Shoeing Smith John Gracey


The background of this North Irish Horseman is unclear. According to the 1911 Census he was born in Scotland, but according to his enlistment papers he was born in Shankill, Lurgan, County Armagh, son of William Gracey of Scotland. All records give his date of birth as 1874 or 1875.

On 22 September 1892 Gracey enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers (No.4248) at Waringstown. He gave his occupation as 'weaver' and stated that he had previously served in the 5th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. He served with the Fusiliers in the East Indies (September 1894 to December 1897), Egypt (December 1897 to September 1899), South Africa in the Boer War (September 1899 to August 1902), and from then in the UK. On 21 September 1908 he was discharged at Belfast at the end of his sixteen years' service, his military character recorded as 'good'.

On 10 July 1909 Gracey married Lizzie Hamilton at the Lurgan Church of Ireland Parish Church. The couple had four children over the next ten years. At the time of the 1911 Census they were living at 12 Hill Street, Lurgan, John working as a linen weaver.

Gracey enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Portadown on 3 September 1914 (No.1116 – later Corps of Hussars No.71238). On 1 May 1915 he embarked for France with D Squadron, which at the time was serving as divisional cavalry to the 51st Division. On the same day he was promoted to the rank of shoeing smith.

In May 1916 D Squadron came together with A and E Squadrons to form the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to VII, XIX, then V Corps until February-March 1918, when the regiment was dismounted and converted to a cyclist unit. Gracey may have moved to A Squadron at some point in this period.

On 4 December 1917 he was deprived of 7 days' pay for drunkenness, but despite this, five days later he was promoted to acting corporal shoeing smith. He reverted to his old rank a month later.

Gracey was attached to the Cavalry Depot School for Farriers at Abbeville on 13 July 1918. On 19 October that year he was attached to the 16th Lancers. On 13 March 1919 he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.

Later that year, on 24 June, Gracey re-enlisted at Lurgan, in the Northumberland Fusiliers (No.89899). He was posted to the 39th Battalion and served in France from 1 August 1919 to 30 April 1920. He was discharged on 9 May 1920.

Gracey lived at 12 Hill Street, Lurgan, for the rest of his life. He died there on 8 September 1951 and was buried in the New Cemetery.


During the war a poem was written extolling the virtues of the servicemen of Hill Street, Lurgan, including John Gracey and Samuel Black, another North irish Horseman:

The Hill Street Boys

Here’s to the men one score and ten
Who at the corner once did gather
They mustered there in rain or fair
They never seemed to mind the weather
They talked of beans and football teams
Of checks and tapes and bordered cotton
Of tenters tricks and picking sticks
And yarn which they described as rotten

These boys so gay are all away
We miss their cheerful smiling faces
To Kitchener’s crush they all did rush
And in the ranks took up their places
Their faces were all wreathed in smiles
That day as they walked to the station
Content to know their wives and kids
Would be well cared for by the nation

There was big ‘Bob Lunn’ and ‘Donaldson’
Who could make boots with any other
There was the ‘Bliggard’ boy his mother’s joy
Who never could keep out of bother
There was ‘Bobby Gordon’ solid man
Old ‘Tom Black’ and ‘Tommy Campbell’
When these men brave cross oer the wave
The Germans in their boots will tremble

There’s ‘Houston’s son’ so full of fun
Who like a man stood to attention
There’s ‘Johnny Graham’ and ‘Osbourne’ lame
Who fought the Boers and got a pension
There’s ‘McNally Tam’ the Gas House man
The ‘Rooster’ too and ‘Dooby Connor’
With heart and hand they’ll lead the band
At hurling down the German banner

There’s ‘McIllwaine’ so cool and tame
Who never seemed to get excited
There’s ‘Lyttle’ tall and jolly ‘Val’
To sing a song he was delighted
There’s ‘Wilson Hanna’, ‘Gracey’ too
The ‘Buffer Lad’ and big ‘Bob Walker’
It’s men like these Old England needs
To end the German’s cruel slaughter

There’s ‘James’ and ‘Sam’, ‘Moe’ and ‘Tam’
For fine chaps there’s no disputing
For heart and hand for Hill Street Band
These brothers spent much time in fluting
There’s ‘Harry Quail’ as hard as nails
Who for Glenavon oft did battle
And Sparks so bright who took delight
In causing forwards teeth to rattle

There's the 'Greagor' bard and his farmyard
A place where we had much enjoyment
There's the Watsons', 'Red George' and 'Fred'
Who never were, out of employment
There's Robert Black's 'Three Strapping Sons'
Who looked so well upon the hansom
There's 'Ginuef' and his chum 'McGrath'
For work, were worth, their weight in ransom

I’ve nearly done, but there’s still one
Good chap with whom we’re all acquainted
In days of yore he fought the Boers
And with his fists their eyes he painted
‘Jimmy Hagan’ is his name
He used to fish for eels and tenches
May he escape the shot and shell
As he lies there amidst the trenches.

Success to all both short and tall
When in the fray may luck attend them
With sword and gun they'll crush the Hun
Their cause is just, God will defend them
Their county's call they answered all
They never thought of gain or losses
And we hope ere long they will return
And on their breasts Victoria Crosses


Poem kindly provided by Adele Cosgrove.