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The Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly

By J.W. Kernohan, M.A.


These transcription of this work was started and finished by Barbara Braswell. Further parts have been transcribed and the whole 'marked up' in HTML by Richard Torrens.

Title Page

The Parishes of



Tamlaght O'Crilly
A sketch of their history,
with an account of the
Boveedy Congregation.


J. W. Kernohan, M.A.

Printed at the "Chronicle" Office


These sketches were first undertaken in response to a request for a, brief account of Presbyterianism in the district roughly co-extensive with the Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly in Londonderry. But realizing that the object in view might be better accomplished by including the ecclesiastical in the civil history, and thus presenting it in its proper setting, the writer was persuaded to take a more extended view of the settlement and growth of the district.

There was a further inducement in the fact that the plantation and development of the "proportion" of the Worshipful Company of Mercers provided a typical example of the colonizing scheme of James I., arising out of his well-intentioned desire to reduce a hitherto disturbed and distracted country to order and good government.
J. W. Kernohan.

Part I - The Plantation Period

When one attempts to deal with the period of Irish history that preceded the Plantation of Ulster, he is met with a deficiency of records from which to trace the story of a small district such as is comprehended within the bounds of two parishes. He is also beset with a temptation to indulge his imagination in the struggle through the rather bald narrative of the Irish annalists. So complete was the change from the old order of things under Queen Elizabeth's regime, when the City of London undertook the colonization of the tract of country which subsequently received the name of Londonderry, that the writer feels on surer ground in making the Plantation his starting point. And so distinctly organised was the colony of the Mercers and the other city companies, that there is an abundance of records to provide information for the seventeenth century at least.

Before the middle of the eighteenth century, when a new lord of the soil appeared on the scene to make arrangements for rent-collecting, but to be seldom seen there afterwards, the site of the future market town of Kilrea was marked by a cluster of thatched houses close by the Church, after the manner of the ancient feudal castle and its circle of huts, while on the neighbouring townlands were scattered the homesteads of the farmers and labourers.

Ecclesiastical Property

In the parochial distribution that was in force since the eleventh or twelfth century, Kilrea was a compact little parish lying along the River Bann, and like its neighbour Agivey, held a peculiar position being "appropryated" to the Abbey of SS. Peter and Paul of Armagh. The connection with the Abbey is described in a inquisition taken in 1609 - "Two acres of Glebe land, and also the Parish of Kilrea, containing ten ballibows, whereon are both a parson and vicar, for the space of 170 years past, have pertained to the Abbot of SS. Peter and Paul of Armagh; and like wise the tithes were paid unto the said Abbot and his predecessors; and that the said presentation and right of patronage, together with said tithes of Kilreagh. lately came to the crown by the said Abbot was "seized in his demesne as of fee, in right of his house. of and in the four townlands called Kilreagh in possession of the herenagh O'Demon, and two parts of the tithes thereof, and of and in the tithes for the fishing for eels near adjoining the same, and also of and in the two townlands called Monaghgrane, with the tithes thereof in the parish of Kilreagh, aforesaid." From the name of the herenagh or layman who farmed the property and had the upkeep of the Church, the place was nominated "Kilrea O'Demon, or O'Diamond.

Topological Details

The townlands mentioned in the early grants to the Mercer's company corresponded roughly to the present names, though from some of them becoming obsolete it is impossible to identify all the old divisions. In the 1618 grant the following are recited:- Mayannaher, Clara Letrim, Leah Leava, Monygran, Killyfaddy, Nergena, Moynock, Lisleah, ffalla Cogey, Lisnagrott, Lanvore, Carnroo, Pg6 Tawlett, Coldrum Drena. It will be observed that Kilrea is not mentioned. Apparently it was not then in the hands of the company; and the denominations of the townlands composing it - Ballynealane and Ballyawlagh - though marked on the 1609 Barony maps are now quite lost.

Other place-names are evidently lost, as may be seen by the following definition of the boundaries of the parish as given in the Civil Survey of 1654 - "The bounds of the said parish beginneth with the Bog of Monedecogrie to Gortm'creen West, and from thence Southward to Cranaghbradagh; and from thence Eastward to Iavers, crossing over that little brook by Falugnie Westward to Lynluchoy; and from thence to the mearing posts by Moygenney Eastward; and from thence Eastward by Invers to the River of Band; and by the River of Band Northwards to the Bog of Modenecogrie aforesaid." A few of these names are distinguishable, but all that can be said of the bog is that it lay between Claragh and Movanagher.

When the Londoners were a few years in possession, the tithes of the Abbot's goodly property had passed to the first of the Cannings of Garvagh, but, before even the great London guilds had been attracted by the woods and pleasant streams full of game and fish. Sir Toby Caulfield, an old "servitor," had been allowed to "appropriate" the Abbot's lands in default of other pay for his services in the late wars, but in consideration of other rewards was was pleased to resign in favour of the Londoners, who were in a position to have all their demands granted in return for undertaking the colonization of such a barbarous tract of land as lay between the Bann and the Foyle. the great forest of Glenconkein and Killetragh probably included the district around Kilrea, though in the barony map (1609) the territory is styled "Clandonnell" from the tribe of O'Neills that held sway here. If we are to believe the Pynnar's Survey of 1618, they were "the wickedest men in all of the country." Pg7

A Chieftain Bold

Bishop Reeves in a paper on the crannoge of Innishrush says they were descended from a Donnell O'Neill of the Shane's Castle branch, whose great grandson, Brian Carragh, was their chieftain in the sixteenth century. His chief fortress was situated on the island or crannoge in Green Lough. His force of men was small, but the character of the country -"the strongest fastness" - gave him his chief strength, and enabled him to defy not only the English, but neighbouring clans. It was, no doubt, from the reputation of this wild and turbulent chieftain that Pynnar and the English settlers got their opinion of the country.

The traditional stories of Brian give the impression of anything but a perfect gentle knight. "Brian would never hang one man alone, and if he found a man guilty of swinging by his law, he would give him a long day, until he could find another to dance along with him. One time he found a man guilty, and a long time passed over, but no companion could be found for him. At last a stranger cane to visit the friars of a monastery within the territory, and Brian riding out one day, viewed him, and they allowed that he sent word to the Abbot requesting him to lend that man, and that he would send one in return as soon as possible. The Abbot fearing to disobey him sent for the man, and Brian caused him to be hanged along with the convict. Soon after this he found two others guilty, one of whom attracted his notice as being remarkably comely. Brian spoke to him, saying 'I shall forgive you if you will marry a daughter that I have.' 'Let's se her.' says the convict. Brian sends for the daughter; but as soon as the comely youth beheld her, he cried out: 'Up with me, up with me.' 'By the powers,' says Brian, 'I will not up with you, but she must go up.' Upon which he hanged his own daughter for her ugliness, and gave the comely youth up to the Abbot, in payment of the man he had borrowed from him to make up the even number." This is the kind of story that Pg8 was related to Dr. O'Donovan when he was in Co. Derry in 1834, and is quoted by Reeves.

Such is the character this freebooter of Elizabeth's reign left behind him, exaggerated, no doubt, by the elusive type of warfare he carried on from his forest fastness. And such time as he was not raiding his neighbours, when occasion rose, he to be found engaging with the O'Kanes and O'Neills in their common cause against the invading Sassenachs or Scots. Is it to be wondered at, then, that a powerful body like the London Corporation were required to plant and reduce this turbulent area to order and good government? Or that Pynnat, the surveyor, hesitated about wandering far into the woody region about Kilrea, where it was reported that a herdsman was seized and hanged on a neighbouring tree? Or had he heard of the reception given to a map-maker, when the Irish of Tyrconnel took off his head because "they would not have their country discovered?" It is worth repeating another reason given by Sir Thjomas Philips for the introduction of the City Companies into Ulster - that if Spain and the other enemies of England were aware that London "had a footing in the Plantation they would be terrified from looking into Ireland - the back-door to england and Scotland."

There were successive attempts at insurrection in the years following, and the history of Ulster during the whole of the century was one of unsettlement and uncertainty.

Pioneer Planters

The Irish Society was constituted for the purpose of the Plantation in 1610, three years later the allotments to the Companies was made, but so slow was the progress made that the conveyance of the manors was not completed till 1618. From a memorandum attached to the deed of conveyance at Movanagher Castle when one Robert Goodwin, representing the Irish Society, did enter Movanagher, and at the Castle there did give and deliver full Pg9 and peacable possession of all the manor lands unto Richard Vernon, agent-attorney to the Mercers', and in the presence of the witnesses Oliver Mather, clerk; Robert Thornton, Wm. Perry, Thos. Hudson, John Hudson, Ralph Vernon, Donnell O'Quin, Charles Williams, William Cofton, and Hugh O'Curan.

The manor lands of the Mercers covered, roughly speaking, the parishes of Kilrea and O'Crilly (northern portion), and a small part of Destertoghill.Tamlaght They were reckoned at that time as containing 3,210 acres. Pynnar reported the castle as being "not inferior to any that is built, for it is a good strong work and well built; and a very large bawne of 120 feet square, with four flankers, all of good stone and lime." There are other points of his report which are graphic and significant. "There are divers other houses of slight building, but they are far off and dwell dispersedly in the wood, where they are forced of mere necessity to relieve such woodkearn as go up and down the country; and as I am informed by divers in the country, they are in 46 townlands of this proportion [the Mercers'] that are set to the Irish of the sept of Clandonnells (descendants of a Donnell O'Neill)" - in short, our erstwhile friends, Brian Carragh O'Neill's merrymen. This was contrary to the conditions of the Plantation, but the fact is tenants were hard to get; and if these wild and lawless freebooters were induced to renounce the sword for the plough, such covenant-breaking was perhaps pardonable. And yet it was rather soon for the plough. The forest, "the noblest of them," was doomed to destruction: and if the Irish were persuaded, by whatever means, to join in the havoc in the woods, they were shearing themselves of half their strength, but making for better civilization by resorting to ways of husbandry. It is truer, however, to regard them rather in the light of herdsmen, for the habit of "creaghting" was strong in them. It is to the strangers - pioneers, if you will - we must give the credit of "planting," and to the Scotsmen particularly. It was observed that but for Pg10 their industry at the plough, there would have been starvation in the Northern parts. The natives counted their wealth by the heads of cattle they possessed.

The London merchants saw the immense wealth of timber in the forest, and soon the colonists were hard at work felling, building and exporting. Just picture to yourself pioneer work in the backwoods of America, and you have the scene along the banks of the Bann. The 1611 report explicitly mentions masons, carpenters, tilemakers, quarrymen, bargemen, sawyers, wainmen, woodfellers, floaters of timber, and cottmen.

Defensive Operations

Progress was slow. But in 1622 Sir Thomas Phillips, who had acted as guide at first for the King, made a report of the Mercer's estate:

"The principal house is a three-storied house of stone, slated, with circular towers with conical roof at each angle of the house, with two red brick chimneys standing at the side of the bawn. The bawn is square, the wall of stone, with red brick battlements; at three of the angles of the bawn, circular flankers with slated roofs of conical form. Under the house is written 'Mr. Valentine Hartop.' There are four two-storied houses of frame-work, with apparently shingle roofs; under three are the names: 'Mr. Madden, minister; Dixon; Charles Williams;' the fourth has no name. There are besides four other small houses thatched; only one is names, 'Thomas Bromley.' There are two low circular dwellings without names. There is a river or large stream, and near it a water-mill. The whole is represented as in a forest."

Such is a description of the plan as found in State Papers. There were at this time 3 freeholders, 52 "British men," and 145 natives on the Mercer's proportion. The growth of the settlement can be judged by the number of men - 17 men in 1618, 52 in 1622, and 87Pg11 in 1631 (See the Appendix.) We quote from the plan again:

"Upon it there is a place Greanaghan, four miles from Dongladye towards the mountains, whereon a plantation is fit to be made for the safety of that part of the country. where many murthers and robberies have been committed, to the great terror of the poor inhabitants."

Granaghan was a strategic point between the celebrated fort of Dunglady and the mountains.

What was the system of letting the lands? Each Company was obliged to make six freeholds. There were also lessees of estates of anything from 30 to 200 acres, and each of these again had undertenants. The agent of the Mercers followed the practise of letting for periods of 31 years. Rents were low, probably. There was a complaint made that rents of one shilling an acre were raised until, about 1637, they amounted to about ten times as much.

The Early Settlers

We have already gathered something of the character of the native Irish. What of the immigrants? At first, the names were predominantly English in Co. Derry, but an influx of Scotch soon altered that. The suppression of the Border wars sent afloat large numbers of wild and turbulent men, who, it may be allowed, found their way to the new colonies. We have it on Sir Walker Scott's authority, at least, that the transportation of the Graham clan to Ireland followed on the cessation of Border hostilities. Nor do the McFarlands resent a reminder of their association with moonlight raids and reivers in the celebrated phrase applied to the moon = "McFarland's lantern." Part of the conditions imposed on the "undertakers," as the principal planters were styled, required the establishment of the reformed religion. This was assuredly a task of great dimensions, considering the type of men who came over from Britain in the earliest years of the Plantation. ReligionPg12 was ar a low ebb, and it is to the great credit of the ministers of religion that in subsequent years Ulster became such a God-fearing province. A Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Andrew Stewart, can be easily believed, when he states that most of the colonists were of different names, nations, dialects, temper, and breeding; "and, in a word, all void of godliness, who seemed rather to flee from God in this enterprise that to follow their own mercy; yet God followed them when they fled from Him - albeit, at first, it must be remembered that they cared little for any Church." Other authorities might be quoted to similar purpose. Transplantation and the assurance of a return in the shape of golden harvests worked wonders. In a short time, they were trooping across the Channel in companies of a hundred at a time. From this original substratum of early colonists very few of our modern Ulster families can claim descent.

A sermon preached in 1622 conveys the impression that the preachers were of the same complexion as the people. This arose from the difficulty of finding preachers for the parish churches. It was not till after the outbreak of the 1641 Rebellion that organised Presbytery was introduced into Ulster, and a real revival of religion began. The jealousy that arise in consequence is clearly outlined in the language of that High Churchman, Peter Heylin, chaplain of Charles I. Speaking of the Londoner's plantation in Co. Derry, he said - "It was carried on more vigorously, as more unfortunately withal, by some adventurers of the Scottish nation, who poured themselves into this country as the richer soil: and though they were sufficiently industrious in improving their own fortunes there, and set up preaching in all churches wheresoever they fixed; yet whether it happened for better or worse, the event hath showed. For they brought hither such a stock of Puritanism, such a contempt of bishops, such a neglect of public liturgy and other divine offices of this church, that there was nothing less to be found amongst them than Pg13 the government and forms of worship established in the Church of England." Had not Heylin, or rather his friend Laud, introduced the deplorable cleavage in the Protestantism - the Broad Church - of Ulster, we might have now a different story to tell of the progress of the reformed religion in Ireland.

Dr. Peter Heylon knew something of the Londoner's Plantation. He was nephew of a Master of the Ironmongers Company.

A Prophet in the Wilderness

Going back a little in the Plantation period, that of the early abortive insurrections, when racial differences were strongest, there were added the religious divisions, which were fomented by the religious orders in their fear of losing control over the natives. The State Papers have preserved a graphic picture of a Franciscan friar in the woods of Loughinsholin addressing a crowd of one thousand people, and like a second John the Baptist, urging them to reform their wicked lives; and adding to the suggested reformation an injunction not to enter the "English" churches. He assured them that he was sent by the Pope, and that "those were devil's words, which the English ministers spake, and all should be damned who heard them." The old story! As Dr.John McDonnell wittily remarks, the one were assuring the other of their quick descent along the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire, or even minus the primroses. And at the conclusion of the friar's sermon came the inevitable collection. He received a great gift of oxen, sheep, and money, which the chronicler was so unkind as to suggest was to be carried off to the friars of Louvain from the poor distressful country.

Trouble was in store for the London Companies when Charles I came to the throne. This impecunious monarch had as faithful ally and watchman Sir Thomas Phillips, of Limavady, who made all sorts of allegations against Londoners for mismanagement, making public details of rents and profits. But as the value of Pg14 money has altered so considerably since then, the money transactions need not be given. There was probably some ground for the charges, and whether they were justifiable or not - some of the conditions of Plantation were probably impossible of fulfilment - they had serious consequences for the Companies during this reign. Three informations were exhibited in the Court of Star Chamber on the plea of non-performance of agreements and covenants. The Companies had also the Church against them in the person of Bishop Bramhall. The result was that the City was fined in the sum of £70,000, the Irish lands were seized by the King, and the Companies' tenants were turned out of possession. The wealthy Londoners were a good mark for a needy Sovereign. In panic the Companies offered a lump sum to get clear of all obligations in connection with their Irish estates, and their patents being made void, the King had possession of the lands for a short space, till a turn of affairs of State produced another claimant for their favour; and in the dispute between King and Parliament lay their opportunity. It was not the Companies, however, but their Irish tenants who petitioned Parliament against the Star Chamber proceedings. In May, 1641, it was resolved that the sentence passed by the Star Chamber was arbitrary and unjust, and the King was requested to restore the charter to the Companies. But while this was being done the great rebellion broke out.

The Rebellion of 1641

In the words of one who arrived in Magherafelt a few years later:-

"Within a few days, all the houses whatsoever in the County of Londonderry, excepting the city of Derry and the town of Coleraine, and one poor tenant's house that stood in the woods, and so of all the province of Ulster, excepting the great towns of strength, were burnt, and their Protestants that could not make their escape to some place of strength were murdered, and Pg15 the stock they had both of live and dead goods taken away; and from that time to the year 1656, there was not so much as one single [British] inhabitant upon your land, nor upon any other of the Companies' lands that ever I heard of."

Rents were therefore non-existent. It was not until 1656 that the Companies had a re-grant of their Londonderry lands made by Cromwell, who was only too pleased to be able to give compensation for the advances of money made for his campaigns by the Londoners.

What is known as the "Portna Massacre" was the chief event of the rebellion as far as Kilrea was concerned. In the months succeeding the outbreak all the British were cleared out of County Derry. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs preserve a tradition to the effect that the Mercers' chief tenant, Thomas Church, was besieged in his castle at Movanagher, was driven out, and in turn besieged the invader, but was again routed and pursued, losing all his men. What ttruth there may be in the story is uncertain. At any rate, the castle was burned, and Church found his way to Coleraine, where he was one of the besieged along with his minister, Collins, who died of his sufferings.

The west side of the river was completely in the hands of the rebels, and to keep these in check a regiment raised by Lord Antrinm's agent, Stewart, was disposed at various points along the Bann. The regiment was composed of Roman Catholics and Protestants, among whom a division of opinion arose, as was to be expected. While Stewart and some of his men were absent succouring Canning at Agivey Castle, part of the remaining force fell upon their comrades and killed sixty of them. The evidence of the T.C.D. depositions goes to show that the assailants were coming from the Derry side of the river at Portna ferry. The Protestant companies were aroused at dawn by a turmoil, and on going out to ascertain the cause, they "saw McDonnell's men approaching, wearing British colours and Pg16 carrying a white flag. Unsuspecting and unprepared, they were attacked on all sides - stabbed, shot, and murdered." That is in brief the best account of a painful episode. At any rate, it is quite certain the Irish marched to Ballymoney followed by a plundering and murdering mod. The massacre occurred on the second day of the new year, 1641-42.

We have already seen that there were no setters of British blood on any of the Companies' lands for many years after the outbreak. The Mercers' lands were no better than, say, the Ironmongers at Aghadowey, or the Salters further south. All the buildings were completely demolished, and tenants were chary about rebuilding except on very easy rents. The tenant of the Salters Company said -

"In the year 1657 I went over and got a few straggling people to come upon your [the Salters'] land, but all I could get out of it for four years until the year 1660 was but £134 above the public taxes laid upon it. The Company then claimed four years' rent from 1656 to 1660, and were pleased to accept of £160 for it, which was more by £26 than ever I made of it.£"

The Origin of Kilrea

When order was restored, and the settlers returned to the land, we find the Movanagher site abandoned. The position was proved bad for a beleaguered garrison. To provide a safe retreat in case of attack with every chance of continued defence, the high ground on which Kilrea now stands was chosen for the new settlement. The church and a few houses were already there. The name most prominently identified with the Mercers' Estate during the period before the Restoration was that of Thomas Church. The family pedigree claims that he settled at Landmore, between Kilrea and Aghadowey, as early Pg17 as 1601. The earliest documentary reference to him I find in a juror's list of 1622. There is no mention of him in any of the reports made regarding the Mercers' property in this year, but in a muster-roll made about 1630 he is the chief man, with the style of "Knight." He had 87 men, including two sons (see Appendix). He was armed with "sword and pike," while his son carried a "sword and caliver." After his escape from Movanagher, he appears to have gained prominence in Coleraine in 1642, having been despatched with others to London for help for the besieged town. By an order of 7th September, 1642, Parliament ordered £450 to be paid to several captains of Coleraine, including Thomas Church. They were also to be recouped for their expense and losses by a gift of land, when the trouble was over. Thomas Church was living in 1657, and it may be the same who is given in the Hearth-money Roll of Kilrea parish as being rated for three chimneys. A son, George, help the Moyletra ("The Grove") freehold, which had been purchased from Charles Williams, the original freeholder. Thomas' two grandsons were in Derry during the Siege. One of them, a major of horse, died of his wounds - "lost his hand, but gained much renown," as the diarist Ash expressed it.

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