Friday, 25 January 2013

1st Viscount Craigavon


JAMES CRAIG was born near Strandtown on the outskirts of east Belfast, the son of James Craig (1828–1900) a wealthy distiller.

The Craig family came to Ulster in 1608 and lived at Ballyvester, near Donaghadee; and, at a later time, at Ballyvester House itself.

Craig entered the firm of Dunville & Company, whiskey distillers, as a clerk, aged 40. He subsequently became a millionaire and partner in the firm.

His career is already well documented on the Internet.

The Craigavon Papers are held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

The supporters of the Craigavon coat-of-arms depict a constable of the Ulster Special constabulary, his hands resting on a rifle, on the left; and a private soldier of the Royal Ulster Rifles, armed and accoutred, to the right.

The 1st Viscount is buried at the Stormont Estate. The titles are currently held by the 3rd Viscount, born in 1940.


The family residence was Craigavon House, at Circular Road and Holywood Road in Belfast, and its main entrance was on the Holywood Road, close to where the Mormon church is now.

The grounds extended to about twenty acres.

Craigavon House, built in 1870, is a two-storey Victorian dwelling with a front of two bays on either side of a central bow. There are round-headed windows in the lower storey, with camber-headed windows above.

A pavilion with pedimented portico forms the entrance front of the house, joined to the main block by an orangery. The Craigavon crest, a lion rampant, adorns the front of the orangery in the form of carved stone-work.

There were two gate lodges, one on the Holywood Road where William Cowan, a gardener, lived ca 1900, since demolished; and the other on Circular Road, home to James Clements, coachman.

From Holywood Road the drive was almost parallel to the Circular Road, having a steep incline. The Circular Road lodge is in good condition.

The Craigs' closest neighbours would have been the Mitchells at Marmont House. Of the big houses on Circular Road, only Craigavon and Marmont (Mitchell House School) remain.

The home of Northern Ireland's first prime minister could be put on the market unless enough funds are raised to keep it open. 

Craigavon House is owned and run by the Somme Association, a charity which cares for elderly war veterans.

However, the organization is finding its running costs prohibitively expensive so, unless the Government steps in or another benefactor, the future of Craigavon House remains uncertain.

Sir Edward Carson declared the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant from its steps.

It was later signed by more than 47,000 men and women on 28 September, 1912, who pledged themselves to defend the Protestant heritage in the province.

Residents of the Somme Hospital, a nursing home for veterans, moved out of the main building to a new block some time ago, but an historical society which occupies the rear of the building, is now moving into the house itself. 

The Somme association hopes to attract other tenants which would help with running costs of the building, because they are reluctant to sell it.


The Craig family also had a maritime residence called Tyrella House.

Tyrella House, between Ardglass and Newcastle, County Down, was bought by the 1st Viscount's father. 

In the study of Tyrella there is a stained-glass window of the Craig Crest. Here is a link to one of the 1st Viscount's brothers, Vincent, who was an architect: He designed The Royal Ulster Yacht Club. 

Another brother, Charles Craig, was also a politician. 

Tyrella House was sold to the present family in the 1940s. I think the last member of the Craig family to live there was Clarence, another brother of the 1st Viscount (who had seven brothers and one sister).

The early 19th century house, with a conservatory, is placed near the sea. Lewis describes the
site in 1837 as  ‘… a richly planted demesne of 2
00 acres …’ 

The house is protected by mature shelter trees. There is a folly fort on a hill top to the north- east of the house. 

An early 20th century Japanese garden to the south of the house has ‘Spider Lodge’, a summer- house; a Japanese summer- house; overgrown rockeries; water features and exotic planting.

This area fell into decline after the 2nd World War.

The walled garden is cultivated round a house, built there in 1987. There are glasshouses and a potting shed.

Other noted features are the entrance gates and screen pre-1835; gate lodge pre-1835; a smithy, which looks like a gate lodge. 

Tyrella House is featured in Hidden Ireland as a guesthouse.

The 1st Viscount is buried at the Stormont Estate. The titles are currently held by the 3rd Viscount, born in 1940.

First published in May, 2010.


Anonymous said...

You would very much enjoy St. John Ervine's account of Craigavon's life, particularly the early years in 'Craigavon - Ulsterman.'


Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff as always. Aside from the St John Ervine book there is also the Patrick Buckland study of Craig as part of the Gill's Irish Lives series of the early Eighties. Also recommended. Keep up the good work Lord Belmont.