The Glassmullan McDonnells, a forgotten Branch of the Antrim McDonnells

Many years ago in the schoolyard I was called “Auld Valdi”. While nicknames were very common in the middle glens I was extremely hurt, as it sounded so different from The David Jacks, Sarah Archies and so many others. I thought it must mean something sinister. On enquiring at home I was told in a very off-hand manner that it was the Irish for Archibald and that my great-grandmother Rose, or Roisin as she was called around Cushendall, was a descendant of a family of Archibalds. It was left at that. However about ten years ago relations of whom I had never heard contacted my brother in Laney, apparently as a result of old letters which had just come into their family, from other distant relations. They were delighted to get an address for their ancestor and they were intrigued and amused at the following letter

California 17-10-1896

Dear Cousin

Some news about work then.
I have started to look up the Antrim Estates to which I believe we are the direct heirs, that is your father and me, and my brothers and sisters, and aunt Rose and her family. I suppose you have heard of it there is eighty million involved.
I want your brother John’s address at once I want him to get the names, ages, of our grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins in Ireland, this he can get from his father. I have placed whatever documents I had in my Attorney’s hand, there is to be a meeting of the heirs soon.
I will give you more details in my next letter

Your cousin
C J McCambridge

My grandfather wrote back “As regards the McDonald Estate it is a false report. Lord McDonald, his wife and family are living in Glenarm, he holds it same as his ancestors held it”.

After reading these letters I decided to do a bit of family digging, found lots of roots but no estates! However I discovered that Roisin was a descendant of Capt. Archibald McDonnell of Glassmullan, son of “Alastair MacCollkitto, Knight of the Field”, who was himself a great grandson of Sorely Boy’s elder brother Coll. Roisin also proved to be descended from Sorely Boy himself, as her great grandmother was Alice, a daughter of the Alexander McDonnell who inherited all the family estates and the title of third Earl, after the death of his childless elder brother Randal.

No historical accounts, George Hill’s included, mention this Alice. The third Earl is known to have had two legitimate children, a son called Randal and a daughter named Mary, both by Helena Bourke, his second wife whom he married in 1679. He also had an illegitimate son called Daniel, who was born circa 1640-45. Alice is therefore a new discovery. Her Christian name is also significant, for her grandfather, the first Earl, was married to an Alice. She was a daughter of the famous Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. So we can say with some certainty that our Alice was so named to commemorate her grandmother, and record her descent from the greatest of the O’Neills. From the references to her on several leases we can work out that our Alice must have been born a few years after Alexander married Helena Bourke.

I was originally of the opinion that Alice too must be legitimate, as she is very explicitly described in two leases at the “daughter of Alexander, third Earl of Antrim”. However other leases give apparently contradictory information, for these describe her descendants as being “Heirs to the Marquis of Antrim”. Randal, the third Earl’s elder brother, was made Marquis of Antrim by Charles I, as well as being the second Earl. The title of marquis died with Randal, as he had no sons, so we have to ask why Alice’s descendants are described as the marquis’s heirs, if Alexander was their progenitor.

Fortunately there are reasonable explanations. The land that was settled on Alice seems to have been all in the barony of Carey, in the Ballycastle, Rathlin and Torr areas of the Antrim estates, and these were all parts of the marquis’s lands, the “Northern Estate”. Alexander’s own property, while his brother the marquis was alive, was all in the barony of Glenarm.

If the Marquis, acting in his brother’s interests, had made this land settlement on Alice, or possibly her mother, before he died in 1683, then it is understandable that Alice’s descendants were referred to as the marquis’s heirs, for as he had no children of his own, his entire estate, including Alice’s lands, passed after his death to his brother Alexander. We do not know, however, why Alice was given lands on the marquis’s estate rather than on Alexander’s. Perhaps her mother came from these parts, (Daniel’s mother is known to have come from Ballycastle, though clearly she cannot have been Alice’s mother) but perhaps, quite simply, some tenancies just became available there, and the Marquis wanted to help Alexander in this matter. Perhaps it was also done so as to lessen tensions between Alexander and his second wife, who had produced, by the time Alice was born, her own two children.

It must also be said that we must discount any suggestion that Alice was a legitimate child of Alexander’s. The legitimate line of descent of important landed families like the Antrims was always carefully recorded, as the inheritance of property and titles depended upon it. It would therefore be highly improbable that a legitimate daughter of this period would “disappear” so completely from the records.

I must now pass on to Roisin’s other McDonnell ancestral line, her descent from Sorely Boy’s brother Coll, who was the best known of the McDonnell brothers in the Antrim Glens until he died in 1560. He had a reputation for fearlessness, in his battle reputedly always riding on horseback at the head of his men. It is said that he walked with very bandy legs and his back bowed over almost horizontally from spending so much of his life riding horses!

Coll had two sons, Gillaspick and Randal. The elder brother Gillaspick (or Archibald) was fostered by O’Quinns in Co. Antrim and eventually married his foster parents’ daughter. On his 21st birthday, according to one tradition, his uncle Sorely Boy gave a party in Ballycastle at which there was bull fighting, but a bull gored him to death. However another version says that he was poisoned by members of his own family! A few months after his death his son was born. The young mother then went to her husband’s family on Colonsay, where the boy was raised. He was called Colkitto; Coll for his grandfather and Kittagh (or Kitto) meaning that he could wield a sword equally well with either hand. Disputes with the Campbells feature frequently in his story. He fought fiercely against them in an attempt to recover Islay and Cantire for his clan in 1614 and it is related that once, when he was away from home visiting the Laird of Sanda, to ask for his daughter’s hand, the Campbells seized his castle at Dunaverty. As he was rowing back he heard his piper playing “Strachsia Aroon, Dhimashin a Luve” from the shore, and understanding the warning he turned his curragh and escaped. The Campbells cut off the piper’s fingers. Some years later Colkitto was indeed killed by the Campbells, who hanged him from the yardarm of his boat.

Colkitto’s son was the famous Alastair, who came to Ireland as a young man, and was very active in the warfare of the 1640s. In 1644-6 he commanded the fifteen hundred men Lord Antrim sent to Montrose in Scotland but after that astonishingly successful episode he was ignominiously killed in 1647 by the officer to whom he surrendered after the battle of Knockaness in County Cork.

The story goes that after their father’s death Alastair’s sons were put under the care and protection of the Marquis of Antrim. They were well looked after when the Earl was in residence, but as he was away for long periods he fostered them out to a McAuley who put them to mind his herds on Lubatavish. One day their uncle, their mother’s brother, was out hunting and came across the two boys crying and lost. He was so enraged that he set out to kill McAuley, who only saved his own life by hiding in the hills. The uncle then brought the boys to Glenarm and severely reproached Lady Antrim. Thereafter the Marquis saw to it that the boys were brought up properly and gave them lands in Glenariffe.

These two were called Coll and Archibald. Coll’s lands centred on the townland of Kilmore, Archibald’s on Glassmullan. It is usually assumed that there were only these two boys, but there are also leases relating to a John McDonnell, who seems to be yet another son of Alastair’s. John is mentioned in an indenture of 1684 (D2977/3a/1/5, PRONI Antrim Papers), in which the third Earl leased to the “children of John McDonnell of Tavnaghcarry, deceased” 10 acres of Tavanadrissaag and Tavanaghcarry, and 20 acres at Knocknacarry. Margaret, widow of John McDonnell, was to receive one third of the lands’ profits after payment of rent.

Gillaspick Randal
Alastair Knight of the field (d. 1647)
Coll of Kilmore Archibald of Glassmullan John
1645=1719 1647=1720 died 1684; see leases for son Alexander
m. Magee m. Anne Stewart
/ ————/—————————————————————-
Alexander Alex Coll Archibald Catherine
b. 1687 died young, b.1688 1690=1732 b.1692
m. 1) McDonnell m. Alice dau. Of 3rd Earl m. McDonnell
m. 2) McVeigh /
Alexander Randal
1714-1782 1717=before 1779
John Archie Rev. Daniel Ann
b1739 b1741 b 1744 b 1750
d1806 d 1820 d 1828 d not known
m m m
Ann McIlheron ? Archibald McIlheron
Black / of Glenariff
/ /
/ Mary m Randal of Kilmore
Rose/Roisin m. James McCambridge
John Mary Archibald Brigid Peggy Catherine James Ann
b. 1805 the bonebreaker grandfather b1826
of Margaret

Archibald married Anne, the daughter of a Stewart of Ballintoy who had been made constable of Red Bay Castle in the 1660s. The Stewarts were a powerful family, having acted as the Antrims’ land agents since the beginning of the century. Red Bay castle was a fine, and habitable building in the 1660s, and these Stewarts had considerable local importance. Archibald’s wife seems to have been the last of the Red Bay Stewarts, so it would have been an advantageous marriage.

Archibald and Anne’s third son survived them. He was also called Archibald, and it was he who married Alice, the daughter of the third Earl. As a result the McDonnells of Glassmullan had the unique distinction of being both descended from the Earls of Antrim and from Alastair MacColkitto McDonnell, as well as being closely related to the influential Stewarts.

Alice brought the Glassmullan McDonnells her lands in the northern parts of the Antrim estate, which greatly improved their financial position. However they kept their residence at Glassmullan, and so were neighbours of both the Kilmore McDonnells, and Daniel, the third Earl’s illegitimate son, until he went into exile in 1691. Daniel’s estate in the Glenariffe and Cushendall areas amounted to some 15,000 acres, so he was by far the most important local landholder.

A story is told about Catherine, the daughter of Anne and Captain Archibald. Catherine’s husband owned a considerable property in the Route, but they were discriminated against as Papists, and lost all their lands. Their one son went to college in Dublin but fell seriously ill there, and died before his parents could reach him. Catherine was so devastated that she became a recluse, steeping herself in religion and giving all her possessions to the poor. She requested that when she died she should be carried in an open coffin, taken out and buried in the ground at the entrance to Bonamargey, where everyone could walk on her grave. Her coffin was then to be given to the next pauper to die.

Archibald is recorded in Hill (p. 118) as holding leases of Dooney, Ligdrenagh, and Mullaghboy, as well as acquiring a renewal of his 1679 leases to Glassmullan, Galvolly, Tully, Carnleagh, Knockans and Carmaine in 1719, which was just a year before he died. The Antrim papers have further records of these landholdings (D2977, D265, PRONI).

It should perhaps be mentioned that there are three other leases of this period which refer to yet another Archibald. This Archibald, otherwise known as “Gillespie Beg”, was a first cousin, the second son of Coll of Kilmore, and two of these leases (Atticur and Ballynebantry) are for lands in Kilconway barony, between Ballymoney and Clogh. However the third, dated 1695, is for a renewal of a lease for the two “Quarterlands” of Glenariffe, so clearly he too was very much part of this group of McDonnell cousins living in Glenariffe.

In 1689, Archibald of Glassmullan became a lieutenant in Lord Antrim’s Jacobite regiment. Daniel, Antrim’s illegitimate son, was the senior captain, while Daniel’s own two sons were lieutenants. The “officer a la suite” was a Capt. Alexander McDonnell, who was subsequently given a lease of three quarterlands of Ballyagan (Layd). This man could not have been Coll of Kilmore’s son Alexander, as he was born in 1687, nor for that matter Archibald’s own son Alexander, who was born in 1688. However Capt. Alexander was most probably another very close relation, the son of Coll and Archibald’s brother John.

Daniel was in effective command when the regiment went to Londonderry under the orders of Tyrconnell, and had the gates shut in their faces. This was the start of the famous siege, but Antrim’s regiment took no further part. Instead they retreated to their glens and held out there, protecting their own territory, and property, until a Williamite regiment drove them out soon after the relief of Derry.

Antrim’s regiment, along with two others, subsequently bore the brunt of the Williamite onslaught at the Boyne. They fought again at Aughrim the following year, where Archibald of Glassmullan is recorded as having been wounded. Although this battle became an appalling slaughter of the Irish side we know almost nothing about how it affected the Antrim regiment, apart from Archibald’s wound, and a poem written about the death of a cousin and fellow officer called Sorely McDonnell in this battle. There is a family tradition that Archie outwitted his attackers by hiding in a tunnel with his servant McCarry, and that afterwards they took some of the enemy’s horses and brought them back to Glassmullan.

The Glassmullan and Kilmore McDonnells’ close relationship was maintained in subsequent generations. Coll of Kilmore’s grandson Randal married Mary, the daughter of Archibald McIlheron and his wife, who was a granddaughter of Alice’s by her son Alexander. As the main Glassmullan male line subsequently died out, she became a considerable heiress, and the Kilmore McDonnells then inherited a substantial amount of the Glassmullan McDonnell lands. These close ties also help explain why the Kilmore McDonnells names appear regularly on legal documents concerning the affairs of the Glassmullan McDonnells. As trusted and affluent cousins they were obvious partners in business transactions. Roisin of Glassmullan, we are told, was originally promised in marriage to a Kilmore McDonnell by her father, an offer that can be best understood as yet another example of how every effort was made to keep lands and business “in the family”.
One last, and very intriguing note. There is a house on Rathlin, which is known as the McDonnell house, and is also reputed to be the oldest house on the island. It is a substantial building, dating from the 18th century. The probability must be that this was the Glassmullan McDonnells’ residence, as they owned lands there, and conducted much of their business from the island. No one can now establish to whom the house belongs. No deeds can be found and it does not seem to have been part of the Gage estate on the island. A likely explanation is that these McDonnells kept possession of it when they gave up their other interests on the island, and that this is why its ownership is now so obscure. Too bad the old yank cousin who wrote to my father didn’t know about this!

The “Survey and valuation of the 5th Earl of Antrim’s Estate” (PRONI Manuscripts T473/1, 2977/3B/4) contains several documents which throw light on the lives, fortunes and activities of the Glassmullan McDonnells, as indeed do many of the other Antrim papers. Here below are some relevant extracts from the PRONI collection:-

1723, June 12th (D2977/5/1/5/5)
Examination of Archibald McDonnell of the barony of Kilconway. McDonnell claims he holds his lands directly from Lord Antrim, but James Oge McDonnell of Dunard, Carey has impounded 13 of Archibald’s cows in payment of the rent he claims is owing him. James Oge is in league with John Hamilton of Mount Hamilton, who both want to get hold of Archibald’s lands for themselves.

In 1727, Archibald, Capt. Archibald’s son, along with Hector Hamilton, witnessed John McVeigh’s transfer of the lease for Drumadoone, Dunluce, which Lord Antrim had given him in 1709, to Alexander McDonnell of Kilmore, on his marriage to McVeigh’s daughter.

1734: Renewal of lease for Knockans and Glassmullan, which Alice had inherited from her father Alexander the third Earl.

1743: Renewal of the lease of Knockans and Glassmullan, to Alice, daughter of the 3rd Earl, for three lives or twenty-one years. Lessee aged 58, Alexander son of lessee aged 29, & Alex Harrison, £29 p.a.
1821: present tenant of Knockans and Glassmullan was Alexander McDonnell. His family is referred to as “Heirs of the Marquis of Antrim”.

The following details relate to a settlement made by Archibald and Alice’s son Alexander in the late 18th century.

1776: Alexander of Glassmullan’s settlement in favour of his family. The lease of Torr and Cushlake, 336 acres, renewed in favour of Alexander of Glassmullan and also for the life of his son Archibald, aged 35. The lease of Coolnagoppogue and Drumadoon 120 acres, Ballingard and Bonamargy, 181 acres, renewed in favour of Alexander’s son John McDonnell. The head rents of Rathlin Island to go to yet another son, Archibald (known generally as Archie), along with Glenmakeeran, which was held jointly with James Stewart Moore. The townlands of Faughall and Legge to go to Randal McDonnell, Alexander’s brother. All the above are described as Heirs of the Marquis of Antrim.
Later, Cuskib, Knockans and part of Glassmullan were passed to Jane McDonnell, who was perhaps Randal’s widow. Single women could not hold lands at this time, though widows could.

Alexander was married to a McCormick from the vicinity of Cushendall. One of her brothers was a Franciscan priest who administered in Armoy/Romoan from 1766. Previously he had been in the parish of Drummaul. When he resigned from Armoy he lived on Rathlin with his nephew Archie McDonnell, Alexander of Glassmullan’s son. One of Archie’s brothers, Daniel, was parish priest in Cushendall. After a time Archie left Rathlin and went to Bonamargy to live with his brother John. Archie was born around 1741, while the Rev. Daniel was born in 1744. John’s date of birth is unknown, but he died in 1806 and his widow, Ann, died in 1850.

Archie was described in many of the leases as a merchant in Ballycastle and was clearly an affluent man, but his two young boys drowned off the coast of Rathlin when they were young. As a result he left his lands to John McDonnell of Kilmore’s sons Alexander and Charles. However they also died young and so their brother Randal inherited them. Randal was even more closely related to Archie than his dead brothers, as he was married to a daughter of Archie’s sister.

One of the Archie’s enterprises at Ballycastle was the highly lucrative production of salt, a commodity that was essential for food preservation, and the preparation of hides. The first references to salt production there appear in the 1620s, when there were two saltpans in operation. By 1669, there were four “ffires” at the saltpans, taxed at two shillings each. (T307 PRONI). New pans had been set up in the 1720s, close to a coal mine. It took eight tons of coal to produce a ton of salt, so this was quite a large enterprise, with special catchment areas for salt water cut into rocks in the sea. After 1738 rock salt was imported from Liverpool, which was cheaper to process than salt water. Edmond McIldowney was undertaking this salt production until 1788, when he fell out with the landlord, Hugh Boyd, who terminated his lease. As a result Archie offered to take over the saltpans, and in the following year, an agreement between them was signed.

D1375/3/35/17 June 1789
Between Hugh Boyd, Ballycastle and Archibald McDonnell merchant etc. etc.
That part of lands at Brackenlea being number 15 in the map lately made by Williamson & son surveyor, and all the grazing and kelp shore nearby, the salt works in the parish of Culfeitrin, together with houses, gardens, and rights, exclusive of all coal, coal mines, stone and stone quarries.
Archibald McDonnell, his heirs, during the natural life of Archibald McDonnell lessee. Alexander McDonnell age 27 years and Charles McDonnell age 21 years both sons of John McDonnell of Kilmore in the parish of Layde rent £20–8- -9.

May 1789

This indenture yearly sum £204 Stg. Made between Hugh Boyd and Archibald McDonnell.
The salt works, salt houses and salt pans situated on the lands of Broughanlea on the sea coast near the quay at Ballycastle as the same was formerly possessed and enjoyed by Edmond McGildowney with all the ground between the great road and the sea lying between the back side wall of the house that Davis Boyd now lives in, and the road leading from the public colliery into the east gate of the salt pan yard, together with those two fields of land in the quarter land of Broughanlea, one lately occupied by Edward Coll containing 3 acres 3 roods and 16 per. now in the possession of Hugh Boyd, the other lately held by Archibald Cooke and Brian O’Mullan containing 6 acres. 34 per. Hugh Boyd shall and will during the continuance of his — supply the said Archibald McDonnell with good coal from the colliery of Ballycastle for the purpose of accommodating the said salt works and the same taken from such bank of coal as may be most convenient for the said Archibald McDonnell, paying six shillings and six pence for every ton of coal, to be paid for twice a year the 1st of May and the 1st November. The said Hugh Boyd, his heirs etc. shall and will from hence forth for and during the continuance of his demise when and as often as salt rock shall be brought to the said salt works for the sole use there of, give coals to the owners, managers of such vessels as may convey the same to the said works upon payment of the usual price of coals.

The vessels laden with salt rock as soon as their cargo is discharged, shall and will at all times have a priority to all other vessels with respect to the landing there of, it being the intention of the parks here, so that he said vessels shall be laden and cleared out from the said salt works with all convenient speed, and that the said Hugh Boyd at all times keep such quantity of coal as may be necessary for the accommodation of such vessels provided the said Archibald McDonnell, his heirs etc. do on the first day of May in every year, ascertain the quantity he shall require for the said year and contract for payment to Hugh Boyd in the manner before mentioned. That Hugh Boyd , his heirs etc. shall not permit any other salt works, salt pans or salt houses to be erected in any part of Hugh Boyd’s estate and of any salt works to be built by any other persons out of the estate of Hugh Boyd within 6 miles of the town of Ballycastle or in the island of Rachery. Then Hugh Boyd doth here-by covenant with the said Archibald McDonnell, his heirs etc that he shall not or will not sell or dispose of any coal or column from the said colliery of Ballycastle to that person or any other person knowingly for the consumption and accommodation of the same. The said Hugh Boyd does further covenant and agree with the said Archibald McDonnell that he and they shall and will both now and at all times here after during their life have full liberty of quarrying and raising at some one of the quarries.

On the said Hugh Boyd’s estate, most convenient to the said premises, such stone and free stone as deemed necessary for the improvement of said demised premises, together with sufficient sand and such quantity of lime as the said Archibald McDonnell shall use or expend on the said premises hereby demised and the said Archibald McDonnell covenant and agree to the said Hugh Boyd during the continuance of his present demise, keep all houses, buildings, edifices and other improvements on the said premises or those that may be built or erected, in good and sufficient order at the end, or other sooner determination into the hands of the same Hugh Boyd his heirs etc. Hugh Boyd doth covenant, promise and agree to and with the said Archibald McDonnell, that he, Archibald McDonnell, paying the reserved yearly rent and performing all clauses and covenants may peacefully hold and enjoy the premises without the sub-let, eviction or hindrance.


In the first few weeks Archibald imported 3230 bushels of white salt from England. This salt production remained a thriving industry up until the Early 1820’s when Archie died, but thereafter it declined quite fast. By 1833 coal production was negligible and soon afterwards the salt production finally closed. The ruins of the pans can still be seen at Broughanlea (Information on salt production has been very kindly provided by Charles Ludlow.)

The extent of Archie’s interests on Rathlin and elsewhere are well illustrated by an account of his holdings in the Antrim Papers (PRONI 508/1): renewed for Kebble
£53-5-0, Kinramer £45, North Kinramer £39, Clagon 34-12-6, N. Ballygill £77-5-0, S Ballygill £45-5-0.
These are all on Rathlin. His other holdings are given as: Knockans £67-10-0, Ballinagard £20, Ballycanaghan £20, Knocknaragh £19, East Barony of Carey £29, same with the exception of Archie and P. McQuaig’s leases £7-7-6, P. McQuaig and A Black £25-10-0, North Barony of Carey £29, Coolnagroch £19-10-0. There were other holdings too, but the documents listing these are badly damaged. However the total annual rental value is put at £880-19-9.

Much of this property passed to Alexander of Kilmore, in the 1850’s, but some of it went to Archie’s brother John’s family, while others were acquired by the Gage, who became the main landholder on Rathlin. In 1862, the corn mill, seaweed, and the house at Kinkeel belonged to John’s grandson Alexander but Gage occupied the house. This grandson also had the herdsman’ house and the townland of Ballynoe, as well as the house, offices and land at Church Quarter.

Entries in Archie’s cashbook

William Patterson came to Rathlin on the 18-4-1820, commenced his work on Wednesday morning the 19th at 2 shillings per day, absent from work next day, the 20th, being drunk the night before.
29th April, gave Patterson 10 shillings in my house
2nd May, paid for a file 6½d
 " "  Gave wife and dau. 7/8
Cash to go to Ballycastle 10sh.
Total £1-18-2½

Patterson absent for being drunk May the 2nd 3rd 4th and 5th. He dieted in my house during this time. Absent from work May 15th being in Ballycastle, did not diet in my house.
Patterson absent June 12th 13th 14th and 15th.
Patterson absent July 24th and 25th being drunk, dieted in my house these two days.
He returned no more.

22nd May paid Mr Gage 1-8d
23rd " "  3-4
Cash paid to dau. In my absence 2-9-5
Cash to Mr Gage to pay Neil Taylor 2-11
July 18th self 1-8
" " 15th Mr Gage -10
22nd self 1-8
Cash sent wife by Mr Boyd £1-0-0
Cash Mr Gage 1-8

Accounts for trips for coal by A. McCurdy
May 1817 5½ tons

Many pages fragmented and missing but another page with rents received:

Brought forward £890-19-9½ fees £46-15-3
McCurdy 11-3-9½
Angus McFaul 7-0-0
Moore 13-19-7
Total 923-3-2
Park 12-2-9

Another part of cashbook:
Lavery’s account settled in full in May 1819
Paid Duncan 9 0
McCay 3 6
Millar 3 3
May 24th D. McC. 3 1 (could this be a McCambridge I always thought there was a Daniel in the family)

27 trips at 5-0. Coleys account settled 1820
Gave trip to D. £1-0-0 (Rose, Jno & A.)
Old Andy Kerr £1-0-0
3 trips since last settled before to S.W. to Scotland
One trip for me on my return from Scotland
One trip for Mr Gage soon after
One trip with me when Dnl. McC. head was hurt. (Could this be Daniel McCambridge, son of Rose?)
One trip with me next day
One trip with Mr Gage and another with Mr Gage Nov. 6th
Due Coleys crew 11 4½ for coffee

On the bottom half of the page is a naive pencil portrait of a man, chubby faced pot bellied, long hair tied with a bow wearing a swallow-tailed coat. It is tempting to think it could be somebody’s portrait of Archie (PRONI T 861). The drawing certainly looks uncommonly like Archie MacAuley of Ballybrack, who is a descendant.

Archie was also mentioned in the Rathlin vestry book up to 1798. Apparently there was an annual meeting held on Easter Monday to appoint a constable, church warden, and review taxes.

One such meeting was held on the 1st April 1782:
At a court of the vestry held in the Parish Church at Rathlin on the above date notice there-of being given before. It was then and there agreed by the parishioners assembled that Roger McQuilken of Ballycornagar and John Black of North Ballygill shall serve as church wardens for this year and Roger McQuilken serve as constable.

We likewise agree that the following sums be assessed and levied off this parish according to law. For elements 10-10d. £5-0-0 for the parish school teacher. We do agree that Patrick McCurdy and Archibald Black be continued in office until they pay off the last cess.
Signed Church Wardens
Neal O Donnelly James X Moore
Archibald McDonnell Patrick X McCurdy
Neal X Rankin

I suspect Archie was married to a McIlheron. His brother, the Rev. Daniel McDonnell, after travelling and studying on the continent was ordained a priest. He was ordained in the mid seventeen nineties and served in various parishes as a curate before becoming parish priest of Layde and Ardclinis. According to Mason’s Parochial Survey of 1816 there was no church at all in Ardclinis. In Cushendall the building was very small, two thirds of the congregation had to kneel outside, but Father McDonnell did duty in the open air. While Cushendall had a mixed population there was absolutely no bigotry, the Rev. McDonnell doing everything in his power to promote a good understanding among the inhabitants of the parish.

In 1811, Daniel was a tenant of a dwelling house, offices and a garden in the town of Newtownglens, owned by his widowed sister-in-law Ann McDonnell (John, her husband, had died prior to 1806). In 1826 Daniel was living in Tavanagh, to the north of the village, and to this day there is a spot there known as the Priests leap, perhaps commemorating some horse riding feat.

Daniel seemed to be in very good terms with Mr McGildowney, Lord Antrim’s agent. He wrote to Mr McGildowney on the 26-8-1819 acknowledging the receipt of £60 sent by McGildowney to pay another Daniel, Mr Daniel McDonnell, of Dublin (John’s son) (PRONI DM75/2/1-19).

He also penned the following curious comments on a fellow priest:-

Mr McCann your present p.p. (Ballycastle) slept in this town on his way to Ballycastle, he on that day escorted a motley cavalry consisting of 30 or 40 of the lowest order of men from Randalstown, to Clough lamenting his departure from them.

I am so fully convinced of your prudence that you need no caution to guard against intimacy with every professional person who is a favourite with the rabble. I settled O Neills (Rev.) business privately with the Bishop which prevented discourse. I have many things to tell you but must preserve them until I have the pleasure of seeing you, and until that wished for period.
I am dear sir your very humble servant
Daniel McDonnell.

Daniel died in April 1828 and was buried in Layde graveyard. A head stone was erected by his nephew Daniel McCambridge, Rose’s son.

John, Archie’s brother, was married to an Ann who lived to be well over ninety years and was a widow for over 30 years. Their sons were Alexander, who was a lieutenant in the Antrim militia, Randal who lived in Cushendall, Daniel of Belfast and Dublin, John of Belfast and Ballycastle, and Archibald, whose wife, an O’Hara, died in 1816 age 35 years and is buried at the South side of Cregagh chapel beside the church wall. The Antrim crest is on the head stone. After his wife’s death Archibald went to India.

A letter written by McGildowney to Lord Mark Kerr on the 28-6-1821 tells a little more:
"I took the liberty of reminding your Lord-ship some time ago that Mr Archibald McDonnell son to widow McDonnell of Cushendall had again applied to me to know if your Lordship would have the goodness to write a letter in his favour to Lord Dalhousie or Major General Sir Peregrine Maitland seeking preferment in the East India Co."

On the 15-7-1821 a letter to Daniel McDonnell brother of Archibald quotes Lord Mark Kerr’s reply:
"I shall long ago have written what Mr McDonnell wishes, although I know nothing of him but your good opinion is sufficient. Let me know what his situation is to be and I will have no hesitation in writing to Lord Dalhousie or to my cousin Sir Peregrine Maitland."

Lieutenant Alexander was married to a Matilda Kirk from Ballycastle and had one son John, born 1807, and a daughter Jane who died young. This son inherited part of the lands at Ballingard and his mother’s marriage settlement of £600 plus interest when he became 21, but there was some controversy regarding his date of birth.

D 1375/3/50/1-33

A letter dated Nov. 1828 from his father, Camden St. Dublin to Mr McGildowney:
"In a letter from my brother Daniel from Belfast acquainting you that it was the wish of my brother-in-law Mr Wilkinson to pay the bond of £200 principal due to John, I ask you not to send it to the 25th of December such day son John will be 21. He was baptized by Priest McDonnell on Dec. 12th (?)."

Letter dated 15th Nov. 1828 from John:
"I was born on the 30th Nov. 1807 and baptized on December the 10th. The exact date of my birth I have from a letter from my mother to her sister, so my father’s account of it is very incorrect. With respect of the Bond of Mr Wilkinson and my father, I wrote him that I should not in any manner interfere with it but allow it to be now paid to you and I stated that at the same time in answer to a proposed move to me of a farm he holds in perpetuity near Dublin, that I would take a conveyance of it at the price of £450 and pay him when I arrived at age.
I will no doubt hear from you soon
John McDonnell Belfast "

Widow Ann McDonnell of Newtownglens had a dispute in 1811 with William Richardson Esq. also from this district, which is well described in the following document:-
"On the 7th Jan. 1811 it was mutually agreed that all matters in this dispute between them should be referred to Alexander McNeill of Ballycastle and the Rev. Dr. Cupples of Lisburn in the County of Antrim, arbitrators indifferently chosen finally to determine and the same. Now know all men by these present, that we the said Alexander McNeill and the Rev. Dr Cupples together with Edward McGildowney Esq. of Ballycastle who had been appointed umpire having taken into consideration the matters in dispute, publish this our award as follows:
We order and award that the defendant Mr Richardson do forth worth at the proper costs and charges of the said Ann McDonnell grant a good and sufficient lease of the dwelling house, offices houses, garden, and back-yard situated in the town of Newtownglens in County Antrim now in the possession of the plaintiff, together with the lands and fields at Tivera containing 15 acres. 2 per., to be farmed more or less as they are being farmed now, also in the possession of the plaintiff. To hold all the said house, office houses etc. and fields in Tivera until the said Ann McDonnell, her heirs, administrators, and off-spring for the term of 118 years commencing the first day of November 1807 at the yearly rent of £28-8-0 and in such lease shall be inserted such covenants as were continued in the lease granted by the late Archibald Richardson to the late John McDonnell, and we do further award and order that the said defendant do forthwith grant to the plaintiff at the proper costs and charges of the buildings one other good and sufficient lease of dwelling house, offices, and garden in the town of Newtownglens aforesaid, and is now occupied by the Rev. Daniel McDonnell, together with the tenement occupied by Archibald Jameson in Newtownglens, and the field in Knockanboy in the said Jameson’s possession to hold on to the said Ann McDonnell, her heirs, admin. And offspring for the term of nineteen years commencing at the first of November 1806 at the yearly rent of 1/-. In consideration of the premises aforesaid we do further award that the said Ann McDonnell do at the time the aforesaid leases be granted her duly surrender a certain lease dated 21-1-1785 made between Archibald Richardson of the one part and John McDonnell late of Newtownglens, the late husband of Ann McDonnell of the other part. By which lease the said Archibald Richardson granted to the said John McDonnell all that the fields and farm at Tiveragh and Knocknaboy, the house and garden then formally possessed by the late Alexander McDonnell. The house and tenement then in the possession of the said John McDonnell together with all that farm and parcel of land then late possessed by Denis McShanagued in Legge, with the lot of ground in Newtownglens at the end of the house, then inhabited by Mr William Stewart to hold for the terms of 41 years from the first of November, and we do further award that the taxed costs incurred by the said Ann McDonnell in a certain action brought by her against the defendant and such costs paid to John Love Attorney."

Another letter from Ann McDonnell Cushendall, dated the 6-8-1811 requested that the judgement on William Wilkinson’s land should be entered in the Court of Exchequer.

Letter to Randal McDonnell Cushendall (Ann’s Son) from McGildowney reciting the regulations observed on Lord Mark Kerr’s part of the Antrim estate whereby deserving resident tenants are given preference when competing for farms falling out of lease.
Received your letter yesterday asking how much the field measures which your mother holds under Mark Kerr, also the rent. By Martin’s survey it is 3 acres 14 per. But off that there is to be a road for the Kinneys. The rent then should be £8-4-0.
One of Mark Kerr’s regulations, === In cases where tenants and other land lords not living on the estate but holding under us, he will only be entitled to the part of our property when the holdings are on the mearing, and the lands so falling in will be given to those resident tenants of our own who may be most deserving. I hope that what Mrs McDonnell holds in Clough is on the mearing with the farm she holds where she resides, otherwise the above regulation would exclude her from getting it again.

Rent roll of Lands to be sold
Plaintiffs Sir Henry Van Tempest & Ann Catherine
Defendants The Right Hon. Arthur Lord Vic. Dungannon and others 1812

Rental Cushendall, Tully, Faughal and Coskib
Lessee Widow Ann McDonnell, Newtownglens

Large slate house, valuable concern, garden and offices. Date of lease 1707 time 118 years expires 1925
1 large corn mill, valuable concern, new house lately built lease 1801 for 81 years expires 1882
2 houses, garden and offices occupied by the Rev. Daniel McDonnell and Archibald Jamieson. Lease 1785 for 41 years, expires 1826.
3 acres. 3 rds. and 37 per. of land Legge and Faughal. Lease 1802 for 31 years expires 1833.
Legge and Faughal will revert back to the purchaser of Cushendall when lease runs out.

1816 Statement
The representatives of the late Alexander McDonnell in A/C with Edmond McGildowney
1817 Cash to Mrs Ann McDonnell towards paying for the education of Mr William McDonnell £30
1818 Cash to the Rev. Richard Dobbs for which he and Conway Dobbs gave their Bond of this date £6-0-0
1819 Cash to Mrs Ann McDonnell towards Mr John McDonnell, paying for maintenance and education £48-8-8
Interest 5 years on Bond of James Leslie £180
Interest £13-1-10
By Principal of said Bond by Mr Leslie £600
Interest £85-8-0

Total £878-9-10

1824 Cash received from Trustees of Dobbs Principal £600 Interest £178-9-4
Total £778-0-4

Letter dated 1821 from Mrs Ann McDonnell to Mr McGildowney:
I request that you will at your Earliest convenience have the goodness to cause judgement to be entered in the Court of the Exchequer on Mr Wilkinson’s Bond, and advise.

1814 Antrim Estates schedules of Deed of Partition grants for lives renewable
Ballingard John McDonnell
East Torr Archibald McDonnell and Heirs

By the time O’Laverty produced his famous historical account of the diocese, John’s family were scattered all over the country and perhaps beyond. Some of them were living in Ballingard. John had a least one daughter, Rachel, and she was married to a Capt. Pharr.

Meanwhile Archie’s daughter Rose eloped with ‘A handsome young man’ called James McCambridge, who was a farmer, the son of John and Brigid McCambridge of Brogaghs, Glendun. A settlement dated 1804 was made by Archie to James McCambridge on the occasion of his marriage to Rose, giving him the lands at Laney, and a copy of this is still in the possession of James McCambridge, Laney, who is their direct descendant, and the present owner. In 1819, James McCambridge received a renewal of this lease for 31 years or three lives:
2nd Life John McCambridge, James’ eldest son, aged 13 years
3rd Life Archibald McCambridge, aged 11 years.

As John is described as the eldest son in this document there must have been at least one more son other than James my grandfather, as he was only born 1822, after this lease was written.

John’s family mostly emigrated. It was John’s great great granddaughter Helen Noble who sent me the letters which initiated my researches. Another letter from Helen’s great grandaunt Mary, who was born in 1833 and emigrated to America in 1850, is dated Feb. 1896. It states that Roisin’s father was a cousin of the 6th Earl, and that she knew Lady Londonderry’s family well, of whom one of the boys was in the Crimean war, while there had been a daughter who ran off with her tutor!

There is another letter, written from one brother to another (they were nephews of Mary’s, and both born in America) in which the writer, James, tells of meeting a Dr. Connor, Conners or O’Connors (?) who was much involved in property transactions with the English Government. This man thought James was ‘The image of the McCambridges of County Antrim’. Which was a surprise to James as he didn’t know such people existed, let alone that he was related to them. Connor went on to say that one of them, a very handsome man, married an only child who was very wealthy, was disowned for a time, then reconciled. He said her numerous relations had Titles, Estates, Abbeys etc in Ireland and Scotland and was very surprised that James knew nothing about them. Connor went on to claim that he was related to these same people, and very proud of it. To have known the McCambridges so well, Connor must surely have come from the Ballycastle area. The statue of that local Dignitary Dr. O’Connor at the Diamond in Ballycastle commemorates, perhaps, some relation of the Connor whom James met.

Some time before 1825 James, Roisin and their family went to their lands at Murlough, the townlands of Knockbrack, Torr Glass and Big House. Her son Archie must have stayed around Laney, as in 1852, when he was forty four, he wrote to his girlfriend of seventeen, saying that he would sell the farm and emigrate to America. In fact he did not sell it, though they did get married and did go to America; it was their eldest son who wrote the letter regarding the estates.

In the early eighteen fifties Roisin and my grandfather came back to Laney, but by then the other members of the family had moved away, married or emigrated. James, Roisin’s husband, died in 1838 aged 58 years. He had been a horse trader, and brought many over from Scotland, but one wet and stormy night he had taken ill and died. Three or four years later his family lost their lands by not paying the rent.

There is a story handed down that Archie, James and Roisin’s son, was riding to Ballymoney with two hundred sovereigns, when he met a gypsy who said something derogatory about his horse. Archie jumped down, left the bag on the ditch and challenged the gypsy to fight, but the gypsy swung around, grabbed the bag, ran off, and was never seen again. Archie’s nickname in the Glens was ‘‘The Bonebreaker’’ which fits in well with the character revealed by the story. Roisin and some of her family then came back to Ballidam in Cushendun, where she produced maps of the Whitehall estate in 1842 (D543(6)L6). Their landlord was Dr. James McDonnell, a man who showed little sympathy for those who fell on hard times; he and McGildowney, the Antrim agent, were very often in dispute, as Lord Antrim was much more understanding in this treatment of needy tenants.

I will end with a brief account of Roisin and James’ family, representing as they do the last of the Glassmullan line:
John the eldest was born in 1805. Some of his family emigrated to America, and I believe there are many of his descendants now throughout the States. I do not know where he eventually settled.
Mary married a McDonnell from Ballybrack, Cushendall. Her descendants are called Macauley and McSparran, and live locally.
Archibald emigrated. He had a large family, with many descendants in the USA.
Brigid, married a McKeegan from Tavanagh, her descendants, the McKeegans, still live locally.
Peggy also married a McKeegan from Tavanagh, but no relation of Brigid’s husband. She had no family.
Catherine married an O’Mullan from Glenann, Cushendall. Her O’Mullan descendants still in Glenann and Glenariffe.
James, (our grandfather), of Laney, Cushendall where the McCambridges still live.
Ann, the youngest, born 1826. I think she may have married a Black from Glenariffe or Carey.
There could have been others; I believe there was a Daniel. It would be interesting to know if any of John McDonnell’s descendants are still to be found around Ballycastle.

I must say that without the help and encouragement of the Honourable Hector McDonnell I could not have written this article. I had the bones, but he put meat on them and kept me right on the many aspects of the McDonnell history.

Thank you Hector.

Margaret McIlgorm.

11 thoughts on “The Glassmullan McDonnells, a forgotten Branch of the Antrim McDonnells”

  1. I enjoyed this article so much. My great grandmother was Hnrietta McDonnell from Ballycastle.
    Her brother Randal was a doctor. He’s buried on Ascension Island. We have traced us back to Sorley Boy. Henrietta’s father was Archibald. He opened a bar in Castle St.(still there)
    Thanks again. Sally O’Hare

  2. My Great Great Grandfather was Daniel McDonnell born around 1807 or 08 in Ballycastle. We haven’t been able to confirm his parents or siblings. Any info is greatly appreciated.

  3. My Antrim McDonnell was a John, born 1818. He lived in Layd Parish, and married Margaret Murphy (b. abt 1822) who lived at Gortateea townland, Layd parish. John and Margret (and her brother John Murphy, who became a blacksmith in Wisconsin, USA) emigrated to Canada with their very young child John around 1846. They had children Mary Ann and Charles William before moving to Wisconsin around 1850 where my great-great grandfather Archibald McDonnell was born. Is it possible to see the drawing you mention? The McDonnell line has very distinctive features and temperament. The article is spectacularly written! Thank you. It is of great interest even if it proves not to be my ancestral line.


    • Sally I live in Newcastle in England now my dad was Danny Connolly brother to Eileen, Sean and Moya . He was married to Bell Rock we moved here in the 70s

    • Hello Sally I live in Newcastle in England now we moved over here in the 70s . My dad was Danny brother to Eileen Sean and Moya . Did you’re brother John live in Stoke

      • John I have’nt been in here in a while since we were on before I have been in touch with your brother Danny. He has given me lots of information on the McDonnells with pictures. Poor Sean has since died RIP Sally Connolly O’hare

        • Hello Sally . I was over for Sean when he passed, very sad . Have you seen the website Danny and my other brother Gerry have set up . It’s called Connolly family history. Not sure if that should be all one word because I usually find it on a link from a Facebook page they set up with the same name . It’s great to find you on here . I checked a few times to see if you had been on John

  5. Enjoyed your history! Our connection hopefully, is Michael McDonnell m. Mary McMullan, lived in Lisbreen, Glenravel, Ballymena, Antrim. Followed his children to America, then returned home to be buried next to his wife, Mary, St. Mary’s Church Cemetery, Glenravel. My father-in-law was born in Lisbreen, 1887, Edmund Gerald McDonnell.

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