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Annandale, Glenavy and the Downer family


Annandale at Main Street, Glenavy

Annandale at Main Street, Glenavy, once the home of the Downer family. Glenavy Methodist Church can be seen to the upper left of the picture. Annandale is no longer in existence.

AT one time the two storey house named Annandale was one of the most prominent houses in the village of Glenavy.

In the early 20th century it was occupied by Miss Mary Eliza Johnston, her sister - Mrs Margaret Downer and Margaret's daughter - Jane Rosamond Downer. At this time the family employed a servant - Miss Jane Murray. Annandale was the original residence of the Johnston family.

Margaret Downer, born in 1838, was the ninth of 13 children of John Moore Johnston, born 1799, and Jane Thompson from Rosamonds Hill, Ballinderry. Jane was a descendant of Bishop Jeremy Taylor and was just 16 years of age when she met John Moore Johnston. A member of the Downer family can recall a wooden chair in one of the rooms at Chrome Hill, Lambeg known as 'The Jeremy Taylor chair'.

Margaret married Thomas Smallman Downer in 1859 at Glenavy Parish Church and went to live in Roscrea, Tipperary. She was widowed at a young in 1870 and returned to the family home at Annandale after the death of her mother in 1874.

A photograph of Jane Rosamond Downer and a friend in Venice, possibly taken in the early 1900s. One of Margaret Downer's sons was William Henry Nassau Downer (born 1860, died 1923). His first wife, Margaret Ann, was in fact his cousin. Her father, James Johnston, was a brother of Margaret Smallman. William Downer's second wife Margaret Josephine, nee Orr, had lived at Chrome Hill, Lambeg.

The family tree was somewhat complicated but was tackled by Jane Rosamond Downer who resided with her mother at Annandale in Glenavy. She published the history of the Johnston family. The publication spells the family surname as Johnstone.

The Johnston family are believed to have settled in the Ballinderry area and originated from Annandale in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, hence the naming of the family home.

A headstone located in the graveyard of Glenavy Parish Church marks the burial ground of John Moore Johnston and a number of his family members. The inscription reminds us of the drowning of two of his sons in the 1840s - Thomson who drowned off the Island of Nantucket, America and Thomas in Belfast Lough.

Although John Moore Johnston had been a member of the parish church in Glenavy he had been introduced to Methodism in the early 1820s by one of his brothers and was instrumental in setting up the Methodist faith in Glenavy. He donated some of his garden for the building of a preaching house.

He died in 1848 aged but the involvement of the Johnston family with the Methodist church in Glenavy was to continue.

Two memorial stones built into the front wall of the church there were laid by members of the Johnston family -"Mrs Henry Thompson" and her sister "Miss Johnston", both daughters of John Moore Johnston.

Jane Rosamond Downer, known affectionately as 'Ro' in the family, was described as one of the favourite aunts of William Henry Nassau Downer, known as 'Hal'.

Hal was born at a house called Arlington on Belfast's Cavehill Road in 1899. He underwent surgery for a medical complaint and was sent by his parents to recuperate at Annandale, Glenavy.

Hal was to fall in love with the village. He later attended Trinity College in Dublin, after which he joined the Civil Service and worked for the Ministry of Education up to the beginning of the 2nd World War.

He was seconded to CEMA - the Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, an organisation that preceded The Arts Council, but recalled to the Ministry of Education and then transferred to the Ministry of Commerce where he remained to retirement.

During his early lifetime he had witnessed the launch of the ships Olympic (1910) and Titanic (1911) in Belfast.

Hal wrote a number of articles for various newspapers relating to places in Ireland.

A poem comprising seven verses written in 1919, titled 'Glenavy - The view from the Railway Bridge appeared in The Lisburn Standard shortly after its composition. In the poem Hal makes reference to local places including Ram's Island at sunset, Portmore Castle, The Middle Church at Ballinderry and Lorimer's Corn Mill. He concludes the poem with the following verse:

'Was ever fairer country in dear old Ireland seen?
Were ever farms so prosperous? Were ever fields so green?
Or people kinder hearted than round Glenavy fair
For if so, I may tell you, I can't find them anywhere'

Hal passed away in 1993.

A Celtic cross erected in the graveyard to the rear of the Parish Church in Glenavy marks the burial ground of his favourite Aunt 'Ro'.

She died on the 11th July 1918 having played an active part in village life in Glenavy. In September 1906 she was the honorary treasurer for the presentation fund of the local tennis club when they made a presentation to the local doctor - Arthur Mussen and his wife.

Her other responsibilities included secretary of the local badminton club that met in the Protestant Hall at Glenavy in the early 1900s. She also was the agent in charge at the signing of the Ulster Covenant in the same hall in 1912.

Her mother, Margaret Downer died on the 17th July 1920.

Many people will recall the newsagent and general merchants shop M. L.&S. Johnston adjacent to Annandale.

The house itself was later occupied by the Alcorn sisters - Elizabeth, Alice Mawhinnie and Kate together with their nephew John Stanley Alcorn.

Two of the sisters, Elizabeth and Alice, died within a month of each other in the winter of 1944/1945. The members of the Alcorn family are laid to rest at Belfast City Cemetery. The house itself later passed into the hands of William Sloan and Edward Scott and Annandale will also be remembered as a surgery for the local GP.

Annandale and the Downer family are all but memories now in the Glenavy area. It has now been replaced by modern housing.

Thanks to the remaining members of the Downer family who have shared their memories and photographs with us. The Digger can be contacted at

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