Sidney J Lyle

Courtesy of James Mc Michael – 2018

The house is now gone, lying in hardfill somewhere on the north coast of Ireland after being demolished in 2020 to make way for the new £35million shared education facility that is to be built in its former grounds. But for many of us here in Ballycastle it will be our memories. My own memory of it is the red roof tiles and a lot of glass that was included in the building. It is of course Derganagh House. Another house in Ballycastle that had many stories to tell.

The grounds of the house bordered much of the town of Ballycastle, running along many of the shops of Castle Street and stopping at the junction of Rathlin Road, Ann Street and the Quay Road. It continued up what we Ballycastle people refer to as the Chapel Brae and on up to Clare Park, the home of another one of the landed families in this area. It included much of the grounds of the Chapel (St Patricks and St Bridget’s) and the adjoining graveyards. The Chapel grounds were donated to the Chapel by the Boyd Family of the Quay Road, and I would imagine that it would have included much of the ground on the upper side of Clare Road too. With extensive grounds and fantastic views of Fairhead and Culfeightrin it was the prime location for a house, and it would be here that Sidney J Lyle, agent to the Boyd Estate would build his home.

Courtesy of James Mc Michael – 2018

Early Life

Sidney J Lyle was born on the 24th of September 1874 into one of the oldest landed families in the North. In old money he would have great pedigree on both his mother and fathers’ family lines. His paternal grandfather was a linen merchant from Coleraine known as Hugh Lyle who would become Mayor of Coleraine and would be one of the founding members of the Markets in Coleraine, now the Coleraine Museum and Town Hall. I think there is still a plaque on the side of the museum that commemorates this occasion and mentions Hugh Lyle directly. Hugh married Harriet Cromie, a daughter of John Cromie of Portstewart. The Cromie family were the founders of the town as Portstewart as we now know it. The name Portstewart – Port of the Stewarts was in reference to the Stewart Family who would be granted these lands by the 5th Earl of Antrim. This is the same Stewart family that owned Ballintoy “Castle” and adjoining lands and would also be associated with Mount Stewart in Newtownards. The Cromie family name can still be seen in the likes of Cromore Halt. Harriet and Hugh went on to have a large family with at least thirteen children and built their home on the banks of the river Bann. The family home was known as Knocktarna House, a twenty-five-room mansion with views over the river Bann which at one time boasted a staff of 6. The 19th-century Residence also comprised of over four acres of garden and once included a grass tennis court. The house now is the home to the vice chancellor of Ulster University. Hugh’s third son was known as James Acheson Lyle and he went on to become a landowner, Justice of the Peace and for 50 years, County Treasurer of Derry. He was also the Chairperson of the Coleraine Board of Guardians. He held grounds in Kilrea too and would be a regular attendee at Finvoy Church where he was a churchwarden, treasurer, and parochial nominator. He would be closely associated with the Shanaghy Orange Lodge No 911 and the local black preceptory was known as “Lyle’s Royal Black Preceptory, No 479.”

Coleraine Chronicle and constitution – August 1963 – Dedication of new Lyle banner.

On the 12th of November 1876 James Acheson Lyle married Emily Octavia Ward in Killinchy Church. Emily was directly related to those in Castle Ward that sits prominently on the banks of Strangford Lough. Now a popular Game of Thrones visitor attraction. Emily’s father was the Reverend Henry Ward, brother of the 3rd Viscount Bangor and it was actually this Viscount who saved Castle Ward from complete ruin. The 2nd Viscount was reportedly insane, and a family member moved him into a small house in Downpatrick and started to sell off the family heirlooms and valuables when the 2nd viscount died. It was this branch of the Wards that put the house back together. The house was handed by the family to the National Trust in the 1950’s and included in its collection is a great stuffed bear with an incredible story attached to it.

James and Emily would go onto have a few children including Henry Ward Lyle who went into the legal profession and like many of the young men of landed families would head to the British colonies, joining the Indian Civil service. James and Emily’s only daughter was Alice Lyle. She is recorded in the Dictionary of Irish Biography as the wife of Denis Robert Packford. Denis was an Oxford educated Carlow man who had over 500 acres of ground and was elected high sheriff of Co Carlow in 1890. He was however remembered for his work in Natural History and would be a member of the Royal Irish Academy and was later awarded an OBE.

Lyle Family Plot – and all graves behind – St Paul’s COI Killdollagh.

Sidney J Lyle was the second son of James and Emily was born in Portstewart. Having so many figures of authority in young Sidney’s life was sure to leave an impact.

In Sidney’s formative years he was educated at Arnold House, North Wales before moving on to Shrewsbury Grammar School. After schooling finished Sidney came back to Ireland to live on the family estate before moving to Kilrea. Being a keen sportsman Sidney was avidly involved in hunting in “the route” and then set up the first hockey club in Kilrea where for the first year he paid for the rent of the ground out of his personal allowance.

A committed member of the Orange Order he was instrumental in the arranging of celebrations at the Coronation of the King. Sidney was then to go on and become a Justice of the Peace.

In 1904 Sidney married Miss Fanny Spotterwood-Ash in Kilrea Parish Church before the couple headed off to the continent on their honeymoon. Fanny came from a background of wealth too, her father was Thomas Spotterwood Ashe from the Manor House in Kilrea, (now a hotel). Thomas was a Justice of the Peace and a land agent for estates in both Kilrea and Bellaghy. His brother William Hamilton Ash lived in the Hermitage Garvagh. This was the home of William Hamilton Ash who was also Justice of the Peace. He was also for close to forty years the estate agent for the Garvagh estates, but this stopped when “Lady Garvagh” died around 1893. He was also Chairman of the Garvagh Petty Sessions.

The Manor House had a much longer history relating to the guilds. Thomas Ash was also a JP and estate agent for the Kilrea and Bellaghy estates. These men were the father and uncle of Fanny Spotterwood Ash.

By the 1901 census, Sidney was staying in Kilrea with the family of his wife in the Manor House Kilrea, His occupation alongside that of his father-in-law was given as Land Agent and Justice of the Peace. By the 1911 census the family had moved to Ballycastle and were living with three maids, Elizabeth Brotherton, who was the house maid, Anne Margaret Evans who was the parlour maid and Mary Caldwell who was the family cook.

In Ballycastle Sidney worked as Land Agent for the Boyd Estate, The Bellaghy Estate and the Clanmorris Estate in Bangor. In his later years he was to go on to be the agent for the Fullerton Estate, Ballintoy. He became one of the most prominent figures in Ballycastle and was a director on the Ballycastle trains. He then started to become prominent in local politics and the rising militaristic movements of the time.

Home Rule and First World War

With the background and social connections that Sidney had in his life it will be no surprise that Sidney was at the forefront of political unionism in Ballycastle. From the years 1910 onwards we seen the militarisation of Ireland, particularly Ulster, and Ballycastle was no exception. Sidney J Lyle was at the heart of both the political machinations and the military side of these developments. In April 1911, a large crowd made their way to the Orange Hall at the very top of Ballycastle town and Sidney took the chair and a unionist club was formed, a resolution was taken that no matter creed or party preference everybody was invited to be a member. Sidney was duly elected president of the club, R.P Woodside from Carnsampson House was elected vice chair and Ex RIC man W.H Belford was elected the treasurer, the secretary was the Reverend Thomas Cox. This was an important meeting; it was replicating what was happening throughout Ireland at the time but if we read the fine print it was trying to unite all shades of unionism and with the local rector being involved it gave a religious aspect to the organisation. FOR GOD AND ULSTER. The movement was a major success in its goals and aspirations but not without much blood loss as we shall see. Only a few months later in August 1911, a meeting was held in the Quay Road School for the purpose of forming a women’s unionist association. Mrs Wetherall took the chair on this occasion but at the meeting that night a branch of the organisation was formed in the town and Mrs Mc Gildowney of Clare Park was elected president, with four vice presidents; Mrs Wetherall who was from a wealthy background and lived on North Street with her three daughters and two servants. Mrs Hutchinson, Mrs Casement from Magherintemple and Miss Boyd of the Manor House. The secretary was Miss Douglas who lived across the road from the school and was a sister of William Belford, treasurer of the men’s association.

Simultaneously Sidney was the president of the Ballycastle Board of Guardians at this time. The Ballycastle unionist club would be in charge of preparations for the upcoming “Ulster Day” celebrations where unionism would hold a mass demonstration across the Island and parts of the UK to denounce home rule and vow to do everything to stop the implementation of it. A covenant was signed by the men of unionism and a declaration was signed by the women. In Ballycastle, this was signed in three different locations, The Boyd Manor House, the Marine Hotel, and the Orange Hall. There was a large turnout from Ballycastle and surrounding areas. Five hundred and twelve men signed the covenant and over five hundred and sixty women. After Ulster Day on the 28th of September 1912, there was a hardening of positions, and it was decided to form a volunteer force “to fight the implementation of Home Rule by all means necessary”. Many took this to mean taking up arms and it wouldn’t be long before guns would reach the streets of Ireland.

The Ballycastle Ulster Volunteer Force

Sidney was instrumental in forming a local Ulster Volunteer corps where he gained the position of Major and on the formation of a North Antrim Regiment of the UVF he was made an Officer. The Ulster Volunteers started to form not long after Ulster Day. While there is no definitive date, we know that by late 1913 Ballycastle had an operational branch. They were heavily saturated with members of the Ballycastle Purple Hero’s LOL, No 1458. The local instructors were James Smyth, George Scarlett (ex-RIC), business owner on Castle Street, R Wilson, and C.M Lawrence. The honorary secretary to the organisation was Arthur Hunter.

Ballycastle fell under the remit of the North Antrim Regiment 2nd Battalion and its different companies were as follows:

A Company – Ballymena

G Company – Ballycastle – Company commander R.P Woodside

H Company – Ballintoy – Company commander John A Byrne

F Company – Dervock – Company commander W Curry

D Company – Portrush Company Commander C.S Murray

C Company – Ballymoney – Company commander J.B Hamilton

Ballymena had three companies (A, B and C)

The year 1913 and 1914 would see route marches, formations, raids for arms and trouble starting to appear on the streets of Ballycastle. There were major UVF field turnouts in Grottery Park, (Ballycastle Playing fields), Moyarget and Ballintoy where Sidney’s cousin Colonel Hugh T Lyle of Knocktarna House would be the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion North Antrim Regiment. This would also be quite a sad year for Sidney on a personal level, he was involved in a fatal accident at Culkenny on the outskirts of Ballycastle, when his car startled a horse and cart and lead to the death of Mrs Rose Ann Mc Kendry and then his uncle at Knocktarna would later pass away. Sidney was one of the beneficiaries of the uncle’s will.

On the 4th of August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany, a conflict that was to last for four years. Many thought it would last four months and were enthusiastic in the support of the war. Ireland was the perfect recruiting ground as there was effectively two armies in waiting in the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish National Volunteers (their Catholic counterparts). By September 1914, the Ulster Volunteer force had fallen strongly in behind the British war effort. On the 19th of September 1914, the first batch of Ballycastle men were ready to leave for Clandeboy for training before joining Kitchener’s new army, each of them left the town that morning with new wrist watches. Their Captain Sidney J Lyle was amongst them.

Upon the formation of the 36th Ulster Division and preceding the First World War, Sidney was given a commission in the 12th (service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (central Antrim) under Colonel R.C.A Mc Calmont DSO.

In the First World War Sidney served with the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles where early on in the war he was mentioned in despatches by General Douglas Haig for ‘gallant and distinguished service in the field’.

While Sidney was at camp in Hampshire awaiting transfer to the Western Front, his mother passed away, she had remarried again after his father passed back in 1900 marrying Colonel Henry T Finlay DL who lived in Clondalkin, Co Dublin. Henry would transfer to the front shortly after this. In July 1916, with the large push Sidney was injured just before the battle of Thiepval. He was shot twice once in the lung and once in the arm. He was treated in hospital in both France and England and in October of the same year he arrived back in Ballycastle to much fanfare. He was met with a large contingent of the Ballycastle UVF.

At the end of 1916, Sidney alongside some other local men were honoured when Field Marshall Douglas Haig put their name forward for the New Year’s Honours. This would include Lieutenant Colonel MacNaghten of the Dundarave Estate, Major H.E Trail of the Ballylough Estate, both Bushmills and Sidney J Lyle of Ballycastle.

Courtesy of Leonard Quigg

After going back into service, Captain Lyle was wounded a second time after a poisonous gas attack in September 1917 and was declared permanently unfit for service. He was subsequently transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps and was later awarded the military cross for his service.

On returning home, Sidney became active in the British Legion and eventually became Chairperson of the organisation. He was asked to unveil a tablet in the Ballycastle Presbyterian Church of those who had lost their life in the war. This was Sidney’s Church, and the tablet remains there to this day. There were forty-seven names on the roll that were associated with the Church and school next door.

In 1920, Ballycastle would become a township in its own right and there were twelve elected representatives in two wards, Sidney James Lyle would be elected in the North Ward as a Unionist representative.

In his personal life, Sidney was a keen sportsman and was involved in the Ballycastle Tennis Club. the Ballycastle Golf Club and was also a keen shooter with the Ballycastle Rifle Club. With the formation of the B Specials, he presented a cup every year at the annual competition.

He was a representative in the Urban council for many years and was also elected and re-elected for the Antrim County Council, often with no contest for this area. They would hold large meetings in Ballycastle in support of the Ulster Unionist candidates Hugh O’Neill and Joseph Mc Connell. In the late 1920’s Sidney’s name became eligible for the position of High Sheriff of County Antrim. In 1935, he was involved in a new British Legion Hall that was built in Ballycastle which was funded and built by Mrs King of Silverspring in memory of her husband Major King DSO.

In June 1940, war had broken out across Europe once again and many young men from the district would sign up. Sidney was too old at this point for active service, but he did hold a meeting in the British Legion Hall to set up a local defence unit across Ireland and beyond and this would become known as the home guard.

Sidney was appointed Commandant in the home guard, his second was another local businessman and war veteran A.S Mc Vicker and John Mc Gregor was in charge of the B specials. Of course, this response was never needed in Ballycastle, but it was there in case.

In May 1944. Senator J.G Leslie vice lieutenant for Co Antrim appointed Sidney James Lyle deputy lieutenant for Co Antrim. This would be a short-lived venture. In August 1944, Florence, Sidney’s wife would pass away at Derganagh after being ill for a short period of time. Near to the end she was involved with the Woman’s section of the Civil Defence. She was the district representative for the soldiers, sailors, and airmen’s Families Association. She was active in the British legion and secretary of the benevolent fund. An organiser of the Ballycastle W.V.S and secretary of the local nursing society and the coal fund.

Just over a month later, Sidney’s long-time employers, the Ballycastle Boyd Estate would change hand. Kathleen Boyd passed away and the estate changed over to the Downing Fullerton Family.

On the 26th of September 1944 Captain Sidney James Lyle M.C, D.L of Derganagh House Ballycastle passed away just six weeks after his wife, leaving his estate valued at £35,637. In his will he left £300 to the Church of Ireland in Finvoy, his house and lands of Derganagh and a house on the Quay Road upon trust to George C Luck for life and then to his eldest son. His house and lands of Glendore Lodge and £6000 to Charlton Merrick. The rest of his items and materials were given to Marjorie and Nellie Lyle.

Derdanagh House -2020- Courtesy of James Mc Michael.

Life after Lyle

After the death of Sidney and his wife in 1944, I am unsure what happened in the immediate aftermath. I don’t think the family had children although I could be wrong. But local man Seamus Walsh recalls the Lamont’s living there sometime in the 50’s/60’s. This would have been some turn around for Derganagh House as the Lamont’s were heavily associated with the Ancient Order of Hibernians. (Sidney would be turning in his grave). Local woman Jennie Currie attended the Ballycastle High School which sits opposite the house, and she remembers eating dinner and sitting an exam in it between the years of 1962 and 1966.

Definitely it was transferred at some point to the Ballycastle High School and used as a classroom. Then in 1978 it was taken over by the youth services and became a residential centre with NEELB. Chris Craig was the warden there from 1979 to 2000 and many groups used it. The Caretaker was Willie Mc Bride.

Kevin Mc Gowan – December 2022.

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