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The village of Castledawson - In Brief

The village of Castledawson is the for the most part situated in the townland of Shanemullagh(the old hill or summit). Prior to Thomas Dawson purchasing eight townlands which formed the Dawson estate from Dudley and Philips in 1633 it would have been little more than a river crossing point. A single span bridge supposed to be the wildest in the British Isles was erected here in 1796. This expense was borne by the county. It replaced a previous one that had been carried awat by a great flood the previous year. It would be from this structure that the village took its first name, Dawson Bridge. Here Cormack O’Hagan and his brigade of men were offered stout resistance while on their way from Magherafelt to capture Bellaghy during the great rebellion in 1641. In those days this was the only bridge across the Moyola river at Castledawson. A more recent structure now spans the river adjacent to the village, on Route A54 leading to Magherafelt and points west.

The village in 1830 was described as having a ‘single crooked street which extends along the Belfast Road for one third of a mile’. Since then, Bridge Street, New Row, Station Road and Boyne Row have been added along with a number of well designed houses, churches and shops. Modern housing estates now adjoin the village, thus increasing the population to that of a small town. Some later journals of the 19th century describe the village as ‘exceedingly beautiful and that it may justly claim to be the prettiest inland village in the North of Ireland. It possesses all the advantages of lavishly wooded countryside caressed by the lovely Moyola River’.

Before the advent of electricity, the Moyola River was the main source of power for factories sited along its banks thus providing a good deal of employment. A factory manufacturing cotton goods and employing over one hundred people on site and large numbers in a spare time capacity within their own homes throughout the surrounding area was owned by a Mr A. Vance and was in production for many years. Two beetling and calendering plants together with oatmeal and flour mills were also in production. The establishment of J.A Clarke & Co. Linen Bleachers, Dyers and Weavers during the 1800’s brought prosperity to the area. For years this company provided steady employment for a great number of people. On the decline of the linen trade after the second world war, this businesslike so many others closed its doors in the early 1950’s. Part of this large complex is now occupied by a number of smaller companies, engaged in a wide range of successful business enterprises.

During the early forties a factory was erected across the way from Clarke’s Complex, to process surplus potatoes. This became known as ‘the potato factory’. This building, together with a bedding factory, opened in the sixties, is now occupied by a large builders’ supplier.

At this point for the sake of out younger readers, an example of calendering, weaving and beetling can be seen at the Ulster Museum in Belfast and its worth a visit to understand more about linen produced.

The common denominator in all these industries was water. During long dry spells when water became scarce it would be necessary for some or all of these plants to cease operating. This led to friction as to which business would be first to shut down. A court case eventually decided the issue.

A weekly market was held on Saturdays, on what is now known as ‘The Gravel’. There on Saturdays great quantities of butter, pork and grain were bought for markets in Belfast and further a field. Fairs took place on New Years Day, Easter Wednesday, 1st June and during August.

Over the years the village and surrounding areas have made good progress. Today eager young businessman and women in flourishing family owned companies operate on both sides of the river. In recent years an excellent 18 hole, international class, golf course and club house has been established in beautiful parkland adjoining the village. This amenity is enjoyed by local members and visitors alike. Many members of St Malachy’s GFC are also members of this club, with a good number having been elected to the committee. At least three have had the distinction of serving as club captain. The club hosts a G.A.A. tournament each year which attracts a huge entry of teams to represent clubs from all over the province of Ulster.

This facility provide an excellent ecumenical outlet and warm welcome to our brothers in sport.