement. Subsequently, several residents in the neighbourhood gave evidence regarding the good character of Esther, and of her anxiety and efforts to bring up her family to be respectful, decenct and honest.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all the counts, and Esther was freed.

– Full story compiled from local newspapers of the time.

An Update – More Kittens

On a totally different topic.  I have added to the kitten family.  My kitten (Angel is now her name) it turns out was a mother.  I have now adopted her three daughters.  All four are a delight.  Here is a video, from this morning (Sunday), of Nya getting high. I hope the video loads ok.  Give it a little time.


Here they are, the Beatles reunited. The band is back together again.