Wednesday 22 June 2011

Lisnagarvagh and its Chiefs 1560 To 1683.



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(From the "Northern Whig, 1887.)

We are indebted to F. G. Bigger, Esq., M.R.I.A., for the two following papers.

The Celtic language, that still forms the only means of communication between the people in some parts of Ireland, is very expressive, and abounds in the very spirit of poetry. Hence we find that in many instances the names of towns, villages, and manors have a significance peculiar to their localities. The original term Lis Na Garvagh -- Anglice, the Fort of the gamesters -- was said to have been given to the ancient home of a powerful sept of the O'Neill dynasty in consequence of the games of chance which were popular amongst the retainers of the respective chiefs of the manor when those servants were not otherwise engaged.

One of the most powerful of the Northern princes that refused all recognition of England's supremacy in Ireland was the captain of Killultagh. That chief and his kinsman Hugh Oge O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone were jealously regarded by Queen Elizabeth.

O'Neill of Lisnagarvagh ruled over twenty thousand acres Irish measure, and in his castle maintained all the feudal dignity of his race. Only a small portion of his landed estates showed any evidence of cultivation, the remainder being nearly covered by bush and bramble, and in many places giant oaks and towering elms had for centuries been undisturbed monarchs of the forest.

As the captain had under his command a host of followers trained in the military tactics of the day, he was a formidable foe of the Queen, and, although that remarkable woman did not permit herself to he easily daunted, she had frequently made conciliatory overtures to the O'Neill of Killultagh, but all the blandishments of Royalty in petticoats failed to cajole the sturdy Celt.

Sir Henry Sydney, a vary pompous personage, was chosen as Irish Viceroy by Her Majesty, and had special instructions to pay court to the lord of Lisnagarvagh. In the autumn of 1585 Sir Henry made the tour of Ulster, and, with his chariots, officers, and servants, travelled like an Eastern potentate. On arriving at the Castle of Lisnagarvagh, he sent an equerry to announce that the Queen's Lord Deputy desired to pay his compliments to the O'Neill.  The Saxon representative of her Majesty had remained sitting in his carriage, and that assumption of superiority roused the captain's blood to fever heat. In reply to the message he said -- "Tell the Lord Deputy that the King of Killultagh is in his castle, where he will be happy to receive him but he would not cross his own threshold to meet the Queen herself."

Dire was the chagrin in which the lessee of Dublin Castle turned away from the gate of O'Neill, and in the story of his tour through Ulster, as written for the high authorities in London, he stated -- "I came to Killultagh, whyche I found riche and pleutifule, after the manner of ye countrye. Ye captain was proude and insolente. Hee would not come out of his castle to see mee, but he shall be payd for this before longe. I will not remain in his debt." That threat of vengeance was not forgotten. The Queen heard of the slight flung in the face of her representative, and royally nursed her wrath, waiting with religious patience for an opportunity of teaching a lesson to the O'Neill in her own mode of educating the Irish.

No very long time had passed until Hugh Oge, Earl of Tyrone, once again took the field against her Majesty's troops, and the Earl's kinsman of Killultagh, not being able to resist the temptation of a stirring campaign, collected his forces and joined the war; and for a considerable period the English army was unable to make any successful way in the struggle.

Then it was that Queen Elizabeth sent over to Ireland Sir Arthur Chichester and Sir Foulke Conway in command of large reinforcements of disciplined soldiers to subdue at any cost the rebellious chiefs. After many months of conflict and great loss of life on both sides, a partial victory was gained by the Royal troops, and the English commanders were liberally rewarded.

The Queen had laid down the regal sceptre, and James the First who succeeded her Majesty, presented Sir Arthur Chichester, with an enormous territory, made up from the forfeited estates of the revolted princes. He also gave him the Castle and town of Belfast.

Sir Foulke Conway was not a mere adventurer, like many of the favourites of Royalty who received large portions of escheated lands, in Ireland. He owned a  handsome castle in Wales and Ragley Hall with its ten thousand acres, in Warwickshire.

The new King of England presented the gallant Welshman with the Manor of Killultagh, and also the castle and village of Lisnagarvagh.

Very imposing was the appearance of the deposed O'Neill's residence, which consisted of an immense pile of buildings situate on a mound that overlooked the valley through which ran the Lagan River, and in its outward aspect seemed rather some place of defence than the home of an Irish prince. In its architecture the leading features were castellated turrets and high-peaked gables, while right above the windows were numerous loopholes from each of which projected the muzzle of a cannon. The interior of the castle, its living rooms, dormitories, and audience chamber, exhibited little, either in form or promotion of comfort of the means of convenience. Oaken floors and carved panellings marked the finish of each apartment, and, as wood formed the principal fuel, the hearths occupied very large spares.

Some improvements were made in the rooms by the Welsh warrior, but respect for his Irish foeman caused him to preserve all the outside brickwork of the building.

Within a few yards of the castle walls stood the chief's masshouse, where the O'Neills' chaplain had celebrated divine worship, the congregation consisting of the captain of Killultagh, his principal followers, and the villagers of the same creed.

Every student of Irish history knows that James the First, in his grants of the Crown lands which had been taken from the Irish princes, conditioned that each undertaker or State lessee should "plant" the thinly-populated lands with immigrants from England, Wales, and Scotland.

Numbers of such settlers came over at Sir F. Conway's request, some of whom were linen-weavers and others connected with the building trade. A few of these people obtained residences in Lisnagarvagh, but the great proportion, having been brought up to farming, was granted leases of lands in rural districts. The number of inhabitants of the village exceeded two hundred, and Sir Fulke had the chapel of the O'Neills repaired and enlarged for the use of the Protestant population. It is quite evident, even by the meagre accounts given of his landlordism, that the gallant Welshman was very liberal as to sectarian belief. He gave the Roman Catholics a site in the southern end of the village for the erection of a chapel, and contributed liberally towards the cost of building.

The rental arrangements made with the farmers were one shilling, half a crown, and in some cases five shillings the acre, Irish measure, and the conditions of tenure bound the tenants to erect at their own expense the farm buildings, cut down trees, clear away the briars and brushwood and improve the soil. As security for such outlay the occupiers had the right of sale in case of wishing to leave the estate, or to bargain with a successor all these improvements and right of possession.

In addition to the property granted him by the Crown, Sir Fulke purchased from Con O'Neill for a very small sum a large tract of land situate in Down, and stretching from Blaris to Ballyskeigh.

In course of a few years the sturdy Welshman seemed to have almost forgotten the land of his youth, and to have perfectly adapted himself to his new home and its traditions.

As each succeeding Christmas came round the yule log was seen blazing on the wide hearth of the castle, and during the holidays hospitality reigned in all its Celtish glory. Barons of roast beef and immense cakes of barley bread were prepared for all followers, strangers, and wayfarers, and barrels of ale poured forth their contents in an amplitude, the bare idea of which would cause Sir W. Lawson to weep for the wickedness of ancient Lisnagarvagh.

Conway Castle, the family seat in Wales was occasionally visited by Sir Fulke, as were also Ragley Hall and the estate in Warwickshire, which property had been under the management of a relative; but, he having reclaimed from the semi-wilderness the lands of Killultagh, they formed the great object of his life, and the Castle of Lisnagarvagh became his favorite residence. The pleasure he enjoyed in the prosperity of the tenants was fully reciprocated by the fealty and reverence with which during his visit through the estate he was treated by those people.

Sir Fulke died without issue in March, 1624, and his brother, Edward, became heir to the property. This gentleman had been one of the Secretaries of State in the Buckingham Cabinet, and the King raised him to the peerage by the title of Baron Conway of Ragley. His Majesty also bestowed on him the Manor of Derrivolgie, Lord Conway followed the footsteps of his predecessor in residing on the Irish estate and carrying out the same course of liberal landlordism. In 1627 he erected a new castle on the site of the old one, and at this day the entrance and some of the walls are in good preservation. His Lordship was created Viscount Killultagh in 1626; but only enjoyed the new honour four years.

The next heir, who had lived with his father and acted as agent of the estate, cultivated the kindly feeling of the landholders, and had his reward in the respect of an independent tenantry.

When the larger migration of Scottish families into lower Ulster took place in 1641, he made favourable terms for farms with numbers of those thrifty and industrious people, and to the present the descendants of some of those North Britons hold land on the estate.

As his fathers had been bound to maintain at their own cost a certain number of horse and foot soldiers, the second Viscount increased the strength of local troops, and during the outbreak of rebellion in November, 1641, his men did good service on the side of England's King.

After a reign of five-and-twenty years over the estate, Viscount Killultagh slept with his fathers, and was succeeded by his son, Edward, who in his day was famed as the personal friend and liberal patron of the learned polemic, Dr. Jeremy Taylor. Charles the First, who so basely deserted his once favoured Minister, Lord Strafford, had himself suffered the terrible punishment similar to that which was inflicted on the martyred Earl, and Cromwell ruled with firm hand the destinies of England.

The tenants on the Conway estate were nearly all opposed to the Protector and in favour of legitimate royalty. Dr. Taylor was induced by Earl Conway to come over to Ulster with his wife and family, and to take the position of minister to the Royalists at a very handsome salary, paid by the lord of the soil. A commodious residence at Portmore was prepared for the learned divine, and also a dwelling house in Lisburn. After the Restoration, and through Lord Conway's influence, with Charles the Second, Jeremy Taylor was raised to the See of Down and Connor.

Lady Conway had the church enlarged and a new tower erected, in which was placed a chime of bells, said to be one of the finest, both as to power and tone, in all Ireland.

The castle, which had been partially repaired by his father, was improved by the third Viscount, and during his reign of twenty-eight years he lived as the patron of agricultural, progress throughout the estate. The rental was nearly ten thousand a year -- say an average of about 5s the acre of Irish measure.

Lord Conway, who was the last of the name, died, without leaving issue, in the Castle, Lisburn, in August, 1683, and after the death of his Countess the Kilultagh and Derrrivolgie estates, together with the Ragley Hall property in Warwickshire, was designed to Popham Seymour, who added the name of Conway to
his own.

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Notes by Rev. George Hill on "Lisnagarvagh and its chiefs."

The intended hero of the foregoing interesting sketch was Hugh MacNeal Oge or, more correctly, Hugh, son of Neal Oge O'Neill. This Ulster lord, like so many of his kinsmen, had "fallen on evil times and evil tongues," but perhaps his crowning misfortune was the fact that his alliance was eagerly sought, and at the same crisis both by Queen Elizabeth and the leader of the great Scottish host then mustering in the Glens of Antrim. He was thus literally placed between two fires, and his position has been pretty accurately described by the celebrated Sir Thomas Cusake in the following passage from his (Cusake's), contemporary "Account of Ireland":-- "And now lately I repaired to his contre to talke further with him, to tract the tyme till grass grow, for before then, the contres being so barren of victuals and horsemeat, no good may be done to destroy him, whereby I perceive that though he was determined, as he said, to meet me and to conclude a further peece, yet he, hearing of the arrival of certain Scots to the Glynnes, refused to come to me, contrary to his writing and sending, and went to Colloe M'Conill (Colla Macdonnell), who landed with six or seven score bows, and thought to bring them with him (Hugh son of Neal Oge O'Neill) to war upon his next neighbours, so as there is no great likelihood in him of any honest conformity."

The fortified residence of this O'Neill has been referred to by Richard Dobbs in a way that may lead to the discovery of its exact site. "Lisburn," says he, "formerly called Lisnagarvey; from an old fort, where now (1683) Major Stroud's house stands, which I have seen by the Irish called Lisneycarvagh -- i.e., the Gamester's Fort, for there they used to meet and play the clothes of their backs at five cards, as I have received it from old people thirty years since."

In Storey's account, written eight year's after Richard Dobb's "Briefe Description" we have the following reference to this well-known locality:-- "We marched towards Lisburn. This is one of the prettiest towns in the North of Ireland. The Irish name is Lisnegarvah, which they tell me signifies 'Gamesters Mount,' for a little to the north-east of the town there is a mount moated about, and another to the west. These were formerly surrounded with a great wood, and thither resorted all the Irish outlaws to play at cards and dice." The Irish form of the name is Lios-na-gcearrbhach, pronounced Lisnacarvah, and literally meaning "Fort of the Gamblers."

The Conways, who ultimately supplanted the great family of O'Neill, of Killultagh, were among the most popular and kindly disposed of the Ulster planters. Not only were they good landlords so for as their own immediate tenants were concerned, but their sympathies were sometimes deeply enlisted on behalf of native Irish families who had come to grief and destitution at the hands of settlers.

A memorable but not generally known illustration of this fact may be mentioned in connection with the O'Neills of Castlereagh, large portions of whose lands had been added by purchase to the Conway estates. Sir Con O'Neill, known as of Belfast, although he dwelt largely at Greycastle, or Castlereagh, had been assigned one-third of his own lands, the remaining two-thirds going to Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton. Con's portion of the scramble contained sixty-eight townlands, which lie in the present parishes of Drumbo, Knockbreda, Saintfield, Kilmore, Blaris, Lambeg, Killany and Comber. But although he had thus a noble estate remaining, yet, as it happened to all other Ulster Irish of his rank and class, he was prohibited by the introduction here of feudal law from taking up his rents in the old Celtic fashion, and he was thus soon made to feel his total inability of collecting them at all. He believed, therefore that he had no choice but to sell out and retire from the fearful turmoil then going on all around him. No sooner had he got his title deeds perfected than he commenced that hasty and lavish disposal of his property which soon relieved him of his territorial troubles, but left his only surviving son, the well-known Daniel O'Neill, entirely destitute. Of those who had bought up Con O'Neill's sixty-eight townlands at merely nominal prices -- the Montgomerys, Hamiltons, Hills and Conways -- only the last mentioned appeared to have any compassion on his son. The first Lord Conway a younger brother of Sir Fulke, who succeeded on the death of the latter, in 1624, knew all the sad circumstances of the case and pitied the bright and intelligent young man who had lost such a noble inheritance. He introduced Daniel O'Neill at Court, where the latter was appointed as a page in the household of Charles I. The second Lord Conway, who succeeded in 1630, was also a special friend of the young outcast from Castlereagh, and but for the fall of Lord Strafford would have compelled those who were then in the enjoyment of O'Neill's patrimonial lands to disgorge at least to some extent in his favour.

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Referring to correspondence regarding the letters I.H.I. on old stone bearing date 1708, on the front of Messrs. Duncan's premises, it may be mentioned that on a map dated 1726, in possession of Mr. Geo. Sands, the names "Hankins" and "F. Harrison" appear as occupying or owning property in close propinquity to the site of the said premises. -- Editor.

(Lisburn in 1778 next week.)

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Dear Sir -- With regard to the curious inscription of the year 1708 on the premises of the firm of Messrs George Duncan and Sons, Ltd, in Market Square, and to the correspondence of Mr. Francis Joseph Bigger, and Mr. T. W. Kernohan which has appeared in your paper, I incline to disagree, with every respect, with the view of the former, and adopt that of the latter. I think the initials , and the placing of them, would indicate that the then owner desired to perpetuate his own surname and the Christian names of himself and his wife. The property was owned by an old Lisburn family -- the Hancocks -- and even as late as the year 1857 I find by reference to the archives of the Hertford Estate a fee farm grant was made by the Marquis of Hertford to one -- Mary Hancock and Elizabeth White (evidently joint owners) subject to a small perpetual rent.
Yours faithfully,

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 22 June 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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