Tuesday, 30 March 2021



ARDSTRAW, a large and important parish in the barony of Strabane, County Tyrone.

The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin; the church is a large and beautiful edifice with a handsome spire, and is situated in Newtownstewart.

A new church, or chapel of ease, is about to be built at Baron's Court, or Magheracreggan; and the glebe  house has a glebe of 681 acres attached to it, of which 461¾ are in a state of cultivation.

The parish contains the town of Newtownstewart, and the villages of Ardstraw and Douglas Bridge.

The ecclesiastical parish is more extensive than the civil parish; it includes a district in the barony of Omagh.

Three considerable rivulets drain the surface; and, becoming confluent, pass away in one stream to pay tribute to the Foyle.

The streams produce both trout and salmon.

Three beautiful and wooded lakes adorn the demesne of Baronscourt, and a fourth, called Creevy [Magheralough], and situated near Magheracreggan, is circular and about a mile in circumference.

The surface of the parish possesses such an aggregate of wood, so general a carpeting of verdure and cereal crop, and such a diversified and strongly-featured contour, as to be rich in the number and not poor in the character of its landscapes.

A mountain, called Douglas, shoots up on the north-east border; two mountains, called Bessy Bell and Mary Grey, rise, the one immediately behind Newtownstewart; and the other about a mile to the east.

Various minor heights finely screen or tumulate the vales; and a beautiful hill range extends westward from Newtownstewart, crowned in the vicinity of the town with a picturesque old castle, and luxuriantly mantled in other places with groves of oak.

Bessy Bell and Mary Gray are bare in the summit and russeted on the sides, but green and arable on the skirts.

How and when Irishmen imposed on these mountains names so thoroughly and nationally embalmed in the pathetic ballad associations of Scotland; but "canny" Scotsmen may be pardoned for regarding the affair as one of the unaccountable freaks which distinguish the workings of Hibernian humour.

Antiquarian conjecture, aided by tradition, suggests that pagan rites called "Baase" were, in heathen times, performed on the summit of the westerly mountain to Bell, Beal, Apollo, or the Sun; and that "Baase-Bell," the "ceremonies of Bell," was a sound which, subsequent to the celebrity of the Scottish ballad, easily glided into Bessy Bell, and suggested the counterpart of Mary Gray.

Bogs, while numerous, are so equally dispersed as rather to serve for an acceptable supply of fuel, than to incumber and dispirit by a display of sterility.

Mountains and bogs jointly occupy about one-third of the parochial area; and arable, pasture, and meadow grounds occupy the remainder, in the proportions to one another of respectively 3, 2, and 1.

Excellent sandstone is quarried near Douglas Bridge, and sent to distant parts of the country.

The principal seat is the noble mansion of Baronscourt.

Other seats are Castle Moyle, an ancient but respectable mansion; Woodbrook, a neat modern house; Altdoghal, on an upland site; and Glenknock Cottage, crowning a hill north of Newtownstewart, and commanding an exquisite view of the vale and hill-screens of the [river] Strule.

Newtownstewart (Image: William Alfred Green). CLICK TO ENLARGE

The castle, already alluded to, as surmounting a shoulder of the hill-range west of Newtownstewart, is an interesting object.

Two extinct castles, traditionally said to have been built by brothers of Henry O'Neill, a king of Ulster in the 5th century, stood, the one near the confluence of the Strule and the Glenelly, on a spot now occupied by a neat circular cottage orné, and the other on an alluvial and river-girt plain, called the Holme, and used as the Newtownstewart parade and racecourse.

The disappearance of the latter has been ascribed to the propensity the vulgar practice of quarrying an architectural antiquity for the construction of a dwelling, on the part of the early inhabitants of the town.

A surviving ancient castle, situated opposite the Holme, was burned by Sir Phelim Roe O'Neill in 1641, rebuilt by Sir William Stewart after he became Lord Mountjoy, and again burned by King James on his retreat from Londonderry.

Another extant old castle crowns a thickly-wooded rising ground on the east side of Baronscourt demesne.

Raths or Danish forts are so numerous that about a dozen may be counted within a mile on the western skirts of Mary Grey.

A cromlech, called by the country people a cloghogle, stands on a hill a mile north of Newtownstewart.

It consists of three upright stones, triangularly placed, and about seven feet high, supporting a horizontal stone.

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