Sunday 22 November 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Springhill, Moneymore

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


Springhill, Moneymore – The House of 'Good Will'

IN the township of Ballindrum (the township of the hill's ridge) about five miles from Lough Neagh, is Springhill. The long low house, charming in its white simplicity, its symmetry surely prophesying the classic dignity of the Georgian period, stands on a high hill. Copper beeches line the approach to an open courtyard and break in fronds across the gleaming facade of the dwelling. Beyond the arched doorway in the wall lie the old Brew House, the Turf Shed, the Slaughter House, and the Laundry. On the dwelling’s further side could once be seen a second courtyard or bawn, where cattle were herded in times of trouble.

In her lovingly written book on the house, Mrs. Lenox-Conyngham describes the beauty of tha Dutch garden, sweet with old-fashioned flowers planted by bygone hands, with its walls blossoming with the Macartney rose, the first of its kind to be brought from China to Ireland, nearly two centuries ago.

SPRINGHILL has been the home of the Conynghams since the family came to Ireland with those first settlers who had grants of land from James I. Tradition has it that when the native Irish rose, in 1641, and horribly massacred the settlers, the Conyngham owner was absent, and was saved. The title deeds of the property were destroyed, and it was not until 1652 that Cromwell granted new title deeds to that William Conyngham who had been High Sheriff of County Derry some twenty years before.

This same William Conyngham had a son known to succeeding generations as Good Will. The story of the marriage of Good Will and 16-year-old Ann Upton, both of whom were to be so nearly concerned in the siege of Derry, reads like a page from an old romance.

THE union, happy as it was, was childless, although Ann herself was one of a family of 20 We can picture them in 1680, at the beginning of their happy forty years of marriage, in that peaceful period that preceded Dutch William’s accession, making additions to the beloved old home and creating new gardens and orchards.

Their peace was savagely shattered when Good Will received a secret warning of the impending troubles, and sent his Ann, for safety, to stay with Alderman Lennox and his lady in the city of Derry.

Ann would not lack company in Derry, for besides the Lennox family, she numbered among her connection James Conyngham, a merchant of the city, and two younger members of the Conyngham family, Alexander and John, who were apprenticed there following the English custom for the younger sons of good families.

WHILST Ann busied herself in Derry Good Will was active on King William’s behalf. Now Colonel Conyngham, he was in command of Colonel Canning’s regiment of foot, and was one of the six members of King William’s Supreme Council.

Throughout the long days of the siege, whilst Ann played her part within the city, how proud she must have been to know that her two young relatives were among the Apprentice Boys who acted so gallantly in Derry’s defence!

When peace came, husband and wife reunited, returned to Springhill to spend long years in mutual love and sympathy.

Reminders of Good Will are at Springhill yet, among them the gold watch presented to him by the Irish Society for his work as "Overseer of the woods and forest of Ulster," the testament bearing the signature of George Walker, and a long gun, with an inlaid silver barrel, that was used at the siege. The tenderness of Good Will’s affection for his "deare wife” is very evident in the provisions of his will. He died in 1721, but for thirty years his Ann lived on alone.


Next week: Caledon House, Co. Tyrone.

Belfast Telegraph, 19 August 1953

Storied Homes of Ulster – Mountstewart

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.



Congress of Vienna chairs are in the dining room

ALREADY there is about the countryside the first vague whisper of autumn. Along the shores of Strangford Lough the banked foliage that borders the grounds of Mountstewart has taken on a flush of russet. Even now the first burned leaves have drifted on to the serene waters of the little lake beyond the house, where they float like pale gold barques among the rosy lilies.

The house itself waits, in quiet dignity, ready to withstand the wildest storms of the turn of the year, at it has since it was built for Alexander Stewart, somewhere about the year 1780.

When the first instalments of "Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam" began to appear in 1773. Robert Adam wrote:— "We have adopted a beautiful variety of light mouldings, gracefully formed, delicately enriched and arranged with propriety and skill." This phrase describes exactly the ornament in the older portion of Mountstewart, for here one finds all the delicacy of line, the modesty, the dignity and the good manners that characterised the Age of Elegance.

Most charming

The most charming room in the dwelling is the graceful breakfast room, believed to have been the entrance of the original house.

A long window overlooks the paved and beflowered terrace which surrounds the entire house. The floor, inlaid with a wood of a darker hue, echoes the design of the ceiling in a perfect unity of form.

The doors, leading on one side to a study, on the other to Lady Londonderry's sitting-room, have marquetry panels whose pattern is a replica of the plasterwork on their surrounding arches.

Mountstewart abounds in mementoes of the celebrated Lord Castlereagh, who was Britain's
Foreign Minister, when the Congress of Vienna was interrupted by the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba.

Huge volumes

Huge bound volumes of the Castlereagh papers almost fill one wall of the study. A portrait of Lord Castlereagh shows us a pale young man with thoughtful eyes, and a strong mouth, a complete contrast with his gay young brother who was Ambassador in Vienna at time of the Congress.

In the dining-room newly decorated in an inspired dark yellow which is a perfect foil for the gold framed portraits of the Stewart ancestors in their dark crimson robes, are the very chairs used by those representatives of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and France who attended the Congress in 1815.

Upon the backs and seats of these chairs are embroidered both the personal arms and the arms of the country, of the representative who used the chairs in Vienna.

Lord Castlereagh brought back other souvenirs from Vienna. Each Minister presented him with a gold snuffbox." the lid of which bore the Ministerial portrait in miniatures in their gold frames still exist to show us the countenances of Metternich and Talleyrand and the others, but the snuffboxes were melted down, sometime in Queen Victoria's reign, and turned in to an ink pot of solid gold.

[Last few paragraphs dealing with the gardens were faded and unreadable but will be added when access to a better copy has been made.]


Next week – Springhill, Moneymore, Co. Londonderry.
Belfast Telegraph, 12 August 1953

Sunday 8 November 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn

This Ulster house once sold smuggler's wine.

THE ripening wheat is gilding the fields along the highway that leads through Crawfordsburn from Holywood Priory to the ruins of Bangor’s ancient Abbey. How many and how different the feet that have trodden this old road in the last fifteen hundred years.

The sandalled feet of pilgrims and monks and scholars, journeying between Bangor and Armagh; the cross-thonged feet of the Danes who desolated Abbey and town; the leather shod feet of the settlers, wary of the wolves that lurked thereabouts, the marching feet of Count Schomberg's army on the route from Ballyholme to the Long Bridge at Belfast — do any of these footsteps echo eerily about the gilded fields?

Left his caves

From the time that man left his caves, outgrew his liking for wood, and began to journey from place to place, there have been inns along the roads he travelled.

Certainly there has been an inn at Crawfordsburn since the hamlet took its name from those Scottish Crawfords who were tenants of Sir James Hamilton in the time of James I.

Before the time of the Crawfords the name of the place was Ballykillare, which Rev. J. O'Laverty tells us could mean "the townland of the Western Church." Would a search reveal an ancient burying place?

Striking feature

To-day the Old Inn is the most striking feature of the old road, its white and black standing sharp against the blues and greens and gold of the landscape.

That part of the dwelling which has been standing since 1614 is still thatched, and the musicians' gallery within serves to remind us of a time when the inn was the meeting place not only of peasant and yeoman, but of the lesser gentry who came, of an evening, to sample the foreign wines provided by mine host.


In this particular inn some of these foreign wines may have had the added piquancy of having evaded the Customs' officers for a former owner discovered secret hiding places used by smugglers. There was considerable smuggling between the Down coast and the Isle of Man right to the end of the eighteenth century.

The Ardglass peasant-poet, Burdy, tells us, in verse, that the free-traders took out meal, fruit, flax, whisky, flour, and potatoes, and returned with sugar, coffee, wine and rum.


The name of the hostelry must at one time have been "The Old Ship Inn.” When, I wonder, was the sign of the ship disregarded.

After the Hamiltons, the Montgomerys and the Stewarts have planted this part of Ulster, the Old Inn became a stopping place for the mail coach making connections with the sailing packets at Donaghadee. Here the horses were changed, and many of the famous travellers to Ireland have rested, at least for refreshment — certainly the Duke of Wellington was once a guest and rumour has it that Peter the Great called when he made a visit to Ulster to study the manufacture of damask linen.

So many foreign coins have changed hereabouts in the 17th and 18th centuries that there was an accepted rate for the "broad pieces" as the local inhabitats termed the pistoles and money.

Nowadays, although the coach has given way to the touring-car, the broad-piece to the prosaic pound-note, there is still music in the gallery or Old Inn as the fiddles play gayly to the wedding-guests, in the way they have almost "since Adam delv'd and Eve span."


Next week – Mountstewart

Belfast Telegraph, 5 August 1953

Storied Homes of Ulster – Lissan House

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


Lissan House, County Londonderry

IN the quiet fields of Co. Londonderry the oats are ripening fast; the chaffinch, weary with his mating and the summer-long feeding of his fledglings, has no song.

Not a leaf stirs in the heavy foliage of the ancient trees in the demesne around Lissan House. The house itself is hidden from view by these great trees and the driveway that leads to it twists and turns as if the very path would safeguard the dwelling from a stranger's sight,

Lissan House is grey and vast and very self-sufficient. The rambling old walls contain a laundry that would need an army of maids for its efficient running and the cobbled coach houses could take six carriages and still have room for more.

There is even an old forge within the house with an anvil where the pike heads were hammered out long ago.

Lissan was evidently quite a feudal community when Charles I came to the throne. Indeed, the eatate must have formed a village nn itself when the row of white cottages beyond the stables was inhabited by the men and maids who served house and family.

In that part of the house occupied by the family a wide oak staircase with the twisted rails, characteristic of the Jacobean period, rises roof high, like a huge Chinese box. This coach-wide staircase opens on to each floor in such a manner that one has the impression of having access to every room in the dwelling, just as a child, removing the facade of a doll's house, can see all the rooms at once.

Like all houses with a long family tradition, Lissan has been rebuilt and added to from time to time, and each generation has left its mark. The wallpaper in tha drawing-room, gay with a pattern of exotic birds and flowers, is well over 200 years old – one of the first few hand-made papers imported from Japan.

There has been a dwelling in this place since 1620, and the Staples family have inhabited it since the baronetcy was first granted in 1628. Sir Thomas Staples held the title in those troublous days alter Charles I was beheaded, when Cromwell’s iron hand was heavy on the Irish.

It was Sir Thomas who purchased Cookstown from a Dublin lady — it is said for £325 — and in his absence the house was burned by the rebel O'Quinn, and his wife and four children seized. Lady Charity and her children were eventually released, but whether they were ransomed or whether they escaped is not known. Certainly they were re-united with Sir Thomas at Londonderry.

The grass is very green over these old battlefields, and although the house itself bears little witness of the wild happenings of those Stuart times, the Staples name and the stories handed to each succeeding generation, remain to remind us of a time when the still cornfields held quiet, but no peace.


Next week – The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn

Belfast Telegraph, 29 July 1953