Ballywillan was once a place of some importance.
The name means “The Town of the Mill”.
The area of salt flats that lay between here and
known as Magheramena, meaning the Plain of the Monks.
Yes, there was an Abbey here too... Later this name
was changed to Magherabuoy, meaning “The Yellow
Plain” so called because of the large amounts
of Rape that was grown here in the fields.
William Roulston explains that
it was a tough life here in those days and many people
died in the prime
of their lives. For example many women died in childbirth.
He says that looking around the graveyard it is
possible to see evidence of some very sad stories
of hardship and sorrow. Some graves reveal that numerous
children had died within days or weeks of each other,
suggesting disease. Others can be seen where a mother
and father had clearly outlived all of their children. “For
those who would have farmed the land for their income,
life could be very tough indeed” he says.
Hugh McGrattan is a resident of Portrush as well
as being a historian. He is particularly fascinated
by this graveyard and tells us of some of his favourite
3 poignant headstones to 3 lifeboat men who
lost their lives on the 1st Nov 1889 in the
infamous Portrush Lifeboat tragedy” when the "Robert
and Agnes Blair" capsized just off Portballintrae.
He tells us… William McNeill, William
McAllister, both local men, and Galbraith
Hamilton-Grills, an Englishman, all
died in this accident.
Back in those days,
Lifeboats were powered by 12 oarsmen and by
sail if the wind was right. The ironic thing
about this incident was that the vessel they
went to rescue managed to avoid being dashed
on the rocks of the Giant’s Causeway
and actually made it safely to the port of
on the other hand was unable to make a return
to Portrush because of the winds from the
North West. Its crew tried to get it onto the
at Blackrock Bay but in their attempts it
overturned twice, flinging some of them out
into the sea.
The three men mentioned above were all lost
as a result.
There are also several lonely war graves with
simple inscriptions such as “To a Sailor
of World War II” or “To a Sailor
of the Great War”. Nobody knows who they
were but they are buried here.
Headstone on William
Hugh takes us
next to two graves, side by side, of local historians.
They are William Adams and Canon
Ford. Both of these men did much to reveal the history
and increase the knowledge of this area. William
Adams published a book in 1906 called “Dalriada”,
now a much sought after volume which has just been
republished. Canon Ford wrote a book called “Sketches
of olden days in Northern Ireland” in 1924
William Roulston mentions one particular grave with
sea connections to Captain William Clarke who for
a period of about 40 years commanding vessels around
the British Islands and distinguished by many acts
of heroism and humanity particularly the rescue of
64 persons from the wreck of the steamer “American” on
the 24th January 1865. William points out that in
the above inscription “British Islands” refers
in fact to The West Indies.
There are numerous graves here where members of
wealthy, important or influential families are buried.
It was quite common in early days for such wealthy
people to be buried in their finery. Outside the
graveyard you will find a watch-house. The purpose
of this was so that families could sit and watch
over their graves in case they were robbed.
Hugh reminds us that whilst there was a vigil kept
to prevent the graves of the rich being invaded,
at the other end of the spectrum there were the poor
peasants such as the fishermen. When they were being
prepared for burial, the families kept watch over
the little houses by the harbour to stop the rats
coming in and attacking the body.
Hugh says that one of his great delights on a spring
morning is to come and wander around this graveyard. “Here
is history” he says “here are so many
If you enjoyed this article you may like to read
some of the others in this series, exploring community
history through headstones... click
Jean Clayton - June '08
I wonder does anyone have any information on a large
house that used to be situated in Ballywillan around
the year 1912. I believe "The Shola" (which
is now a B & B) was the original Coach House to
this larger house. Thank you.
Peter H. Templeton - February '08
I have been tracing my Scots-Irish ancestry. My ancestor Adam Templeton emigrated
to New Hampshire, USA in 1735 from Ballywillan. I would very much like to discover
if there are any Templeton ancestors buried in the churchyard at Ballywillan,
or if anyone would have any knowledge of the Templeton family in the Ballywillan
area in the early 1700's? I believe Adam emigrated to America with his brother-in-law
Alexander Simpson. Any help in re-discovering my lineage through Ireland and
Scotland would greatly be appreciated. Sincerely, Peter Templeton
Hall Maxwell - Dec '07
I recently checked back to this website, and was delighted
to find a response from Robert William Maxwell. I
contacted him and he put me in touch with another
family member. Working together, we have been able
to dig out some more details of the family background.
Robert W. Maxwell's observations on my great-grandfather
were correct and mine were erroneous. From this contact
I have now seen photographs of my great-grandfather
and great-grandmother for the first time. I appreciate
the help that your website provided.
Ginger - May '07
Does anyone know anything about the Hasson
family? I am almost positive my family ancestors are
burried in this grave yard. My gg grandfather was
James Hasson. I am coming to Ireland May 17 to the
27, 2007 and would love some help finding family..
Robert William Maxwell - Feb '07
ref. Hall maxwells response, The Robert Maxwell referred
to was my grand-father,either Hall is mistaken or
he has information that is news to me. Robert was
born in 1863 and died in 1943.Inthe family,although
in formation can be sketchy,we were not aware that
he was married three times,nor think it possible.There
were 18 children,3 from the 2nd. marrige.His wife
Margaret(nee Thompson),it was her mother who was a
McKinley,died in 1908,and before they buried her at
Ballywillin,they exhumed the bodies of 2 of her children,who
had died in 1906,a boy named JohnAnd a girl named
Anne.They were re-buried in the same grave.If Hall
reads this he can view my family on Genes Re-united,or
contact me at my e-mail address ---firstname.lastname@example.org
An excellent web site,thank you.
Karene M Rush Foster - Sep'06
Is there a list of those buried at the grave yard.
My ancestors I am told were from Portrush?
Mary Ann Rankin - Sep '06
My husband and I travelled to Ballywillen in 1969.
Most of the pictures we took have seriously deteriorated.
My husband has ancesters buried in this cemetery.
I believe the headstone has the name Catherine Rankin
on it. Has anyone taken pictures and or transcribed
any of the stones. We would like to know. I am not
sure our health will allow us to return for another
Thank You, Mary Ann Rankin
Yvonne - Aug '06
I wish to enquire about me great , granpa and gran.
I am doing a family tree and i have traced the wedding
back to this church.
Could anyone check if the marrgage of John Thomson
and Jane Farren took place on the 12th Jan 1909. Thanks
and let me know how u get on.
Glenys Archibald - Aug '06
A lovely site. We are grateful to distant relatives
for photographs of the Archibald headstones
Great-grandfather George Archibald (1835-1888) son
of John Archibald and Sarah Wylie, came to Australia
John & Sarah's only (known) descendants with
the surname Archibald are now in Australia.
Mariee Hawkins, nee Dougherty -
I was glad to see the comments from Beth Mahan. I
was more interested in this site, as my Grandfather
Robert Dougherty was born in Ballywillen his father
was James Dougherty born around 1854. He married an
Elizabeth Thompson, I think in Dumbarton. My father,
William Carmichael Dougherty immigrated to New Zealand
around 1929. It would be nice to find out more information
about the family. I know that my father's uncle was
James Clark, and he was raised by my Greatmother Elizabeth
Dougherty in Dumbarton.
Yvonne - May '06
I wish to enquire about me great granpa and gran.
I am doing a family tree and I have traced the wedding
back to this church.
Could you check if the marrgage of John Thomson and
Jane Farren took place on the 12th Jan 1909.
Thanks and let me know how u get on.
Hall Maxwell - March '06
I remember being shown, when I was young, that my
Great-grandfather Robert Maxwell (1846?-1945?) was
buried in a grave marked Thompson that is beside Dorothea
Ross's grave. He married three times and had twenty-one
children. Three of them were adopted when he married
his second wife, Margaret Thompson (1850-1909), née
McKinley. She was from Runkerry and was descended
from the same family as U.S. President McKinley.
I now live in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, U.S.A. and
it is interesting that some of the movers and shakers
in this community were also McKinleys, descended from
the same family. We now have a McKinley Hospital and
a McKinley YMCA named after one of the more prominent
members of the family.
Lorna Finch - March '06
I am delighted to read about the interest in Old Ballywillan.
My grandfather, Thomas Hamill, is buried there, and
the rest of the family in "new" Ballywillan.
Also, on my maternal grandmother's side, Annie Hamill,
nee Adams, related to Willie Adams, daughter, and
reared on Princess Street, Portrush. What I know of
Willie Adams is that he was a pilot for ships coming
into Portrush and prior to that was on transatlantic
sailing ships. There are other family who may know
of the book-the children of my great aunt, Maria Adams,
nee Esdale. I know reside in St. Louis, Missouri and
my family name was Millar, my mother being Hamill
and daughter of Annie Adams and Thomas Hamil of Portrush.
I welcome any information on the above.
Enrique Fernandez - Oct 05
I search for the book: Dalriada or North Antrim by
[Can anyone help with this
request? - Ed.]
Robert James Lilley MBE - Oct '05
I found this an intriguing article, as I have been
caravanning in Portrush for the past thirty years.
When I travel to the Hilltop Caravan Park from Ballymena,
I mostly go past the old church and graveyard on my
way via Magerabuoy and Hilltop. It would be nice to
see some attempt to put a covering over the site to
prevent further deterioration by the elements.
Beth McMahon (nee Clarke) - Sep
Hello I would like to say how much I have enjoyed
reading and hearing your article on Old Ballywillan
Graveyard, I am researching my family history and
my grandmother Mary Elizabeth Clarke and great grandparents
William and Mary Jane Dougherty are buried in that
graveyard, I believe in an unmarked grave in the right
hand corner as you enter the main gate. My family
left Portrush for Australia in 1951. I am not sure
but think Hugh McGrattan may be related to Willie
Clarke my late father. I will look forward to reading
your other articles in the future.
Some relevant weblinks:
History from Headstones: http://www.historyfromheadstones.com/
Portrush Lifeboat disaster: http://www.portrushlifeboat.com/history.html