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16 October 2014
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History from Headstones, Leckpatrick

As part of a series of special features, Paul Moore visits the graveyard at Leckpatrick near Strabane.

Leckpatrick Graveyard near Strabane, Co.Tyrone

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In his visit to the Leckpatrick Graveyard, Paul Moore spoke to William Roulston of the Ulster Historical Foundation, Hamilton Thompson, Joan Donnell & Johnny Dooher.

Leckpatrick graveyard is situated 1 mile from Artigarvan and 3 miles NE of Strabane.

This visit rather unusually begins not in the graveyard but in a house…. Although often pronounced “Hollyhill” its real name is Holyhill because there is a Holy hill in its grounds. Hamilton Thompson tells us that the first known person to have inhabited the house was Sir John Hamilton in 1600 and it’s believed that the house has been occupied ever since.

The Sinclairs lived here for 300 years and then the property changed hands to the Major General Sir Alan Adair. The Adairs lived here until it was sold once again, this time to Margaret Knowe in 1983. William Roulston notes that the Sinclair family forms an important link to the graveyard we are about to visit. There are quite a number of monuments and memorials to the Sinclairs there. They were a leading Gentry family in this Parish.

 

Holyhill House at Leckpatrick, near Strabane, Co.Tyrone
Holyhill House at Leckpatrick
Curiously this house was very nearly burnt to the ground. When King James’s troops were fleeing after the siege of Derry, they arrived at Holyhill. They were about to burn it down when a command was given by the commander of the troops, who was on the Donegal banks of the Foyle, for the house to be left untouched.

The messenger who brought this order had to swim across the Foyle to bring it and it was delivered just in time for the house to be spared.

The reason is thought to be because the Reverend John Hamilton’s first wife was a Hamilton, as was the Commanding officer of the Jacobite troops. It is assumed that there was some family connection. Whether real or perceived that connection saved the house at Holyhill from destruction.

In the library is one of the earliest known maps of the area, by William Starratt, dated 1736. William Roulston explains that Starratt was probably the best known mapmaker in Ulster around that era. He would have carried out cartography for many of the great landlords in all counties. His maps show a different aspect to the topography of the land that we expect to see reflected today. This particular map was made for the Sinclairs and what they specifically needed to know from it was which areas of their estate was arable, pasture, prone to flooding etc. This was commonly why landlords commissioned maps in the first place.

Audio Clip 1: Historical background to Holyhill House

 

 

 

A memorial stone hidden from view on the side of a bridge
Robert Algio's memorial stone, hidden from view on the side of a bridge
Before you even get to the graveyard, the first commemorative stone can be found embedded into the side of the Artigarvan bridge.

It would be very easy to miss this rather hidden piece of history. The stone bears the name of Robert Algio and has the date 16th May 1625.

Also carved into this stone is a crucifixion scene which is probably a reference to the counter-reformation.

What is known is that Robert Algio was a Scottish settler who came to this area from Renfrewshire in the 17th Century. He was a land steward to the landlord Hamilton Family. He was also a Scottish Roman Catholic.

Although the plantation was intended to be a Protestant settlement in Ulster, there were numerous Scottish Catholics who came into this area under the patronage of the Catholic Hamiltons. Some of these are recorded on the headstones in the graveyard.

Audio Clip 2: Hidden Headstone at Artigarvan bridge

"Leckpatrick means Flat stone of Patrick" William Roulston explains, "and there’s a tradition that Saint Patrick himself founded the first church here. It can’t be verified but certainly there’s been a church here from a very early period, probably before the end of the first millennium A.D.” Some time ago a farmer accidentally unearthed some stones in nearby fields which display Celtic symbolic carvings."

In the mediaeval period there was a parish church here which had a visit from the Archbishop of Armagh in 1397. By the start of the 17th century the church on this site was in ruins. It fell to the recently settled community to repair and rebuild it. From then until the early 19th century the church was used by the Church or Ireland, although the graveyard was used by all denominations. A brand new church was built about a quarter of a mile south of here in 1815.

Audio Clip 3: Historical background to the graveyard

 

 

 

 

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