Robert McNabney, a farmer of Ballygelly, Rocavan, Broughshane, married Elizabeth Wray (sometimes Rea) also of Ballygelly, in 1st Broughshane Presbyterian Church on the 12 February 1880. By the time of the 1911 Irish census the couple had been married for thirty-one years and had had nine children, all of whom were still alive at that time. Robert, Hugh, Jane, Margaret (Maggie), John, Agnes, Samuel, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and James had lived at Rocavan, Rathkenny and Killygore, their father working as a grocer at the time of the latter. The family had, however, abandoned the depths of rural Co Antrim and moved into ‘the town’, Ballymena, about the turn of the century, their address on the 1901 and 1911 census returns being 57, Moat Road, Harryville, Ballymena. They had moved a short distance by 1914 and were found at 9, Larne Street, Harryville. Robert (Snr.) was working as a general labourer and most of the children were employed in a linen weaving factory; Hugh and John had chosen different paths: Hugh was a hairdresser and John was a shoemaker in the employ of Mr Thomas Kerr, Boot & Shoe Maker, Church Street, Ballymena.
Shoemaker John had adapted well to urban life. He was a talented and noted footballer, a stalwart of South End Rangers FC. He played, for example, in the semi-finals of the Irish Junior Cup at Ballymena on the 17th February 1911 and helped his team defeat Queen's Park Swifts FC, and then he played in the final against Séipéal Iosóid, Chapelizod, at Grosvenor Park, Belfast on the 11th March that year. The importance of the match as seen at that time was reflected in the fact that the Great Northern Railway offered Dublin fans a special ticket price of 6s-6d (32 ½ pence) for those attending the game. The final brought together a large number of opposing fans and two very closely matched teams. However, in the tense, thrilling and toughly contested game, Chapelizod had the edge. They were 1-0 up at the interval, and despite an unrelenting effort by South End Rangers in the second half, the Chapelizod defence was a ‘regular stonewall’ and the Ballymena men were beaten.