Prominent People

J. J. Marshall. The historian of the Blackwater valley.

John Johnson Marshall was born into a hardworking Presbyterian family near the Dyan, County Tyrone, in the year 1862. He was educated in nearby Aughnacloy and then for one year only at The Royal Belfast Academical Institution, INST. He returned to Aughnacloy to be apprenticed as a draper’s assistant and he worked in a number of country towns in this capacity before moving to a position in Robinson and Cleaver’s department store in Belfast. He remained there for over 50 years, eventually becoming the head menswear buyer.

He was an enthusiastic and increasingly competent historian in his leisure time, specialising in the area of the Blackwater river valley area. His output of work was substantial, completing some twenty books and pamphlets over a period of fifty years with the bulk of his work being published between 1920 and 1943. In 1931 the Queen’s University of Belfast recognised his scholarship and his major contribution to local history by awarding him an honorary Master of Arts degree. The citation reads ….. ” the result of his unwearied labours is a series of half a score of brochures and booklets containing he stories of the towns, forts and parishes of the Northern Blackwater – of Dungannon, Benburb and Caledon, Charlemont, Mountjoy, Minterburn, Carnteel and Clougher.”

Professor Alexander Mc Beath, Dean of the faculty of Arts asked the University to set the stamp of approval on the life long labours of one whom they might justly acclaim as the historian of the the Northern Blackwater.

J.J. Marshall lived in Belfast for most of his life, from 1909 to his death in 1944. He pre- deceased his wife and two daughters who continued to live there. He is buried in Dundonald cemetery.

To read more about JJ Marshall see Dúiche Néill 18

Arthur O’Neill (1734 – 1816)

Illustration of “Harper” O’Neill

Arthur O’Neill was born in the townland of Drumnastrade near Dungannon Co Tyrone and a few miles from Benburb village. At the age of two years he was blinded in one eye in an accident with a penknife and following treatment which he describes in his memoirs as “quackery” lost the sight of the other eye and became totally blind. At ten years of age he was sent by his parents to Owen Keenan of Augher Co. Tyrone to learn to play the harp.

At the age of fifteen he was sufficiently proficient to set out on his first tour as a travelling bard. From his early years O’Neill was proud of his lineage and boasted that he was from the Royal line of O’Neill on both his father and mother’s side. The silver buttons on his coat were specially made with the red hand embellished on them.

In one of his early tours in the Glens of Antrim, he was befriended by Michael and Elizabeth Mc Donnell of Cushendall Co. Antrim and he was invited to reside with them and employed to teach their sons Alexander, Randall and James the harp. James was to become much involved in O’Neill’s later life.

Art originally travelled extensively throughout all Ireland but eventually settled on the area north of Dublin as his sphere of influence. He was well known in Meath, Cavan, Longford and Sligo as well as Armagh, Tyrone and Antrim. His tours lasted in some cases for years and then he would return for a rest period to his brother Ferdinand’s house at Glenarb near Caledon. He notes in his diary that he was caught up in Dublin in the security clampdown following Robert Emmet’s rebellion in1801 and was lucky to permitted to leave the city.

In the1770’s there was a realisation that the Ancient Music of Ireland preserved to a large extent in an oral tradition by a decreasing number of itinerant harpers including O’Neill, was in danger of being lost. A successful Irish business man based in Copenhagen, James Dungan, a native of Granard, Co Longford, organised a scheme to promote the harp music and to encourage the musicians by holding a series of grand balls with substantial prizes for the musicians. These festivals of ancient harp music took place in 1781, 1782 and 1783. O’Neill came second in these competitions. There was considerable disagreement after these competitions and they were discontinued. However they did succeed in arousing considerable public interest in Irish music.

In 1791/2 several Belfast gentlemen joined Henry Joy, proprietor of the ” Belfast News letter” and Dr James Mc Donnell whom we have already mentioned, now a man of considerable influence in the growing town of Belfast, to organise a harp festival to “revive and perpetuate the ancient music of Ireland “. All the known harpers were invited and the great four day meeting was held in the Assembly rooms of the Belfast Exchange Rooms in what is now Donegal St. on 11th to 14th of July 1792. There was a very large attendance to hear the ten competitors and a solitary Welsh performer. Enthusiasm for the event extended throughout the North.

The organisers had employed a professional musician, Mr Edward Bunting to notate the tunes at the event. Bunting was born in Armagh whilst his father, an English engineer was working in Drumglass coal mine in Dungannon. His mother was a Tyrone O Quinn, a descendent it was said, of Patrick Gruama O Coinne who was killed in the 1641 rising.

O Neill and Bunting became firm friends and the harpist provided him with a lot of ancient Irish tunes for his later published works. At the festival the idea of a harp academy was conceived with a lot of enthusiasm but with no immediate result. However, the project finally got off the ground in1810 with Arthur O Neill as resident master and ten boarding pupils. The term funding was however inadequate and the project closed in 1813. O Neill was granted an annuity of £ 30 per annum, which was totally insufficient for even his basic needs and for some time he lived in absolute poverty. A concert was held in 1816 to raise funds for his relief and he moved back to a small cottage at Maydown on the outskirts of Benburb village, where he died about the end of October 1816. He was buried in Eglish graveyard, somewhere about the middle, but no stone now marks his grave.

To read more about Arthur O’Neill the Harper see Dúiche Néill No.s 19, 17 & 3

 Sir Arthur Chichester

Sir Arthur Chichester, born in 1563 was an English administrator and soldier, best known as the Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1605 to 1616. After attending Oxford, Chichester commanded HMS Larke against the Spanish Armada in 1588. In 1595 he accompanied Sir Francis Drake on his last expedition to the Americas. Later in the Anglo Spanish war he commanded a company during the 1596 raid on Cadiz for which he was knighted.

His career in Ireland began when the 2nd Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux appointed him Governor of Carrickfergus in 1598, upon the death of his brother Sir John Chichester. John Chichester had been killed at the Battle of Carrickfergus the previous year. It is said that John Chichester was decapitated, his head being used as a football by the MacDonnell clan after their victory. James Sorley MacDonnell, commander of the clan’s forces at the Battle of Carrickfergus, was poisoned in Dunluce Castle on the orders of Robert Cecil to placate Chichester. During the nine years war he commanded crown troops in Ulster. His tactics included a scorched earth policy. He also encircled Hugh O’Neill’s forces with garrisons, effectively starving the Earl’s troops. In a 1600 letter to Cecil he stated a million swords will not do them so much harm as one winter’s famine. While these tactics were not initially devised by Chichester, he carried them out ruthlessly, gaining a hate-figure status among the Irish.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Mellifont, he succeeded Lord Mountjoy as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 3 February 1605. Lord Deputy Chichester saw Irish Catholism as a major threat to the crown. He oversaw widespread persecution of Catholics, and ordered the execution of two bishops. His relations with the traditionally Catholic nobility of the Pale, in particular the quarrelsome and turbulent 10th Lord Howth, were bad. In Howth’s violent feuds with the new English settler families, particularly the Archbishop of Dublin and his son, and Viscount Moore of Drogheda, Chichester invariably sided against Howth, but was unable to completely break his influence as he was a favourite of James I.

Following the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Chichester was a prime mover in the plantation of Ulster. Initially he intended that the number of Scottish planters would be small, with native Irish landowners gaining more land. However, after a rebellion in Donegal in 1608 by Sir Cahir O’ Doherty, his plans changed and all the native lords lost their land. Most of the land was awarded to wealthy landowners from England and Scotland. However Chichester successfully campaigned to award veterans of the Nine Years War land as well, funded by the London.  For some Chichester was a bloodthirsty maniac, religious fanatic and land grabber. For others, he was an exemplary public servant, even statesman.

Chichester was instrumental in the founding and expansion of Belfast and is known as ‘the real founder of the city’. In 1611 he built a castle on the site of an earlier 12th century Norman Fort. In 1613 he was given the title Baron Chichester of Belfast. Ill health in 1614 led to his retirement and his term of office was terminated in February 1616.In his final years he built a mansion in Carrickfergus and served as an ambassador to the Hapsburg Empire. He died in London in 1625. The family’s influence in Belfast is still evident. Several streets are named in their honour, including Donegal Place, and the adjacent Chichester Street.

To read more about Sir Arthur Chichester see Dúiche Néill No 11.