Wednesday 29 June 2011

Lisburn Past and Present (1887)



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(From "Northern Whig, 1887).


Taking into account the relative positions of Belfast and Lisburn as they stood immediately after the great Revolution of 1688, the latter noted town, so far as related to dwelling-houses and extent of population, took a much higher position than that then held by Belfast. When Duke Schomberg, as Commander-in-Chief of King William's army in Ireland, made Lisburn his head-quarters, that town consisted of four hundred houses, a large proportion of which were straw-roofed and many were covered with oak shingles, the upper ten alone dwelling in slated mansions. The population numbered two thousand, and, as the principal borough of the county it was the postal centre from whence all letters were despatched to the lesser towns around it, as well as to England and Scotland.

At that time Belfast rejoiced in possessing nearly three hundred houses and a census of fifteen hundred people. Duke Schonberg's chaplain, who wrote a history of the campaign, described Lisburn as one of the prettiest towns he had seen and the most English-like place in all Ireland.

In 1657 Lord Strafford had purchased the maritime rights of Carrickfergus and handed them over in trust to the Sovereign and burgesses of Belfast. That valuable gift gave new life as well to the commerce as to the shipping of the young port and very rapid was its progress.

From the commencement of the eighteenth century Lisburn had been left far in the distance by its junior relative. Still, as an inland town, fair advancement was made in the home of the Huguenots, and during the stirring times of the Irish Volunteers the Population numbered 4,000. According to official returns there were in 1831 670 slated and 320 thatched houses in Lisburn, and 6,000 inhabitants. Thirty years afterwards the figures were 7,400. Within the last 25 years, however, the progress made by Lisburn has been comparatively rapid.


The proprietor of the Hertford estate (Sir Richard Wallace) inaugurated a new system of landlordism by granting on reasonable terms for ever leases for house-building, and the business-like promptitude with which such documents were arranged for and handed over to capitalists by Mr. Capron, agent of the estate, caused considerable satisfaction on all sides, and gave great stimulus to enterprise. Large numbers of dwellings were raised at the different ends of the town, and many handsome villas have been erected in the vicinity.

One of the most indispensable requisites for health and cleanliness in all centres of population is an ample supply of pure water, The late Dean Stannus, who, for nearly half a century ruled as agent of three successive Marquises of Hertford over the property in Antrim and Down, took the utmost interest in the water question. When that energetic gentleman entered upon his agency duties, Lisburn, with its then nearly four thousand people, had from a basin its water supply, carried by wooden pipes through the town. The Dean, foreseeing that in time there would lie a considerable extension of the population, had a large reservoir added to the existing one, and also got metal conveying pipes laid down in place of the old wooden ones.

As the present census of Lisburn exceeds twelve thousand, Mr. Capron some years ago fully provided for the increased requirements of the people by making a third reservoir of very extended dimensions, and of such capabilities that during the past summer ample supplies of the pure element were enjoyed by every household. That state of affairs was all the more creditable to the lord of the soil, in whose hands rest the water rights, when an almost unprecedented drought was felt in many towns and villages throughout the country.

Several years ago the wretched stone pavement which made the pedestrian pathways in Lisburn especially unpleasant to walk over was taken up in certain parts of the town and a handsome flagging laid down in its place. The cost of the work, which amounted to a large sum, was defrayed by the joint contribution of Sir Richard Wallace and the Antrim Grand Jury. Although the flagging made a great improvement on the sidewalks: but one portion of Castle Street -- the local Piccadilly -- still stands inflicted with the "petrified kidneys."

Cotton-weaving, which in days gone by gave work to many hundreds of handloom operatives, has scarcely a name there, flax-spinning, thread-making, power-loom weaving, and rope-making occupying the great bulk of the work-people. The damask factories, established in the early reign of the third of the Georges, and the linen bleachworks which were commenced by Louis Crommelin, flourish in healthy action.

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(From "Lisburn Standard," July, 1887.)

In those times of Lisburn's history when Belfast was emerging from the position of a fishing village, and boasting of a census equal to a couple of thousand, Lord Conway's town had about that number of inhabitants, and rejoiced in the honour of being the centre of Antrim's postal communication. This position was held for many years, and on Thursday, the nineteenth of June, 1690. and during King William's few hours' sojourn, when his Majesty, with his bodyguard, was on his way to meet the army of James the Second the Dublin post-bag is stated to have contained thirty letters, four of which, having bean addressed to the King, were presented to him as he reviewed the troops in the Market Square.

The Rev. Silvanius Haslam was, at the time, rector of the parish; the Rev. Alexander M'Cracken was Presbyterian minister, and the Rev. Patrick Dornan was Roman Catholic priest.

The lord of the soil, who died at the Castle in August, 1683, had held very liberal opinions on sectarian subjects, and, as a resident landlord, he distributed patronage alike to all churches. Some years before his death he enlarged and re-roofed, the Cathedral; he also had a chime of bells set up in the wooden tower. To the Scottish settlers in town, his landlord granted free of rent a piece of ground "On ye Moyrah Roade," as the site for a place of worship, and there the local disciples of John Knox erected the first meetinghouse belonging to that sect. It was very unpretentious -- one storey high, lighted by two windows in each sidewell, and having the roof thatched with straw. About the same time, Lord Conway gave Priest Dornan part of a field that lay on the south side of the road opposite which is now called Antrim Street, on which he built a chapel, and very tiny was the extent of that place of worship. Each of those, buildings stood outside the borough boundary in that direction. The rector of the Cathedral, the parish priest, and the Presbyterian pastor, lived on the most friendly terms, and in times of death and scarcity of food, when the labouring classes suffered much privation, the three led the way with the laity in doing all in their power to alleviate distress. At that period the southern section of the town was said to end with the Sluice River, which ran unbridged across the street. The portion afterwards known as Bow Lane consisted of a few scattered houses; a footway on one side of the river served as the path for pedestrians.

About the year 1687 the Rev. S. Haslam built a row of cottages, which still bear his name. This row was situated at a short distance from the Sluice River, and on the left side of the road leading to the Cattle Market.


One hundred years after the period under consideration Lisburn had become a place of considerable enterprise; the borough proper contained seven hundred and thirty houses, and a population of about four thousand souls. Cotton-spinning, muslin-weaving, and the linen manufacture were largely carried on, Mr. James Wallace employed numbers of operatives at his cotton mill; the damask manufacture, which had been raised to the dignity of a textile art by Messrs. Wm. Coulson and Sons, was patronised by the Royal Family and the leading nobility and gentry; and several branches of the cotton trade gave well-paid labour to many hundreds of hands. The flaxen manufactures were rapidly pushed forward by Mr. John Hancock, Mr. Luke Teeling, and Mr. Jonathan Richardson, and, during the busy season, three thousand pounds were frequently paid away for brown were at a single day's sale in the Linen Hall. Leather-making was in full play; the three tanyards, owned respectively by Mr. Geo. Whitla, Mr. Thomas Beatty, and Messrs. Clegg and M'Collum, turned out goods of a high-class order. The Lisburn Brewery had much celebrity for its superior ales. Such was the business history of Lisburn in the memorable summer of ninety-eight.

Priest Magee.

Reference has been made to the kindly spirit that had prevailed in early times between the people of this town and the clergy of all sects. The Rev. John Magee, who had been curate of the chapel from 1762, and parish priest from 1770, was very popular. When the Presbyterian meeting-house in Market Square was in course of erection, he handed ten pounds to the building fund committee as his own and that of a few of his people's contribution towards the good work. Like the Rev. Edward Kelly, P.P., who has held that position in Lisburn more than one quarter of a century, and while zealously attending the duties connected with the creed of his fathers, never interfered with the private opinions of those of other denominations. Priest Magee delighted in cultivating social harmony with all around him, and by his own followers he was held in special veneration. He took much interest in the Volunteer movement, and, when leisure permitted, was among the spectators who usually assembled in large numbers to witness the parades of the local troops, as the men met for military exercise on Gough's Hill, now a portion of the Wallace Park. And at the tables of Poyntz Stewart, Commander of the True Blues; Thomas Ward, Captain of the artillery; as well as those of other Volunteer officers, Priest Magee was ever a welcome guest. With the popular rector of Lisburn and the Presbyterian minister, he lived on terms of the utmost, friendliness. Among the many unwritten histories of the Irish Insurrection, the following incident, as taken by the narrator from the lips of one of the Orangemen who took part in it, will be read with some interest.

Wild Night in Lisburn.

On the morning of Monday, the 11th of June, 1798, Harry Monro, who had been unexpectedly called upon to lead the United Irishmen in the impending attack on the Royal Army, left his house in Market Square, and travelled on foot to Saintfield, near which town were encamped many hundreds of rebels, formidably armed with musket, pike, and pitchfork. Considerable numbers of Royal troops, arriving in the afternoon, attacked the enemy, who had fled to Ballynahinch. In course of the evening a spy, who had been sent in disguise to watch the movements of the insurrectionists, arrived in Lisburn, and told Major Burdon, the officer left in charge of garrison, that Munro, the rebel general, had determined to steal a march on the town with a considerable number of his followers, and storm the barracks, rout the inhabitants, and set fire to the houses. As it afterwards turned out, there was not the slightest truth in the spy's report, Munro had too much on hands at the immediate scene of anticipated warfare to give slightest thought to such a project. True, it had been suggested by one of his subordinates, but his high sense of honour -- carried away as it had been, by his deluded patriotism -- did not permit him to entertain the proposals.

The effect of the mythological report had, however, created considerable consternation among the inhabitants of Lisburn. Major Burdon despatched a mounted orderly to Blaris camp for the purpose of ordering into town any reinforcements that were to be had there, and Bob Deveney, the trumpeter of the local cavalry, was sent to call out the members of that troop. Before nine o'clock the alarm was general; the horse barracks in Linenhall Street were one scene of bustle in arranging for the defence of the town; Castle Street, Market Square, Bow Lane, and Bridge Street were lined by horse and foot soldiers.

All lights and fires in dwellings, save those in hotels and a few public-houses, were ordered by the military authority to be extinguished at ten o'clock.

The Priest and the Orangemen.

An Orange Lodge was sitting in the front room of a house in Cross Row. Two members of the lodge who had come downstairs to look on the stirring scenes on the street were at the door, and while standing there they recognised the parish priest passing along on the opposite side. Both these Orangemen were well-known to Mr. Magee, and immediately on seeing that gentleman they rushed across the roadway, and, after apologising for stopping him, they added that such was the state of the town, and the excitement of party spirit, it would be very dangerous for him to attempt making his way home, "Gentleman," said the venerable clergyman, "I have been out attending a sick call; one of my people, who lives at Plantation, became suddenly ill, and I have got so far on my return. It is exceedingly kind of you to give me the information about the unsettled state of affairs, but I hope to get on my way without molestation."

"We cannot permit you to go alone," replied the younger of the two; "our lodge is sitting in Jemmy Corkin's, the business of the evening has been settled, and if you come over with us we will arrange for your safe convoy home." It was then nearly seven o'clock: all was excitement in the Square, dragoons were dashing furiously round the Market House, and heavy artillery guns had been placed across the head of Bridge Street. After a few moments' hesitation, the priest said he would place himself in the hands of his friends, and on entering the lodge-room the rev. gentleman was courteously received by the master and members. Having partaken of some refreshments, half-a-dozen stalwart men, well armed, rose and proceeded to escort Mr. Magee to his cottage home, which was situate about a mile distant on the Moira Road. It was nearly midnight when the party arrived at the priest's dwelling. A suitable entertainment followed, during which the hospitable host once again gratefully acknowledged the special attention that had been paid him; and, to the latest period of long life, the old clergyman was wont to relate the romantic story of his having been escorted to his home at Lissue by six Orangemen the night before the Battle of Ballynahinch.

(More "Extracts" next week.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 29 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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