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History of Ireland

Signs of human activity in Cookstown district exist from as early as the 4th millennium BC. Archaeological evidence suggests the presence (around 3200 BC) of a an agricultural people who planted corn and raised livestock, and utilized both flint tools and polished stone axes. Metal working occurred in Ireland around 2000 BC.

From ca. 1600 BC on, waves of Celtic invaders began to reach the shores of Ireland, bringing with them iron, new religions, language and customs. The Gaelic language of the Celts and their Druidic religion, eventually pervaded the whole population of the island, and "Irish" was still spoken in some of Cookstown's outlying areas until the end of the 19th century. Many of the townland names around Cookstown are ultimately derived from Gaelic.

The conversion of the Irish to Christianity started in the 5th century AD. The earliest ecclesiastical organization was Diocesan, though from the 6th century onwards the Monastic system of Christianity began to become dominant.

Dating also from this time are small enclosed farmsteads called "raths", but known locally as forts. These were very numerous and ordnance survey maps of Cookstown show them dotted around the district. Cookstown's Forthill Cemetery is named after a nearby "rath".

The 12th century arrival of the Anglo-Normans had little impact upon the Cookstown district, but Ireland from this came under the power of the English Crown. By 1541 Henry VIII assumed the title of King of Ireland and started down the path toward eventual conquest of the island, which was fulfilled by his daughter Elizabeth. The Ulster Chiefs strongly resisted this usurpation of their power, but their resistance eventually ended in defeat and their flight from Ulster in 1607.

King James I of England, tried to resolve some of his kingdoms problems of the troubled Scottish-English Border and the Ulster region by "transplanting" Ulster with people who would undertake to settle it and support the English Crown. So began the Plantation of Ulster in 1609 by both Scots (mostly Border Scots) and English "undertakers". During these early years of settlement, Scottish undertakers in Ulster Province outnumbered the English undertakers roughly 20 to 1.

The land on which the early town of Cookstown was built was part of the ancient territory of Mallenagh, belonging to the O'Mellans, an "Erenagh" family.During the Plantation of Ulster, all Erenagh land was held to be church land, and as such was handed over to the Protestant bishops of the new church. Ownership of Mallenagh passed to the Protestant Arch Bishop of Armagh, who in turn leased it to settlers who would undertake to build one good house of stone, lime or framed timber on each townland.

By 1620, James Stewart, a native of Scotland, bought the lease of a small piece of this land from the Arch Bishop of Armagh, and settled in the townland of Ballynenagh. His descendants later heavily influenced the further development of Cookstown. A Dr. Allen Cooke, an English Ecclesiastical Lawyer, purchased leases of extensive areas of land in Mallenagh from Armagh's Arch Bishop, while other townlands adjoining to this land were granted by the Crown to native Irishmen who were deemed "deserving".

Cooke did not dwell on his new estate, but fulfilled the terms of his lease by building 10 houses in the townland of Cora Criche (the "Oldtown"). Cook was granted a Patent by King Charles I, on 3 August 1628, to form a market in the town which which was becoming known as "Cooke's Town". By this charter, free commerce in buying and selling of goods was permitted. Grain, flax, linen and thread for linen were often sold at market.

In the year 1641 the native Irish rose in revolt in an effort to retake their former properties. Cookstown was abandoned (after some legislative troubles back in England) and returned for a time to the native Irish. Forgemen and carpenters were immediately put to work making pikes for the native Irish troops, and wasn’t until 1643 that troops loyal to the English Crown destroyed the Iron Mine and Plant, plundered cattle, horses, sheep and pigs, and then proceeded to Cookstown and burnt it. Even after these troubles, by 1649 there were still enough Scottish Settlers in the District to established a Presbyterian Congregation at the Oldtown.

For the next hundred years however, Cookstown showed little promise of robust growth. An estate map of 1736 reveals only 2 inhabited houses in the area of the town that year. Ownership of most of the townlands around Cookstown by this time was in the hands of William Stewart, the grandson of James who settled in Ballynenagh. The Stewarts had purchased several of the native Irish freeholdings and also acquired large areas of church property which had been held under lease. In 1666 the Stewarts purchased the land lease from Cookstown's founder. Six townlands were enclosed in a domain, and in 1671 the Stewart castle at Killymoon was built.

By the mid 18th century, William Stewart was one of the largest landowners in County Tyrone. In 1734 he made extensive plans to rebuild Cookstown, south of Cooke's original town settlement. The new town was to be centered about a main street 135 feet wide. It is speculated this occurred because William Stewart had a fascination for the broad streets of Dublin and Edinburgh. By the 1740s the basic layout of Cookstown had taken shape and was indeed a 135 foot wide street which ran unbroken for a mile and a quarter, with avenues leading into it.

Neither William nor his descendants ever continued to develop the town much beyond this remarkable central avenue. Sadly, his plan necessitated the destruction of most of the earlier cottages. Some other streets built during this period were Killymoon Street, Church Street, Chapel Street, Loy Hill, and James Street.

A linen business commenced in 1765 at the Wellbrook Beetling Mill, 2 miles west of Cookstown. By about 1771 the Reverend John Wesley introduced Methodism to Cookstown. Through the late 18th century, and right up to the years of the Irish Famine (mid 1840’s) Cookstown became a small, but robust town, with good building taking place. Construction also included a new Killymoon Castle in 1802, which was designed by the Englishman John Nash. He similarly designed the new Derryloran Parish Church and Lissan Rectory in Cookstown about this time, as well as the Acheson Castle of Gosford at Markethill, County Armagh. It is perhaps noteworthy to mention that both Markethill and Cookstown lie within the same religious Diocese (Armagh), though they reside in separate counties.

By the year 1837, Cookstown had grown to a population of about 1500 people. It had 4 churches, a dispensary, 2 Sunday Schools, a magistrate, a Member of Parlaiment, numerous gentry and clergy, one physician, 5 surgeons, a post master, 3 innkeepers, and numerous publicans and shop keepers/traders. Market was held on Saturday for linen cloth, and foodstuffs, while a corn market was held on Tuesdays.

Presently Cookstown District has a population of about 32,000, and consists of an area of 235 square miles. Most of this land is used for farming, and as such agriculture is important to the local economy.

There are three livestock markets held weekly in Cookstown. Fishing is another important industry in this region, due in part to Cookstown’s proximity to Lough Neagh. Ardboe, a southern parish of Cookstown District, is well known for it's trout.



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