Rams Island Time Line
(no proper archaeological investigations have been carried out on Rams Island but no doubt if there is a wealth of information dating back to the Mesolithic Hunters and Gatherers to be discovered.)
800 - 900 A.D. As with Coney Island it is most unlikely that the vikings "Danes" did not at least land on Rams Island during the 9th Century as it is known that Vikings were in large numbers on Lough Neagh in the years 839-841 and 900.
The first raids, in 795, met only with occasional resistance from the Irish kings who were merely successful in repelling their attacks on very few occasions. During the early raids the Vikings tended to stay within 20 miles of the coast. As they became more comfortable with the terrain they ventured inland, often using the rivers as highways. In the mid ninth century the Viking called Thorkils, whom the monks Latinised as Turgesius made his raids of terror up the Bann to Lough Neagh, hauling his long ships over the shallows at Portna. He sailed across Lough Neagh, from where he attacked Armagh and the surrounding countryside. Turgesius the Dane was later to exert his authority almost throughout the entire country and ruled most of Ireland from his fleets on Lough Neagh and the Shannon until his demise at the hands of O’Melaghlin (Malachy) the king of Meath. It is reputed Malachy drowned him in the waters of Lough Neagh in 845. The threats from the Vikings have been suggested as the reason for the building of the round towers. The tower on Rams Island has been estimated to have been built around 850 A.D. to 950 A.D. It would have been a magnet to raiders as at its original height of around seventy feet it would have been visible from practically the whole Lough in good visibility.
1056 A.D. First Record of Round Tower and Monastic Settlement
1121 A.D. Cumaighe, son of Deoraidh Ua Floinn, lord of Durlas, was drowned in Loch-Eathach (Lough Neagh), after the island of Inis-Draicrenn (Rams Island) had been taken by the Ui-Eatach, where forty-four persons were slain.
1306 A.D. Listed with Glenavy in taxation.
1658 A.D. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Connor visits Rams Island
1679 A.D. Redmond O’Hanlon wounded, escapes to Rams Island were he hid out until fully recuperated.
1739 A.D. Lough Neagh Frozen, Rams Island visited on foot. Again in 1784, and in 1814 the ice was sufficiently thick for a Col. Heyland to ride from Crumlin water foot to Ram's Island.
1751 A.D. Barton lectures on Lough Neagh and mentions ruins of a Church with Round Tower on Rams Island.
1795 A.D. Theobald Wolfe Tone, Robert Simms, Thomas Russell, and Samuel Neilson visit Rams Island.
1798 A.D. 1798 United Irishmen on the run used Rams Island as a hideout.
1804 A.D. Rams Island purchased by The Lord O’Neill who built two houses and planted the exotic garden.
1833 A.D. Rams Island visited by the Dublin Penny Journal.
1847 A.D. Burial sites discovered in and around the Round Tower.
1850 A.D. Laura Bell visits Rams Island.
1856 A.D. Lough Neagh Lowered. Rams Island increases in size.
1883 A.D. Robert and Jane Cardwell come to live on Rams Island.
1937 A.D. The last member of the Cardwell family to live on the Island leaves.
1938 A.D. Actor Richard Hayward visits Rams Island.
1940 A.D. Flying Boat Base set up in shelter of Rams Island.
1941 A.D. Island used for target practice by field artillery.
1942 A.D. Lough Neagh Lowered again. Rams Island again increases in size.
1943 A.D. Sunderland Flying Boat crashes on landing near Rams Island.
1944 A.D. Transatlantic Flying Boats land at Sandy Bay in the run up to D day.
1944 A.D. Lord O’Neill’s Summerhouse on fire.
1968 A.D. Maid of Antrim begins regular trips to Rams Island.
2005 A.D. River Bann and Lough Neagh Association sign 30 year lease for Rams Island.
2006 A.D. Robert McCormac and Victoria Savage married on Rams Island.
Many countries have examples of outlaw folk heroes who have captured the imagination and whose memory lives on in the collective conscience. The lives of 19th century American outlaws Jesse James and Billy the Kid have been portrayed in countless ‘westerns’ and many films have also been made about the exploits of England’s famous folk hero Robin Hood. Unknown to many, Ireland has its equivalent of these ‘anti-heroes’. He comes in the form of one Redmond O’Hanlon the most famous of Ireland’s many tories, as outlaws and ‘highwaymen’ were branded during his time in Ireland. It is not possible to trace the direct ancestry of Redmond O’Hanlon but it has been commonly held that he was descended from the line of the O’Hanlon Lords of Orier (modern day County Armagh) perhaps directly from one of the many sons of Sir Eochaidh O’Hanlon the last Lord of Orier. If this was the case he is likely to have viewed himself as having claim to the territory of Orier and embarked on a criminal career to seek redress for the wrongs done to his ancestors. By May 1679 the landlords of Armagh, Down and Monaghan had formed a syndicate to pay mercenaries 9 pence per day for three months to hunt down the O’Hanlon gang. During this manhunt Redmond was wounded but managed to escape to Rams Island were he hid out until fully recuperated.
In Jan 1680 the Viceroy of Ireland, Ormond, took notice of the situation and the reward for the head of Redmond was upped to £100. Ormond later doubled the bounty to £200. On 25th April 1681 Art O’Hanlon foster-brother of Redmond seized his opportunity. As Redmond lay asleep and Art took watch, the latter raised his blunderbuss and emptied it into Redmond’s chest, killing him. After eight years of evading capture, Redmond laid dead at the hands of one off his own. Succumbing to the enemy within is a common fate of many other slippery outlaws throughout history.
Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Connor and Dromore, one of the greatest theologians and writers of his age, was born at Cambridge, 15th August 1613. He accompanied Charles I. on some of his campaigns. After undergoing hardships and imprisonments at the hands of the Parliamentary party, he was, in 1658, induced by some of his friends to seek a retreat in Ireland. Sir William Petty procured him a farm on advantageous terms, and gave him introductions to persons of influence; Cromwell granted him a passport and protection for himself and his family; and in June 1658, he settled near Kilulta, eight miles from Lisburn. There, in a half-ruined church, he occasionally preached to a small congregation of royalists. According to tradition, it was his wont occasionally to retire to Rams Island, in Lough Neagh, for study and devotion. Poor as he was, this is said to have been the happiest period of his life, as he had abundant leisure for daily if not hourly devotions and literary composition. Cleric and theologian; Bishop of Down and Connor, and of Dromore; author of 'The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living' (1650), 'The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying' (1651) and 'The Golden Grove, or A Manuall of Daily Prayers and Letanies' (1655).
Theobald Wolfe Tone
“But the most agreeable day we passed during our stay, one of the most agreeable of our lives, was on an excursion we made with the Simms’s, Neilson and Russel to Rams Island, a beautiful and romantic spot in Lough Neagh. Nothing can be imagined more delightful and we agreed, in whatever quarter we might find ourselves respectively, to commemorate the anniversary of that day, the 11th of June.”
“Tell Mrs Simms we talk a thousand times of our excursion to Ram's lsland.
I am sure we here shall not be so happy until we shall go there again if ever that happens.”
The 11th June refers to the year 1795
Theobald Wolfe Tone visited Rams Island on June 11th 1795 2 days before leaving for America.
extracted from The Writings of Theobald Wolfe Tone.
Lord O'Neill Cottage
The following is an extract from The Dublin Penny Journal no 59 Vol 11 dated August 17th. 1833.
This beautiful little cottage is situated in one of the small islands of Lough Neagh, at a distance of three miles from Crumlin; and about one mile and two-thirds from the shore, from which the traveller can easily procure a boat for the purpose of visiting the island. The cottage, which is extremely pretty, and furnished in the most tasteful manner, was some time since erected by Earl O'Neill, to whom it belongs. The only object of antiquity here is a round tower, of which --
"Time, with assailing arm,
Hath smote the summit, but the solid base
Derides the lapse of ages."
We are informed by the Rev. Doctor Cupples, that its "height is forty-three feet, its circumference thirty feet five inches, the thickness of the walls two feet eight inches and a quarter; the first story contains the door - the second, a window facing the south-east - and the third, another window, which looks out to the north, about three feet high, and one and a half broad. There are two rests for joists, and, in the first story, there is a projecting stone, about five feet and a half from the surface. Certain letters or characters appear to-be cut on the stones, in the inside; but so obliterated are they by time, that they are quite illegible. A hollow sound or echo is heard on entering the building; this induced a person who lived in the island, to dig five feet below the surface, where he found several human bones, and some coffin boards. A skeleton was discovered near the tower some time ago, and bones and skulls in many parts of the island. These circumstances indicate, that a place of worship once existed here; and sanction the opinion of Dr. Ledwich, that the round towers were appropriated to ecclesiastical purposes. It might also be inferred from this that the island was, at no very remote period a part of the continent. When the lake is at its summer level, a bank appears, extending from the island towards Gartree Point. Some persons who have examined it at low water assert, that the remains of a paved causeway are visible. The entire ground is laid out into walks; and covered with verdure. Several hundred rose trees, and those plants and flowers which constitute the pride of our gardens, all flourish luxuriantly. Even those sides of the island which are almost perpendicular, are adorned with all those creeping plants and hardy shrubs which are adapted to the situation.
On Lough Neagh's banks as the fisherman strays,
When the clear cold eve's declining,
He sees the round towers of other days,
In the waves beneath him shining.
There are several islands on the Lough; but they are deficient in the bold and frowning headlands and picturesque scenery, which constitute the charm of the Scottish lakes. Nor can it in romantic interest, or beauty and variety of scene at all compare with Lough Erne or the Lakes of Killarney. Gunny Island lies a short distance from the Armagh shore. A small cluster known by the name of the "Three Islands" is situated about four miles from the river Maine, off the point of the parish of Dunean Lord O'Neill has planted all the islands with young trees, which have a very pleasing and ornamental effect and from Ram's Island, in which the cottage stands, a bank of sand and gravel, eighteen or twenty feet broad, extends - it is usually covered with water; but at in very dry seasons, it is broad, firm, and dry, resembling an artificial causeway, more than a natural deposit.
Laura Bell (1829-1894) a native of the area spent some time on Rams Island as a guest of Lord O’Neill. Laura Bell was a famous courtesan of Victorian England. She was most notorious for allegedly earning £250,000 for spending a single night with Nepalese Prince Jang Bahadur, although other sources say that was the total he spent on gifts for her over their full relationship. In 1852 Bell married Captain Augustus Frederick Thistlewayte. She experienced a religious conversion and became a revivalist preacher on morality. She was also a close friend of Gladstone the English Prime Minister. She was born near Glenavy, Co. Antrim.
Extract from History of Friends School Lisburn
During one severe winter a large part of the Lough was frozen so hard that thousands of people were drawn thither to enjoy the best skating they had ever known. A day came when it was announced that the able bodied amongst us might take our skates and spend the morning on the ice. The boys and girls were instructed not to venture more than half-a-mile or so from the shore, but three of the teachers started off for Rams Island, hands interlaced, at a terrific pace ! Glancing back I saw three black dots following in our track, and though I am sure the `Head' was not unobservant, he turned a blind eye on their flight. We all six reached the island in safety. The `dauntless three' were Alfred Wallace, Warburton Davidson, and Bob Swain-the latter now a supporter of the School in the persons of his own children. Several of us missed the train by which we were to return. The boys hurried back to the Lough, but the girls were too tired for the long walk ; and the problem was how to put in the time until 4.30 (it was then about 1.30), when the next train was due to leave for Lisburn. After one or two attempts to hire a suitable vehicle, we bargained with a man to take us back by road in a roomy pony-cart which would hold us all, seven in number. The roads were heavy with deep snow, and Jehu could only get the horse along by leading it most of the way. When at last we reached Lisburn we told the man to drive up the avenue, and as he did so we cheered lustily. The first class rushed to the windows, and out came Joseph Radley with the question, `And who are you ?' Explaining that we were some of the unfortunates who had missed the train, and that we had elected to drive back rather than wait for a later one, we learned that the afternoon train had just arrived, and the other unfortunates with it ! A much-needed meal restored our self-respect, and after all it was a jolly, if rather cold drive !
Richard Hayward (1892–1964)
The actor, film maker and author Richard Hayward, who died in 1964, described the bird life on Ram's Island in his 1938 book 'In Praise of Ulster'.He wrote: "It is an ideal place for a picnic." The Island can be viewed from an excellent vantage point at Crew Hill, Glenavy, close to an area where Richard Hayward was filming for part of the 1938 film titled "Devil's Rock."