BALLYMENA, or BALLYMANIA, a market and post-town

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

BALLYMENA, or BALLYMANIA, a market and post-town, in the parish of KIRKINRIOLA, barony of LOWER TOOME, county of ANTRIM, and province of ULSTER, 24 ¾ miles (N. W.) from Belfast, and 105 miles (N.) from Dublin; containing 4067 inhabitants. In the disturbances of 1798 this place was the scene of an obstinate battle between the yeomanry and the United Irishmen of the surrounding district, who, on the 7th of June, entered the town and proceeded to attack the market-house, which was defended by a party of the yeomanry aided by a few of the military and some of the loyal inhabitants; the insurgents having gained possession of the lower part of the market-house, the yeomanry surrendered themselves prisoners of war; but while a party of them was marching out of the market-house, those who were within being instigated by a person named Davis to give the United Irishmen another volley, the fire was returned from the street, and several of the loyalists were killed while descending the steps. Some straggling parties of the enemy brought into the town Captain Ellis, of Innisrush, and Thomas Jones, Esq., of Moneyglass, with a number of the yeomanry, whom they took prisoners at Straid, in this parish, and lodged them in the market-house; and on the day following, several of the yeomanry were marched into the town as prisoners. Great divisions took place in the committee of the United Irishmen, on the propriety of marching direct to Antrim, which they had been informed was in the possession of the king's troops; but on hearing of the royal proclamation, offering a free pardon to all, with the exception of officers, who should lay down their arms and disperse, almost all the men from Route were disposed to accept the terms; some, who were determined on making a stand, joined the united camp at Donegore, while others departed homewards, leaving the town to be taken possession of by Colonel Clavering and the military, who, after the recapture of Antrim, had encamped at Shanescastle, in the neighbourhood.

The town is pleasantly situated on the river Braid, over which is a large bridge of stone: it owes its rapid rise and present importance to the linen manufacture, which was introduced into the neighbourhood by the Adairs and Dickeys about the year 1732, since which time it has greatly increased in extent, wealth, and importance. It comprises more than 700 houses, in general large and well-built, among which are a few of very ancient character, with gabled fronts. The linen trade is carried on extensively in the neighbourhood, and within a circuit of 5 miles round the town are 14 bleach-greens, at each of which, on an average, about 15,000 pieces are annually bleached, exclusively of considerable quantities of brown and black goods, which are also finished here, and for the manufacture of which there are several large establishments.

Several linen merchants unconnected with the bleaching department reside in the town. There is a mill for spinning linen yarn by machinery; and an extensive ale brewery, originally established in 1729, continued in operation for more than a century, and was afterwards purchased by Clotworthy Walkinshaw, Esq., who, in 1831, converted it into a distillery, in which great quantities of barley, grown in the neighbourhood, are annually consumed. Branches of the Provincial Bank of Ireland and of the Belfast and Northern Banking Companies have been established here. The market is on Saturday for the sale of linens, of which 4000 pieces are on an average sold every market-day; there are two weekly markets for grain, pork, and other provisions, of which great quantities are bought and sent to Belfast either for home consumption or for exportation; great numbers of horses, cattle, and pigs are also sold on the market-days. Fairs for every description of live stock are annually held on July 26th and Oct. 21st; but the sales on the market days preceding and following these dates are frequently greater than at the fairs. The market-house is a commodious edifice in the centre of the town, with a steeple 60 feet high. Here is a chief constabulary police station. Courts leet and baron are annually held for the manor; a court under the seneschal is held every month for the recovery of debts; and petty sessions are held every alternate Tuesday. The quarter sessions for the county are held in January and June, alternately with Ballymoney. There is a secure and well-built bridewell, containing seven cells.

The parish church, a large plain structure with an embattled tower crowned with pinnacles, is situated in the town; and there are also a R. C. chapel, built in 1820; two places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, one for Seceders, and one for Wesleyan Methodists. The diocesan school, originally established at Carrickfergus in the reign of Elizabeth, was removed to this place in 1829, when an acre of land was given by William Adair, Esq., on which the building was erected, at an expense of £900: the master, who is appointed by the Lord-Primate and the Bishop of Connor alternately, derives his stipend from the beneficed clergy of the dioceses of Armagh and Connor, and is allowed to receive private boarders. A free school was founded here in 1813, by John Guy or Guay, who bequeathed £24 per annum to the master, and £50 towards the erection of a school-house, which, with a house for the master, was built in 1818: there are 200 children in the school, who are gratuitously taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and supplied with books and stationery. In connection with this establishment a female school is now being built, for the instruction of the girls in needlework. A parochial school was established in 1832, in which 170 children are instructed and occasionally clothed by subscription. The Parade school, to which is attached an adult school, was rebuilt in 1833, and is in connection with the London Hibernian Society. The only remains of antiquity are some terraces and foundations of walls of a castle built in the reign of James I.—See KIRKINRIOLA.

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