Interview with Cahal Dallat

Cahal Dallat begins this interview at Dunineny Castle with the historical society’s interviewer.

Cahal: Well this is all that remains of Dunineny Castle built by Alexander McDonnell about 1380. This was their main castle in the Ballycastle area. They also owned Red Bay Castle at a time and eventually Dunluce Castle after the defeat of the McQuillans at the battle of Orra, they got Dunluce Castle which the McQuillan’s had occupied. This Castle had a moat. Do you know what a moat is … water round a castle.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cahal: Well you’ll see there they couldn’t have a moat round that so they had a half moat which you see there in front of you blocked off at each end.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cahal: It was very good from a moat point of view. At the same time there was a wall across at each end and adventurous attackers could get across it but as I told you yesterday Randal McDonnell the first Earl of Antrim resided there and he decided eventually that it was much too draughty a place and I suppose there wasn’t the same reason to defend the place because the McDonnells had got the possession of all the land from the cuts of Coleraine to the Curran of Larne so they were very much in command here. So he built a Castle in the Diamond beside the Church and Daniel McNeill as Constable of Dunineny … three generations later another Daniel McNeill, a grandson of Daniel, built Clare Park House which is about 300 yards to the west of us here.

Interviewer: Right.

Cahal: And moved there and Dunineny just …

Interviewer: So how did it end up being destroyed, no?

Cahal: No it never was destroyed. It just fell down. Just old age.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cahal: Now as I told you when the McNeill’s left Clare Park that they built, when they left Dunineny they built Clare Park and another generation on there was a son and daughter of the house, Rose McNeill and Daniel McNeill and the Rector of Ramone, the Reverend William Boyd, was probably the only educated man in the area and he was brought out as a tutor to tutor them. Now the son Daniel McNeill wasn’t all that well, he was not of sound mind and poor health and he died before he was 21. The Rector married his pupil Rose McNeill and she being the sole heir got possession of Clare Park and in that way the Boyds became the owners of Ballycastle. They had a son Hugh who was born in 1690 and he got a grant from his mother of all the townlands in the Ballycastle area and of course as I say he opened the coal mines and iron works, the salt works, the soap works, four tanneries, a brewery, distillery, glass factory all going in the 1700’s.

Interviewer: So that is the …

Cahal: That was the centre of the building. The building ran right along here, right over to …

Interviewer: That was the centre.

Cahal: That was just at the centre of the building, a big long building.

Interviewer: But only of the height there of the first storey.

Cahal: No the second storey. Do you see where that stone work goes up to.

Interviewer: Aye.

Cahal: You see there’s the roof. Do you see it just in the red brick there? It’s a nice feature all right.

Interviewer: Yeah. Why was the rest knocked down.

Cahal: Probably they weren’t allowed … Dunineny Castle fixed on the edge of the cliff left a good view of the whole sea area around and they were likely to be attacked by sea. So it was important to have the Castle on a spot where they could see any enemies coming or even any friends coming and the thing about it is also that when the coastguards wanted to build their watch hut they built it up nearly beside Dunaneany Castle, again choosing a spot where they could see the whole sea and what was happening, any vessels in distress or boats getting lost and so on. They were well placed. Hugh Boyd’s brother Charles became what was known as ‘a land waiter’. A land waiter was a customs man. So he was ‘the land waiter’ in Ballycastle.

Interviewer: Where did he live?

Cahal: Charles. He lived in Clare Park here and Hugh Boyd built him a Manor House down at the foot of Quay Road, now Manor Park Nursing Home.

Interviewer: Oh right.

Cahal: Hugh Boyd built the Manor House in 1739. At that time he owned all the mines, coal mines and all the land between Ballycastle and Fair Head and he was living at Drumawillan and then he built this and moved down here and as well as the building there itself there’s a large building coming out at the far end there and that was, apparently that was a coach house and accommodation for his coachmen and workers and gardeners and so on. As well as that, do you see the tall chimney, that’s the chimney of the soap works. The soap works were there and in the back yard or at the back of the main building there, there was a tannery. Now a tannery is a place where they make leather out of skins and the skins are steeped in a vat or pit full of water and old bark and they say the smell from a tannery has to been seen to be believed. So he wasn’t too fussy about everything. As well as that his glass works was in front of us here just, this tennis court area was the inner dock of his harbour. He built a harbour and that’s the inner dock that tennis court there and then across where you see that white building that was where his glass works was.

Interviewer: What white building?

Cahal: That white building just across at the end of the tennis court there.

Interviewer: Oh yeah.

Cahal: That was where he built his glass works. A massive cone 90 feet high and 46 feet in diameter at the bottom and that must have spoiled his view of the sea and all but he wasn’t concerned he was just into industry and he got a grant from the Irish Parliament of £23,000 towards the building of the pier or the harbour. I don’t know what money that would be in the present day but several million.

Interviewer: So the sea came right up to there?

Cahal: The sea was right in there, yes.

Interviewer: Was there a beach?

Cahal: No that was an enclosed dock in there.

Interviewer: Oh right. Is that all that’s left of the tannery, just that chimney?

Cahal: Yeah. You can see a wee bit of it from the other side. At one stage there was sixty boats in that inner dock loading with coal for Dublin.

Interviewer: Sixty boats.

Cahal: Sixty boats and the whole trade at that time was with Dublin. Belfast was only little more than a village at the time and Dublin was the big city of Ireland and he was sending coal to Dublin and sending glass bottles and wine glasses to Dublin. Unfortunately the glass factory which was built in 1755 closed down in 1795. Boyd had died in the meantime and his sons and grandsons didn’t want to be involved in the trade. They thought it was beneath them, they were gentry and they wouldn’t be involved in trade or whatever.

Interviewer: So that’s where they got their money from?

Cahal: That’s where they got it from and they hadn’t the wit to know to hold on. As I say the soap works was here and the tannery. In more recent times and I don’t mean very recent times, the last Boyd died here in 1941, but they had a house in England as well and when they were away in England, there was a flag pole on top of that she got that cemented over the top and put a flag pole on it. The flag pole was flying when she was here and when she wasn’t here there was no flag on the pole do you see.

Interviewer: Like royalty.

Cahal: So the great orchard in at the back they knew when to raid the orchard. Now Hugh Boyd had a soap works here because they had the ingredients, they had a lot of animal fat having a tannery there was a lot of animals slaughtered for their skins and the fat along with soda which was got from kelp, soda was got from seaweed which you burn into kelp, soda and fat together combined to make soap. So they had a soap works here and that massive chimney is part of the soap works. The Marine Hotel was built 1880 and it came into being more or less when the railway, Ballycastle railway was established in 1880 and it was a very popular hotel with wealthy merchants in Belfast they would have come and stayed a month in The Marine Hotel, they would have had their family with them and their servants and they came in great droves and of course they came by train, cars weren’t common at the time and they came by train and then their luggage, the porter from the hotel was there with a big truck, I don’t mean a truck, a hand cart not a motor lorry, no such things in those days and he brought all the luggage down and there was a what they called a boots, the boots was the man – a sort of a porter.

Interviewer: Boots?

Cahal: Boots, same as b-o-o-t-s and this one couldn’t read and you see the pile of luggage was there to go to the railway station and there was some coming in and maybe it was all lying in the front hall but he couldn’t read and he would say to somebody, to some of the waitresses going by he’d say that’s a funny name there and he would hold up this label and she would say McConaghy, aye McConaghy he says and then he knew McConaghy for going on the train.

Interviewer: Very smart.

Cahal: That’s how he handled it.

Interviewer: Can I ask you about a building up here, Cahal? What’s that up there?

Cahal: That’s the Coastguard Station. Well that’s the Ballycastle Coastguard Station and there would have been about ten coastguards and their families living in the houses along there. That centre tower I think, coastguards and people like that had a notion of authority. It wasn’t just a row of houses, it was a row of houses with a centre tower.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cahal: Put the stamp of authority on it and the coastguards were very powerful people in those days. They don’t seem to have the same power now but they were then and I suppose they were kind of Customs men as well.

Interviewer: Right.

Cahal: But you get the impression of a castle from that tower.

Interviewer: Yeah. I wonder what it stood for.

Cahal: We’ll cross the road here, watch you don’t get knocked down. When Hugh Boyd built the Manor House in 1739 the front door wasn’t as you see it now. There was what you call a ‘porte coseur’ with a canopy or a building coming right out over the road and when a coach arrived with visitors or with the Boyds the coach came in round here, round this circle.

Interviewer: Right.

Cahal: That’s a turning circle.

Interviewer: Right.

Cahal: In round here and up along and in under the ‘porte coseur’ and stepped out of that and went dry shod in the house and people, you know nowadays think that lovely circle was built to accommodate the war memorial. The war memorial was only put there because it was a piece of ground that Lady Boyd gave to the British Legion for this but the brick work, that’s old Ballycastle brick built 1739. Now there’s not many examples of that in the country. There’s one in Nazareth House in Derry which is mainly a hospital/nursing home now. There’s one of these ‘porte coseur’ there where the ambulance can still drive in under.

Interviewer: How far …

Cahal: Well it would have come out half way across the road.

Interviewer: But the road still functioned as a through route sort of even with this here?

Cahal: You’re still thinking in the terms of the road with the traffic that’s on it today.

Interviewer: Oh I know.

Cahal: You must remember Hugh Boyd’s coach might have been the only traffic on that and he was the Landlord so this came out, came out as far as that white line because a carriage had to go in under that. It was quite a sizeable place.

Interviewer: Yes.

Cahal: And it didn’t matter about this at all because it was accommodation for him and his family and the road, he built the road, normally a Manor House or a big house has a processional drive running from the house that-a-way.

Interviewer: Yes.

Cahal: At right angles to the front door.

Interviewer: Yes.

Cahal: But he couldn’t do that here because it was leading over and he had just built a church in the Diamond or was building a Church in the Diamond and he made this road here, you see it was quite straight as a processional drive up to his Church, couldn’t have his processional drive running the right way so he ran it up that way and he planted trees along side it all the way up and if you can imagine this road with no houses on it.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cahal: That Manor House was sitting on its own there and he had this processional drive leading up to the Diamond Church which he had built

Interviewer: How come there is no thing about that window. Do you know the way all the other windows have … what happened that one?

Cahal: I can’t explain that to you.

Interviewer: Isn’t that strange?

Cahal: Aye it is. A different design just.

Interviewer: There’s a wee gap for it. I was just wondering if there was something separate with his name or something.

Cahal: Craft Connection wanted to buy this property because there is a great yard in there at the back and several houses in it which were workshops. They were dwelling houses at a time. Hugh Boyd’s workers would have been living in there but then they were turned into workshops and your man won’t sell which is a terrible pity because the Craft Connection they have a shop up in the main street but this would have been ideal spot because there’s a big yard. That’s where the tannery was in there as well and a lot of buildings. I presume that arch was built at that same time … To the Boyd family, a personal family church and they had their own clergyman, they paid for him and he lived in that first house there. The Reverend Barnes he was.

Interviewer: And the next one.

Cahal: The next one was a cafe at one stage but I don’t know who lived in it before that.

Interviewer: Do you remember it as a cafe?

Cahal: I can remember it as a cafe all right, yeah. I think the next one was a man called McNeill he would be a brother or a cousin of Lord Cushendun that McNeill family was part of them.

Interviewer: The green house?

Cahal: The green one I don’t know it might have been some of the Boyd connection in that but they are all part of the whole range.

Interviewer: You can some of the houses.

Cahal: Aye there’s a number of them in there. It would be an ideal place for the Craft Connection but they didn’t get it. They have a shop up the main street and they’re converting it into a training and everything else.

Interviewer: There’s a wee house up here on the right it’s like one and a half, it’s a wee white house.

Cahal: That house is at the entrance to a place called Silversprings. A Major King and his wife who came from South Africa built this big house Silversprings and they had that wee house as the gate lodge there. Now a few years ago that whole estate was sold to Kennedys the builders of Coleraine and they have it full of modern houses. The wee house at the front somebody bought it and put an extra, a bit of a storey, a half storey on it. That’s what you’re talking about.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cahal: Major King I don’t know what, I presume he was in the British army. He was very wealthy and he kept a couple of race houses and a couple of limousines. His wife, after he died, the wife presented a brand new ambulance to the Dalriada Hospital in the days when an ambulance would have cost you a lot of money, 1932 or around that time.

Interviewer: Is that a school?

Cahal: That was the Ballycastle Technical School opened about 1932 and then the Technical School more or less disappeared. Ballymoney is the nearest Tech but that became a Primary School. It’s the County Primary School now.

Interviewer: Oh you told me when it was built originally.

Cahal: It was built in 1880 but unfortunately it got a bomb in 1973 when hotels generally were being bombed and an English man died in the thramage and of course it had to be pulled down because it was a danger to the public and it lay vacant ground for a number of years and then the McGinn family came along and bought the ground and built the present hotel. It’s a very fine hotel, very good and they get a lot of American tours stopping there one night in the week. On four different nights they have a coach there, a coach load of Americans. Very popular with the Americans.