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War Office bought Magheralave House and estate 50 years ago

 FIFTY years ago this month the War Office bought Magheralave House and estate just outside the Lisburn town boundary as the site for the new headquarters of the Northern Ireland Army District.

The area, the property of Mr. Thomas Gracey, comprised over 100 acres and it was reported that there would be accommodation for 1,000 troops.

That was the full strength of the units accommodated in the Victoria Barracks, Belfast, where only 22 acres were available for buildings and other purposes.

It was anticipated that the new barracks would be completed in three or four years' time, but it was not likely that any building operations would be started before the end of that year, 1938.

Meanwhile, however, new roads would be made and other preliminary arrangements carried through. The price of the property acquired was not disclosed, but the approximate cost of the scheme was placed at £400,000.


Major E. M. Tyler, Senior Administrative Staff Officer of the Northern Ireland Command, said the negotiations had been very satisfactory from every standpoint and Colonel Cole, the War Department's chief land agent, had no hesitation in recommending the acceptance of the terms offered by Mr. Gracey through his solicitor, Mr. J. C. Taylor.

The idea of the new headquarters had been in contemplation for some time but the project was expedited by the suggestion of the Secretary of State when he visited Northern Ireland at the end of January.

He said following his inspection of Victoria Barracks that with one exception they were the worst in the United Kingdom and entirely out of keeping with modern requirements.

The building situated off Clifton Street was started in 1857 when eight acres were purchased.

In 1879 the accommodation was augmented by the acquisition of five acres and in 1881 the remaining nine acres completed the area. For several months those ac ting for the War Office had been on the look out for a suitable site.

They toured the North, South, East and West and quest and complying in all details with their requirements.

Major Tyler, who had a very large experience of military centres in different parts of the world, considered the property ideally suitable for conversion into barracks conforming to the modern conception of army amenities.

The General Officer commanding the troops in Nor- them Ireland and his staff would have their headquarters on the estate as would the various units of the army such as the RA and RE Signals, the Army Service Corps and an infantry battalion of about 700.


The buildings for the soldiers would be on the Sandhurst principle where their quarters would be conveniently situated.

The houses for the married soldiers would be after the new garden city idea and he anticipated the officers would have detached houses.

Major Tyler said many features commended the estate for military purposes.

It had an almost inexhaustible supply of pure water, electricity for lighting purposes and every convenience for transport. Part of the ground would be allocated to recreation and they looked forward to having four pitches for football and hockey and a cricket ground for summer use.

Another important feature was the proximity of the mountains and the facilities which the rough ground on the hill sides would afford for training purposes.

He had no specific figures as to the cost of the barracks, sports ground and other developments, but he thought the figure would be somewhere in the region of £400,000.

Incidentally, Magheralave is an old Irish word meaning in the plain of the mountains. Magheralave House was built by Mr. Thomas Stannus about 1893 to replace the original mansion destroyed by fire.

Mr. Stannus was a son of the Very Reverend James Stannus, Dean of Ross and Rector of Lisburn, who combined with his clerical duties the management of the Hertford estate.

Mr. Stannus died on November 8, 1907 in his 90th year and his memory is perpetuated by a tablet in Lisburn Cathedral.


A sketch of the history of Lisburn published over 80 years ago states that in addition to a residence at Portmore in the Ballinderry area Lord Conway had fitted up for Bishop Jeremy Taylor at Magheralave " an exceedingly charming residence ".

The writer added that the cottage was still to be seen there with the study in which the Bishop composed some of his later works.

Magheralave House was recognised as being one of the best built as well as one of the most beautiful in Northern Ireland. It was surrounded by well wooded park-like lands.

The estate was bounded on the North by the range of mountains known as White Mountain, Aughrim and Colin.

On the South it overlooked Lisburn and the Lagan Valley and on the East side Belfast could be seen in the distance and on the West it was bounded by the main road from Lisburn to Antrim.

From a health standpoint, being about 250 feet above sea level the fine, pure mountain air of the district made it ideal.

The whole estate was purchased by the War Office with the exception of Magheralave Park of 12 acres which Mr. Gracey was developing and where it was understood he would erect a new residence.


In the development of the estate by the War Office its natural beauties were to be retained with a minimum of removal of the trees which enhanced the appearance of Magheralave grounds.

The proximity of the military headquarters were expected to be a big asset to the trade of Lisburn.

In 1988 the headquarters, Thiepval Barracks, play an important role in Northern Ireland.