An admirable "list of historic buildings, groups of buildings and buildings of architectural importance in the area of Craigavon, and falling within the Moira Rural District" was published in 1969 by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. This is a timely guide to those intent on preservation and an aid to visitors already interested in Irish architectural affairs. But interest in any neighbourhood is aroused and maintained by more than its architectural and natural characteristics. To ascertain the influences exerted on, or the parts played by, the residents in political, economic, social or other affairs is the task of the historian. The writer of this article had for some thirty-one years the custody of the Moira parochial records and has drawn largely on them. But this is necessarily an outline and other sources receive all-too-brief mention. It is hoped that others will consult these sources for further information concerning the persons and events worthy of note in that neighbourhood.
The name Moira is usually applied to the area of slightly less than seven thousand acres round about the village and approximately coterminous with the parish. For postal, police and local government purposes it has a wider application. Man's early presence is indicated by a cranoge in the townland of Drumbane. This is a ruin of a primitive dwelling-place of uncertain but considerable antiquity. Numerous earthen raths suggest a large population in the prehistoric period. One, in the town-land of Aughnafosker, styled "Pretty Mary's Fort," has been described as a particularly good specimen of a multivallate ring-fort. The origin of its name is unknown and the cause of some speculation. Which local rath gave the district its name is like-wise unknown. Magh rath (the plain of the fort) became Moy-rath, Moirath and Moira. A fort, later marked by stepping-stones, perhaps was the place where the Slige Mid/uachra, an ancient roadway from Tara, crossed the Lagan. When Christianity was introduced is uncertain; but a local place-name Kilminioge (the Church of my dear -or little - Finn) suggests a church there in the Celtic period.
A font unearthed in that neighbourhood is in the possession of Mr. Robert Clarke of Magheralin. Bishop Reeves noted in his Antiquities that Moira parish church now dedicated to St. John (Evangelist), was known as St. Inns or St. Inns of, Moira It has been suggested that "Inn" is not from the Gaelic "Fin" and that it is a corruption due to the common practice of abbreviating Latin names when writing. Thus Joannes (or Ioannes) for John became Inns. The exact site of the ancient church was probably unknown when the present one was built. Some foundations asserted locally to be an "old church" were never identified with any degree of accuracy.
A coin of Vespian's reign was unearthed near Moira shortly before World War 1. Now in the Belfast Museum how it came to be in the Moira neighbourhood remains a mystery. It did note form part of a hoard and was unaccompanied by anything of comparable age or similar origin. we are left to ask - was it dropped by a returned Irish mercenary, or a Roman deserter, or perhaps formed part of the booty of Irish raiders on the Coast of Britain.
In 637 the army of the then Ard Righ engaged in battle at Moira with an Ulster prince who had been exiled and returned with a mixed force of Britons, Scots, Picts and Saxons. The invaders lost but the memory of the flight is perpetuated in two town-land names - Carnalbanagh (the Scotsman's grave) and Aughna-fosker (the field of slaughter). The story of the battle passed into Gaelic literary legend.
Until the seventeenth century the lands were mainly in possession of the sept of the O'Lavery's. In that century they passed to George Rawdon, of Yorkshire, secretary to and agent for, Lord Conway. He claimed to be the nineteenth iridescent from Paulyn de Rawdon commander of an archer company at the battle of Hastings. George Rawdon was made Baronet in 1665, and was the builder of Moira castle and died there in 1684 aged 80.
His son, Sir Arthur Rawdon, on inheriting the castle (now a ruin) and the park (now styled the Demesne) set about improving the property by laying out the grounds. He built a famous "hot-house" and sent his gardener, James Harlow, to Jamica for exotic trees and plants. Until recently a visit to the ruined castle, the "long" and "round" ponds, the Dark Walk (a tree-lined avenue cut down during World War II) and the ice-house (remarkably well preserved) gave a good idea of the former magnificence of that part of the estate. In an eighteenth century portrait of William Sharman the artist depicted him against a background of the castle and the parkland. A striking similarity between the Moira building and Waringstown House is noticed almost at first glance. Both were built in the same period when country mansions were designed on less "fortified" lines. But precautions were taken against unwelcome visitors. At both ends of the house projecting "wings" afforded a measure of protection against intruders. Isolated country houses, before telephones and adequate police forces, ran grave risk of robbers after nightfall. Good ground floor window shutters, stout door, and the fact anyone out-side could be "covered from upstairs windows in the-"wings" and a central projecting window high at the back lessened the danger of visits from those intent on robbery with violence.
Moira village and parish owe their existence to the wide-spread investment policy of the third and fourth decades of the eighteenth century. In the previous decades fortunes had been lost in the overseas "bubbles". Agriculture and industry at home attracted more attention. On the Moira estate, as elsewhere, a new village was planned. Stone houses replaced the mud and thatch and linen manufacture was introduced. Basalt and good freestone could be quarried locally for building and for sale. A stone in the wall of a house opposite the Market House (now a garage and ballroom) bears the date 1735. It is a type that commonly marks the completion of the village. In the following year the church was completed and the first rector the Rev. George House was appointed. Houses were built for the estate workers and linen weavers. A number of varying sizes were built for profitable letting. The last mentioned were occupied by employers in linen manufacture, persons of independent means and a few by leaseholders of properties in the vicinity on which there were no residences. These, some of them now shops, can be identified today by their impressive broad fanlights and arched carriage entrances.
It is estimated that the, work took about ten years. Sir John Rawdon, the land-lord was still a minor. In the Ancient and Present State of the Co. of Down (published 1774) Moira is described as "a well laid out and thriving village consisting of one broad street inhabited by many dealers who carry on linen manufacture to good advantage. Lately a monthly market hath been opened there the more effectively to promote that branch of trade" in 1772 as the village began to take its present shape the parish was called into being. Prior to that year Moira was in Magheralin parish. In the Acts of Vestry (the Minutes of Easter Vestries) there is a copy of a deed, Minutes of Easter dated 16th, November 1722, listing the townlands consisting the Vestry 1722 new parish. There is also a copy of a Conveyance, dated 9th March 17 2 5, by which an acre (English Statute Measure) was transferred from Arthur Hill of Dublin to the Rev. Hugh Hill (in charge of the new parish) and the churchwardens Adam Stothard and Nathaniel Trueman. Work was in progress in 1723 and consecration took place in 17 2 5, when the parish was finally separated from Magheralin. It was then decided that Sir John Rawdon (whose estate bore the cost of erection) or his guardian should have the choice of the position of his pew and that "the Hon. Arthur Hill, Esquire, in consideration of his donation of the churchyard and ... ground ... shall have the choice of a plot ... of equal dimensions with Sir John Rawdon within the said church.
Pre-Disestablishment churchwardens' duties at times could be heavy and occasionally unpleasant as parochial records show. The collection of county Cess for road maintenance and the Common Charges for the upkeep of the parish Church in many places proved no less difficult than in days when local farmers were obliged to provide materials and labour for the roads. In Moira Acts of 1735 we find the churchwardens reported that endeavouring to get some outstanding money they were attacked in Ballyknock and were "disabled of using the ordinary means of getting it". Other duties fell to their lot among them the care of the poor, sick and abandoned. In 1732 it is recorded "That the foundling now nursed by Edwarrett ... who is four years old is to be apprenticed for seventeen years by the Minister and Churchwardens". Foster-parents feared children being removed after they had reared them - often for very inadequate payment.
Similar records elsewhere record foster-parents being assured they could retain the child on agreeing churchwardens would arrange apprenticeship locally. An entry of 1743, reads, "Whereas James McClelland ... is in lamentable circumstances, the father of eight small children, two of them twins born in April last and the mother of them died ... the Minister and the parishioners consent that the twins ... be put out to ... nurse and the Churchwardens are desired to pay the said nurses forty shillings each a year out of a Cess laid on at the last Easter Vestry. Another entry tells of an ... abandoned child found in Drumbane ..." and whereas Francis Hudson after spending several days in search of the mother ... the Minister Churchwardens and Parishioners in consider-ation of the said service ... and for the encouragement of persons to be active in finding such wicked women do give the said Hudson 11/4 + ... out of the late Cess. The Moira churchwardens annual poor relief distributions between 1736 and 1759 (about £ a year - in sums of 2/- to 5/- per person) do not suggest any considerable degree of poverty.
In 1760 the Rev.John Wesley visited Moira and preached in the graveyard. The visit is described in the Journal of John Wesley (a Standard edition was published-with footnotes by the Epworth Press in 1938. Information on Moira Methodism and the Church and Manse there (built 1822) may be obtained from Memorials of a consecrated life published by Woolmer, London, 1883 - out of print. This is a biography of Miss Anna Lutton by her niece. Miss Lutton was born in Moira in 1791 and died at Cotham, Bristol, in 1881. The book reveals more than one inaccuracy (notably the date of Wesley's visit; but provides valuable information on Irish Methodism. As late as 1837 Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (under "Moira... ) records "there are places of worship for Weslyan and Primitive Method-ists".
Sir John Rawdon was created first Earl of Moira in 17 61. He was succeeded by his son Francis. The tie between the locality and the earls 1st Earl of Moira, 1761 was loosened when the family moved its seat to Montalto near Ballynahinch. The castle was let to William Sharman, M.P. for Lisburn (Irish Parliament) whose son, also William, was born in Moira in 1780. The last-mentioned entered politics and is chiefly remembered for his advocacy of Tenant Right. He promoted unsuccessfully several Bills for the reform of Irish land tenure. He supported O'Connell in the Catholic Emancipation campaign; but not in the Repeal movement. An exhaustive biographical study of him was made by the late Dr. Brian Kennedy. After Sharman vacated Moira castle it was allowed to fall into disrepair and was finally dismantled. The ballroom doors are the Parish Church inner porch doors and the castle stairway banisters, the Communion Rails. Sharman built and resided at, Windsor Lodge Waringstown. He married Miss Mabel Crawford of Crawfordsburn, adopting the name Sharman-Crawford, and died at the last-mentioned place in 1861 ... Two other notables at the turn of the century merit mention here. The life of the Rev. John Wisdom, well known in Dublin eighteenth century ecclesiastical circles, has been the subject of research on the part of one of, his descendants.
The career of the Rev. Edward Berwick, of Berwick Hall, was the study during some twenty years of a former Dean of Dromore (the Very Rev. A. E. Myles M.A.). Berwick sometime private chaplain to Lord Moira was a friend of Henry Gratten and Sir Walter Scott. The Berwick-Gratten correspondence Berwick-Gratten son) was published in Dublin some years ago by (if the writer recollects rightly) the Irish MSS Commission. The writer in unaware if the results of these researches were published. It remains to be noted that some dozen fine farm houses (still occupied) were built in the neighbourhood prior to 1800. Perhaps it is well to close these notes on the eighteenth century with the only known facts connecting Moira with the rebellion of 1798. The final stages of the fight that began at Saintfield took place on Lord Moira's property at Ballynahinch. In Moira the innkeeper and one of his guests were arrested.
Something (necessarily brief and consequently inadequate) must be said of the celebrated Francis second Earl of Moira. His connections with the place were little more than the facts he was born there, derived his title from it, and received part of his not inconsiderable income from the estate there. His brilliant career as a soldier and statesman and the people eminent in politics science and letters gathered round him at Holland House, Kensington, (shattered by World War II bombing) have been dealt with elsewhere. He was made Marquis of Hastings (the grant and was confirmed 1817) and Earl of Moira was retained as an inferior title.
The Marquisate of Hastings and Earldom of Moira became extinct with the death of the eighth holder - Henry. He was well-known in nineteenth century sporting circles and his marriage attracted some considerable public attention. Concerning the last-mentioned romance was interestingly dealth with in The Pocket Venus, by Henry Blyth -published 19 6
In dealing with nineteenth century Moira affairs, one is tempted to quote freely from parochial records. They however omit often information one would like to have. For example - how was Moira affected by the mid-nineteenth-century famine! Correspondence of the period suggests that individual appeals for money from English friends were made by some residents. These were to aid efforts to provide meals for local children. From the correspondence it is not clear what, or how large, and area was concerned.
Remembering that in 1847 Lurgan Poorhouse was full and seventy persons died there in one day, it is surprising that, in Moira, parish records give no details of distress until the following year. In 1848 the Vestry "Resolved that each person applying for a coffin shall ... furnish a certificate ... of their incapacity to pay..." That year the Vestry paid £11-10-1 for coffins. That would be for about twenty persons, Parish paupers' coffins cost from 6 /- to 10 /- approximately the wages of a labourer for a fortnight. The number of burials in the Registers for the years 1846 /47 /48 do not show a significant increase. Drift to the towns and emigration reduced the population in the immediate post-Famine years. The following analysis is taken from Archdeacon Atkinson's Dromore: An Ulster Diocese.
|Church of Ireland||2,073||966|
Linen weaving, on the decline from the early decades of the century, declined with great rapidity due to population reduction following the Famine. It survived into this century and the last weaver was the late Mr. James McCoy. "His weaving shop was in a cottage about half a mile from the Lurgan end of the village".
Lewis (1837) records, "There is a meeting-house for Presbyterians in connection with Remonstrant Synod ... also one for those of the Seceding Synod. The writer has not (so far) had an opportunity of perusing the documents, or consulting other material, in connection with the Presbyterian and Non-Subscribing Churches in Moira - nor in connection with Roman Catholic Church in the vicinity. In the Presbyterian graveyard there is a memorial linking, the name of the deceased, James Hall Logan, with the family of James Logan, secretary to William Penn. The ancestors of Hamilton Hume, the Australian explorer, were associated with Moira Presbyterianism. The explorer is little known in this country, but his achievements are commemorated in the Hume Highway linking Sydney and Melbourne, the Hume Dam in N.S.W., besides numerous streets and bridges. A novel No Boundary Fence by a distinguished Australian writer, Frank O'Grady, was published in 1960. It presents in very readable form the life of one of Australia's greatest pioneers. The author assumed erroneously that Hamilton Hume's grandfather was Rector of Moira.
The writer of these notes is conscious of many omissions, for reason of space, he is obliged to make. There is one omission he regrets for want of information. Where is the monument to Dennis O'Lavery?
Corporal O'Lavery served under Rawdon against the colonists in the American War of Independence. In 1781 he was wounded while carrying an important despatch. To avoid its falling into enemy hands he hid it in his wound. The result was fatal. Sir John Fortescue, in a history of the 17th Lancers, related the details of the incident and stated that a monument to O'Lavery was erected in Co. Down. Another military historian believed the monument was erected by Rawdon another (Lindsay by name) declared the memorial to be in a Dublin. Church. Quite by chance a letter turned up written (It would appear) sometime in the last century saying of O'Lavery's." ... in rank a corporal, he was in mind a hero ... his country Ireland and his parish Moira in which a chaste monument records at once his fame and the gratitude of his illustrious commander and countrymen Lord Rawdon. Not many years ago a letter from the then editor of The White Lancer and the Vedette (the Journal of the 17/21 Lancers) indicated the search for the monument is not yet abandoned.
The Rawdon estate passed by purchase to Sir Joshua Bateson Bt.. This family, afterwards enobled as the Lords Deramore, never resided in the demesne. It has been let for many years for grazing. The leaseholds were purchased by the holders under the Land Acts. Rents were collected from the village property. The last resident Land Agent died within living memory.
Perhaps to the lot of some present or future member of the recently-formed Moira preservation and development committee will fall the task of producing a guide to the village and its surroundings.