Local History of the worst possible kind! The story of Carnage Hill.

This post is shamelessly copied from a local history book, now out of print, that is also available in pdf format on line: http://www.bayburn.com/29128%20Helen's%20Bay%20&%20Crawfordsburn%20History.pdf.  It is one section only of a much larger and more broadly based book.  All credit is then due to the book's author, and to the team at bayburn.com.

Those who have travelled the main road between Bangor and Belfast will know the corner known as ‘the Devil’s Elbow’, which is located just before the junction leading to Seahill/ Rockport.  On the left side of the road when travelling from Bangor there is a small road leading up into the Holywood hills.  It is now called Carney Hill, but according to this article that name derives from Carnage Hill.  To see where it got this name read on. 

Many thanks are due to Sam, my friend and avid local history buff.  It was he who originally showed me a paper copy of this book.  Unfortunately it is not a proud episode in our history.



The Ballydavey Massacre – 26 January 1642


Although the townland of Ballydavey is strictly outside Helen’s Bay or Crawfordsburn, the scale of the little-known massacre on a wild winter’s night early in 1642 justifies its inclusion in this book; moreover some of the perpetrators came from Crawfordsburn. The massacre does need to be seen in the historical context of a violent time, which included the 1641 rebellion and province-wide atrocities.

The Holywood historian Con Auld skilfully tells the tale in his recent book Holywood Co. Down, Then and Now, but the following account includes more of the testimony of eyewitnesses who survived. (The language is not always easy to read, but the original has been used throughout.) A Government Commission led by Ambrose Bedell to enquire into the events took evidence some 11 years later. The facts of the tragedy are not in dispute as a result of the Commission’s work. (The depositions are held in Trinity College, Dublin and have been published on-line.)

In summary, a large group of Scots settlers, mostly from Bangor but including one or more from Crawfordsburn, and a group of Montgomery’s horsemen, went to the small settlement known as the Island Field in Ballydavey, on what was then an island surrounded by a river and boggy land, occupied by about a dozen O’Gilmore families, tenants of Lord Clandeboye. The location is between the Ballymoney and Ballygrainey Roads, above Carney (Carnage) Hill, though no substantial trace exists today and it is not easy to view the site. (Interestingly, the adjacent pasture is known as Fort Field.)

Some months before there had been a fracas involving the O’Gilmores and Scots settlers at Dundonald, though given the disturbed state of the country and indeed the Proclamation referred to below, this is unlikely to have been the sole motivating factor.

After ‘.. that party of Scotch men did abyde with them and supt with the said Irish and were very merry till about midnight, the party fell upon ye said Irish and stript them and a little aforeday fell a-killing of ye sd. Irish.’ At the end of this treachery, 73 Irish had been killed.

Katherine O‘Gilmore, who subsequently moved to Ballynahinch, escaped by hiding in a ditch. She told the Commission, which appears to have involved the High Court of Justice sitting at Carrickfergus: ‘8 days before Candlemas next, after ye Rebellion, shee then living in ye townland of Ballydavy, in ye Barrony of Castlereagh, altogether with tenn familyes more, of all which 11 familyes there were (of men, women, and children) killed to her own knowledge, seaventy and three by a great company of people (being) to her estimacon in number about 200, who were brought thither by one Andrew Hamilton of the fforte, James Johnson the elder, and James Johnson the younger, both of Ballydavy, John Crafford of Craford’s Burne; and further she saith that James Johnson the elder killed one Henry O Gilmore, brother to the examinat, at her own sight, and likewise she saw the sd. James with his sword slashing at one Edmond Neeson, who was killed but shee knoweth not whether he made an end of him or not, for on the recept of the first blow, the sd. Neeson rann to the lower end of the house, among the rest of his neighbours, the cause of her knowledge is that a short space before, the said Andrew Hamilton had putt her out of the door of the house in consideracon of her tartan, after which shee lay her down in a ditch which was right before the door where she was unespied of any as she supposeth, the night being very darke, rayny and windie.

The Examt. Further saith, she saw one Abraham Adam kill James O Gilmore, her owne husband, and Daniell Crone O Gilmore, and Thurlagh O Gilmore; shee further saith, that at her going forth of the house, a sister of hers tooke houlde of her for to go out with her, and the sd. Abraham Adam strock of her sd. sister’s arme from the elbowe, with a broade swoord, the sister’s name was Owna O Gilmore.’ Owen O’Gilmore escaped by hiding himself in a limekiln on Ballydavey Hill. He told the Commission: ‘Andrew Hamilton, now of Crawfordsburn in Bangor parish came to them who was to bring order for that work, and came and shott off his pistoll before Bryan Boy’s doore, whereupon ye sd. Scots party fell upon killinge ye sd. Irish, and so killed of men, women and children, three score and odd, and ye names of ye persons yt this examt. remembers yt were at ye place yt night were ye sd. Andrew Hamilton, John Crawford, James Johnson senior, and James Johnson junior, Captain Will Hamilton, Robert Morris, John Watt and Gabriell Adam, and did see ye sd. Watt and Morris kill seven of ye sd. persons. Also this examt. saith, yt he, escapeinge this danger by hydeing himself in ye kilne, did so soone as he could escape thence towards one Hen. M’Williams M’Gilmore’s house to secure himself, and as this examt. came nere the sd. house, he heard the Scotchmen aboute the sd. house, and so durst not go thither, but perceived yt ye sd. persons were the two James Johnsons, aforesd., and the said Watt and, others not known to this examt.; but this examt. heard ye sd. James Johnson junior, say to ye sd. Gilmore, Open the door, but ye sd. Gilmore denyed, and then ye sd. Johnson said, You know me, to wch. Gilmore said, yes he did, but for all ye must not open ye door; then ye sd. Johnson desired ye sd. Gilmore to light some straw, ye wch. Gilmore did, whereby ye sd. Johnson put in his pistoll and shott and kild ye sd. Gilmore, whereupon they broke open ye doore, and went in and kild one of ye children of ye sd. Gilmore and did wound ye sd. Gilmore’s wiffe and one child more, and left them for dead, but ye sd. wiffe recovered and tould this examt. the foresd relation.’

Thomas O’Gilmore survived the massacre but only for four days. Owen reported what happened: ‘Ye constable one Robert Jackson of Hollywood, did bring with him one Thomas O’Gilmore, uncle to this examt.; whom ye sd. Jackson brought to ye sd. place with his hands bound behynd his back with match, ye sd. Jackson brought ye sd. prisoner to Bangnell to ye …. And ye sd. Capt. would not receave him at all; so so sd. constable took ye sd. prisoner back, and this exampt., thinking yt they would cary him to Bangnell accordingly did follow them; but as ye constable (and another man) went up ye mountaine betwixt ye sd. Kirkdonnell and Hollywood, this exampt. did see ye sd. Jackson, constable, kill ye sd. prisoner, Thomas O’Gilmore with a sword, and this exampt. did goe to him after yt ye sd. constable was gone away and perceaved severall wounds yt ye sd. Tho: had, both cutts and stabbs.’ We also have information about the planning of the event, which was clearly premeditated. James Gourdon of Clandeboye was pressed to join in the attack: ‘His mother told him that there were some of the town, two or three tymes looking for him, to speake with him, and that she heard it was to goe out with them to kill the Irish that lived neere and about the towne; therefore she advised him to put himselfe out of the way and not to have any hand in the busines; whereupon he tooke his bed clothees and went and stayed and lodged in his mault kilne, a pretty distance from the sayd towne of Bangor. And he furthermore sayth that within a night or two after most of the towne of Bangor and the parish together made a compact with those of Ballydavy about Holliwood to fall out in two partyes in the night upon the neighbouring Irish to kill and plunder them.

And they went forth in the night and killed of men, women and children (poor labouring people and their familyes) a great number. His cause of knowledge is, for that the next morning after the sayd murder was comitted he saw those of the towne of Bangor that had beene acters in it come in with bloody brakans (a kind of tartan or plaid) and other goods, cattle and household stuffe; his further cause of knowledge is that there was a collection made through the whole towne of Bangor for burying those were killed, wherefore this witness played a part but cannot now remember how much.’

Local tradition has it that many of the bodies were buried in the Ballydavey limekiln. These tragic events are not perhaps as well remembered as they should be. It is some comfort however that many townsfolk of Bangor were so appalled at the events that they contributed to a collection for giving those killed a decent burial. The Rev James O’Laverty writing in the late 19th century links this massacre, along with one in Island Magee, to the Proclamation issued by the Lords Justices and Council in Dublin Castle in 1641/42, which in effect encouraged ‘all his Majesties good and loving subjects to pursue and plague with fire and sword, apprehend, destroy and kill, by all means and ways they may, named rebel leaders and their partakers, aiders etc’. In his History of Holywood, P McNamee records that one consequence seems to have been that it ‘completely cleared the parish of Holywood of the old Irish Catholic race.’ Harris wrote in his History of the County of Down published in 1744 ‘it is said that only one papist lives in the parish’ and the return given to the House of Lords in 1764 shows only seven; when the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor caused a census to be taken in 1831 of all the catholics ‘belonging to the chapel of Holywood’, which included Dundonald and Crawfordsburn, the figure had risen to 81.

Other sources suggest that at least some of the remaining Gilmores were driven into the southern end of the Ards peninsula, where the land was not so fertile. Peter Galbraith who farms up Carney Hill, had another local source, long since passed on, who maintained that in addition no less than three Irish chapels had also been destroyed at around this time; there does not appear to be any contemporary record of that, but it may be worth noting that the Raven Maps do have one and possibly two chapels in roughly the right area, indeed the one at Craigavad was next to a plot recorded by him as the ‘Priest’s Quarter’. It is also suggested that the Ballydavey settlement could have been a more linear one, along the route of what was then an important track, probably between Crawfordsburn and Dundonald, (crossing the Ballymoney Road at Pinch Hill). It is a photograph of the supposed site that is shown. While no trace of the kilns or bodies has been found, local farmers have found mediaeval potsherds in the area, and there is an unusually large quantity of large stones at the one location.


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