NOTES ON BALLYCASTLE IN THE OLDEN DAYS. Canon Isaac Purcell Barnes, B.A., & Hugh Alexander Boyd

These notes have been compiled from MS. papers written about the year 1906 by the late Canon Isaac Purcell Barnes, B.A., Incumbent of Ballycastle Church 1874 – 1921. They have been edited and additional material has been included by Hugh Alexander Boyd.



(Sketch Map of Ballycastle 1760)

At the time that Ballycastle Church was built – the date over the main entrance door is 1756, the town probably extended up the hill from Castle Street as far as the junction of what are now the Coleraine and Lealand (Leyland) roads. The appearance of the Diamond was different from what it is now. The ground was not level; it sloped down to the level of the river which now flows beneath the Diamond churchyard and recently constructed Car Park.  The banks  of the stream rose steeply on each side. The church stood on the edge of the bank, with the old castle remains, comparatively close to it. This stream was bridged over and the ground levelled by John Fullerton between 1800 and 18101. He obtained a grant from the Ballycastle Estate and also received a piece of ground directly over the stream. On this ground he erected a three storey stuccoed building with window architraves and coach arch; the building is known as The Royal Hotel. Canon Barnes states that a man told him that he remembered, as a, boy, fishing for eels in the stream before it was bridged over. Up to 1758 there was no road where the Quay Road now is, but there was probably, almost certainly, a track through the fields.  A road of sorts is clearly shown in the 1720 map of the town as leading from what is now Castle Street to the Diamond, Ann Street (probably so-called after Ann, nee McAllister, wife of Colonel Hugh Boyd) and the Quay. 

Quay Road Ballycastle

(Quay Road, Ballycastle)

What is now referred to as Quay Road is technically Ann Street, as property leases clearly indicate:  Nos. 34 (Ivy House) and 36 (Hybla) Quay Road were at one time referred to as “up street”; No. 36, with its Georgian glazing is reputed to date from the mid-eighteenth century, possibly earlier. 

Co Antrim, Ballycastle, Quay Road      

(Quay Road, Ballycastle)

On the other side of the Quay Road, but nearer the sea, the property extending from the gateway entrance to “Miller’s Yard” and the three storey block, to the former Manor House, was referred to as “down street”.  The house now known as Beechwood, on the Quay Road, was once a brewery.  Ballycastle, like many an Irish town, in former times had a brewery, a courthouse and a gaol or bridewell  located beneath the courthouse.  It is a wonderful circumstance that one always gets these three buildings mixed up together, even in the speeches of temperance enthusiasts. (In many old leases there is a clause referring to the Ballycastle brewery; this clause prohibits leaseholders from manufacturing Liquors or spirits on their premises).

It was to the house now known as Beechwood that Alexander McNeile, of Colliers’ near   Ballycastle,  moved around the year 1798.  McNeile was a pretty busy man of affairs and is described in Shaw Masan’s Parochial Survey of Ireland, Vol. II, p. 503 as possessing “a handsome fortune.” He combined a land agency with the magistracy of the county and was a member of the Grand Jury. Of his two sons, John, the elder, was one of the founders of what is now the Northern Bank, Ltd, and the younger, Hugh (b. 1795. d.1879) became Dean of Ripon. Alexander McNeile had a brother Daniel, who was a soldier in the service of the Hon. East India, Co. While in its service he rose to the rank of Lieutenant General; he returned from India. about 1815; his homecoming was considered to be an event of such importance that his brother Alexander added a wing to his property. This Wing which is still in situ is at the end of the house next to “Miller’s Yard”; the wing contains two large reception rooms, with bedrooms above.2

The houses on the south side of the Diamond probably extended to the Antrim Arms Hotel without any break at what is now Fairhill Street3.  Fairhill Street probably did not then exist, certainly not as we know it today, neither did the road on the opposite side of the Diamond; this latter road (now Market Street) was for many years referred to as ‘the new line’ because it was constructed in 1833.

The old Castle of Ballycastle, built in the Scottish baronial style, stood on the site of the small house that adjoins the churchyard and abutted on what was called the “Poor Row” or Station Street. There was only a narrow path between the walls of this house and the first of the Poor Row houses. These houses have since been demolished; they were not built until after the erection of the church, which, although it was built in 1756, was not consecrated until 1765; part of the Communion plate is actually older than the building itself; it dates from 1738 and is of Irish silver.


(Holy Trinity Church, The Diamond, Ballycastle)

The ground sloped away from the castle to the site of the former railway station and there must have been a fine view outside the Castle, looking towards Broombeg Wood in one direction and towards Fair Head in the other direction. With the demolition of the Station Street houses this fine view has in a considerable measure been restored.



(Railway Station, Ballycastle)

The main thoroughfare, Castle Street, was crossed by the road (now known as Moyle Road) which comes from Stroanshesk, past SS. Patrick and Brigid ChapeI; where this road crosses Market Street it is known as Clare Street and it passed between numbers 72 and 74 Castle Street and proceeded by way of No. 55 Castle Street and crossed the Tow River by a little bridge near the premises now occupied by Messrs. Donaghy’s Iron Works. There is some masonry to be seen here at the margin of the river; it almost certainly belonged to the old bridge.

The road then proceeded by way of the Fair Green and the Pound Brae (O.S. map Antrim 1834, sheets 8 and 9) across the high level ‘back avenue’ or, as it now called, Dunamallaght Road. It passed Dr. Thomas Wilson’s farm in the neighbourhood of Drumavoley and came out on the upper Glenshesk Road near Drumeeny and not far from the foot of Cool Brae.  This was the only road to Glenshesk and was probably one of the ways to Belfast and beyond. There was a branch from it, above Drumavoley and leading down to the river, near the present Drumahammond Bridge and into Bonamargy Friary (AD. 1500). This was another possible route from Ballycastle to the entrance to Glenshesk.

The late Mr. John McHenry, who lived in the cottage (then thatched) and now occupied by Mrs. Brennan, between Bonamargy Bridge and Drumahammond Bridge, told Canon Barnes that his father remembered when there was no road from where his house stood, either to Drumahammond or to Glenshesk and that all the land there was covered with dense woods. Mr. McHenry also told Canon Barnes that on several occasions he came across traces of the road from Drumavoley to the ford the over the river near Drumahammond Bridge. These occasions occurred when he was tilling the field (now built up) adjoining his house.

The present road over the present Margy Bridge to Ballyvoy, etc., was probably not in existence when Colonel Hugh Boyd was alive (1690-1765). The road now known as Mary Street must have been much as it is now after Colonel Boyd had built the Inner Dock, which is now the Ballycastle Lawn Tennis grounds and which was filled up in early years of last century.


(The Tennis Courts, Ballycastle)

Before that there was probably a track and the extension of the Warren. The present Bonamargy Bridge replaces one which was swept away by a flood in 18574 . Traces of masonry, which formed a bridge over the River Tow, between Star of the Sea School and the present Bonamargy Bridge can still be seen. This bridge carried a road, the continuation of which was the road running along the edge of the Warren (now Golf Links) near the sea.

golf club Ballycastle

(The Golf Club, Ballycastle)

The road is fast disappearing; much of it has already gone as a consequence of coastal erosion. It was then the only road to what is now called Bath Lodge. Canon Barnes states that he was told by Sir Harley Boyd, 5th Bart. (died 1876) that Colonel Boyd had a primitive sort of tramline thereon on which to convey coal from the mines to the Glass House (erected. 1755).  This statement is true beyond all question, as may be seen from a map of Ballycastle Harbour, published in 1745 and which appeared in the “Londonderry Sentinel” of Saturday, 2nd November, 1929.

The old Glass House Ballycastle

(The Old Glass Works, Ballycastle)

The Tow river, according to this 1745 map ran through part of what are now the Star of the Sea School premises and playground and through the former Manor House garden(part of which is now known as Rathmoyle) and across the present Quay Road in the region of Ballycastle Controlled Primary School. It ran (through “The Orchard”, now entirely built up in the form of Beechwood Avenue, and towards Atlantic House, Where it emptied itself into the sea.


ballycastle harbour

(The  Harbour, Ballycastle )


Persons living in the houses between this spot and the corner house, formerly the Custom House (now part of the Marine Hotel)  were considered to be in Culfeightrin Parish. (O’Laverty, Down and Connor, Vol. IV, p. 397). The arms of King George II and bearing the date of 1731 may still be seen in the wall of the Marine Hotel on the sea front. They were built into the wall for preservation when the Custom House was demolished; it formed part of what is now the westernmost block of the Hotel. Canon Barnes states that in his own recollection such of those persons who were Roman Catholic paid their dues to the Parish Priest of Culfeightrin.

The road which skirts the Warren and which runs from Mr. J. H. Ekin’s residence (Bonamargy House) towards the sea is a comparatively new road. When it was constructed the workmen came upon an ancient grave. It was roofed with stones, dressed and was about six and a half feet long, three feet wide, and two and a half feet in depth. Some human remains were found, as well as two querns, two bronze hatchets and a sword; the sword was about a foot and a half long. It is not known what became of these valuable relics.

The road from the Quay by way of North Street (Quay Hill) towards Clare Park, is a fairly modern one. Canon Barnes states that a man informed him that he remembered when there was no road there. The well known picture in the supplement of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, (The Friary of Bun-na-margie, by F. J. Bigger, 1898) of Sorley Boy Macdonnell’s funeral from his residence, Dunaneeny (Dunaniney) Castle, on cliff edge at what is now the Caravan Park, could, therefore, be inaccurate.

The old water supply of the town lacked some of the modern standards of convenience and sanitation. At what used to be called “the head of the town”, i.e., just beyond the Presbyterian Church (1828) and on the Coleraine Road there was a fountain, or piped water supply, from which waster was obtained for domestic purposes. Here, too, horses were watered and potatoes washed; the place was referred to as “The Spout”. On such occasions as Lammas Fair days, When the country girls came to attend the fair, dressed in their Sunday best, they would walk as far as “The Spout”, wash their feet and put on their stockings which, until then, they carried with them.5           


                       The diamond Ballycastle

(The Diamond, Ballycastle)

At the house, now No. 1 the Diamond, there was a cellar; in this cellar there was a barrel supplied with water by a pipe communicating with a spring behind Nos. 12 and 14 Ann Street. The tenant of the cellar charged a penny a week for access to the barrel. Every Monday morning his customers brought their pennies, filled their wooden vessels (there were few tin cans or zinc buckets in those days) and had free access to the water supply until next Monday. “The man” says Canon Barnes, “who within living memory took the money for the water was named Barney McGrath”. The water was piped into the cellar for the purpose of illicit distillation. The mason who was employed to fit up the place for the still was bound to secrecy, but hankered after the large reward offered for information about illicit distillation. One night the mason on returning home, no one being in the room but his wife and himself, placed the tongs on the hob, his jacket and cap on them and proceeded to talk to them, as to a human being. He told how he had fitted up a still in a house on the Diamond. His wife overheard the words and gave information which brought the coveted reward. There was another well in the Milltown (Mill Street) known as Sally McQuitty’s well.

The town had a piped water supply of sorts that probably dated from the early years of last century. This supply was collected in two small stone and brick “reservoirs” the remains of one of which may still be seen. It is situated in what was called “The Workhouse Field” and served the market precinct of the town. This field is on the right hand side of Market Street, as one proceeds from the Diamond. It adjoins the only part of the street that as yet, remains unbuilt. The other “reservoir” served the Quay precinct and was situated in the (former) Orchard Field. It occupied a site near the junction of what are now Strandview Road and Cedar Avenue, as one proceeds from North Street towards the Rathlin Road. The present water supply dates from 1891 and has been greatly modernised Since then.

No. 4 Castle Street, originally a single storey dwelling, was the residence of Rev. Luke Aylmer Connolly, B.A., Chaplain of Ballycastle Church 1810 – 1826. He wrote the well-known ballad (published anonymously) “To Rathlin’s Isle I chanced to sail”; one of Connolly’s fellow students at Trinity College Dublin (where he graduated in 1806) was Thomas Moore, author of “The Meeting of the Waters” and other well-known Irish melodies. Connolly suffered from ill health for many years. Rev. George Hill, who was well acquainted with him, described Connolly as “once a poor and afflicted curate in Ballycastle”. He died in 1832 and is buried in old Ramoan churchyard, but no stone or memorial of any kind marks his last resting place.


(Castle Street, Ballycastle)

No. 41 Castle Street was once used as an hotel and in the eighteenth century was said to be the largest house in the town. No. 57 Castle Street is regarded as one of the oldest houses in the town. This house originally stood by itself, as may be seen from the five corner stones on each side at the rear of the premises. It was once occupied by a Mr. John McCook. His daughter kept a milliner’s shop, Twice a year they went to Belfast to buy their goods. They went in a paid horse coach; it left on Monday morning and got as far as Antrim. Next day Belfast was reached. No. 63 Castle Street is also a very old house.

Over the back door is a stone built into the wall. It is believed that this stone was taken from the ruins of the Castle on the Diamond. The inscription is in raised letters, but the only portion of that can be read is W. M. KGS 1625. The date,1625, is the year of the accession of King Charles I. The old Castle could not have been very much older than this. It was almost certainly built in the reign of King James I, but was not occupied by the Antrim family, who built it, subsequent to the wars of 1641.

Another very old house is No. 76 Castle Street; this building has been greatly altered; an old carved stone, which was originally in the front wall has been set in the wall of an out house. The stone is in perfect condition, is of sandstone, and is skilfully carved. It depicts a coat of arms, a lion rampant and for crest a lion’s head. It bears the inscription: “This house was built by Charles Gray 17406.  

No. 55 Castle Street contained a stone bearing the inscription: “This house was built by John McCurdy 1739”. The stone was not carved in any way and was not built into any way. It measured about two feet by one foot and was lying in an out house when Canon Barnes compiled these notes.

At the rear of No. 47 Castle Street there is a stone in fine preservation whereon the Boyd arms are beautifully carved. An inscription beneath the arms reads: “This house was built by John Boyd, Surgeon, 1748″. (The tombstone of this Dr. John Boyd is in Old Ramoan churchyard; it bear the inscription “John Boyd, Surgeon, died 1776, aged 66 years”. This Dr. Boyd, if entitled to bear the Boyd arms, which he set up in his house, was almost certainly descended from Colonel Hugh Boyd, who built Ballycastle Church. Dr. Boyd may have been one of the Boyds of Clare Park, a family which seems to be extinct, at least in the male line.


Clare Park, Ballycastle

(Clare Park, Ballycastle)

This family was descended from Alexander Boyd, a son of Rev. William Boyd, Vicar of Ramoan, 1679.  The Vicar’s elder son, Colonel Hugh Boyd (who lived at Drumawillan, before he built the Manor House in 1738-39) obtained the Ballycastle property. He was called the “Star of the North”; hence one of the now derelict coal mines which he worked at Ballycastle is still referred to as “The North Star Mine”. Boyd is referred to by Arthur Young in his Tour of Ireland as one of Ireland’s reforming landlords. The other son, Alexander, obtained the Dunaneeny property now Clare Park. A descendant of the owner of the Clare Park property sold it to Mr. Edmund McIldowney (b. 1704 d. 1771).

In Clough old churchyard, Co.Antrim, there are monuments erected to the memory of the Boyd family. Some of these go back to Captain Hugh Boyd, who died 30th March, 1731, aged 45. It is suggested that he was a brother of the Rev. William Boyd, Vicar of Ramoan. There is a tradition (according to Canon Barnes) that the first settler at Clare Park was one of Cromwell’s soldiers, who got a grant of the land. Being dissatisfied with it, he offered to give it to anyone who would provide him with the means of getting away from the place; he eventually exchanged the land for a horse, with a saddle and saddle bags filled with provisions. Perhaps the rightful owner, a McNeile of Dunaneeny, thus got rid of an unwelcome intruder!

The circumstances that the Ballycastle estate, in the early years of last century, was in Chancery and that the place was somewhat isolated, were factors that militated against its development. “The little town of Ballycastle” wrote the novelist Thackeray in his Irish Sketch Book (1843) “does not contain much to occupy the traveller; behind ‘the church stands a ruined old mansion with round turrets, that must have been a stately tower in former days . . .. A little street behind it slides off into a potato field”. It was not until the construction of the railway in 1880 that the town became, what it has ever since remained, “a watering place” or seaside resort, the popularity of which has increased with the passing of the years.



(Sketch Map of Ballycastle 1760)


1: Part of this “bridged over” portion was recently revealed (March 1977) in connection with the construction of the extension to the Railway Road Car Park. It revealed not only a very excellently built stone archway over the stream, but also massive foundations of a wall that almost certainly formed part of the outbuildings of the old Castle of Ballycastle.

2: “Miller’s Yard” was called after Alexander Miller, a native of Dungannon. He was employed,  probably as an assistant land agent, to Alexander McNeile. For twenty-two years he was Treasurer of County Antrim under the Grand Jury. (See mural tablet in Culfeightrin Parish Church). He was born in 1794 and died in 1858 and was father of the late Sir Alexander Edward Miller, C.S.I., K.C., LL.D., of Whitehall Ballycastle and a Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn.

3: This street was formerly called ‘Chapel Lane’; on 16th January 1795 Hugh Boyd, M.P., owner of the Ballycastle Estate, granted to the Rev. Roger Murray a lease in perpetuity of a plot of ground in the north east of what had been called Whitty’s Park; on this a little chapel was erected.  It was afterwards enlarged and re-dedicated in 1838.  This chapel was subsequently converted into schools (now disused).  Upon the erection in 1870 on what is now Moyle Road of the present church of SS. Patrick and Brigid.- O’Laverty: Down and Connor, Vol. IV, p432

4: It was erected by the Grand Jury of the County (the predecessor of the County Council) under the superintendence of Mr. Alexander McKinnon, of Cloughcorr House, Ballycastle. Mr, McKinnon had the unusual distinction of living in three centuries; he was born in 1799 and died in 1903, aged 104 and is buried in Ballintoy Churchyard.  His son, Mr. James Francis McKinnon, O.B.E, was the surveyor of the Ballycastle Railway in 1880.

5: See The Glynns Vol. 2, p. 52, where it is stated that a similar custom obtained at Cushendall and probably elsewhere. 

6: Gray must have been a person of some social standing, as he is referred to in old documents as “Esquire”. His daughter Mary, married John McGildowny of Ballycastle, great-great grandfather of the late Major Hugh Cameron McGildowny, of Clare Park, Ballycastle.

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