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The O’Cahan’s and Killowen


Ronnie Gamble




The O’Neill Ascendancy


In the 4th century AD Niall of the Nine Hostages was born to Cairenn Chasdub, the daughter of a Saxon king and the second wife to Eochaiid Mugmedon, a high king of Ireland. Niall became king of Ireland in 378 AD and went on to have eight sons. One of these was called Owen. He and his offspring consolidated a power base throughout Ireland, particularly in Ulster, that lasted until the 17th century.

One descendant was called Niall Glandubh (Black Knee, d. 919) and his grandsons were given the surname Ui Niall (the grandson of Niall). This was later Anglicised to the legendary name O’Neill. The king of the O’Neill clan was always referred to as The O’Neill.


The O’Cahan Sept


The first recorded O’Cahan was known as Raghnall O’Cathan  (d. 1138). He had the title Lord of the Creeve, Coleraine and Keenaght.  The O’Neill had granted these titles because the O’Cahan sept was a trusted subordinate branch of his clan. The O’Cahan sept first branched out from the O’Neill territory and gained control of the Bann Valley from the Fir-na-Craebh (Men of the Creeve). They then ousted the O’Connor’s from the Dungiven area during the Norman era. The O’Neill entrusted the O’Cahans with the defence of the northern, western and eastern approaches to his territory.

    During their tenure the O’Cahans sponsored the building of Dungiven monastery and the Abbey grounds became the O’Cahan burying grounds. Their close allies were the MacDonnell clan from County Antrim. Both groups were educated and also instructed together in Skill-at-Arms at the monastery.  This close relationship was maintained until well after the 17th century.  For example although Dunseverick castle was located in MacDonnell territory the O’Cahans garrisoned it until the English confiscation after the 1642 rebellion.


O’Cahan’s Country  


Before the 1600s the Atlantic coastline formed the northern boundary of Tir-Cahan (O’Cahan’s country). The River Foyle bound it on the west and the eastern boundary was the River Bann. The southern boundary was provided by the Sperrin Mountains and included the barony of Loughinsolin in County Tyrone. 

Benevenagh was in the centre of their territory and the spirit of Benevenagh was also reputed to be the guardian spirit of the O’Cahan sept.


The Gem of the Roe


There is a traditional story told about the daughter of Cooey O’Cahan. The marriage of Finvola, ‘The Gem of the Roe’ illustrates how marriage was used to establish relationships and maintain the peace between the clans.

During their travels to the Courts of Caledonia the O’Cahan’s had occasion to stop for a few weeks at the castle of the Lord of the Isles on Islay, the MacDonnell’s. A young Angus Oge MacDonnell fell for Finvola O’Cahan and visited her back in O’Cahan’s country. Their marriage was solemnized in Dungiven Abbey. As part of the dowry twenty-four O’Cahan princes had to marry twenty-four daughters of MacDonnell chieftains.


O’Cahan Ascendancy


The O’Cahans appear to have reached the zenith of their power and control of their territory in the early fifteenth century. That was a time when the Anglo-Normans control of their territory was fading and the Elizabethans had not focused their attentions on Ireland, as yet.

    On some occasions the O’Neills supported or aided the O’Cahans by raiding McQuillan territory to the east of the Bann. In 1431 the O’Neills had a six-week campaign of destruction in the Route area. Then by 1441 there were more serious battles between the O’Cahans and the McQuillans.  In 1513 Donnell the Cleric O’Cahan hanged Alexander McQuillan in Coleraine town. 

    The fighting continued unabated, sometimes it was between the O’Cahans themselves but usually between the O’Cahans and the McQuillans with support from neighbouring septs such as the O’Mullans, the McCloskeys and the O’Dohertys.




Mrs Taylor of Ardara, Lodge Road, wife of Brian Taylor of Coleraine Distillery fishing off the Loughan Island (South End) with her Gillie Pat Curry in 1924.

Photo Courtesy of Dan McLaughlin, (Mrs Tyler’s nephew).



In 1542 the O’Donnells of County Donegal raided the Route and captured the wooden castle on the Loughan Island from the McQuillans. It was then taken over by the O’Cahans. In 1544 the McQuillans counter-attacked and with the support of the MacDonnells of Antrim they burned everything on the island, including the O’Cahans and all their possessions. After that date the O’Cahans, McQuillans and the MacDonnells in succession owned the Island until the 18th Century (UJA 1859, p192). The ferocity of the fighting that took place at the Loughan Island can be gauged by the cartloads of weapons and other artefacts that were dredged up during the 1851 clearance of the navigation channels on the River Bann at the Loughan. Unfortunately Loughan Island was used as a dumping ground for the debris dredged up from the floor of the River Bann during the 1935 clearance of the navigation channel.


The Nine Years War  

 In 1584 the territory of the O’Neill’s and their sub clans was transformed. Sir John Perrott created the nine counties of Ulster in 1586 and O’Cahan’s country became County Coleraine (Forde, P58). By 1598 the warfare between the O’Cahans and the McQuillans had eased off and the last great leader of the O’Cahan sept, Donnell Ballagh O’Cahan was inaugurated.

    Initially Donnell Ballagh O’Cahan supported The O’Neill when he started his campaign to rid Ireland of the English. O’Neill’s initial battles were spectacularly successful. But the defection of the O’Cahans to the English in 1602 undermined these successes. The O’Neill was forced to surrender at Mellifont in the south of Ireland in 1603. That episode ended 300 years of Gaelic domination of Ulster. The murderous outrages and the scorched earth tactics of the English army resulted in the death of many native Irish men, women and children and the land was stripped of its livestock and crops.

O’Neill’s Planned Uprising   

Four years after their surrender the Irish chieftains had still not adapted to the English terms of settlement and the new capitalist regime. In desperation the Irish chieftains planned another uprising. But O’Neill’s position became even more precarious when The O’Cahan, Sir Donnell Ballagh O’Cahan started a land dispute with him. It has been alleged that Sir Donnell Ballagh O’Cahan was aware of The O’Neills plan for another insurrection in Ulster (Sampson 1814, p207). In 1607, just after he was summonsed to London to settle the O’Cahan land dispute The O’Neill decided to leave Ireland. This forced The O’Neill’s hand and he deserted his people by fleeing along with his minor chiefs and their families to the continent in what became known as ‘The Flight of The Earls’.

Land Confiscation  


The Flight of the Earls gave the English Crown the excuse to confiscate the deserted ancestral land of the O’Neills and the minor chieftains. This territory covered six of the nine counties of Ulster including Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, and Coleraine. The Crown then planned to plant English and Scottish settlers on the confiscated land, a process that became known as the Plantation of Ulster.

    For a short period the principal town of Coleraine was located on the west bank of the Bann at Drumtarsey. When Coleraine was relocated on the east bank of the river Bann, the territory was renamed County London-Derry. Earlier records on the local names were lost during Sir Cahir O’Doherty’s rebellion in 1608 when Derry city was burnt. Sir Cahir O’Doherty of Inishowen was provoked into a short-lived rebellion against his tormentor. In April 1608 he seized the fort at Culmore and burned Derry city. His eventual death led to more confiscations of native Irish territory. All the ecclesiastical records for the area were destroyed during this insurrection and the Montgomery manuscript dates the renaming of Drumtarsey as Killowen to approximately 1607.

Despite being accused of disclosing details of the insurrection and siding with the English again, Sir Donnell Ballagh O’Cahan came under suspicion and had to surrender to Sir Thomas Philips. In 1608 he was incarcerated in Dublin Castle for two years and then transferred to the Tower of London. The treachery of the Crown was not all that kept the O’Cahan interned without trial until his death in 1628. His own family were queuing up to condemn him in return for a re-grant of part of his territory. That treacherous list included the names of Maus O’Cathain, Gilduff O’Mullan and Dennis O’Mullan. Their accusations were all accepted but the re-grants never materialized.

The Plantation of Ulster  

The main purpose of settling English and Scottish Protestants in Ulster was to enforce the English form of centralized governmental control of Ireland. The control of Coleraine castle, the Bann Bridge and Coleraine town had great strategic significance for the English. Although the Scots on the east bank of the Bann and the Irish on the west bank were prone to minor skirmishes with each other, they also cooperated when they were under attack. This cooperation was terminated when Coleraine was planted as a garrison town. The Irish to the west of the Bann now had their escape and supply routes firmly closed.

    The Plantation was also designed to prevent France from using Ireland as a back door into England and prevent Spain from forming a strong alliance with the Irish. Finally, the Plantation was used to shift the lowland Scots from Scotland where the land could no longer support a growing population.


The Londoners’ Plantation  


In the opening stages of the plantation 12 London Livery Companies were detailed to administrate the territory. They showed a marked reluctance to accepting this business venture. It took a series of threats and inducements from the Crown before they accepted their responsibilities.

    By the time the Londoner’s Plantation started in 1613 Coleraine County had another name change. It was now known as County London-Derry and the capitol was now called London-Derry. The area was then settled much differently than the other five counties. The first grant of land was made to The Irish Society who was directly responsible for developing London-Derry city and Coleraine town and their attached Liberties (surrounding lands).

    The second grant within the county was made to the twelve London Livery companies who acted as landlords. One of the best-known Livery Companies was the Clothworkers who were granted the land on the west of the Bann. They were responsible for building the Clothworker’s building at the end of the Bann Bridge and developing the Killowen area. 

    The third grant amounted to twenty-five percent and that was issued to the native Irish freeholders. Many of these native freeholds would be lost through confiscation by the Crown when the freeholders were implicated in the conspiracies and rebellions that would follow over the next two centuries.

    Other grants were issued to smaller numbers of people such as Sir Thomas Phillips who had lost property in Coleraine in the redistribution. Finally, the Protestant Bishops were also granted land. Any map outlining this allocation of land in Co. London-Derry for that period is represented by a patchwork of approximately 150 plots of land covering the whole county.

 Land Confiscation

Native Freeholders were granted land at the start of the plantation. Despite the intentions of the London administration, there were still more Native Irish tenants than settlers in the confiscated lands in 1613. Many of the Irish freeholds were lost through confiscation by the Crown after the native freeholders were implicated in conspiracy or rebellion against the settlers. The confiscated property was reallocated to the settlers, former military leaders who then leased the land out to the settlers.

     By the year 1700 the victorious Williamite and Cromwellian armies had confiscated most of the land belonging to the native Irish throughout Ireland. Tristram Beresford of Coleraine was either granted or bought much of O’Cahans freeholds and left them in his will to his children (Mullin & Mullan, P157).

 The O’Cahan Conspiracy 

In 1614 Alexander McDonnell’s servant was about to be hanged in Coleraine as “an idle person”.  (Curl, 2000, p95) He saved his life by claiming that he had knowledge of a conspiracy by the displaced Irish to attack Coleraine town. He alleged that a meeting had taken place three miles from Coleraine on the banks of the Bann near Macosquin.

    It was further alleged that Rory O’Cahan, the son of Sir Donnell Ballagh O’Cahan who was now in the Tower of London, was the leader of the conspiracy. He and others planned to obtain weapons from a disaffected guard in the town. After that, they would use the guard to gain access into the town after the curfew. Their next step was to take two London Agents as hostages until Sir Donnell O’Cahan was released, kill the remainder of the inhabitants and then burn the town down.

    From other information given under torture it was shown that this rebellion was in contrast to the 1608 O’Doherty rebellion. The O’Cahan plan appeared to be much more elaborate and involved simultaneous attacks on Lifford, Derry, Culmore and Limavady (Gillespie, p15). Of the seventeen conspirators, eleven were acquitted and the remaining six including Rory and Gorry O’Cahan were hanged. The priest O’Laverty were hung, drawn and quartered in Derry and his severed head was spiked over the gates of Derry. 

The Elcock Ransom

 Then in 1616, three years after the town received its Charter the Irish Society became responsible for the town garrison and Nicholas Elcock had been appointed the agent responsible for the development of Coleraine. Elcock was captured by one of the MacDonnell’s who held him for ransom until he managed to escape with the help of the Native Irish. MacDonnell was eventually captured and beheaded; his head was displayed in Coleraine (Curl, 2000, p378). 

 The 1641 Rebellion

 In the early 1630s the Irish Lordships were in despair due to the crop failures and their poor management skills under the English system. To add to their despair, Court officials were appointed by King Charles I to raise money by any means and also enforce High Church conformity. Their tactics became the catalyst for the rebellion against the English and Scottish settlers led by Rory O’Moore in 1641. On that date Randall MacDonnell the 2nd Earl of Antrim removed himself from the area and was residing in Dublin.

    Coleraine town mustered over 650 men in eight companies under the command of Colonel Edward Rowley of Castleroe. This was a citizens’ militia raised from volunteers who were prepared to deal with the rebels. But the town had to disarm a company of fifty Roman Catholics after they received news of the Portna Massacre. That massacre took place when Irish and Highlander troops led by Manus Roe O’Cahan were sent out to stop the advance of the Irish across the Bann into the Route. This treacherous group massacred the loyal troops. The rebels, led by the Dunseverick O’Cahans, Gillduffe and his son Turlough Oge, then advanced through the Route burning and killing as far as Ballintoy. There they laid siege to the Protestants in Ballintoy Church. The Protestants, sustained on oatmeal smuggled in by the Catholic priest Father McGlaim, called out ‘No Surrender!’ to their besiegers and successfully held out (McSkimin, 1906). Turlough and Manus Roe O’Cahan also took part in the burning of Dunluce town.

    Another attempt to halt the rebels took place in Garvagh. Edward Rowley and William Canning were put in command of 300 men at the Battle of Garvagh. During the second battle they fell to 1,000 Irish rebels on 13 December 1641 at Rowellan’s Hill just outside Garvagh. Most of the settlers were killed, including Canning. The rebels continued their slaughtering and burning on their way to Coleraine. At McCaskey (Macosquin) the rebels stripped Thophilus Vesey, the son of the Rector of Macosquin, and six other Vesey children naked. They were then allowed to make their way to the safety of Coleraine town.

    One of the early criticisms of Coleraine was that it was too large to be defended. It now proved to be barely adequate to house the thousands of refugees flooding in. Before long the overcrowding, malnutrition and disease had the refugees dying at the rate of 150 each day. A mass grave was dug to accommodate 2,000 bodies at one stage of the 140-day siege. There are scant records but some excavations do indicate that a mass grave was located in the area of the present Northern Constitution Offices in Abbey Street.

    On 11 February 1642 one of the Coleraine Captains of the citizens’ militia, Archibald Stewart deployed from Coleraine. He moved along the Bann shore towards Glenstall near Ballymoney. The general plan was to attack the rebel army. He had 300 English and 600 Scottish Protestant troops under his command that day. The rebel army under the command of Alastar McColl MacDonnell, a kinsman of the 2nd Earl of Antrim attacked him first. The rebels fired one volley from their muskets and then mounted a Highland charge on the Coleraine forces who were very quickly routed. Over half the loyal troops were killed. One of those killed in the battle was the Rev John Campion, the Rector of Killowen church. That particular day became known as ‘Black Friday.’

    Sir James MacDonnell, James McHenry and Allester MacDonnell led the main body of the rebels at that stage. They camped in the Ballyrashane area while Coleraine town was besieged. Then in early May 1642 the 2nd Earl of Antrim returned to his territory and broke the siege by allowing food to be taken into Coleraine. He then helped to route the rebels. The navy also sent small boats up the Bann to relieve Coleraine. The Laggan Army based in the Foyle area slaughtered many rebels of the McGilligan sept to the north west of the Bann and then relieved the town on 16 May 1642.

    The Scottish Presbyterian troops of Major-General George Munroe also relieved the town near the end of June and the Scottish Army became the garrison troops until 1649. Munroe took the time to destroy all the castles on the Antrim coast with the exception of Dunluce and one wall of Dunseverick Castle that proved to be too robust.

    The Scottish Presbyterian grip on Coleraine was only broken on Sunday 23 October 1649 when Sir Charles Coot’s Parliamentary army threatened Drumtarsy castle from the high ground where Upper Captain Street is now located. His army also crossed the Bann at the Barmouth and Lieutenant Colonel Tristram Beresford rowed up the Bann to Coleraine with enough troops to win Coleraine back again.  

Gillduffe O’Cahan and his son Turlough Oge lost their land at Dunseverick and lost the castle there for their part in the assault on Ballintoy church. Both of them were arrested by the Scottish Presbyterian troops of Major-General George Munroe. They were both executed in Carrickfergus after their examination in March 1653. The McHenry O’Cahan family of the Loughan also had their land confiscated. By June 1650 Cromwell had defeated the last of the Irish rebels in Letterkenny and the rebellion was over (Mullin, p96).  

The Siege of Derry

 The Roman Catholic James II came to the English throne in 1685. His late brother Charles II made this possible when he dissolved parliament in 1679 and rid himself of the anti-Catholic opposition.

    In 1688 William, Prince of Orange landed at Torbay with an army of 14,000 and replaced James II on the English throne. James fled to France and then in March 1689 he headed for Dublin. He intended to seize Ireland and launch an attack on England. If he had been successful that would establish a Royal Catholic dynasty in England. To that end the Earl of Tyrconnell ensured that the army in Ireland was now commanded and manned with RC’s. Through a process of gerrymandering the Catholics also returned a majority in the Dublin parliament.

     The north west of the province held out against this new regime but by 15th March 1689, the Irish army had reached Coleraine. On that date Lundy refused to issue the town with the arms and ammunition it required to defend itself.  As he inspected the town from the area of the bridge, the town guard closed the town gates and refused to admit him. They suspected Lundy of treachery and held him at bay with their pikes and muskets until he left the area for Londonderry and Claudy to face more allegations of treachery.  Over 3,000 men were involved in the defence of Coleraine at that time under the command of Sir Tristram Bedford and Gustavus Hamilton.

    The enemy marched on the town on 28th March. They used three cannons protected by Dragoons at the River and Blind Gate. Two cannons supported by a body of horse were used at King’s Gate. The attack only lasted for one day and the Irish army withdrew under cover of snowfall that night.

    One week later, on Sunday 7th April, the Irish army had crossed the Bann at Portglenone and there was a threat of the town being outflanked. Coleraine was evacuated and the refugees made their way to Londonderry city. The Coleraine Regiment took part in the successful defence of Londonderry from 18th April until 31st July 1689. They were under the command of a Coleraine man, Colonel Thomas Lance.

    Ireland was used as a killing ground for the English who were opposed to the establishment of the Royal Catholic dynasty in their country. Despite that, the victory over James II at Londonderry and later at the Boyne is only celebrated in N Ireland.

    The Coleraine Regiment of the citizens’ militia took part in the successful defence of Londonderry from 18 April until 31 July 1689.  The subsequent Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim in 1690 deposed the Royal Catholic dynasty of James II.

 The O’Cahan Bloodline

 Despite the 17th and 18th century depredations and legislations inflicted on the native Irish by the Crown, in particular the O’Cahan’s, their bloodline and culture still survives. Throughout the world the O’Cahan’s can be traced via the many Anglicization’s and derivations of the name. These derivations include, O’Kane, Kane, Keaney, Keane, Cain, MacCain, McCain, MacCachan, McCaughan, McCaughen, McAvinney, McQueen and McCloskey. After the 1641 rebellion many of the Antrim O’Cahans fled to Scotland.  Some of them later returned to Ulster as MacCahan (Adams, p59).

    In 1957 there was a business on the Portrush Road called JW McCaughan and Sons Ltd.  Jack McCaughan from the Strand Road managed the business. H.A. Boyd (C.C. 301157) claimed that Jack was an eighth generation descendant from Gilladuff O’Cahan from Dunseverick Castle in County Antrim. He had been hanged with his son for his part in the 1642 Rebellion. Gilladuff was the brother of Sir Donnell Ballagh O’Cahan, the last chief of the O’Cahan’s.

    Other notable O’Cahan’s included Sir Richard Kane (1666-1736). He was a soldier in the British army and a noted military author. Father Keaney is the present (2009) Parish Priest of St John the Evangelist Chapel in Coleraine. He attended St Columb’s College, Maynooth and was ordained in St John’s on the first of June 1975 by Bishop Edward Daly. He also has family connections in the Killowen area. Fergal Keane, the BBC broadcaster and journalist and Roy Keane the soccer player are also two notables for vastly different reasons.

    On the other side of the world, Robert F. Kane was a former judge of the California Court of Appeals and former US Ambassador to Ireland. The first American Roman Catholic Cardinal was called John McCluskey, a native of Dungiven. As a final example, the US Navy has a destroyer named USS O’Kane after their leading submariner; Rear Admiral Richard H. O’Kane (b 1911- d 1994).

Hill Forts, Castles and Churches

Naming Coleraine  


Coleraine (Cuil Rathain) has been interpreted in three ways. First, it has been interpreted as “the ferny corner”. Second, it has been interpreted as “the rath (prehistoric hill-fort) at the bend of the waters”.  Third, Marshall (2009) has pointed out that much older documents have used the word Culrath where Cuil means corner and Rath means fort. The addition of the third element Een (the Irish diminutive) can be interpreted as ‘Corner of the Little Fort’. Due to the changing landscape and the limited historical sources, a discussion of the origin of the word Coleraine will remain speculative. 

    But, legend has it that Coleraine was given its name by St Patrick in 450 AD. That year a local chieftain called Nadslua gave St Patrick some ground on the east bank of the Bann to build a monastery (O’Laverty, p161).  At the time St Patrick also made a prediction that was fulfilled. A grandson of Nadslua would become the Bishop of Coleraine.

    There are some topographical and historical clues that help to trace the original location that inspired St Patrick to use the words Cuil Rathain. For example, there were seven forts near the River Bann and five of them were all located on the high ground where there is a bend in the river. To the south were Loughan and Mountsandel; both on the east bank of the Bann; and to the north stood Ballycairn on the west bank. These locations were too far away to view St Patrick’s ground. Between these two sat the earthen works at County Hall, referred to in the Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1846 (p. 475) and on the site of the old gas works sat the hill fort where the building of the proposed Citadel was started in the mid 1600s. These two forts are no longer visible. Of the remaining two forts, one was located on Loughan Island and the other one was at Castleroe (meaning Red House) where the chipboard processing plant was later located. 

    If Cuil Rathain referred to a ferny bend in the river then the County Hall is a good candidate. In the late fifties before Coleraine harbour was developed there were ferns on the low, sandy ground on both the west and east banks of the Bann from that location on down to the Bar Mouth.


 In the 12th Century the Anglo-Norman’s established the settlement of Drumtarsy on the west bank of the River Bann. This area became known as Killowen in 1607 (Bishop Montgomery’s Survey MS, unpublished). It is derived from a misinterpretation of the Irish ‘Kill Eoghain’ or the Church of St Eugene (Mullan & Donnelly, p55).

    In 1584 Sir John Perrott the Lord Deputy relocated Coleraine town in Drumtarsy and then in 1585 all of O’Cahan’s country, parts of Tyrone and Donegal became known as County Coleraine. The sloping ground of Drumtarsy made it difficult to defend any location on the west bank of the Bann. For that reason, Drumtarsy was an unsuitable location for a principal town. The sand bar at the mouth of the River Bann restricted the sea trade and this factor also made Coleraine unsuitable as a principal town location. Derry city had a better harbour facility and was then selected as the principal town. The county name was changed to London-Derry in 1610. Coleraine town was then relocated in its former position in County Antrim.

In 1610 the Londoners came to an agreement with Sir Randal MacDonnell, the lord of County Antrim. Coleraine town, the fisheries and an area with a three-mile radius around Coleraine on the east side of the Bann became part of County London-Derry. This explains the separation of Portstewart in Co Londonderry and Portrush in Co Antrim. That three-mile area on the east bank of the Bann was taken over and developed by The Honourable The Irish Society itself. This new territory was known as The Liberties.

 Drumtarsy Castle  

 There was only one castle located within Coleraine town at any one time between 1213 and 1619.  The castle was always referred to in the literature as either Coleraine or Drumtarsy Castle.  The name Drumtarsy is quite specific and helps to locate the castle. It is interpreted as ‘the ridge’ and has always referred to the area that became known as Killowen.

    One reference to the first castle shows that in 1213 Thomas MacUghtry dismantled the Abbey of St Carbreus and erected Coleraine castle close-by (Lewis, 2004, p18). The castle was then destroyed by Hugh de Lacy and Hugh O’Neill and rebuilt in 1228 (Mullin p13). In 1245 the castle was destroyed by the Irish and rebuilt by the invading English in 1248. On that occasion Theobald Butler, Lord Justice of Ireland rebuilt Drumtarsey Castle and constructed a bridge across the Bann close by.

    During the reign of Henry III, the Chief Governor of Ireland John Geoffrey was tasked to build the first Bann Bridge in 1248 as well as a castle on the west bank of the Bann. That castle was located close to the present Clothworker’s building. Drumtarsy castle was repaired by John Rynaux, Treasurer of Ulster in 1382 along with the bridge and the two towers on each side of the bridge (O’Laverty, p 177).

The O’Donnell wrecked the castle in 1514 and O’Neill rebuilt it in 1564 and also sent his men across the Bann to occupy the abbey for a day. The castle was still there in a ruined state in 1608 (Mullin, p27). Finally, in 1619 Sir Robert McClelland rebuilt the castle using lime and stone.  It was 54 feet long, 34 feet wide and 28 feet high.

    The Clothworkers bawn (a stone house with a protective wall around it) was nothing more than an Elizabethan house. The Irish Society may have tried to dodge their commitment to build a proper bawn by using that house. They didn’t need fortifications because their property sat parallel to the fortified town of Coleraine.  In Moody’s book he states that the Clothworkers bawn was a mouldy ruin in 1622 and could never have been of any military value.

The probable location of Drumtarsy castle was finally obliterated by a series of developments. That included the construction of the Coleraine to Londonderry railway in 1853, the HT Barrie sheds and finally, the Castle Lane car park.

 Jackson Hall

 When King James I granted a lease for the property to the Clothworker’s Company in 1609 there was a cottage located on the foundations of the Abbey of St Carbreus. William Jackson demolished the cottage and built Jackson Hall on the foundations. It finally became known as the Manor House and was demolished in 1984 to form part of the car park at the rear of the County Hall. Despite having the McClelland and Jackson rebuilds well documented we can only guess that Drumtarsy castle locations included the foundations of St Carbreus and the Clothworkers building and the ground in between.


 In this 1950’s photo the Clothworkers building is in the top left and Billy Patterson is leading the Coleraine (Killowen) Fife and Drum Band across the Bann Bridge. The HT Barrie sheds are in the right middle distance. The trees of the Manor House (Jackson Hall) are behind the sheds.

 Religious Changes

 At least five state religions have been practiced in the Killowen area throughout its long history. These were the Druid, Celtic Christian, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian Protestant, Puritan and Presbyterian Protestant.

    Until the arrival of Saint Patrick with his Celtic Christianity in 432 AD the dominant religion in Ireland was Druidism. The Romans may have forced the Celts and Gales off their land in Europe. Now it was the son of a Roman nobleman, Patrick, who was bringing them the word of God. Irish raiders had taken him from the British mainland and he was employed as a slave-herdsman in Ireland for six years. During that period in Ireland he became a Christian convert, escaped and then returned as a bishop.

    In 540 AD St Carbreus founded a Celtic Christian abbey behind the rath where the County Hall is now located. The monastery survived until 1213 when Thomas de Galloway demolished it. The rubble of the monastery, along with all other stone edifice and headstone in the area provided him with the material he needed to build Coleraine castle. The church of St Patrick survived that vandalism and has thrived well in the middle of the town ever since.

    Starting in AD 1172, Celtic Christianity was steadily replaced by Roman Catholicism. King Henry VIII then started the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1540 and paved the way for Episcopalian Protestantism. In 1542 Shane O’Boyle, the prior of the Dominican Abbey, surrendered the Abbey to the King’s Commissioners. Surrendering was a legal procedure that saved Shane O’Boyle’s life. A refusal to hand over the Abbey would have been treated as treason, punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering.  O’Boyle’s surrender may have saved his life but between 1558 and 1614 many other Dominicans were executed for their faith. That included the friar John O’Lynn, hanged in Derry in 1607, his brother William soon followed and then so did William Quinn of Coleraine (Mullan & Donnelly p 90). The prior Father Ferge was also slain, as were twenty-four friars from Coleraine. These executions were usually protracted affairs where the victims were trampled to death by cavalry, torn apart on water wheels, thrown into the Bann and then stoned to death. These atrocities took place during the reign of three monarchs, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and James I. The latter declared in 1616 that he was not killing Papists for religions sake or even for saying Mass, but for their refusal to make an oath of allegiance to the crown.

    James Hamilton soon came into possession of the Dominican Abbey and he sold it in 1602 to Captain Thomas Phillips. At that time Phillips was developing Coleraine town as his private enterprise. When the Plantation of Ulster started in 1609 the abbey became the property of the London Companies and the parish churches of St Patrick’s and St John the Baptist (Killowen) were transformed into Episcopalian Protestant churches. For a short period after the 1642 rebellion Scottish Presbyterian Protestants occupied the Coleraine area. Then in 1650 the Scots surrendered their power bases in Ulster to Cromwell’s Puritans.


The Curfew Bell

 When the Plantation started many of the native Irish lost their land and they were ordered


“to depart with their goods and chattels at or before the first of May next (1609) into what other part of the realm they pleased.” (Joyce, paragraph 525).


The Roman Catholic faith was outlawed to the extent that the Protestant Bishops inherited their land and no Roman Catholics, mere (pure) Irish, Dissenters or Presbyterians were permitted to reside in Coleraine town. That restriction zone extended from the Irish Houses on the northwest side of the town, Laurel Hill on the south and Spittal Hill on the east (MacLaughlin, p8). Every day before sunset, all Roman Catholics, the mere (pure) Irish, Dissenters and Presbyterians still inside the restricted zone were warned to leave by the ringing of the Curfew Bell. 


St Eugene’s Church

 St Eugene’s was built at the same time as the first Bann Bridge in 1248, the Norman era. It was to be used by the soldiers garrisoned at Drumtarsy Castle and the settlers of Drumtarsy (Machonachie, p6).  The name Eugene is anglicized from the Irish word Cill-Eoghain meaning the church of Eugene or Owen. According to Mullan and Donnelly (1992, p 55) the Church of Ireland bishops referred to St Eugene’s in the 1622 and 1718 Visitation Books. St Eugene’s later became known as St John the Baptist (1609) and finally as St John the Evangelist (1834). It was situated within the northern boundary of the present Killowen graveyard.

    At the start of the Plantation the church was used by the Protestant settlers, restored in 1616 and renovated in 1690 and 1767. The James O’Hagan map (1845) refers to the location as the Old Church and then the Valuation Map (1858) refers to the location as the Parochial House. The present Protestant church at Killowen was then built in 1830. After that date the original RC church was used as a Parochial Hall and a schoolroom. Eventually the old chapel was demolished in 1961 and Killowen Community Hall was built on the foundations.


Building Killowen Community Hall-1961


Rev. A Maconachie MA, DD., Ned McFadden, Hugh Hutchinson, Jas McFadden, Rev. Victor Hanson, Jim Dysart, J McCandless, R Newton, John Brolly, Billy Sloan, Trevor Barr, A Hill, Willie Adams, Jock McGrath, Albert Brown, Robert McCandless.



Killowen Church, St Johns' RC Chapel and Maconachie Hall. 


St John's Monastery (1080) Was located between Killowen Church and Maconachie Hall. 


St Eugene's RC Chapel foundations are below Maconachie Hall.

St John’s Monastery

 There was a much older religious building located between the old chapel and the new church in Killowen graveyard. St John’s monastery was founded in 1080 and was still visible in 1835. Stokes (1835) talks about the location in Volume 33 of the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, reprinted in 1995 (P. 161). The foundations form a square 28 feet by 27 feet but the sexton had removed all the masonry by that time.

The Mass Walk  

 The Roman Catholic parishioners displaced from St Eugene’s during the Protestant plantation started to attend open air mass on ‘The Mass Walk’ in the Somerset demesne lands (Mullan & Donnelly, p140). This was located on the Garrett Screen Road opposite the present Greenmount Estate. The nearby Screen Road may offer a clue as to the close proximity of the Mass Walk because the Irish word for shrine is scrin.

 Populations, Households and Residents

The hearth tax alone is not an accurate indicator to the size of the population. A householder had to pay a tax on each hearth in a particular house. One house may have several hearths and other houses would have no hearths and thus didn’t have to pay the hearth tax. The Irish system involved building a fire in the middle of the room and allowing the smoke to escape through a hole cut in the roof.

In 1663 Coleraine town had 176 households with 292 hearths. Killowen had 18 households with 20 hearths. Page 107 Mullin