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Ardstraw Parish & Newtownstewart, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1837
Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Ireland

Transcribed, Compiled and Submitted by
Len Swindley, Melbourne, Australia

ARDSTRAW, or ARDSRATH, a parish, partly in the barony of OMAGH, but chiefly in that of STRABANE, County of TYRONE, and province of ULSTER; containing, with the post-town of Newtown-Stewart, 21,212 inhabitants. This place was distinguished, under the name of Ardsrath, as the seat of an ancient bishoprick, over which St. Eugene, or Oen, presided about the year 540. At a very early period a small stone church or chapel existed here; and the names are recorded of several bishops who presided over the See, which, in 597, was removed to Maghera, and finally to Derry, in 1158. This place suffered repeatedly by fire, and appears to have been destroyed about the close of the twelfth century. The parish, which is situated on the road from Dublin to Londonderry, comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 44,974¼ statute acres, of which 537¼ are covered with water. The surface is pleasingly diversified with hill and dale, and enlivened by the rivers Struell, Glenelly, and Derg, which, after flowing through the parish, unite in forming the river Morne, which abounds with trout and salmon; and also with several large and beautiful lakes, of which three are within the demesne of Baron’s Court. The land is chiefly arable, with pasture intermixed; and the soil in the valleys is fertile; but there are considerable tracts of mountain and several extensive bogs. Limestone is found in several places at the base of the mountain called Bessy Bell, the whole of the upper portion of which is clay-slate; on the summit of another mountain, called Mary Gray, it is found with clay-slate at the base; and round the southern base of the former are detached blocks of freestone scattered in every direction. There are also some quarries of limestone at Cavandaragh; the stone is raised in blocks, or laminæ, from a quarter of an inch to three feet in thickness. The mountains within and forming a portion of the boundary of the parish are Bessy Bell, Douglas, and Mary Gray, which present beautiful and romantic scenery, particularly in the neighbourhood of Newtown-Stewart; and the view from the high grounds, including the lakes and rivers by which the parish is diversified, is truly picturesque. There are five bridges; one at Moyle, of three elliptic arches; a very ancient bridge at Newtown-Stewart, of six arches; another of six arches at Ardstraw, and a modern bridge of three arches on the Derry road. The principal seats are Baron’s Court, the residence of the Marquess of Abercorn; Castlemoyle, of the Rev. R. H. Nash, D. D.; Woodbrook, of R. M. Tagert, Esq.; Newtown-Stewart Castle, of Major Crawford; Crosh, of A. Colhoun, Esq.; and Spa Mount, of E. Sproule, Esq. There were formerly several bleach-greens in the parish, but at present there is only one in operation, which is at Spa Mount, on the river Derg, and in which about 16,000 pieces are annually bleached and finished, principally for the London market. The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin: the tithes amount to £1,094. The church is a large and beautiful edifice with a handsome spire, and is situated in the town of Newtown-Stewart; a grant of £478 for its repair has been lately made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. A new church, or chapel of ease, is about to be built at Baron’s Court, or Magheracreegan, for which the late Board of First Fruits granted £600, now in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The glebe-house has a glebe of 681 acres attached to it, of which 461¾ are in a state of cultivation. The R. C. parish is co-extensive with that of the Established Church, but is divided into East and West Ardstraw; there are chapels at Newtown-Stewart, Dragish, and Cairncorn. There are five places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with, the Synod of Ulster, at Ardstraw, Newtown-Stewart, Douglas Bridge, Clady, and Garvetagh; that of Ardstraw is aided by a second class grant, and those of Newtown-Stewart, Douglas-Bridge, and Clady have each a third class grant. There are also two places of worship for Presbyterians of the Seceding Synod, one at Drumligagh of the first class, and the other at Newtown-Stewart of the second class; and there are a meeting-house for Primitive and two for Wesleyan Methodists. The parochial school at Newtown-Stewart is aided by an annual donation from the rector; and there are fifteen other public schools in different parts of the parish, and seventeen private schools; in the former are 1,600, and in the latter about 780, children: and thirty-five Sunday schools. The poor are supported by voluntary contributions, aided by the interest of £100 in the 3½ per cents., being a sum due to the parish, which was recovered about twenty years since by process of law, and by act of vestry added to the poor fund. There are numerous interesting remains of antiquity in the parish, the most ancient of which are those of the monastery and cathedral of Ardsrath, near the village, consisting chiefly of the foundations of that part of the building which was formerly used as the parish church, the remains of some very beautiful crosses of elaborate workmanship, and several upright stones and columns richly fluted; but the churchyard, which was very extensive, has been contracted by the passing of the public road, in the formation of which many remains of antiquity were destroyed. Nearly adjoining is a ruin which tradition points out as the bishop’s palace, and which was occupied as an inn when the Dublin road passed this way. About three miles above Ardstraw Bridge, and situated on a gentle eminence, are the picturesque ruins of Scarvaherin abbey, founded by Turloch Mac Dolagh, in 1456, for Franciscan friars of the third order, and on its dissolution granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Henry Piers; and near Newtown-Stewart is the site of the friary of Pubble, which appears to have been an appendage to Scarvaherin, and was granted at the same time to Sir Henry Piers; of the latter, nothing but the cemetery remains. In Newtown-Stewart are the extensive and beautiful remains of the castle built by Sir Robert Newcomen, in 1619; it is in the Elizabethan style, with gables and clustered chimneys. Jas. II lodged in this castle, on his return from Lifford in 1589, and by his orders it was dismantled on the day following; with the exception of the roof, it is nearly perfect. At the foot of the mountain called Bessy Bell are the ruins of an ancient building called Harry Ouree’s [Avery’s]Castle, concerning which some remarkable legends are preserved by the country people; they consist of two circular towers, with a gateway between them, and some side walls, which overhang their base more than 8 feet. Near the end of the bridge at Newtown-Stewart is a large mound of earth, evidently thrown up to protect the ford, which in early times must have been of importance as the only pass through the vast range of the Munterlony mountains. There was a similar fort on the ford of Glenelly, near Moyle Castle, and another at the old ford at the village of Ardstraw. On the summit of Bessy Bell, or Boase-Baal, on which in pagan times sacrifice is supposed to have been offered to Baal or Bel, is a large and curious cairn; there are also cairns on the summit of Mary Gray, and more than thirty forts in the parish, nearly in a line from east to west, which were designed to guard the passes on the rivers of Glenelly and Derg. About a mile below Newtown-Stewart, in the bed of the river, is a single upright stone, called the “Giant’s Finger,” and lately “Flinn’s rock,” respecting which many strange traditions are preserved in the neighbourhood.

ARDSTRAW-BRIDGE, a village, in the parish of ARDSTRAW, barony of STRABANE, county of TYRONE, and province of ULSTER, 3 miles (W. N. W.) from Newtown-Stewart: the population is returned with the parish. This place, formerly Ardsrath, is of high antiquity, and was distinguished for its ancient and greatly celebrated abbey, noticed in the preceding description of the parish of Ardstraw. The village is situated on the river Derg, which is here wide and rapid, and is crossed by an ancient stone bridge of six arches, over which the old road from Londonderry to Dublin formerly passed: it contains 32 houses, some of which are well built, but several of them are old and in a neglected state. There were formerly six fairs held in the village, which were large and well attended, but they have been discontinued for some time. There is a place of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, and a public school.

NEWTOWN-STEWART, a market and post-town, in the parish of ARDSTRAW, barony of STRABANE, county of TYRONE, and province of ULSTER, 7¼ miles (N. W.) from Omagh, and 99¼ (N. N. W.) from Dublin, on the road to Londonderry; containing 1,737 inhabitants. This town, which is beautifully situated on the western bank of the river Mourne, about halfway between Omagh and Strabane, and surrounded by the lofty mountains of Munterloney, was anciently called Lislas, and appears to have been a place of early importance, commanding the only pass through this extensive and mountainous district. The adjacent lands were granted by Jas. I., on the settlement of Ulster, to Sir J. Clapham, who not having complied with the conditions of the grant, the property became forfeited to the Crown, and was granted by Chas. I. to Sir W. Stewart, from whom the present town takes its name. Sir Phelim O’Nial, having obtained possession of the castle in 1641, cut off all communication with this part of Tyrone, and compelled the King’s forces to retreat from every post they occupied in this part of the country. In the war of the Revolution, Jas. II, lodged for one night in the castle on his way to Londonderry, and also on his return from Lifford, and on leaving it the following morning, ordered it to be dismantled and the town to be burned, which orders were carried into effect, and the town continued in ruins till it was restored by one of the Stewart family in 1722. After its restoration it soon became a place of considerable trade, from its situation in the centre of the great linen district; and in 1727, Dr. John Hall, rector of Ardstraw, built a handsome church here at his own expense, which has ever since continued to be the parish church. The town, which is the property of C. J. Gardiner, Esq., at present consists of three principal and three smaller streets, and contains 346 houses, which are neat and well built; the principal streets are well paved, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water from a spring at the south- western end of the town, conveyed by pipes to the more respectable houses, and into public reservoirs in several parts of the town for the supply of the poorer inhabitants; in the main street are two good hotels. A considerable trade is derived from its situation on a great public thoroughfare, and many of the inhabitants are employed in the numerous limestone and freestone quarries in the neighbourhood, which are extensively worked, the limestone found on the lands of Baronscourt is of remarkably fine quality for building. The market, on Monday, is amply supplied with every kind of agricultural produce, and with unbleached linen. Fairs, which are numerously attended, are held on the last Monday in every month, and are chiefly for cattle, sheep, and pigs. A small constabulary police force is stationed in the town, and petty sessions are held monthly. The church is a large and handsome structure on a gentle eminence, and has a lofty and well-proportioned octagonal spire, which was added to it in 1803, in the time of the Rev. G. Hall, then rector, and afterwards Bishop of Dromore. There are also a R. C. chapel, two places of worship for Presbyterians and two for Wesleyan Methodists, and a dispensary. In the town are the remains of the castle, which, with the exception of the roof, is nearly entire, forming a noble and highly interesting ruin. In the vicinity is Baronscourt, the seat of the Marquess of Abercorn, a stately mansion, situated in a widely extended demesne, combining much romantic and beautiful scenery, embellished with three spacious lakes, and enriched with fine timber. Moyle House, the residence of the Rev. R. H. Nash, D. D.; Newtown- Stewart Castle, of Major Crawford; and Cross House, of A. W. Colhoun, Esq., are also in the neighbourhood. Adjoining one end of the bridge is an ancient fort thrown up to defend the ford of the river; there is a similar one at Ardstraw Bridge, and also at Moyle, to guard the ford of the river Glenally. There are also numerous other forts in the neighbourhood, and various cairns, which are more particularly noticed in the article on ARDSTRAW.