John Mc Gildowney 1820-1887

John Mc Gildowney was born to Charles Mc Gidowney and Rosetta Boyd of the Manor House, Ballycastle. Rosetta Boyd was the Daughter of Ezekiel Davy’s Boyd and Catherine Turnley, the Turnley Family owning the Cushendall estate. We mentioned this family in a previous Ballycastle Biography. Charles and Catherine were to marry in 1819 and a year later the only son and Heir of the Ballycastle Estate.

Although little is known of the early days of John’s childhood it was said that he always enjoyed sporting and sports and in particular horses, John was a massive fan of steeplechasing  and by the age of 17  he was renown throughout the county and after buying a thoroughbred horse in Co Galway he was to go on to win the silver cup three years in succession. It is recorded that in the 1840’s Steeplechasing became an annual event in Ballymoney, although I can’t find documentation for that particular period but we can see by St Patricks day in 1850 it was becoming an event as part of the Route Hunt Steeplechase. The main sponsors were James Moore, Henry Leslie, Jackson Wray, William Moore and John Mc Gildowney. All bookings for the race was to be taking in Reid’s Hotel, Ballymoney. It was in January 1842 that John was to loss his father Charles, Charles was to be buried in Bonamargy Friary, the grave lies directly under the Great East window. This tells us that the family seen themselves as being close to god.

John excelled at horse racing during these years and became recognised as one of the best cross-country racers in Ireland. This love remained with him for the remainder of his life, estate maps show us that there was a racecourse around the Clare Park estate. In his personal life he was a member of the North East of Ireland Agricultural Association and was one of the judges at the yearly meet up. Unusually while other judges were happy to judge from the side-lines, John was renowned for jumping on the horse there and then. He was also a member of the Ulster Club, this dining and social club for those perceived to be of the higher class was to be morphed into the Ulster Reform club in later years. This would have fitted well with John’s politics also; he was always a passionate conservative as were many of the landed gentry of that time.

Clare Park Ballycastle

Military Career

It is recorded that John was an officer with the 4th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, one leading newspaper of the time mentions specifically that he was more associates with the Corps when it used its previous name of the Antrim Militia. This Corps was raised in 1793 at Randalstown in Co Antrim as the Antrim Militia after the passing of the Militia Bill. From the 1790’s onwards we can see that there was a  push for Catholic emancipation after the Penal Laws, In January of 1793 a Catholic Convention including the famous wolf tone made a delegation to King George 3rd and in April of  the same year the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed. This gave more freedom to Catholics inhabitants of the Island and in a short time later Catholic emancipation was fully enacted. The Militia bill that led to the formation of the Antrim Militia was also passed at this time, was it to counteract the Catholic Relief Act? So, it was into this Corps of the British Army that John was to become an officer, the corps was predesignated Antrim Militia (Queen’s Royal Rifles) in 1855. Became the 4th Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles in 1881.  Although this Corps did volunteer for service in the Crimean War, I can’t see any specific evidence of John Mc Gildowney serving anywhere.

In March 1863, John was sworn on the Co Antrim Grand Jury by the high sheriff and the Clerk of the British Crown. Grand Juries were set up to determine if there a good case for a prosecution. Later they were to become involved in administrative functions in County Councils. I. e Road maintenance, building control etc. These administrations were then taking over by the Poor Law Unions and after the Local Government Act 1899 were transferred to County Councils. This was a position that he would hold for many years and according to various sources it was a position that he excelled in.

He was also for a period the High Sheriff of County Antrim.

On the 24th September 1851, John was to marry Roseanna Mc Calmont of Abbeylands near Carrickfergus. After a Ceremony in Abbylands , the Newly wed couple were to make their way across the coast to the family seat at Clare Park. A massive celebration was held in on the estate grounds, Flag poles were flown, decorated banners were flown throughout Ballycastle and the church bells rang through out the day. As was expected on these occasions, Tar barrels were built throughout the town and the hills and cliffs seen from Clare Park played host to Bonfires. Fireworks were a large part of the celebration. Dancing went on into the night and a large contingent of workmen from the Mc Gildowney Collieries were present.

Much of the Mc Gildowney wealth had come from the numerous coalmines that lined the shoreline between Ballycastle and Fairhead. John’s grandfather was the principle agent for Mark Kerr and Lady Antrim, who held the Earldom of Antrim between 1800-1832. Indeed, as one of his business ventures John tried to expand this by building a port and pier at what we now commonly call the Iron Stage. There had been talk of a pier for years in Ballycastle even in the times of Johns father and grandfather, there even had been a public commission on it with witnesses called to the stand. Ballycastle felt that it should have a functioning pier inline with Portrush’s Pier. But more about this at a later date.

It was however John Mc Gildowney that erected the Jetty at Fairhead to try to take advantage of the Iron Ore in the area. Divers were even employed to make the area more accessible for ships of a bigger birth, ultimately the venture was unsuccessful. John however had other business interests in the area, he was a director of the Ballycastle Railway Company and one of the original directors of the Ballymena and Portrush Railway Company, John played a prominent part in the committee until it was taking over by the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company. He was also a director of the Portrush Harbour Company.

By the marriage to Rose Anna he had numerous sons and one daughter. On his death the estate went to his eldest son Charles, but it then quickly transferred to his second son Hugh Calmont Mc Gildowney. Who was to become probably the best known of the Mc Gildowney Clan even to this day? John’s WIFE Roseanna was to pass away some time before him, but she came from a very prominent family in East Antrim, the Mc Calmonts. The Calmonts stately home was burned down in later years by the suffragette movement. But you can see in the son and eventual heir of John Mc Gildowney that his wifes family name was retained. Hugh Calmont Mc Gildowney.

John Mc Gildowney was to pass away on the 30TH September 1887, he was in his 68th year  he had contacted bronchitis which had developed and after initial treatment by Dr O’Connor, his affliction was to get worse, another doctor, Dr J W Smith was called too but it was too late.

The funeral procession made its way to Bonamargy burial ground carried by tenantry of his estate and attended widely. Reverend Thomas Cox officiated at the funeral. The Ballycastle courts were adjourned for a week with Magistrate John Casement remarking “Mr Mc Gildowney was the senior magistrate in this district and for over forty years held a commission of a Justice of the Peace.

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