St. Paul's Tartaraghan

A history of Tartaraghan


The name Tartaraghan or Tachtaraghan seems originally to have applied to a small and rather obscure district which forms part of the present townland of Eglish about five miles north-west of Portadown. The name appears in various documents of the 17th century where it is described as being a "Precinctor Territory," a secular term as distinct from the present day ecclesiastical parish of Tartaraghan. However, with the passage of time the name came to be used of a much more extensive area, as indicated on some of the 19th century maps.

The name has been interpreted in various ways; Joyce in his "Irish names of places" renders it as Araghan's or Harrahan's house-site; Canon J. B. Leslie suggests it means the house on the hill; while yet another speculation is that it derives from Tirechan who lived in the second half of the 7th century and who wrote a memoir of St Patrick. One may, however,conclude that a dwelling of some note stood in the vicinity in early times.

The earliest mention of Tartaraghan that we are aware of is to be found in the Inquisition and map of 1609; it then referred to this small portion of land within the present townland of Eglish, and had for many centuries prior to that date, been associated with the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul in Armagh. It was in fact a Grange of that Abbey, as was also the Grange of Maghery on the shore of Lough Neagh. One may assume that in those early days there must have been a road from Tartaraghan to Armagh which the clergy could travel when coming to minister to the people, and by which the produce of the Grange could be transported to the Abbey in Armagh. On the dissolution of the Abbey the Grange of Tartaraghan became the property, under letters patent of James I, of Sir Toby Caulfield.


In the 1609 Plantation map the Church is marked as being roofless. It was undoubtedly a small mud-wall building, and tradition says that it stood on the side of the graveyard next to the Rectory, although no trace of it remains.

The small graveyard is of some interest and is locally known as the "Toby-hole." Burials occasionally took place here until the year 1913. There are little more than half a dozen headstones remaining, and there is a tradition that some were removed in days gone by to make hearth-stones for certain houses in the district. However, none of the remaining stones can be very old as there are no standing stones in Co. Armagh graveyards earlier than the 17th century. '

The origin of the name "Toby-hole" is not certain; perhaps there was a holy well (Tober) in the vicinity, or being part of the grant to Sir Toby Caulfield and lying in a hollow, it was known locally as Toby's Hole or Toby-hole.

After the old Church ceased to be used, there was a period throughout the 17th century when little or no provision was made for the spiritualities of the area; and as a result of a petition of the local inhabitants, 200 strong, an act of Parliament was passed on 1st November 1709 which stated that "the precinct or territory of Tartaraghan in the County of Armagh shall for ever be a Parish by the name of the Parish of Tartaraghan." As a result of this Act a new Church was completed in 1712 about a mile from the original, in the townland of Breagh Lower. Consequently, the name Tartaraghan came to apply to a very much larger area stretching from the River Bann on the east to the Blackwater on the west, and was roughly co-extensive with the ancient territory of Clancan, the home of the Macan sept.

This first church stood for over 100 years. The present church building was erected in 1816. Tartaraghan Parish celebrated the 300th Anniversary of the creation of the Parish in 2009. Preparations are underway to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the present church in 2016.


The part of Tartaraghan which lies towards Lough Neagh is flat, and was in early times densely wooded. This is indicated by the number of townlands having the prefix "Derry" meaning an oak grove or wood. Milltown old school is still occasionally referred to as "the Wood School," and the Birches derives its name from the birch plantation which covered that area until the middle of the last century. The Statistical Report of 1835 states that in the townland of Derrinraw "there is a large extent of meadow filled with oak stumps still standing broken off at about 2 feet above the ground"; and "at low water in Lough Neagh stumps of oak trees may be seen extending from Columbkill to a considerable distance into the lake."

An old note book of the Nicholson family, relating to the townland of Derrylileagh states that there were some ancient woods there of oak and ash which were sold to the government and used in the making of the Coalisland canal.

It also records the existence there of a remarkable kind of ant, a large black one, which built large mounds of the needles of the fir and had no sting. Lord Enniskillen sent carts the whole way from Fermanagh to get these ants and their eggs, and drew them away in sacks: so did also Lord Gosford.

Mr Nicholson continues: "Formerly hares were very plentiful there (Derrylileagh) and as guns were scarce, the country people killed them with a short stick, called a Cock-stick, from the then sport of throwing them at cocks on Easter Monday."


The most interesting piece of antiquity in this area was the remains of an old road called St Patrick's Road. At the time of the first ordnance survey it could be traced from Lough Neagh towards Armagh, passing through the townlands of Derrylileagh and Derrycorr. Tradition says that it was used to bring sand from Lough Neagh to build the Cathedral in Armagh. Be that as it may, those who saw it in the 1830's were convinced that it was a very ancient road, and that much care and labour had been bestowed upon it. This road where it traversed bog-land was composed of large planks of oak laid length-wise, on top of this yew planks were placed at right angles' and then it was paved. In places it was discovered well below the surface of the bog, being exposed during turf-cutting operations at a depth of 4 or 5 feet. In 1815 a gold gorget was dug up in the Derrycorr bog, it weighed 12 oz. and was richly chased.

When the population explosion took place in the first half of the 19th century, Tartaraghan became one of the most densely populated rural areas in Ireland. This is partly accounted for by the fact that weaving was carried on in most of the homes, and the people did not have to live entirely off the land. Lewis's Topographical Dictionary (1839) says of Tartaraghan, "about one-sixth of the population are employed in the linen manufacture," and also gives the population as 6321. This would indicate that at least 1,000 people were involved in the hand weaving industry and that the density of population was around one person to every 1.5 acres of land-bog and marsh included.

Adapted from Review - Journal of the Craigavon Historical Society Vol. 3 No. 3


Since 1709,the location for a church for the parish of Tartaraghan has been at the "head of the road" in the townland of Breagh. However, there was an old church in the townland of Eglish (the word means church) shown as being in ruins on the Plantation Map of 1609. How long it had fallen into disuse is not known.

In 1610, a large proportion of land and possessions of the dissolved monastery of SS Peter and Paul was granted under the Plantation of Ulster to William Stanhowe, in whose family it remained until it came into the possession of Eleanor (or Ellinor) Stanhowe of Clantilew.

She married Francis Obre, who became proprietor in right of his wife. It was this Francis Obre who originally petitioned the then Archbishop of Armagh, Primate Narcissus Marsh, D.D., to provide for the Protestant people of the area, who had been without a church for many years.

The petition of June 15, 1700, "humbly sheweth that ye said Protestant inhabitants,above 200 in number, having been hitherto without any settled minister or place of publick worship but hoping soon to be provided of both by ye care of the Reverend Archdeacon of Ardmagh, to whom your Grace has committed ye cure of souls in the said parish (who, in consequence of your Grace's Commission, has preached seven times, administered the Holy Sacrament twice, and done other ministerial offices amongst us).

"It being now credibly reported that your Grace is about to add our parish of Tartiraghan to ye parish of Loughgall, we think ourselves obliged to inform your Grace that the whole inhabitants of this Parish, both Protestants and others, are troubled and dissatisfied to be added to any other parish.

"We further take leave to acquaint your Grace that as we will endeavour to have a place for publick worship built in our parish this summer, so we earnestly pray your Grace not to add our parish to that of Loughgall nor to any other parish, but to continue under ye care of the Reverend Archdeacon of Ardmagh till we have endeavoured to get a place for publick worship and a revenue to maintain a minister of our own."

The petition adds that the address to the Archbishop was agreed upon at a full vestry meeting "in our usual place of publick worship" and was there ordered in "ye name of ye whole parish, to be signed by your Grace's most humble and obedient servants."

The names subscribed to the address and petition are: Robert Redman, Huan Locke, John Wickloff, John Allan, Philip Redman, William Robinson, John Dyar, Richard Greenaway, James Cowan and William Dyer.

The Act of the Irish Parliament (8th of Queen Anne) creating the parish from November 1, 1709, enacted that the "precinct or territory of Tartaraghan shall for ever be a Parish by the name of the Parish of Tartaraghan and that there shall be for the said parish a rector, churchwardens, parish clerk and other usual officers in succession for ever." Two acres were set out for church and churchyard.

In 1709,the Revd Alexander Shand, curate of Mullabrack, was appointed Rector, but he died in 1711. Lord Charlemont, Patron, appointed his son, the Rev. Charles Caulfield, to the living.

Following the Act of 1709, a church was completed in 1712, on land given by Eleanor Obre of Clantilew. A paten, used at Holy Communion to this day, bears the inscription: "The gift of the Right Hon. William, Lord Viscount Charlemont to the Parish of Tartaraghan, at the request of the Rev. Charles Caulfield, his third son, Rector of the same. Easter Day April 20, 1712." The remains of the old font used in the 1712 church were discovered in the churchyard around 1968, and subsequently restored, and it can be seen today in the present church. The 1712 church stood for 100 years or so, until it was deemed necessary to erect a new building "as the old Church had fallen into ruin".

The present church was financed by a loan from the Board of First Fruits of 800 pounds, and erected in 1816. James Verner of Church Hill laid the foundation stone, and it was consecrated on August 29, 1819.

A stone over the entrance to the porch refers to "James Verner esq.", and is inscribed: "Wednesday the 7th Sep, 1816, Rev. Francis Gervais, rector; Rev. Thomas Walsh, Curate;John Woodhouse, Barth McGowan, Churchwardens."

In the last 300 years there have been 18 rectors of Tartaraghan, those since the Disestablishment of 1870 being: George Robinson, MA; Nicholas Hopkins James, DD; Pilsworth Brownrigg Bookey, MA; James Joseph McClure, MA; John Hobcroft, MA; H. S. Mortimer, MA; W. E. C. Fleming, MA; and the present rector (since August 1996), David Hilliard, BTh.


Among the many events recorded at Tartaraghan down the years, the Portadown News of October 19, 1940, reported a "Sad Tartaraghan Accident", and went on to explain how "Mrs Maria Todd, Ballinary, organist of Tartaraghan Parish Church, was knocked down by a motor lorry on Thursday night of last week and received injuries to which she succumbed almost immediately.

"The lorry was driven by Mr J. G. Henderson, grocer and poulterer, Woodhouse St., Portadown. Mrs Todd was on her way home from choir practice at the time, the accident occurring only a short distance from the school-room in which the practice was held.

"The sad affair cast a gloom over the neighbourhood, where the deceased was familiarly known and esteemed for her kindness and devotion to duty."

It seems that, in the "black-out" conditions of World War Two, the road was dark, and although the moon was shining, the tall trees cast deep shadows on the road, and the lorry itself was also "blacked out". The driver, who was exonerated, did not see Mrs Todd until too late, and she was knocked over as she walked along the lane.

On the evening that she died she had held the final choir practice for the forthcoming Harvest Thanksgiving services. The opening hymn at the funeral service was "The church's one foundation" as it was the first hymn that Mrs Todd ever played in Tartaraghan. The rector, Rev. John Hobcroft, who had only been in Tartaraghan a short time, "paid a glowing tribute to the life of the late Mrs Todd", who had been organist for over 50 years.


One of the oldest parishioners of the Parish of Tartaraghan was Mrs Margaret Clarke. She lived to the wonderful age of 105. Margaret came from Drumsnatt, County Monaghan. She was the eldest daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Armstrong, and trained as a teacher at the Church of Ireland Training College, Kildare Place, Dublin,and came to teach in Tartaraghan (No 2) School in 1907, sharing the large classroom with the Principal, Mr D. N. McGlaughlin, her salary being 48 pounds p.a. She married Samuel Clarke, Principal of Cloncore Upper School, in 1911. She had an excellent memory, and could recall her father's mother ("Granny Sheena"), who was over 90 years old when she was 5, and so was born in the 1790's. Mrs Clarke died in September 1988. She is survived by her grandson, Samuel Johnston.


The lychgate at St Paul's, Tartaraghan, is one of the distinctive features of the church. The inscription on the lychgate reads as follows:

"To the glory of God and in loving memory of my dear wife Anna Elizabeth Drinan died 4 August 1955"

Lychgates are commonly found in England, and most are hundreds of years old. They are comparatively rare in Ireland but are to be found at the following Church of Ireland churches:

St Fintan's, Drumcar, County Louth; St Patrick's, Drumbeg, County Down; St Patrick's, Broughshane, County Antrim; The Middle Church, Ballinderry, County Antrim; Glenavy Parish Church, County Antrim; All Saints, Newtowncunningham, County Donegal; Kilnasoolagh Parish Church, Newmarket, County Clare and St Patrick's, Ardagh, County Longford. 

A lychgate, also spelled lichgate, lycugate, or as two separate words lych gate, (from Old English lic, corpse) is a gateway covered with a roof found at the traditional entrance to a churchyard.

The word lych survived into modern English from the Old English or Saxon word for corpse, mostly as an adjective in particular phrases or names, such as lych bell, the hand-bell rung before a corpse; lych way, the path along which a corpse was carried to burial (this in some districts was supposed to establish a right-of-way); lych owl, the screech owl, because its cry was believed to be a portent of death; and lyke-wake, a night watch over a corpse.

In the Middle Ages most people were buried in just shrouds rather than coffins, the dead were carried to the lych gate and placed on a bier, where the priest conducted the first part of the funeral service under its temporary shelter.

Compare modern German 'Leiche' and Dutch 'lyk', both meaning corpse.

Lych gates consist of a roofed porch over a gate, often built of wood. They usually consist of four or six upright wooden posts in a rectangular shape. On top of this are a number of beams to hold a pitched roof covered in thatch or wooden or clay tiles. They can have decorative carvings and in later times were erected as memorials. They sometimes have recessed seats on either side of the gate itself.

The gateway was really part of the church. It was where the clergy meet the corpse and the bier rests while part of the service is read before burial. It also served to shelter the pall-bearers while the bier was brought from the church. In some lych gates there stood large flat stones called lich-stones upon which the corpse, usually uncoffined, was laid. The most common form of lych gate is a simple shed composed of a roof with two gabled ends, covered with tiles or thatch. 

Most were built from around the mid 15th century although some date from earlier, including the 13th century lychgate of St George's churchyard in Beckenham, South London, claimed to be the oldest in England.