Ballycastle Travel Guide

Edit This The best resource for sights, hotels, restaurants, bars, what to do and see
From Quay Hill

From Quay Hill

Robert Starrs

Ballycastle is situated in the north-eastern corner of County Antrim on a bay midway between Kenbann Head and Fair Head. The town developed on the left bank of the river Tow, about half a mile upstream from Ballycastle Bay. It formed the caput or capital of the Barony of Carey, which extends from the river Bush in the west to Cushendun in the east and inland to include the villages of Armoy and Mosside.

The Tow river divides this area into two regions:

1 - The lowland area to the west of the river. This includes part of the Antrim plateau, which rises 50 feet near the town, to the plateau surface, heights of between 300 and 600 feet.

2 - The highland area to the east of the river, which rises to over 1,500 feet.

A Misfit Stream

The river Tow is a misfit stream occupying an unusually wide valley, running from south-west to north-east. The valley was formerly used by the river Bush, when it entered the sea at Ballycastle. To-day this river is diverted at Armoy by a low morainic watershed, left by the Scottish ice sheets, and enters the sea at Portballintrae, some miles to the west of Ballycastle.

The highlands to the east of Ballycastle are drained by the Glenshesk, Glenmakeeran and Carey rivers. The Glenshesk and Carey rivers join about half a mile from the sea to form the Margy river, into which flows the Tow river as a left bank tributary, before entering the sea just east of Ballycastle.

This area of mountainous topography is dominated by the basaltic dome of Knocklayd (1,695 feet), which lies to the south of the town. It is the second highest mountain in the Antrim range and is remarkable in that it presents a sirnilar phasis in every direction. East of Ballycastle the landscape is of undulating carboniferous strata, composed mainly of sandstone. This strata contains the coal seams of the Ballycastle coalfield. When the Tow, Carey and Glenshesk rivers became joined by the Scottish ice-sheets, fluvioglacial deposits were laid down. The deposits make the river valleys, and especially the land to the west of Ballycastle, a very fertile agricultural area in contrast with the more mountainous area to the east of the town.

Twofold Development

The main routes from Ballycastle follow the Tow Valley and link up with the middle reaches of the Bush valley, the Bann valley and the rich Ulster basin. Other routes follow the Glenshesk and Carey river valleys. The routes along the coast and the Carey river valley are of particular significance as forming part of the tourist attraction of the famous Antrim coast road - a road which the late Lord Northcliffe described as "the second-best in the world" and as possessing all the loveliness of the Grande Corniche in the south of France and without any of that road's terrors for the timid.

The development of Ballycastle was twofold. First of all it developed as a port and landing place, and secondly as a market town, with a market and fair tradition extending over almost four centuries. Its situation in the north-eastern corner of Ireland, a mere fourteen miles or thereabouts from the Mull of Kintyre which, in the quaint phraseology of Camden's "Britannia," "thrusteth itself greedily towards Ireland," meant that in the Mesolithic Age, i.e., from 8,000 to 2,500 B.C., settlement was entirely coastal. Human settlement came to what is now County Antrim many centuries later than in southern England, as the Pleistocene ice-sheet was later in departing.

Earliest Inhabitants

Flints of the Mesolithic period have been found in the district and it is to be presumed that their makers, the earliest inhabitants of the area, crossed over from the Scottish mainland. It is not without significance that the word "Culfeightrin" - the name of the most north-easterly parish of the Irish mainland - means "the corner of strangers." The Mesolithic age was followed by the Neolithic age, that is from about 2,500 to 500 B.C.. It was a period of climatic difficulty and tended to drive people to settle on hill-tops. The horned cairn near the crest of Fair Head belongs to this period.

There was a brisk trade in axe heads of specially hard igneous rock, such as the bluestone of Rathlin Island and the porcellanite of Tivebulliagh, near Cushendall. "This industry," says the late T. F. Mason, in his 'The Islands of Ireland,' "on account of its magnitude was evidently of an export nature; in fact, Rathlin Island and the adjoining coast of County Antrim would appear to have held in the late Stone Age the position that Detroit holds at present in the motor age."

Recorded History Begins

There followed the Bronze age - a period of dry, sunny climate, when the surface of the basalt plateau of Antrim was peat free and cultivated with barley. This is the period of the true Megaliths, such as the double-ended chambered tomb near Loughareema, "the vanishing lough"; this tomb is now enveloped in peat bog. The Iron age was a period of renewed climatic deterioration and of frequent invasion from the sea. Crannochs or artificial islands were built in lakes and inhabited until the ninth century AD.

Examples are seen at Lough na Crannoch on Fair Head, at Lissanoure, Loughguile, Loughlynch and the Islands of Cammoon - the last two in the parish of Billy, but their lakes have been drained and little or no trace of the crannochs can now be found; also the Islands of Magheramore in the parish of Ramoan - but there is no trace to-day (apart from the name) of the actual crannoch.

The recorded history of Ballycastle goes as far back as the third century A.D. when Cairbre Riada succeeded his father in 267 as King of Ireland and founded the Dalriada colony of Antrim. Soon after this a movement of people began between Dalriada and the Scottish mainland. In 500 A.D. Fergus and his brothers led an invasion of Western Scotland and founded a kingdom there, They are believed to have sailed from Port Brittas, the old name of the ancient landing-place at Ballycastle.

Stone of Destiny

From Fergus, the founder of Scottish Dalriada, are descended the monarchs of Great Britain, as well as the noble family of Macdonnell of Antrim. According to Scottish Chroniclers, Fergus brought with him to Scotland the celebrated Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny on which Irish monarchs were crowned at Tara; this is thought by some to be the Coronation Stone, now in Westminster Abbey. It is worthy of note that, as stated in Dr. Little's book " Dublin before the Vikings," one of the main roads of ancient Ireland ran from Tara to Dunseverick. It was called the Slighe Miodluachra.

North east Antrim was also associated with the Scandinavian invasion of the eighth century. At Armoy, a typical round tower - one of the four remaining in the county of Antrim - stands as a reminder of this troubled age; this tower is remarkable in that it has the narrowest entrance door of any Round Tower in Ireland. These Round Towers are believed to have served the purpose of look-outs, defence towers and store houses for precious manuscripts. There are also quite a few relics of the Anglo Norman invasion in the area. On Fair Head the mound of Doonmore commands a fine view of Ballycastle Bay. The Anglo Normans built earthwork castles, as at Red Bay, with timber towers on top and one or more baileys or courtyards, with timber palisades.

Anglo-Norman County

In the Middle Ages the district now comprising the town and district of Ballycastle formed part of the Anglo Norman County of Coulrath (or Coleraine). It included what is now North Antrim and that part of what is now County Derry, east of the Bann. This Anglo Norman settlement owed its origin to John de Courcy in 1177. The Normans farmed the land on the demesne system; it is interesting to note from the Ecclesiastical Taxation Rolls of the early fourteenth century in connection with taxes levied to help to defray the cost of the Crusades to wrest the Holy Land from the Infidel, that the wealthy parts of the area then included Loughguile, Portrush and Colernine. In mediaeval times the English language must have been but little spoken in this area.

The Anglo Norman settlers spoke French, while Irish remained the language of the natives. But the Anglo Norman hold over the area, particularly the remote corner of it in what is now Ballycastle, must at best have been rather tenuous. It declined about 1400 with the withdrawal of the lords and knights with the greater part of their retainers, to follow their feudal lords in the Hundred Years' War in France.

Adopted Irish Customs

Families like Savage or De Mandeville of the Route or North Antrim, finding that they had been abandoned by the Crown and left to their own resources, adopted Irish manners and customs and acted as independent clans in every respect the same as if they were Irish clans. In a word, they became more Irish than the Irish themselves. The eclipse of the Anglo Norman power in north-east Ulster, together with disasters that overtook the Clandonnell South, or Macdonnells in Kintyre and the western Isles of Scotland, caused the tide of immigration to flow very fully towards the Antrim coast. No less than seven such immigration periods may be noted between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.

To these fairly persistent immigrations rather than to the Anglo Norman power and influence, must be attributed the development of Ballycastle at least from mediaeval times. The collapse of any manorial system that may have existed during the Anglo Norman regime, not to mention the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century, which affected Ireland in a manner very different from that in which it affected England, militated against the development of the town in a society that, in any case, lacked the homogeneity of English society, based as it was on the feudal system.

The Early Settlements

Ballycastle may be regarded as a fairly typical Irish township, which has grown around two or three early settlements such as Dunamallaght, "the fort of the curse." It is situated to the rear of the Star of the Sea Secondary Intermediate School. It is an earthen mound, which seems originally to have been circular, about eleven yards in diameter on the top, and rising from ten to thirty feet above the surface of the ground on which it stands.

This fine old mound was much injured by the erection of a building known as a "Tea House" which has long disappeared. Dunrainey "the fort of the queen" stands near Bonamargy Friary and now provides an excellent tee for the fifth hole on the Ballycastle Golf Course.

Perhaps the most important or these early settlements was Dunineeny "the fort of the fairs or games". In the fourteenth century, the marriage of John Macdonnell, son of the Lord of the Isles, to the heiress of the Bysset family, which then exercised sway in the Glens of Antrim, led to the Macdonnell lordship of the Glens. Dunineeny castle was built - almost certainly on an earlier site - by the Macdonnells on a lofty headland 200 feet above sea level, to the west of Ballycastle Bay. The fact that the word Dunineeny means "the fort of the fair or games" may be of significance because of the part subsequently played by it in the economy of the area.

Origin of Lammas Fair

It is generally held that it was here that the Lammas Fair had its origin. O'Laverty states that the markets and fairs were held in the fields to the south of the old fortress until their transfer at a date, some time in the seventeenth century, to Ballycastle. The area on which Dunineeny stood is a smooth level area, measuring from east to west 60 yards, and from north to south 35 yards.

It was surrounded by the sea on all sides, except the south, where it was protected by a moat extending from east to west 80 yards, cut chiefly through the solid rock. This trench is from 20 to 26 feet wide at the top, and averages 10 feet in width at the bottom, and is from 13 to 26 feet deep. This was crossed by a drawbridge - the only entrance - which was 20 feet long and 7 feet broad. The gate tower was 28 feet long and the doorway about five feet wide. Large quantities of human bones and broken steel swords, with large guards, have been discovered from time to time at Dunineeny.

The chieftains of the Macdonnells made it one of their principal strongholds and from it they could watch their galleys gliding into Port Brittas, almost at its base. It was the headquarters of the Macdonnells in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Attempts were made by the English to conquer it. Letters from the district refer to what is now Ballycastle Bay as "Marketown" or "Marketon" which was apparently a corruption of "Margytown". The English did not like the hazards of the coast without safe anchorages,

Sorley Boy Macdonnell

One writer complained of a great loss of stores, which had been transferred to rafts in Ballycastle Bay, and then swept overboard by the ferocity of the waves. "Marketown" or "Margytown" was used frequently by the great Sorley Boy Macdonnell, who embarked and disembarked his troops here when travelling to and from the Scottish coast.

The ruins of Dunineeny, as they exist to-day, represent the remains of the castle erected in 1500 by Alexander Macdonnell of Islay and Kintyre. It is believed to have been the first stone castle erected by the Macdonnells in what is now County Antrim. Its erection is contemporaneous with Bonamargy Friary, founded in 1500 by Rory Macquillan. Having been outlawed in Scotland by James IV about 1500, Alexander Macdonnell, after his father and brothers had been convicted and executed in Edinburgh for high treason, betook himself to the Antrim Glens. The family of Alexander Macdonnell included Sir James of Kintyre, Colla of Kenbane and Sorley Boy, ancestor of the Earls of Antrim.

On the death of Alexander Macdonnell in 1540, his eldest son, Sir James of Kintyre, succeeded to the Lordship of the Isles. Sir James appointed his brother, Colla, Lord of the Glens, under him. Colla had not long erected his stronghold of Kenbane until it was attacked by the Lord Deputy, Sir James Crofts, in the course of an expedition against the Macdonnells in 1551.

Although somewhat damaged Kenbane was repaired and was held by Colla until his death in May 1558. By his marriage with Eveleen, daughter and heiress of Macquillan of Dunluce, the Macdonnells became possessed of the Route, in addition to the Glens. It was at Kenbane that the scheme was hatched whereby Colla laid claim, as husband of Eveleen Macquillan, to be heir to the Route.

Overthrow of The Macquillans

On the death of Colla, his younger brother, Sorley Boy, succeeded to the Lordship of the Route and Glens. Soon afterwards Sorley finally overthrew the power of the Macquillans at the battle of Aura. Gillaspic, one of the two sons of Colla, succeeded to Kenbane and was the last Macdonnell to reside in the castle. Sorley Boy exchanged Kenbane with Gillaspic, giving him a property of at least equal value in the island of Colonsay.

The untimely death of Gillaspic, just when he came of age (about 1570) was the result of an accident at public games in Ballycastle, organised by his uncle to celebrate the occasion. It is thought by some that the celebration of these games may go far to explain one of the possible origins of the "Oul' Lammas Fair" The youthful Gillaspic, whose wife was an O'Quinn or O'Cahan, left a baby son, Colla, who was born at Loughlynch, in the parish of Billy. He was afterwards known as Coll Kittagh, the ambi-dexterous, and at an early age went to reside in Colonsay.

His son Alaster McColl, played an important part in the Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century. Alaster is generally believed to have come to the Antrim coast about the summer of 1641 and to have sojourned for a time with the Stewarts of Ballintoy. When he returned to Scotland in 1644 his forces were the foundation of all those wonderful acts which were afterwards performed by the Marquis of Montrose.

Alaster has been described as "one of the bravest and most warlike soldiers that Scotland ever produced". Montrose always acknowledged that to his North Antrim troops under Alaster McColl Macdonnell was due the beginning of those successes which resulted in his victorious march to Edinburgh.

McAlisters and Boyds

The descendants of Cella of Kenbane are represented in Ballycastle to-day by Miss Mary McDonnell of Castle Street. This family is eleventh generation in direct descent from Colla and his wife Eveleen, daughter of Rory Macquillan of Dunluce.

When Sorley Boy exchanged Kenbane for property in Colonsay, he rewarded one of his gallowglass captains - McAlister - with the castle. The McAlisters, although describing themselves as "of Kenbane" lived at Belleisle, near Dervock. Eventually the sole heiress, Anne, daughter of Randal McAlister of Kenbane, i.e., Belleisle, married Colonel Hugh Boyd of the family of Boyd of Ballycastle.

Thus the properties of the Boyds and McAlisters were united, Boyd inheriting, through his mother (nee Rose McNeile) the lands and privileges granted that family in 1612 by Sir Randal Macdonnell, son of Sorley Boy and nephew of Colla of Kenbane. At a later date Kenbane castle and the fishery there were purchased by the Woodside family of Carnsampson, Ballycastle, the present owners.

It is generally believed that the youngest surviving son of Alexander Macdonnell - Sorley Boy - who became chief of the Irish Macdonnells in 1558 was born at Dunineeny about 1505 and that he resided there until his death in 1589 or 1590. Sorley has been rightly described as "the man to whose extraordinary vigour the success of the settlement of the Macdonnels in Antrim is mainly due". He was buried in Bonamargy Friary, but if any inscription ever marked his place of sepulture, it has long since disappeared. The Antrim vault there contains a square sealed box which is believed to contain his remains.

His eldest surviving son - Sir Randal Macdonnell - became first Earl of Antrim. Of his daughters, only one appears on record. She married a MacLean of Mull, by whom she had a daughter Anne, who married the son and heir of Sir Alexander Macnaghten, killed at Flodden in 1513. From Sir Alexander, the Macnaghten family of Dundarave, Bushmills, is descended. It is worthy of note that the O'Toole Planning Scheme for Ballycastle included the preservation of what is left of the ruins of Dunineeny and rightly so, because it was a forerunner of both the town of Ballycastle and its Lamrnas Fair.

Scottish Settlers

In 1620 Sir Randal Macdonnell erected the Castle of Ballycastle on a site convenient to the present Ballycastle Church. It is from this date that the town, as we understand it to-day, may be said to date. Macdonnell was known as "a singular promoter and patron of civility in the North of Ireland" and let out his lands to Scottish settlers many of whose descendants form a substantial element of the population to-day.

This project did not actually form a part of what was known as the Plantation of Ulster, but it certainly represented a strong factor in the success of that plantation. The first Earl of Antrim was actuated more by economic, than religious motives in his policy of securing the settlement of his lands, which then stretched from the Corran of Lame to the Cutts of Coleraine, with Scottish settlers; in any event, his character must have also possessed the fine quality of religious toleration - a trait uncommonly rare at that time - and indeed one which has occasionally received such rude shocks that we can hardly be certain, even at the present day, that in some quarters it has enough vitality to resist a rude encounter.

The architecture of Sir Randal's Castle of Ballycastle was similar to that of Ballygally Castle on the Antrim coast road; not a single vestige of the Castle of Ballycastle remains today. The site of the castle was partly at the south-west angle of the ground enclosed at the church and partly on the site of a dwelling house that belonged to the late Mr. John O'Hara, grandfather of the late Mr. H. J. Fogarty, first Town Clerk of Ballycastle.

Castle Ruins

The castle was a large square structure, with battlements and turrets in the Scottish baronial style of architecture. About the year 1852, Mr. Charles Kirkpatrick, of Whitehall, Ballycastle, agent to the Boyd estate, applied to the then Earl of Antrim for permission to have the ruins removed, as they were regarded as being in a dangerous condition. Leave was granted and in July 1855, Mr. John Johnson, a stone mason, received £10 under an order of the Court of Chancery for its removal. One part of the ruin was ten feet in height and the wall was six feet thick and Johnson was engaged for a fortnight in the work of demolition.

The site was granted to Mr. John O'Hara for a dwelling house. About six feet in front of the house which he erected was a weigh-bridge; this weighbridge was removed in 1858 when the market yard was built and for this site he received a deed at a separate rent.

Ballycastle in the 17th Century

Seventeenth century Ballycastle was almost entirely the outcome of the settlement around the Castle of Ballycastle. Thus, as well as the settlement at Dunineeny and the landing place known as Port Brittas - better known to us to-day as the Quay - there now grew up a third settlement.

The markets and fairs were transferred from Dunineeny to the main market centre of the area - the present Diamond. In a word, Ballycastle was now becoming the chief centre of settlement in the district. Its sheltered situation in the valley of the Tow, as compared with the somewhat exposed situation of Dunineeny, was one of the main reasons for its subsequent growth.

In 1612 Sir Randal Macdonnell made a grant of lands in Ballycastle and district to one Hugh MeNeile, whom he had previously appointed Constable of Dunineeny Castle. From MeNeile descended a great granddaughter, Rose, who married the Rev. William Boyd, Vicar of Ramoan, whereupon there came into being what has ever since been referred to as the Boyd estate, now the property, by inheritance, of Mr. George Derek Downing Fullerton,

An Era of Strife

When Sir Randal Macdonnell erected the Castle of Ballycastle the town - if it could be called that - must have been little more than a collection of thatched houses, or cabins with earthen floors. These cabins were located at Dunineeny, Margytown (the Quay) and that part of the present town now known as the Milltown. The greater part of the seventeenth century in the history of Ballycastle and district was very largely an era of strife.

It had been fought over by Scandinavian, Norman, Scottish and English invaders with the native inhabitants endeavouring at all times to hold on to what rightfully belonged to them under the clan system. The settlement, therefore, had had little opportunity to prosper. The aftermath of the terrible rebellion of 1641 found the place almost completely deserted. The castle was seized by Scottish troops and then by Cromwellian forces.

In 1654 the area of the village - for that indeed was what it was - was only 3 1/2 acres. The Hearth Money Rolls of 1069 state that Ballycastle had 31 hearths, four of which were at the Castle – the return of 1666 gave the population of Ballycastle as 43, but this figure may refer only to householders and if so, the actual population would be around two hundred. In 1699 the tenements of the village occupied three acres.

Great Economic Progress

Thus at the close of the seventeenth century Ballycastle was a comparatively small village situated (as Hamilton describes it) in "a wild and lawless country." Trade and industry of any type were, as yet, unknown in the locality and the population was entirely rural. As yet the distinctive pattern of Irish society consisted of group settlements of blood-relations, practising a communal form of agriculture on the townland, and pasturing their herds in summer on the mountain - a habit known as "booleying" and the remains of some of these booleys may still be seen on the high ground above Murlough Bay.

Even to-day, consciousness of the former social function of the townland is not altogether lost and for the majority of Ulster farmers their postal address is the Gaelic townland.

In the middle of the eighteenth century Ballycastle made great strides forward in economic development. These developments were due to the energy and enterprise of Colonel Hugh Boyd, son of the Rev. William Boyd, Vicar of Ramoan. In 1727 Boyd purchased the village of Ballycastle from Lord Antrim and in 1734 obtained a lease of the collieries to the east of it. In 1738 he began the construction of a pier and an inner and outer dock. For this purpose he obtained a grant of upwards of £20,000 from the Irish Parliament.

Bread Sold to Workers

In the construction of the harbour much piling had to be done; adequate supplies of timber were not available locally and had to be imported from places as far apart as Cork and Denmark. The method used by Boyd in obtaining labour was of unusual interest. In 1740 and 1741 the price of bread was excessively high, and Boyd bought supplies of wheat, barley and oat meal. Bread was baked and sold to his labourers at one English shilling for 12 lbs. of bread cornpared with the set price of 6-7 1bs. for one shilling. This scheme drew labourers into the district.

The harbour was constructed to accommodate vessels of 150 tons. The inner dock - now the bowling green and tennis courts - was two and a half acres in extent and the outer dock somewhat larger. The western pier or quay at the outer dock was 600 feet long and the eastern pier slightly longer. A cross pier at the mouth of the outer dock was to be constructed to lessen the direct force of the sea. This harbour construction was the main reason for the period of industrial prosperity that followed, although it was destined to be a comparatively short-lived one. The harbour was opened to shipping in 1742, after which the collieries and iron mines had a large export trade.

Coal Shipped to Dublin

The coal mines, located along the coast to the east of the harbour, were connected therewith by a line of trucks, which carried coal to the harbour. The gauge was three feet and the wagons were drawn by horses. "Journal of the Irish House of Commons," IV (1743). Appx. 183,191. Between 1745 and 1755 an average of 7,000 tons of coal were exported annually from Ballycastle. The local merchants owned at least twenty vessels each of about one hundred tons' burden. Boyd states that "he was pleased to see sixty ships lying in his harbour of Ballycastle in 1750, many of them loading coal for Dublin."

The decline which followed before the eighteenth century had run its course was due chiefly to the smallness of the area mined - the supply could not keep up with the demand and there was also the difficult nature of the coal seams - they were highly faulted. Other industries which had close associations with coal mining also became prosperous. Chief among these was the manufacture of glass.

A Glass House

A glass house was established in Ballycastle at a place ever since known as the Glass Island. Pue's "Occurrences," a Dublin newspaper, states that "there is a glass house erected at Ballycastle by a company for the making of bottles, window glass, plate glass, etc., which when finished will be as complete a building of the kind as any in Europe." The glass manufacture was based on the close proximity of coal. The glass house was situated to the east of the inner dock and near the present wooden footbridge that crosses the Margy river.

The "Dublin Journal" of October 14th, 1755, contains the following: " The Ballycastle Glass House and warehouse and all the materials thereto belonging, being finished and ready to go to work, the public both in Dublin and in all the seaports of the kingdom may be served with any quantity of bottles they please to bespeak, as vessels with coal from thence may bring bottles to any seaport in the kingdom, and as said glass house is sixty feet in diameter in the clear, capable of carrying on said manufacture in all its branches, the proprietors in time intend to make window glass and other plate glass, which must be of great advantage to the nation"

Bottles Only Made

The manufacture of glass ceased in Ballycastle about 1781. This was indeed lamentable, as it ceased just at a time when the economic policy of Grattan's Parliament was about to be

implemented in the form of subsidies or bounties to Irish industry. It is probable that only bottles were made at the Ballycastle Glass House, though a green glass bowl from this glass house may be seen in the National Museum in Dublin. The old chimney of the Glass House was demolished in 1877. It was built with brick obtained on a farm in the townland of Brackney, in Glenshesk; this farm was then tenanted by a family called Miller.

The date of the erection of the Glass House – 1755 - was formed by projecting bricks on its west side, midway from the top and bottom of the building. Among the old people the building was called the bottle house. The sales of bottles in 1761 amounted to £894 5s 10d; and 1762 to £859 14s 2d; and in 1763 to £1,578 14s ld. The names of two workmen - Richard Johnson and James Hill - are mentioned in 1762 and 1763.

Salt and Linen Exports

Salt manufacture at Ballycastle dates from 1629. Proof of this is found in Petty's Down Survey map of the Barony of Carey, 1657. Two salt pans are marked on this map on the coast to the east of Ballycastle. To-day the remains of an iron salt pan can still be seen near the Pans' Rocks. The salt was used mainly for preserving meat, fish, butter, cheese and eggs. Negligible coal production in the mines around 1830 was the main reason for the decline of salt manufacture in the district.

By the late 1750's the progress of the linen industry warranted the erection of a bleachworks. Linen was exported to Dublin, Belfast, Larne, Newry and Coleraine. In the 1770's a slump hit the linen industry and this resulted in emigration from the Ballycastle area to America. Dr. R. J. Dickson, the Director of Education for Co. Antrim, tells us in his book "Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718 - 1775," that an emigrant vessel called the "Philadelphia" of 300 tons called at Ballycastle on its way to America.

Four Tanneries

As well as the industries to which I have referred, smaller industries which did not develop on such a large scale as coal mining, glass making and salt manufacture, included tanning, brewing and distilling, quarrying and the manufacture of such articles as candles, soap and hand made bricks, The hand made bricks were smaller than modern bricks and specimens of these smaller bricks may still be seen in the vaults of Ballycastle Church.

Ballycastle had four tanneries - one at the rear of the Manor House, one in Castle Street, one at the Diamond (in the premises now occupied by the Belfast Bank) and the fourth at the rear of the Antrim Arms Hotel. In all old leases in the town of Ballycastle there is a clause referring to the brewery for brewing malt liquors and a distillery for distilling spirits at the Quay and prohibiting leaseholders from manufacturing liquors or spirits on their premises.

A Visitor's Tribute

When Dr. Pococke, Fellow of the Royal Society, visited Ballycastle in 1752 he wrote: "Ballycastle is a strong instance of the assiduity and judgment of one person, Mr. Boyd, to whom the place belongs and who holds it as a fee farm under Lord Antrim. Mr. Boyd's great work was to make a safe harbour for shipping, which he has done most effectually, having received £10,000 from the public for that purpose. Besides this, Mr. Boyd built a very good inn, a brewery , tan-yard, houses for boiling soap and salt, making candles, and a very fine bleach yard; all of which he farms out. He has also built a handsome house for himself, and a brick wall on two sides of a garden and at the same time has carried on the works of a very considerable colliery, which is to the east towards Fair Head.

This gentleman in the colliery and all the manufactures he supports, has about 300 people employed every day, and in the years of scarcity he took care to buy corn and have it sold at a reasonable price. All these things undertaken and carried on by one man are a very uncommon instance in a practical way of human understanding and prudence.

Town of a Dual Character

After the death of Boyd in 1765, at the age of 75, his great life work in the form of the industrial expansion of Ballycastle was permitted to fall into decay. Hamilton, writing in 1784, says: "This gentleman constructed a most excellent machine but, unfortunately, left it without any principle of motion."

As regards population growth, people tended to live in the vicinity of the castle and its adjacent markets rather than at the quay. Of the sixty-six householders in the town in 1734 sixty-two lived in the market precinct and four at the quay, though the work supplied by Boyd's harbour and allied industries tended to increase the population at the quay. At all events - and this is a matter of some significance for it has remained a feature of Ballycastle ever since - the town became possessed of a dual character - the market precinct and the seaside precinct -a feature which the recent O'Toole development plan was not slow to realise.

Building Projects

Boyd built Ballycastle Church because the parish church at the time was in a state of disrepair and he hoped that one day his church might become the parish church of the district, but this was not to be. The lofty octagonal spire bears such a marked resemblance to the spire of the Belfast Charitable Institute in Clifton Street that I cannot but think that they are the work of the same architect.

Boyd's own house - now Dr. Barnardo's Home (known as the Manor House Home) - was built in 1739. Nearer the sea front was the Custom House, the arms on which may still be seen on the wall of the Marine Hotel. They are the arms of King George II. The inn built by Boyd and referred to by Pococke is to-day known as the Marine Hotel. Boyd had previously lived at Drumawillan in a house now the property of the Black family. Drumawillan was not close enough for his convenience.

He is said to have been always distinguished for a genuine humility of mind. His will contained instructions that the cost of his funeral was not to exceed £20 and he strongly advised all his relatives to follow this example, as he had a great objection to ostentatious and costly funerals.

After the industrial decline of the town towards the end of the eighteenth century, the part centred on the quay did not develop as rapidly as the part centred on the castle. The first Catholic Chapel was built just at the end of this period – in 1795 - in what was for long referred to as Chapel Lane, now Fairhill Street.

This same year also marked the birth in Ballycastle of Hugh McNeile, one of the great evangelicals of the Church of England in the nineteenth century and sometime Dean of Ripon. Dean McNeile related how during the troubles of 1798 he was taken by his mother, in an open boat, to Scottish relations, when he was a child.

Good Planning

The planning of Ballycastle, as the O'Toole report indicated, shows evidence of civic mindedness well in advance of its time and of a high standard as compared with many other Irish towns of similar size. The adaptability of the street pattern to the topography was well conceived and the segregation of the market town precinct from the seaside resort precinct, although probably accidental, is also a good feature.

The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed little material progress in the town, though spiritual progress could be registered by the erection of the Presbyterian Church in 1828, and of St. James's Parish church (Ramoan) in 1847. (One of the two corbels at the porch door of this church is carved to represent the head of Sir Randal Macdonnell, first Earl of Antrim.) The present SS. Patrick and Brigid Catholic Church was built on a commanding site in 1870. The spire was added in 1891. This church replaced that of 1795.

Visit of Thackeray

The Manuscript Memoirs of the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland, 1838, state: - "Ballycastle is not improving, nor has it recently improved. A decade later, when the novelist Thackeray visited the town, he was not very favourably impressed with what he saw. He merely states that 'Ballycastle does not contain much to occupy the traveller.'

The only public building (says Shaw Mason, in his "Parochial Survey of Ireland"), 1816, is a gaol adjoining the Market House of Ballycastle. "The town is the residence of three magistrates, who are generally grand jurors; they keep carriages and have handsome fortunes. Six other genteel families attracted by its singular and beautiful situation, as well as by its advantage for sea bathing, have made it their permanent abode. That part of the town called the quay, is separated from the main body of Ballycastle, by a handsome road about two hundred yards long, shaded on each side by trees. Oatmeal and potatoes constitute the chief food of the peasantry.

Many Long Livers

There arc many remarkable instances of longevity here: the sexton is ninety-one; two of the Protestant congregation are above ninety years old and another is one hundred. This last person is called Shiele; he has attended six successive generations of the Boyd family, to whom he was butler in the memorable year of the great frost (1739); he has always supported a high character for temperance and unblemished reputation. There is not in the parish any eminent school. There are, however, several country schools which answer every purpose of rustic education.

The general price for pupils at such places are, for those who write five and five pence per quarter; for readers 2/6 and for those who learn the most necessary branches of the mathematics 10/10. The usual price of labour is one shilling per day and food, or one shilling and eight pence without food. Labourers hired for three months or half a year are somewhat cheaper."

Fairs and Markets

There are two weekly markets in Ballycastle, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The only six annual fairs in Ballycastle are on Easter Tuesday, the last Tuesday of May, last Tuesday of July ("wee Lammas Fair" or gooseberry fair), last Tuesday of August (Lammas Fair), last Tuesday of October (Apple Fair) and last Tuesday of November. The May and November fairs were the half yearly hiring fairs. There is now a fair on the second Tuesday of each month, but it is a more recent innovation than those mentioned.

Some of the outstanding features of the nineteenth century development of the town were the construction of the New Line (Market Street) in 1833. It will be noted how a house was removed from the Diamond to make way for the opening of this road between Mr. McCambridge's shop and the Boyd Arms Hotel. The Poor Law Institution, or Workhouse was erected in 1841; it was transformed into the Dalriada Hospital in 1923 and then completely removed by demolition and replaced only last year by the present fine hospital.

Population Doubled

The market yard was erected in 1858 and shortly afterwards, and in its immediate vicinity, the Northern Bank, 1863; gas lighting was introduced in 1873; the town was connected by rail with Ballymoney in 1880; the Ballycastle Shipping Company was established shortly afterwards. The Golf Club dates from 1891.

In 1892 a new water supply was inaugurated to replace the old water supply from what was known as the Workhouse field (almost opposite Ramoan Primary School) and the water supply in the Orchard Field, now Beechwood Avenue, Strandview Road, Cedar Avenue and Cedar Drive. In March, 1921, an Urban Order became operative, with a population of 1,500 and a valuation of slightly over £5,000. Since then the town has much more than doubled its normal population and its rateable valuation has increased sixfold.

Historic Associations

Ballycastle has many very interesting historical associations. The locality is possessed of scenery so vast and divergent in character, with geological and historical associations seldom met with elsewhere that its position as a desirable township, combining permanent and semi-permanent social units, is assured.

If this Civic Week enterprise has done no more in the life and history of our town than to evoke among us all a spirit of proper pride, sympathy, mutual helpfulness, discipline and piety, it will have been well worth while, for there are few qualities in any community that contribute more either to success or to happiness.


(Extracted from the Manuscript Memoirs of the first Ordnance Survey

of Ireland 1833-1838).

Architects 1 Magistrates 2

Bakers 5 Masons 25

Butchers 6 Nailers 7

Blacksmiths 6 Painters and Glaziers 3

Bonnetmakers 1 Physician 1

Boat Carpenters 1 Publicans 21

Barbers 1 Police 6

Coopers 2 Salt Merchant 1

Clergymen 2 Saddlers 2

Chandlers 1 Schoolmasters 2

Carmen 2 Shoemakers 20

Dressmakers 20 Sawyers 6

Delph Shops 4 Timber Merchants 2

Flax Dressers 2 Tanners 2

Fishermen 12 Tailors 4

Grocers 20 Weavers 1

Hosiers 0 Woollendrapers 7

Hatters 2 Wheelwrights 2

Hotel Keepers 2 Whitesmiths 3

Huxters 11 Watchmakers 1

Leather Cutters 3 Weighmasters 1

Midwives 1 Waterguards 5

Milliners 8


April 24, 2006 change by giorgio

Where World66 helps you find the best deals on Ballycastle Hotels