Carrickfergus, known locally and colloquially as "Carrick", is a large town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is located on the north shore of Belfast Lough, from Belfast. The town had a population of 27,201 at the 2001 Census and takes its name from Fergus Mór mac Eirc, the 6th century king of Dál Riata. It is County Antrim's oldest town and one of the oldest settlements in Northern Ireland as a whole. Carrickfergus is the administrative centre for Carrickfergus Borough Council and forms part of the Belfast Metropolitan Area.
The town is the subject of the classic Irish folk song "Carrickfergus", a 19th century translation of an Irish-language song (Do Bhí Bean Uasal) from Munster, which begins with the words, "I wish I was in Carrickfergus."
Extracts pertaining to local and historical information are taken from a Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis published in 1837.
CARRICKFERGUS, a sea-port, borough, market-and post-town, and parish, and a county of itself, locally in the county of ANTRIM, of which it was the ancient capital and is still the county town, 88 miles (N.) from Dublin; containing 8706 inhabitants. This place, which is of great antiquity, is by some writers identified with the ancient Dun-Sobarky or Dun-Sobairchia, according to Dr. Charles O'Conor from a prince named Sobairchius, who made it his residence; but the correctness of this supposition is doubted by others. It is thought to have derived its present name, signifying. " The Rock of Fergus, " early in the 4th century, from Fergus Mac Erch, a chieftain of Dalaradia, who established the first Irish settlement on the opposite coast of Caledonia. An ancient triad quoted by Dr. O'Conor records that St. Patrick blessed a tower or strong hold of the Dalaradians, in which was a well of miraculous efficacy, called Tipra Phadruic, " The well of St. Patrick. " It is uncertain at what period the castle was originally erected; the present structure, from the style of its architecture, was evidently built soon after the arrival of the English. John, Earl of Morton and Lord of Ireland, was here in the lifetime of his father, Hen. II. (from whom John De Courcy received the grant of all the lands he might conquer in Ulster); and his despatch to the king, dated at Carrickfergus, in which he mentions his having taken the castle, is still extant among the MSS. in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, and is written in Latin. This castle, with subsequent additions, is still remaining, and is justly considered one of the noblest fortresses of that time now existing in Ireland. De Courcy having fallen into disgrace with the succeeding English monarchs, his castles and possessions in this county fell into the hands of the De Lacy family, who, becoming tyrannical and oppressive, incurred the anger of King John. During the contentions which arose among the English settlers, after they had established themselves in the country, this place suffered so much that Hugh de Lacy the younger, who, on the restoration of his family to the royal favour, repaired the town and strengthened it by the introduction of new settlers, has even been regarded as its founder.
In 1234 Carrickfergus is mentioned as one of the haven towns of Ulster; but from that period till shortly after the commencement of the 14th century, little of its history is known. The De Lacys, again becoming obnoxious to the English monarch, and the Lord-Justice Mortimer being sent against them with a considerable force, they made their escape into Scotland, and invited Edward Bruce, the brother of the Scottish monarch, to invade the country, and become their king. Accordingly, in 1315, Bruce embarked 6000 men at Ayr, and, accompanied by the De Lacys and several of the Scottish nobility, landed at Wolderfirth, now Olderfleet, where, being joined by numbers of the Irish chieftains, he routed Richard de Burgo, now Earl of Ulster, who had been sent against him; and having slain several of the English nobles and taken many of them prisoners, advanced to lay siege to the castle of this place. During the siege, Thomas, Lord Mandeville, who commanded the garrison, made a sally on the assailants, whom he repulsed at the first onset; but, being recognised by the richness of his armour, he was felled to the ground by the blow of a battle-axe and instantly killed. The garrison, disheartened by the loss of their commander, agreed to surrender the castle within a limited time, and on the appointed day, 30 of the Scottish forces advancing to take possession, were seized as prisoners, the garrison declaring that they would defend the place to the last; but for want of provisions they were soon obliged to surrender. Bruce, having secured Carrickfergus, advanced to Dublin, and arrived at Castleknock, within four miles of the city; but finding the citizens prepared for his reception, he entered the county of Kildare, and advanced towards Limerick, laying waste the country with fire and sword; on his retreating towards the north, he was attacked near Dundalk by Sir John Bermingham, who defeated the Scottish forces and killed their leader. King Robert Bruce arrived soon after with a strong reinforcement, but on learning the fate of his brother, returned to his own dominions, and thus terminated an enterprise which had thrown the country into a state of unprecedented desolation.
After the evacuation of the country by the Scots, Carrickfergus again reverted to its former possessors; but the desultory warfare carried on at intervals for successive ages "in the north of Ireland, during which its strength and situation rendered it the centre of operations, subjected it to many severe calamities. In 1333, William, Earl of Ulster, was assassinated here by his own servants; and his countess, with her infant daughter, fleeing into England, the O'Nials, the original lords of the soil, immediately succeeded in expelling the English settlers, and for a time retained possession of the place. In 1386 the town was burned by the Scots; and in 1400 it was again destroyed by the combined forces of the Scots and Irish. In 1481 a commission was granted to the mayor and others, to enter into a league with the Earl of Ross, Lord of the Isles, who had usurped the sovereignty of the Hebrides from the Scottish crown. In 1497 the town and neighbourhood were visited by famine; and in 1504 it was resolved that none but an Englishman should be entrusted with the custody of its castle, or with that of Green Castle, in the county of Down. The town continued for many years to be a strong hold of the English, and even when the English Government was so reduced as to be scarcely able to maintain a standing army of 140 horse within the English pale, the castle still remained in their possession. In 1573 the corporation addressed a remonstrance to the Lord-Deputy Fitzwilliam, representing that one-third of the town was then in ruins; and, in the summer of the same year, it was still further desolated by fire. In this state it remained for many years, though the Earl of Essex landed here with his train, on taking possession of the government of Ulster, to which he had been appointed; and though Sir Henry Sidney, the succeeding lord-deputy, gave the English council a forcible representation of its deplorable condition, in the account of his northern expedition, two years afterwards. The particular events by which it was reduced to this state of desolation are detailed in a "Discourse of Knockfergus, " preserved among the Cottonian manuscripts in the British Museum, in which its calamities are ascribed to an early quarrel with Bryan Balloughe, chieftain of the adjoining territory of Claneboy, whose son and successor continued to harass the inhabitants till they were compelled to purchase peace by consenting to pay an annual tribute; to the repeated devastating incursions of the Scots; to the continued depredations of the O'Nials and Mac Donnels, and to various other causes. The Lord-Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, made great efforts for the improvement and security of the town, but so greatly were the resources of the townsmen reduced that, in 1581, Lord Grey, then deputy, found it necessary to issue an express edict prohibiting them from paying to the Irish lord of the country the tribute hitherto paid to the successors of Bryan Balloughe, and called, in that document, "Breyne Balaf's Eric."
The extensive privileges enjoyed by the inhabitants of this place, and the protection afforded by new fortifications, soon caused an increase in its population and importance. On the breaking out of the war in 1641, Sir Henry Mac Neill was to have surprised the town, but was defeated by the vigilance of Col. Arthur Chichester, the governor; and it now became one of the principal places of refuge for the Protestants of the neighbouring counties. In 1642, the town and castle were, according to agreement, delivered up to General Monroe, who, having landed with 2500 Scottish auxiliaries, to carry on the war against the Irish, made this place his head-quarters till 1648, when he was taken by surprise in the castle, and sent prisoner to England by General Monk, who was, by the parliament, appointed governor in his place, and rewarded with a gratuity of £500; and in the year following, the castle, which had been surrendered to the Earl of Inchiquin, was reduced for Cromwell by Sir Charles Coote. In 1666, the garrison mutinied, seized the castle and the town, and acted with such desperate resolution that the Government, alarmed at their excesses, sent the Earl of Arran, son of the Duke of Ormonde, by sea, to reduce them; and the latter nobleman marching also against them with the few forces on whose fidelity he could rely, the mutineers, after some resistance, surrendered; 110 of them were tried by a court martial, of whom nine were executed, and the companies to which they belonged were disbanded. In the early part of 1689, an attempt was made by the Protestant inhabitants of the neighbourhood to take this fortress, which was then held by the troops of James II., but without success; in the course of the year, however, Schomberg, William's general, invested it with a large force, and the garrison, after having exhausted all their ammunition, surrendered. In 1690 William III. landed here to take the command of his army; and from this time the town was undistinguished by any historical event till the year 1760, when it was attacked by the French, under the command of Thurot. The gates were quickly closed, and though General Flobert, who led the assault, was wounded, the garrison, consisting only of one hundred men, was soon obliged to capitulate for want of ammunition. The country people, however, supported by reinforcements from the interior, rose on all sides to repel the assailants; and on the approach of an English squadron, which had been despatched on the first intelligence of the projected invasion, the French, after supplying themselves with provisions and water, hastily re-embarked, taking with them three of the principal inhabitants, who were afterwards found on board the commander's ship, when she struck to the English off the Isle of Man. In 1778, the celebrated Paul Jones appeared off the town, but did not land, contenting himself with the capture of an armed vessel that had been sent to attack him. In 1785, His present Majesty, when lieutenant on board the ship of Commodore Gower, arrived in the bay; on which occasion the Carrickfergus volunteers solicited the honour of forming a body guard for his Royal Highness, which was courteously declined.
The town is situated on the north-western shore of Carrickfergus bay, or Belfast Lough, along which it extends for nearly a mile, comprising three portions, the town within the walls, and two suburbs, called respectively the Irish and the Scottish quarters; the former situated to the west, along the road leading to Belfast; and the latter to the north-east, along the road to Larne and Island Magee, and inhabited by the descendants of a colony of fishermen from Argyle and Galloway, who took refuge here from the persecutions of 1665. The town within the walls was formerly entered by four gates, of which only the remains of the North or Spittal gate now exist; of the walls there is yet a considerable portion on the north and west sides in a very perfect state. The town contains about 800 houses, built chiefly of stone and roofed with slate; several of superior character have been built within the last forty years, during which period considerable improvements have taken place. The castle, which is in good preservation, and during the disturbances of 1798 was used as a state prison, is situated on a rock projecting boldly into the sea, by which it is surrounded on three sides at high water; this rock is 30 feet in height at its southern extremity, and declines considerably towards the land; the outer walls of the castle are adapted to the irregularities of its surface; and the entrance is defended by two semicircular towers, with a portcullis and machicolation above. In the interior are barracks for the reception of two companies of foot and a few artillerymen. The keep is a square tower 90 feet high, the lower part of which is bomb-proof, and is used as a magazine: in the third story is an apartment 40 feet long, 38 feet wide, and 26 feet high, called Fergus's dining-room. The well in this tower, anciently celebrated for its miraculous efficacy, is now nearly filled up; a quantity of old iron was taken out of it many years since, from which it may have derived its medicinal properties. The castle was formerly governed by a constable, who had very extensive powers; the present establishment consists only of a governor and a master-gunner. Musical societies formerly existed and occasional assemblies were held in the town, but the only source of public amusement at present is a sporting club. Though formerly celebrated for its trade and commerce, this place has never been distinguished for the extent of its manufactures: the linen manufacture, which was the staple, has, within the last fifty years, been superseded by that of cotton, for which there are at present two spinning factories; and many persons are engaged in weaving checks, ginghams, and other cotton goods for the manufacturers of Belfast and Glasgow. There are also two mills for spinning linen yarn, and an extensive distillery, producing annually about 90,000 gallons of whiskey, with mills, malt-kilns, and other conveniences on an improved system; the tanning of leather, which was introduced here at an early period, is still carried on to a great extent. The vicinity affords numerous advantageous sites for the establishment of manufactories: a considerable water power is supplied by the Woodburn and Sulla-tober rivers, and by the water of Lough Morne; there are 1070 feet of waterfalls, calculated at 676-horse power, of which by far the greater part is unoccupied.
The fishery in the bay constitutes the chief employment of the poorer inhabitants of the suburbs, and the boats fitted out from the two quarters differ in their construction and the mode of working them: those from the Irish quarter, of which there are about seven or eight, with four men each, are smack-rigged and work by trawling or dredging; the fish generally taken is plaice, but skate, sole, and lythe or pollock are occasionally caught, and lobsters and oysters of very large size and good flavour are also dredged. The boats from the Scottish quarter are small and without decks, of not more than two or three tons' burden, rigged with a fore and main lug sail, and are occasionally worked with oars to the number of six in winter and four in summer: in the latter season from 16 to 20 boats, carrying four or six persons each, are generally employed, and both lines and nets are used; but in the former, when lines are principally used, the number of hands is increased to nine or ten: the fish chiefly taken by these boats are cod, ling, hake, lythe, and herring; lobsters are also caught and kept in traps or baskets. The town derives also an accession of trade from its being frequented as a bathing-place during summer, and from the assizes, sessions, and parliamentary elections for the county of Antrim being held in it. From the privilege of importing merchandise at lower duties than were paid throughout the rest of the country, its commerce was formerly very extensive, and its returns were greater than those of any other port in Ireland; but this privilege was sold to the crown in 1637, and the trade was immediately transferred to Belfast, to which place even the produce of its cotton manufacture is sent for exportation. It is now a member of the port of Belfast, under which head the registry of its vessels and the duties paid at the custom-house are included. The trade consists principally of the importation of coal and the exportation of cattle and occasionally of grain.
The harbour is situated in latitude. 54° 42' 45" (N.), and longitude 5° 47' (W.), 9 1/2 miles (N. W. by W.) from the Copeland islands' lighthouse. It is formed by a pier extending from the old castle, in a western direction, to a distance of 460 feet, and within about 400 feet of low water mark at spring tides; at high water it affords only a depth of from six to nine feet, so that vessels of more than 100 tons cannot approach the quay; it is also subject to the accumulation of mud and sand. A handsome pier was erected for the use of the fishermen, in 1834, at an expense of £2600, defrayed by a grant from Government and by local subscriptions. The port is sheltered by land from the prevailing south and west winds; and though winds from the other points produce a certain degree of swell in the offing, yet, from the situation of the Copeland islands and Kilroot point, it is so protected as not to be open seaward more than 2 1/2 points of the compass. But the imperfections of the harbour greatly restrict the trade of the port: a plan and report were drawn up by Sir John Rennie for constructing a new harbour outside the present, so as to insure a depth of 15 feet at low water of spring tides, the estimate for which, including the construction of works for protecting it against the accumulation of sand, and for the requisite accommodation of the shipping, was £55,150; these improvements, from a variety of causes, would render the port one of the most thriving and convenient in the North of Ireland, and a useful auxiliary to the flourishing town of Belfast. A new road leading to Doagh, Templepatrick, and Antrim is in progress, which, when completed, will afford the means of a direct conveyance of grain from an extensive tract to this port, and open a market for the consumption of coal, groceries, and other commodities imported. The market is on Saturday; and fairs are held on May 12th and Nov. 1st. The market-house, built by subscription in 1755, is also used for the meetings of the "Assembly," or aldermen and burgesses of the corporation.
The incorporation of the town as a county of itself is ascribed by tradition to King John; the shrievalty was held jointly with that of the county of Antrim. But although it existed as a separate county long prior to the time of Elizabeth, the charter of the 11th of her reign is the earliest on record containing such incorporation. Its boundaries are described in this charter and in one of the 7th of Jas. I., with a reservation of the castle and its precincts, together with the ancient liberties and royalties appertaining to it, and of sites for a sessions-house and prison for the county of Antrim; but the latter charter excluded from the county of the town certain lands which had been granted and confirmed to the corporation by charter of the 44th of Elizabeth. The franchise now acknowledged is stated to differ from both, and to be in conformity with a riding of the franchises made by the corporation in 1785. In 1810 it was decided, on an issue tried at the assizes, that the lands of Straid and Little Ballymena, described by the charter of Elizabeth as being within the boundary, but not within that marked out by the charter of James, though still belonging to the corporation, are not within the franchise. This is probably a borough by prescription: the earliest notice of the existence of a corporation is in the record of a commission dated 1274, in which year the Scots landed on the neighbouring coast to assist the O'Neills against the English. Hen. IV., in 1402, on the petition of the mayor and three burgesses released them, for one year, from the payment of the annual rent of 100s. for the customs, to aid them in rebuilding the town, which had been burned by his enemies. Queen Elizabeth, in the 11th of her reign (1569), on a representation of the inhabitants that they had lost their letters patent in the disturbances and persecutions of rebels and enemies, by which they were deprived of the enjoyment of their franchises, granted a charter of incorporation conferring on them, besides several special immunities, all such other privileges and jurisdictions as the corporation of Drogheda possessed; and ordaining that they should hold the borough of the king, as of his castle of Knockfergus, at an annual rent of 10s., payable half-yearly, until the fortifications should be repaired and a grant of lands made, and then at a rent of £40 per annum. The grant of lands was conferred by charter of the 44th of Elizabeth, founded on an inquisition issued to ascertain the quantity which had previously belonged to the corporation. James I., in addition to the charter of the 7th of his reign, before noticed, granted others in the 10th and 20th, the former of which is now the governing charter, and the latter created fourteen persons and their successors a corporation, by the style of the " Mayor, Constables, and Society of the Merchants of the Staple. " In the "new rules" of the 25th of Chas. II., for regulating corporations in Ireland, it was ordained that the appointment of the mayor, recorder, sheriffs, and town-clerk should be subject to the approbation of the lord-lieutenant and privy council.
The corporation, under the style of "the Mayor, Sheriffs, Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Town of Carrickfergus, " consists of the mayor (who is an alderman), 16 other aldermen, two sheriffs (who are burgesses), 22 other burgesses, and an indefinite number of freemen, assisted by a recorder and town-clerk (who is also clerk of the peace), two coroners, three town-serjeants, a water-bailiff, sword-bearer, and other officers. The charter of the 10th of Jas. I. granted a guild merchant within the town, and ordained that all the merchants should be a corporation, by the name of the "Two Masters and Fellows of the Guild Merchant of the Town of Knockfergus, " the masters to be elected annually from and by the merchants of the guild, on the Monday after the feast of St. Michael, with power to make by-laws and impose fines. The guilds now remaining are those of the Hammermen, Weavers, Carters, Taylors and Glovers, Butchers, Trawlers and Dredgers, Hookers, and Shoemakers or Cordwainers, incorporated at different periods; but their restrictive privileges in trade have been abandoned as impolitic or useless, and they are now kept up only in form. The mayor is elected annually from among the aldermen, at an assembly of the corporation at large, on the 24th of June, and by the charter must be sworn before the constable of the castle, or, in his absence, before the vice-constable, and in the presence of the mayor for the preceding year, on Michaelmas-day; he has power, with the assent of a majority of the aldermen, to depute one of that body to be vice-mayor in his absence. The aldermen, who may be from 8 to 16 in number, are chosen, on vacancies occurring, from the 24 burgesses by the remaining aldermen, and are removable for misbehaviour by a majority of the body. The sheriffs are eligible from the free burgesses by the mayor, sheriffs, burgesses, and commonalty, annually on the 24th of June: they are sworn on the feast of St. Michael before the mayor and burgesses, and are removable for cause. The burgesses, who are not mentioned by any of the charters as a definite class in the corporation, and were formerly unlimited in number, have been restricted to 24, and, according to practice, are elected in an assembly of the mayor, sheriffs, and remaining burgesses, neither freedom nor residence being requisite as a qualification, and are supposed, like the aldermen, to hold during good behaviour. The freemen are admissible, in courts of the whole corporation held by the mayor, by the right of birth extending to all the sons of freemen, also by marriage, apprenticeship to a freeman within the county of the town, and by gift of the corporation: among other privileges granted by charter to the freemen, of which most have been long disused, it was ordained that no person should be attached or arrested in the house of a freeman, except for treason or felony. The recorder is eligible by the mayor, sheriffs, burgesses, and commonalty, to hold his office either for life, for a term of years, or at the will of the corporation, as may be deemed expedient, but is usually elected for life: he may, with the consent of the mayor and a majority of the aldermen, appoint a deputy to execute the office. The town-clerk is eligible by the whole body, and holds his office during pleasure; and the coroners, by the charter, are eligible by the mayor, sheriffs, burgesses, and commonalty, from the inhabitants, annually on the same day with the mayor and sheriffs, or any other deemed more expedient, and are removable for cause; but in practice it is considered that they ought to be elected from the freemen, and they appear to hold office for life or good behaviour. A treasurer, who was formerly the mayor for the time being, is now appointed by the assembly, and is usually an alderman. The "assembly" is composed of the mayor, aldermen, sheriffs, and burgesses, who manage all the affairs of the corporation; they assume the power of making by-laws, and of demising the property of the corporation. The charters of Elizabeth and James confirmed to this borough the right of sending two representatives to the Irish parliament, which it continued to exercise till the Union, since which period it has returned one to the Imperial parliament. The elective franchise was vested in the mayor, aldermen, burgesses, and freemen of the town, and in the freeholders to the amount of 40s. per annum and upwards in the county of the town, amounting, in Jan., 1832, to about 850; but by the act of the 2nd of Wm. IV., cap. 88, the non-resident freemen, except within seven miles, have been disfranchised, and the privilege has been extended to the £10 householders and the £20 and £10 leaseholders for the respective terms of 14, and 20 years; by this act the 40s. freeholders retain the franchise for life only. The number of voters registered at the close of 1835 was about 1200: the sheriffs are the returning officers.
The mayor (as also his deputy or vice-mayor) is a justice of the peace within the town, and is further (without mention of the vice-mayor) constituted a justice of the peace throughout the county of the town, being empowered, with the recorder, ' to hold courts of session and gaol delivery: he is admiral of the liberties, which extend northward to Fair Head and southward to Beer-looms, about 40 miles in each direction, with the exception only of Bangor and the Pool of Garmoyle; and may issue attachments against ships and cargoes, or against persons on board, for the recovery of debts wherever contracted: he is also a magistrate for the county of Antrim, and he or his deputy is judge of the Tholsel court; he is appointed custos rotulorum of the county of the town, and is escheator, master of the assays, and clerk of the market; and the charter empowers him to grant licences for ships coming to the port, upon entering, to buy or forestall merchandise, and also for the salting of hides, fish, &c. The recorder is a justice of the peace within the county and county of the town; he is the assessor of the mayor in the Tholsel court, and he or his deputy is judge of the court leet and view of frank-pledge to be held in the town twice a year, within a month after Easter and Michaelmas. In 1828, on the petition of the inhabitants, two additional justices were appointed by the lord-lieutenant, under the powers of the act of the 7th of Geo. IV., cap. 61. The corporation has not any exclusive jurisdiction over matters arising within the borough, except that which results from its forming a county of itself: the courts are those of assize and quarter and petty sessions, also a Tholsel court, a sheriffs' or county court, a court leet with view of frankpledge, and a court of pie-poudre. The assizes for the county of the town are held at the usual periods before the mayor, with whom the other judges of assize are associated in commission; since 1817 they have been held in the county of Antrim court-house, under the act of the 28th of Geo. III., cap. 38, confirmed by several succeeding statutes. The quarter sessions are held before the mayor, recorder, and the two additional justices, in the market-house, which has been appropriated for that purpose since the building called the Tholsel was taken down: the court has jurisdiction over all felonies and minor offences committed within the county of the town, with power to inflict capital punishment, which, however, is not exercised, offences of a more serious kind being referred to the judges of assize. The Tholsel court, which is a court of record, having jurisdiction over the county of the town to an unlimited amount of pleas in personal actions, is by the charter to be held every Monday and Friday, but is now held on the former day; and is empowered to proceed by summons, attachment (which is the usual form), distringas, or any other process, on affidavit before the mayor, whose presence is only deemed necessary in the event of a trial, which seldom takes place. Petty sessions are held once a week, usually before the two additional justices. The assistant barrister for the county of Antrim holds his courts here for trying causes by civil bill; and the assizes and two of the quarter sessions for the county of Antrim are held here. The local police consists of three constables, appointed and paid by the grand jury of assize, and of twelve unpaid constables appointed at the court leet.
The charter granted one-third part of the customs' dues of the port to the corporation, who enjoyed considerable advantages under this privilege, which, in the year 1637, they surrendered to the Crown in consideration of a sum of £3000, to be paid to trustees and invested in land, but from its non-investment the town has been deprived of all benefit accruing from this grant. The charter of the 10th of Jas. I. also granted the right of fishery in the river and a ferry over it, with various fines, waifs, wrecks of the sea, forfeitures, &c., arising within their liberties, from which they derive no advantage at present. Their revenue arises exclusively from rents reserved out of their property in lands, amounting to about £359 late currency. The corporation court-house and gaol were at "Castle Worraigh" previously to 1776, in which year the county of Antrim grand jury exchanged their gaol and court-house in the vicinity of the castle of Carrickfergus for "Castle Worraigh, " on the site of which part of the present, courthouse for that county was built, and the corporation continued to use the old gaol of the county of Antrim until 1827, when prisoners under criminal charges were removed from it to the new gaol; and after the passing of an act for regulating prisons, the old Tholsel having become ruinous, a new arrangement was entered into between the respective grand juries of Carrickfergus and Antrim, by which the former pay, in lieu of all charges, "£13 for every 365 days of a prisoner confined in the county of Antrim gaol. " The court-house for the county of Antrim is a neat building, fronted with hewn stone, situated at the east end of the main street; and adjoining it, on the north side, is the gaol, which, though capable of containing 340 prisoners, is but ill adapted for their classification or for the preservation of strict discipline.
The county of the town extends about five statute miles along the shore, and its mean length and breadth are nearly equal; it contains, according to the Ordnance survey, 16,700a. 1r. 34p., including Lough Morne, which comprises 89a. 3r. 22p. The amount of Grand Jury presentments, for 1835, was £839. 5. 7 1/2., of which £186. 8. 9. was for repairing the roads, bridges, &c.; £386. 10. 3. for public establishments, charities, officers' salaries, &c.; and £266. 6. 7 1/2. for the repayment of a loan advanced by Government. Lough Morne, or More, about three miles north of the town, is said to be the largest in Ireland at the same elevation, which is 556 feet above the level of the sea; it has a powerful spring near the centre, and is well stored with eels and pike. The principal streams, all of which take a nearly direct course into the bay, are the Woodburn, which is formed by the union of two rivulets about two miles above the town (on each of which is a picturesque cascade), and supplies two large cotton mills, a flour and corn-mill, and a large mill for spinning linen yarn near the town; the Orland Water, which descends from Lough Morne, and falls into the bay at the eastern suburb of the town; the Sulla-Tober, which falls into the bay near the same place; the Copeland Water, which forms the eastern boundary of the county; the Silver Stream, which bounds it on the south-west; and the Red River: in all of these are found black and white trout, eels, and stickleback. The surface is studded with the villages of Eden or Edengrenny, Clippers-town, Woodburn, and Bonnybefore; with several hamlets, numerous gentlemen's seats scattered along the shore, and surrounded with ornamental plantations; and several farm-houses of comfortable appearance interspersed throughout. The principal gentlemen's seats are Thornfield, the residence of P. Kirk, Esq., M. P.; Oakfield, of W. D. D. Wilson, Esq.; St. Catherine's, of Col. Walsh; Glen Park, of Capt. Skinner; Barn Cottage, of J. Cowan, Esq.; Prospect, of -- Vance, Esq.; Wood-ford, of the Rev. J. Gwynn; Sea Park, of the Rev. J. Chaine; and Scout Bush, of Edw. Bruce, Esq.
The parish is co-extensive with the county of the town; the living is a rectory, in the diocese of Conner, united, by charter of the 7th of Jas. I., with the rectories of Island Magee and Ralloo, the vicarage of Inver, and the grange of Moylusk or Moblusk, which union constitutes the corps of the deanery of Connor, in the patronage of the Crown: the tithes of the parish amount to £400; and the gross annual income of the deanery, tithe and glebe inclusive, is £1004. 7. The church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, is an ancient cruciform structure, with a tower, surmounted by a lofty spire; it is said to have been erected on the site of a pagan temple, and appears to have been attached to the Franciscan monastery formerly existing here; the chancel window is embellished with a representation of the baptism of Christ, in painted glass. The north aisle was the property and burial-place of the family of Chichester; having fallen into a ruinous condition, it was parted by a wall from the rest of the church, but in 1830 was given to the parishioners by the present Marquess of Donegal, the head of that family, and is now fitted up as free sittings for the poor: it contains a large mural monument, with effigies of several of the Chichesters; and round the walls were formerly armorial bearings and trophies, of which only a few fragments are remaining. The subterraneous passage under the altar, which communicated with the ancient monastery, may still be traced. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners have lately granted £141 for the repair of this church. There is no deanery-house: the glebe lands are let for £32. 7. per annum. In the R. C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Larne and Carrickfergus; the chapel, in the western suburbs, was erected in 1826. There are places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the first class (a large and handsome edifice), Wesleyan Methodists, Independents, and a small congregation of Covenanters; one for Unitarians is in course of erection.
The Diocesan free grammar school, founded here by Queen Elizabeth, was discontinued about 35 years since. A free school for boys and girls is supported by a bequest of £42 per annum by the late E. D. Wilson, Esq., arising from lands in the borough, to which the rector adds £2 annually: by the testator's will, the children are required to attend every Sunday in the Established Church. There are two public schools in the town, and others at Woodburn, Duncrew, Loughmorne, and Ballylaggin. In 1811 a Sunday school was opened in the town, which for several years was the only one, and was attended by 400 children and 30 gratuitous teachers; but it has partially declined, from the institution of other schools in the town and neighbourhood, in connection with the Established Church and the several dissenting congregations. The number of children on the books of the day schools amounts to more than 400 boys and 300 girls; and in the private pay schools are about 60 boys and 40 girls. In 1761, Henry Gill, Esq., bequeathed £10 per annum each, arising from property in the borough, "to fourteen aged men decayed in their circumstances, " and also houses and gardens to such of them as might not have residences: this sum, by an increase in the value of the property, has been augmented to £14 each, late Irish currency, or to £12. 18. 6. sterling, which is annually received by fourteen aged men of whom ten have also houses. In 1782, William Adair, Esq., of Westminster, gave £2000 three per cent, stock, in trust to the Adairs, proprietors of the Ballymena estate, the interest to be distributed among the poorer freemen, of whom nineteen received annually £3. 3. each; but at present the sums distributed to each vary in proportion to the necessities of their several families; there are also several minor charitable bequests. In 1826 a mendicity association was established, which is supported by subscription; and there are societies for the distribution of clothing among the poor, and for other benevolent purposes.
The Franciscan monastery above noticed, as connected with the parish church, was founded in 1232, and became of so much importance that, in 1282, a general chapter of the whole order was convoked here: it stood within the walls of the town, and its site is at present occupied by the gaol for the county of Antrim. Immediately to the west of the town was the Premonstratensian priory of Goodburn or Woodburn, on the western bank of that stream; it was dedicated to the Holy Cross, and its foundation is attributed to a member of the family of Bisset, which quitted Scotland about the year 1242, in consequence of the murder of the Duke of Athol. Adjoining the eastern suburb was the hospital of St. Bridget, said to have been founded for the reception of lepers; the lands adjoining the site are still called the Spital parks. To the north of the town a well, now called Bride-well, marks the site of another hospital dedicated to St. Bridget. Several silver coins, of the reign of Hen. II., have been found about the castle. There are numerous barrows or tumuli scattered over the face of the county of the town, of which some have been opened and found to contain rude urns, ashes, and human bones; the largest of these, which are chiefly sepulchral, is called Duncrue, or the " fortress of blood. " At Slieve-True is a cairn, 77 yards in circumference and 20 feet high; a little towards the west of the same mountain is another, of nearly equal dimensions; and about a mile to the north-east is a third, exactly similar. In several places are artificial caves, probably intended as places of concealment. At a place called the Friars' Rock are traces of small circular buildings, supposed to have been friars' cells; and about two miles north-west of the town are the ruins of two churches, called respectively Killyan, or Anne's Church, and Carnrawsy. The mineral springs, though not very numerous, are of various qualities: one of these, in the bed of a stream in the eastern part of the town, is a nitrous purgative water; another, about a mile to the east of it, is a fine saline spring; and the waters of another, near the western bank of Lough Morne, are sulphureous and chalybeate, and were once in great repute for their efficacy. Among the distinguished persons born here may be noticed Bishop Tennison, and Richard Kane, a general in the army of Wm. III. The women of the Scottish quarter and the county adjacent commonly retain their maiden surnames after marriage.