More 1916 Gazing Into Eternity.

MunitionsFermanagh Herald January 1st 1916. The wages earned on munitions by many women and girls without any previous knowledge or experience are surprisingly large, says the Daily News.  It would be very interesting to know what is the biggest average weekly earnings of a female “hand” who can be legitimately classed as an amateur.  The managing director of a munitions factory told the writer recently that he had several girls who, without any training before they came to him, were each receiving nearly £4 a week after a month at his works.  “They beat heaps of men hollow,” he added “naturally there are men who don’t like it.  But that’s their lookout.  The labourer is worthy of his or her higher in war time or in peace.”

January 6th 1916.  HOW OUR MEN SAVED THE DAY.  THE RETREAT FROM SERBIA.  THE ROYAL INNISKILLINGS.  In a vivid and thrilling story of the heroism of the Irish troops in the retreat from Serbia, ‘F’ in the Weekly dispatch says:-  Nothing finer can be imagined than the heroic stand of the depleted 10th division who rallied under the attacks of overwhelming forces to the cry of – ‘Stick it, jolly boys; give ‘em hell, Connaughts.’  A few thousand Irishman and a few hundred Englishmen turned what might have been a disaster into a successful retreat just as surely as the artillery of the Second Corps at daybreak on August 26, 1914, ‘the most critical date of all,’ turned what might have been an annihilating attack into a successful retirement.  In the first trenches were the Connaughts, the Munsters, the Dublin Fusiliers, the Hampshires and the Inniskillings, the latter – to a large extent Ulsterman – holding the extreme right wing.  Dawn had scarcely broken when the enemy made his expected attack.  The conditions wholly favoured him for a fairly dense fog prevailed and under its cover the Bulgars were able to get within 300 yards of parts of our line without being observed. I.R.

The Inniskillings were the first to be attacked; about 5.00 a.m. their outposts were driven in, and then a great mass of the enemy swooped down on the trenches, but were driven back by the fire of our Maxim guns and by the steady magazine fire which came from the trenches.  Scarcely had the attack on the extreme right of the line had time to develop the main body of Bulgarians were seen running down a defile leading to the centre of our front.  As they reached the end of the defile and the spread out as from a bottleneck and with wild cheers flung themselves on our line.  But before they had got so far our guns smashed and battered the procession of men leaping out of the narrow gorge.  It was impossible to miss them.  British artillery have never had such a target since the first battle of Ypres, when the guns literally mowed down the half trained German soldiers who attacked on the Yser.

The brave Irish regiments were pouring led into them as fast as they could load their rifles.  The poured into the oncoming masses as much as 175 rounds at point blank range.  This will give an idea of the slaughter that went on this December morning as the dawn slowly beat the mist away.  Mingling with the roar of the artillery and the clatter-clatter of the machine guns and the sharp snap of the rifles were the hoarse cries of the half-maddened volunteers whose officers ever drove them on to the death that came quick and hot from the British trenches.  Men of splendid physique they were who faced the hail of lead, cheering in a sort of wild enthusiasm of battle with bugles and trumpets blowing defiant challenges, as in their knightly days of the tourney.  They did not know many of them whether they were attacking French, British or Turks, but unquestioning, unthinking he came on with the fearlessness of life deserving of a better cause, leaping into a trenches and falling dead with a bullet in their throat of bayonet wound in their breast, or with head blown off by one of our shells.

But it was, for all our grim resistance, a hopeless kind of struggle.  Sooner or later that unceasing stream of men issuing out of the narrow defile must sweep us back.  Always the enemy returned to the charge, undeterred by heavy losses, undismayed by our deadly gun and magazine fire.  The line held and to their cheers we gave back answer and to their cries we gave answer with our own cries and if sometimes the line faltered the shouts of officers and men: “Stick it, jolly boys, give them hell, Connaughts brought new life and new strength.  They outnumbered the 10th division in the proportion of at least 8 to 1 and they were obstinately bent on its destruction at whatever cost to themselves.  Their artillery far exceeded ours in weight of metal but in effectiveness there was not a comparison.  Almost all of our shells told when many of theirs did no more than splinter rocks yards away.  The division never lost its cohesion and it gave ground only at the rate of 2 miles a day, which is a proof, if any were needed, of the splendid rearguard action that this so much outnumbered force fought.

In the two days battle the 10th Division inflicted on the enemy at least four times their own number of casualties and what is possibly equally important they taught him the temper and moral of British infantry.  The 10th division saved the situation by a display of courage and dogged heroism that cannot be too highly praised. It is hard to explain how the 10th division encompassed as it was, won through, and perhaps the most satisfactory thing to do is to fall back on the explanation of the Connaught Ranger whose only grumble is that he was kept 12 hours fighting without food; “They beat us with numbers.  We couldn’t hope to hold up against the crowd they sent against us, a daft, clumsy gang of men.  We gave them hell but their numbers beat us.”

January 6th 1916.  THE DARDANELLES.  THE WITHDRAWAL.  THE TURKS OUTWITTED IN A BRILLIANT OPERATION.  The withdrawal in the Dardanelles was the most difficult and dangerous work that has yet been undertaken in this campaign.  It was completed in the small hours of the 28th Inst…  The entire reserve of ammunition and nearly all the stores were removed from the beaches under the eyes and guns of a powerful Turkish army which had never realized that the operation had begun until some hours after the last officers of the naval beach parties had shipped us to their packet boats and steamed away.  Lord Kitchener in November brought the fact home to most of us that the whole position here was under review by the highest authorities.  That the withdrawal could be done without a loss at all entered into no one’s calculation.

The problem was to withdraw divisions and  their gear occupying a front of roughly 20,000 yards in length, which was hardly anywhere more than 500 yards, and at some places not more than 50 yards from the enemies trenches, and embark them from beaches which were nowhere beyond field gun range of the enemy positions, and in places actually not more than 50 yards from the enemies trenches and embark them from beaches which were nowhere beyond field gun range of the enemy positions and in places actually within rifle range of them..  The Turks occupied higher ground and nearly all of the Suvla Bay area was visible to them.  The suffering of the men from cold, wet and exposure had been so severe that thousands had to be sent away to recover and frostbite became for a while as bad as it had been last year in Flanders.  The sufferings of the Turks were at least as bad. I.R.

Fermanagh Herald January 15th 1916.  THE TURKISH VERSION.  A Constantinople telegram of today states that during the night, as the result of a violent battle the British completely evacuated Sedd-El-Bahr, with great losses.  Not a single soldier remained behind.  The Gallipoli Peninsula is now clear of the enemy.  All Constantinople is bedecked with flags to celebrate this victory.  Everywhere demonstrations of joy are evident.  In the mosques and churches thanksgiving services are being held.  During the evening the city was illuminated.

Fermanagh Herald January 15th 1916.  THE OPERATIONS.  The Dardanelles operations began on February 19, 1915 when a general attack by the Allied squadrons was delivered.  The combined land and sea operation as did not begin until April, 25th, following the failure of the naval operations to force their Dardanelles.  The memorable landing of troops took place in the early morning when the Irish regiments suffered such terrible losses on what was known as “V” beach.

January 20th 1916.  ON A DEAD MAN’S LAP. AIRMAN’S EXPLOIT AT A HEIGHT OF 10,000 FEET.  This story is related in the Daily News in a letter just received from a young officer attached to the Royal Flying Corps now a prisoner in Germany.  Poor B! I was so sorry he was killed, he writes.  He was such a nice boy and only 19.  I had a fight with two German aeroplanes and then a shell burst very close to us and I heard a large piece whizzing past my head.  Then the aeroplane started to come down headfirst spinning all the time.  We must have dropped to about 5,000 feet in about 20 seconds.  I looked around at once and saw  poor B with a terrible wound in his head quite dead.  I then realized that the only chance of saving my life was to step over into his seat and sit on his lap where I could reach the controls.  I managed to get the machine out of that terrible death plunge, switched off the engine and made a good landing on terra firma.  We were 10,000 feet up when B was killed and luckily it was this tremendous height that gave me time to think and act.  I met one of the pilots of the German machines which attacked me.  He could speak English quite well and we shook hands after a most thrilling fight.  I brought down his aeroplane with my machine gun and he had to land close to where I landed.  There was a bullet through his radiator and petrol tank but neither he nor his observer was touched. Fermanagh Times.

January 27th 1916.  INNISKILLING PRISONERS INTERNED IN GERMANY RENDER THANKS FOR THE GIFTS.  Our donations towards the prisoners of war have been greatly increased by the generous donations of Irvinestown per Mrs. D’Arcy Irvine of Castle Irvine and we are sending it out to those for whom it is intended.  It is 48 lbs of sugar, 10 lbs of tea, 10 tins of Oxo, 12 packets of cocoa, 2 lbs of candles and 16 tins of sardines.  I understand that some tins of condensed milk are on their way also, for all of which we are deeply indebted to our loyal friends in Irvinestown. Impartial Reporter.

January 27th 1916.   OUTLOOK FOR FARMERS – ARE THEY MAKING BIG PROFITS?  Never since the war began has the industrial community in Ireland reached a graver crisis.  Foodstuffs are rising rapidly, Meal is almost at a prohibitive price, and unless the farmers bestir themselves ruin may affect many of them before the war be out.  We do not wish to be alarmist, but facts must be faced as they are found.  About last October the present crisis really began.  There was a serious shortage of shipping to Ireland, and the consequence was that freight rose, with the result that the condition of affairs has steadily being getting worse, and if it continue much longer business will be paralysed and the price of all articles of food be at famine rates.

Farmers, no doubt, have made large sums of money through the war.  Cattle have been sold at enhanced prices; milk and butter produced at almost the same cost as before the war, have maintained a steady advance of about 50 per cent; and pork reached the record figure of 82s per cwt in Enniskillen market on Tuesday and on yesterday at Irvinestown 83s per cwt.  Against all this, feeding stuffs, through the present shortage of shipping and not through traders inflated profits, as some allege have advanced enormously.  Meal, the staple fattening food for pigs and fowl, which a short time ago could have been purchased for 13s a cwt, is now at 28s.  This price has frightened small farmers, and many have disposed of their pigs and ceased keeping them as they feared a loss.  Prices are alarming, but more a

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BATTLE OF CAMBRAI 1917.

November 29th 1917.  BATTLE OF CAMBRAI. A GREAT VICTORY.  THE ATTACK LED BY TANKS BREAK THE HINDENBURG LINE AND ADVANCE FIVE MILES.  On the morning of the 20th last the Third Army under the command of General the Hon. Sir Julian Byng delivered a number of attacks which were carried out without previous military artillery preparation and in each case the enemy was completely surprised.  Our troops are now close to Cambrai.  It looked as though the enemy suspected something a night or two ago when they raided our trenches and captured two or three prisoners.  Had those men told anything?  All was on the hazard of that.  Most of the prisoners say that the first thing they knew of the attack was when out of the mist they saw the tanks advancing, smashing down wire, crawling over trenches and nosing forward with gunfire and machine gun fire slashing from their sides.  The Germans were aghast and dazed.  Many hid in their dugouts and tunnels and then surrendered.  Only the bravest of them rushed to their machine guns and got them into action.  Behind the tanks coming forward in platoons, the infantry swarmed cheering and shouting, trudging through the thistles while the tanks made a scythe of machine gun fire in front of them and thousands of shells screamed over the Hindenburg line.

The battle picture was the most wonderful thing I have seen in this war.  A number of tanks were on the battlefield resting awhile for another advance barely visible at any distance.  I spoke to one of the pilots.  ‘How are you doing?  ‘We’re giving them merry hell, he said, ‘it is our day out.  On one part of the battlefield I saw not one British dead.  Credit for that is due to the tanks.  The distance covered by some of our troops on the first day was extraordinary, the men of one division going not less than 7000 yards.

The advance of the great army of Tanks to the attack on the 23rd Inst. was made specially dramatic by the General in command of the Tank Corps who went into battle himself in a Tank sailing some two or 300 yards ahead of the rest of the fleet.  He flew a huge flag on the masthead and reports say he sent a truly Nelsonian message to his commanders before going into action – namely, ‘England expects that every Tank today will do its damnedest.’

 

After the infantry came the cavalry.  Everyone except the Germans will be glad the cavalry have had something like a real chance at last.  Already they have distinguished themselves brilliantly pushing through the gaps made by the tanks and infantry and the capture of some most important positions has been their work.  In the folds of the land towards the German Lines there were thousands of cavalry horses massed in parks with the horse artillery limbered up and ready for their ride.  All through the morning infantry officers and men taking part in advance ask the question: ‘when at the cavalry going through?’

In a steady rain and wet mist I saw squadrons of them going into action and it was the most thrilling thing I have seen for many a long day in this war and one which I sometimes thought I should never live to see.  They streamed by at a quick trot and the noise of all the horses hooves was a strange rushing sound.  The rain slashed down upon their steel hats and all their capes were glistening and the mud was flung up to the horse’s flanks as in long columns they wound up and down the rolling country and cantered up a steep track – it was a wonderful picture – a scene to remember.

Oscar Wilde’s Portora School.

 

The diary of Mr. Parker Dunscombe published in 1914 in the Impartial Reporter gives a glimpse of school life about twenty years before Oscar Wilde’s arrival. Dunscombe arrived at the school by the “Shareholder” Stagecoach from Dublin which had picked up boys along the way in places like Cavan and Belturbet. The coach stopped at the White Hart Inn on Townhall Street and his trunk was left there to be collected while he and an older boy walked to the school. He first came to the school in February and walked into the middle of a furious snowball fight between the Boarders and the Enniskillen Day Boys. His companion told him he would be an immediate hit with his new boarder companions if he snowballed the old grey caretaker they met on the avenue. Anxious to impress he did as requested and ran on towards the school. He was welcomed by, Miss Greham, the sister of the Headmaster, who provided them with tea. Only when the “old grey caretaker” walked in and turned out to be Dr. Greham did he realise that he had been duped by his companion, but fortunately he had not been recognised.

Portora.

His account of school life in the next four and a half years includes fistfights over use of the fives ball courts and of one of the Masters organising and refereeing the subsequent fight between himself and another boy in the courtyard of Portora Castle. The Master’s theory was that if the boys gave each other a good hiding they would become friends afterwards – a fairly debatable social theory.

This diary opens up a new angle of looking at Portora by describing the Headmaster’s extensive piggery and his herd of milk cows which supplied the school. On one occasion two boys managed to get out of the school and were returning drunk along the piggery wall. One fell off into the piggery and knocked him out and had to be rescued by the Headmaster. He was therefore literally as well as figuratively – in the sh**. On another occasion all Dr. Greham’s cattle disappeared off the 50-acre farm surrounding the school and were later found on the other side of the river. One particular boy from Tipperary was under suspicion of driving the cattle into the river so that they swam across. While the boy remained in the school he was frequently accused by the Headmaster of “driving his eighteen cattle across the river.”No Sir, he would truthfully reply, you never had more than fifteen.”

The boys dined on milk and dry bread at breakfast and supper and had a substantial meal in the middle of the day, generally mutton with no desert. The Masters dined with the boys, with the senior students at Dr. Greham’s table which almost ran the length of the dining room. Here boys learned from the wisdom and knowledge of the teachers, of what was happening in the town, in the country or the world in general. This would be especially so at the senior table. Discipline was not harsh according to Dunscombe but canings were common and floggings delivered in exceptional cases. On one occasion the boy being flogged rebelled and wresting the cane from the teacher administered his own flogging in turn to the Master.

On another occasion the boy being punished fled the room pursued by the teacher who vainly chased him around the lawn. Eventually the teacher had to give up and returned to slump on his chair exhausted. At Easter the boys were allowed to have a little party to themselves and club together to buy the necessary ingredients for a jolly good feed, I presume, something on the lines of what one can read in the Billy Bunter stories. The Masters supervised these feasts and on one occasion when excessive jollification was found to be coming from one table it was found that, instead of tea, the teapot on the table contained port wine. Oscar and his brother had hampers sent to them at the school by their doting mother and Oscar mentions the envy of “the hamperless boy” in a letter to his mother.

Going out of the school bounds was a serious offence as in the case of the boys who went out and got drunk. Boys were allowed out to visit the town on special occasions such as the Enniskillen Fair Day. In those days most Irish schools took off the fair day and even if the school did not do this officially most of the children went anyway. Boys accompanied their fathers driving cattle to and from the fair and girls accompanied their mothers to do the shopping and pay family bills with the money from the sale of their livestock, butter, eggs, etc. Enniskillen had a butter market, a flax market, a pig market, a potato market, a shambles where meat was sold, all in addition to the Fair Green which at that time was at Windmill Hill on the Sligo Road. The most serious out of bounds was the river and Lough Erne itself which bounded the school grounds. Incidents of people drowning, both accidental and wilful, were extremely common. Only senior boys were allowed on the river, but with boats freely available, it was a temptation hard to resist. Dunscombe himself and another boy successfully reached Devenish Island and got back again unnoticed but the danger of the lake was dreadfully demonstrated in Oscar Wilde’s second year at the school when the son of the Headmaster, Frederick Steele drowned.

Portora was a Royal school set up under legislation by James 1 as part of the arrangements for the Plantation of Ulster. It was supported by a large estate. In 1855, before the Commissioners of Enquiry into the state of the Endowed Schools on the 15th of October, the Headmaster, Dr. Greham gave evidence. The school estate consisted of 41 townlands in Fermanagh, from 4 to 9 miles from Enniskillen on the Swanlinbar road plus Portora farm surrounding the school and a tenement in Enniskillen. The total acreage excluding Portora was about 5,500 acres. It was the most richly endowed of all the royal schools with a gross income of £2,142-12-11. The Headmaster had possession of Portora farm’s 53 acres free of rent. At that time there were 94 on roll – 39 boarders, 55 day pupils and of these 19 were free. The full designation of the school was the Enniskillen Royal Free School and was intended to be free to the people of Fermanagh as other Free Schools had also been established in Donegal, Cavan etc. at the time of the Ulster Plantation in the early 17th century. The Rev. Mr. Steele was now the Headmaster of Portora and had pushed the school to new heights of excellence. Prizes and scholarships came thick and fast and were invariably trumpeted in the Impartial Reporter. However, this did not stop the paper complaining about the narrowness of the Classical curriculum and its lack of suitability to the local needs of Enniskillen and Fermanagh. The Headmaster had a major row on his hands when he expelled a boy from the school for smoking some years before Oscar arrived.

The boys in school and the masters with which they conversed had their minds influenced by what they read in the local paper. Local news was important but so too was national and international news since this was the world that they were, in general, being educated to join. Portora supplied a rich vein of military officers, clergy, judges and colonial administrators to the society of the period. The pages of the local paper was the source of much of this information.. The following eight years chronicle the news background against which Oscar Wilde grew up.

 

Oscar Wilde’sEnniskillen.

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The second Oscar Wild Festival in the current season will be held in Enniskillen this year following a successful debut last year.

Oscar’s Wilde’s Enniskillen. Fermanagh in mid Victorian Times 1864-71 is a book published in 2002 as part of a former Wilde Festival in Enniskillen held in that year is intended to convey some idea of what Enniskillen was like in mid-Victorian times – the county town of Fermanagh that Oscar Wilde would have walked through.  Perhaps on his way to and from the railway station while boarding at the prestigious, Enniskillen Royal Free School; locally known as Portora, or on excursions from the school to Sunday Church or to Enniskillen Fair Days. It intends to evoke the sights, smells, sounds of a small Irish Victorian town in the middle of Queen Victoria’s long reign. This town and county and its people provided the backdrop to Oscar Wilde’s growing up. John B. Cunningham Esq.

One of the most important voices in Oscar Wilde’s Fermanagh, at this time, was William Trimble editor of the Impartial Reporter newspaper. The paper had been first printed in 1825, and the paper is still published in the 21st century making it the third-oldest newspaper in Ireland after two other Ulster publications, the Belfast News Letter (which is the oldest daily newspaper in the world) and the Derry Journal. This book was researched from the issues of the Impartial Reporter 1864-1871. It originally began life written in the modern idiom with relatively few quotations from the pen of William Copeland Trimble but through time his voice took over. Oscar Wilde grew up reading and listening to the cadences of writers and speakers of the time. Victorian thoughts and descriptions seemed eventually to be better expressed in the words of the time and William Trimble was the master voice of Enniskillen and County Fermanagh and all matters pertaining in Oscar’s formative years. The words are largely those of William Trimble; the choice is mine.

Oscar Wilde attended Enniskillen Royal School from 1864 to 1871. This was a prestigious educational institution to which boys came from all over Ireland, the sons of gentry, military, religious and judicial figures. These boys were destined to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Because of the distance from their homes the boys resided in the school as boarders. Local boys, chiefly from Enniskillen, made up the rest of the school. In all there were 175 boys in the school when Oscar Wilde attended there. With the arrival of the railway to Enniskillen in 1859 local boys could come from a wider area of Fermanagh. They came and went by train in the morning and afternoon. These were chiefly the sons of the merchant class of local shopkeepers, doctors, officers of the local military garrison etc. and they came and went each day. Some of them, like the boarders paid for their education but a certain number were educated free. There was certainly an amount of class distinction between the locals and the boarders and between those who paid and those who did not. Sometimes this manifested itself in fights between individual boys or in mass snowballing contests as one old boy describes in his memoirs. Oscar and his brother came to this educational establishment at the beginning of the school year of 1864/5, sons of the famous Sir William Wilde. They were Dublin boys, rusticated to a country school – boys used to the big city, now meeting a school full of strangers in a small Irish town.

What Enniskillen made of these city boys with a famous father we do not know but Oscar claims that he did not like his time there very much. However, whether or not he did, everyone’s schooldays have an influence on their later life, for good or ill, for better or for worse. We are influenced by our teachers, the ambience and ethos of the school, the happenings of the world around us as we grow up and the conversations and opinions of the boys and girls of our own age. Like successive layers of varnish, later memories become overlaid with subsequent events, but never entirely obliterate those underneath. We remember some teachers with affection and others with loathing and similarly our classmates. We remember the school bullies, the boyfriends and girlfriends of our teenage years, the escapades we got away with and the disasters when our wrong doings were discovered and the punishments which followed.

In compiling the Enniskillen of Oscar Wilde’s time the local newspaper the Impartial Reporter has been an invaluable source of reference which chronicled the events of the time in Enniskillen and County Fermanagh but also news from all around the world, the royal courts of Europe, happenings in Africa and America etc. The local newspaper, as we know it today, is a very insular, inward looking newspaper compared to those of the past. Television, radio and the national papers have taken over the task of telling us of the doings of the wider world but local, national and international items jostled together on the pages of the Impartial with local news often coming out worst in the struggle for space. Regular local items included in the paper were the meetings of Enniskillen Town Commissioners, the Poor Law Guardians of Enniskillen Workhouse, the Enniskillen Petty Sessions Courts, and the Fermanagh Quarter Sessions Courts. The weather, the fairs of Enniskillen and the coming and going of the local gentry also feature prominently. Schools and Church news were also covered but overall local items, other than advertisements, seldom represented more than ten to twenty per cent of the total amount in the paper. Items copied from the columns of other Irish papers were frequently covered, with acknowledgement, especially if it were sensational material such as a murder, discovery of weapons, descriptions of hangings or sensational trials involving people in high places.

So would boys at school in Portora read the local newspaper? Perhaps yes, and perhaps no, but regardless of individual boys reading the paper themselves, the conversation of the masters and the gossip and talk of the other boys would have supplied the deficiency. Boys were present from all over Ireland and indeed further afield, and interested in stories from their own area. These boys, especially the boarders, were being educated for places in the military, judicial and religious establishment, not alone in Ireland but throughout the British Empire and all knowledge of the society in which they were destined to make a living was almost as equally important as what they were imbibing from their masters at Portora.

The period represented by Oscar Wilde’s attendance at Portora lies about halfway through the long reign of Queen Victoria. What would Oscar Wilde and his brother have seen, smelt, heard, and experienced as they walked through its streets on their way from the railway station on the east end of the town to their school on the west end of Enniskillen – on the days they walked to church – on the days they were let out to experience the fair of Enniskillen? Did any of this influence his life or works? It is hard to answer that but “perhaps” is probably the best we can get. Boys arriving by train from Dublin or other parts of Ireland invariably had large trunks of clothing etc. and these were left at the station to be collected later by someone from the school and the boys then walked to the school. New boys were invariably accompanied by someone older who was already attending the school. Belmore Street and the eastern approach to Enniskillen from the railway station was not the town’s most inviting aspect. The street was smelly, unpaved and dirty. Until the level of the street was raised it was a swampy area which frequently flooded. Old people recalled catching fish where Dunne’s Stores and the Railway Hotel are currently situated. There was no pavement and horse and cow dung lay where it fell until one of the town scavengers swept it up. These scavengers, (their official title) were employed at an annual fee to keep the streets tidy but rubbish etc often piled up when they took a few days off on hire to a local merchant to move goods or furniture with their horse and cart. Many in town kept a few cows to provide milk for their family and work people. In the warmer weather they were driven too and fro morning and evening to be milked, and to grazing off the island of Enniskillen. They deposited their manure on the streets adding to that of the numerous horses and donkeys. In busy cities, street sweepers would sweep a path across the street for gentlemen and their ladies; in return for a fee of course. In dry weather this was tolerable to a degree but in wet weather the mud and manure could be many inches deep. Broken and unmade sewers produced a heavy stench especially in warm weather and the tannery in Belmore Street with its supply of high smelling animal hides added to the miasma. Fermanagh County Jail was one of the first grim sights of Enniskillen as one came from the train. The gallows over the main door was a grim reminder in an age when hundreds were hung each year in the British Isles. The tumult of a fair day can only be imagined today. Street singers, impromptu auctions, lowing cattle, bleating sheep and squealing pigs, horse and donkey carts trundling along interspersed with the carriages of the better off all added to the exciting, noisy atmosphere. Most houses were thatched, other than the houses of the wealthy, and the merchant’s premises and turf smoke filled the air. Boat loads of turf constantly arrived at Enniskillen as this was the principal fuel of the time.

Crossing the East Bridge where the bulk of the flow of the River Erne was then directed, provided views of boats going to and fro and bulky Erne cots (large flat bottomed boats) unloaded their cargoes of sand, turf, brick, timber etc at various quays and small beaches around the island. Sewage discharged directly into the river, and dead animals, and unused animal parts from the butchers all ended in the Erne. So too, unfortunately did the corpses of numerous unwanted little children. These sad little deaths were so commonplace as to be little noticed and an aspect of mid Victorian society seldom mentioned. Enniskillen had been a garrison town for centuries with around 50 resident prostitutes practicing what is reputedly the World’s oldest profession. Someone once added that lawyers were the second oldest profession but not nearly as honourable as the first.

At the Diamond in Enniskillen, and indeed at other places, street sellers called out their wares, such as apples and sweets, and auctions frequently gathered a crowd. Off duty soldiers and their lady friends thronged the streets especially towards the West end of the town and quarrels and drunken rows were extremely common. The Wilde boys would have passed Cassidy’s Tobacco factory along Church Street and the town brewery as they crossed the West Bridge. By now they could see Portora on the hill and depending on the time of day a stream of local Enniskillen boys on their way to or from the school many of them furthest away on ponies. Looking over the bridge boys would see boats and cots from Lower Lough Erne and sometimes the steamer “Devenish” on her way to or from a pleasant trip to Belleek or Castle Caldwell, a round trip of about 50 miles.