Famous guests, garden parties, royal rejoicing and musical recitals - plus a banshee and a 'black head'

BUILDING work began on a larger, Victorian-Gothic castle, which was completed in 1865 and many good times were had in the interim.

In 1821 the Belfast Commercial Chronicle reported a Royal celebration.

“When intelligence of the arrival of his Majesty in Ireland reached Shane's Castle, the seat of the Earl O'Neill, it was received with lively celebrations of joy.

“The flag was hoisted on the tower, and another on his Lordship’s barge on the lake.

“A royal salute was fired from the cannon on the Terrace; and God Ssave the King and other national airs, were played his Lordship’s band.

“Attracted by these manifestations, upwards of a thousand people collected before the Castle, who spontaneously took off their hats, and gave three hearty cheers, in token of their heartfelt delight on receipt of the happy tidings.

“At his Lordship’s expense they were furnished with bread, ale and each bumper being preceded by ‘His Majesty’s health, long life, a happy reign, and welcome to Ireland’ and drunk with all the enthusiasm of true born Irishmen.

“Several large bonfires were kindled, and nothing was heard for miles around, but ‘God save the King’ and nothing known but the utmost harmony prevailing.

“The same evening, the Staff of the Antrim Regiment assembled the ground, and fired a feu-de joye, in honour of the occasion.”

In 1858, there was a report on the arrival of Reverend William O’Neill and his lady to the castle.

“At the entrance of his beautiful demesne there was a triple triumphal arch, beautifully decorated with ever-greens and surmounted with flags.

“A great many men met Mr O’Neill and his lady at the arch and took out the horses and drew the chariot up to the hall-door, a distance not less than one and a half miles, and at a very quick trot.

“They were also met at the entrance by Major McClintock, who rode up with them.

“Mr Craig, land-steward, rode at the head of the party that drew the carriage.

“They cheered all the way, and Mr and Mrs O’Neill very kindly acknowledged the cheers by bowing,

“Having left the carriage, Mr O’Neill thanked the people for the friendly way in which they met him.

“The steward distributed refreshments to all.

“The tie-people, after getting a holiday, spent a pleasant evening, and all rejoiced that so good and kind a landlord purposes to make Shane's Castle his permanent residence.”

Another article details a day of entertainment for children attending schools on the castle estate given by Rev. William Chichester O'Neill ‘and his much esteemed lady’.

“A spacious shed convenient to the castle was selected.

“Over the principal entrance in the centre of the shed was placed the O'Neill arm and below was conspicuously displayed, in large capitals, the word ‘Welcome’.

“The schools which were represented were Randalstown Parochial School, Randalstown Infant School, Magherafelt School, and Leitrim School.

“When the children had all taken their seats, Rev Mr and Mrs O’Neill, accompanied a party of ladies and gentlemen, entered the shed, and were received with deafening cheers, clapping of hands, and Rev Mr O’Neill addressed those present in very affectionate terms.”

After dinner, speeches and singing, the children were: “Removed to the lawn, where a series harmless and interesting amusements took place.

“On the lawn were erected two large marquees for refreshments and from this could be obtained a fine view of Lough Neagh.

“A great variety of amusements then commenced - racing in sacks, leaping, foot racing, blind man’s buff, and not the least amusing was the struggling amongst the juveniles for cakes and sweetmeats, which were thrown in lavish profusion by Mrs O’Neill, Miss Alexander, and others of the ladies and gentlemen present.

“Some small balloons were sent up, which created much fun, and later in the evening large quantities of fire-works were setoff, which delighted the youthful party amazingly, well a large number of their friends and others, who had met on the lawn after dinner.”

With Reverend O’Neill a keen writer of music and hymns and a talented organist, in 1863, a special ceremony was held to officially open the new music hall and organ at Shane’s Castle, attended by ‘about three hundred of the nobility and gentry of the province’.

“The Music Hall is sixty feet long twenty six feet in breadth, and fifty feet from the to the apex.

“The roof, which is an open one, is constructed stained wood.

“The chimnev pieces are executed in Caen stone and oak, moulded and carved, and the floor is of polished Riga oak.

“The hall is lighted by four or five windows of glass.

“At the further end the hall a beautiful organ has been erected by Telford of Dublin. It contains three rows of keys, full and rich, and admirably adapted to the hall.

“The organ-case exhibits much delicate tracery work, and there are niches, with canopies for figures.

“The building has been erected from the desists of Messrs Lanyon, Lynn, Lanyon, Belfast; and builder was Mr James Henry, Belfast.

“The handsome stained glass windows are the work of Mr Wales, Newcastle, and the Messrs Musgrave supplied the ornamental details.

“A train on the Northern Counties Railway brought a large number from Belfast, and at Antrim the Rev. Mr. O’Neill had carriages and omnibuses in waiting to convey them to Shane’s Castle.

“The musical executants were principally from Dublin, and a number of the singers, male and female, included pupils the Irish Academy of Music.

“The Belfast contingent were represented by gentlemen well known local musical circles.”

The performance commenced with the a piece specially written for the inauguration of the new music hall, penned by Viscount Massereene and set to music, which included references to the castle, High Chieftans and the Blood Red Hand of the O’Neill clan.

There then followed pieces from Mendelssohn, Haydn and Handel, before yet another large dinner party with champagne in the dining room.

And there were glamorous garden parties too.

In 1902, the Northern Whig reported: “Some of the members of the British Association and number of friends were very hospitably entertained on Tuesday by Lord O’Neill at a garden Shane's Castle.

“Travelling by special train from Belfast, the party reached Antrim shortly after two o’clock, and, several brakes being in waiting, they were speedily conveyed the Castle.

“Everyone enjoyed the journey immensely, and comment was general upon the natural charms of the district, especially within the demesne of Shane’s Castle.

“On arrival the Castle, the guests were received Lord and Lady O’Neill.

“The other members of the house party present were The Hon. Hugh O’Neill, the Hon. Henrietta O’Neill, Ann O’Neill, and Professor Curtis.

“The visitors, who numbered nearly 200, included Lord and Lady Maseereene and Ferrard, Hon. Miss Skeffington, and Professor Dewar, President of the Association.

“A considerable part of the stay was spent in the inspection the well laid-out pastures and gardens; but most attention was devoted to the ruins of the ancient Castle, formerly the home the O’Neills.

“This fine old building was burned down in the early part if the last century, and, never being restored, its remains possess many features of interest to the visitor.

“The cellars communicate with the grounds adjoining underground.

“The Band of the Indian Lancers was in attendance, and, under the efficient conductorship of Mr. W. W. Coventry, gave attractive selection.

“An excellent organ recital was given in the music hall, which was highly appreciated by a number of the visitors.

“Upon leave-taking, a few happy expressions were conveyed to Lord and Lady O’Neill for their kindness and hospitality.

“Refreshments were served in the large dining room, and the catering done in faultless style.”

But just a decade later, almost everything described would be gone, yet again.

The Derry Journal reported in May 1922: “At an early hour on Saturday morning Shane’s Castle, on the shores of Lough Neagh, the residence of Lord O Neill , aged 83, father of the Speaker the Belfast Parliament, was destroyed by fire.

“Lord and Lady O’Neill were allowed to leave before the castle was set alight.

“The castle itself was completely destroyed, but the kitchen wing and outhouses escaped the conflagration, which was started by a number of men, who crossed Lough Neagh in boats.

“They surrounded the castle and surprised and held the employees, one of whom, John Bell, a carpenter, received a bullet wound in the hip.

“The pantry boy was ordered to the petrol store, and on reaching it, he was compelled to carry to the castle quantities of petrol, which the raiders sprinkled over the carpet and furniture, afterwards applying matches.

“The raiders remained for a long time and when the castle was completely alight, they withdrew.”

Other papers detailed how some military men drinking in the Black Bull in Randalstown heard word of the attack and raced to the scene to help quench the flames.

Back in 2018, the current Lord O’Neill told the Antrim Guardian: “They (the IRA) were rather more polite in those days,

“My great-great grandfather was in a wheelchair and they gave everyone a reasonable amount of time to get out.”

At the time, his great uncle, Sir Hugh O’Neill, was the target, being the first speaker at Stormont.

“The house then had ecclesiastical overtones, being designed by an ordained minister of the Church of Ireland,” Lord O’Neill explains.

“The main room was said to be more akin to a chapel, very long and high with two log fires and an organ.

“Some of the organ music written by Reverend William O’Neill is still used in Drummaul Parish in Randalstown.”

Later that year, like the Massereene’s when Antrim Castle burned down, Lord and Lady O’Neill went to court to seek damages.

Lord O’Neill sought £20,000 for damages to plate and furniture, his wife £1,500 for miniatures and jewellery, trustees Lord Cochrane and Cutts and John AW O’Neill Torrens £10,000 for damages to the castle, John Bell of Comber £750 for personal injuries and the Right Hon Hugh O’Neill £120 for books and personal belongings which he had kept in a room in the tower, which he used as a study.

It was noted that the total cost of replacement would be £45,254, not including electrical fittings and that it would be ‘cheaper to rebuild the castle in a modern way’.

While a very small amount of belongings were rescued and removed to outbuildings, scores of items of clothing, including military uniforms, the music hall and organ, furniture, jewellery and priceless paintings, including a Kneller portait of William III, were all lost.

While the court heard back in 1922 that Lord and Lady O’Neill intended to try and restore the castle to how it was, rather than ‘a less elaborate building’ as suggested by the court, the family lived in a series of satellite buildings, including the old dairyman’ s lodgings and the stable mews, for many years before a modern building was completed in 1958.

This is now occupied by Shane O’Neill, heir of the estate and family, while his father, now in his 80s, lives in a handsome converted mews house in the stable yard.

And what of that old name mentioned back at the start - Edenduffcarrick?

On one of the eastern walls of Shane’s Castle there is a curious figurehead, with a sad expression.

Some say that this figurehead was brought from the east and is much older than the ruins among which it stands.

Folklore states that the O’Neill family will come to an end if ever it falls - and so far, it has survived two fires.

The Black Head of the O’Neills is within the oldest part of the castle, the tower-house, which is 15th or 16th century in date.

Edenduffcarrick is a corruption of the Irish Éadan Dúcharraige or ‘brow of the black rock’ and while it may in fact reference an earlier Anglo-Norman motte on the bank of the River Maine, the literal translation of éadan is ‘front’ or ‘face’ and some have speculated that the townland took its name from the carved head of the black stone.

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