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16 October 2014
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Johnston of the fews

John Johnston of the Fews, a noted Tory hunter, by his actions gave origin to the couplet Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews
save us from Johnston king of the Fews.

ML 1030
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Johnston Of The Fews

This article is reproduced from an email sent to us by Rory S. Kieran

John Johnston of the Fews, a noted Tory hunter, by his actions gave origin to the couplet
Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews save us from Johnston King of the Fews.

This prayer was on the lips of the people of South Armagh, and much further afield and not without valid reason.

John Johnston was sworn in as constable of the Fews in 1710. At that time the area known as the Fews was a seemingly lawless place into which travellers ventured at their peril. Johnston's task was suppressing tories and robbers between Dundalk and Armagh. There are 20 miles of mountain road and no security for travellers but what Johnston affords them. There is no doubt but that Johnston was most diligent in carrying out his mercenary duties.

In 1716 he was paid £20 for killing two men and displaying their heads on pikes on the gates of Dundalk jail. That was huge money at that time. It would appear that like many more since that time money was the driving force and justice came a bad second to money.

Despite his diligence and his voracious appetite for his work, the fews was still cited as "bandit Country" in 1750. I bet you thought that this title was dreamed up a few years ago! Here is a little snapshot of the predicament of a would-be travelerr in those times.

"When love of gain stimulated any man to so desperate a venture, he first made his will, and piously commended his soul to God. Then, having collected his friends around him, he proceeded under their protection, on horseback, through Armaghbrague and Blackbank... lest the merciless tories be upon him. In this state of trepidation, he proceeded, until he arrived at the residence of Johnston of the Fews, who was the terror of robbers and the safeguard of travellers." The "desperate venture" was a journey through the Fews.

If I had known all these facts I wouldn't have gone to Armagh last night! There are many acres of articles written about John Johnston of Annadale (Roxborough Scotland) and his various and many forays into the counties adjacent to Co. Armagh and throughout this County itself. Tales of how he had a "heading stone" where his victims were executed and the services of at least one full time professional decapitator.

Many local people would say to this day, that so great was Johnston's hatred of "tories" and catholics in general that he stipulated that he be buried face down in Creggan Church-yard so that the natives might kiss his ****. I don't think this likely as I can recall at least one "native" whom he pursued, and he had certainly did not have head-hunting in mind. His last will and testament bear testimony to the fact that he had, what presently would be referred to as an affair. That's enough of That kind of talk!

It is not difficult to see how an outlaw would fall foul of John Johnston, but a Poet of the standing of Peadar O'Doirnin. "Never" I hear you cry! It did happen to both a highway-man and a poet.


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