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Survey of Ardstraw

Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of 1837 for the Parish of Ardstraw County Tyrone

ARDSTRAW, or ARDSRATH, a parish, partly in the barony of OMAGH, but chiefly in that of STRABANE, county of TYRONE, and province of ULSTER; containing with the post-town of Newtown-Stewart some 21,212 inhabitants.

This place was distinguished, under the name of Ardsrath, as the seat of an ancient bishop-rick, over which St. Eugene or Owen, presided about the year 540. At a very early period a small stone church or chapel existed here; and the names are recorded of several bishops who presided over the See, which in 597 was removed to Maghera, and finally to Derry in 1158.

This Church suffered repeatedly by fire, and appears to have been completely destroyed about 1190.

The parish, which is situated on the road from Dublin to Londonderry, comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 44,974 statute acres, of which 537 are covered with water. The surface is pleasingly diversified with hill and dale, and enlivened by the rivers Struell, Glenelly, and Derg, which, after flowing through the parish, unite in forming the river Mourne, which abounds with trout and salmon; and also with several large and beautiful lakes, of which three are within the demesne of Barons Court.

The land is chiefly arable, with pasture intermixed; and the soil in the valleys is fertile; but there are considerable tracts of mountain and several extensive bogs. Limestone is found in several places at the base of the mountain named Bessy Bell, the whole of the upper portion of which is clay-slate; on the summit of another mountain named Mary Gray, it is found with clay-slate at the base; and round the southern base of the former are detached blocks of freestone scattered in every direction. There are also some quarries of limestone at Cavandaragh; the stone is raised in blocks, or 'laminae', from a quarter of an inch to three feet in thickness.

The mountains within and forming a portion of the boundary of the parish are Bessy Bell, Douglas, and Mary Gray, which present the most beautiful and romantic scenery, particularly in the neighbourhood of Newtown-Stewart ; and the view from the high grounds, including the lakes and rivers by which the parish is diversified is truly picturesque. There are five bridges; one at Moyle, of three elliptic arches; a very ancient bridge at Newtown-Stewart, of six arches; another of six arches at Ardstraw, and a modern bridge {1830} of three arches on the Derry road.

The principal seats are

Baron's Court, the residence of the Marquess of Abercorn ;

Castlemoyle, of the Rev. R. H. Nash, D.D.;

Woodbrook, of  R. M. Taggert, Esq.;

Newtown-Stewart Castle, of Major Crawford;

Coosh of  Mr A. Colhoun, Esq. ;

and Spa Mount, of  E. Sproule, Esq.

There were formerly several bleach-greens in the parish, but at present there is only one in operation, which is at Spa Mount, on the river Derg, and in which about 16,000 pieces are annually bleached and finished, principally for the London market.

The Church of Ireland clergy living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin: the annual tithes amount to £1094.


The church is a large and beautiful edifice with a handsome spire, and-is situated in the town of Newtown-Stewart.  A grant of £478 for its repair has been lately made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. A new church, or chapel of ease, is about to be built at Baron's Court, or Magheracreegan, for which the late Board of First Fruits granted £600, now in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The glebe-house {rectory} has a glebe {Church lands} of 681 acres attached to it, rented out to tenants, of which 461 are in a state of cultivation.

The Roman Catholic parish is co-extensive with that of the Established Church, but is divided into East and West Ardstraw ; there are chapels at Newtown-Stewart, Dragish, and Cairncorn.

There are five places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, at Ardstraw, Newtown-Stewart, Douglas Bridge, Clady, and Garvetagh; that of Ardstraw is aided by a second class grant, and those of Newtown-Stewart, Douglas-Bridge, and Clady have each a third class grant. There are also two places of worship for Presbyterians of the Seceding Synod, one at Drumligagh of the first class, and the other at Newtown-Stewart of the second class; and there is a meeting-house for Primitive Methodists and two for Wesleyan Methodists.

The parochial school at Newtown-Stewart is aided by an annual donation from the rector; and there are fifteen other public schools in different parts of the parish, and seventeen private schools; in the former are 1600, and in the latter about 780, children and thirty-five Sunday schools.

The deserving poor are supported by voluntary contributions, aided by the interest of £100 in the 3.5%., being a sum due to the parish, which was recovered about twenty years since by process of law and by act of vestry added to the poor fund.

There are numerous interesting remains of antiquity in the parish, the most ancient of which are those of the monastery and cathedral of Ardsrath, near the village, consisting chiefly of the foundations of that part of the building which was formerly used as the parish church, the remains of some very beautiful crosses of very elaborate workmanship, and several upright stones and columns richly fluted  but the churchyard, which was very extensive, has been contracted by the passing of the public road during the formation of which many items of great antiquity were destroyed.

 Nearly adjoining is a ruin which tradition points out as the bishop's palace, and which was occupied as an inn when the Dublin road passed this way. About three miles above Ardstraw Bridge, and situated on a gentle eminence, are the picturesque ruins of Scarvaherin abbey, founded by Turloch Mac Dolagh, in 1456, for Franciscan friars and on its dissolution granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Henry Piers and near Newtown-Stewart is the site of the friary of Pubble, which appears to have been an appendage to Scarvaherin, and was granted at the same time to Sir Henry Piers. Of the latter, nothing but the cemetery remains.

 In Newtown-Stewart are the extensive and beautiful remains of the castle built by Sir Robert Newcomen in 1619; it is in the Elizabethan style, with gables and clustered chimneys.     King  James II. lodged in this castle, on his return from Lifford in 1589, and by his orders it was dismantled on the day following with the exception of the roof, it is nearly perfect.

At the foot of the mountain called Bessy Bell are the ruins of an ancient building called Harry Onree's Castle, concerning which some remarkable legends are preserved by the country people; they consist of two circular towers, with a gateway between them, and some side walls, which overhang their base more than 8 feet.

Near the end of the bridge at Newtown-Stewart is a large mound of earth, evidently thrown up to protect the ford, which in early times must have been of importance as the only pass through the vast range of the Munterlony mountains. There was a similar fort on the ford of Glenelly, of near Moyle Castle, and another at the old ford at the village of Ardstraw.

On the summit of Bessy Bell or 'Boase-Baal', on which in pagan times sacrifice is supposed to have been offered to Baal or Bel, is a large and curious cairn; there are also cairns on the summit of Mary Gray, and more than thirty forts in the parish, nearly in a line from east to west, which were designed to guard the passes on the rivers of Glenelly and Derg. About a mile below Newtown-Stewart, in the bed of the river, is a single upright stone, called the "Giant's Finger," and lately "Flilln's rock," respecting which many strange traditions are preserved in the neighbourhood.


Samuel Lewis :  surveyed 1832 published London 1837

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