Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Rise of John Dalway's Cattle 'Empire' in East Antrim

Take these ingredients:

1. Dalway's Bawn;
2. The
Cattle Trail across the Commons from Ballynure to the coastal ports linked to Scotland;
3. Dalway Manor - the large tracts of land acquired in east Antrim by Dalway (and his tenants and partners).

Put them together and what comes out of the mix? They reveal the big picture of a cattle trading 'empire' that began in the 1500s and was still going strong in 1850.

The map of these combined ingredients is worth a close look (click on it to see it properly), for it tells the whole story:
Note the lands to the north west around Ballynure and its Fair Hill which was the Ballynure part of 'Dalway Manor';
Note the lands to the east around Dalway's Bawn that made up the other half of Dalway Manor;
Note the 'Aldermans' land in the North-East Division of the County of Carrickfergus that was controlled by Dalway and his tenant-farmers (and which gave his bigger operation the right of access to the Commons and grazing rights across it).
When the Cattle trail is shown linking all these, the pattern suddenly leaps out in a way that no written history has yet recorded, and the true purpose of Dalway's Bawn is revealed.

The earliest known date of a grant of the Broadisland and Kilroot lands to John Dalway was in 1591 from his wife's cousin, Shane McBryan O'Neill. But when Shane as chief of north Clandeboy died in 1596, the country was in turmoil. The MacDonnells had overrun the district by 1597, and after the death of Sir John Chichester at Battle of Pin Well (on Dalway's lands at Ballcarry), John Dalway, John Dobbs, Lieutenant Hart and Sir Moses Hill - all with an interest in these lands, had to flee and wait for quieter times.

The end of the Elizabethan war in Ireland was marked by the surrender of Hugh O'Neill on the very eve of Elizabeth's death in 1603. The new monarch was James I of England and Scotland, who had formerly been James VI of Scotland and a kinsman of the Scottish MacDonnells of the Glens. But John Dalway did get a re-grant of 'such lands as he held in right of his contract with Shane O'Neill'.

A few years later, in 1608, came the definitive 're-grant' of these lands to John Dalway from James I, 'with the consent of the commissioners' for the Ulster Plantation. It was probably the plantation commissioners that introduced what was for them a standard clause requiring Dalway to build:
'within the next seven years, a castle or house of stone or brick ... with a strong court or bawne about the same, in any convenient place, within the territory of Ballinowre'.
The lands of this grant are described in great detail, not only listing the individual townlands of the two separated territories of Ballynure and Broadisland, but also giving a precise description of the boundaries of these two estates (see the above map for the general locations).

There are a few more interesting details in the 1608 grant to John Dalway. He was
'to hold at Thomastowne, within the cinament of Ballynowre, a friday market, and a fair on the feast of St Bartholomew, and two days after; unless the fair-day fall on a Saturday or the Lord's day'.

Another part of the grant confirmed Dalway's holdings as a freeman within the County of Carrickfergus as:
'the half burgage ... on the E. side of High street, in the town of Carrickfergus ...
two parcels of ground near the E. end of said town ... one extending to the commons of the said town, northwards ...
lately assigned to said John Dalway for his Aldermans share of said townlands of Carrickfergus.'
The grant then goes on to mention that Dalway could in turn grant any part of the estate, apart from 600 acres for his own demesne, to any English or (lowland) Scottish subjects without needing 'the king's license' to do so. Some breakup of the estate did occur, but nothing that interfered with the basic economic thrust of the cattle trail. A Scottish noble man, Sir Archibald Edmonston, took a large section of the estate at Red Hall around Ballycarry in 1609, but this only served as a catlyst for thousands of lowland Scots settlers to overwhelm the district and secure the northern approaches that had been so vulnerable to incursions from the Glens. John Dobbs of Castle Dobbs married Margaret Dalway, the daughter of John Dalway and Jane McBryan O'Neill, and so the Dobbs family eventually owned much of the Kilroot and Ballynure lands.

When these lands are mapped, the whole thing suddenly makes sense. But it is also clear that the Dalway control of this cattle trail from the Sixmilewater Valley through to the ports for Scotland at Whitehead and Islandmagee could not have happened without the important central link in the chain - the Commons of Carrickfergus.

It was the old cattle drove trail across the Commons of Carrickfergus that connected Dalway's Ballynure and Broadisland estates. The townland of Castletown just east of Ballynure not only includes the site of the 'old castle' and bawn at the river crossing of the Castle Water, but also the 'Ballynure Fair Hill' which held fairs for cattle and pigs in May, September and October, with a large horse fair also held on nearby Reagh Hill in May, November and Christmas Day. Many of the pigs and cattle sold at Ballynure Fair ended up on boats leaving Portmuck (
muc is Irish Gaelic for 'pig') or Whitehead for the drove roads in south-west Scotland. Dalway's Bawn was their last stopping place before the 'end of the trail'.


  1. Would these cattle have been of various breeds? Were the cattle of the 1500s of largely undifferentiated stock, only later to be bred as "Jerseys" and "Guernseys" and "Herefords" and "Anguses"? I believe "Kerry" and "Dexter" are Irish breeds...

  2. Gary,
    What type of cattle? A good question that I'll have to get round to addressing.
    The breeds you mention were never really common here apart from specialist 'dairy' farms on the lowlands. All sorts of continental breeds are everywhere now (Simmental, Charolais, etc.)
    But when I was very young only two types were seen - black and white Frisians, and brown Ayrshires. But I'm told these were only about here from the 1930s and 1940s, before that the 'traditional' breeds were small (usually black) shorthorns. One type of 'rare breed' today that gets a frequent mention as once common here is the 'Belted Galloway'.

    When I worked in the Ulster Folk Museum we kept 'rare breeds', including "Kerrys" and "Moileys" (an Irish hornless cow). I suspect if we were transported back in time we would find small, black cattle of no particular name and mixed breed.

    1. Sir:
      I just bumped into your website researching cattle history. I am in the US (Western Pennsylvania) and have some Kerry cattle.
      It is interesting that you used the term "moileys" as in the rural USA a "Muley cow"
      is any polled cow. Another language connection between Ulster and America.

      Best Regards,


  3. There's nearly always more plans afoot than those of which we're aware. Time hasn't changed human nature, not that anythings wrong with making plans.

  4. Thanks Philip. So the Ulster Folk Museum actually keeps live cattle! I want to read up on Frisians, Ayrshires, Belted Galloways and Moileys.

    On another note, was there much disturbance in your area this past week during marching days?

  5. No trouble at all apart from the usual suspect areas of Belfast that I usually avoid at the best of times! Actually I'm over in Scotland at the minute visiting my daughter for a few days, so only get a spasmodic 'go' on the computer.

  6. Gary,
    Forgot to say, 'moiley' is an Irish Gaelic worn for 'hornless' - or more correctly 'bald'. An old roofless castle in Carrickfergus beside the Earl of Essex's 'Mount' was called the 'moiled' castle because it didn't have a roof (in the town records of the 1500s), and I know several people with the nickname 'moiley' (presumab;y besause they are - like myself - folically challenged).

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