|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.
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 economy.
There are three livestock
markets held weekly in Cookstown. Fishing is another important industry
in this region, due in part to Cookstown’s proximity to Lough Neagh.
Ardboe, a southern parish of Cookstown District, is well known for it's