Saturday, 23 August 2008


The Cunningham Connection

Both Newton and Manorcunningham take their name from the Cunningham families, who were originally from Kilbirnie, Ayrshire in Scotland. In 1610 King James the first gave the orders for the plantation of Ulster and issued land rights for huge areas of land that had been confiscated from Irish owners. Ludovic Lennox, the Duke of Lennox, who was a Scottish nobleman and a relative of King James, was given 20,000 acres on condition that the land was settled by British farmers. He needed ambitious and hard working individuals and the predominant clan in his area were the Cunninghams. John Cunningham was given 1,000 acres close by and a little to the north in the lands known as Burt. He established New Town Cunningham naming it in keeping with a fashion of the time, which saw the establishment of the modern towns of Newtown Stewart and NewtownButler. The old settlement is at the lower end of the village.

James Cunningham was given 2000 acres of prime farmland in the lands of Machrimore (meaning large plain), and he was charged with tenanting his lands with loyal settlers, organising the defence of the land and establishing a manor. He took over a long abandoned castle, rebuilt it and added a wall in case of attack. A manor house was built close to the castle and local services established such as a blacksmith. This central settlement lives on as Manorcunningham, although there seems to be no trace of the original buildings. Just down the hill of Manorcunningham is the shore of the Swilly and a small tidal river where boats would have put in to land and load cargoes. Settlers had the right to fish and there were great numbers of fish in those days. The land is good farming land and produces cereals, spuds and both beef and dairy cattle.

Burt Castle Ghost Story
Burt Castle, 2.5 km from Newtoncunningham has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, standing as it does two hundred feet above Lough Swilly. It was built in the time of Henry VIII and documents exist granting the castle and its lands to Hugh Boy O’Doherty. With Sir Cahir O’Doherty’s rebellion in 1608 the castle was captured by the English and was held as a garrison point for several years. Its air of menace may have something to do with the several bloody battles fought during its history.

There is a story told of a young girl from the neighbouring area who became pregnant. The man responsible, a kinsman of the O’Doherty, refused to marry her. That night, while the full moon shone, she paced, distraught, along the water’s edge. Several swans swam towards her, calling to her in a plaintive way. When they swam away she waded into the cold waters of Loch Swilly and drowned.

Intent on avenging his daughter’s death, her father tricked his way into the castle and crept up the turnpike staircase in the southwest tower. The man lay asleep in the vaulted mural chamber on the first floor and while he slept the girl’s father stabbed him with his long knife and threw his body from the window.

On several occasions, when the moon is full, the swans congregate at the point closest to Burt Castle and set up a cacophony of wailing. The ghostly figure of a young girl is seen drifting into the water until she gradually fades beneath the waves.
At the base of the castle walls there is a certain patch of grass that withers when the swans weep. It is said that this is the exact spot where the body of the man who wronged the innocent girl fell.

BLANKET NOOK-Wildfowl Sanctuary

Next to Newton there is a small pier for fishermen and the sea wall at Blanket Nook protects the flat drained lands and provides many acres of high quality farm land. The lake is a wildfowl sanctuary and a popular local place to walk, fish and relax. For many years this area suffered from the use of shotguns but since has been declared a wildfowl sanctuary with both numbers and varieties of species increasing. Large numbers of birds commute to and from the Nook, Greylag and White fronted geese are regular, and other species such as Shoveler, and Gadwall are frequently seen.Other species such as Scaup, Goldeneye, Great Crested grebe, Pintail and Red breasted Merganser are recorded in good numbers. Other rare birds recorded here include Slavonian Grebe, Goosander, Smew, Surf Scoter and Lesser Scaup.

St Peter’s Bark
Drivers on the N13 to Letterkenny may notice the beautiful ship shaped church as they bypass Newton. St Peter’s Bark was opened in 1999, with much of the thanks going to Father O’Doherty, who oversaw the demolition of the existing church and the construction of this original building. The ship is an ancient Christian symbol of the Church being tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution but finally reaching safe harbour with its cargo of human souls. The significance for the Newton church was for the Roman Catholic faith sailing into the third millennium.

Newton has an active community sector including a parent and toddler group and a community playgroup. There has also been a Lifestart programme based in Newton since 1999. Lifestart is a great service open to all parents of young children (under 5), which aims empower parents to help their children reach their full potential. A family visitor will call once a month with relevant play materials for the parent and child to use and keep. The family visitor will also discuss child development issues and may provide opportunities for parents to meet up. It gives your child a great start in their education and parents find it supportive too. Lifestart visits families in Carrigans, Killea, Manorcunningham, Burt and Bridgend, as well as Newton and has recently expanded to the Buncrana area. If you would like to take part, contact Mary Walker-Callaghan on 9156644.

Did You Know?

One third of the population of Newtowncunnigham is under 14.

Newton’s population grew by over 50% between 2002 and 2006, mostly due to new commuter estates being built.

Susan Sarandon, Cyndi Lauper and Bette Middler have roots in Manorcunningham.

Newton’s railway station opened on 30th June 1883, closed for passenger traffic on 3 June 1940 and closed altogether on 10th August 1953.

During the siege of Derry, two of the apprentice boys who shut the city gates in the face of the advancing Jacobite soldiers were Cunninghams.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a nicely condenced bit of history. My husband is descended from the Cunninghams of that area, and we hope to visit in the next year or so.

Anonymous said...

To the best of my knowledge the railway station was open to passangers until early 1950s

123kolberg7 said...

I have to agree with the previous note, the Railway station was certainly open to passenger travel until the early fifties, I can distinctly remember my Mother and some aunts gathering at Newtown Station in or around 1950 for an excursion or mystery tour which was very popular at the time.


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