Tartaraghan Precinct

Vol. 3 No. 3 - 1977

Tartaraghan Precinct

by W.E.C. Fleming

The name Tartaraghan or Tachtaraghan seems originally to have applied to a small and rather obscure district which forms part of the present townland of Eglish about five miles north-west of Portadown. The name appears in various documents of the 17th century where it is described as being a "Precinct or Territory," a secular term as distinct from the present day ecclesiastical parish of Tartaraghan. However, with the passage of time the name came to be used of a much more extensive area, as indicated on some of the 19th century maps.

The name has been interpreted in various ways; Joyce in his "Irish names of places" renders it as Araghan's or Harrahan's house-site; Canon J. B. Leslie suggests it means the house on the hill; while yet another speculation is that it derives from Tirechan who lived in the second half of the 7th century and who wrote a memoir of St. Patrick. One may, however, conclude that a dwelling of some note stood in the vicinity in early times.

The earliest mention of Tartaraghan that I am aware of is to be found in the Inquisition and map of 1609; it then referred to this small portion of land within the present townland of Eglish, and had for many centuries prior to that date, been associated with the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Armagh. It was in fact a Grange of that Abbey, as was also the Grange of Maghery on the shore of Lough Neagh. One may assume that in those early days there must have been a road from Tartaraghan to Armagh which the clergy could travel when coming to minister to the people, and by which the produce of the Grange could be transported to the Abbey in Armagh. On the dissolution of the Abbey the Grange of Tartaraghan became the property, under letters patent of James I, of Sir Toby Caulfeild.


In the 1609 Plantation map the Church is marked as being roofless. It was undoubtedly a small mud-wall building, and tradition says that it stood on the side of the graveyard next to the Rectory, although no trace of it remains.

The small graveyard is of some interest and is locally known as the "Toby-hole." Burials occasionally took place here until the year 1913. There are little more than half a dozen headstones remaining, and there is a tradition that some were removed in days gone by to make hearth-stones for certain houses in the district. However, none of the remaining stones can be very old as there are no standing stones in Co. Armagh graveyards earlier than the 17th century. '

The origin of the name "Toby-hole" is not certain; perhaps there was a holy well (Tober) in the vicinity, or being part of the grant to Sir Toby Caulfeild and lying in a hollow, it was known locally as Toby's Hole or Toby-hole.

After the old Church ceased to be used, there was a period throughout the 17th century when little or no provision was made for the spiritualities of the area; and as a result of a petition of the local inhabitants, 200 strong, an act of Parliament was passed in 1709 which stated that "the precinct or territory of Tartaraghan in the County of Armagh shall - for ever be a Parish by the name of the Parish of Tartaraghan." As a result of this Act a new Church was built about a mile from the original, in the townland of Breagh Lower, Consequently the name Tartaraghan came to apply to a very much larger area stretching from the River Bann on the east to the Blackwater on the west, and was roughly co-extensive with the ancient territory of Clancan, the home of the Macan sept.


The part of Tartaraghan which lies towards Lough Neagh is flat, and was in early times densely wooded. This is indicated by the number of townlands having the prefix "Derry" meaning an oak grove or wood. Milltown old school is still occasionally referred to as "the Wood School," and the Birches derives its name from the birch plantation which covered that area until the middle of the last century. The Statistical Report of 1835 states that in the townland of Derrinraw "there is a large extent of meadow filled with oak stumps still standing broken off at about 2 feet above the ground"; and "at low water in Lough Neagh stumps of oak trees may be seen extending from Columbkiln to a considerable distance into the lake."

An old note book of the Nicholson family, relating to the townland of Derrylileagh states that there were some ancient woods there of oak and ash which were sold to the government and used in the making of the Coalisland canal.

It also records the existence there of a remarkable kind of ant, a large black one, which built large mounds of the needles of the fir and had no sting. Lord Enniskillen sent carts the whole way from Fermanagh to get these ants and their eggs, and drew them away in sacks: so did also Lord Gosford.

Mr. Nicholson continues: "Formerly hares were very plentiful there (Derrylileagh) and as guns were scarce, the country people killed them with a short stick, called a Cock-stick, from the then sport of throwing them at cocks on Easter Monday."


The most interesting piece of antiquity in this area was the remains of an old road called St. Patrick's Road. At the time of the first ordnance survey it could be traced from Lough Neagh towards Armagh, passing through the townlands of Derrylileagh and Derrycorr. Tradition says that it was used to bring sand from Lough Neagh to build the Cathedral in Armagh. Be that as it may, those who saw it in the 1830's were convinced that it was a very ancient road, and that much care and labour had been bestowed upon it. This road where it traversed bog-land was composed of large planks of oak laid length-wise, on top of this yew plankswere placed at right angles' and then it was paved. In places it was discovered well below the surface of the bog, being exposed during turf-cutting operations at a depth of 4 or 5 feet. In 1815 a gold gorget was dug up in the Derrycorr bog, it weighed 12 oz. and was richly chased.

When the population explosion took place in the first half of the 19th century, Tartaraghan became one of the most densely populated rural areas in Ireland. This is partly accounted for by the fact that weaving was carried on in most of the homes, and the people did not have to live entirely off the land. Lewis's Topographical Dictionary (1839) says of Tartaraghan, "about one-sixth of the population are employed in the linen manufacture," and also gives the population as 6321. This would indicate that at least 1,000 people were involved in the hand weaving industry and that the density of population was around one person to every 1.5 acres of land-bog and marsh included.


The Stastistical Report of 1835 says of this area, "a very coarse kind of linen is, in general, manu-factured. Mr. Crone of Derryane employs between 600 and 700 looms in different parts of the country - a tolerably good weaver can only earn from 3/- to 4/- [15p to 20p] and a spinner from I/- to 1/3 [5p to 6p] per week."

The density of population inevitably meant that on the whole living conditions were poor. The 1835 Report describes them thus. "The cottages are in general of mud, thatched, one storey high and divided into two or three rooms; there is a great want of comfort and cleanliness about them, particularly in the eastern side of the Parish in the townlands of Derrykeevan and Derrykeeran, where they frequently consist of one very small apartment, the walls of which are built with sods placed upon the bare bog without any flooring and propped up by fir blocks, the roof covered with straw in a very loose manner, without any egress for the smoke beyond a small opening in the roof; in fact it is scarcely possible to conceive of anything more miserable. Potatoes form nearly the only article of food amongst the lower order of the people; those of a better class use oatmeal, milk and butter, and occasionally meat."

As might be expected with a high density of rural population, there is a maze of small roads throughout the district, as someone aptly ex-pressed it, "the wee roads are like netting-wire." The principal old roads through the area ran from Verner's Bridge to Portadown, and from Maghery ferry to Loughgall via the Cockhill where another road branched off to Armagh; these are to be found on Roque's map of 1760. An interesting stone built into the old wall at Clantilew gives various distances from that point, e.g. "Port-adown by Birch Wood 6 miles 2 furl." The main roads in the mid 1800's were repaired with gravel and kept in tolerably good order at the expense of the county. We read "the bye-roads and lanes are numerous; the latter are for the most part very bad, particularly in the townland of Drumannon." (1835 Survey).


The vicinity of the Parish Church is often referred as "The Head of the Road." I have never heard an explanation of this term, but it would appear from Roque's map of 1760, that at that time the road to the Birches turned left at Belmont House and followed a rather circuitous route. The direct road past the Presbyterian Meeting House, was made at a later date and runs in an almost straight line from Tartaraghan to Lough Neagh; we read, "Mr. Obre has built a pretty rustic cottage--for the accommodation of water parties on the lake." (1835 Report). This is what is now known as Innismore House. It therefore seems probable that the new road running from the lough shore direct to the higher ground near the Church, where it linked up with the old road, gave rise to the descriptive term "Head of the (new) Road."

The greater part of the Tartaraghan district lay within the Clontilew estate. About 1609 a grant of 1500 acres of land was made to a William Stanhawe of Norwich, designated "the middle portion of Kannagolah." One of the conditions was that the "undertaker" should erect a stone house and a bawn. He came over in 1610, took possession, and returned to England; and when in 1611 Sir George Carew made his report on the progress of the plantation, he simply stated that Stanhawe's son Stephen was acting as agent in his father's absence.


Pynnars survey of 1618 stated "William Stanhawe hath 1500 acres called Kannagoolan, there is nothing at all built, himself is in England and hath been there these seven years." When an inquisition was taken at Loughgall in 1628 it was found that no building had yet been erected.

The Windmill Stump

One of the most conspicuous objects in the area is the old windmill stump on the Cock-hill, the highest point in the area, 457 feet above sea-level, and affording a panoramic view of the countryside. When the windmill was built I am not aware, but it is clearly marked on the map of 1760. As it stood on the Crowhill estate, it was customary for the landlord to write into his leases, that all grain grown by the tenant must be brought to this mill to be ground, in default of which he had to pay 10/- sterling to him for every barrel of grain ground elsewhere. In 1837, it was stipulated that the lessee shall "repair the said Wind Mill and put it in good order to grind the grain that may be grown on the estate of Crowhill, and have it finished against the 1st September, 1838." Subsequently the "Big Wind" took its toll of the mill in 1839. About the year 1915 the circular building was re-roofed and the walls castellated, giving the false impression that it was an old fortification.

In the following year a re-grant was made of 780 acres, and these lands were erected into a manor to be called the manor of Clontilew, and two fairs yearly were authorised' "at the town of Clontilew," on 10th May and 6th November. The first manor house was evidently built in the early 1630's.

Shortly before his death in 1635, Henry Stanhawe gave leases for three lives to a number of tenants which included the following names still familiar in the area: Milsop, Greenaway, Eldon, Williamson, Hall, Locke and Dunlop. The 1641 rising left its mark on Clontilew, as, according to subsequent depositions, the manor house was burnt. It would appear that none of the male side of the family survived, but the house was rebuilt about 1650, as in Pender's Census of Ireland, c. 1659, a Mr. Bickerton was in residence, being the son of James Bickerton who had married Amy Stanhawe. About 1670 Henry Stanhawe's daughter Elinor married Edward Obre of Lisburn, and the property passed on the distaff side into the name of Obre and so continued until Edward S. Obre sold it prior to his death in 1907 to Col. W. C. FitzGerald. The estate then comprised about 114 acres, the other lands having been sold off to the tenants. On the death of the widow of Col. FitzGerald in 1969, the property was purchased by Mr. G. Scott who demolished the old dwelling and has built a fine house in the Georgian style of architecture.

Crowhill estate

To the western side of Tartaraghan lay the Crowhill estate. This was part of the grant to John Heron in 1609 comprising Aghavillan and Broughas. By 1630 these lands had passed either by purchase or forfeiture to a John Waldron, who, in 1634 was in occupation. His grand-daughter married Gilbert Thacker of Repton in Derbyshire, and their daughter Jane became ultimate heir to the Waldron estate in Co. Armagh. She married twice but died without issue in 1744. The property was then sold and John Hoope of Lurgan in conjunction with W.

Brownlow bought the Manor of Richmont, and received as his share what became known as the Crowhill estate. The Hoopes had come to Lurgan from Yorkshire in 1660. Robert joined the Society of Friends, being a wealthy and influential member. They were prominent in the development of the linen trade, and a branch of the family resided at Crowhill; Sarah married Joseph Atkinson of Money in 1791, who rebuilt the house in 1820 as it stands today.

In the adjoining townland of Cranagill is the oldest inhabited dwelling in this area, Taukbridge House. This is the old home of the Nicholson family. The Rev. Wm. Nicholson resided here in the early 1600's and tradition says that he was murdered at the bridge during the 1641 rising. The family later returned, c. 1650, and rebuilt the house which has been occupied ever since. The house was sold recently to Mr. R. Hamilton having been on the market for the first time in three and a half centuries.