Robert Common
B.Sc. Ph.D

Some Observations

on Dunmurry's Past

First published September 1999
Robert Common 1999

The 19th Century Growth of a Linen Village

"The situation of Dunmurry, on one of the roads leading from Belfast to Lisburn, has many beauties; the hills around it, ornamented with planting, are strikingly beautiful; and, though it lies low, it is dry, the soil being mostly a sandy or gravelly loam; upon the whole it is one of the most charming sequestered, though small, districts which this country affords."

J. Dub ourdieu, 181226

Nineteenth century records provide greater continuity and diversity of information but there are still some shortcomings that further research can rectify, to assist our understanding of the changes since Dubourdieu's time.

Population data for Dunmurry district27 have been collected and presented to the public in changing fashion since 1841 and especially after 1923 and 1971. Initially 362 acres of Dunmurry townland were part of Shankhill parish while 460 acres lay within Drumbeg parish. As the population of Dunmurry village increased its presence came to be formerly recognized alongside the population totals of the rural dwellers in each parish segment.

From Figure 3 it will be observed that the village population showed a sustained growth28. On the other hand the total population for the townland showed slight declines in 1861 and 1891, because of changes in the rural parts of the townland. As might be expected the total number of occupied houses in the townland increased in this period and particularly in the village. Females slightly outnumbered males in 1841 (i.e. 51.75% of the population) and the average number of persons in private households averaged 6.5 compared with 2.76 in 1991!

In 1841 the cluster of buildings forming the nucleus of Dunmurry village included 8 two storey houses and 23 one storey houses, of which 19 were slated and 12 were thatched. There were also a religious meeting house, a school, flour and cornmill and several bleachers' buildings29. Even though the Lagan valley road gap between Balmoral, Finaghy and Dunmurry was closed between 1817 and 1819 and a railway service came in 1839 much of this settlement remained within a triangular area marked today by Glebe Road, Upper Dunmurry Lane and Kingsway. In the surrounding countryside enclosure was taking place, partly reflecting demesne developments, changes in farming activities and the increasing scale of textile enterprises. Not surprisingly, therefore, the range of occupations in the district were those of an agricultural community subject to changes promoted by commercial interests and improved accessibility. They included farmers, quarrymen, house servants, clerks, gardeners, bleaching staff, millers and labourers as well as the postmaster, publican, tailor, cartmaker, smith, mason and clergyman alongside the families of linen entrepreneurs.

Fig. 3 Population change in Dunmurry district 1841-1991

  1. Townland unit of 813 acres.
  2. D.E.D. unit of 813 acres.
  3. Changed Dunmurry unit. Population totals are in hundreds. The dash symbol indicates the village population while the solid line presents the total unit population. A small black triangle indicates the combined population of Dunmurry village, Dunmurry and Kilwee wards (amounting to 814 acres) i.e. 12771 + 3592 + 4767.


By 1851 the village area was designated to be 18 acres in extent and contained a population of 241 persons in one 1st class house, seventeen 2nd class houses and fourteen 3rd class houses. But it was not until the 1881 census that village residents were recorded on the Shankhill parish outlier near the Derriaghy burn.

Minutes of the Poor Law Guardians at Lisburn provide some indication of the course of events that probably affected residents in the Dunmurry area during the Famine years30. Attention was first drawn to the potato disease in minutes from November 1845 and to potato crop losses in January 1846. Reduced grain harvests followed in the same year. Poor potato crops in 1847 and potato blighting were next experienced in 1848. In the meantime the occurrence of typhus fever, the need to provide outdoor relief, the rising cost of foodstuff and then the onset of cholera in January 1849 were indicative of other adversities to be endured. Four mitigating factors could have helped the local populace to cope with this situation, about Dunmurry. Firstly, as the 1856 agricultural statistics suggest31, there was a useful range of grain crops, root crops and livestock available in the Lisburn Union area at this period. Secondly, and in spite of an 1847 setback in the linen trade, the innovating introduction of wet spinning and then steam driven machinery sustained job and wage prospects in the local linen industry. Thirdly, the rise and then fall in Dunmurry's townland population between 1841-51 and 1851-61 did not affect the village totals. This fluctuation may well have reflected an influx and dispersion of short stay migrants, from the west of the province. Fourthly, the rise in foodstuff prices could at least be offset by the fact that a significant number of local residents were wage earners (low though the wages were) through involvement with trades or textiles and thus were not overdependent upon agriculture32. (See Figure 4.)

The 1901 Census data allow some interesting comparisons to be made across Dunmurry townland. Households with 9 to 12 members were not uncommon at this time. Textile jobs were now especially significant for local residents as was the decline in farming activities. Indeed the 1901 population data on Forms B2 and N1* suggest that 41 farms in the district employed 50 males. In spite of variations across the district 46% of jobs were in textiles, 30% were in a diversity of occupations but only 7% were engaged by agriculture. (See Table 1 Population Characteristics.)

61% of households in one part of Dunmurry village had at least one member engaged in textile work while 65% of households in the other (Shankhill) section had a similar involvement. 46% of households in the rural Shankhill section had one member in textiles compared to 25% of households in the rural Drumbeg segment. (By 1960 less than 2% of the residents worked in local textile mills while another 4% were engaged in the making up of textile goods. Agricultural employment now accounted for only 1/2% of the local labour. Even more striking, at this date was the fact that only 18% of Dunmurry residents worked there whereas Belfast provided work for 60% of the local labour.)

On the land it is known that wheat and hay crops belonging to Mr. Weir of Dunmurry were harvested in 1796, at which date there was also a grain mill in the village. Wheat, oats, potatoes and flax were grown on the better ground of Killeaton and Kilmakee townlands in 1837 and mostly on 10 to 30 acre farms. Not surprisingly cattle were grazed on suitable hill slopes in Derriaghy parish, as occurred on Collin, Aughrim and White Mountain33.

Both wheat and flax were grown on Seymour Hill demesne early in the 19th century where it was a later asserted that a suitable crop sequence on the better soils involved grass, oats, potatoes or turnip followed by wheat, flax and clover hay. On the poorer soils grass, turnip and wheat crops were excluded. (Such sequences were similar to those observed by Dubourdieu in 1812.) The availability of grain crops on 15 to 30 acre farms in Dunmurry townland was secure enough to promote flour milling in the village beside the Glen burn, at the foot of Mill Hill. This water driven installation was to be augmented by steam driven machinery during the 19th century.

Fig. 4 Population and Housing changes 1841-1901

The population numbers and the houses occupied are given in hundreds.

  1. Totals in the village are unshaded.
  2. Numbers in the rest of Drumbeg parish within the townland.
  3. Numbers in the remainder of Shankill parish lying in the townland.

It now needs to be recalled that by mid century farm sizes tended to become larger down the Lagan valley, towards Belfast. Land given over to vegetables increased in the same direction as did the percentage of the farmland which was actually cropped. The Ulster tenant right custom led onto progressive Land Acts between 1870 and 1880 just as the consequences of the 1849 Encumbered Estates Act must have had beneficial results for local land interests, since it involved 30,000 acres of land belonging to the Donegal family. Change is surely reflected in the official records, which referred to local lessors and occupiers of land in 1862 but then to some of them who had become owners of land by 1876. (See Table 2.)

As might be expected valuation records for this district moved in sympathy with the growth of the local economy, population, building numbers and changes in the value of money. (See Figure 5.) While the rate of change in the valuation of land and buildings was a measured one in the 19th century the rate of increase was less predictable in the 20th century. Between 1851 and 1901, for example, the district valuation had grown 3 times whereas valuations for the same area increased 5 times between 1911 and 1961.

Table 1 - Population Characteristics

Townland location A B


D1 D2


El E2 Fl






Dunmurry village in Drumbeg Parish 917














Dunmurry village in Shankill Parish 187













Rural Dunmurry in Drumbeg Parish 106














Rural Dunmurry in Shankill Parish 216















A - Population Fl - % of workforce in textiles
B - Houses F2 - % of workforce in agriculture
C - % aged 18 years or more F3 - % of workforce in trade and commerce
D1 - % literate F4 - % of workforce labourers
D2 - % semi-literate F5 - % in other occupation
D3 - % illiterate  El - % Protestant F6 - Total workforce (excluding housewives)
E2 - % Roman Catholic  

The 1834 District records34 for property and land valuations in the Drumbeg parish segment of Dunmurry list 14 sizeable houses, a Presbyterian meeting house, corn mill, beetling mill and offices with a total valuation of 278-3-0. A total valuation of 444-19-2 was placed on 460 acres of land and involved 35 entries. In 1835 that part of the townland within Shankhill parish amounted to 362 acres and here 8 sizeable house were assessed at a total of 192-2-0, while 11 holdings were collectively assessed at 425-0-10.

The 35 holdings in Drumbeg parish contained parcels of land ranging in size from 1 to 54 acres (with the 1 acre plots usually recorded as rough pasture or waste ground). Valuation rates per statute acre ranged from 9/- on steep or wet ground to 25/- on good soil with low slopes. Land parcels on holdings in Shankhill parish ranged from 2 to 45 acres. Plots of 1 to 5 acres frequently were associated with cold, wet or clayey sites. Ground with adverse characteristics were assessed at 10/- per statute acre while the best land was assessed at 28/-per acre.

Table 2: Owners of land of one acre or more in the Dunmurry district 1876

Owner Address


valuation Approx. value
per acre ()
F. McCance Suffolk




J. McCance Ladybrook




G. Caldwell Lismoyne




J. Bristow Wilmont




I. Murphy Glenburn




V. Coats Rathmore




S. Duffield Killeaton




W. Charley Seymour Hill




R. Moat Poleglass




J. Hunter The For (Dunmurry)




J. Murphy Old Forge




H. McCance Larkfield




E. Charley Conway House




J. Smyth Ballycullo




A. Coates rep. Kilmakee




E. Richardson Farmhill




N. Grimshaw Ballycullo




Unitarian Church




T. Weir Old Forge




R. Clarke Dunmurry




M. Carmichael Dunmurry




From the surveyors' notebooks it is clear that limited adjustments, downwards, were possible. Industrial installations in the district used basalt and bricks in their construction and earned their own assessments. A beetling mill and its water needs, for example, could be assessed at 10-6-0, whereas a corn or flour mill using both water and steam power merited 66. On the other hand a site engaged in lapping, carding, bleaching and blueing activities was assessed at 70.

By 1862 the Rateable Annual Valuation35 (R.A.V.) for land in the Drumbeg segment of the townland averaged 1-16-0 per acre but actual amounts ranged from 1 to 2-5-0 per annum depending on site factors. The average R.A.V. for a small house was 2-6-0 while house and yard combinations averaged 3-5-0 and house plus small garden averaged 2-12-0. Land only in the Shankhill segment averaged 1-12-0 per acre while actual amounts ranged from 1 to 24-0 per annum. Average R.V.A. for a small house amounted to 1-8-0 while a house and garden combination averaged 1-19-0. The 465 acres in Drumbeg parish was now assessed at 844-9-0 for land and 954-11-0 for buildings. The Shankhill segment of 359 acres produced an R.A.V. of 616-10-0 for land and 402-5-0 for buildings. As might be expected the valuations on buildings associated with textiles and milling had also increased at this date. There were now 60 houses in the village area, 50 in the rural part of Drumbeg parish and 53 in the rural Shankhill segment and yet only 8 families and 2 commercial enterprises had become involved with 716 acres of the townland. This valuation data also indicated that a lessor of land frequently allowed it to be subdivided into plots that were to be used for building purposes as well as for farming, e.g. Marquis of Donegal, J. Hunter, J. McCance, R. Moat and W. Charley.

Fig. 5 Population and Valuation changes 1841-1961

The population numbers are in thousands and shown by the solid line. The valuation figures are in thousands (based upon land and buildings) and shown by dashed line.


An official return of owners of land of one acre and upwards in Ireland36 reemphasized the fact that control of land still rested with comparatively few families (20) in Dunmurry district 14 years later. Ten holdings, in and about the village, accounted for just over 700 acres at an average valuation of 12-3-0. Although the largest holdings did not have the highest value per acre it is obvious that land use potential, location and accessibility were significant to assessments. (See Table 2.)

Tithe records provide an additional insight into land valuations hereabouts37. Tithes were based upon one tenth of the produce of the land and its livestock being donated to the church annually. They were first made compulsory, then replaced by money equivalents before becoming rent charges. Following Disestablishment in 1869 they were to be changed once again.

Of interest here is the fact that the tithe evaluation of 1830 for the Drumbeg portion of Dunmurry townland listed 15 family names, accounting for 428 out of 437 acres in 44 plots of mostly arable land.

In 1993 Megan McManus published a paper38 on "The function of small Ulster settlements in 1854, 1899 and 1916", the contents of which are relevant to the village of Dunmurry. The writer was concerned with settlements with populations between 500 and 1000 persons, 1000 to 1500 residents and 1500 to 2000 inhabitants. The number of different functions in these settlements is not to be confused with the number of outlets in each settlement providing these functions. While Dunmurry village did not qualify for consideration in 1854 it certainly did by 1899, with a population just below 1000. At that date the village residents provided 30 distinctive functions and as with several comparable villages one person occasionally provided two different services. The institutionalized functions of a post office, church, doctor, dispensary, school and police station were present as were the basic services of a blacksmith, tailor, grocer, farmer/dairyman, painter, shoemaker, joiner, saddler, coal agent, builder, clergyman, teacher and publican. Unusually the village was an established location for linen manufacture, involving spinning, print and dye works with an array of jobs for textile workers. The services of a district nurse, railway station master, hotellier, insurance agent, nurseryman and architect were equally distinctive and further reflected the presence of manufacturing, agricultural, professional and commercial activities associated with it.

Three of these functions, to meet the educational, health and religious needs of local people, deserve further attention at this point.

Ministry of Education maps of National Schools for the 1855 to 1906 period* show Trinity and Stevenson schools in Dunmurry with others nearby at Finaghy, Derriaghy, Drumbeg and Suffolk. The first single roomed school, located opposite the Non Subscribing Church, in Dunmurry was to be superceded by the end of this period. Nevertheless it was only in 1831 that funds were officially provided for the widespread education of children. To this end grants were made available to schools provided money was raised locally to defray the cost of teachers, equipment and building maintenance.

Correspondence on behalf of parents in this townland indicates that the first school and school teacher's house, along with 82 enrolled pupils, was "taken into connexion by the Education Board" on December 20th 183239. The average annual total of scholars was 76 between 1832 and 1843, of whom 50 were boys and 26 were girls. Numbers declined in the last decade of the 19th century and in spite of attempts to amalgamate with Trinity school it was decided to remove it by June 1909. During the lifetime of this school it was staffed by a principal and an assistant teacher, it was subject to annual inspection and its pupils were multidenominational.

Both the Stevenson and Trinity schools dated from the end of the 19th century and they were located at opposite ends of the village. The former resulted from a family benefaction while the latter was associated with the Presbyterian church. Between 1896 and 1914 the average annual intake at Stevenson was 50, half of whom were boys. At the outset scholars were Protestant (and mostly Church of Ireland) but Roman Catholic pupils began to attend this school in 1901. Most pupils resided in the village but numbers did attend from Finaghy, Derriaghy, Seymour Hill and Drumbeg. By the outbreak of World War I the teaching staff had been raised from 2 to 3.

School intakes at Trinity averaged 49 per year between 1896 and 1914, of whom 25 were girls. Pupils came mostly from the village but scholars from Seymour Hill, Derriaghy, Collin, Suffolk, Finaghy and Mossvale were recorded. While most pupils were from Presbyterian families children from Roman Catholic families also attended.

After the establishment of a dispensary and a medical officer for the district in 1852 the medical needs of residents received greater and more sustained attention. Two early medical officers served for lengthy periods, i.e. Dr. Clarke for 27 years and then Dr. Gaussen who arrived in 1885 and left in 1927. In Dr. Gaussen's first year of office the Dunmurry District Nursing Society was established, as a voluntary organisation. It relied upon public subscriptions and provided a nursing service in which only recipients who were able to pay were charged for attention. Also in 1886 moves were made to acquire land to relocate the village dispensary beside a doctor's house on "The Hill" site. As might be expected both a well and a pump were required beside this new development, because piped water from a pubic supply was still unavailable. And so by the end of the 19th century the medical officer and sanitary inspector along with the district dispensary had been established at "The Hill". The services of a district nurse and a registrar of births, marriages and deaths were also available by this time.

Places of worship have multiplied over the years in Dunmurry district, slowly at first but then at an accelerating rate during the 20th century. And even though secularism has flourished in the latter part of this century there are now no less than 11 places locally where the diverse forms of religious expression and their associated social activities are available.

Until the Rev. Dr. H. Montgomery arrived here in 1808 there had been a rapid succession of Presbyterian ministers in Dunmurry. In 1829 he and his followers seceded from the Synod of Belfast but retained the church, manse and other properties, including the only village churchyard. Out of the hiatus that followed there emerged the local Non Subscribing and a new Presbyterian congregation under Rev. R. J. Arnold in 1860. Division led to a barn at Summerhill farm being used for religious purposes until a new hall and then a new Presbyterian church was consecrated in 1863. Records indicate that there was an annual marriage rate of seven between 1876 and 1898 which together with the lengthy services of Rev. R. J. Arnold (and then Rev. R. Davey) suggest that stable conditions were soon established in this congregation.

Just as Anglican interests in Dunmurry had to be satisfied with religious services at Drumbeg or Derriaghy for many years, so the Roman Catholics had to travel first to Derriaghy and then to Hannahstown before their church was established in the village. One of the earliest named priests was Fr. P. O'Hamill who was ordained in 1667 and worked in both Derriaghy and Belfast before his imprisonment in 1707. In the difficult years of the 17th and 18th centuries both vestments and sacred vessels were used on Collin Mt. These items had to be kept safely by members of the public one of whom was Belle Steele, a Protestant living nearby. Belfast parish was separated from Derriaghy in 1812 but it was not until the very changed conditions of 1955 that Derriaghy parish was subdivided into four parts, i.e. Derriaghy, St. Teresa, St. Agnes and Hannahstown. Church records for the 1870-80 decade demonstrate that more girls than boys were baptized in Hannahstown, Rock and Derriaghy parish. Baptisms occurred at an average annual rate of 25, which was five times greater than the annual average marriage rate. Both mixed marriages and illegitimate births were recorded in this period. Parents came from as far away as Newtonards, Comber, Donaghadee and Belfast to have their children baptized and sadly some of them recorded their place of residence as "the workhouse".

1870 saw the consecration of the present C. of I. parish church at Drumbeg and so demonstrated a continuity of sanctity there over a large period of time. The occasion also signalled parochial interest in the affairs of Dunmurry, for by this date a Sunday school had been established there. Public pressure for a daughter church in Dunmurry was formally demonstrated in December 1903 when a petition from 56 family heads came to be presented to Drumbeg's select vestry. This felt need from Dunmurry residents was not to be satisfied, however, for some years to come. By contrast, the serious efforts to establish a Church of Ireland presence in Suffolk began in 1837 and were satisfied in May 1861. Unavoidably this new parish of St. John the Baptist encroached upon part of Dunmurry townland and its presence subsequently had to be taken into consideration before St. Colman's was established, in Dunmurry village, as a chapel of ease in 1908.

Underpinning all these social and economic changes in the district, however, was a local textile industry that was capable of responding beneficially to market conditions at home and abroad.

Not until the 17th century was the growing of flax and the production of linen to assume an increasing significance in the province. Bleaching activities on the local scene were established at Lambeg in 1636 as part of an indigenous industry before the Huguenots arrived. Bleaching techniques40 initially were demanding of space and hand labour so that bleach greens grew in numbers and size, along with the labour force. Water for both bleaching and finishing processes in the 18th century was at hand locally, in the Lagan, Glen, and Derriaghy streams. The use of water power for spinning processes began early in the 19th century but the hand spinning tradition did not decline emphatically until the middle of the same century.

During the 18th century it became commonplace for bleach yard owners to farm adjacent land, using a labour force that worked part time on the bleach field, in their barns or on their looms. Brown cloth to be bleached and then readied for a "white" warehouse was subjected to a sequence of indoor procedures as well as being "grassed" between May and August.

Water driven machinery for the beetling of fibre followed Maxwell's innovation in 1725 to replace the practice of hand beating by women at a bleach field. Power loom weaving, steam driven equipment and roller printer further improved outputs in the latter part of the 19th century, just as successful experiments in the use of new chemical agents in the late 18th century halved the time formerly spent on bleaching41.

Entrepreneurs associated with the development of this important, local enterprise included Wolfenden42, who founded Glenburn bleach green in c 1747, Johnston who began his activities in Seymour Hill in 1788, Hunter associated with Dunmurry bleach green in 1750 and McCance who became actively involved at Suffolk in 1797. Further afield Collin bleach green was established in c 1777 and by 1837 was employing 23 men. Poleglass House was purchased by H. Thompson in 1812 and by 1832 employed 10 persons in linen thread production. Other families involved with this linen production, such as the Charleys, Crawfords and Barbours, were to be added to this list during the 19th century43.

The Seymour Hill holding of R. Johnston amounted to 89 acres in 1813 and at that time it contained an established bleaching mill, a bleach yard and a mill dam at the Derriaghy burn, nearby. W. Charley bought this estate in 1822 and quickly invested capital to improve the bleach works. By 1837 these works employed c 40 men, each of whom earned no more than 7/- (35p) per week. By 1842 the Charleys were involved with linen markets in Belfast, Ballymena, Coleraine and Ballymoney along with lawn and diaper markets at Lisburn and Lurgan. Their overseas correspondence now reflected business interests as far afield as Malta, New York, Gibraltar, Jamaica and Frankfurt, as well as their local contacts with neighbours such as Hunter, Wolfenden and McCance.

Two considerable areas of spread ground were associated with their works by 1888 and by this date more land in the townland was being acquired for family residences such as Conway House, Warren House and Huntley House.

The Glenburn estate involved land where a large house, farm, bleach green and bleach works were established after agreement with the Marquis of Donegal. This demesne amounted to 139 acres and was joined by 38 acres associated with Rosemount House to occupy, when offered for sale in 1861, a roughly triangular area between Derriaghy burn, the railway track and Glen burn. At this time the bleach works lay c 350m south of Glenburn House and drew water from a small 2 acre pond on the site of the present day Glenshesk Park. An offloading quay for coal supplies to the works was also put in place on the nearby Lagan.

Records indicate that in 1837 some 28 men worked at Glenburn bleaching installations for a weekly wage of 7/- (35p) per person and at this date the annual output amounted to 11,000 linen webs, which was about half the annual output from the Seymour Hill enterprise. (One web of linen cloth was 1 yard wide and 25 yards long.)

The ledgers of Lambeg Bleaching, Dyeing and Finishing Works, located nearby, provide further insight into labour costs for the years between 1884 and 1886. At these works, during this sample period, 28 to 34 persons were engaged in bleaching work for wages of 9/- to 12/- (45p to 60p) per week* .

Alexander Hunter's bleach green, on the right bank of the Glenburn and north of Dunmurry village, involved 26 acres when established c 1750, and relied upon Glen water for washing and beetling purposes. By 1837 it employed 50 men and they handled c 11,000 webs of linen each year. Thirty years later 31 men and 9 women were employed and normally they worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on six days each week. When Crawford took over the works in 1873 new buildings and equipment were added to a 7 acre site for printing and finishing processes. About 100 men were soon to be employed here for the production of handkerchiefs, lawns and unions, as well as cotton products.

Eastwards and close to the railway station a spinning mill was constructed c 1850, for Weir and Boyle, and it soon passed into the ownership of the Barbour family. Like the Charleys this family originated outside the province and it was in 1784 that J. Barbour established his thread factory at Hilden. From this small beginning the Linen Thread Company was to emerge in 1898 as the result of amalgamation with other similar family enterprises in the province. Again, like the Charleys, the Barbours fostered the provision of social amenities, in the district, one of which carried their name in Barbour Park, Dunmurry. Foresight in providing houses for their workers also resulted in the building of Barbour's Cottages that stood close to their Dunmurry factory until the mid 1960s.

To the northwest W. McCance was already involved with the linen trade when he leased land and water rights at Suffolk in 1797. A flurry of activity by this family between 1860 and 1880 resulted in the purchase of land at Suffolk and Glenville (up valley) in 1865 and then the incorporation of the Suffolk Linen Company under the Companies Acts of 1862 and 1867. Further agreements next involved water rights and buildings at Englishtown in 1873. And when the Suffolk Estate Company came to be incorporated in 1879 it undertook a raft of obligations to the land, premises, roads, sewers, fences, shops, offices, gardens and water rights on its 1072 acre holdings. It is also significant that complaints about water pollution in 1884, from the Linen Company of T. Barbour downstream as well as difficulties over the establishment of Kilwee bleach works, after 1886, suggest that limited resources of surface water and the availability of suitable ground were now assuming growing significance to linen interests in the Glen catchment. Nevertheless, the workforce at Kilwee amounted to 18 men and 7 women by the end of 1896. The women worked in the soaphouse or on finishing processes for 1/2 to 3/- (6 to 15p) per day while male bleachers earned 2/4 to 3/- (12 to 15p) daily.

As in the 18th century there were several occasions when law breakers prompted both outcries and preventative actions by the local linen producers. In 1857, for example, a notice in the Belfast Newsletter complained about dubious dealers and hawkers of brown linen cloth. Amongst the signatures of 104 drapers were those of Messrs. Hunter, McCance and Wolfenden. Yet as early as 1758 the Linen Board had been obliged to issue a list of 117 recognized lappers in Co. Antrim because of irregularities in the use of seals upon linen webs. The robbing of bleach greens produced occasional public notices in the Newsletter as occurred in 1758* and 1857 with entrepreneurs like J. McCance, J. Hunter and R. Wolfenden offering financial assistance to persons who successfully prosecuted such robbers. One tangible reminder of this particular problem is still to be seen in Dunmurry, in the shape of a stone workman's shelter on a former bleaching green, i.e. The Green.

Four additional observations have now to be made about this industry and those involved in it. Firstly, it was not until 1874 that the length of the working day for employees in linen enterprises was reduced and only in 1901 was the minimum age of a child worker raised to 12 years, from 8. Secondly, employment in local textile work doubtlessly promoted population growth in Dunmurry townland but it does not appear to have influenced the numbers of rural dwellers in the Drumbeg segment, as elsewhere. Thirdly, the continuing influence and enhanced status of a limited number of landowning families in the district are noteworthy. They were well housed in their small estates, involved in wealth creating commercial enterprises as well as being providers of patronage to their church and local society in diverse social activities and/or public services. In 1888, for example, T. Montgomery of Ballydrain, W. Charley of Seymour Hill, V. Coates of Rathmore, M. Grimshaw of Cloona, H. McCance of Larkfield and F. McCance of Suffolk were all included in the local magistrates list. Fourthly, the momentum for growth continued into the 20th century and encouraged the establishment of the Millfort Weaving Company in the village during 1907. Changing market conditions then led onto adversity so that Charleys at Seymour Hill ceased operation in 1967, Barbours activities ended in 1958, Millforts were taken over by a laundry in 1928, Crawfords went out of business in 1931 and their successors, like Kilwee, survived for only a few short years after World War II.

Meanwhile the basic land divisions recorded in 1862 seem to have changed but little by the end of the 19th century, apart from subdivisions into smaller fields. In the village itself a dispensary had been established amongst households at the north end of Glenburn Road, close to Main Road (Kingsway). Nearby and to the southwest of Carmichael Row, which stood on Falls Road (Glebe Road), there were a Post Office, Police Station, and female school. The postal service provided three collections and three deliveries on weekdays and the post office itself was to be relocated subsequently. Village schools employed six teachers and R.I.C. constables were now under a resident sergeant. There were very few buildings along Main Road, either southwards towards Seymour Hill or northwards towards Finaghy. The main cluster of workplaces and village homes still lay in the vicinity of the Non Subscribing church and waterside mills near the railway station. New buildings had appeared on Railway Street (Upper Dunmurry Lane) near its junction with Main Road and Malone Road (Dunmurry Lane). Two new roads had been established and these were to prove attractive to house builders in the near future. The first was Church Road (Ashley Park), on the west side of the railway track while the second, New Road, was to become associated with Millfort workers and not surprisingly is now called Millfort Avenue. Installations associated with the linen industry had multiplied over the 19th century and these included beetling mills, mill ponds, mill races, work and storage facilities especially in the lower stretches of the Derriaghy and Glen streams, as well as upstream of Suffolk in the upper Glen valley.

By the turn of the century the birthplaces of the townland population showed that 59% of the residents stemmed from Co. Antrim, 17% originated in Co. Down, and 15% came from elsewhere in the province. 34% of the residents were under 15, years old, 46'/2% were aged between 15 and 44 years while 15'4% were between 45 and 64 years of age. But, as an inspection of the 1991 population statistics for Dunmurry and Seymour Hill will demonstrate, the decline of numbers in the 0-15 year age group and the significant increase in the 65 years and over age group are clear cut pointers to impending social and economic changes locally, that were to come in the 20th century.

Change and innovation in transport facilities also emphatically influenced the local scene in the second half of the 19th century. In the case of the Lagan canal there was a paradoxical twist. Work began on it in 1756 and by 1763 the stretch between Belfast and Lisburn was opened to traffic. While the provision of coal and general merchandise by canal from Belfast had some appeal to certain individuals in the Dunmurry area this new use of Lagan water tended to compete with its well established use by textile enterprises. Competition from an improving road network and then the services of a railway inevitably drew public attention away from the Lagan.

An 1837 Act allowed turnpikes to be established on the Malone and Falls roads at a time when carriers were charging 3/- to 5/- (15 to 25p) per ton for goods moved by road between Lisburn and Belfast. Demands from growing urban interests in Belfast were now encouraging the inflow of grain, pork, butter, flax and linen. Indeed public advertisement of the letting of tolls on the old Malone, Falls and Hannahstown to Castle Robin turnpikes in October 1845 indicated that toll incomes in the previous year had amounted to 345, 315 and 85 respectively*. Public dissatisfaction, however, led to the Turnpike Abolition Act of 1857. Changed arrangements for road management were then shortlived because in 1898 a Local Government Act made roads and bridges the responsibility of newly established County Councils.

Other felt needs for better transportation facilities resulted in the 1836 Act enabling work to begin on the Ulster Railway from Belfast to Armagh. The Belfast to Lisburn section opened in August 1839 and from the outset this 20 minute train journey involved a short stop at Dunmurry. Third class tickets were to be issued here during the following year. Records for the March-August period in 1842 reflected the public's favourable reception of this new form of transport, but of the 5,300 passenger tickets sold at this period in Dunmurry some 89.6% involved Belfast and 6.4% involved Lisburn, while lesser destinations involved Moira, Lurgan and Portadown. Then in January 1845 alone 9727 passengers bought tickets at Dunmurry station. Amalgamations in the developing railway system occurred in April 1874 and the establishment of the Great Northern Railway, but standardisation of facilities was not completed until 1883.

It could, therefore, be asserted that suburban rail traffic began in 1850 when 10 daily trains between Belfast and Lisburn stopped at both Balmoral and Dunmurry, on weekdays. Daily trains increased to 16 by the end of the 1880-90 decade and were now joined by 6 journeys on Sundays. Fast trains between Belfast and Lisburn took only 14 minutes for this journey, whereas slow trains, stopping at Balmoral, Dunmurry and Lambeg, took 30 minutes. Thus the potential for daily travel to work, or recreation in either Belfast or Lisburn had been established for Dunmurry folk before the 20th century arrived.

Slow moving changes on the land in the 19th century together with the establishment of basic infrastructure to support a thriving textile industry and a growing population had gradually transformed this village and its environs. Events in the 20th century, however, were to prove the validity of a local witticism that for the control of its own future Dunmurry now lay too close to Belfast and not far enough away from Lisburn44.

Notes and references

  1. Statistical Survey of the County of Antrim, Dubourdicu J., Graisberry and Campbell, Dublin, 1812.

  2. Population census data for 1841 to 1901 were consulted at the Public Record Office (N.I.), i.e. P.R.O.N.I. Additional data to 1991 obtained from Census Office N.I. Belfast.

  3. Estimates for 1831 suggested a population total of 479 for Dunmurry but it is not clear if these referred to the village or the whole townland. Parish records, however, confirm that outmigrations to Canada and U.S.A. did occur in this district between 1830 and 1840.
  4. O.S. Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Co. Antrim II 1832-1838, Lisburn and S. Antrim, Volume 8, Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast, Edit Day A. and McWilliams P. 1991.
  5. Lisburn Poor Law Union minute books from Feb. 1840 to March 1855 can be inspected at P.R.O.N.I., e.g. BG/19/A/5.
  6. Returns on Agricultural Produce in Ireland 1850, HMSO, Dublin, 1851.
  7. An Economic History of Agriculture in Northern Ireland 1850-1900, Armstrong D.L., Plunkett Foundation, Long Hanborough, Oxford, 1989.
  8. See Parish of Derriaghy 1837, Barr W.N. and Kerr W., 1983.
  9. Valuation of Dunmurry in Drumbeg parish, August 1834 and the Valuation of Dunmurry in Shankhill parish Sept./Oct. 1835, may be seen at P.R.O.N.I. (VAL 1B/126 and VAL IB/128B).

  10. Griffith's valuation of tenements in Dunmurry for Drumbeg and Shankhill parishes 1862 is available in P.R.O.N.I. (FIN 5/117 and FIN 5/36).

  11. Returns of owners of land of one acre upwards in Ireland. H.M.S.O. Dublin 1876.

  12. Valuations under the Tithe Composition Act undertaken in 1830 for 437 acres in the townland of Dunmurry. Also the Tithe Records for part of Shankhill parish in Dunmurry townland 1827 may be seen in the P.R.O.N.I. (FIN 5A/36 and FIN 5A/1 17).

  13. `The function of small Ulster settlements in 1854, 1899 and 1916', McManus M., Ulster Folklife, 39, 1993. See also County Antrim Guide and Directory 1888, Basset G.H., Friars Bush Press, Belfast, 1989.

  14. For early school records see, at P.R.O.N.I., the following:
    a.  ED6/1/1/1/45 and ED6/1/1/2/123 for correspondence and register information 183551; also ED1/7/1, 1868.
    b.  SCH 498/1/2 Stevenson school register 1896 -1914 (Boys) and SCH 498/1/1 (Girls).
    c.  SCH 804/1/3 Trinity school (Girls) and SCH 804/1/2 (Boys) 1896-1916.

  15. A tour in Ireland c 1780, Young A., see pp. 45-46 on bleaching techniques. (Univ. Press Cantab. 1925)
  16. See for example:
    a.  Flax and its Products, Charley W. Bell and Daldry, London, 1862.
    b.  `The linen industry of Northern Ireland', Dohrs F.E., The Textile Quarterly 2 (2), 1952.
    c.  Other days around me, McDowell F.. Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1972, especially Chapter 11.
    d.  Picking up the linen threads, Messenger B., Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1978.
    e.  The Lagan Valley 1800-1850, Green E.R.R., Faber and Faber, London, 1849.
    f.   D662/2 Demesne map of William Hunter 1816; D2242/6/11 Glenburn demesne 1861 and D2242/6/20 Seymour Hill demesne 1813 in the P.R.O.N.I.
  17. The Belfast Newsletter No. 2081. July 22nd 1757 carried a most interesting notice concerning the sale of land and property of the late John Wolfenden.
  18. See for example:
    a.  An excellent essay on flax and linen by W. Charley (pp. 64-108) is available in British Manufacturing Industries, edit Bevan    G.P. Stanford. London. 1876.
    b.  The Romance of the Charley family, Charley I.H., 1970. This private publication is well worth reading for the useful insights it provides.
    c.  `The Barbours of Hilden', Fibres and Fabrics Journal 9 (I), 1942.
    d.  The Lisburn Historical Society Journal has published a series of short articles on significant family houses about Dunmurry in recent years including Woodburn, Seymour Hill, Phoenix Lodge, Conway, Huntley, Mossvale, Willowvale and Suffolk.
  19. For further information on Dunmurry as "a linen village" see `Water and Society in Ulster', Common R., in Northern Geographical Essays, edit. House J., University of Newcastle, 1967, pp. 89-92.

Not until 1882 was the use of copper sulphate proved to be an effective check to potato blight.
* (page 18) See MIC 354/1/132 P.R.O.N.I..
* (page 23) See ED 22/1/1 in P.R.O.N.I.
* (page 27) See for example D1 17/4/1, D1770/2/4A, D1158/1 P.R.O.N.I.
* (page 28) BNL July 22nd 1758 and October 18th 1857
* (page 30) Belfast Newsletter, October 14th 1845


End Map Changes in Dunmurry Village in the 19th Century

1. Rath. 2. Motte. 3. Glen burn. 4. Mill race. 5. Selected roads. 6. Railway track. 7. Property added between 1832 and 1894. 8. Property present in 1832. 9. A. Dunmurry House. B. Beechlawn House. C. Glenburn House. 10. D. Cornmill. E. Beetling mill. F. N.Sub Presbyterian church. G. Presbyterian church. 11. High density terrace housing. a. Maryville. b. Barbour Cottages. c. Hill Street and Goudy's Row. d. Railway Street. 12. Textile Works.



Aquifer A deposit which carries water.


This dark coloured igneous rock is low in silica and the product of volcanic eruption.


A defensive structure involving a defendable house beside a small yard and set within a walled enclosure. Associated with Scots and English planters in the 17th century.

Brown earth

A slightly acidic zonal soil, developed under a cover of deciduous trees or scrub vegetation.


Recognizable as a circular, former living site enclosed by a thick protective wall. Frequently associated with rocky localities where they provided alternatives to raths.


Simple living quarters fashioned from natural materials at hand.


This term frequently refers to the house and land belonging to and used by a lord. Here the term refers to a private estate with its owner-occupied house.


The study of tree rings to assess past environmental conditions.


A stone structure erected at a burial site. The feature is distinctive for its shape and composition, with a large capstone situated upon several supporting uprights.


A linear glacial deposit of sand and gravel, forming a ridge in the landscape.


Here it implies a written agreement or certificate.


This deposit of glacial sand and gravels is of limited extent and a variety of minor land forms.


A well-marked, circular depression amongst glacial deposits and considered to be the former site of a detached mass of glacial ice which melted in situ.

Lazy beds

Spade-worked parallel strips of ground in which thin soil has been removed from one strip and turned over to produce a thicker adjacent strip, to be cultivated.


An alkaline, crumbly deposit.

Motte and bailey

The former is an artificial, flat-topped mound used for defensive purposes while the latter is a lesser mound built to accommodate additional supplies and people.


The study of plant pollen and spores which is useful for interpretation of past environmental conditions.

Palaeolithic, Mesolithic & Neolithic

Terms used by archaeologists, anthropologists and historians in reference to the earliest, middle and upper parts of the Stone Age. Cultural differences over this time are reflected in distinctive artefacts.

Ridge and Furrow

An expression frequently associated with ground formerly cultivated and reliant upon draught animals and plough e.g. in Medieval or Middle Ages. Ridges are low and broad-based in contrast to lazy beds.

In this century the Dunmurry area has been subject to far-reaching changes to both the physical and built environments. So much so that there is now the danger that meaningful legacies from the past will either be ignored or carelessly obliterated by the current processes of suburbanisation.

Documentary and field evidence have been used by the author to suggest how a sparsely dispersed settlement in a woodland area was gradually transformed into a landscape of mixed farming activities. A second accelerated series of changes occurred in the 19th century, however, as the result of economic and social innovations. Thus by 1901 the influences of commercial textile enterprises and improved accessibility had stimulated dramatic developments in the village of Dunmurry and its townland.