Coleraine  County Londonderry


In 1837, Samuel Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland described Coleraine like this:

COLERAINE, a sea-port, borough, market and post-town, and a parish, in the barony or district called the town and liberties of COLERAINE, county of LONDONDERRY, and province of ULSTER, 24 ½ miles (e. n. E.) from Londonderry, and 118 ¼ (N.) from Dublin; containing 7646 inhabitants, of which number, 1978 are in the parish of Killowen, and 5668 in the town. ...

This place derives its present name from Cuil-Rathuin, descriptive of the numerous forts in the vicinity, and is by some writers identified with the Rath-mor-Muighe-line, the royal seat of the kings of Dalnaruidhe. The original town, now called Killowen, on the western bank of the river Bann, and which subsequently became the chief or shire town of the county of Coleraine, is of very remote antiquity; and in 540 had a priory of Canons Regular, of which St. Carbreus, a disciple of St. Finian, and first bishop of Coleraine, was abbot. This establishment continued to flourish till the year 930, when Ardmedius, or Armedacius, was put to death by the Danes; it was, together with several other churches, plundered in 1171 by Manus Mac Dunleve, since which period no notice of it occurs till the year 1213, when, with the exception of the church, it was destroyed to furnish materials for a castle which was erected here by Thomas Mac Uchtry and the Gaels of Ulster. The county of Coleraine is described as having extended from the river Bann, on the east, to Lough Foyle on the west, and as having formed part of the possessions of O'Cahan, from whose participation in the rebellion of the Earl of Tyrone, in the reign of Elizabeth, it became, with the whole province of Ulster, forfeited to the crown.

James I., in 1613, granted this district to a number of London merchants, who were in that year incorporated by charter, under the designation of the "Governor and Assistants of the New Plantation in Ulster," and from that period the name of the county was changed into Londonderry. The Governor and Assistants, generally called the Irish Society, were by their charter bound to build the town of Coleraine, to people it, to enclose it with a wall, and to establish a market, within seven years from the date of their charter, by which were granted to them the entire abbey of St. Mary, its site, and the lands belonging to it, together with the old town, now Killowen, and all its appurtenances. But this condition appears to have been very much neglected, for Pynnar, in his first survey, in 1619, says, "that part of the town which is unbuilt is so dirty that no man is able to go into it, especially what is called, and should be, the market-place." The same writer, in his second survey, dated 1625, says, — "The town of Coleraine is in the same state as at the last survey; only three houses are added, which are built by private individuals, the society allowing them £20 a piece. The walls and ramparts are built of sods; they do begin to decay, on account of their narrowness; the bulwarks are exceedingly little, and the town is so poorly inhabited that there are not men enough to man the sixth part of the wall." So unpromising was the condition of this settlement that, in addition to the sum of £20, large portions of land were allotted for each tenement, and long leases at nominal rents were offered to all who would undertake to build houses.

A conspiracy of the natives having been formed to seize the place, in 1615, military stores were sent hither from London; and by a vote of the common council, a citadel was built for its defence in the following year; it was a strong fortress, commanding the ferry, and was kept in repair and well garrisoned by the Irish Society, till the erection of the bridge in 1716. The bridge, which was wholly of wood, was so much injured by floods that it fell in 1739; and in 1743 a new bridge was built, with pillars and buttresses of stone, towards the erection of which the Irish Society gave the timber and £2050 in money; in 1806 it was widened, at the expense of the county, by transverse beams supporting a foot-path of four feet on each side. The growth of the place was exceedingly slow, and so little had its trade advanced that, in 1633, the customs of the port, for the half year ending on Lady-day in that year, amounted only to £18. 9. 8 ½. On the breaking out of the war in 1641, the town was attacked by a body of 1000 insurgents, but was vigorously defended by the garrison and inhabitants, amounting to 200, who defeated the assailants. It was taken by General Monk for the parliament, in 1648, but was afterwards given up to Sir Charles Coote. On the advance of the forces of James II. into the north, in order to repress the Protestant party, Mount-Alexander, Rawdon, and other leaders, stationed themselves with a force of about 4000 men at Coleraine, which they fortified and kept possession of with a view to prevent the Irish from passing the Bann. They were here joined by Lord Blaney with his party from Armagh; and though for a time they repulsed the enemy, yet the Irish, after a successful skirmish, passed the river in boats, and the party stationed here finding the place no longer tenable, fled by various routes to Derry, in order to take possession of it, before the Irish should cut them off from their last place of refuge. The subsequent history of the town consists of little more than a succession of disputes in the corporation, and between that body and the Irish Society, relative to their respective rights, privileges, and possessions: the Society enclosed the quay and made the port duty free, in 174l.

The town, which is the second in the county in importance, and is rapidly increasing, is situated on the east bank of the river Bann, about three miles from its influx into the sea, and is connected by a handsome bridge with the village of Killowen, or Waterside, a considerable suburb on the opposite bank of the river. It is large and handsomely built, consisting of five principal streets, a spacious square called the Diamond, and several smaller streets; the houses in the Diamond, New-row, Church-street, and Bridge-street, are large and well-built, especially those of later erection; in the Diamond and in Church-street are some ancient houses of timber cage-work, said to have been framed in London and sent over by the Irish Society to be erected here. A Board of Commissioners has been appointed under the act of the 9th of George IV., for lighting and cleansing the town, which is paved at the expense of the county; and the inhabitants are supplied with excellent water from numerous springs at the outlets of the town and from pumps. It is a Very great thoroughfare, and is the principal passage over the river Bann, connecting the counties of Antrim and Derry, and opening a communication with all the ports on the north and northwestern coasts. The neighbourhood is remarkable for the pleasing diversity of its scenery, enlivened by the fine stream of the Bann, and embellished with the grounds of some handsome seats.

On the west side of the river, immediately below Killowen, is Jackson Hall, the residence of Mrs. Maxwell, an elegant mansion situated in extensive grounds tastefully laid out; and there are various others, among which are Down Hill, built by the Earl of Bristol, when Bishop of Derry, and now the property and residence of Sir James R. Bruce, Bart.; Somerset, the residence of the Rev. Thomas Richardson; Knockintern, of Hugh Lyle, Esq.; Ballysally, of W. Galt, Esq.; Castleroe, of Lieut.-Colonel Cairnes; Mill-burn House, of Stewart C. Bruce, Esq.; Cromore, of J. M. Cromore, Esq.; and Ballyness, of Capt. Hannay. The air is extremely salubrious, and during the prevalence of typhus fever in 1817, and of the cholera in 1832, the number of deaths in proportion to the population was very small. The town is abundantly supplied with all the necessaries and luxuries of life at a moderate charge, which renders it desirable as a place of residence for persons of limited income. There is a public library, supported by annual subscriptions of a guinea; also a subscription news-room, and an amateur concert, which is held weekly.

This place has long been celebrated for its trade in the finer linens, known as "Coleraines," but at what time it was first established here is not precisely known. The first bleach-green ever known in this part of the country was established at Ballybrittan, by Mr. John Orr, in 1734, for the bleaching of fine 7-8th and 4-4th linens. That gentleman having succeeded in establishing a very lucrative trade, other bleach-greens were soon afterwards formed at Gortin, Ballydivitt, Macosquin, Drumcroom, Mullamore, Keeley, Aghadowey, Rusbrook, Collans, Mullycarrie, Island Effrick, Castle Roe, Greenfield, and other places. The quantity now bleached annually exceeds 200,000 pieces; they are of the finest quality, and four-fifths of them are sent to the English markets. These linens are woven at the farm-houses throughout the country; the webs, when finished, are brought to market in the brown state, and sold to the bleachers, who assemble on their stands every Saturday from 10 till 11 o'clock, during which hour more than 1000 webs are generally purchased.

This is one of the very few towns of which the market has not been materially injured by the recent changes that have taken place in the linen trade. The bleachers of the neighbourhood also attend the markets of Ballymoney, Dungannon, Fintona, Stewartstown, Armagh, Newtown-Stewart, Strabane, and Derry, for the purchase of brown webs; but the best markets in Ireland for these goods are Coleraine and Ballymoney. At Mullamore is a large establishment for the preparation of warps and yarn for linen webs, commenced in 1832, by Alexander Barklie, Esq.; there are at present more than 800 looms in constant operation; the weaving is not done on the premises, but is given out as task work to men who weave it at their own houses. The only manufactures carried on are those of linen, cotton, hard and soft soap, bleaching salts, leather, and paper. A brewery and malt-house was originally established by Messrs I. and C. Galt, in 1770, and after passing through various hands was purchased by Messrs. O'Kane and Mitchell, the present proprietors, who annually consume 200 tons of malt in the production of 2000 barrels of strong and common ale.

The town, from its situation on the river Bann, only four miles from the Atlantic, enjoys important advantages for commerce, but at present its trade is limited. Its chief imports are timber, iron, barilla, ashes, coal, and salt; and its exports are linen cloth, pork, butter, salmon, wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, and whiskey, and since the construction of the harbour of Portrush, there has been a considerable trade in live stock, poultry, eggs, and fruit. The number of vessels trading annually to the port, including the outer harbour of Portrush, is about 160, having an aggregate burden of about 13,000 tons. From the 1st of September, 1831, to the 31st of August, 1832, 36,888 sacks (or 5533 tons 4 cwt.), of grain and 3491 pigs were shipped from this place. During the following year, the quantity of grain decreased to 27,132 sacks, the cause of which may be attributed to the establishment of markets at Garvagh, Bushmills, and Ballymoney; the number of pigs shipped during the latter period increased to 6340, notwithstanding the establishment of those markets. The quantity of butter exported varies considerably; since the passing of the recent act it has decreased from 11,000 to 9000 firkins, from the same cause.

The port immediately adjoins the town; the entrance to the river is obstructed by a bar of shifting sand, over which vessels drawing more than five feet of water at neap tides, or nine feet at spring tides, cannot pass; the current of the tide runs past the mouth of the river, and the rise in Lough Foyle is nearly twice as great as in the Bann. During winter the navigation of the river is in a manner stopped, the spring tides occurring too early and too late, before and after daylight, and a heavy swell of the sea generally setting in from October till April. To remedy this inconvenience, a new harbour was constructed at Portrush, about 4 ½ miles distant from the town, at an expense of £16,225. 17. 11., raised under an act of parliament in shares of £100 each: the entrance is 27 feet deep at low water of spring tides, and vessels drawing 17 feet can enter and ride in perfect safety. A steam-boat, built for this station, commenced plying between Portrush and Liverpool in August 1835; and another has since been established from the port to Glasgow, each of which makes a passage every week.

There is a custom-house with the usual officers; and there are bonding stores and a timber-yard. An extensive and lucrative salmon fishery is carried on at Crannagh, on the Bann, under lease from the Irish Society; there is but one season during the year, beginning in May and ending on the 12th of August. The quantity taken is generally about 190 tons the whole of which is packed in ice and conveyed by smacks and steam-boats to Liverpool and other distant markets, where they are in high estimation for their size and flavour. There is also another salmon fishery on the Bann, at a part called the Cutts, where the river makes a rapid fall of 12 feet over a ledge of rocks which the fish cannot ascend, except when there is a strong fresh in the river, and where a weir has been placed to intercept them; about 80 tons are annually taken here; both stations belong to the same Company. There is also an eel fishery, which commences in September, when the fish are returning from Lough Neagh and the rivers, to the sea; they are taken by means of pales and wattling, constructed so as to converge in the direction of the current, and having a net attached; this fishery is worth £800 per annum. Great quantities of eels are taken and sold fresh in the neighbouring markets, or salted for winter use.

The market is on Saturday, and is well supplied with provisions of all kinds. The grain market was first established in 1819, since which time it has rapidly increased: it is held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and on an average 3000 tons of grain, principally oats, are annually sold, of which the greater part is sent to Liverpool, and some to London, Bristol, and Glasgow. An additional market for pork and butter is held on Wednesday. The market-place is situated on the eastern side of the town, on ground belonging to the corporation, by whom it was built at an expense of £2744, and to whom belong the tolls, customs, pickage, and stallage, amounting to about £300 per annum: it is commodiously fitted up, with separate apartments for the sale of butter, pork, and meal, sheds for tallow, hides, and flax, stores and offices for provision merchants, keepers' houses and every accommodation; and was opened on the 25th of March, 1830. There are fairs on the 12th of May, 5th of July, and 1st of November; the principal is on the 12th of May, for black cattle, horses, and sheep. A branch of the Northern Banking Company, one of the Belfast Banking Company, and one of the Provincial Bank of Ireland have been established here.

The inhabitants received a charter of incorporation from James I., in 1613, by which the government was vested in a portreeve, free burgesses, and commonalty, and by another charter granted in the same year, which latter is the governing charter, in a mayor, recorder, chamberlain, coroner, twelve aldermen (including the mayor), and 24 principal burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, prothonotary, serjeants-at-mace, and other officers. The mayor is elected by the common council from the body of aldermen, on the 1st of October, and is sworn into office on the 25th of March following. The aldermen are elected from the burgesses, and the burgesses from the freemen, though in general the burgess is made a freeman to qualify him for election: the freedom is obtained only by gift of the corporation.

The mayor, recorder, and four of the senior aldermen are justices of the peace within the borough and liberties; and the county magistrates, of whom, by virtue of his office, the mayor is always senior and sits on the right hand of the judge at the assizes, have concurrent jurisdiction. The corporation hold courts of record for the recovery of debts and the determination of pleas to any amount within the town and liberties, of which, according to their charter, the jurisdiction extends to the distance of three miles in every direction from the centre of the town; they are also empowered to hold courts of session for the borough, but do not exercise that privilege. Previously to the Union, the borough returned two members to the Irish parliament; the right of election was vested in the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses alone, but by the decision of a parliamentary committee it was declared to be vested also in the freemen.

Since the Union it has returned one member to the Imperial parliament; and since the passing of the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 88, the right of election is in the corporation, freemen, and £10 householders. A new boundary has been drawn round the borough, the details of which are minutely described in the Appendix. The number of electors is 214, of whom 26 are burgesses and freemen, whose rights are reserved for life, 184 £10 householders, and 4 occupiers of houses and lands of the yearly value of £10; of these, 185 polled at the late election for the borough, in 1835: the mayor is the returning officer.

The quarter sessions for the county are held here in April and October; the assistant barrister presides with the magistrates, for the trial of offences against persons and property, and alone in civil actions not exceeding £20. By the original grant each of the twelve proprietors of the county was empowered to hold a manorial court, but the business of these courts is generally transferred to the quarter sessions. Petty sessions are held on alternate Thursdays. The town-hall is situated in the centre of the square called the Diamond; it was originally erected in 1743, and has been more than once enlarged, and is now undergoing a thorough repair at the expense of the corporation: it is a lofty square building surmounted by a cupola, in which a clock was placed in 1830, at the expense of the Marquess of Waterford: the hall contains courts for the quarter sessions, apartments for transacting the corporation business and the election of members, a newsroom, library, ballast-office, and a savings' bank.

The borough comprises, independently of several others within its liberties, the parishes of Coleraine and Killowen (described under its own head), the former comprising the town on the eastern side, and the latter the suburb of that name on the western side, of the Bann. The parish contains, according to the Ordnance survey, 4846 ¼ statute acres. The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Connor, and in the patronage of the Irish Society: the tithes amount to £450: the glebe-house was built by aid of a loan of £692 and a gift of £92, in 1828, from the late Board of First Fruits: the glebe comprises 45 acres. The church, a large plain edifice, was erected in the year 1614, by the Irish Society, and in 1684 a south aisle was added to it, at the expense of the corporation; a very handsome spire was built at the expense of the Society in 1719, but it stood for a short time only. The church contains many ancient and some very elegant monuments, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £282. 19. 6. towards its repair.

In the R. C. divisions this place is partly in the diocese of Connor, and partly in that of Derry, and forms part of the union or district of Killowen or Coleraine; the chapel is a spacious and handsome edifice, situated at Killowen. There are two places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, one of the first class, and one of the second class; one for Seceders, of the first class, and one each for Independents and Methodists. A school for the gratuitous instruction of 130 boys and 130 girls was founded and endowed, in 1705, by the Irish Society, but from mismanagement it fell into disuse about the year 1739, and was altogether discontinued till 1820, when a new school, with houses for the master and mistress, was built by the Society, who, in 1828, transferred their interest in it to trustees chosen from the most respectable inhabitants of the town, since which time it has been productive of the greatest benefit; the salaries of the master and mistress are paid by the Society.

There is a very excellent female work school, where the children are taught sewing and other domestic accomplishments, which is supported by Miss Rippingham, by whom it was established many years since; there are also, at Killowen, a school which was founded and endowed by the late Mr. Kyle, and a parochial school held in the old church and supported by the Clothworkers' Company. There are also four other schools, two of which, situated respectively at Gateside and Ballyclaber, are under the National Board; and seven pay and four Sunday schools. A dispensary is supported in the usual way.

A loan fund was established in 1764, for lending two guineas each to industrious workmen, to be repaid by monthly instalments of 3s. 6d.; out of this establishment arose a poor-house fund, which was laid out in fitting up a house for the reception of old and decayed inhabitants: it was supported by subscription and the earnings of the inmates, who were employed in the spinning of cotton. This establishment was discontinued in the year 1790, and the house was given to a few poor aged persons, who occupied it rent-free till 1803, when a portion of it was fitted up as a private dwelling, and the rent paid to the actuary of the loan fund. It was subsequently rebuilt, at an expense of £800, by the Marquess of Waterford, who presented it to the town, and in 1830 it was opened for the reception of the poor, who are maintained and clothed by subscription and annual donations from the Marquess of Waterford and the Irish Society, and a bequest of £20 per annum by the late Griffin Curtis, Esq. The house will accommodate 40 persons.

A mendicity society was also formed here in 1825; the committee, who are subscribers of £1. 1. per annum, meet every Tuesday, when claims for relief are examined, and two members appointed to administer relief to the poor at their own dwellings. The priory of St. John, or Kil-Eoin, from which the suburb on the western side of the Bann, now Killowen; took its name, has altogether disappeared; a part of that establishment formed the old parish church, on the site of which another was subsequently erected, the remains of which have been converted into a schoolroom. Not far distant was the monastery for Canons Regular, founded by Carbreus in 540, and the site of the castle which was built on the ruins is now occupied by Jackson Hall.

In sinking for foundations in the part of the town of Coleraine which occupies the site of the ancient abbey of St. Mary, stone coffins, human bones, and other relics of antiquity, together with foundations of some of the conventual buildings, are frequently discovered. One mile south of the town is Mount Sandel, one of the largest and most perfect raths in the kingdom; it is 200 feet high, surrounded by a deep dry fosse, and encircled near its summit by a magnificent terrace; in the centre is a deep oblong cavity, called the Giant's Grave, formed apparently for the purpose of concealment. There is also a very high and perfect rath a little west of the Cranagh; another close to the church of Killowen; and a very curious fort near Ballysally. This place has been celebrated from the earliest annals of Irish history, and has produced many eminent lawyers, senators, and divines: among the latter was Dr. John Vesey, born here in March, 1632, and successively Archdeacon of Armagh, Dean of Cork, Bishop of Limerick, and Archbishop of Tuam. From this last dignity he was driven by the harsh conduct of Lord Tyrconnell, and remained in London in great poverty till he was restored to his see, on the accession of William III.; he was three times after his restoration made Lord-Justice of Ireland, and died in 1716, aged 84. John Abernethy, an eminent Presbyterian divine, was born here in 1680. Coleraine has given title to many noblemen; the last was that of" baron to the family of Hanger.

How to reference this page:

GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Coleraine, in and County Londonderry | Map and description, A Vision of Ireland through Time.


Date accessed: 30th May 2024

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