DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.
UK Genealogy Archives logo


LISBURN, an unincorporated borough, market-town, and parish, partly in the barony of UPPER MASSAREENE, county of ANTRIM, and partly in the barony of UPPER CASTLEREAGH, but chiefly in that of LOWER IVEAGH, county of DOWN, and province of ULSTER, 6 miles (S. W. by S.) from Belfast, and 73 (N.) from Dublin; containing 13,249 inhabitants, of which number, 5218 are in the borough, 5941 in that part of the parish which is in the county of Down, and 2090 in that which is in the county of Antrim. This place was, in the reign of Jas. I. and long after, called Lisnegarvey; and though now a populous and flourishing town, it was at that time a very inconsiderable village. Its rapid increase in population and importance may be attributed to Edward, Viscount Conway, to whom, in 1627, Charles I. granted the remainder of the manor of Killultagh (a portion of which had been previously given by Jas. I. to his ancestor, Sir Fulk Conway), who, on obtaining possession of this grant, built a castle here, which became the head of the manor. The same grant conferred the privileges of courts leet and baron, view of frank pledge, manorial courts for debts not exceeding £2, a court of record every three weeks for sums not exceeding £20, a weekly market, and two annual fairs. Soon after the erection of the castle, some English and Welsh families were induced by the proprietor to settle here, and a town consisting of more than fifty houses soon arose. On the breaking out of the war in 1641, a body of 1000 men assembled and preserved the town for some time from the attempts of the insurgents, and held their detached parties in check; but on the 28th of November in that year, the garrison consisting only of five newly raised companies and Lord Conway's troop of horse, the insurgent army commanded by Sir Phelim O'Nial, Sir Conn Magennis, and General Plunket, on their march to Carrickfergus, advanced to attack the town. Sir Arthur Tyringham, however, arriving with a small reinforcement, and being aided by Sir George Rawdon, repulsed the columns of the enemy as they successively advanced to the assault, and by a galling fire from the streets committed great slaughter among them. At nightfall further reinforcements arrived from Carrickfergus and Belfast; and the insurgents despairing of success, set fire to the town, which in a few hours was reduced to ashes; a sanguinary conflict being maintained in the burning town till nearly midnight, when the insurgents were finally put to flight, leaving behind them a number of slain equal to three times the entire number of the garrison, of whom only from 20 to 30 were killed. In 1644, General Monroe made an attempt to obtain possession of the town, but was frustrated by the vigilance and resolution of the garrison; and on the 6th of December, 1648, that general, with the Scottish forces under his command, was signally defeated on the plains of "Lisnegarvey," by Col. Venables and Sir Charles Coote, two of Cromwell's commanders, to the former of whom the castle was surrendered in 1650. On the landing of the Duke of Schomberg, near Bangor, in 1689, a considerable body of forces in the interest of Jas. II. assembled at this place, but afterwards abandoned it without any attempt for its defence, and Wm. III. passed through the town shortly before the battle of the Boyne. Chas. II., to reward the fidelity of the inhabitants to his father and to himself, had erected the church of Lisburn into a cathedral for the united dioceses of Down and Connor, and had granted the townsmen the privilege of sending two representatives to the Irish parliament; but what more especially contributed to the improvement and commercial importance of the town was the settlement here., after the revocation of the edict of Nantz, of many Huguenot families, who introduced the manufacture of linen, and brought with them improved machinery from Holland. The skill and industry of these new settlers were liberally encouraged by the government, which granted large sums of money for the erection of suitable buildings for carrying on the manufactures, &c., and, by giving an example to others engaged in the same trade, soon raised the quality of the manufactures to a degree of excellence previously unknown. In 1707, the town and castle were burned to the ground; the latter has never been rebuilt, but the present town soon arose from the ruins of the former, and gradually increased in extent; it has been greatly improved at various times, and especially within the last few years by the spirited exertions of the agent of the Marquess of Hertford, who is owner in fee of the whole town, and of a considerable part of the surrounding country; and it is now one of the handsomest inland towns in the province of Ulster.

The town is situated on the north-western bank of the river Lagan, which separates the counties of Antrim and Down, and on the high road from Dublin to Belfast: it consists principally of one long irregular line of street, extending nearly from east to west, from which several smaller streets branch off; and contains, according to the last census, 992 houses, of which 675 are roofed with slate, and the remainder with thatch; all the houses in the principal streets are well built, and amply supplied with excellent water conveyed by pipes from works in the neighbourhood. The great terrace of the castle, which is still remaining, has been, made an agreeable promenade; it is sheltered from the north by Castle-street, and is kept in the best order at the expense of the Marquess of Hertford. On the opposite side of the river is a small suburb, not included in the ancient limits of the borough, but within the parish and the new electoral boundaries. A new line of road has been made at a great expense at the entrance from Dublin on the south-west, and also at the entrances from Belfast and Armagh, by which the town has been much improved. The manufacture of linens and cambrics, which are sold in their brown state every market day at the linen-hall, a neat and commodious building erected for the purpose, is still carried on to a considerable extent, and maintains its high reputation for the superior quality of these articles; and the diapers and damasks of this place have long been distinguished for their unrivalled beauty of pattern and fineness of texture. On a small island in the river Lagan are extensive chymical works for the preparation of acids, chlorides, &c., for the supply of the several bleach-yards, of which some of the largest in the kingdom are adjacent to the town, the principal being at Lambeg, Colin, Seymour Hill, Suffolk, and Chrome Hill, where 189,000 pieces are annually bleached and finished, principally for the London market. There are also extensive establishments for the printing, bleaching, and dyeing of muslins; and near the town are an extensive thread manufactory and a large flour-mill. The trade is much facilitated by the Lagan navigation between Lough Neagh and Belfast, which joins the river Lagan a little above the town, by which, with the aid of several collateral cuts, the navigation is continued to Belfast. The market is on Tuesday, and is the largest and best in this part of the country for every description of provisions; it is also much frequented on account of the quantities of linen and other articles which, in addition to its supply of provisions, are brought for sale; there is a cattle market on the same day. The fairs are annually held on July 21st and Oct. 5th, and are chiefly for horses, cattle, sheep, lambs, and pigs, of which the supply is very large. The market-house is a handsome building surmounted by a cupola, and, in addition to the accommodation it affords to the market, contains a suite of assembly-rooms. There are also very extensive shambles, corn-stores, sheds, and weigh-houses, erected by the proprietor of the town, and well-enclosed marketplaces for cattle, sheep, and pigs.

By the charter of Chas. II. conferring the elective franchise, the inhabitants not being a body corporate, and consequently having no municipal officer, the seneschal of the manor of Kilultagh was appointed returning officer for the borough; and the right of election was vested in the inhabitants generally, every potwalloper being entitled to vote; but by an act of the 35th of Geo. III., cap. 29, it was restricted to the £5 householders, of whom, previously to the late act for amending the representation, there were only 141, and of these only 81 were qualified to vote. By the 2nd of Wm. IV., cap. 88, the right of election was confirmed in the £5 householders; and the boundary of the borough, which was very indistinct, was enlarged and clearly defined, and now comprises an area of 1325 acres, the limits of which are minutely described in the Appendix. The number of voters registered up to March 1st, 1836, was 134; the seneschal is still the returning officer. Manorial courts are held by the seneschal every third Wednesday, at which debts to the amount of 40s. are recoverable; and there is a court of record, with jurisdiction to the amount of £20 late currency. Courts leet are also held twice in the year, when a leet grand jury is sworn, by whom a petty constable is appointed for each of the 17 constablewicks into which the manor is divided; presentments for payment of salaries, repairs of roads, and other works are made; and all the municipal functions of the borough are exercised. Petty sessions are also held in the town every Tuesday; and here is a station of the constabulary police. A large and handsome edifice now used as the court-house of the manor, and for holding the petty sessions and other public meetings, was originally built and supported by Government as a chapel for the Huguenot emigrants, whose descendants having attached themselves to the Established Church, the minister's stipend has been discontinued, and the building appropriated to the above purposes. The manor gaol of the borough, under the custody of the marshal of the manor court, has, since the 7th of Geo. IV., been disused as a place of confinement, and is now used as a place of custody for goods attached by the court till bailed.

The parish, which is also called Blaris, comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 10,697 statute acres, of which 2827¼ are in the barony of Upper Massareene, county of Antrim, and 3064 in Upper Castlereagh, and 4805¾ in Lower Iveagh, county of Down. The lands are very fertile, and the system of agriculture is highly improved; for the last twenty years, wheat has been the staple crop, and oats, formerly the principal produce, are now grown only for the sake of a due rotation of crops. The Maze race-course, described in the article on Hillsborough near which town it is situated, is in this parish. The surrounding scenery is enlivened by numerous gentlemen's seats, among which are Ballymacash, the residence of Edw. Johnson, Esq.; Brookhill, of James Watson, Esq,; Larchfield, of Wm. Mussenden, Esq.; Lambeg House, of Robert Williamson, Esq.; Seymour Hill, of Wm. Charley, Esq.; Chrome Hill, of Richard Niven, Esq.; Ingram Lodge, of J. Richardson, Esq.; Suffolk, of the late J. Mc Cance, Esq.; and Colin, of Matthew Roberts, Esq.; besides many other elegant houses near the town. The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Connor, and in the patronage of the Marquess of Hertford. The tithes amount to £700: there is a glebe-house but no glebe attached to the living. The church is a spacious and handsome building, with a tower, to which an octagonal spire was added in 1807, at the expense of the late Marquess of Hertford; a fine organ has been presented to it by the present Marquess; and in its improvement considerable sums have been expended, including a recent grant of £256 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It contains a handsome monument to Lieut. Dobbs, a native of the town, who was killed in an engagement with Paul Jones off this coast; and an elegant monument has recently been erected at the expense of the bishop and clergy of the diocese, to the memory of the celebrated Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Connor, who died here in 1667, and was buried in a vault in the church of Dromore, which he had built. In the churchyard are several monuments to many of the Huguenots who settled here under the patronage of Wm. III. and Queen Anne. It is the cathedral church of the united dioceses of Down and Connor; the visitations are held in it, and all the business belonging to the see is transacted in the town. There are no chapels of ease within the parish, but divine service is performed in the school-houses of Newport, Maze, and Broomhedge, in rotation. In the R. C. divisions the parish is the head of a union or district, also called Blaris, comprising the parishes of Lisburn and Hillsborough, in each of which is a chapel. There is a meeting-house for Presbyterians of the Synod of Ulster, of the first class, also two for Wesleyan Methodists, and one for the Society of Friends.

To the north of the town is the Ulster Provincial School for the Society of Friends, founded in 1794 by Mr. John Handcock, who bequeathed a sum of money for the erection of the premises; 50 children, who are eligible at eight years of age and remain till fourteen, are boarded, clothed, educated, and apprenticed; each scholar pays £3.12. per annum, and the remainder of the expense, which averages about £14 per annum each, is defrayed by contributions from the society. A free school for boys was founded in 1810, and aided by the Association for Discountenancing Vice; and there is a similar school for girls, built and supported by subscription: the late George Whitla, Esq., bequeathed £100 to each, the interest of which is applied in procuring clothing for some of the poorest children. There are also two other schools for both sexes, one of which is aided by the same society, and the other is supported by subscription. An infants' school, also supported by subscription, was established in 1S32, and a building was erected for its use at an expense of £120, towards defraying which the Marquess of Hertford contributed £50. The number of boys on the books of these schools is about 400, and of girls, 300; and in the private pay schools are about 360 boys and 240 girls. An almshouse for eight poor women was founded under the will of Mr. Williams, in 1826; and six almshouses, for as many poor widows, were also founded by a member of the Trail family, and are now wholly supported by William Trail, Esq.; they were rebuilt on a more convenient site in 1830, at the expense of the Marquess of Hertford. The several charitable bequests amount in the aggregate to £2750, invested in government securities, the interest of which sum is distributed in winter among the poor, according to the wills of the respective donors. A Humane Society for the restoration of suspended animation has been established here; and in an airy part of the town is situated the County Infirmary, supported equally by subscriptions and grand jury presentments. On the White Mountain, about two miles to the north of the town, are the ruins of Castle Robin, erected by Sir Robert Norton in the reign of Elizabeth; the walls now remaining are 84 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 40 feet high, and near them is a large mount. Among the distinguished individuals born here may be noticed Dr. Edw. Smith, Bishop of Down and Connor, in 3665. Lisburn confers the titles of Earl and Viscount on the family of Vaughan.

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