Allams, Colgans and Robsons revisited

RIGHT: John Colgan on the rostrum.

By Kenneth Clarke,

Magheragall, Lisburn

DURING the postwar years Belfast livestock marts were subject to the downsizing of the rail network and the closure of UTA, which was operational from 1948-1965 as the official livestock carrier.

Farmers relied on private hauliers who became established, such as Walter Collins and George Higginson, Ballinderry; Carl Sloan, Dromara; Richard Cummins and Dick McCluskey, Lisburn; Tom Waite, Moira; Archie Knox, Rathfriland; and Billy Wilkinson, Glenavy.

Some time ago I was in conversation with a local dealer farmer and he was downbeat about the cattle trade. I said cattle keep a few pounds together and his reply – “So does an elastic band!” In sympathy I replied everyone needs a turn now and again – his answer, “I would rather have a turn now than again!”

Many years ago we were loading cattle at Saintfield Mart and the drover, who was over six foot tall, said to my father, who was over five foot… “Norman, there aren’t many big men in the cattle business!” At the same venue we were off-loading cattle from a Hillsborough farm which had been professionally dehorned by a vet a few days earlier. With the rubbing of the animals they could have sold as roan shorthorns rather than red and white Simmentals. However, the Ministry officials deemed the prime bullocks fit to sell and they sold well.

One Saturday at Crumlin market the Animal Welfare Officer was giving lorrymen a hard time. Upon inspecting my father’s load he said the cattle were too tight. One haulier said they must have put on weight on the journey and another said there was enough room to winter the cattle on the vehicle. The issue was dropped.

Rules are designed to protect animals and owners, provided they are good and sensible rules.

More recent hauliers at Oxford Markets included Seamus Black and Lavertys of Ballycastle; Arnold Reid, Aghalee; Sam Coleman; Coulter and D Porter, Antrim; Aodh Cormican, Ballinderry; David Beattie, Ballyclare; Ben O’Hare, Belfast; Jim Douglas and John Harvey, Carryduff; Sammy Muckle, Carrowdore; David Rutherford, Comber; Linsay Graham and William Patterson, Dundrod; Alan Parks, Donaghmore; Tom Lyttle and Walter Donaldson, Dromore; Alex Braton, Fivemiletown; Michael McAllister, Glenavy, Angus Bros, Greyabbey; Hugh McCartan and Jim McKibben, Hillsborough; Norman Clarke, Joe Price and Joe Watt, Lisburn; W T Waite and Sons, Moira; Donal Trainor, Newry; Brian Milliken, Newtownards, Matchetts of Portadown; Duffins of Randalstown, Sam Knox and Sam Pentland, Saintfield; Bill Carr, Tyrella; and William Thompson, Waringstown.

Sammy Coleman’s ERF, upon retirement, had covered one million miles (for miles she smiled).

A good driver needed a replacement mirror in his career while lesser drivers needed mirrors, indicators, mudguards, bumpers, a clutch, a gearbox and an engine!

With the advent of cross channel livestock shipping, W T Waite and Sons, Seamus Black and Lavertys were amongst the first hauliers to provide this service.

My father used to relate one autumn bringing a load of cattle up Maghaberry Hill before road realignment.

With the TK Bedford in first gear and on her knees, the helper was told to sit his ground but bailed out. However my father reversed his trusty steed down the hill without the benefit of hazard lights!

On another occasion, the day of internment in 1972, saw widespread hijacking in Belfast. Wee Norman (my father) was leaving Colin Glen at Suffolk when an assailant jumped onto the footstep, holding onto the mirror, hammer in hand. As father approached a bend he flung open the driver’s door, dislodging his passenger and watched him tumble down the road. In Norman’s mind it was a question of economics, having purchased the lorry new in 1970 from Sydney Pentland for £1,800. No owner driver likes to give up their vehicle.

Many lorrymen were dealers, farmers and hauliers combined, with Kenny Bacon, Haddock Bros, Hyde Farms, H and J Jordan, Bobby Taylor and William Tuft and Son keeping lorries for their own use, to name a few.

As a boy in the Seventies I would have helped my father or part-time driver Joe Thompson on the lorry.

One Wednesday on the weekly

pig run to Colin Glen (of George Best fame) Joe and I were collecting pigs at a progressive farm. We had the luxury of a loading ramp but on this occasion for no reason the pigs surged between the two walls causing the nine foot wall, which I was behind, to collapse in one piece from the foundation. The farmer told me to run to him, which I did, otherwise I would have been a casualty – Eternity Where?

Joe was a gentleman in every respect and had animal welfare as a priority. Pigs transported in summer were often subject to warm weather with the solution not to overload. Nowadays pigs are often transported in vehicles fitted with fans generating cool air.

On a lighter note, Joe and I were collecting pigs for Denny, Portadown, from an eligible spinster who insisted in bring the pigs from the pens. On this occasion an opportunist pig shot between her legs carrying her around the pen. They say it’s a good day when you are on the pigs back! Suffice to say the lady subsequently married.

My father had a lifelong friendship with Paddy Hughes (Falls Road) and Walter Dunne (Drumbo) whom he met at the markets on a weekly basis. When arranging to collect cattle for market my mother left a message in the Rock Bar where Paddy was a patron as Paddy had no phone. The two men jointly made hay on the spare ground at Milltown Cemetery, even during the Troubles, with father’s Lely Gemini tedder and Paddy’s DB25D tractor (a forerunner to the Good Friday Agreement?).

A neighbour and balerman agreed to bale the hay with his John Deere outfit and the craic was that the livery of JD, Green White and Gold, was well received in Upper Falls! In winter, when feeding hay to the sheep, particles of wreaths reminded me that time is short!

In 1974, when farm incomes collapsed, like many Paddy was in default of ground rental to the RC church. When meeting a priest in charge of Parish funds, Paddy was reminded that grass payment was due every year not every 20 years!

Meanwhileat Colgans, John Colgan and a Stoneyford farmer sourced goats as a cure for Red Water (The Murl) in cattle, to graze alongside the animals at the commissioner’s land. They stayed in the saleyard overnight and next morning the staff found goats everywhere, including the sales rostrum.

When at Stoneyford the goats wouldn’t eat the grass, only the hedges! For the sake of the goats it is as well John Colgan was not a drumming man!

left: Selling a group of polled bullocks in the Oxford Street mart.

n In week three we consider the buyers and dealers.


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