His lordship was buried at sea – which was fine until the coffin resurfaced

Family Fortunes: At a later auction, my father’s family bought a cart, which happened to be the one used at his lordship’s funeral

‘His lordship’s coffin was duly loaded onto a horse-drawn cart, and the remains committed to the deep’

‘His lordship’s coffin was duly loaded onto a horse-drawn cart, and the remains committed to the deep’

 

Around 1957, when I was in secondary school, we moved from a nice little bungalow to a house my father owned in Ballintogher, near Downpatrick in Co Down. The house had lain empty for some years after the family of six who had rented it found somewhere more suitable.

It had meantime been used to store bales of hay and suchlike, and was in a dreadful state. There was no water supply other than the well or nearby lough, no electricity or gas, and no phone lines, and church and primary school were reached by traversing several fields. But we were almost on a bus route to the nearest town.

Accommodation was woefully inadequate, as we were a family of two adults and 10 children. A huge programme of renovation included subdividing the bedrooms by means of stud walls. However, towards the end we ran out of timber supports, but were able to requisition a shaft cut from a farm cart for the last room, as a temporary measure. And thereby hangs a tale.

The Rt Hon. Maxwell Ward, Sixth Viscount Bangor, lived a few miles away at Castleward, and when he died in 1950 was to be buried at sea. And Strangford Lough was more or less at the bottom of his garden. So, his lordship’s coffin was duly loaded onto a horse-drawn cart, and the remains committed to the deep. But shortly afterwards, the coffin surfaced, and due to the vagrancies of the tide at that point, was carried up and down the shore for a number of days, to the distress of onlookers. In desperation, somebody took a shotgun and managed to hole and sink the errant coffin with its unfortunate cargo.

At a subsequent auction of farm machinery and implements, my father’s family, who had four workhorses (Auld Fanny, Young Fanny, Dora Mare and Bob Horse), bought a cart, which happened to be the one used at his lordship’s funeral. It was brightly stained with orange lead, as I can testify, for it was none other than a shaft from that self-same funeral cart that was incorporated in my bedroom wall, where it remained for many years, only disappearing when further renovations were undertaken about 1980.

On a recent visit to Castleward I spied in a disused shed a similar cart, its orange lead now badly faded. There must have been two of them.

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