Friday, 21 May 2021

Magilligan

EDITED EXTRACTS FROM THE TOPOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IRELAND, 1837

MAGILLIGAN, or Tamlaghtard, a parish in the barony of Keenaght, 4¾ miles north-east of Limavady, County Londonderry.

The latter of these names, which signifies "the cemetery on the height," is derived from the situation of the ancient burial-ground, which is still used; and the former from a family of that name who were proprietors of a native freehold in it, until the land was forfeited to the Crown, after the war of 1641.

The surface extends from the summit of BINEVENAGH and the mouth of the river Roe, northward to the east side of the entrance of Lough Foyle, and thence 4¼ miles east-south-eastward along the Atlantic.

Binevenagh is situated on the boundary, 2½ miles north-east of the mouth of the Roe, and has an altitude above sea-level of 1,260 feet.

It commands a most extended range of prospect, embracing the celebrated island of Iona, and others of the Western Isles of Scotland.

The vicinity of the ocean gives the air a mild and genial temperature, which is increased by the shelter afforded by this mountain against the eastern blast.

Three-quarters of the parochial area are variously mountainous, boggy, and barren land; and the soil of the profitable uplands is clay and bog, while that of the lowlands is of a sandy and boggy quality.

The whole coast or seaboard, to the mean breadth of about 1½ miles, is a dreary alternation of ridges of sand and belts of bog and morass, the former locally called dryms and the latter misks.

"The dryms and the misks are, for the most part, each from 100 to 500 yards broad; and the former are highest along the middle, and slope to the sides."

"The length of the dryms runs from east to west, from the mountain to Lough Foyle, and is in most places two miles long, in some places less, in some more; only for half-a-mile next the mountain, it is all one bog and level."

The north-west corner of the parish tapers north-westward to a point; and the extremity of the peninsula, thus formed, is called Magilligan Point, and has upon it a Martello Tower.

Upwards of 2,400 acres of the low barren ground are disposed in a rabbit warren; and in consequence of the abundant supply of the grasses and mosses most relished by the rabbits, the furs of the animals are of very superior quality.

In AD 584 St Columbkille founded a monastery here, which afterwards acquired great wealth and celebrity, and became so pre-eminent among the monastic foundations of this saint that it obtained the title of "Throne or Shrine of St Columba;" kings, princes, and prelates repaired hither to close their days in its recesses, and the remains of many others were brought hither for interment.

The most remarkable of the latter were those of St Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, which were raised by Colman, one of his successors, and buried here in a tomb of hewn stone that still exists near the eastern window of the old parish church: near which is also a fine well, called Tubber-Aspug-Aidan, the well of Bishop Aidan.

Archdall says, in reference to a supposed early Culdee establishment near Magilligan Point,
"St Columb, the great founder of churches, erected a monastery at Ardia, which is also called Aird-megiollagain. This abbey was called the Shrine of St Columb, and in process of time became very rich. It was plundered, in 1203, by Diarmit Hua Lochluin, who, at the head of a party of foreigners, attempted to plunder Keineleoguin [sic], but the lords of that country pursuing them, Diarmit with many of his party fell."
THIS parish is a rectory, and a separate benefice, in the diocese of Derry.

It is situated at the northern extremity of the county, having Lough Foyle on the west and the North Atlantic ocean on the north; the river Roe forms part of its southern boundary.

The vegetable productions are of great variety.

Innes, in his Natural History of the place, published by the Royal Society in 1725, states that the herb-doctors, who then were in high repute in Ireland, esteemed the breast of Binevenagh mountain a kind of physic garden, which supplied them with medicines to be found in no other place; adding that
"the abundance and great variety of flowers rendered Magilligan honey so delicious that the produce of the townland of Tircreven  commanded a higher price than any other brought to the Dublin market."
There are few trees except in the demesnes, where they are protected from cattle; although the side of Binevenagh affords excellent sites for their cultivation, which have been taken advantage of only in one tract that is finely planted.

Alders and osiers succeed well in the low lands; and the growth of trees in general, when properly protected and attended to, is rapid.

The insect tribe is very prolific, and often extremely troublesome: the grub-worm abounds in boggy lands to the great injury of the corn crops; early sowing is the only protection against the ravages of this insect.

Fleas often multiply in a wonderful manner on the lowlands; no house in which sand is admitted can be kept free from them.

Earwigs, which are great enemies to the few stocks of bees now reared here, are very numerous and troublesome in summer: the minnow-worm, used for bait in flounder fishing, is to be had in abundance on the strand.

The fish most frequently taken are flounders and cockles in the shallows and sands; farther out, herrings and oysters; and in the deep sea, cod, haddock, and turbot.

Salmon are sometimes taken off the north shore and in the river Roe, where also trout and mullet are caught: eels are scarce.

Some eagles breed in the heights of Binevenagh; kites and hawks abound there.

The barnacle frequents the north strand in countless numbers, forming an article of considerable profit to the residents in the neighbourhood, who send them in quantities to Londonderry and the inland towns.

The wigeon, heron, curlew, and sea-gull also frequent these shores; pigeons are so abundant as to cause much annoyance to the farmers.

The parish is remarkable for one of the largest rabbit warrens in Ireland.

In 1786, it was worth £1,500 per annum: the number of skins about that time sold annually amounted to three or four thousand dozen; they were purchased by the hatters.

The discovery of cheaper materials for the manufacture occasioned the depression; and a diminution of the quantity has been caused, partly by the havoc committed on the rabbits by rats of the Norway breed, which have increased here to a most pernicious degree, not only as regards the warren, but in the corn fields and about the haggards; and partly by the increased culture of rye on the sandy lands, which, by the judicious exertions of the proprietor, are gradually being converted from the unproductive state into arable land.

The process adopted to produce this beneficial effect is, the covering of the surface with soil, mud, and shells, brought up in boats from the banks of Lough Foyle, near the mouth of the Roe.

Foxes were so abundant that the parish vestry gave a reward of 2s for every skin brought in; they are now extirpated. 

The last wolf to exist in Ulster was started about a hundred years since upon Binevenagh, and hunted into the woods near Dungiven, where it was killed.


THE population is chiefly engaged in agricultural pursuits.

Most of the low lands produce abundant crops of wheat, oats, and potatoes; the first named of these, introduced by Mr Gage in 1830, now forming part of the rotation of the more wealthy farmers: but the old and less profitable systems of agriculture are still adhered to by many with much pertinacity, and the burning of soil in the low lands has been in some parts carried to such excess as to threaten the total extinction of the productive qualities of the soil.

The quantities of white limestone raised in the mountain districts have tended much to aid the exertions of the landholders in the improvement of their farms.

The high lands afford excellent pasturage for sheep and young cattle, and many tracts heretofore unproductive have been brought into a state of profitable cultivation.

Little flax has been at any time raised, the soil not being well adapted to it, and still less latterly, in consequence of the low prices of yarn: wool is manufactured into a substantial and well-looking cloth worn by the farmers.

A kind of matting is manufactured from the bent grass, planted on the sandy tracts to prevent the drifting of the sands: a ready sale if found for it in the inland parts of the country.

The trade of the parish is mostly confined to the disposal of this article and to the sale of wildfowl, rabbits, poultry, and eggs in Londonderry.

The Derry and Coleraine line of railway, now in progress, will run through the end of the parish; the engineers are at present tunnelling for it to a very considerable extent under DOWNHILL, the residence of Sir Hervey Bruce Bt, in an adjoining parish.

The principal seats are, BELLARENA, a highly embellished demesne on the banks of the Roe and the side of Binevenagh, contributing much to the beauty of the scenery of this secluded district; Castle Lecky, a romantic seat; Ballycarton; Doaghs; and Magilligan Glebe, in which resided the Rev John Graham, rector of the parish.

THE living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Bishop.

The glebe house stands on a glebe of 23 acres.

The church, situated near the ancient monastery of Duncrun, is a large and handsome edifice in the early English style of architecture, built in 1778; it has a steeple, furnished with a bell.

The old church, being in a decayed state and in an inconvenient situation, was relinquished as a Protestant place of worship, and was given to the Roman Catholic congregation, with the consent of the Earl of Bristol, Bishop of Derry; but being after some time found unsuited to its purpose, a large and commodious chapel was built in the neighbourhood, toward the erection of which Dr Knox, the Bishop of Derry, and other Protestant gentleman, contributed.

The churchyard, being the burial-place of most of the old families of every religious persuasion, has been enclosed with a wall and an iron gate by parish assessment.

In the Roman Catholic divisions the parish is the head of a district, comprising also parts of Dunboe and Aghanloo.

At Margymonaghan is a meeting-house for Presbyterians.

Hodgson Gage bequeathed £200, and the Rev John Leathes, rector of the parish, in 1703, £100 [about £25,000 in 2020], to the poor.

The remains of an ancient encampment, and the foundations of a castle, were lately discovered in a strong position about half-way up the mountain; it is supposed to have been one of the fastnesses in which the Irish secured themselves and their property during the wars of ELIZABETH I and CHARLES I and II.

The foundations of the abbey of Duncrun, and near them those of the old church, are the only traces of their former existence: the surrounding scenery is spectacularly grand and romantic.

The ruins of Screen Abbey, noticed by Colgan in his Trias Thaumaturga, may still be traced on the townland of Craig.

The Rev John Graham was author of the Siege of Derry; Derriana; Annals of Ireland; and various other historical, statistical, and poetical publications.

Denis Hampson, the celebrated Irish harper, resided in the parish.

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