The Macartneys of Lissanoure By S. Alex Blair

By S. Alex Blair

Lord Macartney of Lissanoure 1737-1806

George Macartney left his native Auchinleck in Scotland in 1649 for Co. Antrim. He settled in Belfast where, although life was not easy, he prospered and held the position of Sovereign or Mayor of the town. One of his four sons also named George, born in 1671, was the man who purchased Lissanoure.

He paid £5,985 for 6,146 acres in eight townlands in 1733 from the O’Hara family. He was M.P. for Belfast and, as a plaque in All Saints’ Church, Loughgiel, records, he was “the oldest member of the House of Commons, having sat in Parliament upward of 54 years”. It was important in those days for a man to become a landed gentleman to be acceptable in society, hence the need for George Macartney M.P. to purchase Lissanoure.

In 1741 he bought more land — the­ Dervock estate from the Hon. John Skeffington for £7,205. It comprised seven townlands, including Dervock village, a total of some 2,189 acres. In eight years Macartney had become one of the biggest landowners in Co. Antrim.

His son, also George, became the father of another George in 1737, who as the only male child of his generation, eventually succeeded to the Lissanoure and Dervock estates.

This fourth George went to London, married Lady Jane Stuart, daughter of King George III’s Tutor and Prime Minister and became an M.P. and diplomat.

He was British Ambassador to Russia, Chief Secretary for Ireland and Governor of Grenada, where he had a turbulent time, being taken prisoner by the French. A spell with the East India Company in Madras followed and then in 1792 came his most prestigious appointment — first British Ambassador to China, where he refused to “cow-tow” to the Great Khan. Macartney was decorated with many honours, including the Order of the White Eagle of Poland and became a Baron, a Viscount and eventually an Earl.His final appointment was as Governor-General of the Cape of Good Hope and in addition to all of this, he undertook a number of delicate diplomatic missions for the British Government.

He loved Lissanoure and came home as often as possible. In 1770 he began the re-building of the old castle when the Gothic mansion overlooking Lough Giel was replaced with a Georgian manor house and semi-circular yard of wand dimensions. He had thousands of trees planted throughout the estate and brought exotic plants and trees from his travels and put them in what he called his “Pleasure Garden”. He also had water channels or canals cut and artificial lakes created — one with five islands in it — to beautify the estate and visitors wet often punted through this idyllic scene with lanterns hanging from the trees in the evening.

The Earl died at Chiswick, London, on the 31st March 1806. He had no children, but he left his wife, the Countess, a life-interest in the estate. The heir was his sister’s daughter, Elizabeth Belaquier, who married the Rev. Dr. Travers Hume, a Church of Ireland clergyman. However, she never obtained he inheritance for she died before the Countess and it was her son, George Hume who became the new “lord of the manor” in 1828.

Overbearing and arrogant, he was called “The Old Squire” to his face, but “the Old Tyrant” behind his back and he did many things which justified the title.

In 1837, using a loophole in the original agreement, he evicted the Loughgiel Roman Catholics from their Chapel, built on the estate at the hack gates. He replaced it with All Saints’ Church of Ireland Church, consecrated about 1848, and closed the Church of St. Mary-by-the Lake in the middle of the estate. He disliked his privacy being violated by the people coming to worship there and it became a ruin, but with an interesting graveyard where Catholics and Protestants lie side by side and containing the private burial ground of die Macartneys themselves. He was furious when the Catholics obtained land at Tully from the Whitla family and built a new chapel there, on the hillside, to look down on him for ever!

Another church which he built was in Dervock after the old church at Derrykeighan had been blown up in mysterious circumstances and for which he made no attempt, as magistrate, to have anyone apprehended. He also decided that he would exact a toll on every animal sold at the various Dervock Fairs, but a local farmer, John Nevin of Carnaff, challenged the validity of this and obtained the help of Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell won the court case for Nevin and Macartney was dismayed. He was determined to do all in his power to oppose O’Connell and urged his estate workers and tenants to guard their Protestantism against the threat posed by O’Connell and his Catholic Association. This eventually led to the foundation of Lavin Orange Lodge, still called “Macartney’s True Blues” and Macartney himself became Deputy County Grand Master of the Co. Antrim Orangemen.

The castle was often in need of repair, for it suffered from damp, and the family had to move out for periods. George Macartney had a cottage by the side of Lough Giel, just a short distance from the castle but in a beautiful setting, rebuilt in 1833 for the family’s use. After a time at the cottage, the family were preparing to return to the castle in 1847 when a terrible incident took place which was talked about all over Ireland.

A great ball was scheduled as a “house-warmer” for the night of 5th October 1847 and about noon on that day it occurred to one of the men organising the move that there was gunpowder in an old vault underneath the castle and it would be a good idea to have a look at it. When one of the caskets was opened, the butler was asked to take the son and heir out of the room for safety. As he closed the door, the draught blew some gunpowder into the fire and this produced eventually a huge explosion which blew up the castle and killed Mrs Macartney.

The Castle Yard at Lissanoure which survived the great explosion of 1847. It was used as stables for horses with the grooms sleeping upstairs.


From then on the family lived at the Cottage and the castle remained in ruins, with only the yard intact.


The Cottage at Lissanoure overlooking in its beautiful setting overlooking Lough Giel after which the parish is named.


George Hume Macartney died on 20th October 1869 and was succeed by his eldest son, George Travers Macartney, a former Captain in the 15th King’s, Hussars. He was very different from his father. He walked the estate, talked to the workers, visited the tenants and paid them generous compensation for improvements they had made on their farms. It was a new and pleasant regime and the shock was very great when the young landlord died suddenly of a heart attack on 29th August 1874, aged 44 years, leaving a wife and four small children. The people of Dervock erected a fountain beside the bridge in the centre of the village in his memory and many tributes were paid to him.

His heir and successor was a mere child — Carthanach George Macartney aged 5 years, and he was officially landlord of Lissanoure for a total of 62 year a record among Irish gentry.

His mother and cousins took charge in the early years but when Carthanach came to power he proved himself kind and generous. He saw the break-up of the estate under the Land Acts, by which his tenantry eventually became owner occupiers and he was left only with the lands immediately around his home which he farmed, keeping a large staff and maintaining a high life-style.

When he died in 1936, his successor was his son George Travers Lucy Macartney, then aged 40 years. Eccentric and spend-thrift, he purchased the Torr Head Fishery and embarked on a number of schemes with little success, if any. He died on holiday in Co. Cork on 11th July 1943. He was the last Macartney of Lissanoure.

The estate was sold to the Mackies of Belfast, industrialists, but had already been requisitioned by the British Army as a training base for British and American troops in the Second World War. There was also a German prisoner of war camp on it and the Mackies did not get full possession until the war was over in 1943.

Another commercial family had taken over as the Macartneys had two centuries before. So the wheel of fortune turns and families rise and fall, leaving memories and fragments of information for people like historians to gather and piece together. This is a mere introduction to the history of the family – lack of space forbids greater detail.


S. Alex Blair


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