Picture the scene….it is approaching Christmas day 166 years ago. On a cold winters evening the people of Coleraine and surrounding areas packed out the Town Hall. They were there to hear a lecture by Dr. Babington, his subject being, “The Town of Coleraine”. Dr. Babington tells of an often-forgotten history of the town and its inhabitants from ancient times to the present (being 1852). A wonderful insight into the life and times of the people who lived in Coleraine.
Dr. Babington’s lecture was recorded and printed in the Coleraine Chronicle dated 18th December 1852.
DR. BABINGTON’S LECTURE
ON THE TOWN OF COLERAINE
The second lecture of the season, in connection with the Coleraine Mechanic’s Institute, was delivered on Tuesday night last in the Town Hall here, by Dr. Babington. The Hall was crowded to excess. Sir H. H. Bruce, Bart., the President of the Institute, occupied the chair. Dr. Babington on rising was received with applause. He stated that the subject which he had chosen for his lecture was “The Town of Coleraine.” Having given the geographical position of this borough, he then proceeded as follows: -
Considerable differences exist amongst etymologists as to the origin of the name of the town of Coleraine; some derive it from Cuil Rathan, the corner of ferns, and this view is supported by the authority of an old work, the Trepartite Life, in which it is stated that our patron saint, St. Patrick, having arrived in this neighbourhood was hospitably entertained, and received an offer of ground to build a church, the site pointed out to him was on the northern side of the river Bann, on a piece of ground overgrown by ferns, and that in the year 540, Bishop Carbrens selected this place for his abode, and from these incidents the place was called Cuil Rathan, the corner of ferns, or the ferny retirement. Others derive the name from the Cuil Rathan, the fort on the corner or bend of the waters. To the latter, Mr. Sampson and Mr. Lewis incline, while that accomplished antiquarian scholar, Mr. Reeves, of Ballymena, adopts the former. We are also informed that in ancient times the town was called Banina, owing to the proximity to the river Bann. This town is of remote antiquity; it is always called the ancient and loyal borough, and in old times the greater part of the town was situated on the west side of the river Bann. In the year 540, there was a priory of canons regular at Coleraine, and Saint Carbrens, a disciple of Saint Finian, was the Bishop or mitred Abbot. In the year 930, Armidius, who was then Abbot, was murdered by the Danes. It must be very clear to all who have inquired into the history of this locality, that the Danes or Northmen held at one time considerable sway here. In 795, they had possession of Rathlin Island. In 1008 Magnus, King of Norway, crossed by the Orkneys, Hebrides, and Isle of Man to Dublin, overran the island, and was defeated in a battle with the people of Ulster.
In the year 1171, the priory was attacked by Manus McDunlade and in 1213, according to the old masters, al the houses in the town and other buildings, except the church, were pulled down by Thomas McUchtry and the English, for the purpose of building a castle at Coleraine.
It is supposed by many that the site of the old Abbey is now occupied by the shambles. You may all recollect that considerable quantities of bones were dug up when excavating for the foundation of that handsome range of buildings erected by Mr. C. Know, at Hanover-place and Bridge-street. I do not incline to the idea that there was a burying-ground there, as the bones were not found lying in any order, but were all heaped together.
There was also a monastery west of the town, founded....
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....in the 5th century by one of the O’Cathan family, and there is reason to believe that in 1244 there was a Dominican friary at Coleraine, on the west bank of the river. The farms belonging to this body were surrendered to James 1, or his commissioners, and were granted to the London Society. Shane O’Boyle was the last prior of this monastery. It is recorded that from that foundation, two Bishops, two Authors, and eight Martyrs were sent forth.
There can be no doubt that Coleraine and the whole district surrounding it, and adjacent on both sides of the river was the scene of many of these engagements, more especially of the battles with the Danes; witness their Raths, moats, and encampments, in the vicinity of this town, the Giant’s Sconce in Dunboe, Mountsandel, the very perfect forts of Ballycairn. Ballyvenox, the Glebe of Dunboe. And all these so disposed, as well for strenghth as that fires kindled on one may be seen to the next on either side. From this we may conclude the communication by telegraph is not of very modern date.
Coleraine was at one period the principle town of the county, and the district which we now designate the county of Londonderry was called the county of Coleraine. In the year 1569, having sworn allegiance in 1559, Shan O’Neill raised a most formidable rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. O’Neill was the head of the powerful Septa in Ulster, he gained some advantages over the Queen’s forces, but was finally vanquished by Sir Henry Sidney. He fled to Scotland and was there assassinated. The Queen, with worse judgement than policy, made O’Neill’s nephew, Earl of Tyrone and he, in grateful return for the honour conferred on him, fomented fresh disturbances, stirred up a new revolt in Ulster, and after reverses on both sides the Earl of Mountjoy were successful.
Modern Image of Mountsandel Fort
Image courtesy of Luke Watson.
In these conflicts, Sir Henry Dowerah ably assisted the English and took the Castle of Derry from O’Doherty. Notwithstanding many favourable occurrences, as the landing of the Spaniards at Kinsale, and other things, O’Neill was obliged to surrender. The rebellion was terminated, and Ulster was forfeited to the crown. The Queen soon after died. The town of Derry and Coleraine, and a large tract of country were waste, almost depopulated, and the remaining inhabitants were attainted of high treason. About this time the Earl of Salisbury, Lord High Treasurer, suggested to King James 1. The project of establishing an English colony on the forfeited estates, in Ulster. King James had formally a plan of a similar nature for the Highlands of Scotland. And, he now saw how the plantations in Munster and Ulster as attempted in the late reign, had failed – this experience served to guide him. He sought the advice of men of experience, but at first was not very fortunate in his choice. He first consulted Lord Bacon, who wrote a treatise on the subject, but his views did not exhibit great knowledge. The Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, joined to considerable abilities and high attainments a knowledge of the country which Lord Bacon had not. He had the counties surveyed – Donegal, Tyrone, Coleraine, Fermanagh, Cavan, Armagh, comprising 511,465 acres, drew up descriptions, pointed out sites for building country houses and castles, and reported generally on the habits of the people.
The scheme was taken up by the city of London, the corporation of which accepted large grants in this county. They agreed to expend £20,000 to build the cities of Derry and Coleraine, and the King was so proud of their co-operation that he declared, when his enemies should hear that the famous city of London, had a footing therein they would be terrified from looking into Ireland, the back door to England and Scotland.
Use the above link to learn more about the Plantation. Image courtesy of PRONI.
After many preliminaries it was finally determined that for the better management of the plantation in the North of Ireland, a company should be formed in London, consisting of a governor, a deputy governor, and twenty-four assistants, to be elected by the city of London and King James the 1. By letters patent, dated 29th March 1613, incorporated this body by the name of the governess and assistants of London of the new plantation in Ulster. That body we call the Irish Society. At a court of common council, held 8th November 1613, a report was made by certain parties who had been sent over to view the lands, that the county should be divided amongst the twelve London Companies, except the city of Derry, and 4,000 acres, and Coleraine with 300 acres, with the ferries and fishings, and license was granted to the twelve companies to take and hold said lands.
The estates were conveyed to the several companies, the city of Londonderry and the town of Coleraine, the lands attached thereto, the woods, ferries and fishings, not being susceptible of division, were retained by the society, who receive the rents and profits therefrom.
The first agents are Sir Tristram Beresford and Mr. Rowley. All these letters patent were repealed and cancelled by King Charles 1., were afterwards regranted in the protectorate and confirmed by Charles 11., on the 10th April, 1663, and by this charter the name of the county was changed to the county of Londonderry.
Use the above link to learn more about the Honourable Irish Society.
Previously a charter had been granted to the town of Coleraine by James 1., and it’s inhabitants were incorporated by the name of the mayor and alderman, and burgess of the town of Coleraine. The corporation consisted of twelve aldermen, twenty-four burgesses, and one chamberlain. Sir Tristram Beresford was named in the charter as first mayor, John Wilkinson recorder, Thomas Casey town clerk and chamberlain. The corporation then returned two burgesses to Parliament, and the Irish Society gave them an annual allowance. At the time of the Union the number was reduced to one, and the right of election remained in the corporation till the passing of the Reform Bill, when the franchise was extended to persons occupying houses valued at £10 a year.
It appears that at first the planters did not proceed very energetically to perform the trusts reposed in them, for in 1615 Sir Josias Bodley was appointed to inquire and report to King James on the slow progress of the citizens in accomplishing the purposes of the plantation, and subsequently in 1618, a new officer, Captain Nicholas Pynnar, was appointed in his room to take a general survey of the works of the society on their estates.
It had been ordered that Coleraine should be built on the abbey side; that 100 houses should be built thereon, and room left for 200 more. Captain Pynnar tells us how that was carried into execution.
A passing word on the ecclesiastical antiquities. He mentioned that the O’Cathan family had founded a monestary to the west of the town in the fifth century. In 1244, this was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was subsequently taken possession of by the Dominican Friars, and in 1644 was erected into a university. In the Hibernica Dominicana you will find an account of a miraculous victory which the image of the Virgin Mary obtained over the English Bishop of Derry, Dr. Brutus Babington, and all his attendants, churches, and burying grounds attached. There was also near the Bann, a celebrated monastery, founded by St. Congal, in 580, the site of which is now occupied by Camus burying ground, and the only remains are a curious pillar. At Macosquin, (the Plane of the Rabbit’s Foot) there was an abbey of the Virgin of the Clear Spring, founded by the Cistercian Monks, in the year 1172. Coleraine is remarkable as being the birth place of Dr. Vesey, Archbishop, who suffered such persecution, also for its salmon. And for it’s “Beautiful Kitty,” &c., &c. I before alluded to the Forts and Raths as relics of Danish warfare. As to Mountsandel, we learn that in 1215, John granted to Thomas De Galweya, Earl of Athol, Kilsaultan, with the Castle of Cuilrath, or Coleraine, and the ten Knights’ fees adjoining said castle on the Bann. It is considered that this name of Kilsaultan has passed into Mountsandel, as the Inquisition of 1605 finds that Kilsaultan alias Mountsandel was among the priory lands of Coleraine.
Use the link above to visit 'Coleraine Historical Society' where the Bann Disc's have a wealth of historical information concerning Coleraine and surrounding areas.
In the year 1641, Coleraine was again the scene of warlike operations. Sir Phelim O’Neill again stirred up a rebellion. Others imitated his example, as O’Hanlan, at Tandragee;Sir Conn Magennis, at Newry; Maguire, in Fermanagh; O’Reilly, in Cavan, and within a few weeks the rebels were masters of Tyrone, Monaghan, Longford, Leitrim, Fermanagh, Cavan, Donegal, Londonderry, and part of Armagh and Down. A few forts with the towns of Londonderry, Coleraine, Enniskillen, Lisburn, and Carrickfergus were defended by the English settlers. It is said that a strong body of rebels passing the soldiers in the garrison of Coleraine, asked “If the rogue the King were not dead, and said they were the Queen’s soldiers?” It appears afterwards that in 1642, Coleraine was specially garrisoned by a portion of the Scottish force of 10,000 which was sent over.
In 1641 there was a battle at Coleraine, between Sir Phelim O’Neill’s rebels and the King’s troops, when 200 of the people of Coleraine defeated 1,000 of the insurgents.
Coleraine was again the scene of a battle and was attacked in 1688, when King James’s forces were successfully repulsed.
I have, perhaps, in somewhat too lengthy terms dwelt on the past history of Coleraine, and I feel I have but imperfectly laid it before you. I shall now descend to the more interesting period, and in so doing, briefly advert to the municipality of the town, the trade, it’s connection with the agriculture of the district, the educational establishments, and the prosperity which your town now enjoys, and to the still greater measure of prosperity which I think and hope is yet in store for it.
From the time that Coleraine was granted to the London Society, when it was ordered that Coleraine be built on the abbey side, that one hundred houses should be built, and room left for two hundred more, till the present day, the town has been increasing. In the year 1102 the population of Coleraine was about 3,000, and at the census of 1841, the number of houses in the town was 1271, and the population was 6,255. I have not had access to the returns of the last census, but I have reason to believe that in the town of Coleraine we will find no decrease in the population from either of the causes which have decimated Ireland – famine with all its fearful concomitants, and emigration with its many benefits.
Modern Image of Coleraine Town
Image courtesy of Luke Watson
Coleraine had a population of 24,634 people in the 2011 Census.
I mentioned before, that Coleraine was governed by a mayor and corporation which continued to exist till the Municipal Reform Act came into operation, on the 10th August, 1840. In the wisdom of the legislature of the day, Coleraine was deemed undeserving of having its civic honours preserved, and the borough was placed in Schedule C, and the corporate property became vested in the Commissioners, erected under the 9 Geo. 1V. commonly called the Lighting, Watching and Cleansing Act. In consequence of this change very considerable funds were placed at the disposal of the Commissioners. They entered into possession of the rents of the lands formally held by the Corporation and of the tolls and customs of the markets, encumbered with a debt which had been incurred for the purpose of erecting these markets. As trustees for the public at large, and for the rate payers of the borough, it has been the object of these Commissioners to expand the funds, of which they had become the administrators for the benefit and welfare, comfort and convenience of the inhabitants of this borough.
Since they have become the proprietors of the rents and customs, they have flagged the principle streets of the town; they have commenced an extensive system of sewering; they have lighted the town with gas; and have, to a certain extent, improved the supply of water in different parts of the town, and have considerably increased the accommodation for the markets. They have in contemplation other extensive improvements, and hope to have a full supply of water to every house in town, from....
....a reservoir to be constructed on a field of which they have a lease in perpetuity for the Worshipful the Clothworkers’ Company granted at the annual letting rent on the kind recommendation of their agent, without any charge for the right of water or springs.
I need scarcely add the Commissioners are 21 in number, elected triennially by all persons who occupy houses rated at £5 per annum and upwards, and that they administer the fiscal affairs of the town under the solemn obligation of an oath.
The rent roll of the town property last year was £670 16s 8d, and the amount received for customs for the year ending 3d November, £757 8s 11 ½ There is no secrecy in this matter. The meetings of the board are open to all rate-payers. The accounts when audited are published for inspection and examination and every shilling expended is subjected to the most rigid scrutiny.
Image Courtesy of Robert French, The Lawrence Collection held at the NLI.
The trade of Coleraine next demands our attention. The Irish Society, at one time, took considerable interest in the trade of this place; and in April, 1729, they opposed a project for making Ballycastle a port, and again, 1730, when the subject was brought before the Irish Parliament, they again opposed the proposition. The trade of Coleraine consists chiefly in the importation of timber, flaxseed, sugar, teas, salt, coals, iron, herrings, Indian corn, and foreign wheat. Our exports are flax, eggs, butter, oats, oatmeal, barley, and cattle, fat, and for store purposes, sheep and lambs; and in summer, large quantities of salmon. The trade of Coleraine is carried on chiefly by the harbour at Portrush and has considerably increased within the last twenty years. In the year 1831, 132 vessels entered Portrush harbour and the Bann, their total tonnage being 6,575 tons. In 1851 seventy sailing vessels came to Coleraine, and to Portrush 4 93 sailing vessels and steamers, making a total of 563, with a tonnage of 77,803 tons. That the trade of the town is considerably obstructed, by the difficulties attending the navigation of the river, is acknowledged by all; and much as it is in the fashion to despise Portrush harbour. It must be evident that, only for the accommodation therein afforded, we would have little or no trade.
The obstructions at the mouth of, and within the river, both above and below the bridge, have, at different periods, commanded public attention; and, so far back as 1782, the Corporation of Coleraine sent a memorial to the Irish Society on the subject of removing obstructions on the river Bann, and improving the navigation, and the Society entertained the subject. And Mr. Sampson, in his statistical survey of the county, gives an estimate, by Mr. Whaley, for making the river navigable from Coleraine to the bridge above portglenone. It is only of late years this work has been undertaken. Considerable improvements have been made, and are in progress, under the superintendence of the Board of Works, which, when completed, and the navigation opened upwards to Lough Neagh, it is to be hoped that our trade will receive a considerable extension. From Coleraine to the sea the river, to a certain extent, lies idle and unproductive. The obstructions by way of shoals, and the bar at the mouth of the river, remain unremoved. Surveys have been made, engineers consulted, and plans procured for the execution of the works recommended for the improvement of the navigation from the bridge to the sea. Perhaps something may be done in this direction in the coming spring. It behoves you to be up and doing. The iron horse is at your door, and is approaching you on both sides of your town, and if exertion is not made your export trade will be carried into channels that might not be agreeable or profitable.
Modern Image of the Lower Bann Estuary
Image courtesy of Luke Watson.
A word about the Bann. This river, the second in size and importance in the county, rises from the Deer’s Meadow, in the Mourne mountains; runs through Rathfriland to Portadown; falls into Lough Neagh at the ferry called the Bann Foot. This part of the river is about thirty miles long. The lake may be looked upon as a broad expansion of the river, which, again narrowing at Toome, passes between the counties of Derry and Antrim, till it reaches the Cutts, passes Coleraine, and empties itself into the sea about four miles below the town. It is said that the Bann, at one time, ran due north, and entered the sea by a channel different from the present one. Giraldus, in his history (1187), gives us a wonderful account of Lough Neagh and the Bann. He says – “There is an extensive lake in Ulster, Lough Neagh, from which the river Bann takes its rise, of which it is reported that the ground it covers was once a fertile and populous district, remarkable, however, for the extreme wickedness of its inhabitants. There was a fountain in the land, with a lid and fastenings; and an old prophecy stated that, some day, the well would be left uncovered, and the water would overflow the whole country, and drown the inhabitants for their crimes. It happened, at last, that a woman went to draw water; and, just as she had filled her jug, and was preparing to fasten the lid of the well, she suddenly heard her child crying at a distance. In her haste to fly to its assistance she forgot to fasten the well, and, when she would have returned to supply the omission, she beheld the water overflowing in every direction; and it continued thus flowing and flowing until the whole of the devoted district had disappeared under the smooth surface of Lough Neagh; and the fishermen on the lake declared, as a proof of the authenticity of the story, that often, when the waters of the lake were tranquil, they could see at the bottom the lofty round towers so peculiar to Ireland, which had belonged to the wretched people who had merited so heavy a judgement by the enormity of their crimes.”
Modern Image of the Cutts on the River Bann, Coleraine
Image courtesy of Luke Watson
The fisheries of the Bann demand our notice. The original right to these fisheries appears to have been vested in the ancient monasteries within whose precincts they lay; and, on the suppression of these. The Bishop of Derry laid claim to them, he being successor to the ecclesiastical rights. In the instructions to the Commissioners for the Plantation, it was a direction that the fishings in the loughs and rivers were to be allotted to the proprietors next adjoining. Thence arose a dispute between the London Company and the Bishop of Derry. The Lord Bishop of Derry claimed one day’s fishing in the Bann, each year, on the first Monday after Midsummer. This was called Bishop’s Monday; and Mr. Sampson relates that, in 1800, there was living in this town a man, named Andrew Irwin, who recollected this right having been exercised. He also said he was fishing at Black Point, near the Cranagh, on the day of the battle of the Boyne; and that, during the whole war, the fishing was unmolested. This claim of the Bishop was purchased for an annuity, paid by the London Company, of £250 per annum, and for which a special Act of Parliament was passed – the 3rd and 4th Queen Anne.
The town of Coleraine was once intimately connected with the linen trade, and was the centre of a large weaving and bleaching district. The linen trade was at one time the staple of Londonderry county, and especially of the Aghadoey district, near Coleraine. No branch of manufacture has undergone a greater change than this. The flax was then spun in the locality where it was grown, and not bought up and sent away to the dark lands of Leeds and Manchester, where the groanings of the steam engine have usurped the hand labour and industry of our farmers’ wives and daughters, and the busy music of their spinning wheels. The weaver then purchased the yarn, wove his web, and brought it to the public linen market for sale. The flax was then spun at an average of from three to four hanks to the pound. It might be drawn out to seven or eight hanks. Four-hank yarn sold from 2s 9d to 3s 6d, sometimes 4s a spangle. Four-hank yarn was generally useful for the weft, three hank for the warp. For a web 52 yards long, and ¾ wide, 9 ½ hanks of four hank yarn were required for the weft, and nine spangles of three yank yarn for the warp. The weaving cost about one guinea, and if well made, and of good colour, such a web sold for 2s 2d to 2s 4d a yard. The finest fabrics were made near Coleraine, hence all the fine linens made and sold in other places were called Coleraine. The weavers considered these good times. The trade is different now, the flax when scutched is sold for exportation or for being spun. It is returned made into yarn to parties who either sell it to the weaver or hire the weaver to weave at so much per yard, to be finished within a certain time. I am told the linen trade is very brisk. It is giving as immense quantity of employment by giving out these yarns to be woven; for instance, the Richardsons of Lisburn, the Barklies of Aghadoey, the Hempills in Aghadoey, and Mesers. Bennett and Adams, have all large numbers of persons weaving in this way, and in our town, Mr. Gribbon, has with praiseworthy enterprise, established a weaving factory, and is giving employment very extensively. Notwithstanding all this business of trade and competition amongst capitalists, I believe the weaver is not able to make remunerative wages. According to Sampson, in the year 1802, there were 58 bleachers in the county Londonderry, the price of bleaching was then 6s 6d, a piece of 26 yards long; in 1784, it was 3s 9 ½ d; in 1809, 7s 6d. It is now 4s 4d.
Use the link above to see how the 'Old Flax Mill' is used today.
There is very considerable employment afforded to the female population of the town and neighbourhood, by the introduction of the sewed muslin work, flowering, and shirt making. If the females were properly instructed in this branch of manufacture they would be able to earn much larger wages than they do at present. For the better executed pieces of flowering and embroidery, and for highly worked collars, very handsome prices are given by the agents; that the trade is extensively carried on in this locality well known by you all, and considerable sums of money are thus weekly expended all over the country, I am well aware. I know of an agent in Coleraine who pays weekly about £80 for sewed muslin work and embroidery; and I believe, conducts his business with integrity both to employers and employed. I know that another has long been distributing above £1000 a year for such work. It should be taught in all our schools, and should, I think, be extensively introduced into and taught in the female schools of our union workhouses. It has been introduced into some of them, and I read in the paper last week that Mr. Lyndsay of Belfast, sends work from that town to Fermoy workhouse, within twelve miles of Cork, and expressed himself highly pleased with the manner in which the work was finished.
Use the link above to discover more information concerning Coleraine Workhouse.
Coleraine is the centre of a large and important agricultural district. It affords a good market for the sale of all agricultural produce. Potatoes, turnips, carrots, mangold wurtzel, wheat, oats, barley, rye, beans, flax, butter, pork, and live stock find every week a ready sale in our market place, and vegetables and poultry are carried from door to door; our shambles are well supplied with meat, and generally with fish. It is generally considered that we are improving in agriculture. In the year 1802 Mr. Sampson gave but an indifferent account of the state of agriculture, and gave the following as the rotation of crops-:
....-ment of some fields adjacent to the town, and this is chiefly on the Ballyaghron road. But in the cold, soft grounds towards Spittle-Hill and Portrush the fences are naked mounds, the surface is disgraced with rushes, fogging, and a beggarly cropping of oats instead of grouses and clover. He again says, as to the gentlemen farmers towards Coleraine and Killowen, “I understand from some, and learn from others, that there is nothing very regular in their methods. Indeed the greater part of the district is very ungenial, and the residents are as industriously and meritoriously engaged in the staple trade of our country that is to be wondered how they have had time to dress their lands so well. To these gentlemen this naked and rugged district owes everything, and when they fail to exhibit rich carpets of green they display a snowy mantie of bleached linen.”
He values potatoes at £19 an acre, barley £15, oats £5 10s to £6, flax £21 12s.
There is little doubt that since the date of this report agriculture is much improved in the district, and within the last ten years greatly changed. With the loss of the potato, farmers are forced to turn their attention to the growing of other roots, and consequently turnips, carrots, and such crops, are becoming more general. They have done a good deal, but much needs to be done by way of improvement. Their lands require to be better drained, to be better cleaned, to be better weeded, to be cultivated with more energy and more industry, and on more scientific principles, particularly with attention to the chemical composition of the soil, the collection and preservation of the manures and such other matters, which were so fully, plainly, ?, and practically explained by the noble lord who kindly ? this place on this day fortnight; and I do think, that if the time that is spent by many in dreamy wishes of legislative exactment for their benefit, was spent on their farm in weeding and cleaning the soil, they would have better results. We have now good wheat growing in our neighbourhood, plenty of rye grass, hay, and clover, good pigs brought to market and commanding a high price without the ? and we have at present a flax trade very lucrative for the grower of crop.
There is every hope that this state of things will not only continue but improve; and you must all agree with me that whatever improves the state and prospects of agriculture must tend to the benefit of the merchants, the shopkeeper, the mechanic, the ? and members of all professions, so intimately ? and connected are all branches of the community.
Modern Image of the River Bann running through Coleraine Town.
Image courtesy of Luke Watson.
The educational establishments of Coleraine are of rather an ancient date. It is quite plain that the ancient Corporation of our town exercised a ? and control over the only school in the town.
In 1705, the society resolved to establish a free school in Coleraine.
In Dec., 1714, the Irish Society applied to the Corporation of Coleraine, for an account of the number of scholars in the school, how many free scholars, and other particulars, and whether the master diligently and carefully attended and discharged his duty; and whether the school was in a flourishing condition.
In 1715, the Society again inquired whether the Corporation had attended to these future ?, and whether a master had been provided, encouraged, and paid by them to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.
In 1728, the Society again interested themselves about the school, and desired their agent to withhold the masters salary. On the 11th November, the decay of the school was ascribed to the divisions among the inhabitants of the town.
On the 7th October, 1729. Mr. Ben. Every, the master of the school was dismissed. The school had fallen into decay from the mismanagement and incapacity of the master, and the gross negligence of the Corporation.
In 1733, an inquiry was initiated in the cause of the decay of Coleraine school, and the ? of neighbouring schoolmasters to keep school in Coleraine district.
On the 30th November, 1737, it was reported to the Society by the master that the school had totally declined, and on the 13th April, 1738, the master, the Rev. Richd Lloyd, receiving no encouragement from either town or Corporation, resigned his office as master.
On the 11th October, 1789, the society consulted Rev. George Cuppage, the rector, as the propriety of restoring the school on a different format, and on the 14th Nov., 1740, a school was established for teaching poor children gratis, to read, write, and comprehend accounts, and Mr. Joseph Young was appointed master, at a salary of £20 per annum. This school is still in existance at the Society’s institution, and has offered considerable benefit on the inhabitants of the place. This is the oldest school for education in the town. We have besides, for a higher class, the National Model School at Captain Street, where I believe there are capabilities and facilities for affording a good English education. We have also a classical and ?rastile school, under the superintendence of Mr. Goody. There are two educational establishments for the children of the gentler sex.
You would almost say we have the means of learning and knowing as much as our neighbours. We want the inclination, and we want, I think, another school. I think we require either an industrial school or a ragged school. Perhaps the latter. What are the numbers of wretched boys running around our corners, depending on the precarious earnings of fish carrying, and horse holding, learning? Learning nothing but swearing, lying, and all other profligacy. I think the inhabitants of Coleraine might turn their attention in this direction. I believe we could make such a school for such a class almost self supporting. We could do a world of good, we would prevent our dock being filled with youthful criminals at Quarter Sessions. We would make our men more orderly and decent. We would hear less of the profane remark, and the obscene jest, and we would perhaps, in some instances, bring a class who are careless and negligent, who fear neither God or sin, to redact this they have souls to be saved, and that as they now here they reap hereafter.
Use the link above to discover more history of the Irish Society School.
I am nearly done. I would suggest very lastly indeed, for the improvement of our town, ourselves and posterity, that exertion be made to extend the trade and commerce of the town by incurring the navigation of the river, and connecting Coleraine more closely with the sea and the Port at Portrush. That our educational establishments be extended to meet the needs of all. That more enterprise and activity, ? with greater unanimity of sentiment than I hear we possess, be infused into our proceedings and deliberation for public improvement. I think, for the ? of employing the young population of the town, that the establishment of more manufactories is desirable. The ? state of the town requires attention, consideration and improvement, but this, I think, can safely be left in the hands of the Commissioners, and whatever we attempt for the public good, we should work to order, and go at it with heart and hand, and give a long puff, a strong puff, and a pull together.
Recent changes have now recognised an amalgamation of districts creating the title, 'Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council' rather than 'Coleraine Borough Council'.
Use the link above to read the Council report, on the process involved with altering the Armorial Bearings, to take this change into account.
In conclusion, I must apologise for the want of power with which I have handled so great a subject as the past history and present state of your ancient town, and can only say that I sincerely hope that the oldest person present may live to see the day when science shall have cut its way through the only opposing barrier to the complete prosperity of the town and trade of Coleraine, and when the mist which has so long ? heavily over the commerce of your noble river shall be dispelled by the brilliant rays of the rising sun of art, and expose to view, gently resting on its placed waters at your quay, steamers and sailing vessels accepted as belonging in your shores the inhabitants of neighbouring and the ? of far off countries, about to exchange their produce for your manufactures, and where you may ? goodly ships laden with the wealth of distant ? and the merchandise of foreign ports. But be assured that these golden dreams, which I hope and feel assured may yet be realised, will avail ? do you not want yourselves, in every way, to provide, under Devine Precedence, that system of education that will ? you it’s profit by this prosperity, and so to cherish it by ? – without which the blessings that Providence so lovingly heaps upon her children will prove but as the passing sunbeam, lighting the path for a ? but leaving a deeper gloom behind – I say you ? by industry cherish this prosperity, in order that, when the day of adversity – liable, at all times, to fall upon countries, nations, towns, alike as individuals shall ?, you may, by having well used the day of prosperity, be enabled to bow before that adversity till the storm be over? And finally to rise, bent, it may be, but not broken, by the weight of the chastening and which shall have taught you to bear with ? solidarity, as well as with thankfulness prosperity.
Use the link above and search 'Coleraine' for more wonderful images captured by Robert French, photographer, as part of the Lawrence Collection held at NLI.
Dr. Babington resumed his seat amid thunders of applause.
H.B. Mackay, Esq., then came and said, he had great pleasure on behalf of the respectable ? ? returning thanks to Dr. Babington for the highly interesting lecture to which they had just ? It was a lecture suggestive of much thought. Though he did not believe any of those present would live to see the bright visions, pictured by Dr. Babington in the end of his lecture, realised, yet, he had no doubt, before many years passed over, that noble ? which was at present flowing uselessly past their ? world because a great thoroughfare, and its ? ? dream would be enlivened by unmistakeable signs of surrounding prosperity and daily increasing traffic. (Cheers) He sat down by moving the thanks of the meeting to Dr. Babington.
The Rev. Mr. McMillin accorded the ? with great cordiality.
The Chairman having put the motion to the meeting, it was unanimously agreed to, said loud and continued cheers.
Dr. Babington briefly returned thanks.
Thomas Bennett, Esq., having been called to provide.
Dr. Carson proposed that the thanks of the meeting be given to Sir H. H. Bruce for his dignified conduct in the chair, and for his ? in contriving to be President of the Coleraine Mechanics Institute ever since its establishment in 1842. (Applause)
Sir H. H. Bruce returned thanks. He said he took shame to himself for having done so little for the institute; but that was practically owing to his necessary absence from this part of the country. He therefore hoped they would look out for some person among themselves who would preside over them, and who would always give them the benefit of his presence, which it was impossible for him to do in present circumstances. Having earnestly im? ? the young son of the place to avail themselves of the advantages held out by the Mechanics’ Institute, and the necessity of attending to their spiritual as well as their mental wellbeing, the hon. Gentlemen sat down amid loud applause.
The meeting then quietly dispersed.
Use the link above to discover more about 'Victorian' Coleraine.
Robert McKirgan of Portstewart
This document contains information found regarding Robert McKirgan of Portstewart. Robert, who married Sophia McGowan and their ‘known’ children, although there were most likely more children born before registration began. No church records have yet been found to confirm them.
Robert’s birth cannot be confirmed. Only two pieces of evidence are available at present, a merchant seaman record stating a date of birth as 12th August 1830 and his death certificate stating his age to be 76 years in 1897 making him circa 1821? I have evidence of a death age being noted wrongly before so either he was born in 1830 and the death age should be 66 or he has given a false date of birth in the Seaman record?
Robert and his family were well known fishermen and many accounts of their lives were found in the local papers. Along with birth, marriage and death evidence, and pictures taken of the area in the mid 1890’s, a picture of the life and times of Robert McKirgan can be painted. Maybe, just maybe his image has been captured?
Britain, Merchant Seamen, 1835-1857
The first record is in relation to a Robert McKirgan as a Merchant Seaman.
First name(s) Robert
Last name McKirgan
Birth year 1830
Birth date 12 Aug 1830
Birth place Portstewart
Birth county/country Londonderry
Archive The National Archives
Piece number 211
Date range 1845-1854
Record set Britain, Merchant Seamen, 1835-1857
Category Education & work
Subcategory Merchant navy & maritime
Collections from Great Britain, UK None
This document shows Robert McKirgan born at Portstewart in the County of Londonderry on the 12th day of August 1830? I am reading his height as 5ft 6”? First went to sea as an Able Seaman (A.S.) The document was issued at Coleraine on the 26th day of July 1850? Robert would have been about 20 years old if this date of birth is correct.
Robert lived a full life as a fisherman in Portstewart. The McKirgans of Counties Londonderry and Antrim were either fishermen or farmers and would not have had an easy life.
A document (of unknown origin?) sent to me by Tom McKirgan of Oregon tells a story of Robert. Although I have since found some of the details to be mistaken (Roberts fathers name and the date of death for Sophia), the story paints a picture of their life at the time.
Looking at the newspaper archives via www.findmypast.co.uk many articles naming McKirgans are found. some relating to Robert directly or possible family members. The finds have been narrowed to the nearest local paper, ‘Coleraine Chronicle’, although there are other papers such as ‘The Northern Wig’ which would recall some local news also. They will be shown by date throughout this document.
Coleraine Chronicle 18 December 1852
FOUR MEN SUPPOSED TO HAVE DROWNED
We learn just on the eve of going to press, that four fishermen, belonging to Portstewart, are supposed to have been drowned on Thursday night. – They had left the shore, it appears, about two o’clock in the afternoon, for the purpose of fishing, and have since not been heard of. It is said that they were all intoxicated. We have heard that the ill-fated boat was found yesterday morning at Innishowen, keel uppermost. The names of the parties, who, it is more than likely, have met with a watery grave, as the weather was very boisterous, are Samuel Turbitt, Robert Bacon, and John and Robert McKirgan. Turbitt was married and had a family. Several of the Portstewart men left yesterday afternoon for Innishowen, to find any traces, if possible, of the unfortunate men.
Robert and Sophia married on the 3rd September 1856 at Coleraine Registrar’s Office, County Londonderry. The document names Roberts father as William, occupation Fisherman. They reside in the Parish of Ballyaghran, Portstewart, County Londonderry. (The Parish of Ballywillan, alongside Ballyaghran, falls into County Antrim, and contains McKirgan families not discussed here). Witnesses include Robert McGowan (brother to Sophia?) and William McKirgan (a possible brother to Robert).
The Primary Valuation was the first full scale valuation of property in Ireland. It was overseen by Richard Griffith and published between 1847 and 1864. It is one of the most important surviving 19th century genealogical sources.
McKirgans found in the Griffiths Valuation in the Parish of Ballyaghran, printed in 1859.
Robert can be seen residing on the Coleraine Road, East Tullymurry in the Town of Portstewart.
Their are various McKirgan families in the surrounding area. Possible brothers, sisters, Uncles or Aunts of Robert? Roberts father William is not named in the area so could either have passed or be living in a different area. The map below shows the same area some 100 years later. Found using PRONI Historical Maps viewer. www.nidirect.gov.uk
OSNI Six inch to one-mile Irish grid 1952-1969
Coleraine Chronicle 17 November 1860
FATAL ACCIDENT – A respectable young man belonging to Portstewart, named William Logan, had been employed fishing at Tory Island during the summer, with Daniel and Samuel McKirgan, of Portstewart. They were crossing a few days ago from the island to the main land, in a curragh, and not understanding the management of the frail craft, it capsized. Samuel McKirgan swam the distance of about a mile, saving his life, but poor Logan sank to rise no more. He has left an infirm father and mother to deplore his untimely end.
Coleraine Chronicle 02 August 1862
MELANCHOLY AFFAIR – About half past 11 o’clock, on Monday morning, it was blowing hard, and a fishing boat, which was labouring on the sea opposite Gortnamullan, Innishowen, was capsized bodily by the fury of the waves. There were three men in the boat. One of them, Henry McKirgan, of Portstewart, was drowned. The other two, John McKirgan and Wm. Lewis, also of Portstewart, were saved through the heroic exertions of Geo. Doherty and John McKenna, and brought safely to land. The boat was dashed to pieces among the rocks. We trust that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, or some kindred society, will confer a reward on these courageous men.
Coleraine Chronicle 13 December 1862
Robert McKirgan, Portstewart, was charged by Mr Daniel McCurdy, with stealing cabbages from a field belonging to him on the night of the 6th inst. Fined 5s and costs, and value of cabbage, or one week’s imprisonment with hard labour.
The Lawrence Collection consists of 40,000 glass plate negatives from 1870-1914. The images were produced commercially and capture scenes of that period throughout Ireland. The bulk of the outdoor images were taken by Robert French, the Lawrence's’ chief photographer.
The pictures produced here are simply screen shots. In order to see more detail when zoomed go to the following link, https://www.nli.ie/en/photographs-introduction.aspx and search the collection , the detail is amazing! Photographs can be purchased from the nli website.
In an attempt to narrow down the date of these pictures by Robert French of Portstewart, dated as taken somewhere between 1865-1914, a closer look at all the pictures and research of the style of dress worn, the pushbikes etc, I have concluded they were taken around the mid 1890’s. This would make Robert McKirgan’s children young adults and if so, many of the harbour pics could include our McKirgan fishermen? This zoomed in shot of one of the harbour pictures shows three fishermen, one older, two younger. Using our imaginations there is no reason why they could not be Robert Snr (aged about 64) and his sons, either Robert (27), James (25) or Andrew (23)?
It is most likely Robert and Sophia began having children soon after their marriage. Sadly no baptism records have been found to determine this but various references indicate further names. Civil registration began in 1864 allowing us to determine all children born to them after this date.
Charlotte McKirgan was born in Agherton, Portstewart on the sixth of October, 1866 to Robert McKirgan, fisherman and Sophia McKirgan nee McGowan.
Robert McKirgan was born in Agherton, Portstewart on the Twentieth of August 1868 to Robert McKirgan, Fisherman and Sophia McKirgan nee Magowan.
James McGowan McKirgan was born on the Twenty-second of September 1870 in Agherton, Portstewart to Robert McKirgan, Fisherman and Sophia McKirgan nee McGowan.
Andrew McKirgan was born on the Tenth of October 1872 in Agherton, Portstewart to Robert McKirgan, Fisherman and Sophia McKirgan nee McGowan. A baptism record is found for Andrew dated 17th January 1873 at Agherton Church of Ireland. Here Andrew is noted to have the middle name of ‘Clarke’.
Martha McKirgan was born on the Sixth January 1875 in Agherton, Portstewart to Robert McKirgan, Fisherman and Sophia McGowan. A baptism record is found for Martha dated 5th September 1875 at Agherton Church of Ireland.
Coleraine Chronicle 29 July 1876
Head-Constable McKean, Acting-Constable Conway, and Sub-Constables Martin, Gordon, and Lecky, had each several people before the Bench upon charges of drunkenness.
Fines from 6d to £2 and costs were imposed.
ASSAULT AND OBSTRUCTING THE POLICE.
Sub-Constable Copeland was the complainant in a case in which Robert McKirgan and Henry Shaw were charged with being drunk and disorderly. McKirgan having aggravated his offence by obstructing and threatening the Constable.
Copeland, who is stationed at Portstewart, stated that when he first saw the defendants, they were drunk, and fighting. They did not get striking each other, because there was a third person between them. When they were separated, Shaw went one way and McKirgan another. After he had gone up the street a “bit,” McKirgan returned and said – “I will put my fists through your lights.”
Wm. Morrison was then examined. He said – Shaw and I were coming up the street, selling some fish. McKirgan came forward, and said he would give us fish some morning, meaning salmon. Shaw said he would have nothing to do with him, when McKirgan said he would throw him over the wall and into the sea. They then went in to fight each other. Some additional evidence have been given.
The Chairman, having consulted the Bench, said the defendants would each be fined 2s 6d and costs for assaulting each other; and McKirgan would be fined £1 and the costs for obstructing the police in the execution of their duty.
Sophia McKirgan was born on the Twenty-seventh of June 1877 at Agherton, Portstewart to Robert McKirgan, Fisherman and Sophia McKirgan nee Magowan. A baptism record is found dated 1st September 1879 for Sophia at Agherton Church of Ireland.
Catherine Ann McKergan was born on the Sixteenth of January 1880 at Agherton, Portstewart to Robert McKergan, Fisherman and Sophia McKergan nee Magowan. A baptism record is found for Catherine Anne dated 2nd May 1880 at Agherton Church of Ireland.
The birth certificates pictured here were located via www.irishgenealogy.ie and the baptism records via www.colerainefhs.org.uk
Coleraine Chronicle 26 October 1889
Sergeant Shier, Portstewart, summoned Robert and James McKirgan, jun., for disorderly conduct, and to show cause why they should not be bound over to keep the peace.
Mr. D. MacLaughlin appeared for the defendants.
The Sergeant deposed that on Saturday evening, the 12th inst., at about 9.50 o’clock, he observed James McKirgan running into his own house, and afterwards heard screams. Robert was then put out by James, but got in again. Witness afterwards observed the defendants fighting and heard loud cries of “Murder,” “Police.” Witness went over and cautioned the defendants, but notwithstanding this the fighting was renewed. The conduct of James was disgraceful, and several people were complaining about it.
Mr. MacLaughlin having addressed the Bench for the defence,
James McKirgan was bound over, himself in £10 and two sureties in £5 each, to be of good behaviour for twelve months, or, in default, one month’s imprisonment. The case against Robert was dismissed.
In this article it states the names of Robert and James McKirgan Junior. It is possible these are the children of James McKirgan who resided on the ‘Crescent’ as seen in the Griffiths Map previously.
Coleraine Chronicle 06 September 1890
….This annual regatta was held on Friday last, and the weather could not have been more favourable for the several contests, the sun shining beautifully warm all day, and a nice breeze, not too stormy, blowing regularly from the North……Five boats got away to a good start in the race, the course being twice from the harbour to Blackrock, and then a mile Westward to a boat anchored two miles distant from the shore. The course was sailed twice over, and concluded in the following order:-
1.Mr. McKirgan’s boat, Portstewart.
2.Mr. J. McKay’s boat, Portrush.
3.Mr. G. McMullan’s Ranger, Portballintrae.
Coleraine Chronicle 29 November 1890
Sergeant Shier charged Robert McKirgan and James McKirgan, Portstewart, father and son, with disorderly conduct on the 11th November.
Mr. D. MacLaughlin defended, and admitted the offence, stating that the father was the cause of the dispute, having been drunk when the son came home after a days fishing.
The sergeant, instating his charge, deposed that he attributed the whole affair to the father.
Robert McKirgan was fined 5s and costs, and James 2s 6d and costs.
Coleraine Chronicle 26 November 1892
McKirgan v. O’Kane
In this case Sophia McKirgan, of Portstewart, a widow, sued Francis O’Kane, of Coleraine, fish merchant, to recover compensation for work and labour done in the knitting of a salmon net, the property of the defendant.
Mr. R. O’Neil appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. D. MacLaughlin for the defendant.
The plaintiff stated that her son, James McKirgan, brought the twine for the making of the net, which was to be completed for the opening of the salmon season. Witness worked at it until she had knitted 300 yards, and then stopped, as she saw no prospect of retaining payment. The defendant came down to Portstewart, and told her to go on working and he would pay her when the net was completed. He gave her 2s 6d at the time. As it was not finished in time defendant sent for 300 yards of netting to Scotland, and this was attached to the piece which witness had knitted.
Andrew McKirgan and Sophia McKirgan, son and daughter of the plaintiff, were also examined in support of her evidence.
Francis O’Kane, the defendant, stated that he made an arrangement with James McKirgan, a son of the plaintiff, in January last to have a net made for the commencement of the salmon season. Witness purchased £5 worth of twine for the purpose, and gave it to McKirgan, who took it to Portstewart with him. The terms of the agreement were that McKirgan and his brothers were to use their boat in the fishing and witness was to receive a fourth share of all the fish taken, while he was to purchase the remainder of the “takings” at 1d per lb below the marker price. The net was to become witnesses property at the end of the season. Witness went to Portstewart on 27th May, and found that some of the twine had been used. About 285 yards of the net having been knitted. McKirgan came to him and told him that the net could not be completed in time and witness procured 290 yards of net from Scotland at a cost of £7. Witness had no dealings with the old woman (the plaintiff) on the subject. She sent him a message to the effect that she wanted £1 to pay her rent and he replied that he had nothing to do with the paying of her claim – that it was her son James she should apply to. The parties at that time lived together. It was not true that witness had told plaintiff at any time to go on with the net, and he would pay her.
In answer to Mr. O’Neill, defendant said the old woman had asked him if he wasn’t “going to stand” and he gave her 2s 6d to provide tea for herself.
Wm. Merritt, who was in the employment of the defendant, gave corroborative evidence, adding that he had asked for the return of the twine on several occasions, and could not get it.
His Honour said that the old woman had been engaged at a very hard and very tedious work, and she was entitled to be paid for her labour. He thought the defendant had means of recouping himself against James McKirgan , and he would give a decree for £4 5s.
The article above states Sophia is a widow but Robert has not passed at this stage so possibly a mere mistake. The named children leave me in no doubt that this is Sophia nee McGowan.
Robert Snr death 1897
Robert passes on the 4th December 1897 at his home in Agherton, Portstewart. It states he was 76 years old at time of death although we are not certain of this fact. He is noted as a fisherman. The certificate states Robert ‘probably passed due to heart disease’. The death certificate was incurred from ? Caldwell. Coroner for County Londonderry. An inquest was held on the 6th December 1897.
Using this information we can find details of the inquest using the newspaper archives.
Coleraine Chronicle 11th December 1897
REMARKABLY SUDDEN DEATH AT PORTSTEWART
On Saturday evening last the inhabitants of Portstewart were startled by the news of the death of an aged inhabitant in the person of Robert McKergan, who has been for many years a well-known figure in the district. The suddenness of his demise occasioned the greatest surprise, as he had been seen on the street but a very few hours previous to the news of his death becoming circulated. He was aged about seventy-six years, and was a native of Portstewart, where he had resided during his entire life-time, following the avocation of a fisherman, a calling which his two surviving sons are also engaged in. The circumstances of his death will be noted in the evidence given at
which was held on Monday by Dr. W. H. Caldwell, J.P. (coroner), at the residence of the deceased.
The following were sworn as a jury – Messrs. William Martin (foreman), Hugh Caldwell, Jas. McIlreavy, William Cox, Hugh Simpson, George Kane, Matthew Brown, James Lyons, Matthew M’Kinney, Nicholas Cunningham, Jon. McCurdy, James M’Curdy, Saml. Cox, Thomas M’Quiston and John M’Ilreavy.
District-Inspector Loftus C L Totlenham, with Sergeant Gallagher, attended the inquest on behalf of the Crown.
Sophia McKergan, wife of the deceased, was examined and deposed that her late husband was 76 years of age. He had left the house on the previous Saturday about three o’clock, and was then in his usual health. He returned to the house at about six o’clock, and he had then some drink on him. He sat down in the kitchen and began taking off his clothes, and witness and her daughter helped him upstairs. About three quarters of an hour afterwards he called for some tea. Witness said she would not give him any, and he then said he would come down and make it himself. Witness daughter then made the tea and took it upstairs, the witness heard deceased say to her “God bless you”. Deceased got the tea with bread and butter, and the candle was left burning in the room. About ten minutes after that witness noticed that the candle was still burning, and went up with the intention of putting it out, and she then saw that her husband was dead. The bowl was lying on his arm, and some of the bread had been broken in the tea, and some of it was still in the bowl. Witness and her daughter had tea with bread and butter at the same time in the kitchen, and it was similar to that given to the deceased.
Martha McKirgan, daughter of the previous witness, corroborated her mothers evidence. Jennie Spence deposed to going to the house of the deceased on Saturday about seven o’clock. She heard the deceased ask for tea, which was afterwards taken to him by his daughter, who came down after leaving it with deceased. Mrs McKirgan went up about ten minutes after to put out the candle, and when she went up to the room she shouted that “he was gone”. She then ran down the stairs, saying she would go for Andy (her son).
Dr. Young who had been summoned to the house after the occurrence, was present at the inquest, but said he could give the jury no information, as McKirgan was dead upon arrival at the house.
Some of the jury mentioned that they were aware of the deceased having previously suffered from fainting fits.
After consultation, the jury returned a verdict that the death resulted from natural causes – probably heart disease.
1901 Census of Ireland
Residents of a house 167 in Mullaghacall North (Portstewart, Londonderry)
Looking at the information placed in the 1901 Census we find Sophia, a widow, aged 65, a midwife, residing with two possible grandchildren, John and James and a young housemaid boarder named Hessie McMichael. Using the House and Building return form below we can see they resided in a two room, 3rd class dwelling with one window. Most likely her sons, Robert and James live with their families either side of her in similar dwellings.
Robert Junior is seen living next to his mother Sophia with his wife and children in the 1901 census. Robert married Agnes Elliot on the 1st December 1891 at Agherton Parish Church.
James is also seen with his wife Lizzie and children. James married Elizabeth Wilson on the 13th January 1892 at Coleraine Parish Church.
Coleraine Chronicle 16 May 1903
The Conservators of Fisheries for Coleraine District were complainants in two cases against four Portstewart fishermen named James McKirgan, Robert McKirgan, Andrew McKirgan and a man called Hempill – (1) for that on the 10th April last, on the River Bann, they did use for the purpose of taking salmon, a net, without being duly licensed, and (2) for trespass on the said fishery.
Mr S McDermott appeared for complainants, and defendants were represented by Mr Robt. O’Neill (Messrs, Macaulay & O’Neill).
Mr McDermott said he appeared for the Conservators in both these cases, one of which was for trespass, and the other for fishing without a license. Both cases arose out of the same transaction, and he could ask their Worships to take both together.
Their Worships decided to do so.
John Patterson, in reply to Mr McDermott, stated that he was a water bailiff. He remembered Friday, 10th April last. On that date he was on duty along the River Bann in the townland of East Crossreagh. At about 11 o’clock at night his attention was attracted to a boat upon the Londonderry side of the river. Witness was on County Antrim side, and was in concealment with another bailiff named Jms. Dinsmore. There were four occupants in the boat, which was rowed right across the river. On reaching the shore on the Portstewart side one of the men came out of the boat into the strand, and the net was subsequently shot. They remained there until the net was brought ashore, and then they came down and asked the defendants for their licence. Defendants made no reply, and witness, along with Dinsmore, seized the net and took it from them. On examination they found eleven trout meshed in the net. Witness was able to identify the defendants, as he had often seen them previously.
Cross examined by Mr O’Neill – Witness was able to identify three of the defendants in court as the men who were in the boat on the night in question. The fourth man (Hemphill), who was summoned, he could not identify as being concerned in the matter.
To the Chairman – Witness had considerable difficulty in securing the names of the men, as they refused to give them.
(At this stage witness identified another man in court, also named Hemphill, as the fourth defendant).
The other summons was accordingly struck out.
Mr O’Neill said this was one of the most scandalous cases ever brought into that court. It would be proved by several respectable witnesses that none of the defendants had been engaged fishing that night.
Patterson, further cross-examined by Mr O’Neill, stated that he did not know the Christian names of the defendants, but he knew them by their appearance well enough. The boat that was used on the occasion belonged to a man named Doherty. Witness did not as to anyone a day or two after the occurrence that a man named M’Gowan was in the boat. There was bright moonlight that night.
James Dinsmore gave corroborative evidence. He was able to identify three of the defendants as being in the boat on the night in question.
By Mr O’Neill – Witness and Patterson were concealed about one hundred yards away from the spot where the defendants came on shore.
Mr R. Mackey, examined by Mr McDermott, deposed that none of the defendants held a licence for fishing.
Mr O’Neill – We admit that, and we also admit that we would have been trespassing if found at the place alleged.
Addressing the Bench, Mr O’Neill said he would not trouble their Worships with many remarks. The defendants lived in Portstewart, and they hoped to be able to produce clear evidence that on the night referred to they were not near the River Bann at all. Three of them were in their own houses, and another was in the house of a neighbour, on this particular night. Furthermore, Doherty was in court, and would be able to prove that his boat was not across the river, as alleged. It was of the same class as described by Patterson, and was used for lighting up the lamps on the river. He would tell them that it was moored on the other side of the river at nine o’clock, and was not touched again that night.
Daniel McGowen, examined by Mr O’Neill stated that he was a fisherman, and resided in Portstewart. He remembered Good Friday night well. Why he did so was on account of his hearing afterwards that Patterson was going to summon him for being mixed up in the poaching affair, and he was preparing to prove an alibi as far as he was concerned. Witness had it from a Coleraine man the following day, whom Patterson himself informed, that he (witness) was going to be summoned for poaching on the Bann. Witness was acquainted with Robert McKirgan, who lived convenient to him – just around the corner. On tis night of the alleged poaching witness went into McKirgan’s house about eight o’clock. Robert and James were in at the time. He did not see Robert Mckirgan, as he lived in another house at Burnside. He stopped in Mckirgans a good while. He remembered the clock striking, and Robert McKirgan made a remark that it was ten o’clock. Witness remained in the house about twenty minutes longer, and then went away. The house was situate fully two miles from where the alleged poaching took place, and Robert McKirgan was in it when the witness went away. While in defendants house they were all engaged “righting” the lines, but a conversation was carried on about the America Cup races, and Shamrock’s chances of winning were discussed.
Mr O’Neill – Which is going to win this time?
Mr Ferris – Better ask Patterson that. (Laughter)
Witness (to the Chairman) – James McKirgan went out of the house before ten o’clock.
Cross examined by Mr McDermott – McKirgan’s house was about a mile and a half from the place described by Patterson, if the journey were taken across the hills. It would take three quarters of an hour to access.
Samuel Cox, examined by Mr O'Neill, stated that he fished along with James McKirgan. He was out with him on the morning of the Friday on which the alleged poaching took place, and they got back about two o’clock in the afternoon. They were preparing the lines for trawling the next day. Witness came back again to McKirgan’s house at about eleven o’clock that night for some bait, as his own had run done. He remained until twelve o’clock, and James McKirgan was not out of his house all that time. He remembered this night well, because the next day there was a great deal of talk in Portstewart about fishermen being caught poaching.
Cross-examined by Mr McDermott – Who told you that some of the men had been caught poaching? – I might say that the whole of Portstewart was talking about it the next day. There was an outcry through the whole town. (Laughter)
Give me the name of one single person who told you about it? – I could mention Daniel McGowan.
What did he say? – He said he thought he was going to be summoned along with the McKirgan’s for poaching in the Bann.
Did he say who had told him? – No, he did not.
You say you stopped with McKirgan until about eight o’clock? – Yes.
What were you doing up to that time? – We were preparing for the fishing the next day, and I went home to bait my line.
You say you came back about eleven o’clock? – Yes; I found that my bait had run short, and I came down to McKirgan’s for some.
Could you not have obtained some from McKirgan the next morning, when you were going out with him?
Mr O’Neill – Mr McDermott evidently does not know much about fishing, or he would not talk like that. (Laughter)
Mr McDermott – Did McKirgan get you the bait? – He did.
And did you go out the following morning? – No; the next day was coarse, and we did not get out.
Mr McDermott – I see. (Laughter)
James Hempill, examined by Mr O’Neill stated that Samuel Hempill was his son, and resided at Burnside. He knew the defendant Andrew McKirgan, who lived convenient. On Good Friday night Andrew was in witnesses house, and stayed till half past nine o’clock or thereabouts. They were engaged with one of the boats during the time.
By Mr McDermott – He knew the place where it was alleged the defendants were found fishing. Witnesses' house was about a mile and a half from there. He lived in the townland of East Tullaghmurray.
McGowan, re-called by Mr O’Neill, stated that when he left McKirgan’s house on Good Friday night Robert had taken off his boots, and he could not possibly have been at the River Bann that night.
Mr O’Neill was proceeding to call further evidence when the Chairman said that the majority of the Bench were in favour of dismissing the summons.
Mr O’Neill – Thank you your Worships. I will now ask you to allow 20s costs, as the defendants have been put to considerable trouble and expense being brought here.
This request was refused, and the Chairman intimated that the decision to dismiss the summons was unanimous.
1911 Census of Ireland
Sophia is next seen in the 1911 Census of Ireland residing on the Coleraine Road. Portstewart. A couple of workmen are present in her home on census day and thus recorded.
Sophia McKirgan death 1917.
Sophia passes on the Eighth of February 1917 in Portstewart. She is noted as a fisherman’s widow. Cause of death simply ‘senile decay’. Her son Andrew, residing in Tullaghmurry was present at death.
Sophia’s age, like Roberts is under question? She was noted as of ‘Full Age’ (over 21) on her marriage certificate in 1856 -
1901 Census – 65 – Circa 1836
1911 Census – 74 – Circa 1837
Death Certificate – 93 – Circa 1824.
As you can clearly see it was a tough life for the McKirgan family but I am sure they had many a good time and a laugh as well as the falling out, that wouldn't be newspaper news would it ;) I have no doubt I will add bits and poeces of information to this story as time goes by. I hope you enjoyed reading about Robert and his family.