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The story of LISBURN town

A Brief History of Lisburn by Alderman Samuel Semple, M.B.E., J.P., F.R.S.A.
(Ulster Star 1987)


The exact reason for new name change was never known

Alderman Samuel SempleIN 1973 as a result of Local Government Reorganisation, the Borough of Lisburn became the administrative unit of those parts of south west Antrim and north west Down comprising an area of 174 square miles which stretches from Glenavy and Dundrod in the north to Dromara and Hillsborough in the south, and from Drumbo and Dunmurry in the east to Moira and Aghalee in the west.

Within the boundaries of the Borough are a number of villages and small towns, each with its own historical experience, but the bulk of its 91,000 inhabitants live in its centre - the town of Lisburn - the capital of the Lagan Valley.


The known and recorded history of Lisburn stretches back to the closing years of the Sixteenth Century, when the long struggle between the native Princes of Ulster and Queen Elizabeth The First, was reaching its climax.

At that time, the small village of Lisnagarvagh, later called Lisnagarvey, was a stronghold of a member of the powerful O'Neill dynasty which the Queen had tried to subdue both by conciliation and war, but the members of which had fought proudly and stubbornly until its resistance was finally quelled in the year of her death.

In that year, 1603, the independence and power' of the O'Neills, Princes of Ulster, Earls of Tirowen, Captains of Killultagh and Lords of Lisnagarvagh, ended. In 1609, in the reign of King James the First of England and the Sixth of Scotland, the lands of the O'Neills and other Septs, such as the O'Laverys, were "acquired" by Captain Fulke Conway, an officer in the English army, who brought with him Englishmen and Welshmen and proceeded to build a town, a church, and a castle commanding the crossing over the River Lagan.

The original town of, Lisnagarvey consisted of approximately 50 houses and in 1623, the church, on the site where the Cathedral of Christ Church now stands was in use for divine services.

Four years later, a castle was built, and a portion of the wall which formed the entrance is still standing and indeed, is now listed as an Historic Monument by the Department of The Environment for Northern Ireland.

Following the death of King Charles I, during the Commonwealth period, the citizens of Lisnagarvey declined to support Cromwell and, after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, the Parish Church of Lisngarvey was granted the status of a Cathedral by a Royal Charter of King Charles II, dated 25th October, 1662, in recognition of the inhabitants' loyalty to the Royalist Cause.

At that the noted English divine and scholar, Jeremy Taylor had been on the Royalist side in the English Civil War and during the Cromwellian period had acted as Chaplain to Lord Conway at Portmore Castle, however Ballinderry, was appointed Lord Bishop of Down and Connor and Administrator of the See of Dromore.


It was at that time that the change of name from Lisngarvey to Lisburn took place, the new name being recorded in a baptismal entry in the Cathedral on 11th January, 1662, and Lisngarvey appearing for the last time in the Burial Register of the Cathedral on 13th February, 1662. The actual reason for the change of name is unclear, although intriguing explanations have been offered.

During the military preparations for the Battle of The Boyne, Lisburn played an important role. In the winter of 1689-90, the renowned European soldier and Williamite Commander, the Duke of Schomberg, made Lisburn his headquarters and occupied the house, 13 Castle Street, that Bishop Jeremy Taylor had lived in. Many of the 10,000 men Schomberg brought to Ulster to fight against King James The Second's army at the Battle of the Boyne on 1st July, 1690, were quartered in the town and throughout the surrounding districts.

The Prince of Orange, later King William III, dined in a house that stood on the site now occupied by the Northern Bank (now Shannon's Jewellers 2005), at the corner of Market Square and Railway Street, and on his way to the Boyne, met a deputation of Presbyterian ministers at Hillsborough to negotiate with them the Reguim Donum.

A great fire ravaged the town in 1707 and destroyed most of the buildings including the Castle, the Cathedral and the Presbyterian Church. An inscribed stone on the north wall of the Ulster Buildings in Market Square, indicates that the structure was rebuilt in 1708.


At the same time, the Cathedral was restored, and the First Presbyterian Church was rebuilt on its present site. Later in the eighteenth century, in 1786, the First Roman Catholic Church was erected on the site occupied by the present St. Patrick's Church.

The Castle was not rebuilt, but was replaced in the nineteenth century by the mansion in Castle Street which now forms the older part of Lisburn College of Further Education.

This mansion was erected by Sir Richard Wallace, Bart., the illegitimate son of the Fourth Marquess of Hertford, whose ancestor was captain, later Sir Fulke Conway, founder of the town. Sir Richard Wallace's benefactions to the town include Wallace Park, Castle Gardens Park, the Castle Street mansion and the original Wallace High School, formerly known as Lisburn Intermediate School.

He is also recognised as a philanthropist in Parfs, where during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he endowed the Hertford British Hospital, organised three ambulance corps, and erected 200 drinking fountains known to this day as "Les Wallaces" - all at his own expense. He presented two of those fountains to Lisburn - one of which is in the Castle Gardens and the other in Market Square.


Among other historical celebrities who were native or residents of the Borough of Lisburn, are: Henry Munro, a highly respected citizen and a leader of The United Irishmen who was hanged near his residence and shop in Market Square after the 1798 Rebellion; William Henry West Betty, a child prodigy in London theatrical circles who was born in 1791 and lived in Chapel Hill; Brigadier General John Nicholson who was killed at the Siege of Delhi in 1857 and whose statue dominates Market Square;

Laura Bell, milliner, and later a courtesan of mid nineteenth century London society whose romantic affair with a Nepalese prince led to the formation of the Gurkha regiments in the Army at a critical stage in the Indian Mutiny;

Sir John Lavery, R.A., the famous Victorian artist who was reared and educated at Soldierstown, Aghalee;

Sir Crawford McCullough, Bart., seventeen times Lord Mayor of Belfast, between 1911 and 1936 who was born and reared at Aghalee;

Mr. Henry Ballance, Prime Minister of New Zealand who was a native of Glenavy; _

Mr. Harry Ferguson of Ford-Ferguson fame, -who was a noted engineer and inventor and a native of Growell near Drumlough;

Mr. William McIlroy, J.P., an executive in the linen firm of Barbour's of Hilden, who was a Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory;

Sir J. Milne Barbour, Bart., Member of Parliament for South Antrim and Minister of Commerce for many years in the Government of Northern Ireland.


Lisburn town by virtue of its nodal position on the River Lagan and at the junction of the main routes from Belfast to Dublin and to Armagh and Enniskillen, has been for centuries an important centre of communication. In medieval times, the road system was skeletal, but in the early Christian era the great route north from Dublin and Drogheda to Dunseverick and Derry ran through the Borough north of Moira and crossed the Lagan near Trummery.

The construction of the Lagan Canal connecting Belfast and Lisburn with Lough Neagh in the 18th Century and the inception of the railway link between Belfast and Lisburn, and later to Portadown, in the 19th Century, enhanced the junction position of the town and accelerated the growth of industry and commerce in the area.

The Lagan Canal which was engineered by Richard Owen, had been surveyed by Robert Whitworth, assistant to James Brindley the famous English Canal Engineer.

In his detailed report to the Local Committee of Board of Commissioners of the Inland Navigation of Ireland, at Hillsborough in June and August, 1768, Robert Whitworth who lived in Lisburn, estimated the cost of the Canal from Lisburn to Lough Neagh at £32,806, and from Lisburn to Belfast at £22,784.

The name of Lisburn has long been synonymous with that of linen. From time immemorial, flax was cultivated and linen manufactured on a domestic scale, but with the settlement in the area of the

French Huguenots after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the linen industry received a definite impetus. The Huguenots were men and women of lofty character, industrious and thrifty and added greatly to the social and industrial well-being of the community.


In 1698, on the invitation of King William III, a Huguenot nobleman from Armandcourt in France, Louis Crommelin, 'came to Lisburn and undertook the task of reorganising the linen industry in Ireland.

Under his direction and later that of the pioneer families of Delacherois, Coulson, Richardson, Barbour and Stewart, consistent progress was made, and that high degree of excellence which made Irish linen world famous, was attained.

To the traditional spinning, weaving, and thread manufacture have been added hemstitching, embroidery, production of thread and webbing, and the' processing and utilising of synthetic fibers. To-day. , however, while the linen industry instill important, it no longer enjoys the pre-eminence it once possessed.

At the beginning of the present century, cabinet making was established on a commercial basis and has steadily grown in importance. There are now several modern factories producing furniture of excellent design and quality for the home and British markets.


Good soils, an equable climate, and, a progressive farming community have combined to make agriculture a thriving industry and, consequently, it is not surprising that the production of animal feeding stuffs is carried on in several modern and fully automated mills.

There are also food processing and canning plants, the products of which are distributed throughout the British Isles and Western Europe, and efficient farm by-products factories are in operation in different parts of the Borough.

In the past three decades, successive Governments have pursued policies designed to encourage the diversification of industry and those policies have been reflected in the development of a wide variety of enterprises by local capitalists and entrepreneurs from further afield.

The phenomenal growth of population in the Borough has fostered the expansion of house-building and ancillary trades. A substantial number of local firms are engaged in the lay-out of pleasant housing estates and the construction of well-designed modern dwellings and community buildings.

In the excellent garages and workshops in the towns and villages of the Borough, the skill of local craftsmen is available to service machinery ranging from agricultural tractors to electronic and scientific equipment.


Progressive industrial development and a relatively prosperous population demand the services of a 'highly-organised system of retail and wholesale distribution.

The town of Lisburn and its satellite towns and - villages are highly fortunate in this respect, for me chants provide in well-equipped, commodious and hygienic premises an unrivalled range of foodstuffs and commodities to satisfy the most fastidious customers.

The commercial appeal of Lisburn is being recognised by the increasingly large number of shol pers from other parts of Northern Ireland who regularly transact business in the town. Although many of the national multiple shop groups are represented in Lisburn and others, including Marks and Spencer are planning to be so, it is significant that the majority of businesses are still family firms with records of service going back two or more generations.

The pride and interest which local industrialists, merchants and professional men and women take in their Borough found expression 27 years ago in the formation of a flourishing Chamber of Commerce, a corporate body ever anxious to consider any means increasng the prosperity and well-being of this