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16 October 2014
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Bellaghy - Historical Interest

Bellaghy Village was one of the first planned towns in Ireland, built on land owned by a London company.

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What's in a name?

The name Bellaghy (Baelleaghe) means "mouth of the marsh" or "wet place"

View across the Marshland towards Church Island (Inis Taoide)
View across the Marshland towards Church Island (Inis Taoide)

Bellaghy has been inhabited for at least 9000 years:

Like many localities around Ireland, Bellaghy's history stretches much further back than written record. Church Island in Lough Beg reveals some hint of the Vikings and the Early Christian period around beginnings of Irish History. Early man fed well on salmon, eels and even wild boar. Woodland provided birch, pine and hazel for tools and shelter. Sandy soils were easy to cultivate. The very early settlers brought flint from the coast 9000 years ago, stone for axes were brought from Tievebulliagh (North Antrim) 5000 years ago, gold from the Sperrins 3000 years ago and iron from Bannion around 2000 years ago.

The quantity and quality of archaeological finds from this area is astonishing. Hundreds of thousands of fine Mesolithic flints, dozens of Neolithic flints and axes, many fine Late Bronze Age and Iron Age weapons, such as swords and shields, tools, cauldrons and horse bits showing superb, sophisticated ornament, have been found in and around the Lough Neagh, Newferry and Lower Bann area.

Map of Bellaghy of the early 1600s
Map of Bellaghy of the early 1600s

Firmer and more documented connections relate to the Plantation era (17th C) when it was settled by the British. Bellaghy was one of the first planned towns in Ireland. The village itself dates back to the 17th C. It was one of many towns setlled and built under the authority of an English company as part of the Plantation of Londonderry, in this case the Vintners Company of London. The company hoped to rename the town from Bellaghy "Vintnerstown" but the name didn't catch on and its original name endured. Other towns were succesfully renamed by colonising owners such as Salterstown and Draperstown. The work on making a new town here was started by John Rowley around 1614 but he died soon after in 1617. The Vintners company then took the opportunity to relocate Baptist Jones to complete the project. Jones had been working on the production of Salterstown and was apparently noted by the company for his lack of productivity there. More details in History of the Bawn.

The natural qualities of the area, its timber and its waterways with fish, especially salmon attracted the Plantation settlers and also a series of wealthy landlords in the 18th Century. Fishing and the eel catch remain a resource both for sport and for export today. Many people would argue that "Planters" is a misnomer because of the huge timber clearances they made, thus depriving the country of so much woodland - a state of affairs from which the province has never recovered, still having only a fifth of its land area covered in forest.

Bellaghy Model
This model of
Bellaghy village in the 17thC.
can be seen in the
Bawn exhibition.

12 Houses

From an account of Bellaghy in the year 1622, taken from a manuscript of a Captain Thomas Ash, it seems that Bellaghy consisted of a church, a castle, a Corn Mill and 12 houses. This can be confirmed by a village map drawn at that time. The houses were timber built with roofs tiled with wooden shingles and strongly resembled those still to be seen today around Stratford upon Avon. It is widely reported that the houses were actually pre-fabricated in England and then shipped over. It is hard to see why this might be in view of the fact that the surrounding area was at that time very richly wooded with oak. However these houses were "nailed" into the ground with wooden pegs rather like tents and had no foundation. (A "pegged down" house of this period still stands today in Castlerock on the north coast). The present day exhibition in the Bawn features a superb model of the how the village would have looked in 1622 and shows the relationship of the Bawn to the village street.
Town Stocks

Idle or drunk?

There was a set of stocks in the centre of the town standing beside the market cross. Rumour has it that they were put to use most often as a punishment for drunkenness. It is known that Baptist Jones, the local landlord, also used stocks in Salterstown nearby to punish idleness. A newly built replica of the stocks now sits in the grounds of Bellaghy Bawn.

Incidentally, the market cross was used in towns thoughout Northern Ireland to signify that a bonafide licence existed to have a market there. The license fee of course went to the landowners. In the case of Bellaghy the recipient was the Vinters Company of London.

First known names:

The first certain known names of the area are those of Saints. St. Taoide was the patron of Church Island. St. Lurach at Maghera and St. Colman at Ardboe.

Other earliest names appear to be mostly of clergymen. Clergy names of the 14th and 15th century are known to be: MacCawell, O'Neill, O'Hagan, O'Doyle, O'Henry, O'Hegarty, O'Corr, O'Dugan, O'Gormley, McBeagh, O'Mulligan, MacDonnell. Most of these names are still to be found in the area today.

Family names from early times include Scullion, O'Heaney, Carberry, Mulholland.

The present day population of about 1000 has a mainly rural identity. There are no main industries in the immediate village area and therefore apart from farmers or shopworkers most people travel to their places of employment. The central location of the village means that most areas of N. Ireland can be reached within an hour.

Do you know a story or facts about Bellaghy that you would like to add to this site?

Your Responses

Edel - Mar '07
Well ive lived in bellaghy for about 14 years now and i love it itrs a lovely place to come and visit the people arer pleasant and very understaning there is the bellaghy bawm u camn cmome and visit it because its wunderfull and very interesting!!!

Donna Henderson - Feb '07
I am trying to contact Sr Susan Marie O'Connor with regard to her grandmother Susan Fullerton, as I believe they are the same branch of Fullertons as ourselves, would it be possible to obtain an email address for her. Many thanks

"Re: The name Bellaghy (Baelleaghe) means "mouth of the marsh" or "wet place"...... (see top of page)
According to A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names by Patrick McKay (1999) the name Bellaghy comes from the Ir. Baile Eachaidh Eochaidh's townland!!"

See the other sections in this article:

Overview | History | the Bawn | Plantation | Vintners Co. | Local Interest | Curios | Seamus Heaney


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