Cookstown

A BRIEF HISTORY OF COOKSTOWN,  NIreland

The town in which I grew up….moved to Clare, as a 4 year old, from Moneymore  in 1951. Approx. 2 km out of town on the Drapersfield/Ardtrea/Stewartstown road, immediately opposite the Festival Park housing estate….until September 1967. Afterwards occasionally until 1971

Early History

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.

The conversion 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.

Dating also 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 wasn’t 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.

Neither William 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 1840’s) 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.

The twentieth century

With the linen and later the hat-making and brick manufacturing industries, Cookstown continued to prosper in the early 20th century and its population continued to expand. Little architecture of any note dates from this period as the Victorian structures of the previous generation continued to fulfil their purpose. World War I had a devastating effect on the local community at a cost of life commemorated in the prominent Cenotaph (loosely based on Lutyens' (Whitehall Cenotaph) at the centre of the town unveiled in 1927. This is Cookstown's sole piece of public sculpture.

On 17 June 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks in Cookstown. It is claimed that some RIC helped the IRA in the attack. However, it was failed and one IRA volunteer was killed.

As industry developed, a Technical College (photo only) was established on Loy Hill in a Queen Anne style red brick structure. This was opened by Mrs. Adair, whose husband owned the Greenvale Mill, in 1936 and the building continued as a Technical College until 2006 when it was relocated. Currently it is used as offices, a creche and a credit union.

All of Cookstown's main educational institutions date from this period, Cookstown High School being housed in the Victorian mansion and former residence of the Gunning family at Coolnafranky and the Catholic Church constructing its convent schools and St Mary's Boy's School in 1939 (now demolished and replaced by Holy Trinity Nursery School), all on Loy Hill.

With the outbreak of World War 2, Cookstown became the centre of much regimental activity. Later, Killymoon Castle was requisitioned by the US Army, and a large [internment camp] was established at Monrush, where German prisoners of war were interned. Cookstown suffered no enemy damage during the war and the town's industries prospered.

However, this proved to be the last industrial belle époque of Cookstown. While the linen industry (the Adair family, a famous linen manufacturing family in of Greenvale and Glenavon House fame. (Glenavon House, now known as the Glenavon House Hotel!) survived in Ulster until well into the 1960s, increased fabric imports from the Far East, led to economic difficulties across Northern Ireland. Despite this, Cookstown's Council built a modern town hall in 1953 (now demolished and replaced by the Burnavon Theatre) and the Daintyfit clothing factory on Burn Road opened. An internationally renowned Agricultural College was established at Loughry House, but the town's prosperity was now in doubt. Gunning's weaving mill closed in 1956, and was followed by Adair's Mill and the Wellbrook estate in 1961. The railways ceased to operate in 1963, and while the market continued to be held each Saturday, its agricultural significance never recovered and the sale of livestock completely ceased in 2004. In 1970, the Blue Circle Cement factory opened at Derryloran. This provided employment for the local population.

The sole remaining building of architectural note from this period was Liam McCormack's Chapel, a cube-shape tacked on to JJ McCarthy's High Victorian Gothic Convent of Mercy at Chapel Street. The patterned concrete and bronze façade was constructed in 1965 and contains important stained glass by Dublin artist Patrick Pye, though the building is currently boarded up following the closure of the Convent.

The Troubles

See also: Timeline of The Troubles in Cookstown

Through most of its history relatively good relations between Protestants and Catholics were maintained by almost equal numbers from both communities. But during the Troubles, Cookstown suffered from several bomb and other attacks, robbing the town centre of most of its Victorian buildings including the sandstone façade of the Hibernian Bank as well as the Adair's former Italianate residence at Glenavon (which had been converted to a hotel).

In 1989, two permanent armed checkpoints were erected at either side of the town centre to protect an already existing army base at Chapel Street. Barriers were also erected around the town so that the Main Street could be cordoned off in the evening. These checkpoints were finally removed from the town in 1996.

In 1994 the tree-lined boulevard thought up by James and William Stewart was restored and a scheme of regeneration saw the creation of green space, flowerbeds and restored shop frontage. The tree-lined boulevard is the basis of the towns fantastic festive Christmas lighting. With Ulster's industry now substantially defunct, the town began to attract instead financial investment from shopping and tourism. In 2000, the Burnavon Arts and Cultural Centre opened on the site of the former Town Hall on the Burn Road and began to attract large scale cultural and artistic events to the town whilst a year later, a development scheme began which saw the former LMS Railway Terminus turned into a shopping centre. In 2003 Cookstown District Council in conjunction with Cookstown Town Centre Forum launched Cookstown's ten-year Town Centre Regeneration Strategy and Action Plan which details a range of short, medium and long range regeneration actions.

Today, Cookstown has been almost completely regenerated with plans for further regeneration work to be carried out throughout the town centre. Another large shopping centre on Molesworth Street was built in 2007. The old Gunning and Moore Weaving Mill at Broadfields has been transformed into a large retail park with outlets of TescoMarks and SpencerHomebaseNext, Tempest, New LookHalfords and Peacocks being the first tenants to set up here. More stores such as B&M Bargains and Burger King are also setting up. Plans were also passed in October 2010 for two more major retail and residential/ penthouse developments in the Orritor Street/ Burn Road area of the town. Further development is planned for the site of the former Daintyfit factory.

The town's central location and many hotels (for a population of just over 11,000 it has no less than 4) has meant that it is a natural location for conferences and meetings involving delegates from across Northern Ireland. It was the natural choice of location for the Mid-Ulster Sports Arena (established in 2003) and the planned multi-million pound investment in a state of the art Public Service Training College which will accommodate the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue and the Northern Ireland Prison Service (which is to be built aLoughry/Desertcreat commencing in late 2013). Cookstown currently has more than a hundred types of businesses operating at its heart. Of the direct retailing businesses some two-thirds are independent, largely family-owned concerns which give the town's retailing a distinctive appearance and a unique mix of excellence outlets. The town's rich traditional retailing mix of high quality independent stores is a tribute to retaining long-standing and loyal business while simultaneously building a new customer base with the continued attraction of some of the biggest names in national retailing. The town has taken a long term view to regeneration and Cookstown District Council in conjunction with Cookstown Town Centre Forum appointed a Town Strategy Manager to implement Cookstown's Town Centre Regeneration Strategy.

Cookstown confidently bills itself as the ‘Retail Capital of Mid Ulster’ and is at the forefront of those towns which are reinventing retail and communicating the strength of the retailing offer to wider audiences, through a unique Cookstown brand identity (Cookstown – Looking Good, Looking Great) and aggressive marketing of the town locally and nationally. The town was also one of the first in Northern Ireland to produce a ten-year Urban Design Strategy (2007), an aspirational framework for all future town centre development. The Cookstown Town Centre Living Initiative (LOTS) Scheme (2006–2011) offers substantial grant assistance to reinvigorate unused or derelict space above shops into modern residential living accommodation is considered to be one of the most successful schemes of any town in Northern Ireland. The Cookstown Town Centre Street Entertainment Programme (2008) promotes the town's family-friendly appeal and encouraging people either to visit for the first time or to prolong a regular visit. While in late 2009 the civic heart of Cookstown, the Burn Road has benefited greatly from an Environmental Improvement Scheme.

The Council has secured millions of UK pounds sterling and ensured that inward investment has been at its highest level since the establishment of the town in the 17th century, developing beyond recognition the economic infrastructure, tourism, retail and hospitality sectors in the area.

Presently Cookstown 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 eco

Then, ca 100 years ago, 1915   Now, 3 years ago, 2010

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