Ireland is known worldwide as the land of 'Saints and Scholars' and through the centuries of its history Markethill and district has had its share of Lords and Ladies, poets, politicians and Victoria Cross recipients. Almost overlooked on the honour roll of illustrious personages is the name of the Markethill Saint. Though never canonised according to any formal Church tradition 'Holy Ann' as she was known was considered a saint in her own lifetime.
'Holy Ann' was born Ann Preston in the year 1810 on a farm at Ballymacawley, one mile from Markethill. She was one of three daughters born to the herdsman James Preston and spent many hours of her early life working on the family farm. Ann was sent along to the local school but within the space of a week had tried the teacher's patience to breaking point. He tried in vain throughout the week to teach her the first letters of the alphabet but at the close of the week tapped her on the forehead and remarked, "Poor Ann! She can never learn anything". This marked the end of Ann Preston's formal education.
Though Ann showed little aptitude for education her mind and her heart were applied to the study of the Bible and her life to Christian service. The minister under whom Ann had been converted placed her with the Reid family in Armagh to act as a maidservant.
In one of the most significant events of her life Ann experienced a remarkable answer to prayer. At the house where she was employed the well had been dry for several months, meaning the boys of the family had to fetch water from a well over half a mile distant. That evening as she was teaching Bible study one of the boys challenged her to ask God to fill the well again. That night Ann prayed fervently for this quoting her favourite verse of scripture, Philippians 4:19, "My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus". The following morning the boys watched in anticipation as Ann took a pale, hooked it to the windlass and lowered it into the well. Instead of the usual hollow bang there came a splash. From that time on the well was never known to be dry.
Dr.Reid made the decision to move his family to Canada and Ann was to accompany them in their new life. Though haunted by the final image of her mother waving from the gate of the homestead Ann eagerly embraced her new life. She gave Christian care to the seven Reid children and performed many acts of Christian charity throughout her life.
She spent the last few years of her life in the care of a widow and died in her sleep on June 21st 1906, aged ninety-six. Though unlettered and illiterate and possessing no wealth to bequeath, Ann Preston's funeral was fitting of a head of state. Ministers of all denominations gathered to speak at the service attended by many thousands.
On the week following her death the Mayor of Toronto paid her this tribute,
"I have had two honours this week. It has been my privilege to have an interview with the President of the United States. This is a great honour. Then I have been pall-bearer to Holy Ann, and of the two honours I prize the latter most".
The life of Ann Preston was recorded in a book by Mrs. Bingham of Toronto entitled "An Irish Saint".
"The Life of a Markethill Saint", Ulster Gazette, (November 26th 1981)
Additional information supplied by the History Department, Markethill High School.