Leckpatrick and Dunnalong in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have seen enormous changes in the lives of the inhabitants of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong. Changes in everyday living and farming practices have taken place. This chapter will examine some of these changes and present a survey of the area from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Other chapters in this book will examine education, the decline of rural industry, and the churches in this period.

Mansfield’s report on the parish of Leckpatrick in 1821

On 8 October 1821 George D. Mansfield, Church of Ireland curate of the parish of Leckpatrick, completed the answers to a series of questions on the parish of Leckpatrick posed by the North West of Ireland Agricultural Society. The questions covered such topics as the natural features, productive economy and society of the parish. Mansfield carried out his task diligently and for some questions gave far more detailed answers than would have been expected.

With regard to land use in Leckpatrick, Mansfield reckoned that about 2200 of the 5000 or so acres in the parish were under cultivation. Pasture accounted for only about a fifth of the acreage under crop. However, closer to the mountains the ratio of arable to pasture was roughly equal. The rest of the parish consisted of mountain and bog. The turf extracted from the bogs was the main source of fuel, not only for the inhabitants of Leckpatrick, but also for the towns of Strabane and Lifford. However, the bogs from which the turf was dug were mainly in the mountainous parts of the parish. There was, however, a bog of 200 acres which straddled the townlands of Leckpatrick and Ballydonaghy. Unfortunately because of its low situation and the fact that it had never been drained the turf was ‘consequently of the very worst quality’.

Mansfield was of the opinion that this bog should be drained as soon as possible as it would provide ‘an inexhaustible supply to the crowded population of the lower part of the parish, to whom, as weavers and manufacturers of linen cloth particularly, an abundance of fuel is indispensible.’ He admitted that he was not an engineer, but argued that any expense in draining the bog would be fully justified on account of the benefits it would bring. He was particularly concerned that the rapidity with which the supply of turf in the mountains was diminishing would bring about a ‘calamity’ which nothing could undo. The increasing pressure on the supply of turf in the locality was not just due to the expanding population in the parish, but also because of the bleach greens at Artigarvan and Burndennet each of which, according to Mansfield’s reckoning, used up as much fuel in one year as one hundred families.

Mansfield was full of praise for the progressive farmers in the parish and singled out James Sinclair for particular mention. On his Holy Hill estate, ‘many new farms have sprung up in the midst of barren mountains, and comfortable cottages, well-sheltered gardens and quickset hedges are seen where formerly all was one wide waste, the undistinguished abode of the hare and the moor-fowl’. Sinclair himself was the instigator of the improvements on his estate. The woods on his estate provided the timber for the tenants’ houses and farming implements, and his nurseries supplied the trees and quicks for their gardens and fences.

However, most farms in the parish of Leckpatrick at this time were on the small scale, many less than five acres and only about half a dozen over thirty acres. The quickset hedges on Sinclair’s estate would appear to have been the exception because most field enclosures in Leckpatrick were formed ‘of loose stones collected from the tillage lands and put together in an indifferent manner.’ Mansfield attributed the lack of spirit for permanent improvement to the scarcity of ready money among the tenantry who preferred to tether their cow or horse to a small portion of pasture during the summer and allow them to wander freely over their own fields and those of their neighbours’, rather than to erect sufficient fences.

The manner of cultivation on the smaller farms in the parish usually took the following routine. Potatoes would be grown, ‘usually in the lazy bed way’; for two or three years after this barley or corn would be sown. This would be succeeded by a crop of flax and then by another crop of corn. The land would then be either left in fallow for a year or else if there was sufficient manure available a crop of potatoes would be sown and the routine would start all over again. The better farmers used the drill method of planting potatoes, sowing part of their potato land with clover and grass seed. This was used for grazing in the summer and increased their stock of manure as well as keeping their cattle in better condition.

Returning to the question of pasture, Mansfield was of the opinion that there were hardly any lands in Leckpatrick which could be described as exclusively pasture. They were mixed in with the arable land and usually became pasture only when they were incapable of yielding any crop. There were a number of islands in the River Foyle that were used for grazing because they were ill-suited for any other purpose. The mountains were used for rough grazing in the summer, but in the winter the cattle were fed on straw or allowed to glean what they could from the stubble fields.

On the estate of James Sinclair there was a large plantation covering more than four hundred acres. There was a smaller plantation on the glebe as well as two small oak woods of 25-30 acres in Cloghcor and Woodend. There were also several small orchards in Woodend and Greenlaw, ‘affording apples and plums, few cherries or pears’. Mansfield noted that most of the farmhouses were formerly surrounded by ash trees, but that lately many of the trees had been cut down to provide timber for farming implements or farm buildings and no replacements had been planted. He believed that there were many agriculturally unproductive areas which could be planted with trees which would improve the scenery of the parish. Mansfield believed that this would ‘attract the admirers of nature in her beautiful mood from the most distant provinces’.

As for employment in the parish, Mansfield considered it to be ‘reasonably abundant’. Because of the proximity of the town of Strabane to the parish many labourers from Leckpatrick were employed there. The mills employed a significant number of people, and about one half of the male population of the parish worked as weavers. It was, however, difficult to draw a clear distinction between the farmer and the weaver. Mansfield noted: ‘The farmer seldom trusts altogether to the profits of his land, but usually calls in the aid of his loom’, while the independent weaver was often as well off as the farmer. Mansfield did note that spinning linen yarn had recently become unprofitable, an effect of the agricultural depression which followed the end of the Napoleonic wars. He also acknowledged that the weavers were not proportionately rewarded for their exertions. Because they lacked sufficient capital, they were unable to keep their looms going on their own account and were forced to either obtain yarn on credit at a high price, or to work for others.

Mansfield was also asked a series of questions on the type of livestock present in the parish. With regard to cattle, the lack of significant pasture militated against large breeds. In recent times the Ayshire had been introduced to the parish and it seemed well suited to the soil. At this time there were no dairies in Leckpatrick. There were few sheep in the parish except in the more mountainous areas. The horses were generally small in size - Mansfield described them as ‘hacknies’ - and the number of them was a frequent source of complaint. Although feeding them used up a significant portion of the produce of the land, every farmer regarded his horse as ‘indispensable’. Mansfield also noted that ‘the Irishman likes to have his horse to ride as well as to work’. Pigs would seem to have been fairly common, ‘though few of the most improved breeds, yet many very excellent’.

Mansfield then went on to scrutinise the habits of the people of Leckpatrick. He considered the inhabitants of the parish to be ‘remarkable for good order, temperate habits and friendly dispositions. The upper class of farmers live comfortably and display a taste for decency in the interior of their houses’. As for those of more humble status, Mansfield noted that some of them maintained a ‘decent appearance’, but others had ‘every indicative of poverty’. He was critical of those farmers who, in order to increase their own incomes, kept more cottiers than they needed or could cope with. For one thing this meant that there was a shortage of straw for thatching, meaning that many of the cottiers had to make do with an imperfect roof over their heads. Mansfield also criticized the lack of lime on the cottiers’ houses and suggested that the ‘lord of the soil’ ought to withhold turf from every cottier who failed to keep his house in good repair.

He bemoaned the fact that the lower classes were more inclined to spend their money ‘on their backs than on their dwellings’ and that ‘the Saturday night’s labour cuts a great figure on the Sunday morning’. The child of poor, but educated parents was a ‘rational accountable being’. However, the offspring of uneducated parents were ‘idle, mischievous and inconsiderate’ and were ‘constantly engaged in either what is useless or wicked’. On the whole, however, Mansfield believed the inhabitants of the parish to be ‘a sensible, tractable race of people, capable of receiving instruction and willing to receive it’, though he did believe that knowledge of the science of agriculture was sadly lacking among them.

The Devon Commission

In 1843 the government commissioned a major inquiry into the state of agriculture in Ireland. This commission was under the chairmanship of Lord Devon. Three men from the Leckpatrick and Dunnalong area were interviewed in 1844 in the course of the inquiry. They were Robert McCrea of Grangefoyle, a tenant farmer, Francis O’Neill of Mount Pleasant, a linen bleacher, and James Sinclair, the landlord of Holy Hill.

McCrea was one of the most progressive farmers in the district. He was the son of John McCrea of Magherareagh and brother of James McCrea of Lisdivin and William McCrea of South Grange. His uncles included Robert McCrea of Leckpatrick, Walter McCrea of Drumgauty and James McCrea of Farmhill. His farm in Grangefoyle extended to more than 170 Cunningham acres and he had acquired it by lease in April 1823. The owner of the former abbeylands of Grange at this time was John Hutton of Summerhill, Co. Dublin, who had bought the property in 1821. Robert McCrea’s lease for his farm in Grange was for thirty-one years or three lives and his rent was an incredible £312 per annum. His outhouses at Grange included a turnip house, piggery, hen house and stable. He played a prominent role in local affairs and was the treasurer of the Dunnamanagh dispensary and served on the Dunnamanagh district medical committee.

His cousin Frances married William Hutton of Grangefoyle and they emigrated to Canada, where Hutton became a member of the Board of Agriculture and Statistics in Toronto. In one one his regular letters back to his wife’s family in Ireland, he wrote: ‘I rejoice to hear of Robert of Grange succeeding so well; he is a spirited, enterprising man’. There is also evidence that Robert McCrea visited America in 1856. In that year Hutton wrote back to Ireland: ‘Robert of Grange will have a great route if he goes to St Louis and thence to Guelph and Toronto. He will be able to form a great idea of our new world - as far as railroad travelling will allow him’. McCrea married firstly Flora Wallace and secondly Flora Lindsay. He died in 1886 at the age of 90. His sons included Robert McCrea junior who succeeded to the Grange farm and who served as a land commissioner, James who was a surgeon in Australia, and John who lived at Magherareagh.

McCrea told the Devon Commission that he believed that the state of agriculture in the country was improving and this was largely due to the establishment of agricultural seminaries. He considered the seminaries at Templemoyle near Eglinton and Loughash near Dunnamanagh to be ‘both excellent of their kind’. He himself had had his eldest son educated at Templemoyle. Ploughing and draining had much improved and liming had become much more common. Other fertilisers and manures which were used in the district included farmyard manure, sea shells, bone dust and guano. Draining was an expensive improvement and McCrea estimated that it cost from £5-8 to drain one Cunningham acre. He himself had drained a field of seven acres and it had cost him £50 besides his own time. However, he believed that it would repay him in 6-8 years.

Francis O’Neill was a prominent figure in the district in the mid nineteenth century. He was the lessee of the bleach green at Burndennet, and had been so from at least the early 1830s, while he himself lived at Mount Pleasant in the neighbouring townland of Gloudstown where he possessed a farm of 60 Cunningham acres; he was a patron of the school at Cloghcor. O’Neill died on 5 August 1873, leaving an estate valued at just under £9000. He left £19 to be spent on ‘the erection of a monument to my memory in the Roman Catholic Church of Cloghcor on such site and in such style and containing such inscription as my trustees and executors shall in their judgement think proper’. He also left £500 to the orphanage in Strabane, the construction of which he had originally contributed to.

Before the Devon Commission O’Neill revealed that he had laid out about £7-800 on his farm in Gloudstown and had made all the improvements before he had received a lease. The lease that he was eventually granted was for 31 years or three lives, but O’Neill felt that this was not long enough. The house he had built on the farm was for his own accommodation; he admitted that it was not necessary for him to have built such a house for the farm alone. On the subject of improvements O’Neill believed that the want of tenure militated against the tenants making them. He pointed out that any improvements that were made were carried out by the tenant and not the landlord. Robert McCrea’s opinion on this subject was that the landlord ought to do all the permanent improvements to the farm and charge the tenant an increased rent.

While Francis O’Neill was dissatisfied with his lease of 31 years or three lives, James Sinclair told the commission that he believed that a tenant never considered ‘whether he has a lease or not or asks for it’. He revealed that he had no leases on his Holy Hill estate. Sinclair was of the opinion that the tenants were improving their farms with the confidence that they would not lose anything. When asked about the sudivision of farms he responded by saying that it had been checked by the landlords without much difficulty. O’Neill confirmed this in his interview with the commissioners.

A further opportunity to examine the state of agriculture in the area in the middle of the nineteenth century is provided by a set of agricultural returns made in 1850. This detailed the acreages of various crops grown in each electoral division.

Crops grown in Ballymagorry, Dunnalong and Glenmornan in 1850



 No. of  

 Wheat  Oats  Barley  Potatoes  Turnips
 Ballymagorry  5767   225  218  1871  2  379  294
 Dunnalong  7216  181  499  1736  -  382  485
 Glenmornan  8394  174  22  1507  3  282  170

By far the most popular crop grown in the three electoral divisions of Ballymagorry, Dunnalong and Glenmornan was oats. Looking at the table it is surprising just how little barley was grown in this area in 1850. Only three acres in Glenmornan, two in Ballymagorry and none in Dunnalong. Most of the wheat in the three districts was grown in the electoral division of Dunnalong, with surprisingly few acres of this crop grown in Glenmornan. Nowadays the most popular cereal crop by far is barley, a reflection of how much things have changed since 1850. However, it was not until the 1960s that barley displaced oats as the main cereal crop in Northern Ireland. There were various reasons for this, not least the advent of the combine harvester.

The condition of the poorer classes on the eve of the Great Famine

In the 1830s another great parliamentary inquiry dealt with the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland. In 1837 interviews were carried out with prominent figures in each parish and the answers given to specific questions were included in the supplements to the appendices of the official report. Three men were interviewed for the parish of Leckpatrick. James Gamble was the minister of the Secession Church in Strabane, while Robert Hume was the Church of Ireland minister in Leckpatrick. The third interviewee was James Sinclair of Holy Hill. The answer each man gave on the question of the condition of the poorer classes and whether or not it had improved since 1815, was different. Gamble believed that it was much worse. However, Sinclair believed that, on the whole, the poorer classes were ‘better off in all respects’. He pointed out that the handloom weavers were busily employed and if this continued, ‘we shall have little reason to envy any district in Europe.

Hume’s opinion on the subject was that the conditions of beggars had improved. However, he was concerned that the parish was ‘diminishing in its best features’ with the emigration of so many of its active and industrious young people. He estimated that about one hundred people left the parish every year, mainly to the United States, but some to Canada. Hume was also disgruntled at the fact that during the minority of the second marquis of Abercorn the parish had become ‘studded with pauper tenements’ and he was the only person to whom the ‘wretched peasantry’ could apply for aid.

All three local men interviewed for the Devon Commission in 1844 painted a rather bleak picture of the state of the labouring classes. Robert McCrea believed that the labouring classes were in a ‘wretched state’ with regard to their clothing, homes and food supply. When asked whether he believed the condition of the labourers and cottiers was improving, James Sinclair replied, ‘No, I am sorry to say it is not’. At the same time he made the following statement to the commission: ‘I have a property in this county in which no man can recollect a pauper’. Francis O’Neill blamed the poverty of the labouring classes on the ‘want of employment and attention to their wants by the farmers’. In some instances the condition of the small tenantry was as bad as that of the labourers. On the other hand, McCrea believed that the large farmers had ‘an appearance more comfort’ and ‘a taste for a better style of living and appearing in public’, though he was of the opinion that ‘their circumstances are not better by any means’.

The Great Famine

There is a belief that the Great Famine did not affect Ulster. However, while large parts of Ulster escaped the horrors of starvation and disease that afflicted other parts of Ireland, the Famine certainly left its mark on the province. In the Strabane area the relief committees that were established were based on parochial divisions. Thus Leckpatrick had its own relief committee, while Dunnalong came under the Dunnamanagh committee which covered all of the parish of Donagheady. The impact of the famine in Leckpatrick can be gauged from a letter to Sir Randalph Routh, the Commissary-General for Ireland, from William Chambers, secretary to the local relief committee, dated 18 January 1847. Describing the situation in the parish, Chambers wrote: ‘The fact is starvation is at our doors, ay in the homes of some of our labouring population. The universal cry is “We, our wives and children must die of hunger”’. The chairman of the Dunnamanagh committee, the Reverend Charles Douglas, noted in February 1847 that ‘destitution and sickness pervade the whole district to a terrible degree’.

As in other parts of Ireland, many left Leckpatrick and Dunnalong for Britain or America. On one ship alone in 1847 nine people from Glenmornan sailed for Philadelphia. Other emigrants in 1847 included the family of Samuel Pollock of Loughneas who travelled to Quebec. Unfortunately the minute books of Strabane board of guardians do not survive for the Famine period. There are also no early indoor or outdoor relief registers for the workhouse in Strabane, which had been completed in November 1841. These would have told us so much more about the effect of the Famine in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong. The Strabane board of guardians would sometimes assist the poor to emigrate. In April 1851 the guardian of the electoral division of Ballymagorry asked the board to pay the travelling expenses of the McArthur children, Susan aged eight and Isabella aged six. Their father was in America and had sent back an insufficient sum of money to pay for the family’s voyage. The Ballymagorry guardian argued that if these expenses were met the division would be rid of a large family who would almost certainly end up inmates of the workhouse if they stayed in Ireland. The children’s mother had died in the workhouse the previous August. The Strabane board agreed to this suggestion.

Population changes in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong

Census figures provide us with an indication of the impact of the famine in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong. The 1821 census showed that the population of the parish of Leckpatrick was 4757. There were 664 families principally employed in agriculture, 243 families engaged in trade, manufactures and handicraft, and 182 other families. Subtracting the 590 people who lived in that part of the town of Strabane in Leckpatrick leaves us with a rural population in the parish of 4167. In 1831 the rural population of the parish of Leckpatrick stood at 5422, an increase of 1255 or 23% on the previous census. By 1841 the rural population of the parish of Leckpatrick had declined to 5020. Thus we can see that the rural population of Leckpatrick had begun to decline even before the Great Famine of the late 1840s. The population of the rural parish fell to 4308 in 1851, a drop of 14% on the 1841 figure. The population of the rural parish continued to decline and by 1891 it stood at 2355, well below half what it had been just fifty years before.

Population changes in the parish of Leckpatrick between 1821 and 1891

   1821  1831  1841  1851  1861  1871  1881  1891
Entire parish    4757  5725  5523  5524  4461  4272  4109  3566
 Rural parish  4167  5422  5020  4308  3900  3726  2988  2355

The electoral division of Dunnalong also witnessed a sharp fall in its population after 1841. Between 1841 and 1851 the population actually fell by 25% from 2809 to 2115, a much sharper fall than in the parish of Leckpatrick. In some townlands the population fell by more than 50%. In Tamnaclare, for instance, the population declined from 155 in 1841 to just 73 ten years later. In other townlands the population stayed pretty much the same, while in others, such as Grange Foyle, the population rose slightly. As with Leckpatrick the population of Dunnalong continued to fall over the course of the next fifty years. The rate of change varied between a decline of 7% between 1851 and 1861, and a decline of 17% between 1881 and 1891. Looking at particular townlands, the population of Burndennet Milltown rose from 107 in 1851 to 173 ten years later, but declined to 142 in 1871. There is no ready explanation for this somewhat strange variation, though perhaps the availability of employment in the mills in the townland was a factor. In the first decade of the twentieth century the population of the electoral division of Dunnalong actually rose by 5%. However, its population of 1185 was still 58% less than it had been in 1841.

Turning to the twentieth century, we can follow the population changes through the redrawn electoral divisions of Ballymagorry, Bready, Cullion, Glenmornan and Leckpatrick.

Population figures, 1926-71

 Electoral Divis  1926  1937 1951   1961    1971
 Ballymagorry  691  658  817  867  1102
 Bready  774  743  736  845  863
 Cullion  664  700  727  598  713
 Glenmornan  580  560  588  608  497
 Leckpatrick  711  690  671  639  694
 Total  3420  3351  3539  3557  3869

While the second half of the nineteenth century witnessed a decline in the population of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, the twentieth century century has seen an increase. The total population of the five electoral divisions rose by 13% between 1926 and 1971. However, the above table shows that the general population increase was not felt across all of the electoral divisions. Two divisions experienced a decline in population. There was a slight fall in Leckpatrick and quite a significant one in Glenmornan. The most significant rise in population was in the electoral division of Ballymagorry where the population rose from 691 in 1926 to 1102 in 1971. This can be accounted for by the development of the villages of Artigarvan and Ballymagorry. Ballymagorry, as we have discussed in an earlier chapter, was almost certainly the site of the plantation village of Sir George Hamilton of Greenlaw. It declined after 1641, but by the beginning of the eighteenth century had re-emerged as a nucleated settlement. In 1841, on the eve of the Famine, its population stood at 213; by 1911 it had declined to just 83. However, in the course of the twentieth century, and particularly since the end of the Second World War, it has seen a renewed period of development. In 1971 its population stood at 255; to-day its population has topped the 600 mark.

The village of Artigarvan has had an even more dramatic period of development in the twentieth century. Artigarvan first became important as the site of a bleach green that was built in the 1790s. This was followed by a flax mill, spade mill and a flour mill, and latterly by the creamery. In the census records it is first denoted as a separate village in 1961 when its population stood at 185. Just ten years later this figure had risen to 464 and at the present time is roughly 520. Another village which has developed since the end of the Second World War is Magheramason, which now has a population of nearly 500. The village of Magheramason is in what used to be the electoral division of Bready. Looking at the above table it will be noted that the population of Bready Electoral Division rose from 736 in 1951 to 845 in 1961. Other rural housing developments in the area include Cullion and Glenmornan.

Although the population figures for the area show a steady rise from the 1930s, they are still some way below the pre-Famine figures. It is difficult now to realise just what the dramatic population decline from the late 1840s to the early twentieth century meant for the area. The population decline was accompanied by social dislocation, the abandonment of houses and cottages and the consolidation of farms. We can take the townland of Lisdivin Upper as an example. In 1841 its population stood at thirty-three; in 1871 it had actually risen slightly to thirty-eight. In the middle of the nineteenth century there were three farms in this townland, all roughly the same size (33-34 acres) and value. Now, however, the entire townland is owned by the Barnett family and they are its only inhabitants. Alder Road skirts the northern edge of Lisdivin Upper, but there are no longer any officially recognised roads through the townland. As the rural population has declined, many small country shops have closed. In Bready, for example, there were three shops within a mile of each other. However, Thrones’ shop on the Victoria Road and Hamiltons’ in Cloghboy are no longer open; only Billy Hendersons’ shop, also on the Victoria Road, is still open.

The Abercorn estate in the nineteenth century

When his grandfather died in 1819, the second marquis of Abercorn was only eight years old. His own father had died in 1814. The young marquis did not reach majority until the early 1830s and in the interim period the estate was managed by trustees, such as the earl of Aberdeen. On 31 January 1835 a new run of original leases was issued for farms in the Abercorn estate, all of which were for one life or twenty-one years. The first original run has been calendared in full by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and careful analysis of these leases reveals a great deal about the manors of Cloghogall and Dunnalong.

Forty-three leases were issued in the original run for Cloghogall. Of these leases five were for farms of between one and twenty acres, twenty-eight related to farms of between twenty-one and forty acres, nine were for farms in the forty-one to sixty acres category, and only one farm was of more than sixty acres. The largest farm was leased to John Dunn in Ballyskeagh and extended to just under ninety-two acres. However, the rent paid on this farm was less than £43. Higher rents were paid by Robert Boak in Ballylaw and by Francis Nesbitt and Albert Ramsay Ross in Woodend. The value of the agricultural land in Woodend was higher than that in Ballyskeagh, but the proximity of the town of Strabane to Woodend also had a bearing on the size of the rents in that townland. Only one farm in Cloghogall straddled two townlands. This was John Colhoun’s eighteen acre farm in Ballydonaghy and Cloghcor.

Fifty-one leases were issued for the manor of Dunnalong in this run. Only two leases were for farms in the one to twenty acres category, while thirty related to holdings of between twenty-one and forty acres. There were twelve leases for farms of between forty-one and sixty acres and, unlike Cloghogall, six leases were issued for farms of more than sixty acres, including one for a farm of more a than one hundred acres. The largest farm in the manor of Dunnalong was leased by Robert Rolleston in Gortavea and covered just under 107 acres. This farm also paid the highest rent in the manor. Rolleston was originally from Ganvaghan, near Castlederg. In February 1830 he bought the interest in the two Hamilton farms in Gortavea, one held by Jane Hamilton, widow of James Hamilton, and the other held by their younger son Thomas. The eldest Hamilton son was at that time living in Loughash. After they had sold their holdings in Gortavea the Hamiltons moved across the Foyle and settled on a farm in Donegal. Robert Rolleston quickly established himself in the area and in 1831 appears as a member of the Donagheady parish vestry. In the 1860s his sons, Thomas and James, were involved in the campaign which eventually saw the construction of Dunnalong Church of Ireland.

The deeds of 1835 proved to be the last major run of leases issued on the Abercorn estate. The life on the leases was that of John James Hamilton Humphreys who died on 5 May 1890. Parliamentary legislation in the period 1870-1903 transformed land ownership in Ireland. Successive land acts gave tenants greater security of tenure or provided them with the opportunity of buying out their holdings from the landlords. Many of the tenants in the Abercorn estate took advantage of the ‘Ashbourne’ Land Purchase Act of 1885 to buy their farms from the duke. The Ashbourne Act allowed for the advance of the entire purchase money and for annuity payments that were lower than the actual rents. Typically, the agreements would have been signed in 1887 and the money advanced the following year. Thomas Barnhill’s farms in the townlands of Greenbrae and Backfence cost £2300. This was the largest sum paid out in either Cloghogall or Dunnalong. Other farms costing more than £1000 included James Alexander’s in Sandville, Victor Love’s in Cloghboy, and James McCrea’s in Lisdivin and Tamnabryan. More tenant farmers in the manor of Dunnalong took advantage of the 1885 act than in the manor of Cloghogall. There was virtually no buying out of farms in the district of Glenmornan at this stage.

In the section on population changes in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, reference was made to the example of Lisdivin Upper. There are many other examples of farm consolidation in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As farmers left the area, they created opportunities for those left behind to extend their holdings by purchasing the interest in the vacated farms. The idea that a departing tenant had the right to sell his interest in his holding was a major issue at this time and was bound up in the concept of the ‘Ulster Custom’. The duke of Abercorn, whose liberality one historian has described as ‘legendary’, attempted to limit tenant right payments on his estate. He was concerned that incoming tenants were burdening themselves with large bank loans that they found difficult to pay off. However, his attempts to regulate the practice of tenant right on his estate were largely unsuccessful.

A document detailing tenant right sales in the Abercorn estate between 1881 and 1886 has survived and this allows us an idea of just how this practice operated. It also helps us to understand more about the process of farm consolidation. For example, in 1881 Robert McCrea of Eden bought thirteen acres from his neighbour, James Logan, for £325. This worked out as 25½ year’s purchase. Two years later he further extended his farm by acquiring another thirteen acres from James Lewis for £350 or 27¼ year’s purchase. In 1888 he took advantage of the ‘Ashbourne’ Act by purchasing his entire farm for £1200. The largest sum paid for a farm, in terms of year’s purchase, in either Cloghogall or Dunnalong was the £910 paid for 47 acres in Tamnaclare by James McEldowney in 1885 which worked out as 47¾ year’s purchase. Occasionally various clauses were worked into tenant right sales. For example, when Archibald Hall bought twenty acres in Loughneas from William Moore in 1885 the purchase price was £190 plus a charge of £10 a year payable to the former tenant for the rest of his life.

In the 1890s more farmers bought their holdings from the duke of Abercorn, including Charles Roulstone of Gortavea who purchased his farm for £1500 in 1898. The reason he had not done so sooner was probably because the lease for his farm had been re-negotiated by his father Thomas in 1882. This was one of the few examples of this in the Abercorn estate. The ‘Wyndham’ Land Act of 1903 provided further opportunities for tenants to purchase their farms, and most of the farmers in the Abercorn estate, who had not already bought their holdings, did so after this date. Any tenanted land which was still unpurchased by the 1920s was vested under the terms of the Northern Ireland Land Act. Thus the Abercorn estate, which had been in existence from the beginning of the seventeenth century, was gradually broken up as the farmers, many of whose families had been tenants to the Abercorns for more than two hundred years, became proprietors in their own right.

The coming and going of the railway.

On 1 August 1900 the parishes of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong acquired a major new communication link when a railway line on the eastern side of the River Foyle, connecting Strabane and Londonderry, was opened for goods traffic. Five days later the first passenger services were run. When the application by the County Donegal Railway for a line between Strabane and Londonderry had first been made in the mid 1890s there was strong opposition to it from the Great Northern Railway which operated the line along the west bank of the Foyle. The new line was justified on the grounds that the the volume of rail traffic from Derry necessitated it. Attention was also drawn to the fact that the number of boats using the Strabane canal had significantly fallen. On 7 August 1896 the Donegal Railway Act received royal assent. However, raising the capital for the project took longer than expected and it was not until the latter part of 1897 that James Barton was given the go ahead to draw up a series of working plans for the line, which was to be narrow gauge. The contract for building the 14½ mile line, but not the stations, was awarded to the London company Messrs Topham, Jones and Railton.

Towards the end of 1898 Barton reported that the construction firm had brought over two steam navvies which were used to shift the earthwork, 120,000 cubic yards of which had been removed up to that point. At that time 400 men were being employed on the venture. However, during the following year a shortage of labour held up the work and by the end of December only a third of the permanent way had been laid and seventeen of the twenty-four bridges completed. The soft nature of the subsoil near Strabane proved an additional problem, but eventually it was overcome and the long embankment carrying the line to within a short distance of the station was completed. The contract for building the stations was awarded to Messrs Campbell & Son of Belfast. The stations between Strabane and Derry were simple buildings of no architectual pretension, but the Victoria Road terminus in Derry was an impressive structure. The stops between Strabane and Derry were Ballymagorry, Ballyheather, Donemana, Cullion and Desertone. The line was single for its entire length and at Donemana a passing loop was constructed.

Donemana station was the scene of a serious accident on the evening of Sunday, 7 September 1913. At this time Sunday rail service consisted of one train, which left Strabane for Derry in the morning and returned in the evening. On this particular day the driver was Neil Fullerton and the fireman William Doherty. Leaving Derry at 9 o’clock in the evening the train reached Cullion station without incident. Between Cullion and Donemana station the line travelled downhill and at the passing loop at Donemana a speed limit of 6 m.p.h. was in force. However, it was estimated that the train entered the loop at 40 m.p.h. with disastrous consequences. The engine and the first two carriages were derailed, one passsenger was killed and another seriously injured. At the inquiry which followed, Fullerton and Doherty claimed that they had spent that Sunday in Derry resting and reading and had eaten their lunch at the house of another railway employee. However, evidence was brought which showed that they had left Derry in a state of intoxication. Fullerton was imprisoned for four months with hard labour, but Doherty was discharged.

During the Second World War the line proved an important communication link between Londonderry and Enniskillen, but from the late 1940s the service was in terminal decline. In August 1948 the line was taken over by the Ulster Transport Authority which not long afterwards came to the conclusion that the branch was no longer economically viable. Notice was given in October 1954 of the intention to withdraw all services and this came into force on 31 December of that year. The following year the line was reprieved for a day when on 30 June 1955 a special train was run to carry 600 children on a Sunday school excursion from Strabane to Portrush. On 23 September 1955 an order for the abandonment of this line was issued by the Ministry of Commerce and soon afterwards the track was removed.

With regard to road transportation in the district in the twentieth century, attention ought to be drawn to one particularly interesting reference to it from the 1930s. In August 1935 the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board was set up to deal with road passenger and freight transportation in the province. However, before long it was criticised for inefficient and expensive services. The Unionist Committee of Artigarvan and Leckpatrick expressed its dissatisfaction of the Board and considered it ‘detrimental to the industries of this district’. Furthermore, it declared that ‘in the event of a general election this branch will be compelled to oppose the return of the present government’. This was one of many similar resolutions attacking transport policy in Northern Ireland in the 1930s.


The sources used in this chapter are numerous and varied. Parliamentary papers, Abercorn estate papers, and board of guardians minute books have all been used. Edward Patterson’s book, The County Donegal Railway (Newtown Abbot, 3rd edition 1988), is the source of much of the information on the Strabane-Londonderry line.

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