A Brief History of Cookstown
Signs of human
activity in Cookstown district exist from as early as the 4th
millennium BC. Archaeological evidence suggests the presence (around
3200 BC) of a an agricultural people who planted corn and raised
livestock, and utilized both flint tools and polished stone axes.
Metal working occurred in Ireland around 2000 BC.
From ca. 1600
BC on, waves of Celtic invaders began to reach the shores of Ireland,
bringing with them iron, new religions, language and customs.
The Gaelic language of the Celts and their Druidic religion, eventually
pervaded the whole population of the island, and "Irish"
was still spoken in some of Cookstown's outlying areas until the
end of the 19th century. Many of the townland names around Cookstown
are ultimately derived from Gaelic.
of the Irish to Christianity started in the 5th century AD. The
earliest ecclesiastical organization was Diocesan, though from
the 6th century onwards the Monastic system of Christianity began
to become dominant.
from this time are small enclosed farmsteads called "raths",
but known locally as forts. These were very numerous and ordnance
survey maps of Cookstown show them dotted around the district.
Cookstown's Forthill Cemetery is named after a nearby "rath".
The 12th century
arrival of the Anglo-Normans had little impact upon the Cookstown
district, but Ireland from this came under the power of the English
Crown. By 1541 Henry VIII assumed the title of King of Ireland
and started down the path toward eventual conquest of the island,
which was fulfilled by his daughter Elizabeth. The Ulster Chiefs
strongly resisted this usurpation of their power, but their resistance
eventually ended in defeat and their flight from Ulster in 1607.
King James I
of England, tried to resolve some of his kingdoms problems of
the troubled Scottish-English Border and the Ulster region by
"transplanting" Ulster with people who would undertake
to settle it and support the English Crown. So began the Plantation
of Ulster in 1609 by both Scots (mostly Border Scots) and English
"undertakers". During these early years of settlement,
Scottish undertakers in Ulster Province outnumbered the English
undertakers roughly 20 to 1.
The land on
which the early town of Cookstown was built was part of the ancient
territory of Mallenagh, belonging to the O'Mellans, an "Erenagh"
family.During the Plantation of Ulster, all Erenagh land was held
to be church land, and as such was handed over to the Protestant
bishops of the new church. Ownership of Mallenagh passed to the
Protestant Arch Bishop of Armagh, who in turn leased it to settlers
who would undertake to build one good house of stone, lime or
framed timber on each townland.
By 1620, James
Stewart, a native of Scotland, bought the lease of a small piece
of this land from the Arch Bishop of Armagh, and settled in the
townland of Ballynenagh. His descendants later heavily influenced
the further development of Cookstown. A Dr. Allen Cooke, an English
Ecclesiastical Lawyer, purchased leases of extensive areas of
land in Mallenagh from Armagh's Arch Bishop, while other townlands
adjoining to this land were granted by the Crown to native Irishmen
who were deemed "deserving".
Cooke did not
dwell on his new estate, but fulfilled the terms of his lease
by building 10 houses in the townland of Cora Criche (the "Oldtown").
Cook was granted a Patent by King Charles I, on 3 August 1628,
to form a market in the town which which was becoming known as
"Cooke's Town". By this charter, free commerce in buying
and selling of goods was permitted. Grain, flax, linen and thread
for linen were often sold at market.
In the year
1641 the native Irish rose in revolt in an effort to retake their
former properties. Cookstown was abandoned (after some legislative
troubles back in England) and returned for a time to the native
Irish. Forgemen and carpenters were immediately put to work making
pikes for the native Irish troops, and wasnt until 1643
that troops loyal to the English Crown destroyed the Iron Mine
and Plant, plundered cattle, horses, sheep and pigs, and then
proceeded to Cookstown and burnt it. Even after these troubles,
by 1649 there were still enough Scottish Settlers in the District
to established a Presbyterian Congregation at the Oldtown.
For the next
hundred years however, Cookstown showed little promise of robust
growth. An estate map of 1736 reveals only 2 inhabited houses
in the area of the town that year. Ownership of most of the townlands
around Cookstown by this time was in the hands of William Stewart,
the grandson of James who settled in Ballynenagh. The Stewarts
had purchased several of the native Irish freeholdings and also
acquired large areas of church property which had been held under
lease. In 1666 the Stewarts purchased the land lease from Cookstown's
founder. Six townlands were enclosed in a domain, and in 1671
the Stewart castle at Killymoon was built.
By the mid 18th
century, William Stewart was one of the largest landowners in
County Tyrone. In 1734 he made extensive plans to rebuild Cookstown,
south of Cooke's original town settlement. The new town was to
be centered about a main street 135 feet wide. It is speculated
this occurred because William Stewart had a fascination for the
broad streets of Dublin and Edinburgh. By the 1740s the basic
layout of Cookstown had taken shape and was indeed a 135 foot
wide street which ran unbroken for a mile and a quarter, with
avenues leading into it.
nor his descendants ever continued to develop the town much beyond
this remarkable central avenue. Sadly, his plan necessitated the
destruction of most of the earlier cottages. Some other streets
built during this period were Killymoon Street, Church Street,
Chapel Street, Loy Hill, and James Street.
A linen business
commenced in 1765 at the Wellbrook Beetling Mill, 2 miles west
of Cookstown. By about 1771 the Reverend John Wesley introduced
Methodism to Cookstown. Through the late 18th century, and right
up to the years of the Irish Famine (mid 1840s) Cookstown
became a small, but robust town, with good building taking place.
Construction also included a new Killymoon Castle in 1802, which
was designed by the Englishman John Nash. He similarly designed
the new Derryloran Parish Church and Lissan Rectory in Cookstown
about this time, as well as the Acheson Castle of Gosford at Markethill,
County Armagh. It is perhaps noteworthy to mention that both Markethill
and Cookstown lie within the same religious Diocese (Armagh),
though they reside in separate counties.
By the year
1837, Cookstown had grown to a population of about 1500 people.
It had 4 churches, a dispensary, 2 Sunday Schools, a magistrate,
a Member of Parlaiment, numerous gentry and clergy, one physician,
5 surgeons, a post master, 3 innkeepers, and numerous publicans
and shop keepers/traders. Market was held on Saturday for linen
cloth, and foodstuffs, while a corn market was held on Tuesdays.
District has a population of about 32,000, and consists of an
area of 235 square miles. Most of this land is used for farming,
and as such agriculture is important to the local economy.
There are three
livestock markets held weekly in Cookstown. Fishing is another
important industry in this region, due in part to Cookstowns
proximity to Lough Neagh. Ardboe, a southern parish of Cookstown
District, is well known for it's trout.