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Lisburn Historical Society, Volume 3 pt.1



THE PARISH OF BLARIS, situated in the north eastern quadrant of Ireland, officially comprised approximately 10,697 statute acres, 7,870 of which lay in County Down, while the remainder formed part of the Barony of Upper Castlereagh, in County Antrim (1) For administration purposes the Parish was sub-divided into twenty-six smaller units, namely the townlands of Aghnatrisk; Annacloy; Ballentine; Ballykeel (Edenagonnell); Ballymullen; Blaris; Broughmore; Carnbane; Carnreagh; Culcavy; Drumatihugh; Duneight; Gortnacor; Knockmore; Largymore; Lisnagarvey; Lisnatrunk; Lisnoe; Lisssue; Lurganure; Magherageery; Maze; Old Warren; Ravernet; Taghnebrick and Tonagh.(2)

However, Blaris was not oblivious to its relatively prosperous hinterland for it had a larger number of occupations and industries than many other parishes in Ireland. Among the advantages which Blaris enjoyed were the proximity of the industrial and fast developing town of Belfast, the Lagan River and the Lagan Navigation Canal which provided important trading routes linking Belfast and Lough Neagh (3) and, not least, the town of Lisburn, "the second town in Country Antrim not only for size, population and trade, but also as regards . .. wealth and enterprise."(4) In addition the land throughout the parish was, for the most part, fertile and was largely given over to tillage, with wheat as the principal crop, and oats, potatoes, turnips and flax also grown (5) This in the early 1830's farming was recorded as the chief occupation of the people of the area, (6) but it was not the only one. Domestic industry, especially weaving for "Blaris was the heart of the Lagan Valley cotton-weaving district" (7) was an important and often essential element in the income of the agricultural population.

Ironically it could be argued that these advantages often militated against the people, in that they encouraged over-population with all its attendant horrors of subdivision of already uneconomic holdings and subsistence farming. In the 1820's the land supported some 12,400 people, a figure which rose by approximately 43% to 17,700 some twenty years later. Consequently, in Lurganure for example, 365 people eked out a meagre existence on 346 acres while 1,563 acres Supported 1,481 people in the Maze. Throughout the Parish more than half of the 13,249 inhabitants in 1831 were cottiers owning less than fifteen acres of land.(8) Three-quarter of all the houses in the Parish were one-storey thatched dwellings, and about one-eighth of these were mud-wall houses, although they were well-lighted and "for the greater part whitewashed inside and outside with lime." (9)

The Parish also laboured under the disadvantage of being part of the Irish Estate of an absentee landlord, the Marquis of Hertford. He and his descendants visited the area only rarely, the fourth Marquis only once, while his father had never seen the estate which was managed through the offices of an agent, one Anthony Traill in the early years of the century and later the Very Reverend Dean Stannus. However, while extracting a substantial income from the lands which were worth approximately £57,000 in 1822(10) the Marquesses were not entirely ungenerous and contributed to many charities in the Parish as well as subsidising some drainage and land improvement schemes. One arrangement, for example, of which many tenants availed themselves was to encourage better drainage, the Marquis offered to share the cost with the tenant who would pay 5% and was allowed 50 shillings. The actual labour involved was undertaken by volunteer tenants for labourers wages or reductions in their rents .(11)

However, life in the parish centred on Lisburn, so essential was the town that its name later became synonymous with Blaris in the title of the area. Lisburn was not only a marketing centre for its hinterland with a Market House, Corn Market and Linen Hall providing venues for the weekly markets and the two fairs held annually on 21st July and 5th October, but was also an industrial town in its own right.(12) These industries included a large Vitriol Manufactory, several tanyards; a Corn Mill; a brewery; flour milling establishments; a brickyard; a Dry Dock for repairing lighters and small boats on the Canal and a Linen Beetling Eapping and Drying Establishment.(13) Nevertheless, in spite of these industries, one English traveller would still describe the town in 1814 as "the handsomest inland country town I have seen in Ireland, and hardly to be equalled in England," this was echoed again in 1834 when another traveller observed it to be a "clean, neat and lively town, enjoying a good trade."(14) The town could boast its own water supply piped from a reservoir on Baron Hill, a fine Court-house and Castle Gardens, a public park. Yet not all of Lisburn's inhabitants could afford to live in "beautiful villas" or "substantial brick houses."(15) The working class element of the population was crowded into a number of streets south of Market Square and between the markets and the river. The distress and hardships of these people, especially during slumps in the textile trade, led to the formation of an active Lisburn Philanthropic Society in 1810. The society distributed rations of meal, coal and cash and provided shelter in an old cotton mill and employment as diverse as spinning flax, breaking stones and collecting manure .(16) In 1826 further relief was given to poor widows in the form of free houses. The Marquis of Hertford contributed to both of these charities in land and money, and, during a cholera epidemic in 1832 he added to the existing hospital facilities of the County Antrim Infirmary by founding a Cholera Hospital and subscribing to a Fever Hospital also under construction. (17)

The desires of the populace, whether rich or poor, for education could be met to some degree by the twenty-three schools which existed in the Parish. These schools had 1,076 children on their rolls in 1826. Fourteen of the schools were located in Lisburn, while only nine served the remainder of the Parish and 57% of the population. (18) The quality of these educational institutions depended largely on whether or not they received financial aid. The Association for Discountenancing Vice gave grants to three schools, one of which was the Male Free School established in 1810 by John Crossley and the first free school in Ulster to be based on the Bell and Lancaster System. (19) The rules of the school indicated an oligarchic regime dominated by an autocratic master who absolutely forbade the making of any kind of noise. Another education society, the Kildare Place Society, aided five schools, four of which were outside Lisburn since that was where the need for schools was greatest. At the other end of the scale were the small classes which were held by private individuals such as James Cummings "in a kitchen" or Mary Sloan who taught ten pupils in a "room in a thatched house." (20) The only boarding school in the Parish was run by Quakers but it was experiencing financial difficulties in the early years of the century and in 1826 there were only 36 pupils on the rolls.(21

The curriculum offered by these schools was mostly confined to reading, writing and arithmetic. The fees paid by the pupils varied according to the subjects, for example the annual charge for spelling and reading ranged from 13 shillings to 26 shillings, with writing from 17 shillings to 26 shillings and with arithmetic from 21 shillings to 32 shillings. Luxuries such as Mathematics and Latin were more expensive at about 45 shillings per annum,(22) and since few could afford this by 1826 only Benjamin Neely's Academy offered instruction in Mathematics, a school managed by a Mr. Hudson teaching the Classics having closed in the early 1820's.

A notable attempt at technical training was undertaken in 1817 when a Spinning School was set up to train girls who had left school, to operate the Scottish double-handed spinning wheel, recently introduced Into Ulster by William Marshall, a member of the linen Board. The second Marquis of Hertford gave part of the Linen Hall sheds for the school, and his son subscribed £50 for the conversion of old wheels to the new design. But in spite of this support, the school failed. The linen Board rejected an application for a salary for the teacher and twenty new wheels to be given as prizes to the best spinners, and reported that yarn produced on the new wheels was of inferior quality. (23)

Leisure activities for those who could afford the time and whose education had included reading at least, were offered at the Lisburn News Room. This was established in the 1830's in the Assembly Rooms. It offered its patrons reading material in the form of papers, periodicals, magazines and books from its library, and games such as billiards, chess and draughts.(24) Less studious but more popular amusements throughout the Parish included hunting, cricket and bullet playing. The last charade consisted of rolling a heavy iron ball along public roads, a practice frowned on by the authorities because of the danger to persons and animals from the balls.(25)

Activities such as dancing and hand ball were declining in popularity and, according to Fagan, "religious practices were substituted in their stead."(26) The spiritual needs of the people were alleviated by some of the many Churches in the Parish. There were at least six in Lisburn, and altogether Churches throughout the Parish catered for members of the Established Church, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists and Moravians.(27)

Thus, Blaris, at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a large and diverse area, attempting to sustain the needs and wishes of an ever-growing population.

1. S. Lewis "A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland".
2. Census of Ireland, 1841.
3. E. R. R. Green: "The Lagan Valley, 1800-50".
4. Ibid
5. Ibid.
6. Ordnance Survey Memoirs for Parish of Blaris.
7. Green op. cit.
8. Census of Ireland, 1831.
9. Ordnance Survey Mutual, for Parish of Blaris.
10. B. Falk 'Old Q's Daughter'.
11. Hertford Estate Index. Min. 257.
12. H. Bayly "A Topographical and Historical Account of Lisburn".
13. Ordnance Survey Memoirs for Parish of Blaris
14. E. R. R. Green "The Lagan Valley 1800-50" pp. 31.
15. Ibid. pp. 31-32.
16. Ibid pp. 155
17. H. Bayly "A Topographical and Historical Account of Lisburn".
18. "Second Report of Commissioners of Inquiry" 1826-27.
19. F. Kee "Lisburn, Miscellany" pp. 69.
20. Op. cit.
21. N. H. Newhouse "A History of Friend, School, Lisburn".
22. Rev. J. Dubourdieu "Statistical Survey of C. Antrim".
23. Proceedings of the Trustees of the linen and hempen manufacturers of Ireland (1818), pp. 386, ibid. (1819); appendix pp. 35.6; quoted in E. R. R. Green 'The Lagan Valley 1800-50" pp. 85.
24. "A Concise History of Lisburn and Neighbourhood" printed 1906
25. Ordnance Survey Memoirs for Parish of Blaris.
26. Ibid
27. H. Bayly "A Topographical , and Historical Account of Lisburn".



MANY OF US Who have passed what remains of a collection of most attractively built Alms Houses which stand at Ballycrune Cross Roads know little, if anything, of their history. A number of pupils of Annahilt primary School carried out a very successful project on this subject and this article has been compiled from notes prepared by Elizabeth Martin, Brenda McDowell, Joanne Bork and Gordon Beattie,

Robert Sharland, in his will dated 6th February, 1833, directed to be built Alms Houses for 10 old men and 10 old women all belonging to the parish of Annahilt; also a house for a housekeeper who would inspect the Alms Houses and keep them clean.

He asked that the money should be put in the hands of trustees who would comprise the clergymen of the parish and one lay person possessing one townland. On the death of any clergy their successor was to be appointed trustee and on the death of the lay trustee they were to appoint another who possessed one townland.

The interest on the money after the building of the Alma Houses was to be used to provide payment of ground rent, annual sums of £5 for each resident, £10 to the housekeeper and one guinea doctor's fee. Any balance was to be used by the trustees for the upkeep of the houses.

His widow Sarah who had been left an annuity of £25 contested the will but on 17th June, 1833, it was decreed by the Right Honourable the Lord Chancellor of Ireland that "the trusts of the will of Robert Sharland be carried into execution".

A piece of ground in the townland of Ballycrune, containing 3 roods 16 perches was offered on a 99 year lease at a yearly rent of £1 by the Marquis of Downshire for the purpose of building the Alms Houses.

It was found, however, that there were insufficient funds to carry out the building of the full number of houses directed in the will. The building of the first 4 houses was carried out by Joseph Johnston of Hillsborough at a cost of £297.15.0. The furniture for these houses was purchased by one of the trustees Rev. Moorehead for £48 and in December, 1839 the 8 residents each received their first monthly allowance of 8 shillings and 4 pence. After the death of Sarah Sharland, the trustees (Rev. William Wright, Rev. Robert Moorehead, Rev. William Brownlow Forde (the parish clergymen) and the Marquis of Downshire (the lay trustee)) were allowed £148.17.6 from the capital to build 2 further houses. Work was started on this extension in 1841. A further 2 houses were built in 1843, presumably from additional capital funds, thus providing accommodation for a total of 16 persons.

Each resident had one small bedroom, and one small kitchen room which contained a cooking stove. Each house had a fuel shed, and there were 2 communal outside toilets and one water pump.

By 1860 the number of residents had fallen to 11 and since then gradually decreased. There are now only 3 people resident in the Alms Houses - Mrs. Thompson, Mr. Hanna and Mr. Hughes. Sadly it is only a question of time before these houses, which served the needy for a span of almost 150 years, will cease to be used.