The English Colonial Era
In July 1573 Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex set sail for Ireland with an army of around 1200 men and a number of knights and gentlemen, operating under the rank of Governor of the Province of Ulster. His intent was to establish an English colony in Ulster, which was at this time controlled entirely by the O’Neills and Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill (aka Sorley Boy MacDonnell). Although his endeavour was cut short on the orders of Elizabeth I, he brought with him several people of local importance such as John Dalway, who would go on to serve as Carrickfergus mayor twice and later establish a “cattle empire” in the area.
In 1595, at the beginning of the Nine Years War, the Irish clans under Hugh O’Neill rose into rebellion. They controlled the central part of Ulster, while the MacDonnells controlled the surrounding areas. The MacDonnells flirted with the idea of siding fully with the English to crush the rebellion, an aspiration they had in common.
In 1597, recently appointed governor of Carrickfergus Castle, John Chichester, began negotiations with one of Sorley Boy’s nephews James MacSorley MacDonnell over a period of raids and counter-raids between the Scots and the English. It was later on this year that the Battle of Carrickfergus took place in the hills between Carrickfergus and Larne. Chichester and MacDonnell had agreed to parley over a number of grievances raised by the Scots over military operations carried out in and around Scottish territories. James arrived around four miles outside Carrickfergus on the agreed date of the 4th of November 1597, accompanied by some 1300 troops and 500 musketeers. Chichester rode out to meet them, at the head of just five companies of foot and one company of horse. Chichester halted his troops shortly before meeting the Scots and discussed with his officers the possibility of breaking the parley in favour of battle. A senior officer urged Chichester to continue with the parley, knowing that the troops were fatigued from a recent expedition. Chichester asked his commander, Captain Merriman:
Now, Captain, yonder be your old friends. What say you? Shall we charge them?
Merriman and the commander of the cavalry, Moses Hill, agreed with Chichester’s suggestion and the troops engaged the Scots in battle – and so began the Battle of Pin Well, fought in Aldfracken Glen near modern-day Ballycarry. At first the Scots faltered, being forced from hill to hill, but spotting a flaw in Chichester’s charging formations they eventually overcame the English troops, even after a small reserve force arrived from Carrickfergus to prevent a complete massacre. Chichester was shot cleanly through the head and died immediately. Out of a force of no more than 350 men, 180 were killed and a further 30-40 troops injured, with some men swimming across Larne Lough to escape the battle, ending up in Islandmagee. MacDonnell’s losses were comparatively few. After the battle, it was recorded that MacDonnell was disappointed in Chichester’s “bad intentioun”, when the Scots never intended to fight and were in gentle spirit on the day. Chichester’s head was allegedly cut off and used as a football by the MacDonnell troops.
In late 1598 or early 1599, Chichester’s younger brother Sir Arthur Chichester was appointed governor of the town in his brother’s place. He quickly became a hate figure among the Irish clans for his aggressive methods, including a “scorched earth” policy of destroying anything of use to the enemy when passing through or leaving an area. He surrounded O’Neill lands with strong garrisons in order to starve the Irish, a tactic he carried out ruthlessly. Other than commanding troops in Ulster, Sir Arthur was also responsible for the plantation of English and Scottish peoples in Carrickfergus.
Despite moving on to become Lord Deputy of Ireland on the 3rd of February 1605, Chichester oversaw the building of Carrickfergus town wall from 1608 until its completion in 1618.
The Nine Years War ended in 1603, with the signing of the Treaty of Mellifont between the Crown and the Irish. The MacDonnells ended their campaign as a result of the ascension of the Scottish King James to the English throne.
In 1610, Sir Arthur Chichester commissioned the building of a vast Jacobean mansion, which was named “Joymount Palace”, or sometimes simply “Joymount”, after the previous Lord Deputy of Ireland Lord Mountjoy. It was designed by English architect Inigo Jones. Chichester retired to the mansion after being forced to relinquish his term of office due to ill health in February 1616, and spent most of the rest of his life in Carrickfergus.
He died in London in 1625 and was buried in St Nicholas Church in the town some months later. His mansion, which occupied the land where the modern-day Town Hall and library stand, was unfortunately destroyed by fire in the early 1700s. One of the four corner towers still partially survives, built into the back of the Town Hall.
During the early 1600s, the castle was updated to support artillery, including further modification for cannon. The circular towers were reduced to half their original height and each modified into their current semi-circular shape.
In 1637 the town’s customs rights, which ran from Groomsport in County Down to Larne in County Antrim, were sold to Belfast. This was primary factor for the decline of Carrickfergus as an important seaport in Ulster, in favour of the future capital city. It was also sometime in the 1600s that Carrickfergus Bay started to assume the name ‘Belfast Lough’, which it is still known as today.
From 1638 to 1640, during the Bishops’ Wars, King Charles I commissioned a secret army to be raised, which was to be used to put down the rebellion in Scotland. Irish Catholic gentry slowly recruited and mobilised the army in Carrickfergus, in return for concession of Irish Catholics’ longstanding requests for religious tolerance and land security.
In 1641 the town acted as a refuge for protestants fleeing the Irish Rebellion. It in turn acted as a base for a notorious counter-attack and massacre of Catholics in Islandmagee. Scottish General Robert Munro arrived in Ireland the same year to put down the Irish rebels and protect the protestant settlers. He captured Carrickfergus Castle, holding the town for the Scots, before moving on to capture Belfast. The developing civil war in England was confusing the military situation in Ireland, and the castle changed hands several times. Most notably in 1647, George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle laid siege to the castle. In September 1648, a large section of Munro’s men betrayed him, and so the castle was delivered to Monck, who had Munro arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where he remained for some five years.
In the 1650s and 1660s, the town began to expand beyond the walls. A western suburb became known as the Irish Quarter and the eastern suburb, founded around 1665 by Scottish fishermen, became known as Scotch Quarter. The names of these suburbs are reflected in several modern day street names in Carrickfergus, and the locations of the suburbs are still apparent.
In 1688, despite the local peoples’ sympathies for the Williamite cause, the castle and town were captured and held by the Jacobite forces of James II, as he fled to Ireland in an attempt to hold the crown. In 1689 Frederick, 1st Duke of Schomberg landed at Groomsport with a Williamite army and on the 20th of August laid siege to the castle with mortar fire, capturing it seven days later before sweeping steadily south.At 3.30PM on the 14th of June 1690, William of Orange landed at the Old Quay at Carrickfergus Castle, at the head of the remainder of the Williamite army. The castle garrison formed a guard of honour as the townspeople applauded his arrival. A chosen spokesperson welcomed William by saying:
William, thou art welcome to thy Kingdom
to which the King replied:
You are the best bred gentleman I have met since I came to England.
With this, he mounted his horse and began his journey towards Belfast and Lisburn, eventually ending at the Boyne, where he defeated James II in the Battle of the Boyne.
The town was the scene of the last witchcraft trial in Ireland in 1711. Eight women were charged with offences including tormenting the victim, Mary Dunbar, causing her to experience fits or seizures and finally causing her to vomit materials such as feathers and yarn. It was also documented that three strong men could scarcely hold her down and that she was often pulled out of bed by an invisible force. Despite Judge Upton’s opinion that they should be acquitted, the jury found them guilty and they were sentenced to twelve months imprisonment and four sessions in the pillory in Carrickfergus town centre.
During the Seven Years’ War, in February 1760, Admiral Francois Thurot of the French Navy was carrying out smuggling and privateering activities around the Mull of Galloway and in the North Channel. Buffeted by bad weather and with his ships in need of provisions, Thurot landed his 44-gun frigate and two sloops of war at Kilroot Point to the east of Carrickfergus, and proceeded to attack the town with upwards of 800-1000 men. The garrison put up admirable defence, but were forced to surrender after running out of ammunition. Thurot left Carrickfergus some days later after replenishing his ships. It is recorded in the Masonic Grand Lodge records that the warrant and jewels of Carrick’s Lodge 270 were confiscated by Thurot, who was himself a freemason. They were quickly returned by the Royal Navy’s Captain Elliot, after Thurot’s fleet was defeated just off the Isle of Man.
Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson, parents of future US President Andrew Jackson, lived at their homestead north-east of the town, in the Bellahill townland close to Ballycarry. They relocated to a thatched cottage in Boneybefore a couple of years before emigrating to South Carolina in 1765. The ruins of the house still remain at the Bellahill site and Jackson descendants allegedly farmed in the area until well into the 20th century. A local story recalls that Andrew Jackson was in fact born in Boneybefore and smuggled into America under his mother’s dress, therefore making his Presidency illegitimate – however, no evidence exists to authenticate this tale.In April 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, John Paul Jones commanding the American ship Ranger, attempted to capture a Royal Navy sloop-of-war HMS Drake, which was moored at Carrickfergus. Not wanting to sail too close to the formidable castle, he lured Drake away from its mooring and challenged her to a fight some days later in the North Channel, where he dealt a crushing defeat to the Royal Navy ship. The Ranger would be captured by the Royal Navy two years later and re-commissioned as the HMS Halifax.
From 1797, the castle was used as a prison and was heavily guarded during the Napoleonic Wars, to protect against attack by the French.
The 1790s also saw considerable support in Carrickfergus for the United Irishmen and similar movements. In 1797 William Orr was charged in Carrickfergus Courthouse (which is now the Town Hall) with administering the oath of the United Irishmen to two soldiers and hanged at Gallows Green just outside the town on the 14th of October. Similarly, United Irishmen founder Henry Joy McCracken was captured in 1798 in the outskirts of the town, while trying to escape to America during the Irish Rebellion. He was sent to Belfast where he was tried, and hanged in Cornmarket on 17th July 1798.
The Modern Era
Due to Carrick’s loss of importance as a commercial centre, the town turned to newer industries in the 1800s.
An 1832 Ordinance Survey map shows a “cotton manufactory” on what is now Taylor’s Avenue, which may date back to around 1790. It was replaced in 1839-1840 by the Barn Mills, constructed by James Cowan who owned the previous factory and the nearby Barn Cottage (also known simply as “The Barn”), which was itself built in around 1790. The new complex was specialised for flax-spinning, using techniques pioneered by the Mulhollands of Belfast. It was acquired by James Taylor in 1852, who continued to invest in the flax industry in the area. He extended the mill eastwards in 1870, doubling its size, and again in around 1900.In the 1840s the county of Carrickfergus was dissolved and Carrickfergus town became a part of County Antrim, as it remains today. As a result, the court and gaol were relocated to Belfast (the latter to Crumlin Road).
In 1845 Carrick also became a shipbuilding town, with the launch of the brigantine David Legg. In 1861, Paul Rodgers became foreman of the shipyard, and designed the ship Dorothea Wright, amongst others. The most notable ship designed by Rodgers and built in 1893 is the Result, a Topsail Schooner which now resides in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra.
In 1848, the town was connected to Belfast by railway via the Belfast and Ballymena Railway line. Later in 1862, the Carrickfergus and Larne Railway opened, along with Carrickfergus Railway Station.
The Carrickfergus Gas Company was formed in 1854 and quickly acquired premises for the Gasworks in the Irish Quarter. The first gas lights were lit on the 17th of September 1855.
On the 2nd of April 1912 the residents of Carrickfergus turned out in their thousands to watch as the RMS Titanic made its first ever journey up the lough from its construction dock in Belfast. The famous passenger liner was anchored overnight just off the coast of Carrickfergus, before continuing on its all-fated journey.
During World War II, Northern Ireland was an important military base for United States Naval and Air Operations and a training ground for American G.I.s. The First Battalions of the elite US Army Rangers were founded and activated and based in Sunnylands Camp, Carrickfergus for their initial training on 19th of June 1942 under the command of Major William Darby. The US Rangers Centre in nearby Boneybefore pays homage to this period in history. When the Luftwaffe flew up the lough to attack Belfast during the Belfast Blitz, the anti-aircraft battery on Neils Lane in nearby Greenisland was allegedly the first to open fire on the Germans.
It is rumoured that POWs were kept at Sunnylands Camp and also at Sullatober Mill in the north of the town during the war. There are few official acknowledgements of this (perhaps deliberately), but some locals recall Italian soldiers being kept at the Belgian Sullatober Mill and others recall trading cigarettes and other goods with German prisoners imprisoned in Nissan huts in the American Sunnylands Camp. The reports are certainly viable, as Sunnylands Camp was home to the commando training ground for the newly formed US Army Rangers, and the areas of Prospect and Sullatober were known to have been home to Belgian troops. A memorial archway exists in Prospect (on Woodburn Road) to honour the Belgian troops.
The Barn Mills on Taylors Avenue was converted to manufacture parachutes during World War II and was purchased by the wool-spinning firm of Jeremiah Ambler in 1945, after the Northern Ireland government put forward a grant to try and boost post-war employment numbers. At its post-war height, it employed over 500 people. The mill persevered through the introduction of mass manufacture of synthetic fibres and spun wool cloth and mohair until about 2002, when Ambler’s ceased operations. The mill was extensively renovated and converted into luxury apartments in 2006.
Here is a list of Carrickfergus’ official international relationships, including Twin Towns and Sister Cities. Click the name of the town/city to go to their local authority’s website.
Ruda Śląska, Poland [Since 2008]
Anderson, South Carolina, United States [Since 2008]
Danville, Kentucky, United States [Since 2009]
Jackson, Michigan, United States [Since 2006]
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States [Since 1994]
(Bibliography and Sources)
1) Falls, Cyril. Elizabeth’s Irish Wars. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1997. Print.
2) A Short History of Royal Arch Masonry in the Towne of Carrickfergus
3) Steinbeck’s Redemption
4) Old Carrickfergus Postcards
1) This article is always a work in progress. As I research further and find additional sources of information, this page will grow gradually with each revision.
2) Some snippets of this website may resemble articles from Wikipedia. This is not because material is pasted from Wikipedia, but because I personally wrote several articles about the Carrickfergus area and contributed heavily to the Carrickfergus article on Wikipedia, and am using my own writings on both websites. I never copy and paste from anywhere, especially if it isn’t my own work.
Revision 2d, March 2017.