From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
TAMLAGHTARD, or MAGILLIGAN, a parish, in the barony of KENAUGHT, county of LONDONDERRY, and province of ULSTER, 4 ½ miles (N. E.) from Newtown-Limavady; containing 3607 inhabitants. The former of these names, which signifies "the cemetery on the height," is derived from the situation of the ancient burial-ground, which is still used for that purpose; and the latter from a family of that name who were proprietors of a native freehold in it, until it was forfeited to the Crown after the war of 1641.
In the year 584, St. Columbkill founded a monastery here, which afterwards acquired great wealth and celebrity, and became so preeminent among the other monastic foundations of this saint, that it obtained the title of the "Throne or shrine of St. Columba;" kings, princes, prelates, and other men of eminence, repaired thither to close their days in its recesses, and the remains of many others were brought hither for interment: the most remarkable of the latter were those of St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, which were raised by Colman, one of his successors, and buried here in a tomb of hewn stone that still exists near the eastern window of the old parish church; near which is also a fine well, called Tubber-aspug-Aidan, "the Well of Bishop Aidan."
The monastery was plundered, in 1203, by Diarmit Hua Lochluin, at the head of a party of foreigners, who were afterwards met by the chiefs of the country, and routed in a battle in which their leader was slain. On the dissolution of monasteries, the buildings and lands of this were granted to the see of Derry.
The parish, which contains, according to the Ordnance survey, 13,137 statute acres, of which 28 are under water, is situated at the northern extremity of the county, having Lough Foyle on the west and the Northern ocean on the north; the river Roe forms part of its southern boundary. The soil of the upland portion consists of clay and bog, and in the lowlands a mixture of sand and bog: three-fourths of the surface consist of mountain and barren land. Its border to the sea is a fine strand, extending in its entire length from west to east upwards of 10 miles in an unbroken line, and backed in many parts by a range of basaltic cliffs, or by the sandy tract forming the great rabbit-warren of Magilligan.
In the south the land rises into the lofty mountain of Benyevenagh, whose summit, 1260 feet above the level of the sea, and on the southern boundary of the parish, commands a most extended range of prospect, embracing the celebrated island of Iona and others of the western isles of Scotland: on the side towards Lough Foyle it rises with a bold and almost precipitous elevation. The vicinity of the ocean gives the air a mild and genial temperature, which is increased by the shelter afforded by this mountain against the eastern blasts.
The vegetable productions of the parish are of great variety. Innes, in his natural history of it, published by the Royal Society of London in 1725, states that "the herb-doctors, who then were in high repute in Ireland, esteemed the breast of Benyevenagh mountain a kind of physic garden, which supplied them with medicines to be found in no other place; adding that "the abundance and great variety of flowers rendered Magilligan honey so delicious, that the produce of the townland of Tircreevan commanded a higher price than any other brought to the Dublin market."
There are few trees except in the demesnes, where they are protected from cattle; although the side of the mountain of Benyevenagh affords excellent sites for their cultivation, which have been taken advantage of only in one tract that is finely planted. Alders and osiers succeed well in the low lands, and the growth of trees in general, when properly protected and attended to, is very rapid.
The insect tribe is very prolific and often extremely troublesome: the grub worm abounds in boggy lands to the great injury of the corn crops; early sowing is the only protection against the ravages of this insect. Fleas often multiply in a wonderful manner on the low lands; no house in which sand is admitted can be kept free from them. Earwigs, which are great enemies to the few stocks of bees now reared here, are very numerous and troublesome in summer: the minnow-worm, used for bait in flounder-fishing, is to be had in abundance on the strand.
The fishes most frequently taken are flounders and cockles in the shallows and sands; farther out, herrings and oysters; and in the deep sea, cod, haddock, and turbot. Salmon are sometimes taken off the north shore and in the river Roe, where also trout and mullet are caught: eels are scarce. Some eagles breed in the heights of Benyevenagh; kites and hawks abound there. The barnacle frequents the lough strand in countless numbers, forming an article of considerable profit to the residents in the neighbourhood, who send them in quantities to Londonderry and the inland towns. The widgeon, heron, curlew, and seagull also frequent these shores; pigeons are so abundant as to cause much annoyance to the farmers.
This parish is remarkable for one of the largest rabbit-warrens, and, until lately, the most profitable in Ireland. In 1786, it was worth £1500 per annum: the number of skins then sold there annually amounted to three or four thousand dozen; they were purchased by the hatters. The price has now fallen from 15s. to 3s. per dozen; the discovery of cheaper materials for the manufacture has occasioned this depression, and a diminution in quantity has also been caused partly by the havoc committed on the rabbits by rats of the Norway breed, which have increased here to a most pernicious degree, not only as regards the warren, but in the corn fields and about the haggards, and partly by the increased culture of rye on the sandy lands, which by the judicious exertions of the proprietor, Conolly Gage, Esq., are gradually being converted from their previously unproductive state into arable land. The process adopted to produce this beneficial effect is by covering the surface with soil, mud, and shells brought up in boats from the banks of Lough Foyle, near the mouth of the Roe.
About 50 years since, foxes were so abundant that the parish vestry gave a reward of 2s. for every skin brought in; they are now extirpated. The last wolf known to exist in Ulster was started about 90 years since upon Benyevenagh, and hunted into the woods near Dungiven, where it was killed.
The population is chiefly engaged in agricultural pursuits; most of the low lands produce abundant crops of wheat, oats, flax, and potatoes: the first-named of these, introduced by Mr. Gage in 1830, now forms part of the rotation of most of the more wealthy farmers; but the old and less profitable systems of agriculture are still adhered to by many with much pertinacity: the burning of soil in the lowlands has been in some parts carried to such excess as to threaten the total extinction of the productive qualities of the soil: the quantities of white limestone raised in the mountain districts have tended much to aid the exertions of the landholders in the improvement of their farms.
The high lands also afford excellent pasturage for sheep and young cattle, and many tracts heretofore unproductive have been brought into a state of profitable cultivation. In the year 1831, no less than 1131 persons were engaged here in trades, manufactures, and handicraft arts, with whom agriculture was only an occasional occupation. Little flax has been at any time raised, the soil not being well adapted to it, and still less latterly, in consequence of the low prices of yarn: wool is manufactured into a substantial and well-looking cloth worn by the farmers.
A kind of matting is manufactured from the bent grass, or basque, planted on the sandy tracts to prevent the drifting of the sands: a ready sale is found for it in the inland parts of the country. The trade of the parish is mostly confined to the disposal of this article and to the sale of wild fowl, rabbits, poultry, and eggs in Londonderry.
The principal seats are Belarena, the residence of Conolly Gage, Esq., whose highly embellished demesne, on the banks of the Roe and the side of Benyevenagh, contributes much to the beauty of the scenery of this secluded district; Castlelecky, the romantic seat of the late Averell Lecky, Esq., and still occupied by some of his family; Ballycarton, of B. Lane, Esq.; Ballymaclary, of T. Church, Esq.; Doaghs, of Mr. James Reynolds; and Magilligan Glebe, of the Rev. John Graham, rector of the parish.
The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £425: the glebe-house stands on a glebe of 23 acres, valued together at £36. 15. 4. per annum: the gross value of the benefice, tithe and glebe included, is £450 per annum. The church, situated near the ancient monastery of Duncrun, is a large and handsome edifice, in the early English style of architecture, built in 1778; it has a steeple, which has been lately furnished with a bell: the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £229 towards its repair.
The old church, being in a decayed state and in an inconvenient situation, was relinquished as a Protestant place of worship, and was given to the R. C. congregation, with the consent of the late Earl of Bristol, then Bishop of Derry; but being after some time found unsuited to its purpose, a large and commodious chapel was built in the neighbourhood, towards the erection of which Dr. Knox, the late Bishop of Derry, and other Protestant gentlemen, contributed. The churchyard, being the burial-place of most of the old families of every religious persuasion, has been enclosed with a wall and iron-gate by parish assessment.
In the R. C. divisions the parish is the head of a union or district, comprising also parts of those of Dunboe and Aghanloo. There is at Margymonaghan a meeting-house for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the third class. There are four schools in the parish; three are in connection with the Kildare-place Society, and one under the Board of National Education: the rector pays the teacher's salary in one of these, and Sir Hervey Bruce, Bart., and Conolly Gage, Esq., patronise two of the others. In these schools are about 200 boys and 90 girls: there are also a private school of 13 girls and a Sunday school.
Hodgson Gage, Esq., bequeathed £200 and the Rev. John Leathes, rector of the parish, in 1703, £100 to the poor; the interest is paid annually through the Rev. Mr. Graham by Sir Hervey Bruce and Conolly Gage, Esq., two of the seven proprietors of the soil. The remains of an ancient encampment and the foundations of a castle were lately discovered in a strong position about half-way up the mountain; it is supposed to have been one of the fastnesses in which the Irish secured themselves and their property during the wars of Elizabeth and Charles I. and II.
The foundations of the ancient abbey of Duncrun, and near them those of the old church, are the only traces of their former existence: the surrounding scenery is peculiarly grand and romantic. The ruins of Screen abbey, noticed by Colgan in his Trias Thaumaturga, may still be traced on the townland of Craig. The Rev. John Graham is author of the Siege of Derry, Derriana, Annals of Ireland, and various historical, statistical, and poetical publications. Dennis Hampson, the celebrated Irish harper, resided in this parish.