Fur trappers, soap makers, old photographs and a local composer

Due to the constant flow of notes and messages into Roamer’s mailbox, today’s page is taking a short break to peruse some recent e-mails and to catch up (mostly belatedly!) on just a few of the readers’ stories that are waiting to be shared in full.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 8:17 am
Updated Friday, 21st May 2021, 8:23 am
Enniskillen, 1880

Some folks know that Roamer comes originally from Enniskillen and as the number of years between then and now greatly increases, it was with a wry smile a few weeks ago that I looked at a reader’s photo of the town dated 1880.

The accompanying note quipped “this was a little before your time!”

The island-town’s shops and St. Macartin’s Cathedral on the hill are much the same on the photo as when I walked past them, to and from school.

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Soap magnate James Gamble

(Though in my day the police uniforms and the street lights were a bit different - and there were more cars and shoppers, and significantly less horse manure!)

Staying there for another few lines, one of the town’s News Letter readers was amongst others from all over Northern Ireland who e-mailed Roamer about Enniskillen-born soap magnate James Gamble, one half of the Procter and Gamble multinational consumer goods corporation.

Gamble had previously been mentioned on several occasions, but when Covid-19 put handwashing firmly in the news early last year, one of our oldest and largest local soap makers was recounted on this page - Alexander Finlay Ltd.

E-mailers wasted not a minute reminding me that James Gamble was born near Enniskillen in 1803 and even went to my school - Portora Royal.

Thomas Fitzpatrick in his later years

When James was 16 his family emigrated to America, where he was apprenticed to a soap maker whilst studying at college.

He graduated from college in 1824 and by 1828 was manufacturing his own soaps.

He joined forces with candlemaker William Procter in 1837 and their business expanded to dominate the world market in all sorts of soaps, washing, cleaning and personal hygiene products.

A very moving e-mail arrived following one of Roamer’s pages marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

Robert Campbell 1880 from Plumbridge, County Tyrone

Amongst a number of commemorative accounts here in January, one was about WWII veteran, Edward (Teddy) Dixon, who sadly passed away aged 100 last November.

Teddy was one of the first men through the gates of Dachau when the concentration camp was liberated on the 29th of April 1945.

He was born in March 1920 in New York - his family emigrated there in the early 1900’s - but returned to Belfast where he become a baker.

Following the D-Day landings in June 1944 Teddy’s call-up papers for the U.S Army arrived by mail and the 24-year-old signed up and became GI Edward Dixon, ‘F’ Company, 42nd Rainbow Division.

On April 29, 1945 he arrived at the gates of Dachau where his squad liberated 33,000 prisoners, mostly Poles, Russians, French and Jews.

Teddy’s memories of the liberation, as he shared them here, were harrowing.

“I just wanted to thank you for your article about my late father on Holocaust Day,” Teddy’s son Jackie Dixon e-mailed from Virginia, USA.

“It was much appreciated by our family and friends. I took the liberty of forwarding it to a Major in the present day 42nd Division.”

The Rainbow Division Major who Jackie contacted handles PR affairs for the Division “and was surprised and delighted to find that a paper in Belfast had taken the time to honour a Rainbow veteran in such a way. The Major said that the article would be forwarded to the 42nd Division senior command.”

Another recent note in Roamer’s mailbox was from News Letter reader Beulah Dillon.

“I was interested to read your article the fur trapper Thomas Fitzpatrick.”

Beulah was referring to the wonderful story shared here last month by Mitchell Smyth.

Born at the very end of the 18th century, Thomas Fitzpatrick, from Killeshandra, County Cavan, was known in his day as ‘Broken Hand’ due to an injury he received when his gun misfired and he lost two fingers on his left hand.

He led the very first wagon train into Oregon Territory in 1841, over a pass that he had discovered in 1824.

He was just 25 at the time of his great discovery and had been in America since he was 17.

Because of his discovery, it has been said that he is probably the single most important Irish-born figure in western history.

Beulah Dillon’s e-mail continued “Another famous trapper from Plumbridge, Tyrone, was Robert Campbell. He emigrated in 1818 and made a fortune from beaver trapping. He helped to build Fort Laramie. There is a wonderful book about him called ‘The Campbell Quest’ tracing his journey from Plumbridge to The Wild West. His home at Aughalane, Plumbridge has been moved, brick by brick, to the Ulster American Folk Park at Omagh.”

And there’ll be more here shortly about Robert Campbell.

Another reader has been telling Roamer about The Battle Of Pettigo and Belleek, between May and June 1922, and in keeping with the enormous variety of topics sent to the e-mail address at the end of this page - a note arrived stating “a musician by the name of Norman Hay (1889 -1943) has links with Coleraine and Belfast.”

His father was a Coleraine man, and though Norman was born in England he lived with his aunts in Coleraine after his mother died.

Watch this space!

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