Sad Fatality in the Griffin mine

On Saturday 17th July 1917, Ballycastle was in war time mode. The war was in its third year at this stage and a sense of apathy was setting in around the country. That July would see the return to the town of Lance Corporal Samuel Hutcheson of the 12th Irish Rifles. His father, also Samuel, would live on Station Row now where the Ballycastle Cooperative now stands and would be renowned in the town as an Orangemen and an active member of the Ballycastle UVF. Three years previous he was subject to an attack on the Chapel Brae by members of the Irish Volunteers. This would have been headline news at the time across Ulster when the province was like a tinderbox. That same month would see the son of Thomas Humphreys, John, receiving his Captain’s Certificate with the Merchant Navy. Thomas and family were living in Bayview House, looking over the Ballycastle sea front.

It wasn’t however all good news across the shoreline that July. In the Ballyvoy Coalfield, a sad accident would occur on the 14th of the month. A Carey mill man, known as Alexander Stewart, then 55 years old would die in a mine collapse. Alex was working on a drain in the Griffin mine, when a seam of fireclay that was above a coal seam collapsed with the other miners estimating anywhere between two to three tons. Alexander was in a stooping position under the collapsed seam working at the time. Immediately the miners working adjacent to Alexander would come to his aid, but it was too late. Daniel Boylan, the local JP would come to the scene saying that Alexander’s death would have been instantaneous.

Alexander was reported as a hardworking industrious man and was a father of six at the time of his death. He was buried in St Patricks, Culfeightrin.

Shortly after the collapse, an inquest would be held in Carey Mill. The family were represented by the renowned Ballycastle solicitor Louis J Walsh. Louis would be well thought of with by Ballycastle people. He was a staunch Republican and that same year would be a founding member of Sinn Fein and interned in the 1920’s in Ballykinlar internment camp. He would later become the first free state judge in the south of Ireland.

I have been told that Louis J Walsh’s practice was on the corner opposite where Home Made Beautiful now stands and he lived across the road.

The local constabulary was represented by Sergeant Brannigan. Patrick Brannigan was a Tyrone man; he would spend three years of his career in Cushendall between 1905 and 1908 and one of his children, Vincent Alphonse was born in the village. It would be 1912 before he would come to be stationed in Ballycastle and was in response to the promotion of Hugh Loughran. Brannigan would have four further children in Ballycastle. Laurann Bridget in 1913, Nial in 1914 then Mary and finally Imelda in 1918. One year later he would be made Head Constable before being transferred to Co Monaghan. Ballycastle businessman and ex RIC man W.H Belford would present him with a cheque for a substantial amount at the Dalriada Hall. He reported that Patrick was never known to shrink “going into a row.”

The coroner of the time was Dr J.C Martin, the coroner for North Antrim.

At the inquest, Alexander’s brother was the first witness to speak. Daniel Stewart of Armoy said that he hadn’t seen his brother in three months but said that he was fifty-five years old and was married, he worked in the Coalmines and lived at Carey Mill. The second man to take the stand was Dr Daniel Boylan. Dr Boylan would be another well-known character in the Ballycastle area. Dr Daniel Boylan was born in Garvagh, Co Derry in 1884. He was to receive his early education in St Columba’s, Derry before qualifying in medicine in Dublin. He established a practice in Ballycastle in 1910 and retired in 1950. Dr Boylan’s house/surgery was at the foot of Rathlin Road, across from Thyme and Co restaurant.

Daniel’s son Paul was to take over his practice but he died of a brain tumour not long after he began working with his father. His daughter Jane also joined him in the practice and I believe she took over when he retired. But some people didn’t like the idea of a “lady doctor” and they signed up with Charlie Stewart when he set up practice on Quay Road. When Paul Boylan died, Jane went to America.

Dr Boylan played a large part in the history of this area, politically and socially. He was to pass away in 1957. He was also associated with the AOH and a medical officer with Oglaigh Nah Eireann in the 1920’s.

Dr Daniel Boylan receiving an ambulance from Mrs King of Silverspring House. Circa 1936

In 1917, Dr Boylan was the medical officer for the Ballycastle dispensary district, and in his deposition he reported that he had received a message at 3pm on the Saturday that Alexander Stewart had been killed in the coal mines in the townland of Ballyvoy. He said that he knew Alexander and that when arrived at the mine, the man was deceased. There was blood coming from his eyes and ears, two or three depressed wounds on his skull, four of his ribs on either side were broken, some of these penetrating the lungs. His right arm was wounded. Dr Boylan’s opinion was that he died immediately from shock.

Alexander Stewart’s funeral would later take place in Culfeightrin Burial ground and the funeral would be attended by a very large crowd.

I think this piece of green plot was where Alexander Stewart lies. The grave is marked on the graveyard map with the name stewart. But no headstone exists.

A year after the tragedy at the Belfast Assizes an action would be brought by Mrs Elizabeth Stewart of Carey Mill against Messrs’ Heckie, Aiton and Kerr Ltd of Broughanlea on behalf of herself and her six children. The case was handled once again by Louis J Walsh and the family would be awarded £400, £100 for the mother and £50 for each of the children.

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