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