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The Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly

By J.W. Kernohan, M.A.


Part II - From the Restoration to the "Ninety-Eight", Part 1

God Save the King

We have seen that Cromwell restored the Charter to the Companies a few years before the Restoration. The return of Charles to the throne altered the state of affairs at Kilrea. Perhaps it would not be incorrect to surmise that the Mercers hastened to pay homage to the new monarch. Even in the distant parish by the Bann there is proof of it in the bell that was then erected in the Church, and which still hangs in the steeple of the present Church. It has inscribed on it Pg18 the significant words, "God save the King, 1660." No doubt it added its music to the general peal of joy at the restoration of the monarchy.

The Poll Tax returns of 1660 enable us to state the number of people, over 15 years of age, who were resident in the parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght - 334. Of these 105 were English and Scotch and the remainder native Irish. By the Subsidy Roll of 1662 we find the names of the most substantial persons to have been - Thomas Church, Robert Bennet, and Thomas Giles, all living in Kilrea; John Read, Moynock; Charles Church, Movanagher; Robert Gregor, Fallahogey; Robert Ker, Moneygran; and Robert Campbell, Moyagney. Robert Bennet seems to have been the new agent of the Company. His services would be dispensed with when the Mercers leased their estate to one of the Jackson family of Coleraine in 1663. The Mercers and the other Companies had received conveyances of their manors again in accordance with the new charter issued to the Irish Society by Charles II. The Mercers' Company continued this system of letting their lands to middlemen from 1663 till they resumed the management in 1831. Jackson's lease ran from 1663 to 1713, and the yearly rent paid the Company was £300 with an initial fine of £500. In 1714 a new lease was made to John McMullan at an increased rent of £420, with £6,000 fine. In 1751 the third letting for 61 years and three lives was made to Alexander Stewart, of Newtonards, at the same rent, but with a fine of £16,500.

Exit the Company

This renunciation of their duties to their estate and tenants for such a length of time by handing them over to the tender mercies of middlemen, who had frequently other tenants between them and the tiller of the soil, was the worst feature of the land system of Co. Derry. The rack-renting that ensued and the disregard of the interests of the tenantry by absentee landlords was responsible for much of the Pg19 poverty and discontent that prevailed in the district, and furthered the emigration of the populace to the American Colonies in the eighteenth century.

Information is very scant about the period between the restoration and the Revolution. Considerable progress was being made. Trade had revived. There exists a trade token, dated 1678, having the name on Nicholas Edwards, "of Killrea," inscribed on it, and a figure of a female head and bust, which was clearly intended to represent the "coat and crest" of the Mercers' Company - the virgin's head. This Edwards was one of those attainted by the Parliament of James II in 1689. On the various estates works for smelting iron were constructed, which caused great havoc among the woods still remaining, owing to the quantities of timber required as fuel. Forge Lough, as the name signifies, was where the iron works were located. There were others at Castledawson. The names of the ironworkers were given as Hodgins and Mayberry. The chief tenant of the Salter's Estate has a doleful account of this period. He had spent considerable sums on re-building and planting after the last rebellion. "But so soon as the late King came to the Crown, he put the government and arms in Ireland into Popish hands, and thereby put the Protestants in fear, so that trade and rents began to cease, and the people that had anything considerable to remove out of the Kingdom, and so it continued until the happy Revolution."

A New Account of the Siege of Derry

The same gentleman's remarks regarding the country at the time of the Siege of Derry may be quoted as those of an eye-witness of the events of that stirring year, and may be taken as applicable to neighbouring estates.

"At the same time happened that fatal Siege of Derry, into which almost all the people of that country, that hd either purse or strength, and were not fled into England or Scotland, went and Pg20 were besieged sixteen weeks, and wherein many thousands died, of which I had above sixty whose hands I now dearly want; and when that siege was raised. the Irish, out of malice, burnt almost all the whole country, some few houses excepted, and drove and carried away all their cattle and goods, and left only a few poor naked people ready to perish for want. . . . . It was not in your nor my power to hinder what hath happened; was, fire and the sword hath done it, and I am a very great loser by it, never to be repaired - never will that kingdom in twenty years of peace be put into the condition they were before these calamities happened; besides the vast losses to the owners."

Before the retirement of the inhabitants of the county to Derry, we have a solitary item of information about Kilrea preserved. Several regiments were disposed at point along the Bann, and at Portglenone severe fighting took place. Mackenzie, in his "Narrative of the Siege," quotes from a diary of Sir Arthur Rawdon - "Colonel Canning's regiment was also ordered to Magherafelt and Moneymore; Sir John Magill's was sent to Kilrea, and that part of the Bann; care had been taken before to sink most of the boats and cots on the Bann river." Many of the tenants on the Kilrea estate were in Derry during the Siege. Mayberry, the ironworker, is said to have been one of the brave defenders. Captain Steven Miller, who was an ensign in Lord Mountjoy's regiment in 1684, was at Derry a captain in Colonel John Mitchelburn's regiment. He died at Kilrea in 1729. The Presbyterian minister of Kilrea, the Rev. William Gilchrist, accompanied his people, and perished in the besieged city.

There is no need to recount here the oft-told story of the Siege. Fever and famine had done its worst; but the indomitable character of the besieged held Pg21 put till relief came, and Derry saved for Ireland, and Ireland for the Empire. Waste, havoc, and ingratitude remained. but the "happy Revolution" was consummated.

Waste Lands Filled

The stream of immigrants soon began, attracted by cheap land and opportunities for trade. It is estimated that in ten or fifteen years after 1690, 50,000 people came to Ulster from Scotland. But when the country filled up again, landowners, who, we have seen, had not made much of it hitherto, raised the rents. The next feature of the period that meets us is the very serious depopulation that began through emigration to America. ~In some of the Presbyterian Churches there are still preserved books showing the poverty that was everywhere prevalent to such an extent that ministers, who were dependent almost entirely on the givings of the people, found it difficult getting a livelihood. It might have been supposed that the people would have no obstacles thrown in their was to hinder their progress and settled conditions. The Protestant Dissenters had especially distinguished themselves in the late campaigns. The larger part of the rank and file of the defenders of Derry were Presbyterians. When a local gentleman would have urged the people of Enniskillen to admit the soldiers of James, the Presbyterian minister, Kelso, opposed and was obeyed. The grant of Royal Bounty to the Presbyterian ministers by William III, was in recognition of the services rendered by them and their adherents. The Presbyterian population far exceeded that of other denominations. They were chiefly traders and farmers. Bishop Nicholas in 1718 said that in some of the parishes of his (Derry) diocese there were forty Presbyterians to one member of the Established Church. As has been said, these were the very people to get every encouragement; but the reverse was the case. Religious bigotry combined with commercial drawbacks to turn them into a discontented and unsettled population. The ruin of the woollen Pg22 trade saddled the country with much unemployment, which affected most of the members of the Established Church. In addition to trade jealousy,there were the political disabilities which Dissenters had long suffered and chafed under. The Test Act alone may be mentioned. By it the taking of the sacrament according to the rites of the Established Church was made a condition of holding any office, civil or military under the Crown. And Tisdall, Vicar of Belfast, the bitter champion of the Conformists of the time, openly admits it was because of the progress of the Dissenters in trade and influence in the corporate towns that the Test Act was extended in Ireland. Even when the country was in danger in 1715, Presbyterians enlisted in the militia in defiance of the Act, and were only saved from prosecution by special procedure of the House of Commons.

Scotch-Irish Emigration

We have mentioned these disabilities merely to account for the readiness with which the people embarked for the freer atmosphere of the New World. It is with a kind of relief that one concludes the perusal of the Aghadowey Book for the period, 1700-1718. The latter year forms a landmark in Ulster history. Then began that stream of emigration which extended through almost the whole century, and the valley of the Bann has the distinction of being the pioneer district in this fateful work. High rents, exaction of tithes, and religious persecution did their work; and masters of vessels returning from America gave great accounts of the advantages gained and progress made by those who had already ventured into New England. One Captain Robert Holmes, son of an Irish Presbyterian minister, had special advantages on account of his intimacy with the northern counties then to place the prospects of emigration in the best light, and by seeming to open up brighter visions in the far-off land he was at the same time opening up a new and Pg23 profitable trade or ships sailing the Atlantic.

The result was the inhabitants of the Bann valley and the neighbouring ministers sent over the Rev. Wm. Boyd, of Macosquin, as their agent to petition Governor Shute for facilities for the settlement of colonies of Ulster Scots. The petition itself is still preserved, with the signatures - names such as are still found in the counties Derry and Antrim. In the summer and autumn of 1718 five ships landed at Boston, the first organised transportation of Scotch-Irish. They were mostly from the ports of Coleraine and Londonderry, and bore such names as the "William and Mary," the "Three Anns and Mary." These vessels have as much significance for the Scotch-Irish as the earlier "Mayflower" and "Speedwell" for the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers. Some of these were not rich in worldly substance, while others were people of some estate who had paid their passage-money in coin of the realm. Others sold their services for some years to masters, who advanced the price of the passage. Cotton Mather, the New England divine who gave these people encouragement, said - "The people who are upon this transportation are of such principles, and so laudable for their sobriety, their honesty, their industry, that we cannot but embrace you with a most fervent charity, and cherish hopes of noble settlements to be quickly made." It was at this time so many of the Aghadowey and Kilrea people departed, and with their leader, Rev. James McGregor, of Aghadowey, formed eventually the township of Londonderry. The names of some of these emigrants have been preserved - Matthew Watson and Thomas Holmes from Coleraine. Robert Waite from Aghadowey, Jane Macmullin from Castledawson, and Margaret Stuart from Boveedy.

Ulstermen and the War of Independence

So quick was the stream of emigration after this that it was thought all the North of Ireland would be deserted. An eye-witness of the landing wrote - "I am Pg24 of opinion all the North of Ireland will be over here in a little time. . . . 20 ministers with their congregations in generall will come over in spring; I wish their coming over do not prove fatall in the End." The hardships these pioneers in the wilds of America had to endure were great, but evidently they preferred it to the harder conditions of Ireland. In the period 1720-1730, harvests were a failure, and there was almost a famine among the poor. In 1727 the potatoes, the winter food, were consumed in two months, and with the linen trade in a depressed condition there was everything to drive the people to turn their belongings into money and cross the sea. In 1740 again famine was the moving power. The people were going at the rate of 12,000 a year, and ot was estimated that in fifty years 200,000 had entered America from Ireland.

[As these words are written comes the terrible news of the disaster to the "Titanic" with its human freight of 2,300 souls on board, which raises comparison with the modest Transatlantic service of the early emigration days.]

To the consternation of the Government the finest blood and sinew had left these shores, and carried with them not only the linen workers, but the sturdy qualities and "lasting grudges characteristic of Scotch Irishmen." And these lasting grudges told terribly against England in the War of Independence. Bancroft, the historian, says of the Ulster Scots - "They brought America no submissive love for England; and their experience and religion alike bade them meet oppression with prompt resistance. We shall find the first voice publicly raised in America to dissolve all connection with Great Britain came not fro the Puritans of New England, or the Dutch of New York, or the planters of Virginia, but from Scotch-Irish Presbyterians." Froude confirms - "The foremost, the most irreconcilable, the most determined in pushing the quarrel to the last extremity were the Scotch-Irish." "The famous Pennsylvania Pg25 line was mostly Irish," says another.

Here a footnote appears

Inquiries have been made from America regarding the ancestry of the following emigrants of the eighteenth century, mostly from Derry or Antrim counties:- Alexander Andrew (Coleraine), Robert Henry, Wm. Howard Burns, Rev. Alex. Miller, John Stewart (Magherafelt), Alex. Wilson, Robert Baird, and John Douthit (Coleraine).

When the Ulster Scots were asked how they reconciled their rebellious attitude with their oaths of allegiance, their reply was, "The oath binds only while the King protects." How similar a spirit was displayed by an Ulsterman, as reported by Tisdall, when asked would he not be true to Queen Anne in the penal days - "We'll be true to the Queen, as long as she'll be true to us."

About 1720-1730 the country was not quite settled. There were lawless men who were declared "tories, robbers, and rapparees, out in arms, and on their keeping and not amenable to law." One of these, Roger O'Cahan, of Kilrea, was proclaimed, with others, but burglariously entering and carrying off a woman in Drumcroon in order to marry her. Froude gives some horrible examples of this kind of abduction. The burning of the mansion house of Vow, lately, occupied by Mr. William Galland, was the work of tories.

Kilrea in the 18th Century

The only local record for the history of the Kilrea of the eighteenth century is the Parish Vestry Book (1733-1876), kept by the rectors of the parish Church, and very kindly placed at my disposal by the Rev. A.E. Sixsmith, B.A. It has more than a denominational importance, being a record of the procedure of the vestry, which in those days managed the affairs of the parish, and had representatives of the various denominations at its meetings. The minutes of the meetings have more or less of a similarity. The most usual Pg26 entries are the appointment of persons to superintend and look after the upkeep of the roads in the parish. From the time of the Plantation the practice was for the parishioners themselves to make and repair roads, each person (except a labourer) giving six days' free labour, and directors or overseers were appointed annually for this work. In 1754 the entry runs - "That ye road be laid off from Inverroe Bridge to ye lowere end of parish in proportion to ye number of plows." But in 1768 the six days' labour system was abolished and replaced by grand jury presentments. The Vestry Book has also many particulars regarding the Church, which I give elsewhere, and a few details of education, and notes of levies made for the militia on several occasions. The book itself was a gift of a member of the Wilson family of Purdysburn, near Belfast, and on the first page there is an entry of a subscription to the Church by Hill Wilson, Esq., whose daughter Anne was wife to the Rev. Michael Sampson, rector of Kilrea at that date, 1749. The two names, Francis Clinton and James Henry, occur frequently together in the minutes, the former being the representative of one of the oldest families in the parish. The name is found in a list of 1630. James Henry was a merchant in the town, and died in 1752. He had two sons, Hugh of Ballymoney, and James, of Kilrea. The latter is probably the same who was agent for the lessee of the estate, Alexander Stewart, and is referred to in the Boveedy sketch as a bleacher, and responsible for establishing the Presbyterian congregation in the town. His father was a ruling elder in the congregation when it worshipped in Boveedy. There has been preserved a twopenny trade token issued by this man. On the obverse there is a figure of a halberdier crowned, girt with a sword; in his right hand a halberd; with the motto, "virture mine honour." The reverse side has - "I promise to pay bearer two pence. James Henry, Kilrea, 1736." Names of other prominent people about this time were William Warren, John Church, Henry Pg27 Ellis, Robert Orr, James Duncan, John McAllister, Lawrence McAllister, and Francis Kane. Warren was married to the daughter of a late rector, Clutterbuck; Ellis was the Innisrush family of that name probably. The McAllisters resided in Moyagney; and when were there not Kanes or O'Cahans in Kilrea? There were only 13 families in the town at this time, according to the Ordnance Survey Memoirs, while in 1836 there were 191 houses.

An Honourable Record of Loyalty

Kilrea has always been sensitive to any public movement that was likely to endanger civil and religious liberty. An interesting memorial to the 1745 Rebellion in Scotland is preserved in the Vestry Book, where the Kilrea folk met and pledged themselves "in the most solemn manner" that they would every one of them to the utmost of their power and at the hazard of their lives and fortunes oppose all attempts against his Majesty's person and Government, and particularly that abominable and unnatural Rebellion then being carried on in favour of a Popish Pretender. The pledge concludes thus - "And we do hereby promise and engage to arm ourselves (to the utmost of our power) and to assemble together from time to time, as often as may be necessary to concert measures for effecting the purpose of this our Association, the defences of ourselves, our religion and liberties, against Popery, France, and Arbitrary Power." Times and movements have changed, but the temper of the Kilrea men in times of national danger seems unalterable. The signatures attached are of persons belonging to both the parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly. I give them with suggested residences where possible -

The name McKinney does not occur here.Pg29 The bleach green that existed in Moneygran in the latter part of the eighteenth century was built by John McKinney, whose father fled from Scotland after the battle of Culloden.

Up till the middle of the century, the parish was for the most part agricultural. The town consisted of a few houses in continuation of what is known as "The Old Row" behind the church. In 1834 sixteen thatched houses were demolished by the Company; there were 191 houses in 1836, 51 or two storeys, and 3 of three storeys. When Mr. Stewart got the estate in 1751, he made some improvements. About this time the town had extended northwards, and the square called "The Diamond" was laid out.

Incidents in the Rebellion

We may pass on to the end of the century, there not being much definite information to call for attention before then. But in the Rebellion of 1798 Kilrea was not unconnected with the ferment of that period, and doubtless with good cause. The country was filled with discontents, and undoubtedly many of the inhabitants of Maghera and Kilrea districts were in sympathy with the party, the United Irishman, that fostered the movement for social and political reform. Even after many Protestants had withdrawn, when they saw the extremes to which the United Irishmen were going, there was a remnant left to perform what appears to us some ridiculous antics.

In the struggle of the American colonies for independence there was much sympathy from their kinsmen in Ulster. The spirit of the French Revolution had also affected Ireland much, and in preparation for a similar revolution at home "a guillotine was made by a mechanic in the vicinity of Kilrea, and a list made out of those to be decapitated, or, as it was said, 'to oil first the wheels of the revolution for the public god.' As in France, the properties of the wealthy were to have been confiscated for the benefit of the republic, and hence, in the language of Robespierre, the guillotine was to have been called the Pg30 National Mint," a phrase much applauded for the expressive ingenuity of the application. McSkimin, from whom I quote, proceeds with the description - "The Kilrea instrument was nearly ten feet in height, its axe sharp and heavy, and about ten inches deep. It was moved up in a groove by a pullet and rope. Lead being scarce, from the great demand of that metal for bullets, the axe was loaded by a piece cur off an old mill-stone. A few experiments were made by beheading dogs and cats, which being declared satisfactory, the maker was said to have deserved well of his country, and the instrument was carefully deposited in the corn mill of Lisnagrot." There were remarkable scenes to be witnesses in these stirring times. The farm work of those who were in detention on a charge of seditious practices was performed by bodies of sympathizers, who marched through the country in large bodies after gathering the potatoes of a friend. McSkimm records the following proceeding at Kilrea - "A wretched vagrant named McCaul, who, a few years after, was transported for stealing cattle, made oath before Rev. John Torrens, that seven persons whom he named were captains in the army of the United Irishmen. The persons accused, fully aware of the danger to which they were exposed by the machinations of such a ruffian, fled, and their flight was immediately proclaimed by his reverence as an indubitable proof of their guilt. A few days afterwards a detachment of the Kerry militia arrived at Kilrea, and, under the direction of Mr. Torrens, they proceeded to set fore to the house of James Stewart, one of the persons who had fled. The houses ot two of the others sworn against my McCaul, being connected with others, were not burnt, but their scanty furniture was carried out and consumed. During these proceedings his worship observed in a jocular way to those near him, "Boys, I have made you a good bonfire."

When the preconcerted date of the rising arrived, Maghera was found in some degree of preparedness, On the eve of 7th June, one of the Kilrea men turned Pg31 informer and joined the yeomen, which had the effect of preventing a rising there. The Bovagh cavalry under Captain Heyland marched through in the direction of Dunglady, and found all quiet. Even at Maghera on the news of the failure at Antrim the rebel force dispersed.

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First published: 21st Nov, 2001.
© 2001-2024 Richard Torrens.
Page's Author: Richard Torrens
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