The village of Castledawson
This picture is the original castle here in Castledawson, a mansion built in 1768
as a residence for the Dawson family. The origins of the South Derry village date
back as far as 1633, during the reign of Charles I. The eight town lands of Moyola
were granted by James I to Sir Thomas Philips, only for his sons in turn to see
fit to sell them to a Mr. Thomas Dawson Esq. Mr Dawson was Deputy Comm. of Ireland,
and a very wealthy land owner, and his position in government gave him the need
to build a castle from which to administrate.
His involvement in establishing a settlement meant that he had to sell land he had
acquired in other parts of Ireland, and a document of 1673 shows that a William
Smith was witness to the sale of 857 acres in total by Thomas Dawson to Thomas Smith
Esquire, of Archerstown, Co. West Meath on 25th November of that year. The princely
sum for what were described as `some profitable and some unprofitable acres`, arrived
at no less than £1000, which was quite a lot of money over 300 years ago.
Widest single span bridge in Ireland
During the propriety of Joshua Dawson, Chief Secretary of Ireland and for many years,
Member of Parliament for the Borough Of Wicklow, a handsome stone arch was built
over the River Moyola (which once had the honour of being the widest single span
bridge in Ireland), around 1710 and thus, the village was commonly known as Dawson
Following a decree that these eight townlands of Moyola should be erected into a
Manor in 1712, the Manor was then known as Castle Dawson, generally for government
purposes, ie, taxes, censues etc. Joshua Dawson then built a castle in 1713 to replace
the previous one which had suffered through rebellion, and therefore the name Castledawson
was to become official and everlasting.
Joshua Dawson`s interests were not just confined to a bleak, remote corner of Ireland,
but were comitted to substantial holdings in the metropolis of Dublin, where he
built the present Mansion House, bought by the city in 1715, and where his family`s
standing saw Dawson Street in the capital named after him.
1694 saw the building of a private chapel on the Moyola estate (later to become
Christ Church) by Joshua Dawson, while 1700 saw a Presbyterian Meeting House erected.
The Manor Court taken out in 1713 was held twelve times a year, the number of cases
varying from 10 to 4 each court day. Arthur Dawson was MP and Chief Baron of the
Exchequer, and his taste for the finer things in life gave the house an unusual
finish and unique quality. Extensive plantations were made around the house in 1769,
and while Shilgray Wood was said to have been very ancient , urns and ornaments
of gold were discovered there in spectacular findings in the late 1700`s, Moyola
Park became beautiful park land, with the house standing splendidly at a curve on
the Moyola River.
By 1803 extensive cotton and corn mills employed many in Castledawson and area and
these were fed from the nearby Moyola River by a system of `laydes`, which provided
the motive power. These early cotton mills were a forerunner to today's shirt making
industry, and while they brought a new era to the settlers lifestyles, there was
no getting away from the typical countryside in which Castledawson stood.
Documents of 1824 show great detail of Castledawson and we see that the population
stood at about 600, and that chief source of employment was to be found in a healthy
Cotton Factory and Flour Mill, belonging to Messrs, Johnston and Graves. In this
year we find that Capt. John Henderson lived in the castle of George Robert Dawson
Esq, and that an obelisk, built by way of ornament, at the sole expense of the Earl
of Bristol, stood on the site of the old barrack, and paid homage to the great virtues
and benevolence of the Dawson family.
The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was erected in 1838, as a 3 bay Georgian glazed hall
with round headed windows, and the village's population now stood at 674. The Manse
was erected in 1840, and stands adjacent to the Presbyterian Church. 1845-46 was
to herald a distressing and bleak historical period. For, while the potato famine
that was to shroud Ireland in a blanket of death was clear in this area, by 1847,
the complete failure of the crop throughout the land, brought hardship, famine,
and inevitable death on a scale never before witnessed to the tranquil lifestyles
of the people in Castledawson. Hundreds did die in this area, many in Castledawson,
and despite the horrific fact that thousands were daily applying for one meal a
day, George Robert Dawson didn't shrink his responsibilities. His caring and over
zealous intervention saved many of our fore parents - something the villagers will
The 1914-18 war took its toll of many young men from all denominations in Castledawson
and immediate area, and the sadness of those years saw exceedingly hard times for
many villagers. One young man who was to come out of that bloody affair with great
distinction, was George Garvin, who at 19 years and 3 months, had the distinction
of being the youngest soldier to have been awarded the Military Medal as his result
of devotion to duty in the face of enemy fire at the Somme on October 15th, 1915.
The 1920`s saw the town get back to a more ritual way of life, and extracts from
local newspapers of this time, are filled with community occasions and commitments
to a better future, with each and every villager having some part to play.
The year 1926 saw Castledawson with a population of 469 (102 houses).
Entertainment in the shape of dances were a highlight in the town in the 40`s, 50`s
and indeed 60`s, with halls in and around filled to capacity on virtually every
occasion. The locally renowned Potato Factory (now "Ards" Timber yard), was prepared
for building in 1942, and while the second world war was viewed only second hand
by many villagers, they were to get a taste of what they could only gaze in awe
at on movie screens at the nearest `picture house`.
The end of the war brought harmony to the town, and jobs were created for many when
the Internationally renowned `Nestle Company`, opened a factory at Bellshill Road,
and for some forty years, was the chief source of employment for many in this area.
(now a shared industrial estate). While 1956 saw the Georgian splendour of Gravesend
purchased by Mr.James Chichester Clarke (Baron / Lord Moyola), a former MP and Prime
Minister of Northern Ireland back in 1969 - 71. He is presently in residence in
the castle, on the Moyola Estate. His name, and his status back in the 60`s / early
70`s, kept the name of Castledawson on the front page of every newspaper and most
news stations throughout Europe.
The swinging 60`s saw Castledawson`s population stand at 609 in 1961, with 175 houses.
A new primary school opened on Main Street in 1963. Something of a surprise came
to the town in 1977, when the new golf club and course was officially opened. The
first ball to be struck in Moyola Park, was hit by Lord Spencer Chichester in the
early 1900`s, when after returning home from Scotland, decided to make a number
of golf `holes` on his estate. Some 75 years later, a dream became a reality, with
the opening of a much admired 18 hole championship course on the lands of Shanemullagh.