Last year whilst plotting the course for a Treasure Hunt I came upon an Orange Hall at The Ross near Kells, Co. Antrim. A plaque told me that the site for the Hall was the gift of a Captain Millar. But it was not until I talked to Torrens Calwell of Glenwherry that I found the real treasure. According to Torrens, Captain Millar of Ross Lodge was a sportsman with an eye for a horse and a man who liked a wager.
One afternoon, the story went, he was driving a horse in the Kells district, when he found his way blocked by a horse and cart whose owner was taking his ease and a bite on the long acre. Not used to many people getting in his way the Captain commanded the man on the grass to ‘get up and get that thing out of here to let a good horse pass’.
‘That thing’s a mare’ – the man was on his feet – ‘and if I had this bit o’bap in me, her and me’ll show you what a good horse is.’ He pulled the mare in off the road and let Millar through, then jumped in the cart and set off in pursuit. The story has it that when he caught up with and passed Millar, the Captain’s bid for the mare just couldn’t be refused – a fortune to the farmer!
In next to no time Maggie from the Ross was the toast of Ulster trotters. Far away in Tyrone among the bushes a man named Montague, as game as Millar, thought he had a grey to beat her. The match was made, the venue fixed; the pair would race for a stake of one hundred pounds over a six mile course at Glenarm on the Antrim Coast on the 11th June 1872! A ballad-maker’s dream.
Come all ye sporting gentlemen and listen to my song
And if ye will attention pay I will not keep you long
The people of Dungannon Town will surely boast no more
Since they have lost the trotting match along Glenarm Shore.
On the eleventh day of June brave boys in 1872
Some thousands gathered round the coast at every point of view
The contest of two noble greys that day for to behold
In a six mile heat in harness for a hundred pounds in gold
Montague gave out the challenge, as I hear the people say,
For any in the nation who would match his favourite grey.
But spanking Maggie from the Ross has caused him to bemoan.
That e’er he left Dungannon in the County of Tyrone.
The gentlemen of Belfast town were taught to be aware
An n’er again bet five to one on the Dungannon mare.
As long as Maggie is alive they’ll always mind the day
She left them all with empty bags upon Glenarm Bay.
The favourite was a splendid mare, we cannot this deny,
Her price it was one thousand pounds for anyone to buy.
Within the whole dominion no rival could be found.
The stake that day I heard them say would be one hundred pound.
And in Tyrone it was made known she shortly would be tried
The stake to be a hundred as the challenge specified
And Millar from the Ross, of fame and high renown,
Took up the challenge promptly and paid the money down.
The time and place were mentioned and they quickly did prepare
And to the coast of sweet Glenarm with spirit did repair.
The figures of those animals was splendid to behold,
While all around the bets went down in heaps of shining gold.
Till about the centre of the course the favourite did prevail
At swallow speed upon the wing with Maggie on her tail.
And Maggie’s fury stronger grew and soon she let them see
That none had ever yet been foaled would strain her pedigree.
She still increased her distance till the race was at an end
And left the grey Dungannon Mare with her forlorn friends,
Which caused her backers for to sing and make the taverns roar
And shout ‘Hurrah’ for Millar’s grey all round Glenarm Shore.
So let us praise her driver, his name is Mr Bell.
He is a man of honour and he did his work right well.
She was backed of course by Mr Bell, a man of high renown,
And many other gentlemen from Ballymena Town.
Success and fortune still attend both Millar and his mare
All ye that’s fond of trotting I would have you to beware.
Don’t boast and banter like Montague and finish with a frown
Who carried home his empty bags unto Dungannon Town.
The initials of the balladeer are L.S.M. I have to thank John Clifford of Larne, apart from Torrens Calwell, for helping me to obtain the words of the ballad. It’s worth recording that but a short distance from the Ross is the place where lived Nell in ‘Bonnie Woodgreen’, that loveliest of the Antrim ballads, and that my treasure hunt passed the table-bell still hanging over the yard where that other legendary horse ‘The Cock o’ the North’ was trained.