Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Moira Village

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


Moira Village

There is a story locked up in every home

FOR this, the last of this series of articles, I have chosen to write not of one house, but of all those houses that together make up the charming Georgian village of Moira.

Moira is a roadside village, the houses being built on either side of the highway, and its charm and interest are evident to the traveller from the moment that he sees the fine trees growing in the centre of the wide street.

The houses are mostly of rubble masonry, some thatched, some colour-washed a pleasing rose-pink, some with wide arched doorways and graceful fanlights.

It is a peaceful place, this typical Ulster village through which runs the main Lisburn-Lurgan road. Set in an open-flourishing landscape of green fields from whence come some of the means to feed the thriving towns of Britain. Moira has changed very little since Sir George Rawdon acquired an estate there at the end of the 17th century.

The road on which this village is built is excellent, for thereabouts is a tradition of good roads. Even in 1683 the roads for which Sir George was responsible, were described as “verv good, not only from the nature of the soil which generally affords gravel, but from Sir George Rawdon's care.”

Indeed, so excellent a road-maker was this gentleman that he has been described as “the best highwayman in the kingdom.”

Each of the homes of Moira has a story, as yet unwritten, known only to those who live therein.

Every old house has a story if we care to search for it. I have found, during the months in which I have been writing about these homes of Ulster, that this search is well worth making. It may lead in some tale of high romance, to some old deed of courage, or to some story of fortunes founded from small beginnings.

There remain many old Ulster homes whose stories have not been written – great houses, Georgian farms, ancient castles and secluded country houses handed to succeeding generations of the same family.

Of those that I have seen and admired I remember best the serenity of Florencecourt, the green peace of the Southwell almshouses, the glowing rose of Waring House, and the distant grace of Mount Panther, but, above all, I recall with gratitude the kindness of those who own the storied homes of Ulster, and without whose help these tales could not have been written.


Belfast Telegraph, 30 December 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Orangefield House

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


Orangefield House

The demesne has gone and mansion is lost

BELFAST, like all great cities, has crept ever outward, urbanising the surrounding pastureland, using stream and river for its own purpose, until now one must seek for those landmarks that were outstanding features little more than a century past.

When, in 1823, Atkinson described Orangefield, the seat of Hugh Crawford, a proprietor of the Belfast Bank, he said that this estate was “a more extensive feature of the Belfast neighbourhood than any of those on the Downpatrick road.”

Then, the handsome square house stood on a richly planted demesne of 200 acres, and a corn and flour mill added greatly to the wealth of the owner and to the welfare of the tenants.

The trees in the demesne were for the most part oak and ash, either fully grown or “far advanced to maturity,” some of them planted no doubt by Thomas Bateson who left Lancashire in the 17th century and came to Orangefield.

The uniformly laid surface of the land was in those days considered a defect, but the extensive views of the Belfast mountains, the hills of Castlereagh and the church of Knock and Breda compensated for this fault.

The fault became a virtue later when the level land was covered with neat and pleasant houses. To-day the extensive demesne is so intersected by parks and avenues that it is difficult to find the “excellent mansion” of which Atkinson wrote.

The mansion, though in good repair, is no longer the spruce dwelling house that it was, and the oak and the ash have long since gone. Only here and there are to be seen the stumps of the great trees beside a sturdy remnant of the wall which once enclosed the demesne.

For a long time Orangefield was deserted and then a group of enterprising businessmen saw its possibilities. It is now the headquarters for several manufacturing concerns. The windows are stacked high with boxed goods and all day vans come and go in the driveway.

Here in this place that once saw a most leisurely manner of living, workpeople are busy preparing and canning food-stuffs, and, since Orangefield House is in the centre of a most populous neighbourhood, it is never difficult to find extra hands. Even the old stables and coach-houses have been re-built and utilised, and a modern, hygienic canning plant has been installed where once the horses rested.


Next week – Brownlow House, Lurgan.

Belfast Telegraph, 16 December 1953.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Brownlow House, Lurgan

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


Brownlow House, Lurgan

From skill and taste came pleasing harmony

LURGAN has grown very much since Captain Pynnar made his survey of property in Co. Armagh in 1618, and noted that William Brownlow had made “a very fair town consisting of 42 houses, all of which are inhabited with English families, and the streets all paved clean through.”

Much of William Brownlow's “very fair house of stone and brick” that lay adjacent to the town can be seen to-day, and the rebuilding which has taken place through the intervening centuries has been carried out so skilfully that there is a lively harmony about the whole dwelling.

Here there is no formalism to produce an “architectural composition.” Windows appear where they are needed to supply light, as the native common sense of those first Elizabethans dictated — a common sense shared both by the Victorians and our own contemporary Elizabethans.

Ornamental chimneys, both real and decorative, sprout from every peak of the many-gabled roof, giving the whole building an air of exuberance and gaiety. This exuberant air is increased by the delicate scrolled stonework that abounds about the dwelling.

Looking at this stonework one can almost believe that the fabled petrifying powers of Lough Neagh have been bequeathed to the ornamental lake that fronts the house, and that some past occupant has proved the waters magic quality by immersing lace to decorate his dwelling.

Succeeding members of the Brownlow family remained patrons of Lurgan throughout the years that followed Pynnar’s Survey.

As early at 1824 the beautiful demesne was thrown open to the public. Even then, the people of Lurgan were free to walk round the fine lake and watch the water-fowl cleave triangular furrows through the reeds, whilst the gulls whirled and swooped and screamed overhead.

Brownlow House was bought by the Orange Body in 1903 and is now an Orange Hall. The beautiful demesne, with its rich plantations and fine sheet of water is a public park.

Bicycles and motor-cars break the stillness of the misty lake, but the water-fowl still sail among the rushes.


Next Week — Moira Village, County Down.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 23 December 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Corry's Crescent

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


Corry's Crescent

Conceived on lines of Georgian graciousness

WALKING along University Road, with public and private transport perpetually roaring past and crowds of workers, shoppers and University students hurrying on their way, it seems scarcely possible that little more than a hundred years have lapsed since a certain section of the public complained that Queen's had been built too far out in the country.

There is a map of 1848 that shows Queen's and Corry’s Crescent surrounded by open fields, and from this map one can get a clear mental picture of the beautiful square that Robert Carry visualised.

Only the Upper and Lower Crescents of the square he planned were completed, and those who built here later lacked his ideals of beauty.

The Upper Crescent, with its graceful sweeping curve and fine proportions, was completed first, somewhere about 1848, and from the Belfast Directory of 1852 we learn that four new houses in the Lower Crescent were then finished and occupied.

The dignified houses that make up these fine terraces were planned during the middle years of Victoria's reign, when pomposity rampaged in English architecture

Fortunately, Georgian graciousness lingered in Belfast, and here, in Corry’s Crescent is none of the Neo-Gothic influence that characterised new buildings in England at this time, when the spread of education and increased wealth from expanding manufacturing power had given a varied and solid culture to a new middle class.

The terrace where Robert Corry spent much of his life was doubtless the culmination of all he had dreamt during the weary months that followed the accident in which be fractured both his legs.

Looking through the Belfast directories for the years between the Great Exhibition and the Prince Consort's death, one gets a picture of Belfast life in the Crescents. For obvious reasons the Crescents were favoured places of residence for the professors from Queen's. Merchants and manufacturers who wished to live in rural surroundings yet needed to be within easy reach of the city found the neighbourhood a happy choice.

The directory of 1856 tells us that the fortunate occupant of No. 9, Lower Crescent, was a “gentleman.” One wonders if he found the Ladies Seminary run by his next-door-neighbour Miss Black, too noisy for his name had disappeared by 1860.

Merchants, manufacturers, lawyer, parsons, professors, and increasingly, Corry's timber merchants and shipowners, inhabited the terraces, so that, to-day as in the map of 1848, we refer to this place as “Corry's Crescent,” not Upper and Lower Crescent as the directories and nameplates indicate.


Next week – Orangefield

Belfast Telegraph, 9 December 1853

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – The Old Museum, Belfast

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


The Old Museum, Belfast

A glance back to the time when Belfast’s museum was founded.

ONE of the objects of the Belfast Reading Society, established in 1788, was the formation of “collections of nature and art."

The Reading Society, now known as the Linenhall Library, flourished, but little was done about the “collections of nature and art" until, in 1821, eight young citizens formed themselves into the Belfast Natural History Society.

The first meeting was held on May 5, 1821, at the house of Dr. Drummond, one of the founder members, in Chichester Street. The newly-formed Society continued to meet in Chichester Street until Dr. Drummond's lease expired, when the natural philosophy classroom at the Belfast Academical Institution was offered to them as a temporary headquarters.

Membership and interest in the new Society grew, their headquarters were again changed, and at length it became obvious that they must seek a permanent home, both for the ever-increasing “collections of nature and art," and for their frequent meetings.

Eventually the founder members secured a part of Thos. M'Cammon's land in College Square, tenders were sent out by the architects, Messrs, Duff & Jackson, and on May 4, 1830, the Marquis of Donegall laid the foundation stone of the Belfast Museum.

The old Museum is to-day the headquarters for various societies, and the original collections have been removed to the Municipal Museum in Stranmills Road.

The classical proportions of the old building retain their dignity, although overshadowed by the more opulent Technical College.

This was the first provincial museum to be built in Ireland, and for 80 years it served the public well. At first the museum was open only on specific days, but in 1837 it was decided to open six days a week.

Charges ordinarily were 3d for mechanics and children, and 8d for other persons, but on Easter Monday, which was the great day for visiting the Museum, the charge was 1d for children and 2d for adults.

A hundred years ago the majority of Belfast citizens had only about six days holiday a year — two days for July 12, two days for Christmas and two days for Easter. The great thing to do at Easter was to go, first to the Botanic Gardens to watch the balloon go up, and then to the Museum, where strange, wonderful and rare things were to be seen.

The growing popularity of the Museum can be gauged from the numbers who went there. On Easter Monday, 1843, 1,200 folk visited it; on Easter Monday, 1853. 5,950 went to see the exhibits.

The Easter advertisements which told Belfast citizens of the wonders on show at the old Museum were very different from the bulletins which now tell us what we may learn in the new building which has inherited the original “collections of nature and art."


Next week – Corry's Crescent, Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 2 December 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Saintfield House, Co. Down

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


Saintfield House, Co. Down

Baffled pikemen and the painted beauty

SOMETIME between 1749 and 1790, prior to big marriage. Francis Price had a house built in the heart of his rolling Saintfield parkland. The trees that he and his successors planted are old giants now, fringing the winding drive that leads to the house, and casting long shadows as the wintry sun momentarily turns the last dried leaves to a glowing amber.

Against the walls of the house the Virginia creeper still flaunts a few flushed flags, but on the climbing rose only dusters of brilliant berried remain of all the summer's glory.

Originally, the house consisted of a three-storey centre block, but later, flanking wings, two floors high, were added, and these were joined to the main edifice by single storey connecting blocks. This variation in height adds to the interest of the exterior of the house.

Within the dwelling aere many mementos of the Price ancestors. Still preserved is a magnificent blue velvet coat, with companion satin waistcoat lavishly embroidered in blue and silver, that Francis Price wore on special occasions. There is also a curious contraption used by Nicholas Price, son of Francis, to enable him to take exercise when, after his eightieth birthday, he was too old for riding horse-back.

Nicholas Price was probably the best-known of this old family. Mrs. Delaney met him when he was a small boy, and she wrote of him: "Poor little Nickey Price, I’m afraid there is no hope for him."

In spite of the doubts of the Dean's wife Nicholas Price lived to be 96, and it is said that he attributed his life and health to the waters of Ballynahinch Spa. He came to be known as "The Old Squire."

During the '98 rising, the Old Squire had a most fortunate escape. Whilst he was away in Dublin a band of rebels marched on Saintfield House and lined up a cannon on the lawn, preparatory to blasting the place.

The steward, who had been left in charge ran out to say that his master was away, whereupon the rebels held their fire and chased the steward indoors. The unfortunate man id in a passage that runs round the basement, whilst the cut-throats sought him throughout the house.

In the search, a pike was thrust through a portrait of a lady, presumably to discover if the unlucky wretch had hidden behind it. The scar left by this pike-thurst mars the lady's painted beauty even yet.

Eventually the unhappy man was discovered, taken to the lawn in front of the house, and shot.

For several weeks the rebel gang had possession of Saintfield House, but were eventually overcome, after the Battle of Ballynahinch.


Next week — The Old Museum, College Square North, Belfast

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 25 November 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Hockley Lodge, Armagh

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


Hockley Lodge, Armagh

Dower House that retains its old-world charm

THE roads of Co. Armagh interlace the flourishing countryside as ribbons interlace a Victorian petticoat. Alongside some of these winding roads run the high, strong walls of those twenty-two proportions of territory, possessed by English settlers, into , which the baronies of O’Neilland and Orior were divided when the King's Commissioners began their inquiry in 1618.

Some little way beyond one of these enclosing walls, about two miles from Armagh, lies Hockley Lodge, once a Dower House of the Molyneaux family of Castledillon.

The great house of Castledillon is now an annexe of St. Luke's Hospital, and the splendid coach-house, designed by Cooley, where once the ladies of the house ran a charity school, are workshops.

The small Dower House is, however, still a charming home. Built on sloping ground, its entrance in classic Georgian style, is single-storied, whilst the rear of the building, of seventeenth century origin, is two-storied.

The window tax caused many of the windows at Hockley Lodge to be blinded, about the year 1807, but it is noticeable that, in order to escape the tax, the windows were not bricked up in the usual way, but had a brick wall built about 18 inches away from them, somewhat in the manner of modem windows protected from air-raid blast.

Evidently the then owner of Hockley Lodge believed that the window tax would not last long How irritated he must have been that the hated tax was not repealed until 1851!

At the rear of the house is a courtyard containing the farm buildings, the most imposing of which is an octagonal dairy, forming the centre of one side of the court. This dairy is lit from a high, domed roof and its cool gloom is accentuated by its floor of Armagh marble.

Outside the kitchen door is a brick oven, complete with flue, where once the bread for the household was baked.

At the time of the 1641 rebellion, Hockley Lodge was occupied by a daughter of John Dillon. As she was married to a man of native extraction, she remained safe from harm when the county was a battleground. Indeed, she was able to help some of her friends and neighbours to escape, even though nearby Charlemont Fort was conquered and held by the rebel, Sir Phelim O'Neill.

It is recorded by Sir C. Cooks in his “Statistical Survey of County Armagh,” published in 1804, that at that time a Mr. Shields was then the occupant of Hockley Lodge. At the time of the “Survey’s” publication, Mr. Shields, like all the other county families, would be enjoying the years of troubled peace that followed the ’98 rising — such troubled years as those that we have seen in our own day and generation.


Next week – Saintfield House, Saintfield, Co Down.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 13 November 1953.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Killyleagh Castle

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


Killyleagh Castle

The storms of centuries have left it unshaken.

BEYOND the little harbour and the straggling factories of Killyleagh's narrow main street, one is surprised to find the curtain wall of a great grey castle dominating the town‘s tiny square.

To those who visit this busy town for the first time, the sight of the Castle, overpowering the huddled houses, comes as something of a shock, for gatehouse and town are in close proximity, not separated by vast parklands as is the more usual case.

These battlemented walls were built to ensure security for the inhabitants of the humbler dwellings that cluster round their base. Their strength and grandeur are portrayed in Raven's map of 1625. an excellent reproduction of which appears in Stevenson's "Two Centuries of Life in Down."

The fabric of Killyleagh has been excellently preserved, since for centuries it has been used as a home. The Earl of Abercorn, writing to his Master, James I, said that James Hamilton was building "a very strong castell, the lyk not in the north." These words could well be used to-day for nowhere is there a castle of such age in a like state of repair.

At the time when Lord Abercorn wrote to his King, James Hamilton was really making additions to a stronghold built by the Normans, probably some 400 years previously.

Hamilton, that shrewd Scots adventurer, had bought the Duffryn territory, which included Killyleagh, from the Whyte family about 1610. He reported to his monarch that the territory had been purchased for "a good valuable consideration."

The purchase of the territory did not, however, include the goodwill of the Whyte family, for we learn from Hamilton's later complaints that one Christopher Whyte had joined himself with Constantine O'Neale in rebellion against the new landlord. As later events disclosed that James Hamilton's "good valuable consideration" was a mere £40, the dissatisfaction of the Whyte family is not surprising.

The ill-fated Henry, Earl of Clanbrassil, Hamilton’s successor, restored Killyleagh in 1666. The castle was the scene of much disturbance when the rising of 1798 shocked the North with its bitterness. For a third time, in 1850, the Castle was restored on this occasion under the direction of Sir Charles Lanyon.

Some nine years later, the gatehouse section was rebuilt by the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, as a gift for Lady Dufferin's brother, Mr. Gavin Hamilton. The annual rental is one of the most romantic in the Province, the tenant having the right to offer "a red rose to the Lady, or a pair of gilt spurs to the Master of Clandeboye."


Next Week — Hockley Lodge, County Armagh.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 11 November 1953

Storied Homes of Ulster – Bank of Ireland, Armagh

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


Bank of Ireland, Armagh

Site of St. Patrick's first church, legend says

ARMAGH has so many beautiful examples of Georgian architecture, both in the city itself and in the surrounding countryside, that it is difficult to select the most outstanding.

Remarkable for its simplicity of form is the Beak of Ireland. The building is set back a little way from the road, and its elegance is admirably enhanced by beautiful wrought iron work, a tribute to the skill of local craftsmen.

The serenity of the plain white front is offset by the richness of a charmingly curved handrail, and the delicate tracery of the lamp standards that flank the gate.

The house, completed about 1812, is attributed to the architect Francis Johnson. It was built for Leonard Dobbin, M.P. for the borough of Armagh. The lovely ceiling in the main reception room, where public business is now transacted, incorporates amongst its flowing arabesques, the Dobbin coat of arms.

At first, Leonard Dobbin carried out banking business in his new residence in a private capacity, but on January 1, 1827, he and his nephew Thomas became joint agents in Armagh lor the Bank of Ireland. Leonard Dobbin retained his seat in Parliament, and whilst he was at Westminster the business of banking was in his nephews complete charge.

Some difficulty about his political activities arose in 1834, and he resigned his seat in Parliament. He wrote to the Directors of the Bank of Ireland that he regarded the office of agent as a "position of honour and dignity."

Mr. Dobbin and his nephew continued as agents after this slight altercation, but they appear to have been retained mainly on account of their influential standing, for a manager was now appointed to undertake the more intricate part of the business,

Mr. Leonard Dubbin made one further effort to dabble in politics in 1841 when he carried out a whirlwind campaign on behalf of a certain Mr. Rawden. Upon the complaint of Mr. Rawden's opponent, Mr. George Fox, the Directors of the Bank intimated that Mr. Dobbin's political activities embarrassed them and thereafter these activities ceased, and the agent devoted himself entirely to banking.

Among the records still preserved at the bank are a lodgment docket dated 4th September, 1834, and an account book, filled with beautiful, faded copperplate, which dates from 1830.

It is said that St. Patrick had his first church in the tiny garden at the back of this Georgian house, long before Armagh became a city, and that later his sister founded a religious house in the same place.

Whatever the truth of this legend, it is certain that the garden was once a burying ground, since human remains have been discovered there within living memory.


Next Week — Killyleagh Castle.


Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday 4 November 1953

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Belfast Castle

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


Belfast Castle

Autumn tints lend atmosphere to hillside mansion

From far below on the Antrim Road, Belfast Castle seems suspended halfway between the emerald gloom of the demesne's banked fir trees and the craggy top of Cave Hill, capped on a gold October day, with pearly sea-cloud.

The summer visitors are gone, and buses no longer run on the climbing road that leads to the Castle and its grounds, but just now, in the fall of the year, it is most rewarding to make the escent on foot.

A wide, grassy pathway winds round the hillside, fringing the edge of the demesne. Sunlight glints on woods that glow with all of autumn's richness, and in the sparkling air the tawny leaves are flecked with copper flame. Here and there, against the land's glossy green, the scarlet berries of the rowan trees hang jewel-like, and the tall plumes of the firs stir in the gentle wind.

It is only now, when summer’s profusion has passed, that we see the beauty of each separate leaf in the amber lace that clothes the branches.

The grey stone of the Castle, too, is warmed by the October sun, and the noonday brilliance dapples each pepper-pot turret with light. One thinks of Brunhilde and the Castles of the Rhine as one looks at the tall tower and pointed turrets of this place.

There is something of a fairy-tale quality in the curving stone staircase that leads to the first-floor reception rooms, and in the superb view of the Lough that one gains from the lawn fronting the dwelling. On a sunny autumn day, the sky’s deep blue is reflected in the sapphire waters of the Lough, which glisten like crystal as they are furrowed by harbour-bound vessels.

From this height, the city itself takes on a faery atmosphere as grey veils of smoke drift over it, making high gantries and upreaching chimneys rise, unsubstantially, from cloudy foundations.

This romantic building is little more than a hundred years old, its Scottish baronial style being typical of the Victorian era. Castle and grounds alike were bequeathed to the City by the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1934. The gift is characteristic of this noble family, which, in many ways, has been concerned in public service since the early 16th century.

The philanthropy of the seventh Earl is well-known. It is this hero of Victorian times, believing so passionately that life should be service to God, that we must thank for the humane reforms that came about during the second half of the 19th century. Lord Shaftesbury was the instigator of many of the Bills that reformed the Imperial Parliament, of the Mines Act that forbade the employment of women and boys underground, and of the Act that at last cured the evil of using child labour to sweep chimneys.

To the first Earl of Shaftesbury we owe our present system of Justice. He was the statesman who carried the Habeas Corpus Art through both Houses of Parliament, and who later introduced a Bill to render Judges independent of the Crown.


Next week – Bank of Ireland, Armagh.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 21 October 1953

Storied Homes of Ulster – Hillsborough Courthouse

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


Hillsborough Courthouse

Architectural grace in a Plantation town.

THE Courthouse at Hillsborough is a fine example of rural Irish Renaissance architecture, one of the many excellent public buildings that abound in the towns of Ulster. The building stands in an open space at the lop of the main street, between Government House and the old Fort.

The square centre of the Courthouse is flanked by two long wings, the space between their ends forming arcaded entrances which at one side face Government House and at the other the old Fort. These flanking wings are decorated with a “blinded" continuation of the central arcading, in a manner consistent with the Georgians’ obsession for symmetry.

Here are held the Courts of the Chairmen of the County or Quarter Sessions, which correspond to the English County Court Their origin, however, is of a much earlier date than their English counterpart. They were founded in 1794 in the reign of George III.

At Hillsborough, Quarter Sessions are held twice a year, and the Land Courts then taking place try all cases of dispute between landlord and tenant. Petty Sessions are held monthly and have jurisdiction over minor cases.

Hillsborough Courthouse was erected at the expense of the third Marquis of Downshire. Succeeding to his father's great estates at the age of 14, spoiled and flattered in a manner worthy of a reigning prince. Lord Downshire might have been excused had he succumbed to the profligacy of the age. That he did not reflects great credit upon the singular character of his mother, a woman who proved herself thoroughly capable of caring for the greet Downshire estate during her son's minority. Upon attaining his majority Lord Downshire interested himself in all that concerned the welfare of townsfolk and tenants.

The three years that followed his coming of age were years of high prices and great poverty, and he determined to improve the position of his tenants and the agricultural methods on his estates.

He it was who introduced ploughing matches to Ulster, the first of these being held at Hillsborough Park. In those days ploughs were mostly wooden. Lord Downshlre imported an iron plough from Glasgow, proved its superiority, then offered one of these ploughs and two sets of harness to the farmer in each townland who produced the finest crop of grain, flax, or potatoes.

For his time Lord Downshire had an unusual belief in the importance of education. He had studied the writings of that great educationist, Joseph Lancaster, who was introduced to him in Belfast. He was anxious that Lancaster should visit the schools he had built on his estate, but unfortunately the educationist had engagement in America which prevented him from so doing.

The Courthouse, school, market house end other public buildings erected by the Third Marquis form, at Hillsborough, one of the beet examples of a Plantation town.


Next week: Bank of Ireland, Armagh.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 28 October 1953

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Story of the Ghost of John Greg

And how it gave a Belfast church its pulpit

JOHN GREG, who lived at Ballysillan in 1783, was a great land-grabber in his day. Any tenantry residing around Belfast had their lands taken from them — virtually over their heads.

So pernicious was he in this respect that agrarian trouble became very prevalent and was somewhat difficult to curb by the authorities. It is said that his spirit was unable to rest when he died in 1784.

Some friends appealed to Rev. William Bristow, M.A., vicar and sovereign of Belfast., 1772-1808, to see if he could help in any way. For some unknown reason Mr. Bristow was unable to stay the ghost of John. After many attempts, which ended in failure, he called to his assistance Rev. Hugh O'Donnell, first parish priest of Belfast.

To make a long story short, the efforts of the Rev. Hugh were said at the time to have been successful, though we are not told how, and the spirit of John was at peace.

Mr. Bristow was so grateful for this act of kindness that, when the first chapel was opened in Chapel Lane on May 30, 1784, he presented a pulpit to it. The chapel was opened in great style. The Belfast Volunteer Company, under Captain Waddell Cunningham, attended the ceremony in full dress.

As Rev. Hugh O'Donnell passed through their ranks to celebrate the first Mass, the Protestant Volunteer Company presented arms. The scene was marked for its enthusiasm and perfect good feeling. The congregation returned their most grateful thanks “to the Inhabitants at large for their generously enabling them to erect a handsome edifice for the celebration of divine worship."

It is worthy of note that Rev. Hugh O'Donnell was the first parish priest in Belfast to perform his duties publicly. The distinguished Volunteer Company endeavoured in every way to promote a feeling of freedom in religious matters. One of their resolutions was that "as Christians and as Protestants they rejoiced in the relaxation of the penal laws against their Catholic fellow subjects.”

The Volunteers agitated for "Reform in the Representation of the People." The committee dealing with the matter was composed of the Hon. Colonel Rowley (chairman), the Rt. Hon. John O'Neill, Capt. Black, Colonel Sharman, Capt. Bryson, Mr. Thompson, and Lieut. Moore.

They unanimously resolved on June 9, 1783, "that at an era so honourable to the spirit, wisdom and loyalty of Ireland, more equal representation of the people in Parliament deserves the deliberate attention of every Irishman, as that alone which can perpetuate to future ages the inestimable possession of a free constitution." This was probably passed as an expression of indignation in connection with the Carrickfergus election.

Waddell Cunningham,
First President of
Belfast Chamber of Commerce
CUNNINGHAM was elected member of Parliament for that town by a large majority, but a petition was presented by Joseph Hewitt (the defeated candidate), in which he said the voters were "drunk." Hewitt later became M.P. for Belfast through the efforts of Lord Donegall. Elections of candidates were usually connived at by means of bribery and corruption, irrespective as to the wishes of the people.

WADDELL Cunningham was a distinguished personality at the time. He was first president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1783, and opened Cunningham's Bank in 1786 (according to Benn). At a meeting of the citizens of Belfast the following resolution was passed, "That the most sincere thanks of this assembly be given to Waddell Cunningham for his patriotic and unremitting exertions in favour of his country's rights."

Dr. A. G. Malcolm thus described him, "full of honours both as a public and private man." Cunningham died December 15, 1797, and was interred in Knockbreda Churchyard, where many of Belfast's distinguished rest.

Rev. Hugh O'Donnell was educated by his father — a man of culture. He died at the age of 75 years, and was buried in Glenarm, Co. Antrim, after ministering to his congregation for 44 years.

The epitaph on his tombstone reads –
    "Closed is the hand that often gave relief
     And cold the Heart that beat to each mans grief"

Would that we could all have our lives thus described!

W. C.


This article appeared in the Belfast Telegraph, 6 August 1937.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Kilwaughter Castle

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


Kilwaughter Castle

There’s history in these crumbling walls

JOURNEYING inland from the tempestuous beauty of the Antrim coast, beyond the isolated farms, and tiny cottages which lie so snugly sheltered in the curve of the hills, you find Kilwaughter Castle.

The main gateway is gauntly barred with barbed wire, but, on ascending the “brae," darkened even in mid-afternoon by the great trees that overhang the walls, you find an overgrown driveway that leads, uninterrupted, to the deserted dwelling.

Primitive earthwork, Norman motte, Elizabethan bawn, Georgian round tower — this castle is almost a history book in itself.

When the brother of Robert Bruce landed at Larne in 1315 he destroyed all the Norman settlements, and, assisted by O'Neills, M'Sweeneys, and M'Donnells, he left "neither field of corn undestroyed, nor town unsacked, nor unfrequented place, were it never so little nor so desert, unsearched and unburnt."

The marauders failed to destroy the Norman motte upon which the original castle stood, and it can still be seen in the Kilwaughter demesne. The Norman family name remains, too, but in a changed form. D'Agneux became Agnew, and Agnews were still living at Kilwaughter at the end of the nineteenth century.

Another castle rose on these lands, still a strong-walled dwelling, for fortified houses were needed in Ulster long after the need for them had passed in England.

A dark mantle of ivy covers the broken walls of this later bawn, but their strength is evident even in ruin. Their rough hewn granite ends in purposeful battlements, very different from the decorative crenellations that surmount the smooth walls and round tower of the later mansion.

These later additions were built at a time when it was fashionable for every feature to play its allotted part in an architectural composition. This desire for uniformity is seen in the shape of the windows in the round tower:    they are all hooded to match those of the earlier period.

In later years, larger windows of the more generally recognised Georgian type replaced these matching hooded ones in the reception rooms on the lower floor of the tower, probably to give a better view of the little lake that can be seen where the velvet turf ends in a grove of trees.

For a little while longer this old castle sleeps on, its proud old walls, weathered to darkness by the winter winds, and warmed to greenness by the summer suns of centuries past, have outlived their usefulness

Soon only the placid waters of the little lake, giving back the green tracery of spring and the gold tracery of autumn as Nature's cycle is repeated in the overshadowing trees, will remain to remind us of the storied home there once was here.


Next week — Belfast Castle.

Belfast Telegraph
, Wednesday, 14 October 1953

Storied Homes of Ulster – Florida Manor

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


Florida Manor

Life – that is different – returns to Down house

Rev. John Dubourdieu, Rector of Anahilt, writing his survey of the County of Down in the year 1802, says:– “Besides the several spacious habitations of the principal proprietors of this county, there are numerous and elegant modern built mansions belonging to the gentlemen; and others also, of an earlier date, modernised with taste and judgment."

One of these "others of an earlier date” is Florida Manor in the Parish of Kilmood. Little seems to be known of its early history, but into the wall of one of the farm-buildings is built a plate bearing the date 1676

It is known that the house was built by the Gordons, a family of ancient Scottish lineage. The lands at one time probably belonged to the Whytes, but in the sixteenth century this family was not strong enough to retain its holdings and much went from its possession into the hands of bold Scots adventurers who sought, nearer home, such lands and wealth as Raleigh and his fellows were finding in the new lands of America.

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Florida Manor must have been a pleasant and gracious place, standing in its wide demesne of ancient trees. Some of the oaks, we are told, were in 30 feet in girth. The wide hall with its elegantly moulded ceiling and handsome staircase was doubtless the scene of much coming and going when each of the fine coach houses at the rear of the dwelling held either chaise or phaeton.

In the lists of those who held the office of High Sheriff of the County of Down the name of Gordon of Florida twice appears. In 1810 David Gordon held the office, and in 1833 the honour fell to Robert Gordon.

At the beginning of the 20th century the dwelling could no longer be described in the Rev. J. Dubourdieu's glowing language, and by the time the second World war upon us, Florida Manor was in a sad state of repair. Ceilings had fallen in, floors had rotted, and in the once-gracious gardens a tangle of weeds rioted.

Happily, to-day a different tale can be told. The old house is once again being "modernised with taste and judgment." The dwelling and lands were purchased, a year or two ago, by a farmer who is also an artist and under his skilful supervision the ruined house has become a home for two families.

It was possible to save only a part of the beautiful hall ceiling, but the carved marble fireplaces still grace drawing-room and studio, and the long windows in the library retain all their elegance.

The freshly painted coach houses now shelter the more prosaic tractor, and from behind the stable doors come the grunts and lowings of the farm's livestock — sounds that tell us that life and prosperity are returning to Florida Manor.


Next week – Kilwaughter Castle, Co. Antrim.

Belfast Telegraph, 7 October 1953

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Clandeboye House

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


Clandeboye House

Down mansion has link with Nelson and Trafalgar

THE autumn winds blow softly around Clandeboye, and the great trees in the demesne are still heavily green. Only on the house itself do the glowing reds of the embracing creeper reveal in their richness the year's decay.

The fortunes of the various owners of the Clandeboye lands have risen and fallen through the centuries. Throughout those troublous days when de Courcys fought de Laceys, Clandeboye belonged to the O’Neill clan.

Con O'Neill forfeited his inheritance to James Hamilton, schoolmaster and secret agent In the time of Ehrabelh I. His grandson, the first Earl of Clanbrassil, married, contrary to his mother's wishes, Lady Alice Moore, daughter of the Earl of Drogheda.

It was said of Lady Alice, at tho Court of Charles II. that "she thinks to trip up Nell Gwynn's heels."

Whatever her success, or lack of it, with King Charles, her husband was sufficiently dominated by her to make her his heiress, much against the advice of his kinsfolk. Events proved their misgivings justified, for three months after the signing of the will, the infatuated husband died in most mysterious circumstances. The will was disputed and the properly divided.

Eventually the Clandeboye lands passed through marriage, into the hands of John Blackwood, grandson of a Bangor merchant. John Blackwood's bride was Sophia Hamilton who had inherited the Clandeboye lands, along with half of the town and castle of Killyleagh.

Plain John Blackwood became Sir John in 1763. He was the father of eleven children, seven of whom were sons. His fourth son, Henry, entered the Navy and as Capt Blackwood commanded the 36-gun frigate "Penelope" in the Napoleonic Wars. The "Penelope,” under his command gave chase to the 80-gun French ship, "Guillaume Telle," and by clever seamanship crippled and held her until the English Fleet arrived when the French admiral commanding the "Guillaume Telle” surrendered.

Later, Capt. Blackwood commanded the frigate "Euryalus” while the English fleet was off Trafalgar. The log of this ship was printed by the Navy Records Society as containing "a complete history of the Battle of Trafalgar."

It was aboard the “Euryalus" that the body of Nelson was borne to England for burial.

Some time after the Clandeboye lands passed into the Blackwood family, the small two-storied house that stood thereon had low wings added on either side. In 1800, James, Lord Dufferin, raised and enlarged the house and his wife laid out the gardens.

The first Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, later to become Viceroy of India, changed the entrance, added several rooms, cut down the encroaching trees to enable the surrounding hills to be seen from the house, and created the 60-acre Clandeboye lake which to-day supplies the people of Bangor with water.


Next week: Florida Manor, Co Down.

Belfast Telegraph
, 30 September 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Clifton House (Belfast Charitable Institute)

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


Clifton House (Belfast Charitable Institute)

Where Belfast’s hospitals had their beginning

PASSING through the scrolled gates of Clifton House, one leaves behind the roar of traffic and town and enters a quiet backwater of life. Tall green hedges form a background for the vivid flowers bordering the driveway, and also guard stretches of velvety turf, most pleasant to look upon from the windows of the quiet sitting rooms.

Clifton House is Belfast's oldest public building, having been erected in 1772, and it has all the dignity of line, and the mellow charm of the Georgian period. Its wide and welcoming doorway leads into a spacious reception hall whose very furnishing tells tales of the building's origin. Here are half-moon tables of the Sheraton period, flanked by a gracefully elegant sideboard, and chairs which a collector of antiques would eye enviably.

The House was founded by the Belfast Charitable Institute, which came into being in 1752. On August 25 of that year, Margetson Saunders and other residents of the city met to consider a proper way to raise a sum for the building of a Poor House and Hospital and a new church, in or near the town of Belfast

These citizens decided to issue 100,000 lottery tickets at half-a-guinea each, the chances thereof to depend on the Dublin lottery. This did not prove a very good way of raising money, and many of the tickets were unsold. One of them, framed hangs on the wall of the Board Room at Clifton House. There was a further issue of lottery tickets a year later, this time on a London lottery, and money gradually rolled into the great iron-bound box which had been purchased to hold the funds.

By 1767 there was £1,614 2s in the box, and plans began to go forward. The site was to be "on the North-West side of the road leading to Carrickfergus." On August 1, 1771, the foundation stone was laid by Stewart Banks, Sovereign of Belfast.

When, at last, the House opened, it had seven beds for the sick, four double beds for the poor, four single beds for vagrants.

Those seven beds for the sick were the beginning of Belfast's hospitals

In many ways the founders of the Institute made themselves responsible for tasks which today are undertaken by the local government. At the end of the eighteenth century many beggars roamed the streets, some of them genuinely distressed, others little better than strolling criminals who terrorised the community.

As a deterrent to the latter, the Founders decided to have a place fitted up at Clifton House as a "black hole," and the blocked up window still exists. Later, the Beadle, attended by two of the ablest inhabitants of the House, patrolled the town twice a week to apprehend any strolling beggar. The Beadle and his attendants carried staves, and wore scarlet-collared cloaks, being known to the citisen* as the "Bang-beggars."

The Institute opened its doors to children in 1776. appointing a Master and Mistress to undertake their education in the "3 R's," and in some occupation that would help them earn their livelihood.

Of the many methods used to raise money for the charity, perhaps the most outstanding were the performances by Sarah Siddons, given at her own request. A small portrait of the "Divine Sarah" hangs in the Board Room.

The Founders' undertaking to supply the city with piped water, and the guarding of the burying ground against body snatchers are other noteworthy incidents in the Institute's long history. Mementos of these episodes, too, stand in the Board Room – the hollowed tree trunks which were the first water pipes, and the old flintlocks with which the guards were armed.

To-day, Clifton House is a haven for 144 old folk, who whilst they are largely self-supporting in a financial sense, are unable to live alone. Under the Institute's hospitable roof is a centenarian, and next year, all being well, two more of Clifton House residents will see their 100th birthday.


Next Week – Clandeboye.

Belfast Telegraph
, 23 September 1953.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Carrickfergus Castle

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


Carrickfergus Castle

The Captains and the Kings have gone

IN those days whose history is blurred to vision, when London was merely a Celtic settlement in a clearing of the primeval forest, there was habitation around the place we know as Carrickfergus.

Tradition has it that King Fergus came here to drink the waters of that well now guarded in the square keep of the Castle, and, when he was drowned in a storm off the rocky promontory, his name was given to the place — Carrickfergus, Rock of Fergus.

Centuries afterwards John de Courcy chose to establish a colony here, having been granted the lands of Ulster when Henry II joined England and Ireland. Among the families that clustered about the Castle at the close of the twelfth century were Sendalls, Russells, Whites, Bensons, Jordans, Copelands and Savages - names we still hear in Ulster and whose bearers can trace their ancestry through the intervening centuries.

There was no peace for Ireland in the two decades that followed the colony's establishment De Courcys fought de Laceys and the Irish chieftains fought both. When, in the 13th century, there was a general uprising, King John himself journeyed to Ireland to subdue, among others. Hugh de Lacey.

King John stayed at Carrickfergus, and the chapel where he worshipped still stands, its arched windows giving an ecclesiastical air to the lofty barrenness of this room beside the portcullis.

From Carrickfergus King John wrote in 1210: "And when we were at Cracfergus, that castle being now taken, a certain friend and relation of ours from Galweya, named Duncan de Karge, informed us that he had taken prisoners Matilda and her daughter the wife of the son of Roger Mortimer), and William the Younger and his wife and two sons. But Hugh de Lacey and Reginald du Breosa had escaped."

Matilda offered 4,000 marks for her husband’s life, but notwithstanding this offer, and a curious gift of 400 cows and one bull, all white save for red ears, she and her family were taken in chains, to Windsor, where they perished of hunger.

The Castle of Carrickfergus has held other prisoners, among them Con O'Neill, who, at the beginning of the 17th Century, was Irish overlord of the Ards peninsula. Con O'Neill and his family at Christmas, 1603, had a grand debauch at Castlereagh.

Having emptied the wine cellars, Con sent his servitors to Belfast for replenishments. However, on the return journey the O'Neill servants were waylaid near Knock Church by English soldiers, and lost the fresh supplies of wine. Their master, heaping scorn upon them for being beaten by the English, sent them again to Belfast. This time the O'Neill servants beat the English, and killed several of the soldiers. For his part in the affray O'Neill was confined in Carrickfergus Castle.

Con O’Neill had a resourceful wife, however. This good lady hired a boat from Bangor and brought for the prisoner two cheeses, the centres of which had been hollowed out and filled with cords. On the next fine night Con let himself down from the Castle and escaped in the waiting boat to Bangor, where he hid himself in the church steeple.

To-day only the feet of curious tourists sound over the cobbles of the ancient Castle that for eight hundred years has kept watch over Belfast Lough, but inside the battered walls there lies a happier dwelling place.

Against one of the inner walls that front the cobbled courtyard a long low house has been built for the caretaker and his wife. Within this minuscule dwelling is a shining brilliance that contrasts strangely with the crumbling castle. Jewel-bright brasses wink from the sparkling dresser, the shining old-fashioned stive gleams with an ebony lustre, and all about the tiny home is the clean, sharp tang of the sea. The captain and the Kings have gone but the people yet remain.


Newt week: The Charitable Institution, Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph
, 16 September 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Stormont Castle

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


Stormont Castle

Estate that was built up field by field

JOHN Cleland's monogram can still be seen on the shields held by the snarling gryphons that guard the doors of Stormont Castle. The Castle is excellently preserved, since the lofty reception rooms are used by the Prime Minister and by the Cabinet, but the monogram and the ornate memorial to Samuel Jackson Cleland that nearly over-shadows Dundonald Church are almost all that remain to remind us of the family around whom legends of misdeeds have grown.

About four years before hia death in 1834, John Cleland, Rector of Newtownards, tutor to the young Lord Castlereagh and sometime agent for Lord Londonderry, built a large plain house on the Stormont estate he had acquired.


During the time when he was agent for the Stewart estate he resided at Newtownards, and it was there that he laid the foundations of his fortune. It is said that he refused to take banknotes from the tenants, demanding payment of rents in gold. As that commodity was scarce, he constituted himself moneychanger, charging as much as 5s in the pound for changing notes.

He thus amassed a large amount of money, and with it he purchased, field by field and farm by farm, the wide estate of Stormont.

Cleland must have been the most hated man in County Down, for in addition to his illicit discounting, he was a fierce and persistent magistrate, hounding most cruelly those against whom even the breath of suspicion blew.

We can read in "Ulster Life" of 1796, whet James Porter thought of him, for in that book he is portrayed as "Noodledrum." It was Cleland who was largely responsible for the hanging of James Porter of Greyabbey, and for the cruelty, injustice and severity meted out to the Presbyterian minister of Portaferry.

In 1797 this magistrate, Cleland, burned out M'Cormick’s Inn at Newtownards, and had the unhappy landlord imprisoned because some of his customers had been overheard in treasonable talk! The house of a Dr. Jackson was raided, robbed and burned because the doctor was suspect.


At the Spring Assizes in Down in the same year, Cleland had so interfered with the jury panel that was to try political prisoners that he was most bitterly attacked by the defending counsel, John Philpot Curran.

Lord Castlereagh, his former pupil, wrote thus of his teacher: "Cleland richly deserves to be tossed in a blanket . . . I will take a corner." Later he wrote to relate an attack on Cleland's life:

"Cleland very incautiously went out last night and was attacked by some villain who owed him ill-will. In the dark he snapped a pistol at Cleland which misfired and Cleland fired two shots without effect at him."

Samuel Jackson Cleland, who succeeded to the estate, enjoyed his father's ill-gotten gains for a short time only. In 1842, whilst he was abusing some workmen who were not proceeding sufficiently speedily with the demolition of a wall that obscured his view, he was killed when the wall in question collapsed on him.

The memorial that stands hard by Dundonald Church was erected to Samuel’s memory by his wife, and it was she who later added towers and turrets to the large plain house that John Cleland built at Stormont.


Next week: Carrickfergus Castle.

Belfast Telegraph
, 9 September 1953.