From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
DUNGANNON, a borough, market and post-town, in the parish of DRUMGLASS, barony of DUNGANNON, county of TYRONE, and province of ULSTER, 10 miles (N. by W.) from Armagh, and 76 (N. N.W.) from Dublin, on the road from Armagh to Coleraine; containing 3515 inhabitants. This place appears to have been the chief seat of the O'Nials from the earliest period of Irish history; but the first direct notice of it, under its present name, is in a spirited letter addressed in 1329 to Pope John, from Dungannon, by Donald O'Nial, in which he styles himself "King of Ulster and true heir of the whole dominion of Ireland." He declares that, previously to the coming of St. Patrick, 130 of his royal ancestors had been kings of Ireland; and that from that period till the landing of Henry II., in 1172, "sixty monarchs of the same princely family had swayed the Hibernian sceptre." In 1364, O'Nial, in his letters to Edward III., styles himself "Prince of the Irishry in Ulster," and dated from this place, whence, in 1394, he went to make his submission to Richard II. at Drogheda.
Henry O'Nial gave a splendid entertainment here to the Primate Bole, and assigned to the church of Armagh all his lands in Moydoyn; and in 1489 Con O'Nial founded a Franciscan monastery, which he amply endowed. This establishment continued to flourish till the Reformation, when it was granted by Queen Elizabeth to the Earl of Westmeath, and it was subsequently assigned to Sir Arthur Chichester in the reign of James I. In 1492, Con O'Nial, the founder, being murdered by his brother Henry, was buried in this monastery with great pomp; and Neal McArt O'Nial rising in arms to avenge his death, the Earl of Kildare marched into Ulster to oppose him, took the fortress of Dungannon by storm, and soon reduced O'Nial to obedience. In 1501, the Albanian Scots attacked the fortress on St. Patrick's day, but were driven back with great slaughter by O'Nial, who then held it for the English government. In 1517, O'Nial was found again in rebellion against the English, but the Earl of Kildare having reduced Dundrum and taken Maginnis prisoner, marched against Dungannon, stormed the fort and burnt the town, both of which were restored by O'Nial after his submission.
Con O'Nial, in 1538, took up arms against Henry VIII., in favour of the see of Rome, marched from this place with a powerful army into the English pale, and laid waste the country as far as Meath, where he was met by the Lord-Deputy Grey, who defeated him at Bellahoe, and compelled him again to retreat to his strong hold of Dungannon; he soon after submitted to the English authority, and in 1542 took the oaths of allegiance. After this battle Henry assumed the title of King, instead of Lord of Ireland; and O'Nial covenanted to renounce the name of O'Nial, to adopt the English habit and language, and to build houses and farm the lands after the English mode. For this submission he was created Earl of Tyrone, and his illegitimate son Matthew was made Baron of Dungannon, and received the estate of the O'Nials by patent.
In 1552, Shane O'Nial, son of the Earl of Tyrone, appeared in arms against his father, and destroyed the fortress of Dungannon, and committed other depredations; but in 1556, Fitzwalter, then lord-deputy, marched against him, expelled him from the territory, and replaced the Earl in his possessions. Shane again revolted in 1559, and in the following year burst into the English pale, but was reduced to submission by the Lord-Deputy Sussex. From Dungannon he proceeded to England, accompanied by his body-guard, consisting of 600 soldiers, who marched through the streets of London, armed with their battle-axes, and dressed in the costume of their country. He was graciously received by Elizabeth, pardoned, and loaded with favours; but shortly after his return to Dungannon, he again appeared in arms, destroyed the city of Armagh with its venerable cathedral and monasteries, and left only a few mud cabins remaining: he also destroyed the city of Derry and laid waste the whole county; but in 1567 he was treacherously murdered in the Scottish camp.
Hugh O'Nial, who by the favour of Elizabeth had been raised to the earldom of Tyrone, commenced building a magnificent castle at Dungannon, and imported large quantities of lead for its roof; in 1587 he obtained from Elizabeth the grant of a weekly market and fairs, and in 1591 the lordship of Tyrone was formed into a county, subdivided into eight baronies, and this place made the county town and a gaol built in it accordingly. In 1595, the Earl of Tyrone rebelled against the English government, and, placing himself at the head of 14,000 men, took and destroyed several forts, burnt Portmore bridge, laid siege to Monaghan, and having melted into bullets the lead which he had imported under pretence of roofing his castle, ultimately made himself master of the whole of that county. Having defeated the English in many engagements, particularly at Benburb, he was universally hailed as the champion of Ireland, and received in his fortress here the envoy of the Pope, who brought him valuable presents.
The Lord-Deputy Mountjoy marched against this powerful chieftain and defeated him in several battles; and in June 1602, having secured Armagh and Charlemont, advanced towards Dungannon. Tyrone, aware of his approach, set fire to the place and retreated northward; but being thus driven from the venerable seat of his ancestors, he never regained his lost power. In the following year he made his submission at Mellifont and was pardoned; he was restored to his earldom, and obtained a grant of his lands by letters patent; but meditating new designs against the state, he was discovered, and dreading the power of James I., fled to the Continent in 1607, leaving the whole of his extensive possessions to the king, who, in 1610, granted the castle and manor of Dungannon, with all their dependencies, to Sir Arthur Chichester.
In 1612, Sir Arthur obtained from the king a charter of incorporation for the town which he was about to build, a grant of 1140 acres of land, and of 500 acres more for the site of the intended town; upon the former he built a bawn of limestone, 120 feet square, with bulwarks and a deep fosse; and upon the latter, previously to 1619, six large stone houses, six strong houses of frame-work timber, and a spacious church, which, with the exception of the roof, was completed at that time, whence may be dated the origin of the present town. On the breaking out of the war in 1641, Sir Phelim O'Nial, having taken the fort of Charlemont by stratagem, and made the governor prisoner, seized the castle, town, and fort of Dungannon on the same night; and having put many of the inhabitants to death, kept possession of it till after the battle of Benburb, in 1646, after which the town and church were burnt, and soon after the castle was dismantled by order of the parliament.
The castle was rebuilt soon after the Restoration, and in 1688 the Rev. George Walker, rector of Donaghmore, raised a regiment in his parish and marched with it to Dungannon, to secure that garrison for the Protestants; it was entrusted to the care of Colonel Lundy, who deserted his post on the 13th of March, and the inhabitants fled to Strabane. It was garrisoned in 1689 by the troops of James II., who, on the 13th of April, in that year, visited this town and inspected the garrison, whence he marched to Omagh and Strabane; but his forces occupied the town and neighbourhood during the whole of that important struggle. From this period the only event of historical importance connected with the place is the meeting of delegates from 269 corps of Ulster volunteers, who, in 1782, assembled at Dungannon, and passed 20 resolutions, declaratory of the independence of the parliament of Ireland.
The town, situated about three miles from the south shore of Lough Neagh, is spacious, handsome, and well built; and consists of a square, and four principal and several smaller streets. Improvements upon a very extensive scale have been recently made, and are still in progress; handsome houses have been built within and around the town, several lines of road have been constructed, and gas-works are now being erected for lighting it. The surrounding country is richly diversified, and the situation of the town on a lofty hill of limestone, commanding interesting and extensive prospects on every side, renders it both a healthy and a pleasant, place of residence. It is second only to Omagh in extent, and is rapidly increasing in opulence and importance. News-rooms are supported by subscription, and assemblies are held occasionally.
At a short distance to the east is Northland Lodge, the seat of the Earl of Ranfurley, and in the immediate neighbourhood are many gentlemen's seats, which are noticed in the account of the parish. The principal trade of the town and neighbourhood is the manufacture and bleaching of linen, for which it has long been celebrated; there are several bleach-greens on a large scale, all in full operation; the manufacture of earthenware and fire-bricks, for which there are large potteries within three miles of the town, is extensive: there is a large distillery, which annually consumes 29,000 barrels of grain, and not far from it are some extensive flour-mills.
A flourishing trade is also carried on in wheat, flax, oats, and barley. The Drumglass collieries, one mile distant, are the most extensive, in the North of Ireland; they were formerly worked without much success, but are now conducted by the Hibernian Mining Company and have been rendered productive of great benefit to the town and neighbourhood; the coal is of good quality and is procured in great abundance; the demand is ample, and the prices moderate from the competition of English and Scottish coal, which are brought hither by the Lagan and Newry navigations and by Lough Neagh. There are also ironworks, and some extensive lime-works near the town.
The markets, originally granted in 1587, by Queen Elizabeth, to Hugh O'Nial, Earl of Tyrone, and in 1612 by James I., to Sir Arthur Chichester, are held on Tuesday and Thursday; the former for grain, and the latter for brown linen, yarn, cattle, pigs, and provisions of all kinds, with all of which it is very extensively supplied. Fairs, granted in 1611 by James I. to Sir Arthur Chichester, and in 1705 to T. Knox, Esq., arc held on the first Thursday in every month. The market-house, shambles, grain stores, and provision sheds are commodious and well adapted to their use.
A chief constabulary police station has been established in the town, which is the head-quarters of the constabulary police force of Ulster, for whose accommodation a police barrack has been built.
The inhabitants under the title of the "Provost, Free Burgesses, and Commons of the borough of Dungannon," received a charter of incorporation from James I., in 1612, by which the site of the town, with three parcels of land called Crosse, Brough, and Ferneskeile, (with the exception of the castle, and a space of 500 feet around it, in every direction, from its walls), was created a free borough, and the corporation made to consist of a portreeve, twelve free burgesses, and commonalty. The portreeve is chosen annually, and has power to hold a court every Friday for the recovery of debts not exceeding five marks, but this court has not been established. The charter also conferred the right of returning two members to the Irish parliament, which was exercised till the Union, since which period it has returned one member to the Imperial parliament.
The right of election, formerly in the portreeve and burgesses, has, by the 2nd of William IV., cap. 88, been vested in the resident freemen and £10 householders. The liberties of the borough comprised the whole of the townlands of Drumcoo and Ranaghan, a considerable portion of the townland of Gortmenon, and three small pieces in three other townlands, comprising together about 836 statute acres; but not being connected with the elective franchise, a narrower boundary has been drawn round the town, containing 224 statute acres, of which the limits are minutely described in the Appendix.
In 1836 the number of registered voters was 197, consisting of 11 free burgesses and 186 £10 householders: the portreeve is the returning officer. A court for the manor of Dungannon, granted in 1621 by James I. to Arthur, Lord Chichester, and now the property of the Earl of Ranfurley, is held once in three weeks, and has jurisdiction to the amount of £20 extending over 40 townlands. General sessions of the peace for the division of Dungannon, which comprises the baronies of Dungannon and Clogher, are held here and at Clogher, alternately, twice in the year; and petty sessions are also held once a fortnight before the county magistrates.
The court-house is a spacious and handsome building, erected in 1830; under it is the bridewell, containing a day-room and four large cells for male prisoners, with a yard, day-room, and cells for female prisoners; the same accommodation for debtors, and apartments for the keeper.
The church of the parish of Drumglass having been destroyed in the wars during the reign of Elizabeth, a new church was erected by Sir Arthur Chichester in the town of Dungannon, in 1619. This building, which was nearly destroyed in the war of 1641, was restored in 1672, and was rebuilt in 1699, since which time it has been considerably enlarged, and is now a handsome edifice with a lofty octagonal spire. There is a R. C. chapel in the town, also places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster and the Seceding Synod, and for Wesleyan Methodists.
The free grammar school, or Royal College, was founded by letters patent of Charles I., in 1628, which gave in trust to the Primate of Armagh and his successors six town-lands in the parish of Clonoe, for the support of a school at Mountjoy, in that parish; but this place being only a garrison, the school was, after many years, removed to Dungannon, and the first account we find of it is in 1726, nearly a century after its foundation, when it was held in a lane near High-street, where it continued till 1786, when the present college was erected by order of Primate Robinson, who a few years before had erected the college of Armagh.
The building comprises a centre and two deeply receding wings, erected at an expense of £4626. 8. 2., of which £2000 was given from the Primate's private purse. It is situated on a gentle eminence on the east side of the town, on grounds comprising 9 acres purchased by Primate Robinson and given to the school. The establishment is conducted by a principal and three classical assistants, two English masters, and drawing, French, and music masters, and is adapted for 100 pupils; the masters take private boarders and day scholars; at present there are no scholars on the foundation. The lands with which it is endowed comprise 3900 acres, producing a rental of £1430, and are under the management of the Commissioners of Education, who, in their report for 1834, state that "considerable improvement has been effected in the condition of the tenantry and appearance of their farms;" and there is every prospect that the rental will be nearly doubled in a few years.
The principal, who is appointed by the Lord-Primate, has a salary of £500 per annum and £100 for assistants; £400 per ann. was appropriated, in 1834, to the founding of ten exhibitions in Trinity College, Dublin, 5 of £50 and 5 of £30 per annum, tenable for 5 years by boys from this school, under the appellation of King's scholars. A school for boys and girls has also been established here by the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity; it is situated near the courthouse, and is capacious and handsome. There are also two other schools, and an infants' school, supported by subscription. There is a dispensary; and a Mendicity Society is supported by subscription.
Of the castle and fortress of the Earl of Tyrone not a vestige is remaining; nor are there any traces of the castle and bawn erected by Sir Arthur Chichester. The monastery, founded by Con O'Nial, was situated near the site of the present distillery; some fragments were remaining a few years since, but every vestige has now disappeared. Dungannon gives the title of Viscount to the family of Trevor, of Brynkinalt, near Chirk, in the county of Denbigh.