Extracts pertaining to local and historical information are taken from a Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis published in 1837.
ANTRIM, a market and post-town, and a parish (formerly a parliamentary borough), partly in the barony of UPPER ANTRIM, and partly in that of UPPER TOOME, county of ANTRIM, and province of ULSTER, 13 miles (N. W. by W.) from Belfast, and 94 miles (N.) from Dublin; containing 5415 inhabitants, of which number, 2655 are in the town. This place was anciently called Entruim, Entrumnia, or Entrum Neagh, signifying, according to some writers, "the habitation upon the waters," probably from its contiguity to Lough Neagh. The earliest notice of it occurs in the year 495, when Aodh, a disciple of St. Patrick, founded a monastery here, which was destroyed during the Danish incursions, and of which no further mention appears till the foundation of Woodburn Abbey, to which it became an appendage.
A sanguinary battle between the native Irish and the English took place near the town, when Sir Robert Savage, one of the earliest English settlers, is said with a small party of his forces to have killed more than 3000 of the Irish army. In the 13th of Jas. I., the town and sixteen townlands of the parish, together with the advowson of the living and the rectorial tithes, were granted to Sir Arthur Chichester. A naval engagement took place on Lough Neagh, in 1643, when Col. Conolly and Capt. Longford gave battle to a party of Irish marauders, who at that time had possession of the fort of Charlemont, near the shore of Clanbrassil, on which occasion the Irish were defeated, and their fleet brought by the victors in triumph up to the town. In 1649 the town was burnt by Gen. Monroe; and in 1688 a party of Lord Blayney's troops, being separated from the main body of the army, crossed the river Bann at Toome, and were made prisoners in a skirmish near this place. During the disturbances of 1798 it was the principal scene of the hostilities which took place in the county: the insurgents had planned an attack on the 7th of June, by marching their forces in four columns respectively by the Belfast, Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Shane's Castle roads; but their design becoming known to the military commanders of the district, troops were hastily assembled in the town, and the inhabitants were also mustered for its defence. The conflict was obstinately maintained on both sides, but at length the insurgents fled in all directions, leaving behind them about 3000 pikes and muskets: more than 900 of them were slain in the town and many killed in the pursuit.
The town is situated on the banks of the Six-mile-water river, on the great road from Belfast to Londonderry, and in one of the most fertile and beautiful valleys in the county: it consists of two principal streets, with others branching from them; many of the houses are modern, and well built of stone and roofed with slate, and several are ancient, of timber frame-work and plaister, with gable fronts, of which the upper projects over the lower story: the inhabitants are amply supplied with water from conduits in the streets. The manufacture of paper is carried on to a very great extent; mills for that purpose were first erected about the year 1776, but were burnt down a few years after; they were, however, rebuilt on a very extensive scale, and the first machinery used in the North of Ireland for the making of paper was introduced and is now employed in manufacturing paper of every description. Attached to these and belonging to the same proprietors, Messrs. Ferguson and Fowke, are a large brewery, flour and meal mills, malt-kilns, stores for grain, and other appendages, the whole affording employment to a great number of the industrious poor. At Boghead, one mile distant, and on the same stream, is another paper-mill on a smaller scale: there are also several bleach-greens in the parish; and the weaving of linen, calico, and hosiery is carried on in the dwellings of many of the poor both in the town and neighbourhood. The situation of the town within a quarter of a mile of the north-eastern portion of Lough Neagh, where a small rude pier or quay has been constructed, is favourable to the increase of its trade, from the facility of water conveyance afforded by the lake, the Belfast canal, and the Upper Bann. Several patents granting fairs and markets are extant, of which the earliest, granting to Sir James Hamilton a market on Thursday, is dated Feb. 14th, 1605. The market is still held on Thursday, and there is a market for grain every Tuesday, but, although the town is situated in a fine grain country, the market is very small. Fairs are held on Jan. 1st, May 12th, Aug. 1st, and Nov. 12th; those in May and August are well supplied with black cattle and pigs. Tolls were formerly levied, but were discontinued about fourteen years since, by direction of Viscount Ferrard.
This is a chief or baronial station of the constabulary police. Chas. II., in the 17th year of his reign (1666), granted the inhabitants letters patent empowering them to send two members to the Irish parliament, which they continued to do till deprived of the privilege at the time of the Union, when the compensation grant of £15,000 for the abolition of the franchise was assigned in equal shares to Clotworthy, Earl of Massareene, and three members of the Skeffington family. The seneschal of the manor of Moylinny, within which the town is situated, is appointed by the Marquess of Donegal, and holds a court once in three weeks, under charter of the 21st of Chas. II., granted to Arthur, Earl of Donegal, for determining pleas "not exceeding £20 current money in England," with power of attachment of goods: he also holds a court-leet annually. Petty sessions are held every alternate Tuesday; and the quarter sessions for the county are held here in April and October. The court-house is a large and handsome building nearly in the centre of the town; and part of the market-house is appropriated as a county district bridewell. The parish comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 8884 1/4 statute acres, of which about three-fourths are arable and one-fourth pasture land, and 200 acres are under plantations; there is little waste and no bog. The scenery is diversified and embellished with several gentlemen's seats, and derives much interest from Lough Neagh, which is partly within the limits of the parish. Closely adjoining the town is Antrim Castle, the ancient residence of the Earls of Massareene, and now, by marriage, the property and residence of Viscount Ferrard: it appears to have been originally built in the reign of Chas. II. by Sir John Clotworthy, and has been enlarged and partly rebuilt. It occupies an elevated situation above the precipitous banks of the Six-mile-water, commanding a fine view of the lake and of the surrounding country. Not far from the town are Steeple, the residence of G. J. Clark, Esq.; Ballycraigy, of W. Chaine, Esq.; Spring Farm, of Lewis Reford, Esq.; Birch Hill, of A. Montgomery, Esq.; Greenmount, of W. Thompson, Esq.; Muckamore, of S. Thompson, Esq.; the Cottage, of F. Whittle, Esq.; Moilena, of W. Chaine, jun., Esq.; and Holywell, of H. Joy Holmes, Esq. The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Connor, and in the patronage of the Marquess of Donegal; the rectory is impropriate in Lord Ferrard. The tithes amount to £598. 2. 10., of which sum, £318. 18. 8. is payable to the impropriator, and the remainder to the vicar.
The church, originally built in 1596, was destroyed by fire in 1649, and remained in ruins till 1720, when it was rebuilt; a lofty square embattled tower, surmounted by an elegant octagonal spire of freestone, was added in 1812, for which the late Board of First Fruits granted a loan of £1500. There is a glebe-house, but no glebe. In the R. C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Drumaul, also called Randalstown; the chapel is a spacious and handsome edifice. There are two meeting-houses for Presbyterians; one, in Main-street, in connection with the Synod of Ulster and of the second class, was built in 1613; and the other, in Mill-row, in connection with the presbytery of Antrim and of the third class, was built in 1726. There are also two places of worship for Primitive Wesleyan Methodists, and one for the Society of Friends. A free school on the foundation of Erasmus Smith was established in 1812, and is supported by annual grants of £30 from the trustees and £2 from the rector: the school-house was built at an expense of £800, of which £200 was given by Lord Ferrard. On the same foundation is also a school for girls, to which the trustees contribute £27. 10. per annum; and there are an infants' school, supported by subscriptions amounting to about £15 per ann., and two Sunday schools. The total number of children on the books of these schools, exclusively of the Sunday schools, is about 300; and in the private pay schools are 230 boys and 100 girls.
A mendicity society has been established for some years; a temperance society was formed in 1829; and a branch savings' bank, in connection with the Belfast savings' bank, was established here in Dec. 1832, in which the deposits during the first half year amounted to £1369. 9. 3 About half a mile to the north-east of the church, and in the middle of the plantations of G. J. Clark, Esq., in a part of the valley leading to Lough Neagh, is one of the most perfect round towers in the island: it is built of unhewn stone and mortar, perfectly cylindrical in form, and is 95 feet in height and 49 feet in circumference at the base; the summit terminates with a cone 12 feet high; the door is on the north side, and at a height of 7 feet 9 inches from the ground; the walls are 2 feet 9 inches in thickness, and the tower contains four stories, the ascent to which appears to have been by a spiral staircase; each of the three lower stories is lighted by a square window, and the upper story by four square perforations, corresponding with the cardinal points; immediately above the doorway is a Grecian cross rudely sculptured in alto relievo on a block of freestone, which appears to be part of the original building. Around the base of the tower great quantities of human bones and some vestiges of the foundations of buildings have been discovered; the latter are supposed to indicate the site of the ancient monastery founded by Aodh. In a garden adjoining the tower is a large detached mass of basalt, having nearly a level surface, in which are two cavities or basins, evidently the work of art, of which the larger is 19 inches in length, 16 inches wide, and 9 inches deep, and during the driest seasons is constantly filled with fine clear water. There is a very powerful chalybeate spring in the garden of Frederick Macauley, Esq. John Abernethy, Esq., the eminent surgeon, was a native of this place. Antrim gives the title of Earl to the family of Macdonnel, of which the present representative is the Countess of Antrim and Viscountess Dunluce, in the peerage of Ireland, who succeeded her father, Randal William, Marquess and sixth Earl of Antrim, in 1791, in the earldom and viscounty only, by virtue of a new patent which the earl, having no son, obtained in 1785, with remainder to his daughters and their heirs male.