BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

16 October 2014
your place and mine
Your Place & Mine Radio Ulster Website

BBC Homepage
BBC Northern Ireland
greater Belfast
contact ypam
about ypam

print versionprint version

Contact Us

Bellaghy - Bawn

The Bawn as constructed by the English in Ulster was a defended courtyard with walls usually built of stone, but sometimes of brick, clay, timber and sod.

ML 1030

writeAdd a new article
contribute your article to the site



What is a Bawn?

Bellaghy Bawn
The word "Bawn" is derived from two Gaelic words; "Ba", Irish for cow (or cattle) and "Dhun", meaning "fort", translating roughly into "cow-fort" or "cattle-fort"

So the anglicized form of "badhun", was "Bawn".' The Bawn as constructed by the English in Ulster was a defended courtyard with walls usually built of stone, but sometimes of brick, clay, timber and sod. They protected the house, the family, and property of the plantation's principal landlord. The house could be free-standing in the center of the bawn or, as was the case at residences built by the Vintners' Company at Bellaghy and by the Salters' Company in Magherafelt and Salterstown, positioned up against one of the peripheral walls.

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

The Bawn

These walls usually met at small corner flankers, from which the entries to the complex could be adequately monitored and if necessary defended from the 'wild Irish,' who ... preferred to 'live like beastes, voide of lawe and all good order,' being 'more uncivill, more uncleanly, more barbarious and more bruttish in their customs and demeanures, then in any other part of the world that is known.'"

The Bawn

Building the Bawn

The Bawn at Bellaghy was started circa 1614 by John Rowley on part of the lands granted to the Vintners Company of London as part of the 'Plantation of Londonderry'.

Rowley died quite soon after beginning the project in 1617. In order to keep things moving, the Vintners Company relocated another agent, Baptist Jones, from his previous duty of building Salterstown.

Some accounts have it that he was about to be dismissed from that project anyway for being far too slow. Baptist Jones died six years later in 1623 in debt to the Vintners Company. This time the company appointed a new agent called Henry Conway to take over Jones' affairs. He certainly did that, including marrying Jones' widow and taking over his debts to the company! Conway obtained a new lease for Bellaghy in 1625.

Bellaghy Bawn

The Original Bawn

Square in plan, its south-eastern corner is fortified by a stout, rounded flanker tower showing an early use of local red-brick, placed above a stone footing.

Excavation has recovered traces of a similar tower at the diagonally opposite corner, and the south end of the west wall was protected by a square tower (picture below). There was a raised platform along the southern part of the west wall, and excavation has uncovered traces of an original house against the west wall north of this platform.

In 1622, Sir Thomas Phillips and Richard Hadsor carried out a survey of the Londonderry settlements. Read an extract of their survey here...

The Brick Tower

Burnt to the ground

The Original Bawn was virtually destroyed in the 1641 rebellion when the greater part of Bellaghy was burnt to the ground. During the seige Henry Conway brought all his local paying settlers/residents of the Bellaghy village inside the Bawn walls to protect them from the Irish who were rampaging. A local division of Irish troops led by Peter O'Hagan arrived at the gates to take the Bawn by force. Conway went outside to negotiate with the troops and instead made a personal deal with O'Hagan, ensuring a safe escape for himself and his family. Conway was never seen again. He left the local residents to their own devices against the Irish onslaught.

The Bawn was subsequently rebuilt in 1643. A completely new house was built in its place around 1791. One of the original flanker towers still remains today.

The Bawn and surrounding buildings are whitewashed today and only a little of the original red-brick construction remains visible as can be seen here on a small defence tower.

Seamus Heaney's Schoolbag
Seamus Heaney's Schoolbag

The Bawn today

A recent reconstruction of the Bawn under the guidance of Bellaghy Development Association and the Department of the Environment of Northern Ireland is hoping to generate some tourist revenue to the village as well as serve as a focal point for cultural/education activities. Guided tours include a special film by Seamus Heaney while the history and environment of the area are uniquely interpreted through associations with Heaney's poetry.

There is a library in the Bawn which is devoted to Seamus Heaney and his work. It contains unique material from the poet together with many of his manuscripts, books and all his broadcasts and television work. Even his old schoolbag is there from his days at Anahorish Primary School.

The Bawn Carpet
The Bawn Carpet
There are plans to develop the old National School into a site for the local library as well as providing several units for small businesses. This is being funded through the International Fund for Ireland as well as EEC grants. The modern day Bawn features a beautiful circular carpet in the upper floor of the flanker tower. The carpet has been specially created with the points of the compass and is correctly aligned to the north, south, east and west. Some residents of Bellaghy will tell you that it is at the very centre of Northern Ireland and thus the carpet points outwards to the four corners of Ulster. The truth of this notion is rather debatable and results of course vary by many miles depending on the method of measurement used. How would you measure it?

Your Responses

Leeanee - May '08
Hi !
I'm doin a project on Bellaghy Bawn atm.
This Page is brillant!
Ive got alot of info..
Cheers =)

Sue - February '08
Please can someone supply details of the Hill family living at Bellaghy Castle and how they managed to get there. Did Sir John Hill own the Castle?

Corra McIntosh - Jan '07
Hi, I am learning about bawns in History. We were given the link to this site and I think it has helped me loads! Thanks!

Bawn Ellison - June '06
I've never been able to find such a detailed explanantion of the meaning of Bawn. Now I can tell others the 'facts' during introductions as they always ask.

Teresa - March '06
hello dis is teresa! leathal site! XxXxXx

Vi Young (nee Downing) - March '06
My cousins are the Scullions. Their grandmother was Ann Downing.

My father, James, came to Australia about 1930 and did not maintain significant contact. This apparently is quite common for people from Europe and the UK. This has caused much heartache by family members remaining.

Has the Bawn done any research into the Downing Family? Any information would be appreciated as I have found mainly "deadends".

We have visited the Bawn about four months after it opened and it really is a remarkable building.

Regards, Vi.

JK - Dec '05
The bawn must be the best place about bellaghy !!

Francis Kerr, Australia - July '05
Like one of your previous correspondents my Great grandparents, John Kerr and Eliza McGarven were born in Bellaghy and married there in 1836 before moving to Scotland as (I believe) a result of the Famine. It is great to be able to see sites such as this, it helps to understand my ancestors.

Jo and Mark Whittington - November '04
Bellaghy was the hometown of my great-great grandfather, Joseph Henry Mulholland. My husband, son, daughter-in-law, and I were so fortunate to visit Bellaghy last New Year's Day. We visited in McKenna's Bar and had quite a lively conversation with Bernard McKenna, his family, and the "lads" who dropped by. They directed us to a Mulholland family there who graciously invited us into their home, where we talked with the patriarch of their family. We hope to claim kinship. Our most ardent wish is to visit Bellaghy again....maybe even live there for a while. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. This was a life-changing experience for my whole family.


See the other sections in this article:

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


Your responses:

Leona higgins - April 05
I am doing a project on seamus heaney and i have visited the bellaghy bawn this website and my visit really helped me thank you all.


Use the form below to post comments on this article
Your Comments
Your Name (required)
Your Email (optional)

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy