Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Island Taggart


INTRODUCTION

ISLAND TAGGART is a property in County Down owned by The National Trust.

It lies between Ringdufferin, directly to its north, and Killyleagh, the nearest village, to the south.

The island is one mile long and a quarter of a mile wide at its widest point, a total area of about 85 acres, acquired in 1984 from Patrick and Kathleen Mackie.

Click to enlarge

Its length and the height of its two drumlins make it particularly attractive in the southern half of Strangford Lough.

From the higher points there is a fine prospect of varying habitats: from the eastern side, the main body of the lough with its marine life, sea-birds and the landscape of the Ards Peninsula; while, to the west, the sheltered mud-flats and salt-marshes with their population of waders and waterfowl.

WILDLIFE

The range of habitat types and abundant cover provided by pasture-land, scrub, hedgerows, marsh, foreshore and woodland ensure that the island is exceptionally attractive to wildlife.

A wide variety of butterflies and insects are to be found on the island; and the areas of scrub, with hawthorn, elderberry and brambles, provide excellent feeding for small birds on both the insect life and the fruit.

It is an important wintering ground for chaffinches, linnets, skylarks, stonechats and reed buntings.

There have been two large badger sets occupied on the island.; and there is evidence of foxes.

Otters frequent the northern tip. Porpoises can sometimes be seen feeding close to its eastern shore.

WILDFOWL

The mudflats to the west of the island provide good feeding for curlew, redshank, oystercatcher, knot, dunlin and turnstone; greenshank and ringed plovers have also been seen.

Terns and black-headed gulls are almost always to be seen around the shore; and, in the winter, there are abundant razorbills, guillemots, cormorants and, occasionally, great northern divers.



NOTABLE FEATURES

On the southern tip of the island there is an open circular stone kiln thought to have been used for burning kelp to produce potash for agricultural purposes.

Close to the north-eastern bay is a second, larger kiln which is very well preserved with a stone, corbelled roof.

At least two wells on the island are built of stone with interesting features which make them worthy of restoration.

At the extreme north-eastern tip of the island there are two "fairy thorns" enclosed in a low ring of stones.

In the past, Island Taggart was intensively farmed, though vegetation has now become more varied and there exists an important field system south of the farmstead with a valuable copse of oak, beech, ash, Scots pine, sycamore, elm and alder trees.

FARM BUILDINGS

The principal farmstead with its stone-built, slate-roofed, single-storey derelict farmhouse with its farm buildings (a store; cow byre; calf-boxes; and hay-store) are all stone-built, partly slate.

An old well is located just to the side of the sunken lane which runs from the east shore up to the farm. There is an orchard nearby.

Island Taggart is one of the largest islands on Strangford Lough. Visitors are welcome.

There are good anchorages off the eastern shore and at the north-west corner of the island, depending on the weather, although care on a falling tide is advisable.

Old farm buildings give a good indication of life on the island and, indeed, it was used by Little Bird Films to make December Bride, a story about County Down folk at the turn of the 19th century.

Thick hedges full of bird life, relatively unspoiled meadows full of wild flowers, and small marshes bright with Yellow Flag iris and orchids make this a lovely island to visit, whilst in high summer it is full of butterflies including large numbers of Common Blues and Small Coppers.

Simmy Island (Sir William and Lady Hastings) lies at Island Taggart's north-western tip; while the Dunnyneill Islands are to the south-east.

One small, ruinous cottage is at the northern tip of the island; two other cottages, which are within fifty yards of each other, lie at the eastern side of the island about two-thirds of the way up from the southern tip; and the main farm sits at the top of the hill in the middle of the island.

The main farm, with farm-house, outbuildings directly opposite, farm-yard, walls and pillars with "bap" toppings, an old orchard, a stone well, privy and other features, is substantial enough and could conceivably be restored at some future date.

A lane ran from this farmstead down the hill, past the well (marked on the map), to the eastern shore and still exists today. Two further wells served the cottages to the north of the island.

POPULATION

There is a comment on the island in 1821:
Taggart Isle is attached to the parish of Killyleagh and contains 3 houses and 23 inhabitants.
This figure seems to have been at the time when the number of islanders was at its peak.

The island was attached to the Parish of Killyleagh in the barony of Dufferin. The owners were Lord Dufferin and Claneboye and Catherine A Hamilton.

    • 1841: 9 males, 6 females, 2 houses occupied
    • 1851: 4 males, 2 females, 1 house occupied
    • 1861: 3 males, 2 females, 1 house occupied
    • 1871: 3 males, 3 females, 1 house occupied
    • 1881: 3 males, 4 females, 1 house occupied
    • 1891: 3 males, 6 females, 1 house occupied
    • 1901: 2 males, 2 females, 1 house occupied
    • 1911: 2 males, 1 female, 1 house occupied
    • 1926: 1 male, 1 female, 1 house occupied

      The census and will records of Island Taggart record several families, all of whom were Presbyterian farmers:

        • Samuel Bishop, son of James and Margaret, died on the 7th August, 1855 aged 67
        • Grace Bishop, possibly Samuel's sister or wife, died on the 12th March, 1877
        • Thomas Morrow died on the 15th July, 1898 and probate was granted to his widow, Bridgetta. He left £440 7s 6d (£43,000 in today's money)
        • The 1901 Census recorded Bridgetta Morrow, 67, Head of Family; Samuel Morrow, 34, son; May Morrow, 25, daughter; and Samuel McDonald, 23, servant
        • the 1911 Census recorded Bridgetta Morrow, 80; Samuel Morrow, 45; and a new servant, John Fitzsimmons, aged 35
          In the spring of 1966, East Down Yacht Club purchased lands from James (Jimmy) Nelson's father and thereafter established the sailing club which hadn't existed prior to this.

          Mr David (Davey) Calvert was the last occupier of Island Taggart and he left the island in 1967.

          First published in December, 2010.