Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary, Ireland

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Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary Ireland comprises of several counties, cities, boroughs, parish and villages – with historical and statistical descriptions – of Ireland.

  • Place
    Ballycastle
  • County
    Antrim
  • Parish
    Ramoan
  • Content
    BALLYCASTLE, a sea-port, market and post-town, in the parish of RAMOAN, barony of CAREY, county of ANTRIM, and province of ULSTER, 9 .25 miles (N. E. by E.) from Dervock, and 132 miles (N.) from Dublin: containing1683 inhabitants.

    This place, in the Irish language called Ballycashlain, or "Castletown," derived that name from a castle built here in 1609 by Randolph, Earl of Antrim, who was directed by Jas. I. to raise "faire castels" at reasonable distances on his vast estates, that the country might be the more speedily civilized and reduced to obedience. The town is advantageously situated on the northern coast, at the head of the fine bay to which it gives name, and in a beautiful valley at the foot of Knocklayd, opposite to the island of Rathlin. It consists of the Upper and Lower Town, of which the latter, called the Quay, is separated from the former by a road bordered with fine trees, which, sheltered by the hills intervening between them and the coast, have attained a stately and luxuriant growth. The houses, amounting, in 1831, to 275 in number, are in general neatly built and in both portions of the town are several of handsome appearance.

    Within the distance of half a mile from Ballycastle are the elegant seats of C. McGildowny, Esq., Capt. Boyd, A. and J. McNeale, Esqrs., and several others.

    It was formerly a place of great manufacturing and commercial importance. abounding with various works upon a large scale, among which were extensive breweries, glass-houses, salt-works, and spacious warehouses; and in the immediate neighbourhood were extensive collieries, the produce of which formed a material article in its trade. In 1730, endeavours were made in the Irish parliament to erect it into a place of import and export, but were successfully opposed by the Irish Society and the corporation of Londonderry. It had a spacious harbour, in which 74 gun ships could anchor in safety in any weather, and upon the improvement of which £130,000 had been expended; also a pier and quay, the construction of which cost £30,000. But this high degree of prosperity, which the town attained under the auspices of Hugh Boyd, Esq., began to decline soon after that gentleman's decease, and all that at present remains of its trade is a small fishery carried on by a few boats in the bay. The harbour is now completely choked up; the pier and a quay are a heap of ruins; the custom-house has been converted into a whiskey shop, the breweries are untenanted, the glass-houses have been converted into carpenter's shops, and the mansion house is a parish school.

    The collieries, which extended nearly a mile in length along the coast, and from which from 10,000 to 15,000 tons were annually exported, subsequently declined; the estate is now in chancery, and the works, which had been conducted with success from a very remote period, are discontinued. They were situated in the adjoining parish of Culfeightrin, but were always called the Ballycastle collieries, and occupied the northern face of Cross Hill, an eminence nearly 500 feet in height, of which about 150 feet are formed by a cap of columnar basalt resting on alternating of strata sandstone and clay slate, extending 150 feet in depth, immediately under which is the bed of coal, at an elevation of 200 feet above the level of the beach.

    Ballycastle mines - the inside. See Chapter 10, A Frenchman's Walk through Ireland c.1796

    No manufactures are carried on at present, with the exception of a few webs of linen, which are woven in the houses of some of the farmers; a little fishing is carried on in the bay, but the inhabitants are principally employed in agriculture. The market is on Tuesday, and a great market is held on the first Tuesday in every month; the fairs are on Easter-Tuesday, the last Tuesdays in May, July, and August, Oct 25th, and Nov. 22nd, for Raghery ponies, horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, linen yarn, and pedlery.

    Here is a station of the constabulary police; also a coast guard station, which is the head of a district comprising also the stations of Port Rush, Port Ballintrae, Port Ballintoy, Rathlin Island, Tor Head, Cushendun, and Cushendall, and under the charge of a resident inspecting commander. A manorial court is held by the seneschal every month, for the recovery of debts and the determination of pleas to the amount of £20 by attachment and civil bill process; its jurisdiction extends over the entire barony of Carey, with the exception of Armoy. A court baron is also held in April and October; and petty sessions are held every alternate Tuesday. There is a very good market house, and a commodious court-house; in which the courts and petty sessions are held

    A handsome church, in the Grecian style of architecture, with a lofty octagonal spire, was erected in 1756, at the sole expense of H. Boyd, Esq. : the stone for building it was procured from the quarries in the parish, which were then worked on that gentleman's estate.

    It is a chapelry, in the diocese of Connor, endowed with £60 per ann., of which £20 per ann. is paid by the trustees of Primate Boulter's augmentation fund, and the remainder by the patron, H. Boyd, Esq., descendant of the founder. There is neither glebe-house nor glebe.

    The R. C. chapel is a small building; and there are places of worship for Presbyterians and Wesleyan Methodists the former in connection with the Synod of Ulster and of the third class.

    There are several schools in the town, principally supported by the resident gentry. H. Boyd, Esq., in 1762, built and endowed with the rental of the townlands of Carnside and Ballylinney, reserving only £40 for the incumbency of Ballycastle, 20 almshouses near the church, for poor men, or the widows of poor men who had worked eight years in the collieries or other works on his estate; they are still maintained, and are tenanted by the deserving poor of the town under the superintendence of the Primate, the Bishop, and the Chancellor of Connor for the time being, whom he appointed trustees for the management of the lands.

    There are some ruins of the castle from which the town derived its name; also some ruins of Bona Margy, a religious house founded in 1509 by Charles Mac Donnell, for monks of the Franciscan order, and one of the latest of those establishments which were founded in Ireland; the remains of the chapel are the most perfect. This is the burial-place of the Antrim family, who have put a new roof upon a small oratory erected over the ashes of their ancestors, over the window of which is a Latin inscription scarcely legible, importing that it was built in 1621 by Randolph Mac Donnell, Earl of Antrim. In 1811 was found, by the side of a rivulet near the town, a flexible rod of gold composed of twisted bars 38 inches long, hooked at each end, and weighing 20 ounces and a half; it was undoubtedly a Roman torques, and probably brought hither by some of the Danish or Scottish ravagers of Roman Britain. There is a strong chalybeate spring near the town; and on the shores are found chalcedony, opal, jasper, and dentrites.
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