AN OLD BALLYCASTLE ACCOUNT BOOK Trade and Commerce in the area in the Eighteenth Century by Hugh Alexander Boyd

This article first appeared in The Glynns Volume 8 and is re-presented here in it’s original format.


The late Mr. Francis Joseph Bigger, in the course of an article contributed by him to the Northern Whig of 16th March 1909, states that he has in his possession an old account book relating to trade and commerce in the Ballycastle area, together with some sociological references, at the middle of the eighteenth century. The acccount book was the property of the late Mr. Alex McLean, a carpenter to trade, with whom lived his niece, the late Miss Mary Anderson, at 60, Castle Street, Ballycastle, in the house now occupied by the Barton family, footwear specialists.

I remember both uncle and niece; the account book was apparently loaned by one or both of them to Mr. Bigger, as he refers to it merely as “in his possession”. He does not state that he owned the book. He must have returned it to its owners—I was but two years of age the year Mr. Bigger wrote the article—but I distinctly remember, as a teenager, being shown it by Miss Anderson. Unfortunately I was not then sufficiently interested to make extracts from it myself. Miss Anderson kept it wrapped in a newspaper, or newspapers; it was quite a sizeable volume in fine handwriting and was kept by her in a no less sizeable zinc trunk. Shortly after her death, when some of her belongings were being sorted out, those engaged in the process probably thought that it represented no more than a bundle of newspapers and, sad to relate, took the whole lot out of the house and consigned it to the flames in a fire of rubbish in her back garden! How many other valuable local records of the past have not met a somewhat similar fate? This was all the more lamentable when one bears in mind that the only really true history of our country is, in the last resort, that based upon the history of the local scene.

Fortunately, as it happened, Mr. Bigger made quite lengthy extracts from the book while he had it in his possession; these he recorded in the course of his newspaper contribution. The particulars it contained indicated the many and varied occupations in the struggling little place, the tenements of which, half a century earlier circa 1700 occupied an area of but three acres. (1).

For reasons of space, only a summary of Mr. Bigger’s material is here attempted.

“Hugh Boyd at ye Quay”.  Born 1690; died 1765, son of Rev. William Boyd, Vicar of Ramoan. In the Spring of 1738 he removed with his family to a small house, situated at the Harbour “in order to give the more close attention upon the works (Ballycastle Harbour) and left a comfortable and agreeable place of residence about a mile and a half distant (Drumawillan—the house now owned by Mr. Black, Carneatly) “where I and my family had been settled for many years”. (2).

There is good reason to believe that the Account Book actually belonged to Boyd.

Two very divergent views have been expressed regarding Boyd’s various activities in the economic life of the area. Mrs. Amy Isabel Young refers to him as “always distinguished for a genuine humility of mind. He was sincerely pious . . . “(3) Or as Hamilton expresses it, “Though not possessed or any considerable fortune, not supported by powerful natural connections, nor endowed with any superior talents, this man opened public roads, formed a harbour, built a town, established manufactures, and lived to see a wild and lawless country become populous, cultivated and civilised; in the most literal sense, his soul seems to have animated this little colony; in him it enjoyed life and strength, and with him all vigour and animation perished”. (4) Boyd was referred to as “The Star of the North” on account of his industrial enterprise.

Bigger is somewhat critical in his estimate of Boyd. He states that the family “had their hands in everything, striving in a dual way to build up a trade in Ballycastle and make their fortune at the same time”. (5)  It is true that Boyd received quite substantial financial grants from the Irish Parliament, some of which could well have been used to help defray in whole or in part, the cost of building Ballycastle Church 1754-1756, the establishment of which “had been the favourite object of his old age”.(6)

Did not the Solicitor General in that Parliament at that time—Philip Tisdall, M.P. for Dublin University—declare in the House that £20,000 was granted principally to increase Mr. Boyd’s private fortune? (7) Arthur Young in his Tour of Ireland includes Boyd as among twelve “excellent Irish landlords”(8).  Pocock in his Irish Tour (1752) also refers appreciatively to him (9). To what extent Bigger is justified in making strictures on Boyd’s enterprise it is difficult to determine. Where precisely does the truth lie? Certainly the weight of contemporary evidence seems to suggest that Boyd was not quite as self-seeking as Bigger and Tisdall would have us believe. As early as 1730 endeavours were made in the Irish Parliament to erect Ballycastle into a place of import and export, but these were successively opposed by the Irish Society and the Corporation of Londonderry. By the middle of the eighteenth century the bounty of the Irish Parliament became conspicuous; grants were made for promoting inland navigation, tillage and many other works connected with trade and industry. There was quite a considerable surplus in the Irish Treasury or Exchequer at this time; as soon as this became known, petitions immediately poured into the House of Commons. These sought grants in aid of proposed improvements to lands, navigation and in some cases objects as various as the interests and machinations of the petitioners. Those who possessed political influence and were not bound to vote in Parliament as the mere tools of patrons, by whose nominations they held their seats, generally succeeded in obtaining a share of the many grants for public and quasi-public purposes, to carry out schemes of improvement on their estates or on the estates of their relations. Boyd’s son-in-law, Alexander Macauley, K .C., LL.D., of Glenville, Cushendall, was Member of Parliament for the borough of Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny circa 1761, but this may have been rather late for him to have been of any real help in parliament to his father-in-law; the grants that Boyd received were obtained by him earlier than this (10)

Entries in the Account Book include:— “The new church by cash received from Alexr. Murphy at sundrie times as by my receipt £28-13-0. To cash paid labourers and stone cutters, as by vouchers returned by J.V.J. Crawford, £43-9-3 1/2. By cash received from John Boyd and Alexr.. Murphy, as by my receipt of this date accountable to Hugh Boyd £2-10-11”. “Of course”, says Bigger, “these items are only a few of the expenses of the ‘new church’ “. The total cost of the erection of the church as £2,769-4-7 1/2. (11)

There is a mason’s mark L M incised to the left of the door case at the west end of the church. “It may be left to the next generation” states Mr. C. E. B. Brett, “to identify this signature”.(12)  But may it not be that the letters L M represent a member of the Murphy family, perhaps a brother of the Alexr. Murphy mentioned in the Account Book?

Another resident was Andrew Sharpe; was this he who built the fine old stone house at Ballylig, in the parish of Ramoan? A heavily carved stone still remains there bearing a cherub and the inscription—”This house was built by Andrew Sharp, 1756″. The Account Book mentions the Georges, sloop, Captain, And. Sharp. Names of other residents included in the book were “John Boyd at ye “Quay”. The reference to “ye Quay” indicates that there was then at least the rudiments of what is now a very characteristic feature of Ballycastle, a lower (or maritime precinct with the Custom House and—in 1755—the glass house) and an upper (or market precinct, with its new church and ruined castle—the latter demolished in 1855); these two precincts were destined to be connected—fortuitously, as it happened—the one with the other “by a straight umbrageous avenue” now known as Quay Road.(13).  The market precinct contained “two good inns and several neat villas and pretending private mansions”. (14)

Other residents named in the Account Book include the Rev. Robert Hill, Drumawillan (Vicar of Ramoan, 1765-1785); Charles O’Cain “at ye Quay”; John McCurdy, carpenter; John Poak (Pollock), pedlar; John McMullan, glover; James Moor, tanner; Archd. Darrach, stone cutter; Benjamin Gatefield, carpenter; Patrick Mandlen, nailor; Malcum Clarke, pedlar; John White, mason; Thomas Hill, mason; Sam Watt, Moyarget, linen weaver; William Moor, blacksmith. Moor makes up a bill as follows:—

By one remove on the bay

By two removes on the big gray

By two new shoes on ye little gray

By two new shoes on the grey pad

By two new shoes on the gray of my own iron

Boyd was evidently trying the iron from his own smelting works. (A set of shoes for a horse cost ten pence); a horse was hired out at three shillings a month.

The Account Book had the entry:— “John Hill, Charter School”. This is now the farm house—Wilmont—occupied by Mr. James Todd. Lewis states that Hugh Boyd “endowed a charter school now (1837) discontinued, near the church (Old Ramoan), with twelve acres of land”. (15)

This was the only Charter School in County Antrim. It was chiefly through Primate Boulter’s influence that these proselytising institutions were founded in 1730. They proved to be totally mismanaged and inefficient. (16) At the Ramoan Charter School “sixty female children were maintained and educated (reading, sewing and knitting) until the age of fourteen when they were bound to such persons of good education as might require their services. (17)

“At the church of Ramoan” i.e., the old church, was an important centre for weaving (a weaver’s loom cost £2-10-0). One Hill, resident in the area, received many payments for linen, including brown linen. In 1763 Rev. Robert Hill (see above) bought “eleven yards of linen at 2/2 a yard for a surplice for the church of Ramoan”. Bigger states “There are still old walls and remains of a now ‘deserted village’ at old Ramoan”. The place to which Bigger refers was known as Church Park, a sub-denomination of the townland of Glebe.

Rathlin Island is often mentioned in connection with spinning hanks of yarn and weaving. Yarn was sent to the island to be woven, as well as that which was spun on the island. It was probably ferried across the Sound by the Betty “a wherry of Rachray, Neal MacNeal, Captain”. The Manor House on the island was formerly the site of a row of Weavers’ cottages. The Rev. Charles Boyd, born 1708, died 1781, Incumbent of Rathlin 1747-1766, is mentioned in the Account Book in connection with linen weaving and bleaching transactions. He was a half brother of Hugh Boyd and appears as Chaplain of Ballycastle Church—the family chapelry or church in 1768. (18)

Some linen was exported by sea, but the greater part of it was exported by pack horses to Belfast; many of the Co. Antrim roads were then mere bridle paths and unfitted for wheeled vehicles. The carriage of two boxes of “linnen” from Ballycastle to Belfast was 11 s-4 1/2. The tories or rapparees, who infested the roads, did not, as a rule, interfere with ordinary traders like these, but reserved their attacks for those whom they con-sidered had wronged them or others in the land confiscation of a previous generation.

The name John McGuile, ancestor of the McGuile or Kyle family of the Warren, Ballycastle, is mentioned as a miller. The last male representative of this family—Robert Kyle—miller, died on 1st February 1951. George Dunlop is also mentioned as a miller. He was the proprietor of the Milltown Mill, Ballycastle and was descended from Bryce Dunlop to whom Sir Randal Macdonnell granted one hundred acres in Gortconny townland, together with two water mills on the river Tow; one the above mentioned and the other—long since in ruins—in Carneatly townland and both in Ramoan parish.(19)

There was a bleachyard, the expenses of which were set out in the Account Book also the making of a dam; ashes and blue were obtained from John Greg of Belfast, Bryan Crampsie, bleacher, Ballymoney, Arch. MacNeal, George Alexander, Hector MacNeal and James Stewart. (A bale of merchandise took eleven days to reach Dublin from Ballycastle). As for physicians and apothecaries, there was John Boyd, surgeon: He lived at what is now No. 47, Castle Street.(20) &  Alex MacNeal, apothecary.

Entries in this Account Book prove that there was a considerable trade that even extended to the New England colonies over twenty years before the Revolution. The William and Mary John Peel, master, sailed from Belfast with Ballycastle linen to John McMichael, a merchant in Philadelphia, 19th May 1753, Matthew Holiwood, carrier. These goods, like others, were carried to Belfast first and then shipped. Emigrant ships were also very numerous at this time in consequence of the Ulster Land War. (21)

Bigger’s excerpts from the Account Book at least prove conclusively what a sturdy little centre Ballycastle was circa 1750. At this time the Presbyterian congregation of Ramoan at Moyarget, near Ballycastle, had its greatest number of families—about four hundred. Many of them were engaged in the industries and mines in the Ballycastle area. (22).  From a population return of the parish of Ramoan in 1734 the number of house-holders in Ballycastle numbered sixty-two, of whom sixteen were Roman Catholics as follows:

Denis O’Raliff
Widow McAlinden
Felix Matthews
Robert O’Mooney
Daniel McAlister
William Chism
Widow O’Mullan
Daniel Shannon
Widow McConnell
Widow McCormick
Neal O’Mullan
Robert McCarroll
Patrick O’Hegarty
Catherine Murphy
Alexander O’Donaghy
Margaret Kelly.

The thirty-two householders who were members of the Established Church were:—

James Gray
John Nickol
Daniel McMullan
Bryan Glass
Robert Cooper
Catherine Montgomerie
William Ganian
Thomas Hill
James Attenby
James O’Mullan
Margaret O’Mullan
Margaret Martin
Janet Stewart
Ann Strobridge
Alexander McCork
John Montgomerie
William McCarroll
Widow Stewart
Dunkin McKay
John Kellie
Dunkin Glass
Daniel Murphy
Robert Smith
Daniel Currie
Widow McGlaghin
Rose McNeill
Widow O’Capan
Widow Hill
Widow McConaghie
Angus McMullan
John McAlister
John McGowan.

The fourteen dissenting householders were:—

John McGill
John Watson
George Smith
Thomas Robinson
Robert Hemphill
James Douglas
George Smith
William McCavish
Matthew Leech
Widow Boyd
Patrick Donie
John O’Dair
Archibald Donie
John Currie.


At that date-1734—Port Brittas, now the Quay, had only four householders:—

John McAuley, a Roman Catholic.
John Boyd, Established Church.
Archibald Boyd, Established Church.
Robert Bear, Established Church.

In 1758 John Magawley, manager of the Ballycastle glass works stated that the harbour had been of great use by raising a spirit of industry in the people, that several manufactures have been set on foot such as making salt, soap, tanning leather, weaving and bleaching linen, making nails and other iron work, that large quantities of corn and meal have been imported, particularly in 1745 and again in 1758 and that the inhabitants of Ballycastle have built and purchased several ships from time to time since the harbour was made. (23)

In a word the place to all intends and purposes was quite self-contained, with all the work done at home and much healthy occupation spread around at the same time. As Hamilton expresses it:—”. . . this man (Boyd) opened public roads, formed a harbour, built a town, established manufactures, and lived to see a wild and lawless country become populous, cultivated and civilised . . . this gentleman constructed a most excellent machine, but unfortunately left it without any permanent principle of motion”. (24)

Entries in the Account Book indicated that luxuries not producible at home were enjoyed in some quantity; there was the importation and distribution of rum. This was obtained from Thomas Greg, merchant in Belfast. Greg amassed great wealth and spent it in buying, over the heads of the tenants, land about Belfast from its owner Arthur, fourth Earl of Donegall (b. 1695 d. 1757); such transactions were among the causes of the land war that gave rise to the Hearts of Steel 1769. Helped by a grant from the Irish Parliament, Boyd constructed in 1753 a new water course in connection with the harbour works; this he did by diverting the waters of the river Tow. Expenses incidental to this undertaking and set out in the Account Book included

9th May: 26 men
13 quarts of ale 3 shillings 1 and a half pence
2 quarts of rum 3 shillings
bread 2 shillings
tobacco 5 and a half pence

10th May: 21 men
12 quarts of ale 2 and a half shillings
bread 2 shillings
rum (one bottle) 2 shillings 10 pence
tobacco 5 1/2 pence. 

It will be noted how far the refreshments exceeded the food! (25)

The production of linen necessitated the importation of flax seed; it was sold at 3 shillings 3 pence per peck (21 lbs.). There was a considerable turnover in this commodity; names mentioned in the Account Book included “John Sharp, Turraloskin, (near Ballycastle), Isabel MacKay, Robert Armstrong for freight of flaxseed and rum by the Orrelana, Stephen Clay, Master, 137 casks of flaxseed received through Custom House”.

The first landwaiter, or customs officer in Ballycastle was Charles McNeile—almost certainly a member of the McNeile family of Colliers’ Hall in the parish of Culfeightrin. He presented (in 1728) to the church of that parish the communion plate in Irish beaten silver and still in use; there is reason to believe that the Church was erected in that year. The Custom House was situated in what is now the site of the Marine Hotel in the direction of the bowling green and Mary Street. The Royal Arms of George II, carved on a massive block of stone, were placed above the door of the building; they were removed last century to their position on the external wall of the former hotel in North Street and facing the sea front. In 1728 the Custom House was actually in the parish of Culfeightrin, but by 1753, as a consequence of the diversion of the river Tow, the area is now included in the parish of Ramoan. By 1846 the Custom House was occupied as a barracks; by 1877 the Glass House—or what was left of it—was demolished.

The Account Book recorded:— “15th February 1753—David Fullerton now in colledge (sic) of Glasgow paid Charles Gray for sundries £2-13-6. Alexander Fullerton now at colledge (sic) at Edinburgh”. They were probably of the family of Fullerton or Fullarton. “There is now a decent inn kept by a person of the name Fullarton, who has carriages for hire; it is opposite the (Ballycastle) church”(26).  This must not be confused with the inn, which, according to Pocock’s Tour of Ireland was built by Hugh Boyd at the Quay and adjoining the Custom House. As for Charles Gray (whom there is reason to believe was a person of some social standing) he resided at what is now 76, Castle Street, Ballycastle; in 1762 he purchased a horse for six guineas. (27) These two young men were likely of this family of Fullarton, a branch of which had a Tuck Mill in the town land of Drumawillan, in the parish of Ramoan. They may have been studying—David at Glasgow for the ministry of the Synod of Ulster and Alexander at Edinburgh—for medicine.

No serious student, anxious to learn more of the economic, commercial and to some small extent, social life of the Ballycastle locality in mid-eighteenth century times can possibly afford to ignore the varied information culled by the late Mr. Bigger from the pages of this Account Book. It was deplorable that the volume was so unthinkingly and so lamentably consigned to the flames in a back garden of the town with which the personages and items detailed on its pages were so closely associated.


(1) O’Laverty – Down and Connor, Vol. IV, p. 414
(2) An Account of the progress of Ballycastle Harbour, published by Faulkner, Dublin, 1743.
(3) Three Hundred Years in Innishowen, p. 293
(4) Letters on the Coast of Antrim, p. 25
(5) Northern Whig, 16th March, 1909
(6) Hamilton – Letters on the Coast of Antrim, p. 26
(7) Northern Whig, 16th March, 1909 – dictionary of National Biography: Burtchaell and Sadleir- Alumni Dublinenses (1924), p. 814
(8) Quoted by C. Maxwell—Country and Town in Ireland under the Georges, (1949), p. 193
(9) “Ballycastle is a strong instance of the assiduity and judgment of one person, Mr. Boyd. . . . This gentleman, in the colliery and all the manufactures he supports has about 300 people employed every day . . All These things undertaken and carried on by one man arc a very uncommon instance in a practical way of human understanding and prudence”.—Quoted in Amy Isabel Young— Three Hundred Years in Innishowen, p. 296
(10) Return of the names of every M.P. returned to serve in Parliament from 1696 to 1878, Part II,p.665.
(11) Parliamentary Gazetter of Ireland, 1846; states (p.158) that the cost was all defrayed by Boyd himself.  Hamilton states (op cit).
(12) “Glens of Antrim” issue of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1971, p. 46
(13) Mr C. A. Dallat is of the opinion that this avenue was to be in the nature of a ‘processional drive’  which was very fashionable for ‘the big house’ (the Manor House) in those days.—”Ballycastle’s Eigh-teenth Century Industries” in The Glynns, Vol. 3 (1975), p. 13.
(14)  Parliamentary Gazetteer, Vol. I. p. 158. Map of Ballycastle circa 1720. I. 1051 in Public Record Office, Northern Ireland: O’Toole. D – Planning Scheme for Ballycastle (1944), p.9
(15) Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Vol. II, p. 483. It was almost certainly a member of this family that gave its name to the Hillhead, just outside Ballycastle and fairly near Wilmont.
(16) Auchmuty, J. J.—Irish Education, p. 58.
(17) Shaw Mason – Statistical Survey of Ireland, Vol II, p.511
(18) H. I. Law, Rathlin Island and Parish, p. 46.
(19) See O.S. Antrim, 1833, Sheet 8: Hill—The Macdonnells of Antrim, p. 440.
(20)The Glynns, Vol.5,  p. 8
(21) R. J. Dickson—Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-1775, pp. 98-100, 104. The Glynns, Vol. V, p. 55.
(22) Rev. J. E. Glentield—Ramoan Presbyterian Church (1955) p. 4.
(23) Irish House of Commons Journals, Vol. VI, February 1758: The Glynns, Vol. V, p. 55. C. A. Dallat “Ballycastle’s Glass Industry in The Glynns, Vol. II, pp. 28-32.
(24) Letters on the northern coast of Antrim, pp. 25, 26.
(25) These articles should be read in conjunction with Mr. C. A. Dallat’s excellent article entitled “Ballycastle Eighteenth century industries” in The Glynns, Vol. III, (1975), pp. 7-13.
(26) Shaw Mason—Statistical Survey of Ireland, (1816), Vol. 11, p. 505. (Parish of Ramoan).
(27) The Glynns, Vol. V. (1977), p. 8.



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