Friday, 21 January 2022

Sir Norman Stronge Bt


I first had the great honour of meeting Sir Norman Stronge (1894-1981) after a concert in the late seventies, when I was still a teenager.

I was at the Northern Ireland Area British Legion Festival of Remembrance, taking place at the County Hall near Ballymena, County Antrim.

It was usually held at the Ulster Hall in Belfast but, due to "the Troubles", took place at the County Hall for a several years. 

Sir Norman was Area President of the Royal British Legion.

He was an old man by then, tall and distinguished with a good head of grey hair; upright with a benign smile; distinguished-looking and wearing a double-breasted chalk-stripe suit.

He always wore a neatly clipped moustache.

Sir Norman struck me as being a true gentleman from a previous era, seldom encountered today.

Sir Norman had had an illustrious life and career.

The baronetcy was first created in 1803, and Sir Norman was the 8th Baronet.

He served as Lord Lieutenant of County Armagh from 1939 till his death in 1981 under two successive monarchs, including GEORGE VI; and sat as a member of the NI House of Commons from 1938-69, including a spell as Speaker from 1945-69.

The late Douglas Deane OBE recalled Sir Norman's passion for wildlife at Tynan Abbey:

He went to live and farm at Tynan Abbey in 1928 and always his interest was in wild things; often he told me about the wildfowl which visited the lake in winter; the groups of Bewick swans; the flocks of white-fronted geese... 

he showed me an incubating woodcock, hidden in a pool of brown leaves by the edge of the main drive at Tynan and told me that his gamekeeper had seen a woodcock carry one of its young, held between its legs, from an open patch in the woods in to cover; and many times had watched a woodcock feed its young in the same fashion as pigeons.

Every year Sir Norman would invite me to Tynan to see the azaleas in colour and the seas of bluebells in the woods and always there was talk of butterflies, painted ladies, peacock and the rest.

Mr Deane continued:

Sir Norman was the envy of his friends, being an excellent shot. He would often finish a day's shooting with close to 200 pigeons...his cousin, Sir Basil Brooke [1st Viscount Brookeborough], had the edge on him and always seemed to finish the day with more.

TYNAN ABBEY, County Armagh, was built in 1750 and enlarged in the Tudor-Gothic style around 1820-30.

It had an imposing two-storey entrance front, battlemented and pinnacled; a battlemented central tower and doorway too, with pointed Gothic windows.

Much has already been written about the Abbey by authors more knowledgeable than myself.

Originally, the estate extended to some 8,000 acres.

One quiet Wednesday evening at around nine o'clock, 21st January, 1981, Sir Norman - by now in his 87th year - and his son, James (48), were having a quiet drink in the library of Tynan Abbey following their dinner, when they heard a loud explosion in close proximity.

Unknown to them, a gang of heavily-armed men had been stalking out the Abbey and its grounds earlier and the explosion had been caused by a hand-grenade thrown at the heavy, wooden front door.

The Stronges would have had a reasonable idea, by this stage, that they were being attacked.

He kept a flare nearby, and opened the window to fire it in an attempt to alert others to the grave situation.

As it happened, a police patrol did notice the flare but, by that stage, it was too late.

The gang quickly located Sir Norman and his son in the library and opened fire on them, at point blank range, killing them instantaneously.

The gang then placed fire-bombs throughout Tynan Abbey and made their escape in a southerly direction into the relatively safe jurisdiction of the Irish Republic.

The great mansion, and its priceless contents, was utterly destroyed; indeed, its ruinous shell had to be demolished later because it was unsafe.

Although there ensued a ferocious gun-battle with the police, the gang fled.

I'd only wish to conclude by quoting from a small article by Turtle Bunbury:

We stopped first in the village of Tynan to view the High Cross, a replica of which now surmounts Bourke and Anne Cochrane's grave in New York.

We could just make out some images - perhaps Shadrach and his brothers hot-stepping it on fire-coals, maybe Adam and Eve contemplating a serpent. The Church where the Stronges are buried stands close by. 

The last baronet, Sir Norman Stronge, and his son, James, were murdered by the Provisional IRA in 1981. Sir Jack, who knew them both, says father and son were quietly watching TV when a hand grenade blew their front door of its hinges.

Sir Norman managed to let off a flare but the police got there too late. The two men were machine gunned to death and the house burned down. The perpetrators all met unhappy ends - either shot by their own comrades or captured and incarcerated.

My father and I attended their funeral at Tynan parish church.

I remember the Duke of Abercorn wearing a heavy, tweed, raglan overcoat.

Notwithstanding the passing of so many years, this vile act has continued to stick in my memory.

The mere thought of such a heinous atrocity still deeply saddens me to this very day.

First published in January, 2014.


Nebuly said...

Sir James, we should accord him the title for he may well have held it for painful grief-filled and hideous moments, took me to tour Stormont when I was a school boy.

We lunched, I recall, with a Derry City MP, Albert Anderson(?), and he who was to be Lord Falkner of Downpatrick. The future Lord Fitt joined us and we had a high old time. Lord Moyola was Prime Minister.

I was a curate in Wales when the sickening news of the murders came through.

The Armagh Fire Service, almost all Nationalists, were the first on the scene. The insisted on risking life and limb and got as far as the library and the dead - only then did they retreat.

There was nobility in Ireland among some good folk of all ranks even amidst the ghastliness of those times. Perhaps more than now?

Jason James Wade said...

I cannot be certain but it is said my Great Grandfather was the Games Keeper at Tynan Abbey in late 19th, early 20th century. His surname was Whiteside. I visited the site almost three years ago, quite amazing indeed, a beautiful part of the world. Jason Wade, Hamilton, New Zealand.

the FitzGerald Himself aka Charles FitzGerald of that ilk said...

without doubt one of the foulest dastardly acts by the filthy Rebublicans, outstandingly awful from the long list of all their cowardly attacks on unarmed and defencless targets....war is one thing but the IRA's record of targeted and indiscriminate assination is one of the dirtiest sagas in the annals of civilised society...But like it's heinous murders of women and children,the old, infirm,disabled and handicapped without remorse, Tynan rates par for the course of the IRA's foul campaign and its evil ideas of achieving it's aims, just as its mirror images on the Loyalist side committed equally but likely more mindless atrocities.What is galling is that Tynan is gone and the perpetrators are strolling around Ireland and GB like triumphant heroes. liviong off their spoils and the fruits of our battered society.

Anonymous said...

This must rate as one of the most dastardly and outrageous acts of evil that our beloved province suffered. The Stronge family had of course moved to Tynan from Lizard Manor Aghadowey, and as following the death of Sir Norman, the lands at Tynan passed to the Kingan family of Glenganagh Bangor.

Well done Belmont on the marvelous job you do in keeping a new generation informed, as we honour our past and strive for a new future.

Lord Strathreagh

Croissant said...

I too met Sir Norman as a young newspaper reporter at a similar gathering to yours Tim. It was around 1973/4 and the RBL dinner was held in Ballymena at, I think, the Town Hall.

Sir Norman was on one side of me and the future Lord Molyneaux on the other. Over dinner the latter recounted various WWII experiences including being present at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

You describe Sir Norman very well Tim. I remember him as slightly built, very dignified and with what seemed like almost a quiet diffidence. In his appearance he resembled my late father, complete with moustache.

Sir Norman made a huge impression on me. I thought him the quintessential gentleman. He was a much respected man of his time and I greatly miss the passing of those like him from that generation.

Anonymous said...

I had just turned 13 when this occurred. We lived about five miles from the house . The house was located on a back road heading for the border. I remember my family, who would never have met them, were very shocked at these murders and especially as after all a very elderly man and his son. Shame on those and others who carry out such atrocities.

Andrew said...

This act was grotesque in its medieval violence. The gloating sanctimonious Sinn Feiners never accept their responsibility. It is very hard to forgive where there is no remorse.