The History of Carnmoney Hill
Carnmoney Hill is steeped in folklore, with a history as impressive as its colourful wildlife.
Carnmoney and the Ancients
The name Carnmoney gives us a clue to its history. The Gaels called it Carn Monaidh, meaning ‘cairn of the bog’. There may have been a cairn (a man-made pile of stones) on the brow of the hill, which could place man’s influence on Carnmoney Hill as far back as the Bronze Age, two thousand years ago.
Two Souterrains (man-made underground tunnels) have been found on the Hill. These were probably used as escape routes from Vikings and other raiders.
Carnmoney Hill looms over a graveyard. Loved ones have been laid to rest in the Christian site, reputedly dating from the time of Saint Patrick. Remnants from ecclesiastical antiquities such as the old church have long disappeared but a well, named after Saint Brigid, can still be found.
A prehistoric rath or fortified settlement, known as Dunanney, provides evidence of human habitation on the hill some 1,200 years ago. And in ancient times, fairs and festivals were held at Dunanney, with its wonderful views over Belfast Lough.
Listen out for the cries of the ghost of the widow of Henry Joy McCracken. It is said she hid out at Carnmoney Hill after the death of McCracken - who was hanged in 1798 for his part in the United Irishmen rebellion in Cornmarket, Belfast. A feature on Carnmoney Hill on the DOE website beautifully states: “With the haunting sounds of the wind it is easy to imagine the past: the wailing of Henry Joy McCracken’s widow….”
John Rooney remarks on his website that there were longstanding whispers that witchcraft was practised in Carnmoney and its environs. Such murmurings all came out in the open in the early 19th century when Mary Butters, known as the’ Carnmoney Witch’, was put on trial for murder, accused of poisoning three local people. Butters, however, was later acquitted.
Carnmoney in the 20th century
Arguably, one of the most amazing facts about Carnmoney Hill is that this modest mound can lay claim to being the first place in the world where a woman took to the air! In 1910 a lady from the area called Lilian Bland flew a bi-plane for one quarter of a mile. Lilian, who designed and built her plane, christened it the Mayfly – as in ‘may fly, may not fly’.
In the first half of the 20th century, Carnmoney Hill was privately owned by the Belfast industrialist James Mackie, but when he died in 1943 the estate started to be broken up. The threat of development soon cast a question mark over the future of the Hill and its wild inhabitants. With the enthusiastic backing of Rathfern residents, Newtownabbey councillors and the Forest of Belfast, the Woodland Trust began the first stages of its ambitious Carnmoney Hill plan. Today, thanks to lease agreements with Newtownabbey Borough Council and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, 82 hectares of land are secure under the care of the Woodland Trust.
Acknowledgements: www.doeni.gov.uk; www.woodland.trust.org; www.belfasthills.org; www.johnrooney.net