Rams Island Townland, Glenavy

Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland

The following are extracts from the "Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland – Parishes of Glenavy, Camlin & Tullyrusk" by the Rev. Edward Cupples.

In Lough Neagh, at the distance of one mile, two furlongs, and two perches English, from the shore, is a small island, called Ram’s Island, containing about seven acres of ground.

(The proprietor of this island has lately in an advertisement, stated its contents to be 13 acres. The difference between the two statements were from his having taken his measurement at the summer level, when a great deal of barren sand is exposed to view.)

It is the property of Mr. James Whittle, formerly of this parish, now a merchant in Liverpool, who has greatly beautified the surface, by planting trees and shrubs of various kinds, as so to render it a handsome and picturesque object to the surrounding country. There is an orchard, garden, and garden-house in it, in which a man and his family constantly reside. A prescriptive title to this little spot was acquired by an old fisherman, belonging to the union, by name David McArevy; by whom it was disposed of, about ten years ago, to Conway Mc. Niece, Esq. for the sum of one hundred guineas; who again exchanged it with Mr. Whittle, the present proprietor, for a small farm adjoining his own.

(Since these papers have been prepared for the press, this island has again been sold to the Right Hon. Earl O’Neill)

Lough Neagh has been frozen three times in the memory of man; once in the memorable frost of 1739, again in January, 1784, when the ice was of such strength, that many persons passed over on it to Ram’s Island; and again in the January of the present year, (1814) when such was the intensity of the frost, that Lieut. Colonel Heyland undertook, and accomplished the hazardous expedition of riding his horse from Drumlin Water-foot to Ram’s Island; and the singular novelty was exhibited of a drag chase on the ice, round the island, with Mr. Stafford Whittle’s pack of harriers.

(This gentleman, (Heyland) rode round Lough Neagh in the year 1804, for a considerable wager, which he performed in less than five hours, being a circuit of 80 miles, 6½ furlongs, English measure.)

In Ram’s Island is one of the ancient round towers of Ireland. It is 43 feet high, and 30 feet 5 inches in circumference; the walls being 2 feet 8¼ inches in thickness. The door faces the south-west, and is distant from the ground a step of about six inches. It is divided into three stories; the first is 14 feet 4½ inches from the surface, and contains the door; in the second is a window facing the south-east; and in the third is a window facing the north, about 3 feet high, and 1½ feet broad. There are two rests for joists; and a projecting stone in the first story, about 5½ feet from the surface. Certain letters or characters appear to be cut on the stone in the inside, but so obliterated by time, as to be illegible. On going into the building there is a hollow sound, or echo, which induced the person who at present lives in the island, to dig five feet below the surface, where he found several human bones, and some coffin boards. A skeleton was discovered near the tower some time ago, and bones and sculls in many parts of the island. These circumstances indicate, that a place of worship once existed here; and sanction the opinion of Dr. Ledwich, that the round towers were appropriated to ecclesiastical purposes; from whence also it may be inferred, that the island, at no very remote period, was a part of the continent.

(When the lake is at the summer level, a bank, or neck of land appears, extending from the island to Gartree-point; in which, it is reported by persons who have examined it, that a paved causeway is discernible.)

Ram’s Island and Conway McNeice

For those researching the Ballance family an article titled "John Ballance, Journalist, Politician and Premier of New Zealand 1839 – 1893" by B.J. Logan can be found in a publication titled "Ulster Local Studies", Volume 15 No. 1 Summer 1993.

The article states that the mother of John Ballance was Mary McNeice, a Quaker. It further states that her uncle was Conway McNeice who owned property in the area, including Ram’s Island in Lough Neagh.

Lord O’Neill cottage

The following is an extract from The Dublin Penny Journal no 59 Vol 11 dated August 17th. 1833.

This beautiful little cottage is situated in one of the. small islands of Lough Neagh, at a distance of three miles from Crumlin; and about one mile and two-thirds from the shore, from which the traveller can easily procure a boat for the purpose of visiting the island. The cottage, which is extremely pretty, and furnished in the most tasteful manner, was some time since erected by Earl O’Neill, to whom it belongs. The only object of antiquity here is a round tower, of which —

"Time, with assailing arm,
Hath smote the summit, but the solid base
Derides the lapse of ages."

Lord O'Neill cottage 1833

Lord O’Neill cottage 1833

We are informed by the Rev. Doctor Cupples, that its "eight is forty-three feet, its circumference thirty feet five inches, the thickness of the walls two feet eight inches and a quarter; the first story contains the door – the second, a window facing the south-east – and the third, another window, which looks out to the north, about three feet high, and one and a half broad. There are two rests for joists, and, in the first story, there is a projecting stone, about five feet and a half from the surface. Certain letters or characters appear to-be cut on the stones, in the inside; but so obliterated are they by time, that they are quite illegible. A hollow sound or echo is heard on entering the building; this induced a person who lived in the island, to dig five feet below the surface, where he found several human bones, and some coffin boards. A skeleton was discovered near the tower some time ago, and bones and skulls in many parts of the island. These circumstances indicate, that a place of worship once existed here; and sanction the opinion of Dr. Ledwich, that the round towers were appropriated to ecclesiastical purposes. It might also be inferred from this that the island was, at no very remote period a part of the continent. When the lake is at its summer level, a bank appears, extending from the island towards Gartree Point. Some persons who have examined it at low water assert, that the remains of a paved causeway are visible. The entire ground is laid out into walks; and covered with verdure. Several hundred rose trees, and those plants and flowers which constitute the pride of our gardens, all flourish luxuriantly. Even those sides of the island which are almost perpendicular, are adorned with all those creeping plants and hardy shrubs which are adapted to the situation.

Lough Neagh is twenty miles long and fifteen broad, and is said to cover an area of about 98,000 acres; its circumference being, about 80 miles 6½ furlongs It lies in the centre of the province of Ulster, and is bounded by five counties-, Antrim cm the north and east. Tyrone also on the east, a small portion of Down on the north-east, Armagh on the south, and Londonderry on the north-west It is about thirty feet above the level of the sea. Its situation, which resembles an inland sea, together with the celebrity of its petrifactions and pebbles, have always rendered it an object, of considerable interest It is not wonderful, therefore, that, like many objects much less within the range of romance, it should have the honour of a fabulous origin; and accordingly, while some early writers state that it suddenly burst out in the reign of Lugaidh Rhiabderg, in the 56th year of the Christian era, we are informed; on, the authority of the late Lord Bristol, Bishop of Derry, that "in a Monastery on the Continent a manuscript existed which mentions, that in the sixth century a violent earthquake had thrown up the rock of Toome, which, by obstructing the discharge of the rivers, had formed this body of water; and that Lough, Erne, in Fermanagh, was produced at the same time!" Of the formation of the lake two other wonderful accounts are given. One states that our Irish giant, Fin M’Coul, took a handful of earth, and flung it into the sea. The handful was of such a size, that where it fell it formed the Isle of Man, and the hollow caused by its removal formed the basin of the present, Lough Neagh! The other account is, that some now forgotten saint had sanctified some holy well, in consequence of which the waters were gifted with the most miraculous properties. The only injunction attending their use was that each person should carefully, shut the wicket-gate of the well. A woman at length neglected this command; the indignant waters immediately sprang from their bed; the terrified culprit fled; but the waters followed close upon her very heels and, when she sank down exhausted, closed for ever around her, and formed the present Lough, the length of which is just the distance she ran! The idea of a town being buried under the waters of the lake, is very prevalent among the peasantry; and Moore, in his well-known beautiful lines, has immortalized this remarkable belief;

On Lough Neagh’s banks as the fisherman strays,
When the clear cold eve’s declining,
He sees the round towers of other days,
In the waves beneath him shining.

There are several islands on the Lough; but they are deficient in the bold and frowning headlands and picturesque scenery, which constitute the charm of the Scottish lakes. Nor can it in romantic interest, or beauty and variety of scene
at all compare with Lough Erne or the Lakes of Killarney. Gunny Island lies a short distance from the Armagh shore. A small cluster known by the y name of the "Three Islands" is situated about four miles from the river Maine, off the point of the parish of Dunean Lord O’Neill has planted all the islands with young trees, which have a very pleasing and ornamental effect and from Ram’s Island, in which the cottage stands, a bank of sand and gravel, eighteen or twenty feet broad, extends – it is usually covered with water; but at in very dry seasons, it is broad, firm, and dry, resembling an artificial causeway, more than a natural deposit.

Along the way between Lurgan and the town of Antrim

The following is an extract from "Original Poems, sacred, moral elegiac" by William Anderson, English Teacher, 2nd volume MDCCCXLI (1841). Thanks to the staff at The Linenhall Library, Belfast for their assistance in relation to sourcing this book.

On the author travelling along the way between Lurgan and the town of Antrim

From Lurgan town I chanced to go
A journey unto Antrim town:-
Believe me, what I say is so, –
No finer country’s to be found.

For, as I passed along that way,
I had a fine prospective view
Of hill and dale; I now do say,
The country was to me quite new.

I only was a stranger there,
When I along that way did pass,
In summer time, could not forbear
To notice what fine corn and grass

Within the fields of that fine land –
As fine a crop as ever grew,
With plantings fine on every hand,
Appeared quite pleasing to my view.

The pasture- fields were mantled o’er
With grass so green and daisies bright;
Those rural scenes were more and more
Attractive still unto the sight.

But what I now have more to say,
In passing on along that line,
It sometimes caused me to delay,
To view the handsome dwellings fine.

Of farmers’ houses, neat and clean,
Respectable, and very grand,
‘Tis quite a pleasing lovely scene,-
Serve to embellish that fine land.

A land so fertile, and so good,
To equal it ‘tis very rare;
For wheat and oats, ‘tis understood,
That none with it is to compare.

Besides all that, no other place
In Irish ground, that you would see,
Could yet compare – it is the case –
With orchards fine, abundantly.

The fruit it is so good and fine,
Of various kinds that are so nice,
Those at a distance do incline
To buy those fruits at a good price.

And with them, they do cross the sea,
To other parts, as I am told;
They, for their pains, rewarded be,
When their fine fruit they have it sold.

Those fruits I need not mention here,
Nor to describes the various kind,
But what is common, say not dear,
As in that place you there will find.

Oh, what a fine and pleasant view,
To Westward, as I passed along!
To me, indeed, it was quite new –
I to that place did not belong.

Lough Neagh it to the left does lie,
Lough Beg another lake bear to, –
It is but small, it is close by
The larger lake which I did view.

In miles extend ‘bout twenty-four;
Its breadth is twelve, they tell to me;
From Western to the Eastern shore,
Lough Neagh would mind you of the sea.

In it there is an island grand,-
It is renowned for its fame;
Great numbers there they oft do land-
Ram’s Island it is called by name.

‘Tis two miles distant from the shore,
Unto that island of which I speak;
Some go to it health to restore,
And some for pleasure they do seek.

In it there is a building fine,
To ‘commodate those that so call;
Fine walks and flowers do combine
To please the minds of great and small.

The Derry mountains I did spy
Along, as I did pass that way;
Slievegullen, with its summit high,
I saw it plain most of the way.

Some handsome villages I passed through –
Namely, that place called Aughalee;
As I did on my way pursue,
It was quite pleasant unto me.

The next place, then, of any note,
Was Ballinderry – there I came;
‘Tis a fine place, tis’ not remote,-
I found it was of ancient fame.

Fine handsome buildings I saw there,
Fine shops and stores I there did spy;
The people to them do repair,
For every article they do buy.

The finest orchard in that place,
Is close by it, that building rare;
The distance but a little space
From off the building I saw there.

A fine Moravian Chapel there,
And Preacher’s house so neat and grand;
The people thither do repair,
Their duty then to understand.

And hear the Word of God explained –
The Scriptures good that they might know
Religion they have n’er disdained,
Lest it should prove their overthrow.

For we should still to it adhere, –
Be always ready at the call;
Then there is nothing we should fear,
But in peace and love with all.

A School-house, also, in that place,
For male and female children there,
To teach them good, and give them grace,
For which the youth they all repair.

Into Glenavy then did come –
An ancient village on my way;
The buildings few, yet there are some,
But almost are gone to decay.

The church is handsome, steeple grand;
It is adorned with clock and bell –
Low in a valley it does stand –
The hours that pass does truly tell.

Then straight to Crumlin I did go –
A village handsome to the view;
‘Tis most delightful, it is so,
When I my thoughts on it renew.

Some buildings there are fine and neat,
But most of them they are but low;
But, at the same time, are complete,-
In them there’s comfort, I do know.

Two Meeting-houses are in that town,
For Presbyterians, so direct;
They’re neatly built, and of renown:
Their Clergy they do much respect.

Beside, a School-house there, most grand-
It is for those of every sect;
Unto the village nigh at hand.
Instruction there is given direct.

There is a fine dispensary
Established in that small town,
Where medicine is got quite free,-
A doctor there to serve it round.

He is a gentleman of skill,
In which, indeed, it is well known;
His patients they do love him still,
Which every one of them do own.

Hard by that village, there does stand
Glenoak, a famous ancient seat;
It does adorn that fertile land –
That building fine, and very neat.

There are other buildings near the place;
But it would trespass on the time:
I find that it would be the case –
I’ll not be guilty of that crime.

Thus to describe them, one and all,
No farther here I will pursue;
Perhaps, again, that I may call,
And write you something that is new.

I straight set off for Antrim town;
The country, as I went along,
Was a fine rich and fertile ground,-
The people there were very throng –

At their employment, what it may:
Their labour was of different kind;
As in this world, where we do stray,
There’s divers work, of divers kind.

I now in Antrim did arrive,
A town both ancient and of fame;
In trade the people there do thrive;-
Industry good will do the same.

An ancient castle in that place –
A noble Lord does in it dwell;
He’s of a noble ancient race,
As many here do know full well.

So, I am at my journey’s end,
No farther here I mean to go;
My mind can hardly comprehend
These true remarks, I find it so.

I now did say my journey’s end,
Which, with man’s life, we may compare,-
We often here have to contend
With sorrow, trouble, anguish, care, –

Until, at once, we’re called away,
And taken out of this world’s din,
No longer in it then to stay –
No longer live in guilt and sin.

The Frost of 1855

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated 21st February 1855 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

The Weather

The Present Frost – The frost of 1855, though not yet so lengthened in duration, is likely to become no less memorable than that which was experienced forty-one years ago. From Crumlin Waterfoot to Ram’s Island, a distance of nearly two miles, Lough Neagh is one broad sheet of ice, and hundreds of people have crossed from the shore to the ancient isle of the O’Neill…..

It is generally believed that the frost of 1814 was equal in point of severity to any previously experienced in those realms. Tat year tents were erected on the Thames, and the fetes and parties of 1716 re-enacted with increased éclat – some enterprising tradesmen making a pretty good thing of it. In Ireland the winter was exceedingly severe; mail coaches could not run for several days ; the rivers were completely frozen and on the ice-bound waters of Lough Neagh the dogs had a capital run after a hare, which was started on the lands of Mr. Stafford Whittle, and taking the ice, dashed off towards Ram’s Island, followed by some hundreds of sporting pedestrians….

Severe Winters

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated 27th December 1860 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Severe Winters – … In 1814 the temperature was, for several weeks consecutively, below zero, and Lough Neagh was frozen over from shore to shore. So thick was the ice, that Colonel Heyland, of Langford Lodge, rode from Crumlin Water-foot to Ram’s Island, a distance of nearly a mile and three-fourths. The same adventurous sportsman had previously made the entire circuit of Lough Neagh on horseback, in an almost incredibly short time, thereby winning a large wager… (1826) In the hollow between the Black Mountain and Devis (Divis) snow wreaths remained till the beginning of the following June.

1870s Poem

The following was published in the 1870’s

‘Twas Pretty to be in ballinderry,
‘Twas pretty to be in Aghalee,
‘Twas prettier to be in little ram’s Island,
Trysting under the ivy tree!
Och hone, ochone!
Och hone, ochone!
For often I roved in little ram’s Island
Side by side with Phelimy Hyland,
And still he’d court me, and I’d be coy,
Though at heart I loved him, my handsome boy!

"I’m sailing," he sighed, "from Ballinderry
Out across the stormy sea,
Then if in your heart you love me, Mary,
Open your arms at last to me."
Och hone, ochone!
Och hone, ochone!
I opened my arms – how well he knew me!
I opened my arms and took him to me,
And there, in the gloom of the groaning mast,
We kissed our first and we kissed our last!

‘Twas happy to be in little ram’s Island:
But now ‘tis sad as sad can be;
For the ship that sailed with Phelimy Hyland
Is sunk for ever beneath the sea.
Och hone, ochone!
Och hone, ochone!
And ‘tis oh! But I wear the weeping willow,
And wander alone by the lonesome billow,
And sry to him over the cruel sea,
"Phelimy Hyland, come back to me!"

Fishermen of Lough Neagh

The following is an extract from the Belfast Newsletter dated 30th March 1878 and is used with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Lough Neagh Fishery Case.

A meeting of the Fishermen of Lough Neagh will be held on Monday next, on Ram’s Island at one o’clock, for the purpose of hearing a statement on the decision of the House of Lords in favour of the free fishery of Lough Neagh.

Joseph E. Fitzgerald, secretary of the Fisherman’s League. Derrachrin House, Glenavy, 28th March, 1878.

Skating on Lough Neagh, 1879

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated 1st February 1879 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Skating on Lough Neagh – The skating public will be glad to know that the Great Northern Railway company has agreed to run a special train to Glenavy for Lough Neagh today (Saturday), leaving the terminus in Belfast at twelve o’clock noon, calling at Dunmurry and Lisburn stations, and returning from Glenavy at 6.15pm. The ice is in perfect order, and bears so well that many persons have visited Ram’s Island during the past few days.

Boating Accident on Lough Neagh

The following is an extract from the Belfast Newsletter dated 27th May 1879 and is used with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Melancholy Boating Accident on Lough Neagh.

An accident of a most melancholy character occurred on Lough neagh on Sunday. It appears that three young men named Thomas McGarrell, Patrick Crossey and Thomas Henry nelson, belonging to Feumore, near Ballinderry, went out in an open boat about one o’clock for the purpose of pleasuring. The day was squally, heavy showers of rain and hail falling at intervals. When the boat reached Ram’s Island and was about to return, owing to the amount of canvas she was carrying, and to her being caught in a squall, she suddenly capsized, throwing the occupants into the water. The accident was observed from the shore, but in consequence of the strong wind and the heavy sea a boat which put off to the rescue was unable to reach them. In the meantime, the boat righted, and in the act brought with her one of the parties named Nelson, who was saved. The other two, who failed to regain the boat, and being unable to swim, immediately sank, and were drowned before assistance reached them. When the news of the sad event spread around the shore, a number of boats were procured and a search for the bodies initiated. During the evening the body of McGarrell was discovered, and that of Crossey at six o’clock yesterday morning, both being conveyed to their respective homes to await an inquest. Much sympathy has been expressed for the families of the deceased, who subsist chiefly by fishing, and are well known in the locality. The two young men who have thus met an untimely end were about 21 years of age, were unmarried, and were skilled seamen, having been brought up to that line of life from their boyhood. Lough Neagh, although it gives employment to large numbers of fishermen, and is daily covered with boats, has, unfortunately, but few accidents, which probably may be attributed to the superior skill exercised by these men in the management of their little crafts, and that upon waters which are easily irritated, and at times are most dangerous. It may be mentioned that the young man Nelson, who had so narrow an escape, was one of the defendants in the fishery cases tried at Crumlin petty sessions yesterday. An inquest was held on the bodies last evening by the county coroner, and a verdict in accordance with the facts returned.

Skating on Lough Neagh, 1881

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated 25th January 1881 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Skating on Lough Neagh.
To the Editor of the Belfast Newsletter

Sir – We have just returned from a day’s skating on Lough Neagh, and we consider it a pity that the lovers of the art of skating do not know that Lough Neagh is frozen over as far as the human eye can see, and if a party of skaters were to leave Belfast by the 9.45 train they would find within a mile of Antrim Castle the finest sheet of ice in the British Isles, with no snow whatever upon it.

My friend, Captain ——, and I went three miles into the lough, and the ice was perfect, and we believe the lough to be frozen over.

Hoping to see a large party on the ice on Wednesday, we remain, faithfully yours, TOURISTS
Antrim, January 24.

A Day on Lough Neagh

The following is an extract from the Belfast Newsletter dated 25th June 1895 and is used with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Lough Neagh

To the Editor of the Belfast News-Letter

Sir – A few days ago I had a trip in the May Queen on Lough Neagh, and scarcely, if ever, did I enjoy a day so much. A capital seaboat, a delightful day, a magnificent reach of water, a pretty coast line, and a courteous captain all united in making the day a most enjoyable one. It is a matter of great surprise to me, considering the proximity of the lough to Belfast and the facilities given by the railway to get to and from it, that these trips are not more availed of by the Belfast people. I am familiar with the English and Swiss lakes, but none of them compare with Lough Neagh, and I felt if it were as near an English town of half the size of Belfast one steam yacht would not meet the demands of the tourist traffic, and I feel confident many people in Belfast would enjoy these pleasant trips, say from Antrim to Lurgan, or the reverse, did they but know that the railway company gives a circular ticket, which includes this sail, or that they can join the May Queen at Kinnigo, near Lurgan, for a cruise to Toome, Charlemont, Ram’s Island, or other places of interest on the lough, which can easily and cheaply accomplished. Therefore, I take the liberty of bringing the fact under the notice of your readers, and remain yours very truly,

R.S. O’Loughlin, D.D., Rectory, Lurgan, June 24th.

Skating on Lough Neagh – Railway Tickets

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated 13th December 1892 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Great Northern Railway (Ireland).
(Northern Division)
Skating on Lough Neagh

Until further notice, return tickets, 1st and 2nd class, will be issued from Belfast, Dunmurry, and Lisburn Stations from Belfast, Dunmurry, and Lisburn Stations to Glenavy, Crumlin and Antrim by the train leaving Belfast at 1230pm at single journey fares.
The tickets will be available for return on date of issue only.

Thos Shaw.
Manager’s Office, Belfast 12th Dec. 1882.

Belfast and Northern Counties Railway.
Skating on Lough Neagh

Until further notice 1st, 2nd and 3rd class Return tickets will be issued from Belfast to Antrim at Single fares by trains leaving York Road at 950am and 12 noon.

Edward J Cotton, General manager.

Belfast 12th December 1882.

Skating on Lough Neagh, 1895

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated 11th February 1895 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Skating on Lough Neagh
To the Editor of the Belfast Newsletter

Sir – Will you kindly let Belfast people know, through your paper, that there is good ice on Lough Neagh. Skaters crossed to the island today. It would be worth the Great Northern Railway company’s while to run a special to Glenavy. Yours truly, Chas F. Newell. The Cottage, Glenavy, February 9th.

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated 19th February 1895 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Skating on Lough Neagh

It is now many years since lovers of skating have had such splendid opportunities as the present frost affords them for enjoying their healthy and exhilarating pastime. One can have some idea of the intensity of the frost when it is stated that Lough Neagh, the largest inland lake in the kingdom, and one one of the largest in Europe, is covered for many miles with ice in prime condition, either for long spins or for figure and fancy skating. During the past week the shores at Glenavy, Antrim, and Toome have presented a lively spectacle, which reached a climax on Saturday, when the special skaters’ trains run from Belfast by the Northern Counties Railway and the Great Northern railway brought numerous visitors to the scene. Thousands enjoyed the exhilarating exercise on the County Antrim side of the lake on Saturday, and not only this but games of various descriptions were participated in. Several exciting hockey contests were witnessed as well as feats of strength in the skating line. From the Glenavy side many visited Ram’s Island and the provision made here for supplying the cup that cheers was appreciated to the fullest strength, and the invigorating beverage supplied that spirit which was necessary to face the strong breeze that blew from the shore, and made progress homewards hardly so expeditious as on the way out. The ice on the lough was very little affected by the slight thaw on Sunday, while its appearance yesterday, when great numbers of skaters were merrily spinning across it, indicated that it would likely continue in good condition for some time yet, unless a sudden and extensive rise in temperature should occur. Besides issues cheap tickets by ordinary trains, the Northern County Railway Company have, with commendable enterprise, illuminated the lough with a number of Wells’ patent lights, so that skaters were able to continue on the ice for several hours after dark had set in. Tonight there will be added a new feature to the enjoyment in the shape of a torchlight procession. So long as the frost lasts we understand this company intends to issue tickets at reduced fares to Antrim and Toome, and to illuminate Antrim Bay. Skaters will be able to get cheap tickets to Toome by the 10.15am, and to Antrim by the 8.15am, 1015am, and 3pm trains. The last train from Toome to Belfast leaves at 5.10pm and from Antrim at 812pm. Arrangements also have been made by the Great Northern Railway for the convenience of those who wish to enjoy the pleasure, and a pleasure which may be descrbed as phenomenal in its character, as it is but rarely one in this fickle climate enjoys such a long period of frost. Excursion tickets are issued every day by the 9.0 and 12.30 trains to Glenavy, Crumlin and Antrim, and we have no doubt many will avail themselves of the privilege if the frost continues. During the pas week Lough Neagh has presented a spectacle rarely witnessed in these climes. With very little stretch of imagination one could fancy himself enjoying all the pleasures of a Canadian winter, and the carnivals of which this vast sheet of water in the clutches of King Frost have been the scene will long be remembered by those who had the opportunity of participating in them.

The following extract is from the Belfast Newsletter dated Wednesday 20th February 1895 and appears with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Crossing the ice to Ram’s Island with a horse and Sleigh. Those who were skating on Lough Neagh on the 18th inst had the pleasure of witnessing Mr.Robert Mulholland, merchant, of Crumlin, crossing the lough to Ram’s Island with his grey horse and sleigh. This, as everyone is aware, is a very rare occurrence, and afforded the numerous skaters and spectators considerable amusement, while some expressed their doubt of Mr. Mulholland successfully accomplishing his purpose. But as the ice is about eight inches thick, there was little to be feared, but the gentleman returned in safety.

Lady Day in Lurgan

The following is an extract from the Belfast Newsletter dated 18th August 1896 and is used with permission of the Belfast Newsletter.

Lady Day in Lurgan – the 15th August celebration in Lurgan was an almost exact reproduction of the programme of recent years. The proceedings of the day commenced with the turnout of a recently formed Roman Catholic brass band, who, declined to be identified with the rabble display, enjoyed an excursion on their own account to ram’s Island in Lough Neagh. Early in the afternoon the fire-eating element of the local "patriots" were joined by neighbouring contingents, and a "procession" paraded all the thoroughfares open to Nationalist marching. The gathering numbered 4000 or 5000 persons of the humbler strata of society, but the "brethren" arrayed in gaudy green sashes, composed only half a dozen camps of about a dozen members each, with three flags, one banner, three or four pair of drums, and a couple of flute bands. The emblems were all as familiar to residents as was the happy condition of the rank and file around them. "God Save Ireland" "Erin-go-Bragh" "Ireland a Nation" and "Remember Limerick" were the leading mottoes exhibited, but a conspicuous line on one of the flags invoked its admirers to "Remember Derrytagh," a town land in Moyntaghs unknown to history until after a party riot, known as "the battle of Derryadd," which took place in September, 1893. The local police force, under District Inspector Hill, was augmented by twenty men and one officer from Monahan, and 130 men and three officers from Meath, County-Inspector Warburton being in charge of the town. Although there were more than two policemen for every "patriot" in colours, the force was not more than equal to the preservation of order when the drunken and aggressive character of the gathering is considered for cursing King William and shouting "Home Rule" were expressions very generally indulged in during the day.

Paradise regained at Ram’s Island

Robert McCormac and his bride. Victoria Savage, get married on Ram's Island. US36-744SP

Robert McCormac and his bride. Victoria Savage, get married on Ram’s Island. US36-744SP

I REMEMBER hearing stories of my grandfather in his youth transporting several cattle from the shores of Lough Neagh to Ram’s Island. The legs of the cattle had to be secured for the mile long journey across the Lough. At that time Robert and Jane Cardwell were living in the caretaker’s cottage and were the housekeepers of the cottage used by the owners of the Island, the O’Neill family from Shane’s Castle.

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Robert and Jane Cardwell

The late Mrs Jane Cardell

Source unknown. The Late Mrs Jane Cardwell, the Ram’s Island centenarian, who lived all her life in that district

There have been many articles written in the past about Robert and Jane Cardwell. Robert and his wife lived on Ram’s Island for over fifty years and were the caretakers for Lord O’Neill, the island’s owner.

Robert Cardwell died in 1929 aged 88. Jane died in 1933. It was reported that she was 102 when she died. There are conflicting reports in relation to their ages. Jane, nee Farr, is reported to have been up to ten years older than her husband.

Cardwell dwelling on Ram's Island

Source unknown. Lough Neagh Centenarian dead – This quaint old dwelling on Ram’s Island was for over 50 years the home of Mrs. Jane Cardwell, who died on Sunday at the age of 102 years.

Robert and Jane Cardwell are buried in the graveyard at the Parish Church of Glenavy. There is no headstone marking the place where they were laid to rest, however I am led to believe their burial place is to the right of the path as you enter the lych gate. I was told some time ago they are buried close to where the Haire family headstone is now located. This is supported by the fact that John Haire (born c1840) married (May 1870) Jane Cardwell (born c1842). She was the daughter of William Cardwell (born c1806) and Margaret nee Armstrong (born c1810). William Cardwell lived in the townland of Crew. This homestead later passed to the Haire family. Older members of the Haire family referred to Robert Cardwell as "a friend", a term used for a distant relative of a family. The Haire family burial plot was once in the name of Cardwell.

The funerals of Robert and Jane Cardwell attracted the attention of the press.

Extract from Northern Whig and Belfast Post — Saturday 11th March 1933:

"Queen of Ram’s Isle"
Death of Mrs. Cardwell at 102.

By the death this week of Mrs. Jane Cardwell, in her 102nd year, Ram’s Island, the "mystic isle" of sanctuary and beauty, which lies across the bay at Leneymore, near Crumlin, has lost its queen. She was a wonderful old lady, serene as the quietude within her island kingdom’s bounds, when she came with her husband fifty years ago.

They lived, this old lady and her husband (he died a few years ago), with a daughter in the old summer residence of O’Neill’s, its old lichened walls and mellow thatch in harmony with all surrounding nature, through which, as if to tell the wonder of its age and solitude, peeped the enduring ruin of a round tower.

They lived a humble life. He had his boat, his net, an acre clearing, facing the sun; his fowl, and a faithful dog so attuned to the stillness of the place that he rarely barked. She, too, had her work, and in between she watched the birds – ring doves and coloured shyer birds – fly with the thrush and willow-warbler over the busy wild duck or the stately swans which sailed round and round like white-clothed sentries. She knew them all, their birth and saw them fall among the trees or by the fast overspreading ramparts where once the flowers had grown tended by some other queen.

The funeral of Mrs. Cardwell took place to Glenavy Churchyard on Tuesday.

The death notice read "Cardwell, March 5th, 1933, at her residence Ram’s Island, Jane, wife of late Robert Cardwell".

In a book titled "In Praise of Ulster" by Richard Hayward, Published in 1938 by Wm. Mullan & Son, Belfast, the author mentions Glenavy and Ram’s Island.

…There is a cottage which was once a summer-house of the O’Neill family, and the Island is a bird sanctuary full of the music of ring doves, blackbirds, thrushes, finches and other songsters, and it is an ideal place for a picnic. Engage the King of Ram’s Island in conversation if you can and he will hear all the "crack of the countryside", including perchance some choice morsels about one Mrs. Thistlewayte who went from Glenavy to London and became the toast of a very gay season. It is said, but I have not seen it myself, that at very low summer level a causeway is exposed which connects Ram’s Island with Gartree Point, and it is thought that this was built at the time of the religious establishment.

Funeral of Robert Cardwell from Ram's Island

Funeral of Robert Cardwell from Ram’s Island

Jane and Robert Cardwell, Ram's Island

Jane and Robert Cardwell, Ram’s Island

Book Launch

A new book has been launched (2008) titled "Laura Bell, Courtesan & Lay Preacher: being a consideration of her life & legend as recorded by those who knew her, and those who wished to know her."

It has been written by Anthony S. Drennan, Belfast. The first edition of this book has been limited to 299 copies.

This book traces the life of Laura Bell from her beginnings in the Glenavy area to high society in London. Laura Bell’s family lived at Bellbrook House, Glenavy.

Further details and copies of the book may be obtained at www.tonydrennan.co.uk

View of Ram’s Island

A view of Ram's Island from the shores of Lough Neagh

A view of Ram’s Island from the shores of Lough Neagh
Possibly late 1920’s/early 1930’s.
(Personal photograph – Kindly provided by the McKeown family)

Natural History

The following extracts are taken from a book titled "Natural History of Ireland Vol 3 Birds" by William Thompson, Esq, published in 1851 by Reeve & Benham, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London.

Page 335/336/337

The author makes reference to a brown-headed (or masked gull) which he shot "in its breeding-station at Ram’s Island, Lough Neagh on the 15th June, 1833". The author gives its measurements (in meticulous detail). He mentions he examined a living bird, taken from a nest at Ram’s Island on Sept 26th 1833 and he mentions the same detail.

Page 332

The author mentions that on 08 01 1833 he noted a black headed gull at the Falls Pond … which was one of eight nestlings brought "by us from Ram’s Island in June".


The following is an extract from the "Ulster Journal of Archaeology Volume 4 1856" and is reproduced here with permission of the Ulster Archaeological Society.

Ram’s Island, County Antrim

On this island, the largest in Lough Neagh, the remains of a Round Tower exist, which, on application to the late Viscount O’Neill, of Shane’s Castle, the writer was permitted to examine on the 10th September, 1844. Mr. George C. Hyndman, and Mr. Burgess, of Belfast, were also present. The island, which contains rather less than six acres, is included in the parish of Glenavy; and Dr. Reeves supposes that "the chapel" is mentioned in connection with the church – "the Church of Lennewy, with the chapel," in Pope Nicholas’s Taxation, was situated here. The remains of such a building no longer exist; but vestiges of a burying-ground are, it is said, still observable. Of the tower, which forms a striking object, a portion measuring 42 feet in height is still to be seen; the original doorway was eight feet above the offset which determined the level of the floor. This has, however, at some time been closed, and admission is now obtained by an aperture broken through the western side of the building. Two windows remain, one nearly on a line with, and immediately over the true entrance, which faces S.S.W. This is, or rather was, rudely pointed. The other side is on the E.S.E. side. The interior diameter is eight feet three inches and the thickness of the wall two feet six inches, which gives a circumference of nearly forty feet. The lower part of this tower had been filled up to a considerable depth when the pleasure – grounds which surround it were laid out. It was excavated under the direction of the persons named, to a point where a lime floor had originally existed, but which had been broken through at some former period. Of course the examination, under such circumstances, was void of interest. Dr. Petrie quotes a statement from Mr. Windele of Cork, of "human bones having been found interred within that at Ram-island, in Antrim, and similar relics;" but that gentleman’s authority is not given. Sir William Betham seems, from a statement afterwards made, to have adopted the same opinion. In the clay, beneath where the floor had been, bones were indeed discovered; but they were the remains of a sheep which had been thrown in, most probably at a late period. No information was procured respecting the nature of any previous investigation.

The name of this island is a subject worthy of some notice as an antiquarian question, for it is not probable it was received from the animal of the same name, nor from the surname which is sometimes found in England; and if the writer mistakes not, it was that of an Irish bishop since the reformation. It seems, indeed, probable, that this word is corrupted from an ancient Irish term which had for a time been superseded by Enis Garden, another corruption of the same.

The writer is indebted to the kindness of Dr. Reeves, for several references in the Annals of Ulster, and of the Four Masters, which seem to apply to this place. Enis Garden, it seem not improbable, is a corruption of a name which occurs twice in the Annals of Ulster – Inis Daircairgren – and most decidedly applies to some locality in or near to Lough Neagh.

AN. 1056, Gormgai prim anneara innsi Daircairgren plenus dierum in penitentia pausavit. Gormal precious anachoreta Insulae Durcargreniae. Plenus dierum in paenitentia pausavit

AN. 1121 Cumaighi mac Deoradha hua Flaind ri Derlais do badhadh I Loch nEachach inrn gab innsi Darcarcren fair d Uib Eachach da trochaic u er ar xl.

Cumagius filius Deoradii O’Flan rex Derlassiae (a territory in or near Hy Tuirtie) demersus in laue Each (lough Neagh) post expugnatam Insulam Darcarcrenii contra Eachios (Iveagh men) in qua occisi sunt supra xl.

No doubt can exist to these entries having reference to an island in Lough Neagh, and the Four Masters bear testimony to the event mentioned in the latter, but mention the island under another name – Rechrann.

The age of Christ, 1121, Cumaighe, son of Deoraidh Ua Floinn, Lord of Durlas, was drowned in Loch-Eathach after (the island of) Inis-Draicrenn had been taken upon him by the Ui-Eathach, where forty-four persons were slain.

Dr. O’Donovan, in a note on this passage, says:- "Inis- Draicrenn, now Rathlin, a small island opposite Rockland, where the upper Bann falls into Lough Neagh, in the north-east of the county Armagh." Dr. Reeves has given the writer the following note, in addition to what is found in his published volume, at pages 48 and 292:- "I was once of opinion that this island (Daircairgren) is the modern Rathlin Island in the Montiaghs, barony of O’Neill and East, Co. of Armagh; but the statement of the Annals of Ulster, at 1056, leads me to suppose that ecclesiastical remains would be found in this island of Daircairgren, wherever it was; however, I have not heard that any exist in the Rathlin of the Montyaghs. The island spoken of is certainly in Lough Neagh, and the question is between Ram’s Island and Rathlin. You might look in the Ordnance Survey of Armagh County, sheet No. 6, and see whether any ruins of such are marked as existing on this island. If not, I should unhesitatingly pronounce in favour of Ram’s Island, which was called Inis – garden (a corruption, I suspect, of the above name) and is so marked on some old maps." Besides searching the maps, the writer has lately examined the spot itself, and can find no trace of any building having existed on Rathlin Island, in the Montiaghs.

Rams Island Heritage Project

The Ram’s Island Heritage Project is a voluntary community-based project lead by the River Bann and Lough Neagh Association (RBLNA) — a branch of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI). Visit their website at www.ramsisland.org.

The Digger finds clues to our past inscribed in wood at Rams Island

Wood inscriptions on Ram's Island

Wood inscriptions on Ram’s Island

I had reason to visit Ram’s Island again, recently. I had been there some years earlier retracing the steps of ancestors who had taken cattle to the island from close to Glenavy over eighty years ago.

The unrelenting efforts of the Ram’s Island Volunteer Team was obvious as we approached the new jetty on the eastern shoreline.

I took some time out to explore the island again. This time, however, I wasn’t there to view the remnants of the round tower, the O’Neill summerhouse or the foundations of the Cardwell residence. I knew that many of the trees on the island held secrets and stories from days gone by, yet to be uncovered and retold.

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Ice Skating on Lough Neagh

The following is an extract from the Ulster Star on 9th February 1963 and is used with permission of the paper.

The recent severe frost recalls memories amongst the older generation of the town as to the year of the great frost, when Lough Neagh was frozen over. This occurred in February 1895 – exactly 68 years ago – and for several weeks there was continual frost with the ice surface on the Lough being as smooth as glass.

Skating took place on a grand scale, with special trains bringing contingents of skaters, while the whole surrounding district assembled to swell the multitude. So great was the attendance at Antrim that two tents were erected for the sale of refreshments. As an adventure, a horse and sleigh were driven from the shore at Sandy Bay to Ram’s Island in twenty minutes. When darkness set in, lamps were provided by the Railway Company for the benefit of the skaters.

Ram’s Island Mourners

The following appeared in the Belfast News Letter dated Monday 27th March 1989 and appears with permission of the Belfast News Letter

A framed photograph of a funeral is an unlikely adornment in any house. But then it was a quite extraordinary funeral and that is why the picture hangs on the wall of the home of Danny Trowlan at Crumlin, Co. Antrim.

Ram's Island mourners

Ram’s Island mourners

There can be few people alive who saw the fishing boat hearse which carried to the mainland the remains of the resident caretaker of Ram’s Island in Lough Neagh – Robert Cardwell.

Mourners’ boats followed "in line astern" and the floating hearse picture is of personal interest to Danny as Robert, who died in October 1929 was his great-great grandfather.

Ram’s is the largest island in the lough, and for 49 years Robert had looked after it, lived on it, lived off what he produced there – and died there.

To old people on the eastern shore – from Antrim town to Aghalee – his name brings back memories. To younger folk it is legendary.

Nine years ago Jean Totten of Ballinderry wrote a booklet entitled Gleanings from Glenavy Parish, and in delving here and there for information about the Cardwells she compiled a chapter which is part of the lore of the lough.

Danny Trowlen, of course, never knew his famed "Crusoe" predecessor who lived simply and frugally, and yet with his wife Jean reared 13 children on Ram’s Island, which belonged to Lord O’Neill.

The Cardwells dwelt in a little stone cottage, while his lordship used a beautiful Swiss-type chalet as a summer retreat.

Alas, both – which had thatched roofs – are now gone.

And Ram’s Island has gone back to raw nature, though the snowdrops, daffodils primroses, bluebells and violets flourish still.

You’d be hard put to locate where Robert grew his vegetables.

He died at the age of 89, and Jane who lived on to be 103 “followed him” to Glenavy churchyard in 1932.

Until his death Robert grew all his own vegetables, and kept cattle so they also had their own milk, butter and cheese.

Groceries and other commodities which they couldn’t provide for themselves were bought ashore.

In his younger day Robert rowed the children to Sandhills school every morning, weather permitting, and returned for them in the afternoon.

It was a hard and unrelenting existence but they wouldn’t have changed it for anything.

The Cardwells were inland islanders.

If an emergency should arise, such as sickness when he was unable to take the boat out, Robert or some other member of the family would hoist a white sheet on a tree by the shore, which fishermen would immediately recognise as a call for assistance.

According to Jean Totten they loved to entertain visitors on their otherwise isolated island, for their only neighbours were the birds.

Over the years the pictures have inevitably faded. The smaller ones show Robert and Jane sitting outside their cottage shortly before he died – and the flotilla of mourners following his hearse to Sandy Bay. That was 60 years ago.

Archaeology Day 2008

The Environment & Heritage Service organised "Archaeology Day" events throughout Northern Ireland in 2008. On Saturday 21st June at 12 noon there was an opportunity to visit Ram’s Island, Lough Neagh. "The remains of a Round Tower and Cottage Orne, the tree lined avenue and gardens and evidence of the presence of American Army during World War 11" were all explained during the tour.

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