Graveyards of North-West Down

Vol. 2 No. 1 - 1971

The Graveyards of North-West Down

by Richard S.J. Clarke

This article is a survey of some of the materials of interest in the grave-yards of Magheralin, Moira, Donaghcloney and Tullylish parishes, which are included in the Craigavon area.

It is apparent to anyone that the headstones in all old graveyards are gradually deteriorating or being actively destroyed. If this were happening to records on paper, there would be great activity to preserve or at least record these before destruction. However, only in a few areas of Ireland is anything in this direction being done (e.g. Cork and Louth). The comparison is not unreasonable since in many cases stones provide the sole records of births, marriages and deaths for a particular family. This, it must be said, is much less of a problem in north-west Down than in the Ards or Lecale, where most of the churches were small and the old registers were taken to the Four Courts, Dublin, and destroyed in 1922. However, here as elsewhere each parish has an average of 3 old graveyards, embracing various denominations and the Parish or Church of Ireland registers are far from complete records of all parishioners.


The origins of Magheralin are obscure, but the church has been identified with "Lann Ronan" or the "Church of Lan", and is mentioned in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas of 1306. It is, like all the old graveyards of the four parishes, wild and dilapidated. There are now no traces of the mediaeval church, and the Archaeological Survey dates the surviving walls as no earlier than the fifteenth century. The tower and transept were built during the next two centuries but the whole was in ruins in 1657. It was rebuilt after the restoration to be abandoned finally in 1845 when the new church was built across the road. The registers date from 1692 and the oldest stone from 1706. There is a large number of eighteenth century stones, many of which are small with a distinctive raised edge, and families represented in this period are: Barr, Byrne, Close, Connelly, Connor, Donnelly, Douglass (moved to the new church), Feris, Fletcher, Gurnell, Henderson, Humphrey, Irwen, Lavery (5 stones pre-1800), MaCoun, Macoun, Malkinson, M Murphy and Paterson. Until the seventeenth century the land belonged mainly to the sept of the O'Lavery's and the name is still numerous in the area. When the church at Lurganville was built the family appear to have used the burying ground there.

Blacker-Douglas of Grace Hall

The Dolling family have a conspicuous vault in the old church, dating from 1853. They first appeared in Ireland with the appointment of the Rev. Boughey William Dolling as Precentor of Dromore and Rector of Magheralin in 1806, and their name survives in the village of Dollingstown. The Douglass family (later Blacker-Douglass) of Grace Hall were probably buried in the old church and are commemorated by two memorial tablets in the north transept of the present church. It is interesting to note that the tablets contain information not in Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland, so even for well-documented families memorial inscriptions may be of value. The other local landed family of the nineteenth century, Waddell of Drumcro, also have a memorial tablet in the new church and are buried in a vault beneath.


Moira church and graveyard date only from 1723, when the parish was carved out of Magheralin to suit the needs of a new town. The church was built on land given by Arthur Hill at the expense of Sir John Rawdon. The first of this family George Rawdon, had acquired land in North Down for his part in the defence of Lisburn in 1641, and built the castle at Moira. Sir John Rawdon was his great-grandson and became Lord Moira in 1761. The property eventually passed to the Bateson family (Lord Deramore).

Sir John Rawdon

The church registers date from 1725 and the oldest stone from 1744. The graveyard contains many interesting stones but several are flat and have been weathered so much that nothing or only a few words can be read. The family names dating from the eighteenth century are: Bateman, Carruthers, Dobbin, Hare, Jellett (worn away), Nasle, Robinson and Stanhope. These families would have been tenants of Lord Moira and probably English in origin. There are also three Rectors of this period the Rev. John Gifford, the Rev. Andrew Greenfield and the Rev. Thomas Waring.

The memorial, in the form of a marble obelisk, to Sir Robert Bateson, first Baronet, is a conspicuous object and the tablet in the church is worth reading as an example of the more flowery Victorian style of writing. "His hand was open as his heart was tender and on his venerable head were showered the blessings of the poor. His home was hallowed by his spotless life and happy in the sunshine of his cheerfulness," etc, etc. The family were merchants who invested their capital in land but did not really live at Moria, and only for a short time at Belvoir which Robert Bateson also owned for a period.

Junior Branch of the Waring Family

The other conspicuous family grave is that of a junior branch of the Waring family. Those buried here include the above mentioned rector and his descendants and once again there is material on the stones which is not in Burke's Landed Gentry. This branch included three other rectors during the nineteenth century, of Ballee, Kilkeel and Eglish, though they are not buried here.

General Synod of Ulster

Moira has two Presbyterian churches, side by side, not far from the Parish church. These are rather plain buildings, the orthodox Presbyterian church (with round-arched windows) having been erected about 1829 and the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church (with rectangular windows) erected about 1860. In fact, the Non-Subscribers' church has the older gravestones so the earlier church was presumably on this site.

The oldest stone is the Rev. James Hume's box-tomb of 1782, but it was originally in Hillsborough graveyard and was only moved in 1860 when a new stone was to be erected there. This congregation was in existence in the 1680 's but as early as 1747 separated itself from the General Synod of Ulster and adhered to the Antiburghers, one of the Secession groups. Mr. Hume belonged to this branch. Part of the congregation and its ministers eventually moved over to the Remonstrants (Non-Subscribers) and the Seceders were re-united with the main stream of Presbyterianism in 1840. The other minister represented here is the Rev. John Milligan who made the final split in the congregation.

The older Presbyterian families represented here are: Agnew, Beattie, Catherwood, McGaw and Smyth, but one of the most interesting tombs is unfortunately in ruins. It is to "Thomas Simpson of Moira, surgeon, who fell a victim to malignant cholera on the 29th of December 1832 aged 34 years ". This was the year in which the great epidemic of Asiatic Cholera reached Belfast and the Belfast Charitable Institute's graveyard has a plot almost without gravestones still known as the "cholera ground". There are several monuments throughout Ulster to doctors and clergy who died, in the course of their work, of some infectious disease.

The Roman Catholic Church of the parish at Lurganville is also not an ancient building, dating only from 1812. The older families include Connor, Fearon, Fegan, Lavery, McCanley, McDonald, McKaveney, Mackin, Magin, O'Brien and Ward, some of whom come from the adjoining parish of Aghalee.


The history of Donaghcloney is probably too well-known to need elaboration, and is well covered in the Rev. E.D. Atkinson's volume. The old graveyard is on a mound forming a strong defensive position above the river Lagan. The name and local tradition suggest that the first church on the site was founded by St.Patrick himself. There was probably a church here until 1641 rising, but certainly it was ruinous in 1679 when William Waring decided to build a new one at Waringstown. Now, even the foundations of the old church are hard to trace in the wild and rough graveyard. Atkinson transcribed the stones and although there are a few omissions and inaccuracies, ten stones are included which have since disappeared. If the graveyard were tidied some of the lost stones might be recovered, but bitter experience of such tidying indicated that many good stones would be irreparably damaged. Vandalism in churchyards is nearly always the work of the church or council responsible, or occasionally of the owner of the grave. Only rarely is it due to the wild gangs of youths, so often talked about.

The eighteenth century family names represented at Donaghcloney are: Boyce, Carmichael (the Rev. James Carmichael Presbyterian Minister), Carr, Dunbar, Huston, McComb, Marshal, Meeter, Miller, Roarke, Shanks, Sillcock, Thompson, Tomsone. In the nineteenth century the elaborate Brown monument includes John Shaw Brown of the famous spinning firm, who died in 1887. Other names of this century include: Adamson, Armstrong, Ferguson, Finlay, Frickilson, Gibson, Little, Nicholson, Turner, White and Wright.

The new church at Waringstown was built in 1681 by William Waring and is probably the most interesting and beautiful parish church in the county. It still has the original oak beams resting on there corbels, and with carved pendants in the centre. The large north transept was added in 1830 and other additions subsequently. In the floor are tablets to early members of the Waring family and on the walls are later memorial tablets, all containing little-known information. The church registers date from 1697 and the oldest gravestone from 1709. There are many interesting eighteenth century stones in the graveyard, again copied by the Rev. E.D. Atkinson. As at Donaghcloney, several of these have disappeared since the beginning of this century, though one to Elizabeth Williams of 1709 was recovered last year. The oldest families buried here are: Bailie, Black, Carson, Deneson, Harrison, Huey, McNarey, Pitt Tagart, Warren and Wilson, and in the nineteenth century there are also: Atkinson, Brown, Gibson, Hamilton, Hampton, McAlister, McC omb, Mackenzie, Robinson, Ruddock, Sharman, Shaw and Wells.

Donaghcloney Presbyterian Church is about 2 miles south of Waringstown in the townland of Ballynabraggett. The congregation dates from 1748 and was under the auspices of the Seceders from its origin. The original building was mud-walled and thatched and appears to have been completely replaced in 1798. The oldest stone in the graveyard goes back to 1825. but one of their ministers, the Rev. James Carmichael who died in 1783, is buried at Old Donaghcloney, though the stone is now lost.

Clare, Parish of Tullylish

Finally. the Roman Catholic church in the townland of Clare, parish of Tullylish, falls within the Craigavon area. I have not been able to find out exactly when it was built, but presumably around 1800. It was omitted from the Architectural Heritage Society's Survey perhaps because it looks quite modern and is hidden away among small roads. The oldest gravestone to a Henry O'Neill who died in 1824, but unfortunately it is now broken. Other names of the pre-1865 period are: Kennedy, McConville McCusker, McMullan, Murphy and Skeath.

Space has restricted this article to the area within Craigavon, but there is a wealth of material immediately outside, at Moyallon. Tullylish, Lawrencetown, Dromore and Hillsborough. Though I have copied the pre-1865 gravestone: in most of County Down, there is room for much family research, correlating gravestones with church records, rent books, leases, etc. Lastly, the graveyards of county Armagh should certainly be systematically copied. I have taken 1864 as a deadline because civil registration of deaths began then, and records are fully extant in the Custom House, Dublin from this date. However, complete surveys, of surveys up to 1900 are even better, ideally with a plan of the graveyard. It would seem to be well worth copying the inscription in full, as epitaphs etc., give interest and may provide a clue about religion - by no means always to be assumed. The style of stone may give an idea of the affluence or the alleged importance of the family, so this is also worth noting. Altogether, even if the going is often rough, wet and miserable, the rewards are great in terms of knowledge preserved.