Stained glass window depicts the saint who granted safety from lightening

Detail of Saint Barbara in window of Fivemiletown Parish Church
Detail of Saint Barbara in window of Fivemiletown Parish Church

An old News Letter cutting arrived in Roamer’s mailbox along with other moving messages and stories relating to next Friday’s 70th anniversary of VE Day and to the recent

An old News Letter cutting arrived in Roamer’s mailbox along with other moving messages and stories relating to next Friday’s 70th anniversary of VE Day and to the recent

centenary of Anzac at the start of the Gallipoli Campaign.

The faded cutting, dated March 24, 1921 and headlined ‘Fivemiletown Memorial Window Unveiled’, carried a report about “a large congregation at a memorial service in Fivemiletown Parish Church on Sunday 13th inst. for the unveiling and dedicating of a memorial window erected by the parents and brothers of the late Major Ralph Montgomery DSO, RFA, who died on active service on 1st April 1919.”

This sad little snippet of news from nearly a century ago came with an intriguing note from its sender - “the window is perhaps the only one in Ireland dedicated to Saint Barbara - patron saint of Artillerymen.

Major Montgomery served with Royal Field Artillery. UK gunner regiments, including the Ulster Territorial Army gunners, still have Saint Barbara night dinners.”

Royal Artillery Day is marked annually on May 26, the anniversary of the formation of the first two artillery companies in 1716, but Saint Barbara’s Day - every December 4 - is celebrated by artillerymen with church parades or social functions and can be observed instead of the seemingly more pertinent Royal Artillery Day.

On their saint’s anniversary, artillerymen belonging to armies around the world exchange greetings and pass on messages.

When Saint Barbara’s stained glass window was dedicated and unveiled in Fivemiletown’s Saint John’s Parish Church in 1921 on the south side of the chancel, the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Clogher spoke about the late Major Montgomery, a son of the historic family from the nearby Blessingbourne estate.

“Four brothers from the Blessingbourne family saw active service in the war - three of them were in the artillery. In the providence of God three came safely through it all, and the window was erected to perpetuate the memory of one who had made the great sacrifice for King and country.”

Major Ralph was born on April 26, 1884 and brought up on the family demesne. He served heroically with the ‘D’ Battery, 88th Brigade of Royal Field Artillery, and died aged 34 in at the military hospital in Doullens on Tuesday April 1, 1919.

He was buried in Doullens Cemetery, Somme, France.

Doubtlessly all three of the young Montgomery brothers were extremely proud of their family ties, but also of the ties they wore around their necks!

“The flash of lightning which allegedly killed Saint Barbara is the basis of the red zig-zag on the blue tie of the Royal Artillery,” explained the sender of the newspaper cutting.

Most accounts place Barbara in the third century, coming from Nicomedia, where Turkey is today, or from Phoenicia in present-day Lebanon.

Her name can be traced to the 7th century, and veneration of her was common, especially in the East, from the ninth century.

Because of doubts about the historicity of her legend, Saint Barbara was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 though she remains on the Catholic Church’s list of saints.

According to legend Saint Barbara was very beautiful, with a number of ardent suitors who her wealthy father greatly disliked.

He had his own plans for her future husband! So he locked her in a tower, which also curtailed her enthusiasm for helping the poor and needy.

Barbara’s well-heeled father, a devotee of the Greco-Roman religious system, was also worried that his daughter might convert to the emerging Christian faith, popular amongst the poor and downtrodden.

Poor Barbara’s well-fortified prison tower with only two small windows for her to look out on the world solved all of her father’s worries. For a while!

During her years of cruel incarceration he led many suitors of his choosing up the steps to meet her, but she declined them all.

She got her food and clean laundry by way of a basket on a rope, and then someone put a book about Christianity in the basket.

She perused the book, and longed to know more about the faith that it recounted. She begged her father for freedom to find out more, but he refused, and she grew ill.

Her father called for a healer, who, despite his contempt for Christianity, turned out to be not only a believer but a priest.

Barbara was baptised when her father went on a foreign journey. During his absence she also persuaded some of his estate workers to make a third window in the tower - denoting the proclamation of her faith in God, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

She is often depicted holding the tower with its meaningful trio windows.

When her father returned he became so angry he told Barbara that she must renounce her new faith or die.

She chose the latter and he betrayed his daughter to the Roman authorities who tortured her and on several occasions attempted to execute her. Each time she survived, and the more she was persecuted, greater grew her faith.

In a moment of uncontrollable fury Barbara’s father beheaded her and in that instant a bright light surrounded her body and a blinding bolt of lightning killed her father.

In time she was invoked to grant safety from lightning, and later became the patron saint of gunners and artillerymen, who were at risk from ‘fiery elements’.

And in Fivemiletown Saint Barbara commemorates a fallen WWI hero.