Tuesday 5 April 2011

Track of King William and The Williamites in Ireland



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From the "Belfast Weekly News," June 28th, 1890.

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Richard Lilburn was editor of the "Belfast Weekly News," and "Belfast News-Letter," and produced in the former a series of articles, on King William's movements in Ireland. In the same paper he wrote under the title "Chapters in the History of Orangeism" an exhaustive history of the Order. Lisburn and district are frequently referred to. Lilburn was obsessed with subject and wrote upon it minutely and voluminously. When editor of the "Armagh Guardian" he published in 1866 a treatise entitled "Orangeism; its Origin, Constitution, and Objects."

In the "Irish Book Lover," vol. II there is a short reference to Lilburn. The writer states:-- "The poor old man became obsessed with his subject, and almost buried beneath the mass of material. None the less the work is well worth reprinting." The novelist, Frankfort Moore, who wrought for a time on the staff of the "Belfast News-Letter" under Lilburn, in his "Journalist's Note Book," gives a humorous, but not very kind description of his chief.

In the "Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. I. -- 1858 -- under the title "King William's Progress to the Boyne," are to be found full and original notes on General Schomberg's sojourn in Lisburn, he had his head-quarters in Lisburn as early as January, 1689, and King William's progress through Lambeg, Lisburn, Blaris and Hillsborough.

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From Belfast to Dundalk.

When King William left Belfast in the morning of June 19, 1690, the weather was variable, as is commonly the case in that month; and to satisfy the stories current, his Majesty's health must have been indifferent. According to tradition he had only reached the locality in which are the lodge and other gate premises of the Royal Botanic Gardens when he halted at a roadside thatched cottage, occupied by a Roman Catholic named M'Keown, whom he asked for a drink of water. The hostess, however, gave him milk, and the Royal gratitude was expressed in a grant of the holding. That property is now in the hands of the Belfast Corporation, and the site is occupied by a building which is an ornament even in an ornamental part of the city. The tradition survives the tracks of William.


About a mile further on the King again halted, this time at the mansion and grounds then known as the Rookery -- an appropriate name. The place was owned and occupied by Mr. John Eccles, members of whose family are still living near Fintona, in the County Tyrone. According to a well authenticated narrative his Majesty was overtaken by a heavy downpour of rain, and, observing some large trees near the road, he took shelter under one of them. Just then, Mr. Eccles approached the King, and tendered the use of his house to him and his staff. The invitation was accepted, and the Royal party was hospitably entertained. Those who have a right to know add that Mrs. Eccles was absent at the time, and had with her the key of the cellar; but this difficulty was removed by bursting the door open. After enjoying the creature comforts liberally provided, the King reposed for a short time on a bed, which was long preserved in the family, as were also the jug containing the ale supplied to his Majesty, the glass from which he drank, and the mirror he used. The jug or what remains of it, for the bronze lid was lost, was shown at the opening of Belfast Free Library. The mirror in still to be seen. During his visit the King was very agreeable in his manner, assumed no importance, and appeared most anxious that the family should not feel embarrassed. It is said that his Majesty gave Mr. Eccles a picture in which the King himself is seen, wearing at the time a chain made of Irish gold, and mounted on the proverbial white horse. When about to leave, his Majesty expressed a wish to confer the honour of a knighthood on the host; but he declined, saying that the King might do as he pleased for his son. The Royal visitor and his forces then proceeded on their journey, accompanied by young Mr. Eccles, who joined the army, and is supposed to be the Sir John Eccles, Knight, Lord Mayor of Dublin, in 1710, and after whom Eccles Street is called. The ash tree which afforded temporary shelter to William was for many years venerated by the Orangemen, who met there on the eve of the 12th of July, and marched round it several times. Finally, it was blown down in a storm, in 1796, which was fatal to the French fleet in Bantry Bay. The Orangemen then adopted the ash tree adjacent, and it also yielded to a storm in 1808. The place was known as Orange Grove, after the visit of the Prince of Orange; and when it became the property of Mr. Templeton he changed the name to Cranmore. The house is believed to have been built originally from the ruins of Mary's Abbey, near Malone Church. The Abbey was destroyed by Colonel Legge, who had the large blocks of stone placed on the ground as a foundation, and the grouting did the rest. When changes were being made in the original structure, a stone was found with an Irish cross carved on it. Cranmore helps us to trace the route of William and the Williamites. It is now the residence of Mr. Walter Wilson, of the eminent shipbuilding firm on the Queen's Island, Belfast.


Another mile in the Royal route brought the King and his army to Malone House, owned and occupied by a Mr. Legge, who was said to have been a military officer, served under Schomberg in Flanders, and accompanied him to Ireland. The description is somewhat confused: but there is no doubt of the house being occupied by Mr. Legge, who was descended from a family holding ducal rank in Venice. It is now vacant, and belongs to Lady Harberton.

A little further on, the bugles sounded and there was a long halt in the vicinity of a mansion, then the property of the Wolfendens. It was close by the Lagan River, and, while cavalry and infantry were refreshing themselves, the King retired into the House, and was hospitably entertained. The original name of this beautifully-situated holding and residence, now owned and occupied by Mrs. Niven, was Waterside. When it passed into the hands of the Wolfendens, they called it Harmony Hill. The late Mr. Niven having bought the property he changed the name to Chrome Hill. Two hundred years ago there was no bridge built over the Lagan below this locality. The river had to be crossed by a ford, the remains of which are still visible; and while going down the steep hill to the ford the one of the gun-carriages was overturned and damaged, which caused delay to make the necessary repairs. During the time occupied in repairing, King William stopped in Mr. Wolfenden's house, and had some refreshment. The spot where the carriage was damaged is marked by an oak tree known as "King William's Oak." The chair he used is still extant, and the apartment he occupied is pointed out.

On reaching the village of Lambeg, the King experienced some difficulty in regard to the route. There were three roads -- one leading towards Lord Conway's racecourse; the other towards Collin; and the third led to Lisburn. Seeing a sturdy man at the door of a smithy, his Majesty inquired the way to Lisburn. The tone of voice and foreign pronunciation excited Rene Bulmer, for this was the smith's name, and in genuine French he replied to his Majesty who was amazed. The villagers having heard that a Royal personage was passing, assembled to gaze on the cavalcade; and; it was soon announced that Bulmer was a Hugenot who had fled from the persecution in France, and was carrying on the double duties of veterinary surgeon and blacksmith. When the Head of the Protestant interest was about to march forward, Bulmer was allowed to embrace him; and stooping from his horse, the King, saluted the refugee's wife, described as a handsome little Frenchwoman. The portrait of Madame Bulmer is in the possession of a lineal descendent, Mr. Rene Bulmer, of Old Park, Lisburn. Mrs. Niven is also a descendent. The name of Bulmer has changed to Boomer.

Reaches Lisburn.

At length the King and his forces reached Lisburn, then and still a place of considerable importance. Lord Conway was the virtual founder of the town. Having obtained a grant of Killultagh from Charles the First, he induced a number of English and Welsh families to settle in the locality, and in 1610 he erected a castle to protest himself and them; but in his time it does not seem to have been more than a village, containing only 53 tenements. The old name of Linsley-Garvin survived the alienation of the territory from O'Neill, a member of the Tyrone family. Later on, through the influence of Lord Conway, who was Secretary of State to Charles the Second, the town had secured the position of chief postal centre of the county; and letters were despatched tri-weekly for England, via Donaghadee, which was the great passenger port for Ulster. Lisburn holds a conspicuous place in Anglo-Irish history. In the troublous period beginning in 1641, it suffered severely, and was reduced to ruin, notwithstanding, the heroic exploits of its brave defenders, commanded by Sir George Rawdon. The town, however, was soon restored. Better streets were formed; better houses were built; and its improved condition excited the surprise and attracted the encomiums of the English and foreign soldiers who had been encamped in the neighbourhood during the winter of 1689 and the spring and part of the summer of 1690; but who were now -- June 18 -- with the enemy, at the Boyne.

Duke Schomberg. made Lisburn his headquarters. He resided in a house situate in Castle Street, nearly opposite to the entrance to the Cathedral. That house was rebuilt a great many years ago and became the property of the benevolent Quaker, Mr. John Hancock. It is now owned by Mr. Samuel Wilson. The town was seen for the first time by Story when Schomberg's troops marched to Blaris to take up winter quarters, on Monday the 2nd of September, 1689; and here is what he says of it:--

"This is one of the prettiest inland towns in the North of Ireland, and one it the most English-like places in the Kingdom; the Irish name is Lishnagarvah, which they tell me signifies the Gamesters-Mount; for a little to the North-east of the Town there is a mount, moated about, and another to the South-west; these were formerly surrounded with a great wood, and thither resorted all the Irish outlaws, to play at cards and dice, one of the most considerable amongst them having lost all, even his Cloaths, went in a Passion, in the middle of the night, to the House of a Nobleman in that Countrey, who before had set a considerable Sum on his head; and in this mood he surrendered himself his Prisoner, which the other considering of, pardon'd him; and afterwards this Town was built, when the knot of these rogues was broke; which was done chiefly by the help of this one man; the town is so modern, however, that Camden takes no notice of it.

Camden's Brittannia was published fifty-five years before the old obscure town was destroyed by the insurgents in 1641; and no one is surprised to hear that, in his imperfect sketch of Ireland the eminent English man did not mention Lisnegarvey. The new town, which was called Lisburn derived its name from a fort and a river and had nothing whatever to do with the Gamesters' Mount. Story, however, only wrote what he heard and the narrative is interesting in regard to the origin of Lisnagarvey, while it stands at a great distance from the source to which Lisburn is properly traced. The new town was still incomplete when Schomberg's troops marched through it to Blaris, leaving the General in his quarters in Castle Street, and a detachment of the army in temporary barracks in the same locality.

When the advance guard of William's army entered Lisburn a remnant of James's troops assembled in the Market Square. They had arrived just before the Williamites; but were speedily driven out of town by a party from the camp at Blaris. Captain Johnston who had charge of the camp during Schomberg's absence had the honour of providing refreshments for his Majesty in the residence of George Gregson, a Quaker. The captain's quarters were in Gregson's house, the site of which is at present occupied by the branch of the Northern Bank; and there the King and Schomberg dined. At the same time, Lady Mulgrave, widow of the last Earl Conway, entertained the officers of the army. His Majesty remained only a short time in the town; but he gave ample proof of his anxiety to promote the well-being of the population, which included many French Protestants who had fled from persecution after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Among the refugees was Louis Crommelin, who was taken into his Majesty's service, and was supplied with money to promote the linen trade. Yea, more, the King sent several Hollanders to instruct Crommelin and his friends in the art of bleaching, so that the people might be able to grow the fibre, convert it into cloth, and then bleach it. The bleaching process was carried on at the Hilden Works, convenient to which a colony of foreigners resided; and down to the later years of last century the place was called New Holland Francis, first Baron Seymour Conway, who succeeded to the Killultagh and Derryvolgie estates in 1699, continued the patronage bestowed on Louis Crommelin, in relation to the land at Hilden the weaving, and the workers' residences.

King William's Thorn.

After marching some nine miles and when within a little over two Irish miles of Hillsborough, the Williamite forces for the third time found themselves in the immediate vicinity of the Lagan, which was on their right flank, and as usual the bugles sounded a halt, and the whole army was brought to a standstill. The men of all grades fell out of the ranks and dispersed through the fields, refreshing themselves from the river. The cavalry in the rere choose the banks of a stream which runs along the valley from Revarnet till it joins with the Lagan about a mile from Lisburn. Men and chargers enjoyed well-earned rest; and the place where they bivouacked was afterwards known as Troopers' Field. It is now in the possession of Messrs. Barbour, of Hilden, who acquired the property by purchase from the representatives of the late Captain Coulson. According to local tradition the rere guard remained there for a considerable time, the position being strategic as a cover for the advancing army, while preserving and keeping open the line of communication with Belfast, whence supplies would have to be drawn in the case of any serious interruption of the progress of the Royal Forces. The infantry were posted in the neighbourhood of Blaris, on the east and south-east of the Lagan river. Their position was examined by his Majesty; and during this hasty survey of his troops, William dismounted and had his horse tied to a thorn bush, which has ever since been known as "King William's Thorn." It still flourishes, and every Twelfth of July it is decorated with orange lilies. The relic is much esteemed in that part of the country; and the decoration was faithfully attended to by a veteran Orangeman, Mr. John Keery, who annually discharged this self-imposed labour of love for upwards of seventy years. He died at the advanced age of eighty-four years; and in his house and the house of his father Loyal Orange Lodge, No. 128, sat since the number was first issued, when rebellion was raging in '98, and Blaris Moor was again a vast military encampment, in which the loyal yeomanry had quartered. "King William's Thorn" was made famous by the commander-in-chief of the troops at Blaris issuing an order to include it in guard duty, the few Roman Catholics in the camp having shown a malicious desire to degrade the relic because of its associations. There is no doubt about the history of the thorn. It has been carefully preserved by the Keerys, Porters, and M'Camlays, of Blaris; and to-day it may be said to enter upon a new lease, as thousands will have heard of it for the first time. The Gilbert family, in whose land the famous whitethorn flourished, have passed away. They tended it with great care; manured the roots and trimmed the branches annually; and then the work was undertaken by the Keerys, whose house is about two hundred yards distant. The haws, of which there is in due season a large crop, have been sent to most parts of the civilised world, at the urgent request of loyal Irishmen, who sought new homes in the Colonies and in the United States of America. Separated, perhaps for ever, from the old home, they could not forget early-scenes -- the natural white bloom in spring, and the decoration with orange lilies in July -- and there hearts were with the "Thorn," the effective memorial of great events and of the King by whom they were accomplished. Of the genuineness of this relic there is ample proof. The late Dr. Cupples, Rector of Lisburn, is said to have heard from one of his parishioners who lived to the age of 110 years, that he recollected having seen his Majesty alight from his horse and throw the reins over the bush, the identity of which has never been disputed.

(To be Continued).

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 6 April 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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