The Glynn and The Luck of the Irish
Glynn, from the Irish ‘glean’ meaning ‘the valley’ is a small picturesque village in County Antrim in the barony of Lower Belfast. It is often referred to by its residents as The Glynn. It lies 23 miles north of Belfast on the banks of the River Glynn near the shores of Larne Lough.
“On the shore of the lough is situated the little village of Glynn, as remarkable for the neatness of its appearance as for the beauty of its situation”Lieutenant R Stotherd Ordnance Survey Memoirs January 1834
Although a small and quiet hamlet today, Glynn has a long and sometimes turbulent history.
The Old Church
It is said that St Patrick founded a church here in 435AD. It was known as the Church of Gluaire. In the papal taxation records of 1306, Glynn church was valued at 5 marks and the presbytery at 10 shillings. Some ancient remains still exist near today’s parish church of St John. This is reckoned to be one of the oldest ecclesiastical sites in east Antrim.
The remnants of the old church show a stone building with the unusual feature of a divided nave and chancel. (The nave is the area of the church used by the congregation. The chancel is the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir).
The building measured 44ft 6 inches by 17ft 6 inches. The south wall of the chancel had a pointed window while the windows in the nave were square surmounted by a slab. It is thought some of the features may have been added at a later date, when the church was repaired in the 14th century.
Reformation and County Antrim Battles
During the Reformation, the Catholic church at Glynn (as with all other Catholic churches in Ireland), was taken into Protestant ownership. By the late 17th century, the church building itself was neglected and in ruins.
In the 16th century County Antrim was the setting for frequent battles between the native Irish, the clans who had crossed from Scotland and the Anglo-Norman invaders.
On one occasion in November 1597, the MacDonnells, led by James MacSorley MacDonnell, attacked the Norman stronghold of Carrickfergus. This castle had been founded by John de Courcy in 1177 (see Carrickfergus Castle: A Brief History in related posts below). This was a ruse to entice the English out of their fortification.
As the MacDonnells appeared to flee, they were pursued by a company of soldiers led by Sir John Chichester, brother of the infamous Arthur. John at this time was governor of Carrickfergus Castle.
In the valley of Altrackyn, some 5 miles from Glynn, the English were surrounded and soundly defeated. Sir John himself was captured and brought to a place just to the east of Glynn, where he was beheaded on a stone which was originally the plinth of an ancient cross.
Chichester was interred in the family mausoleum in St Nicholas Church in Carrickfergus. William McComb in his book A Guide to Belfast published in 1861, records James MacDonnell’s words on seeing this edifice
“It is related of MacDonnell, that, having afterwards gained admission to St Nicholas’s Church by stealth and in disguise, and seen Chichester’s effigy, he naively observed ‘I wonder how the de’il he came to get his head; for sure am I that I took it frae him ance’”William McComb, A Guide to Belfast, 1861
Arthur Lord Chichester
Some twenty years later, the English king, James 1, ‘granted’ this region, including Glynn, to Arthur Lord Chichester (who already had vast estates around Belfast), as a reward for his ruthless slaughter of the native Irish population, on behalf of the English monarchy.
“Based on the fortress of Carrick, he (Arthur Chichester) ravaged the whole country and the neighbourhood became a desert. “There was not a smoking house between Carrick and Antrim” Chichester was completely ruthless in his methods ‘I spayre neither house, corne nor creature…sparing none of what quality, age or sex soever; beside many burned to death, we kill man, woman and child, horse, beast and whatsoever we find’”Rev H J St J Clarke, Thirty Centuries in South-East Antrim, 1938
Antrim was one of the counties in Ireland where the Plantation was most intense. Scottish and northern English Protestants were ‘planted’ on land previously owned by Irish Catholic families. These English-speaking settlers would owe their property and livelihoods to England and this ensured their loyalty to the English throne. Gaelic culture, religion and language were outlawed in an attempt to Anglicise Ireland. As well as their ancestral lands being confiscated, around 6,000 Irish Catholics were transported to Sweden, a mainly Protestant country.
“Not surprisingly the native Irish in Ulster bitterly resented their treatment. An English commander articulated their sense of acute grievance when he remarked of the native Irish population of Ulster that ‘there is not a more discontented people in Christendom’”War and Conflict: The Plantation of Ulster BBC
Glynn – The New Church
In 1840 a new church at the western end of the old churchyard was constructed. This was designed by the prominent Belfast architect, Charles Lanyon.
The vicar at the time was Francis Willett Waterson. He had been installed in the parish on 9th August 1838 and was holding services in a ‘temporary apartment’ in the village. St John’s was formally opened on Wednesday 9th December 1840.
A local legend persists that this new church has a secret underground chamber and tunnel. This leads to a nearby house. It is said that it was used to transport a large iron chest filled with gold. The treasure was buried in the graveyard, where it remains to this day!
The Graveyard at Glynn
The adjacent graveyard bears testimony to generations of families who have lived in this area. Some of the earliest legible headstones come from the early 18th century, such as Alexander Burges who died in 1717 aged 62 and John McClelland who was 82 when he died in 1714.
Several of the gravestones reflect Glynn’s maritime connections. One local family with strong links to the sea, were the McCleverty’s (McClaverty).
William McCleverty, born around 1716, joined the Royal Navy. He was a member of Commodore George Anson’s squadron during the War of Jenkin’s Ear. In the 1740’s England was at war with Spain. Anson’s fleet of 8 ships (6 warships and 2 merchant vessels), set out from Spithead, Hampshire on 18th September 1740. Their intention was to capture and destroy Spanish outposts in South America and the Pacific. The fleet returned in 1744 via China, which meant that the ships had circumnavigated the globe!
While this achievement was seen as a great triumph, the journey had taken its toll on the sailors. Of the 1,854 men who set sail only 188 returned. Most had fallen victim to the scourge of scurvy (see How a Belfast Company Helped Defeat a Killer Disease in related posts below).
Captain William McCleverty continued his career in the navy. He is reported as being involved in the notorious recruiting method of ‘Press Gangs’ – that is, taking men by physical force and ‘pressing’ them into service on board ships. While this is abhorrent to our eyes, it was not illegal as the ‘Crown claimed a permanent right to seize men’ for the Royal Navy. McClevery died on 10th December 1779 in Waterford. A memorial in his honour was erected in Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford.
The cemetery also contains the graves of those from the district who lost their lives during the two World Wars.
Glynn Inhabitants and Commerce
In the 1830’s the most common surnames in the parish of Glynn were Johnston, McFarran, Rea, McClelland, Clarke and Wilson.
Most of the inhabitants were tenant farmers, leasing the land from two major landowners – Lord Viscount Dungannon and John Irving Esquire. Mr Irving owned the lime quarries in the nearby townland of Ballylig. Known as Maghramore Lime Works this was the largest lime-producing quarry in the United Kingdom at the time. In 1836, it is recorded that 16,228 tonnes were exported to Scotland and northern England.
The main crops were oats, potatoes and flax. These were sold at Larne market only 2 miles away. Families could supplement their income by weaving linen in their own homes. This was usually done by the men.
Glynn boasted a cotton mill (later converted to a linen mill) – the bleach green here was one of the earliest in Ireland. It also had a corn mill powered by a waterwheel 18ft in diameter.
The village also had a whitening mill, 2 small shops and a post office, managed by sub-postmistress, 76-year-old Eliza Thompson.
In 1834 the village contained 91 houses, all but one, single-storey thatched cottages with earthen floors. The only public building in Glynn was the schoolhouse founded in 1832 and supported by the National Board of Education. 32 children attended the school, of whom 2 were Catholic. Each pupil paid between 2 and 4 shillings per quarter.
The mail coach from Belfast to Larne passed along the main road in Glynn at 11:40am every morning and returned at 2:40pm. In winter the timing was an hour later. The horse-drawn stage coach also made a daily return journey through the hamlet. The fare to Belfast cost 3s and 3d for an inside seat and 1s and 9d for an outside one.
The people of Glynn were recorded as being respectable and industrious, if perhaps, a little dour.
“…they are not much given to amusement, and partake very much of the character of the Scots from whom they are descended”James Boyle, Ordnance Survey Memoirs, 25th February 1835
In 1911 most of the homes in Glynn were still thatched, though over 20 had slate roofs. Most houses also had an outhouse for fowl or pigs. Out of a total population of 203, only 53 were not of the Presbyterian faith. Some described themselves as Gardenmore Presbyterians, attending the Presbyterian church on the Old Glenarm Road, (now on the Victoria Road, Larne), officiated by Rev David H Hanson.
Glynn and ‘The Luck of the Irish’
In 1936, the actor and author Richard Hayward, produced and starred in a film ‘The Luck of the Irish’ based on a book by Victor Haddick. Filming took place in the village of Glynn.
“It was in Glynn that I made the first Ulster cinematograph picture ‘The Luck of the Irish’. We could not have chosen a more lovely or suitable or more lucky spot. The helpfulness of the villagers was an inspiration to us, and I am afraid we turned their peaceful abode into a place of feverish activity. I well remember that the quiet street became so thronged with sightseers and their motor-cars that a policeman had to be sent from Larne to control the traffic. And I am quite sure that was the only time a traffic policeman ever stood in quiet, secluded, kindly Glynn”Richard Hayward In Praise of Ulster 1946
Today The Glynn remains a picturesque village in idyllic scenery. However, the main road through its centre is no longer the placid throughfare of earlier times.
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