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BANGOR, a sea-port, incorporated market and posttown, and a parish, partly in the barony of LOWER CASTLEREAGH, but chiefly in that of ARDES, county of DOWN, and province of ULSTER, 11½ miles (N. E. by E.) from Belfast, 21 miles (N.) from Downpatrick, and 91½ miles (N. by E.) from Dublin; containing 9355 inhabitants, of which number, 2741 are in the town. The origin and early history of this ancient town are involved in some obscurity, and have been variously described by different writers. The most authentic records concur in stating that, about the year 555, St. Comgall founded here an abbey of Regular Canons, which may have led to the formation of a town, if one did not exist previously, and over which he presided fifty years, and died and was enshrined in it. Some time subsequently to the foundation of the abbey, a school was established here under the personal direction of St. Carthagus, which in progress of time became one of the most eminent seminaries in Europe, and was resorted to by numbers of young persons of distinction from various parts; and, according to some writers, when Alfred founded or restored the university of Oxford, he sent to the great school at Bangor for professors. In 613 the town was destroyed by fire, and in 674 the abbey was burnt. In the beginning of the ninth century they suffered severely from the predatory incursions of the Danes, in one of which, about the year 818, these merciless marauders massacred the abbot and about 900 monks. In 1125 it was rebuilt by Malachy O'Morgair, then abbot, with the addition of an oratory of stone, said by St. Bernard to have been the first building of stone and lime in Ireland; and from which this place, anciently called the "Vale of Angels," derived the name of Beanchoir, now Bangor, signifying the "White Church," or "Fair Choir." Malachy was soon afterwards appointed to the see of Connor, and held with it the abbacy of Bangor till his preferment to the archbishoprick of Armagh. The abbey continued to flourish and was endowed with extensive possessions, which after the conquest were considerably augmented by the kings of England: amongst its lands was a townland in the Isle of Man, called Clenanoy, which the abbot held on the singular condition of attending the king of that island at certain times. In 1469, the buildings having fallen into decay through the abbot's neglect, Pope Paul II. transferred the possession of the abbey from the Regular Canons to the Franciscans, who continued to hold it till the dissolution. After that period, a great part of its lands was either granted to or seized by the O'Nials, who kept possession till the rebellion of Con O'Nial in the reign of Elizabeth, when it was forfeited to the Crown. Jas. I., on his accession to the throne, found the northern part of Ireland in a deplorable condition, and almost depopulated; and in the third year of his reign, resolving to plant English and Scottish colonies in Ulster, granted the site of the abbey, with all its former possessions in this county, to Sir James Hamilton, afterwards created Viscount Claneboye, who brought over a large number of Scots from Dunlop in Ayrshire, accompanied by their own minister, Robert Blair, who, although a Presbyterian, was presented to the church living of Bangor, and ordained in 1623 according to the Presbyterian form, the Bishop of Down officiating as a presbyter: he was afterwards appointed Scottish chaplain to Chas. I. From him were descended Robert Blair, of Athelstoneford, author of a poem called "The Grave;" and the celebrated Hugh Blair, D.D., of Edinburgh, the former his grandson and the latter his great-grandson. From Sir J. Hamilton are descended, either lineally or collaterally, the families of Bangor, Dufferin, Killileigh, and some others of principal note in Ulster. In 1689, the advanced army of Wm. III. arrived here in seventy sail of transports under the command of Duke Schomberg, and disembarked at Groomsport, a fishing village about a mile from the town, where they encamped for the night; being well received and finding plenty of provisions, the transports, which had been furnished with supplies, sailed back to Chester for a reinforcement of troops.

The town is advantageously situated on the south side of Belfast Lough or Carrickfergus bay, and on the direct sea coast road from Belfast to Donaghadee; in 1831 it contained 568 houses, most of which are indifferently built, and is much frequented for sea-bathing during the summer. The streets are neither paved nor lighted, but are kept very clean; and the inhabitants are but indifferently supplied with water. There is a public library; and an Historical Society has been recently formed in connection with it. The cotton manufacture is carried on to a considerable extent in the town and neighbourhood, and affords employment to a great number of the inhabitants of both sexes in the weaving, sewing, and ornamental branches. It was first established here in the finer branches between the years 1783 and 1786, by the late George Hannay, who, if not the first, was at least one of the first persons who introduced that department of the manufacture into the North of Ireland. Two spinning factories were subsequently erected under the patronage of the late Rt. Hon. Col. R. Ward, who constantly resided here and took an active interest in the improvement of the town ; one was built by two gentlemen from Scotland in 1800: who conducted it till 1813, when it was purchased by a company, who kept the concern in full work till 1826, when it became the property of one of the partners, who now retains it: the other, in which Col Ward held a share, and of which, on the dissolution of the partnership by the death of Mr. Hannay, he became sole proprietor, was built in 1804. The number of persons of both sexes constantly employed in these two factories varies from 260 to 280: those engaged in the weaving and sewing branches of the trade being dispersed over the parish, as well as resident in and immediately around the town, cannot so easily be enumerated. Many operatives from Belfast find employment; and agents have been commissioned by the Glasgow merchants to get goods manufactured here, from the superior manner in which the weaving and sewing are executed. The linen trade is also carried on to a limited extent, chiefly for home consumption. The trade of the port is inconsiderable: black cattle, horses, grain, and flax are exported: the only imports are coal and timber. The bay is well sheltered, and affords good anchorage in deep water for vessels detained by an unfavourable wind; and the harbour is capable of great improvement, although attempts made at the expense of individuals have failed. A small pier was built about the year 1760, by means of a parliamentary grant of £500 to the corporation for promoting and carrying on the inland navigation of Ireland. The market is on Tuesday, but is not well attended: the market-house was built of late years by the lords of the manor. Fairs for black cattle, horses, and pedlery are held on Jan. 12th, May 1st, Aug. 1st, and Nov. 22nd. The only toll or custom which appears to have been ever paid was that of the "tongues" of cattle slaughtered in the market, which was claimed by the provost, but has been relinquished. The mail coach runs daily to and from Belfast. A constabulary police force, and an establishment of the coast-guard in connection with the Donaghadee district, are stationed here.

The inhabitants were incorporated by charter of the 10th of Jas. I. (1613), under the style of "The Provost, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Borough of Bangor:" the corporation under the charter consists of a provost, 12 other free burgesses, and an unlimited number of freemen, with two serjeants-at-mace, but of whom only one town-serjeant is now appointed. The provost is elected from and by the free burgesses annually on the Feast of St. John (June 24th), and is sworn into office at Michaelmas; and the free burgesses are appointed during good behaviour, as vacancies occur, by a majority of the provost and remaining free burgesses: there is no separate class of freemen distinct from the free burgesses. The borough returned two members to the Irish parliament until the Union, when the £15,000 granted in compensation for the abolition of its franchise was awarded in moieties to Henry Thomas, Earl of Carrick, and the trustees of the estate of Nicholas, Viscount Bangor: the right of election was confined to the provost and free burgesses, and the provost was the returning officer. The charter constituted the provost clerk of the market and judge of a borough court of record, to be held every Saturday, with jurisdiction in personal actions to the amount of five marks; but it does not appear that this court has ever been held. Petty sessions are held once a fortnight, and a manorial court every third Thursday before the seneschal, with jurisdiction to the amount of £20, late currency: the proceedings are by attachment or civil bill. A court leet is held by the seneschal once a year, at which constables for the several townlands in the manor are appointed. The manor is held in moieties by Viscount Bangor and a member of the same family, Mr. Ward, a minor, who is the representative of the Earl of Carrick, a former proprietor. The property of the corporation consists of several plots of ground lying in various directions around the town, and containing altogether 59a. 1r. and 18p., now occupied in very small lots and at low rents by 43 tenants, and producing a gross rental of £52. 13. 2. per annum, which is generally applied to public and useful objects. The limits of the borough include the town and a small surrounding district, locally termed "the corporation," the exact boundaries of which are uncertain.

The parish is bounded on the north by the bay of Belfast, on the east by the Northern channel, on the south by the parishes of Donaghadee and Newtownardes, and on the west by that of Hollywood. It contains the Copeland islands, including which it comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 17,027 statute acres, of which 12,597¼ are in the barony of Ardes; the greater part is good arable and pasture land, mostly in excellent cultivation, especially the extensive estate of Portavo, and there are several others in the parish little inferior to it in point of husbandry; the farm-buildings are neat and comfortable, and the peasantry are of moral and very industrious habits. The first Parochial Ploughing Society in Ireland was established here in 1816, by the exertions and under the patronage of J. Rose Clealand, Esq., from which may be dated the origin of the North-east Farming Society and the commencement of agricultural improvement in the North of Ireland. Bangor moss is now nearly exhausted, and is gradually being brought into cultivation; but there is a large extent of bog called Cotton, and in the townland of Ballow is a small bog, in which were found the skeletons of several elks, the head of one of which, with the antlers, measuring nine feet from tip to tip, is preserved in the Royal Institution at Belfast. Several streams on which are corn and flax-mills intersect the parish, and there are three windmills for corn. The neighbouring bays produce a variety of fish ; oysters of large size are taken in abundance. The surrounding scenery is pleasingly diversified, and enriched in some parts with stately timber, chiefly fir and oak; and in the vicinity of the several gentlemen's seats are thriving plantations of beech, sycamore, ash and poplar, of comparatively modern growth. The principal seats are Ballyleidy, that of Lord Dufferin, a handsome and spacious mansion pleasantly situated in a rich and extensive demesne; Bangor Castle, late the seat of the Rt. Hon. Col. Ward, surrounded with extensive grounds tastefully laid out; Crawfordsburn, of W. Sharman Crawford, Esq., M.P., pleasantly situated on the shore; Portavo, of D. Kerr, Esq., in a well-planted and richly cultivated demesne; and Ballow, of W. Steele Nicholson, Esq., and Rath-Gael House, of J. Rose Cleland, Esq., both embellished with thriving plantations. Slate is found in several parts, but has been only procured in one quarry, which has not been worked sufficiently deep to produce a quality capable of resisting the action of the atmosphere. There are also mines of coal, especially on the estate of Lord Dufferin, whose father opened and worked them on a small scale, since which time they have been abandoned; and a lead mine was worked here to some extent about thirty years since, in which copper ore and manganese were also found.

The living is an impropriate curacy, in the diocese of Down, and in the alternate patronage of Viscount Bangor and --- Ward, Esq., in whom the rectory is impropriate. The parish is tithe-free, except two townlands, the property of Lord Dufferin, which pay tithe amounting to £52. 6. 9.; the curacy is endowed with a money payment of £55. 1. 8. per ann. by the impropriators. The church was built near the site of the old abbey, in 1623, and a very neat tower and spire were subsequently added to it by a bequest of the late A. Moore, Esq., of Tyrone. In attempting to enlarge it, in 1832, the foundation was so much disturbed by injudicious excavations that it was found necessary to take it down, with the exception of the tower; and a spacious and handsome structure, in the later style of English architecture, was erected in the following year, at an expense of £935, which was defrayed by the parishioners, aided by subscriptions to a considerable amount from some of the landed proprietors. There is a very good glebehouse, with a glebe of 12 Cunningham acres. In the R. C. divisions this parish forms part of the union or district of Newtownardes; but there is no chapel within its limits. There are two meeting-houses for Presbyterians, the first was built originally about the year 1650, by a congregation which began the erection of a new and beautiful building in 1831, and the other was built in 1829 by a new congregation: they are both in connection with the Synod of Ulster, and one is of the first and the other of the third class. The Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists have also each a place of worship. A school for girls and an infants' school are supported by the executors of the late Col. Ward; an infants' school is also supported by Mrs. Trench; at Ballyleidy is a school for girls, founded and supported by Lady Dufferin , a school for boys and girls at Crawfordsburn built in 1832, by the late Lord Dufferin, is supported with a bequest by the late Mr. John McGowan and other contributors; and there are two national schools at Crawfordsburn and Conlig, besides six other schools in the parish, aided by subscriptions. In these schools are about 460 boys and 340 girls, many of the latter of whom are clothed in each under the benevolent patronage of Lady Dufferin ; and there are also eight private pay schools, in which are about 120 boys and 50 girls, and eleven Sunday schools. The first Sunday school in Ireland was formed at Rath-Gael in 1788, by J. R. Cleland, Esq. Here is a dispensary; a mendicity society is supported by subscription, and there are a friendly society and a savings' bank. Adjoining the town is a property called "Charity Lands," let for £42. 11. 1. per annum, which is applied towards the support of some of the above institutions and other charitable purposes. Of the ancient abbey there is only a small fragment remaining in part of the garden wall of the glebehouse. Near the quay is an old building supposed to have been used as a custom-house, the tower of which has been converted into dwelling houses. Vestiges of 25 raths and forts may be traced in the parish; the largest was Rath Gael, or "fort of the strangers," which extended over more than two acres and was encompassed by a double vallum; part of it is now occupied by the plantations and house of that name. Druidical relics have been frequently found in various parts of the parish. Christian O'Conarchy, the first abbot of Mellifont, was born at or near this place; he was consecrated Bishop of Lismore about the year 1150, and was constituted the pope's legate in Ireland; he died in 1186. William Hamilton, a very ingenious poet, was also born here in 1704; his works were printed in 12mo. at Edinburgh, in 1760, eight years after his death. Bangor gives the titles of Viscount and Baron to the family of Ward, to whom the town and a considerable portion of the parish belong.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis