Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Idea for River Lagan book began with a drink
from a Parisian fountain


Ian HillONE of Northern Ireland's best known travel writers received his initial inspiration for a book about the River Lagan after enjoying a much needed glass of cold clean water from one of the fountains supplied to the City of Paris by Lisburn aristocrat Sir Richard Wallace. A thirsty Ian Hill had come out of a jazz club on the French capital's left bank in the early hours of a summer morning some decades ago and saw a young man drinking from an elaborate fountain by the Pont Neuf. He was assured the fountain, one of the 50 surviving 'Les Wallaces' was safe to drink from and he learned 'Les Wallaces' had been given to Paris by Sir Richard during the Prussian siege of 1801.

"Later, back home, I discovered much more about this m'Lord and his Ulster connections and vowed there was a book to be written about him," Ian continued. "But years were to pass before the idea for a book about the whole run of the Lagan, 'My Lagan Love', would offer the opportunity to return Richard the favour he'd done me, one hot night in Paris."

Ian explained Sir Richard was the son of the Marquis of Hertford and either the ballet dancer Maria Frangipani or Scots woman Agnes Jackson, described as a 'daughter of the regiment of the 10th Hussars.

"Whatever his provenance Dick, a dapper man given to brocade jackets and a Parisian accent, inherited much of Piccadilly, Paris and Lisburn," Ian continued.

'A generous landlord, he lowered Lisburn's rents, improved its housing and left it an elegant courthouse, the Assembly Rooms, Wallace Park and the 'University and Intermediate School' which became Wallace High, plus his own stylish home, Castle House, which later became 'The Tech'."

Writing the book also allowed Ian to answer for himself the question 'who do you think you are'?

He explained while working as Director of the NI Tourist Board he received a package containing "an elegantly scripted family tree, tracing the Hill family from the founding of Hillsborough, 'on a Lagan tributary', right up to the present day. "Seductively, on two distant branches of the heraldic chart, stood my own name and that of Anna Hill of Ormeau, overlooking the Lagan, mother to the Duke of Wellington," he added.

"There were also un-proven legends linking my mother's family, the McCartans, with that of General Charles De Gaulle, President of France. If you know him for nothing else, he was the extremely tall chap in uniform threatened with assassination in Frederick Forsythe's novel and film, The Jackal."

Research for 'Lagan Love' took Ian to the Public Records Office, the online 1901 census and the shelves of the Linen Hall and Ballynahinch Libraries.

"I found P.J. Clarke's memoirs of Drumaroad which proffered the clues which, as it were, completed the circle, confirming the lineage of the McCartans of Slieve Croob, the Lagan's source, from Anthony's departure for France after backing the loser at the Battle of the Boyne to De Gaulle's death in 1970," he explained. 'My Lagan Love' contains fascinating facts and stories about the river and people who have lived close to its banks.

The book, published by Cottage Publications, was launched recently at Lisburn City Library.

Ulster Star