Mid Ulster Heritage Visit 22 & 23 March 2019

This was the second visit to Mid Ulster and where history Groups from Mid Ulster and Donegal come together to take part in a study visit to County Tyrone to explore sites linked to the O‘Neill and clans of ancient Ulster.

The two day programme included visits to Castles at Caledon and Benburb as ancient sites of the O’Neill and O’Donnell Clans.

The programme is an opportunity for joint working between Mid Ulster District Council and Donegal County Council though 3 study visits in each area to explore the shared heritage which led to the ‘flight’ of the Earls which took place from Rathmullan, Co Donegal; with the ‘Earls’, themselves coming from both Donegal and Dungannon along with the subsequent Plantation of Ulster which had a huge significance in the history and development of the areas.

The next visit will take place in Donegal in May 2019 with visits to Burt Castle and Grianán of Aileach.


The first visit to place at Castlecaufiled.

The ruins of Castle Caulfield, built by Sir Toby Caulfield between 1611 and 1619 are in the village. The gatehouse has murder-holes and the Caulfeild arms.

The village came into being during the Plantation of Ulster in an area formerly known as Ballydonnelly. Formerly part of the O’Donnghaile clan’s territory, it was “undertaken” by English settlers.

Local historian Jonathan Gray from Killeeshill & Clonaneese Historical Society provided an overvoew of thie castle. The Castle to which the name refers was in the main square and was built to protect the local population from Irish attacks. It was built by Toby Caulfield, Viscount Charlemont. The remains of George Walker are buried within the local parish church. Walker was the governor in the city of Londonderry during the 1689 Siege of Derry.

Benburb Castle

The group then visited Benburb Castle led by local historian James Kane from O’Neill Country and Historical Society who explained that a plantation bawn was built in 1611 by Sir Richard Wingfield, on the site of an O’Neill strong point on a bend in the Blackwater River thought to have been constructed as early as the 15th century.

It is an irregular four-sided bawn with the entrance in the north wall. There are large rectangular flanking towers at the north-east and north-west corners and a smaller round tower at the south-east corner.

It is built on a limestone cliff overlooking the River Blackwater, the border between County Tyrone and County Armagh.

Clonfeacle Parish Church of St. Patrick, Benburb

St Patrick’s Church is one of the oldest plantation churches with one is one of the oldest preserved stained glass windows. 

The church stand at the gates of, but pre-dates, Benburb Manor, home of Bruce family. Single cell. C17th nave. C19th tower. Mullioned-and-transomed triple round-headed lancets with square hood-moulds.

The Gothic style church consists of rendered nave, 4 bays long with stepped buttresses and mullioned windows. Pointed arch tracery window at East gable. South wall rendered with modern vestry.  The church is fronted by square stone bell tower with crenellation and corner buttresses. Rounded arch door with carved keystone and hood-mould.

Caledon Village

The final visit was to Caledon village which was originally the old settlement of Kinard was burned in 1608 by the forces of Sir Cahir O’Doherty during O’Doherty’s Rebellion. Sir Henry Óg O’Neill, the main local landowner, was killed by the rebels.

The group were hosted by Caledon Regeneration Project in the old Courthouse welcomed by William Beattie where local historians Anthony and Dominic provided a talk with a display of artefacts they found around the crannog along the river.




Dr William Roulston

On Saturyday 23 March 2019 the group heard a lecture from Dr William Roulston, Research Director of the Ulster Historical Foundation. He holds a PhD in Archaeology from Queen’s University Belfast.

Dr Roulston spoke n the Plantation in Donegal and Tyrone with a focus on urbaanisation, the demographics of the new settlers, the houses, industrial activity and the interaction with the Gaelis population.

Dr William Roulston is a Member of Council of both the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland and the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

He has written a number of books, including Fermanagh: History and Society (edited with Eileen Murphy, Dublin, 2004), Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors (Belfast, 2005), Restoration Strabane, 1660-1714 (Dublin, 2007), Three centuries of life in a Tyrone parish: a history of Donagheady from 1600 to 1900 (Strabane, 2010) and Abercorn: The Hamiltons of Barons Court (Belfast, 2014).

Dr Colm Donnelly

Dr Colm Donnelly, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Natural and Built Environment is the facilitator of the 6 study visits during the term of the project to guide the groups from Donegal and Mid Ulster through the shared heritage of the O’Neill and clans of Ancient Ulster.

Colm provided a range of online resources available for research.

Dr Donnelly is an historical archaeologist who specialises in Medieval and 17th-century buildings, and has a particular interest in tower houses, the subject of his doctoral research. A founding member of the Irish Post-Medieval Archaeology Group (IPMAG) in 1999, he is also an experienced field archaeologist and he has directed excavations at a range of sites including Sir Toby Caulfield’s early 17th-century manor-house at Castlecaulfield, County Tyrone (2011), and the O’Neill tower house and Sir Arthur Chichester’s fort on Castle Hill, Dungannon, County Tyrone (2007).

Mid Ulster and Donegal Forum

Members of the Mid Ulster and Donegal Forum worked in groups to plan Hertiage weekends to be held in each Council area. The Heritage weekends are 1 – 2 day events which are based around an existing heritage event open to the public. Events were propsed for Innishowen and South Donegal area as well as an event for Mid Ulster based arounf Tullyhogue.


Photographs from the Mid Ulster visit 22 & 23 March 2019 courtesy of participant David J Bell.