The Site of Craigavon

Vol. 2 No. 1 - 1971

The Site of Craigavon

by D.R.M. Weatherup, F.M.A.

former Curator, Armagh Museum

As the Craigavon Historical Society is naturally primarily concerned with the area of the new city it is perhaps of interest to look briefly at its physical environment.

The designated area of Craigavon covers 105 square miles and includes that portion of north County Armagh which formed the Lurgan Rural District and the Rural District of Moira, in north-west County Down together with the Boroughs of Portadown and Lurgan.1 With Lough Neagh to the north the Lurgan Rural District boundary ran irregularly south-east from the mouth of the River Blackwater at Maghery crossing the Portadown to Loughgall road north of Ballintaggart and the Portadown to the Armagh road near Derryhale House. At Mulladry it turned north-east through Brackagh Moss with a narrow loop at the junction of the Cusher and Bann rivers before it swung south-east again to meet the boundary of the Moira Rural District.2

The County Down area only reaches the south-east corner of Lough Neagh at Shan Port and its boundary runs eastwards north of Moira village and along the disused canal, just including the motorway roundabout, before it follows the River Lagan then swings south and west by Shankerburn and Islandderry and thus to the south of Donacloney by Tullyrain and Linen Hill passing just north of Gilford where it turns north-west to meet the Lurgan Rural boundary to the east of Moyallan.3

The geology of the Lough Neagh basin

The geological map4 shows two main formations, the first around the Lough shore is an area of estuarine clays and its boundary runs from Maghery south-east by Tartaraghan Church and swings on a broad curve northward to Derrykeevan and then south to Derryanvil on the Bann, where it turns north-east by Derrymacash and Kinnego. These clays are of Pliocene date (Pliocene is the first period of the Tertiary era in the geological time scale terminating about a million years ago).5 Of a known depth of over 1,100 feet in places they were deposited by the pre-glacial Lough Neagh on the upper basalts as these sank in the general collapse of the Antrim plateau and its underlying rocks which dip inland forming the Lough Neagh basin.

The rest of the area except for a portion to the south-east is occupied by a mass of basalt. In County Armagh it forms the south-western portion of the great sheet of molten lava which was vented in vast quantities and spread and hardened over County Antrim and the adjacent areas during the Eocene period of the Tertiary era some sixty million years ago. It forms the common rock or whinstone of that portion of the county in which Portadown and Lurgan are situated. Around Donacloney even more ancient Silurian shales and slates, which underlie north and mid-Down and central Armagh and date from the Palaeozoic era about three hundred million years old, form the bed rock south-east of the basalt which covers them to the north and west. Around Moira and Magheralin Triassic sandstone and Keuper marl emerge from beneath the later Cretateous chalk which protrudes around the edge of the basalt plateau and which in the Lagan valley runs in a south-westerly direction as far as Waringstown.

Ice Age

The whole country is thickly covered in glacial drift, the debris of weathering and erosion distributed by water and glacial action in the Ice Age and producing the present conformation of the terrain. The main features are drumlins, those small humped hills of boulder clay so typical of Down and north Armagh and the spillway - the broad, shallow valley from Portadown to Newry - which was formed by the over-flow of glacial Lough Neagh when its northern exit was blocked by ice.6 The drainage pattern is typical of drumlin country for the clays are sticky and the run-off accumulates in the hollows between the hills and wanders as small streams around their bases. The main river of the area, the Bann, enters the glacial spill-way-where it is joined by the Cusher at the boundary of Craigavon's area, while independent small streams like the Closet flow into Low Neagh. To the west over a tortuous watershed drainage is to the Blackwater river system while the Lagan serves the eastern extremity of the region.

New Stone Age

The earliest settlements would seem to have been at Lough Neagh where, some eight thousand years ago, Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) fisherman and food gatherers camped at the edge of the lake and left behind large numbers of their distinctive flint tools. The first Irish farmers, the New Stone Age (or Neolithic) settlers, followed a less nomadic way of life as they tilled small plots and herd-ed domestic animals. The climatic conditions which prevailed at the period when this farming community was expanding gave ideal conditions on the higher hills where there was open grassland suitable for grazing and the soils were light enough to be cultivated with stone hoes. The fenland around the Lough Shore and the heavily forested clay soils of the drumlins in the basalt area had little to offer such people but finds of flint tools and stone axes show that they travelled on the Bann and suggest that they used the crossing place at the broad pool where Portadown would later stand. The glacial spillway running from north to south was an ill-drained valley and formed a serious impediment to east-west communications and crossing points like those at Portadown, Jerrettspass and Poyntzpass must always have been of importance.

A deterioration of Climate

A deterioration in the climate about three thousand years ago, which caused the formation of hill bog, drove the population down to lower ground but the advent of metal tools (bronze and especially iron) made it possible to make clearings in the oak woods and drain and till the boulder clay. It is from this period that there remain those earthworks called raths or Danes forts, which were the farmsteads of the iron-using agriculturists. They are notably absent in the vicinity of Portadown, probably because of the flatter, marshy ground around the Bann which is free from drumlins.7

It was from these communities, probably organized on a tribal basis, that there developed the Irish clan system with a way of life based on small-scale agriculture and the pasturage of large herds of cattle.8

Plantation of Ulster

Following the Irish-English wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Armagh was one of the countries settled by English under-takers as part of the Plantation of Ulster and it was to the development of two of these Plantation manors that present boroughs of Portadown and Lurgan owe their foundation. The Obins family9 who had, by 1619, purchased from the Powells (the original grantees) two thousand acres around Portadown (or Ballywarren) erected their bawn and built their town on the only possible site. This was on a slight rise to the west of the Bann where the east-west route crossed the river between the bogs of the fenland to the north and the drumlin country to the south.10

The siting of Lurgan seemed more gratuitous as William Brownlow who received a grant of land at Ballynemony and inherited from his father the manor of Dowcoran, apparently at first settled at Annaloist but by 1619 had Lurgan11 well established and Pynnar reported it to be "a fair Town, consisting of 42 Houses, all of which are inhabited with English Families, and the streets all paved clean through also to water Mills, and a Wind Mill, all for corn."12 The settlers felled the forrests to clear land for farming as well as for safety and later for charcoal burning and drainage was improved but the bogs of the estuarine clay fenland, which must as often have been Lough Neagh as beside it, were too poor for development and became a refuge area.

Molyneaux's Journey through the North of Ireland 1708

Despite the set-backs of the 1641 Civil War13 substantial progress had been made by the end of the seventeenth century as is shown by Molyneux's account in 1708. "From hence Mr. Chichester, a Relation of my Lord Donegall's, invited us to dine with him at the house where he lives, belonging to one Mr. Workman, within half a mile of Portadown miles from Ardmagh. Mr. Workman shewed us here vast plantations of Fir Trees of All different ages from the seed. They thrive here mighty well, and this Gentleman makes a considerable Gain in this way. After Dinner we proceeded on our journey towards Belfast, where Mr. Chichester promised to accompany us. We passed thro' Portadown, a pretty village situated on the River Bann, and where so many protestants were drowned in the '41 Rebellion by the Irish. Here our horses passed over in a wherry, the Bridge which they were then a Building, very Large and handsome, being not yet finished. From hence we went on thro' a mighty pretty English-like enclosed countrey, and well planted with Large Trees, to Mr. Brownlow's Town, Lurgan, miles from Ardmagh, situated within half a mile of the South Banks of Lough Neagh. This Town is at present the greatest mart of Linen Manufactories in the North, being almost entirely peopled with Linnen Weavers, And all by the care and cost of Mr. Brownlow, who on his first Establishing the Trade here, bought up everything that was brought to the market of Cloath and lost at first considerably; but at Length the thing fixing itself, he is now by the same methods a considerable Gainer".

Industrial Revolution

When the advent of the Industrial Revolution brought the introduction of machine manufactory and mechanical transport Portadown found itself in an advantageous position, being situated in the natural junction if the east-west crossing of the Bann and the north-south valley of the spillway which ran to Newry, for this level tract was now an asset as a routeway followed by road, canal and railway. Between 1830 and 1860 there was a dramatic growth in population in both Lurgan and Portadown each increasing from about two hundred to over to ten thousand in the nineteenth century15 and Mr. and Mrs. Hall during their tour of Ireland about 1836 remarked "our visits to the towns of Armagh afforded us much enjoyment. Portadown, and Lurgan, and Tandragee have each a thriving look; their large markets suggested the notion of abundance; the warehouses for the sale of linen bore testimony to the industry that produces wealth".16M.p>

It was indeed the linen industry that contributed much to the growth of both towns, and to the general prosperity of the area. The enclosures which accompanied the advent of rotation farming gave the countryside its twentieth century form of scattered farms and hawthorn-hedged fields with here and there a wooded demesne and the towns and villages well spaced apart in the pleasant rural surroundings.

The city of Craigavon as planned17 keeps mainly to the clay area over the basalt, being concentrated between Portadown and Lurgan, and the agricultural holding of the district are being swept away to be replaced by sectors designed for housing, industry, recreation and education. To the north the motorway has been blasted through the bogs of the estuarine clays and that remote and isolated area on the southern shore of Lough Neagh has become the haunt of the motorist as well as the Montiaghs man, of the dinghy sailor as well as the pollen fisherman, and of the tripper as well as the wild fowler.

The character of country and town has been steadily altered by man's increasing mastery of his environment and the machinery of modern engineering have enabled the natural limitations of the area to be largely set aside. No one returning to Craigavon after ten years absence will find it any more recognizable than an eighteenth century traveller would have done after an absence of fifty years - such is progress.

  1. See "Craigavon New City, 2nd Report on the Plan" (1967), p. 11.
  2. Oram, R.W. "List of Historic Buildings ... falling within Craigavon Urban District", Belfast, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, map on p. 5.
  3. "List of Historic Buildings ... falling within Moira Rural District", Belfast, U.A.H.S., map on p. 13.
  4. See the geological map published by the Geological Survey of Ireland, O.S. 7/4 sheet 5.
  5. For a geological table of periods and eras see Charlesworth, J.K., "The Geology of Ireland, an Introduction", Edinburgh and London, 19 5 3, pp. 6 and 7.
  6. See Charlesworth, J.K., in "Belfast in its Regional Setting", Belfast 1952, pp.22-29.
  7. Reid, H. D. McC., "The Historical Geography of Armagh"; unpublished thesis, Q.U.B.,1954, maps 3, 4 and 6.
  8. See Lucas, A.T. "Cattle in Ancient and Medieval Irish Society", . O'Connell School Union Record, 1937-58.
  9. Hill, G., "An Historical Account of the Plantation of Ulster", Belfast 1877, p.558.
  10. Greer, J. V., "Aspects of the Historical Geography of Portadown, 1610-1900"; unpublished thesis, Q.U.B., 1963 , pp. 3 -5 .
  11. Camblin, G., "The Town in Ulster", Belfast 1951, p. 35, and "Lurgan Official Guide", 1966, p.5.
  12. Hill G., "An Historical Account of the Plantation of Ulster", pp. 556-557.
  13. See "County Armagh Depositions 1641"; bound typescript in County Armagh Museum Library.
  14. Molyneux, T., "Journey through the North, August 7th 17 0 8 ", in Young, R.M., "Historical Notices of Old Belfast and its Vicinity", Belfast 1896, pp. 153-154.
  15. "Craigavon New City, 2nd Report on the Plan", p.12;
  16. Hall, Mr. and Mrs.. S.C., "Ireland, its Scenery, Character, etc.", London, Vol. 2, p. 460.
  17. "New City, Northern Ireland, 1st Report" (1964), pp. 40-44.