The Mc Neills of Cushendun and the Mc Neiles of Ballycastle

In this article, which is based largely on the family memoirs of the late Lord Cushendun, I am not offering any original research nor presenting information that is not known. My purpose is to introduce to you two closely inter-related families who were Glens people by birth, local gentry in their areas and persons of power, influence and importance to the ordinary people of the district. They are related to the McNeills of Faugthart, Co. Louth, Galliochally, Colonsay, Taynish and Gigha in Argyllshire, but there is no relationship with the McNeills of Barra.

In about 1820, a woman came to Cushendun House and presented herself to Edmund Alexander McNeill. She told him that if he would give her a sum of money she could give him information that would put ‘him in possession of a large estate in Scotland. He thought she was an adventuress and dismissed her. But some months later it came to his notice that proceedings were in progress in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the issue of which was the title to an entailed estate in Ugadale and Losset in the Mull of Cantyre. The estate had been in the possession of Capt. Hector McNeill with whom Edmund Alexander had spent holidays and visits and who had no legitimate heirs. Edmund Alexander became interested and after a prolonged law-suit, lasting some years, he proved that he was heir to the estate. However, he was never able to obtain possession for the occupier, George (the illegitimate son of Capt. Hector) had been in possession for 30 years and had thus obtained a good title by prescription. It was because of the exhaustive genealogical research necessary for the conduct of the law-suit that the family tree of the McNeills of Cushendun and the McNeiles of Ballycastle was accurately and carefully drawn up.

The first McNeil of this family about whom there is good documentary evidence is Torquil (died c. 1380) who was Constable of Sweyn Castle which was an appendage of the Scottish Crown at Knapdale in North Cantyre. He was also Chief of the Clan Neill of Taynish in Cantyre and Gigha.

One of Torquils’ indirect descendants (8th in descent) was Lachian of Tirfergus who is the ancestor of the McNeills of Cushendun and Ballycastle. He was married twice; first to Mary McNeill and secondly to Margaret McAllister. He had 8 sons and 3 daughters of whom at least 4 sons settled in the North of Ireland and 3 are mentioned as having fought in the Williamite Wars. One of Lachlan’s sons was Torquil who was the Ancestor of Capt. Hector McNeill of Ugadale and Losset. Torquil’s next elder brother was Neill Bui of Killoquin in Co. Antrim and Machrihanish in Argyll. From Neill Bui’s first son Lachlan the Cushendun McNeills are descended. From Neill’s fourth son the Ballycastle McNeiles are descended. Neill Bui died in 1722.

Neill Bui’s eldest son Lachlan was the first to settle at Cushendun, where he died in 1735. He married Jane McNaughton of Benvardin and lived for a time at Ballyukin, between Torr Head and Ballycastle, before coming to Cushendun. He took Fee Farm Grant of Cushendun (a freehold subject to a head rent) from the White Family of Broughshane. Lachlan and his son Neill enlarged and improved Cushendun house. Lachlan’s son Neill lived at Cushendun and had at least one son Edmund, who died in 1790.

Neill’s son Edmund McNeill was married to Elizabeth Hamilton of Clermont, Co. Derry and he had one son, Edmund Alexander, and at least one daughter who married Michael Harrison. Edmund, unfortunately, was killed when his son was only 5 years of age. He went round on a horse to the spring at the back of Cushendun House. The horse suddenly put down its head to drink, Edmund was thrown off and suffered a broken neck.

Edmund Alexander (1785-1879) was an only son and his father was dead. His mother kept him in Cushendun, did not send him to school, and allowed him to mix with the ordinary people. He spoke Irish with the others and many stories were told of his strength and skill in boxing and hurling. He built a brig with his own hand inside the bar at Cushendun and used to sail, single handed to visit with Capt. Hector McNeill at Ugadale.

There were other visitors, too, at Ugadale to whom we will now turn our attention i.e. the McNeile family of Ballycastle and Colliers Hall. These were, of course, distant relatives of Edmund Alexander through Neil Bui, and both families were related to Capt. Hector through Lachlan of Tirfergus. However, this was not known until shown by the law-suit researches. The McNeile family of Colliers Hall and Ballycastle were of importance in the district. Alexander McNeile was a Magistrate, he had an excellent farm at Collier’s Hall, and also a land agency business, and was a member of the County Grand Jury. Towards the end of the 18th century he moved to Ballycastle where he built a new house near the Manor House; he married Mary McNeale of Currysheskin near Dunseverick, and had 4 children – Rose, Jane, John and Hugh. Alexander of Ballycastle also had a brother – Lt. General Daniel McNeile, who was a bachelor; and when he came home at the time of Waterloo he took a great interest in the future of his niece Rose and nephew Hugh. Ester McNeile, Alexander’s sister married a McNeill of Galliochally, and was the mother of Lady McDonald Lochart of Lee. At the time of the Rebellion of 1798, Mrs. Alexander McNeile, and her family were sent over to Capt. Hector at Ugadale for safety and became well acquainted with him and his many visitors.

Rose McNeile was a beauty and her old uncle the General, took her to Bath in the hope of making a good match. However It was not to be, and when she returned to Ireland she married Edmund Alexander McNeill of Cushendun in 1817. She had probably first met him in Capt. Hector’s house when he visited there. They lived at Cushendun House but Rose’s health was poor and it was decided in the early thirties to go for a long holiday to Italy. They didn’t reach Italy but took a packet from London to the Channel Islands and Jersey. They liked it and stayed for thirty years. Edmund Alexander bought a farm and built a large house which he named Tighmore.

Meanwhile a family was born and reared by Edmund Alexander – Minnie, Lizzie, Edmund, Daniel, Charlotte; of whom Edmund known as "Long Eddie", was the most well known. Lizzie married Adolphus Turner who was in the diplomatic service. They were present in Buenos Aires during a revolution and shortly afterwards Adolphus died leaving Lizzie with one delicate child. Adolphus Turner was a son of Sir Hilgrove Turner, who was Governor of Jersey. Daniel married Nanette Astley of Everleigh in Wiltshire and they had one daughter Miss Ada Mary McNeill who lived in Glendun Lodge and died at the age of 99 in 1959. Charlotte married Ashley Cooper Key and had four children.

The family history continues with "Long Eddie" who was 6′ 7" tall. At the age of 18 in 1839 he went to seek his fortune in Australia. He had a sheep ranch, but when he left on a sea voyage in 1847 (on doctor’s orders following a fall when riding) his partner sold out and disappeared. This was "Daisy Hill Farm" and within two years the first gold in Australia was found on this farm. "Long Eddie" arrived in Ireland in the middle of the famine in 1847. He came to Cushendun and then visited his mother’s brother-in-law Alex Millar in Ballycastle.

Alex Millar was from Dungannon. He had married Jane McNeile, daughter of Alexander McNeile of Ballycastle and sister of Rose who married Edmund Alexander McNeill. When Alexander McNeile died in 1830 his son-in-law Alex Millar took over the land agency business. The other members of Alexander McNeile’s family were John and Hugh. Hugh came under the influence of the evangelical revival and was ordained. He married Anne Magee, daughter of Archbishop Magee of Dublin and had sixteen children. John had been to South America and came home to invest his fortune. He was a man of business and was one of the founder members of the Northern Bank. Like his uncle "the General" he Invested a considerable amount of money in land. He married a Miss Dallas and they lived at Parkmount at the south side of Belfast overlooking Belfast Lough. Among John’s children were Henry Hugh who married Sophia McNabb; and Mary who married Hugh McCalmont Cairns (afterwards Lord Cairns), Lord Chancellor in Disraeli’s Government.

Alex Millar, had taken over Alexander McNeile’s business, but at the time of the famine things were difficult and Millar was a generous kind-hearted man. He asked Edmund McNeil ("Long Eddie") to assist him in business and under his new partner’s direction the financial situation improved and prospered. Soon Alexander Millar left the conduct of affairs almost completely to Edmund McNeil. The changes which Edmund made were unpopular and he incurred a lot of odium. In those days land agency consisted of the financial control and administration of estates of landlords who were often absentees. Rents were collected, tenancies made and terminated, improvements and cultivations arranged, evictions ordered. The agent was a man feared by the tenants. Alex Millar died in the 1850s.

Alexander Millar and Jane McNeile of Ballycastle had six children Mary, Rose, Jane, Charlotte, Frances and Alexander. Mary married her first cousin Edmund McNeill ("Long Eddie") in 1851 and they had ten children but only three grew up – Anne Charlotte Lavina who married John Penrose, Ronald John who married Maud Bolitho, and Mary Violet who married Walter Hobhouse. Of these Ronald John was the most important and before he died in 1934 he had held Ministerial Appointments, was a member of the Privy Council, and was created Baron Cushendun In 1927.

"Long Eddie" died in 1915 at the age of 95. He had lived for many years at Craigdunn near Cullybackey because Ballycastle was too remote for the conduct of his business. The house was built for him about 1860 and is now the Peter Stott Martin Home. Edmund Alexander, who spent 30 years in Jersey returned to Cushendun in 1869 after his wife, Rose had died in 1868. He died in Cushendun House ten years later at the age of 95. Lizzie Turner also came to Cushendun House in 1870 and her son Adolphus held night classes in Cushendun. In October 1898, Jack McNeile, a cousin, was drowned in Loughareema ("the Vanishing Lake") when he was going by dogcart to Ballycastle to catch a train after a visit to Cushendun House. Apparently what happened was that the road over the lough was completely flooded after two or three days of deluging rain. The pair of horses when they were driven on to the flooded part of the road, took fright and plunged over the side into about 12 feet of water. Also drowned in the same accident was the old coachman David McNeill of Cushendun Village.

Capt. Dan McNeill died in 1902 – his wife, who suffered from a softening of the brain, had died in 1883. Their daughter Ada was one of the founder members of the Glen’s Feis and was its first Secretary. She lived in Glendun Lodge and died at the age of 99.

Ronald John McNeill married Elizabeth Maud Bolitho from Cornwall in 1884. There were three children of the marriage; Ester Rose who married twice, firstly Major McNeill and secondly Geoffrey Moss; Mary Morwenna Bolitho who married Capt. Gribble; and Loveday Violet. By her second marriage Ester Rose had a son, Gilbert McNeill Moss.

This has been only a brief look at 2 families of interest in the Northern Glens area whose ancestors migrated from Argyll to Co. Antrim at the very end of the 17th century.

The Late Rev. George Jackson

As Presbyterian Minister of Glenarm and Carnaibana since September 1931, the Rev. George Jackson was a member of the Ballymena Presbytery. It is the responsibility of the Presbytery to see that the Records and Properties of the congregations are carefully preserved, and for many years it was indebted to Mr. Jackson for his specialist’s information regarding these. He represented the Presbytery as a member of the Lame Regional Education Committee, the Antrim County Education Committee and he was a governor of Larne Grammar School. He was also a Vice President of the Presbyterian Historical Society and a member of the Historical Committee. His researches led to his spending considerable time examining cemeteries, of which he drew up plans to show the graves in order, the names of those buried there, together with their age and year of burial.

After a ministry of almost 39 years, Mr. Jackson retired from active duties in March 1970, and went to live in Portrush, hoping to continue his historical research. But it was not to be. To the great sorrow of all who knew him, Mr. Jackson passed away suddenly on 16th May, 1970.

Robert Strawbridge.

° These include: St. Patrick’s (Tickmacrevan), Old Church (Glebe) and the Old Meetinghouse Green graveyards at Glenarm; Racavan and the First Presbyterian Church yards at Broughshane;’ the Old and New Ardclinis Church yards at Carnlough; and the Presbyterian Church yard at Buckna. Mr. Jackson’s records of these may be consulted at the Library of the Presbyterian Historical Society or at the Public Record Office in Belfast.

2 thoughts on “The Mc Neills of Cushendun and the Mc Neiles of Ballycastle”

  1. This is a wonderful account of the McNeill family. I am a direct decendent of Ronald McNeill who was my great grandfather. I have photos and paitings of him!

  2. Nigel
    I am a descendant of Ugadale and Lossit. In Ballycastle this week on holiday. Two days ago we visited Cushendun and were lucky enough to see inside Glenmona courtesy of an Historic Scotland employee who is very keen on restoration
    He is going to keep me updated.
    I would be interested in further contact.

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