Short History of Bangor District


Looking at the modern appearance of Bangor it is difficult to realise that it is a very old community. There is evidence of a much earlier settlement than the better known Christian Settlement. The part of the town between Gray’s Hill and Somerset Avenue on the seafront is now known as the Kinnegar which is a corruption of the words Coney Burrow (Coney as in Rabbit). Here there were sandhills typical of those occupied by early Irishmen in the bronze age from 2000 to 500 B.C. There is not sufficient evidence for the more precise dating but it would appear to be in the early part of the period rather than later. Some of the finds in this area, arrow heads, bronze pins, etc., are on display in the Bangor Museum.

The historical period begins some time between 552 and 550 A.D. The sources give various dates but it is probable that the correct date is 558, which is the date given in the annals of Innisfallen, which from internal evidence are almost certainly compiled either in Bangor or nearby.

Supporting evidence comes from the Abbey Church itself. There tradition has it that the year was 558.

Some years the council, for official purposes, adopted the year 555 A.D. In that year St. Comgall who was born near Magheramourne in County Antrim, founded his monastery in the Valley of the Angels. This site was somewhere between Bangor Castle and the existing Abbey Church.

In the 6th Century there were at least half a dozen monasteries equally as famous as Bangor. The distinctive feature of the Bangor Monastery was that, following in the footsteps of the Apostles, its scholars set out in bands of 12 on missionary enterprises. In those days these missionaries were known as Scots. Originally the Scots dwelt in Ireland and it was they who conquered Caledonia and gave Scotland its kings and its laws. The Scots from Irish Monasteries travelled far and wide in the British Isles. It was a feature of the Bangor contingent to travel further afield. They penetrated as far into Europe as modern Italy and scattered throughout the continent today is evidence of training given Bangor over 1400 years ago. It is an interesting fact that Bangor pre-dates Canterbury as a Christian settlement. It flourished for about 500 years and was in its day the most celebrated school of learning in the ancient world. However, with the advent of the 10th Century came the first of the Viking raids. This was the beginning of a long period of devastation and decay.

Monasteries were targets of special interest to the fierce Norsemen. Filled with hatred for Christianity and a rapacious desire for spoil, they ravaged and plundered, massacring the communities, burning the churches, pillaging sacred treasures, destroying priceless books and manuscripts. Because of it location, Bangor lay open to attack and was repeatedly raided and sacked. This is one of the reasons why Bangor has so little material evidence to show for its remarkable past.

The beginning of the 12th Century witnessed a much needed revival in the life of the Church in Bangor. An important reform movement was taking place throughout the whole of the Irish Church in this century. The two chief architects of the Reformation were Gilbert and Malachy. Malachy was appointed Abbot of Bangor in 1124. He set about erecting a handsome Church made of wood but Bangor was again sacked and Malachy with 130 monks migrated to Lismore. He later returned to Bangor and reconstituted the Monastery. He eventually built a stone church after the fashion of those he had seen on the continent. Part of the wall of this church is still to be seen at the Bangor Abbey.

Comparatively little is known of the history of Bangor during the Anglo-Norman occupation from the 12th to 16th centuries. The Reformation in the 16th Century came at a time when Church life in Bangor, as elsewhere in Ireland, had fallen into decline. The popular impression that religion flourished up to the Reformation is not bourne out by contemporary records. The Church in the middle ages ended in failure and a new Reformation was needed. The state of religion and life generally was wretched at this time. From the dissolution in 1542 to 1609 the Abbey had been an empty relic of the past. From 1572 a burned out ruin, “Scarce and staring, a Country without happiness and without Religion” was a comment of a traveller in the Ards in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. That which the English failed to do in the 16th Century the Scots achieved in the following century.

James Hamilton may well be described as the founder of modern Bangor. The son of the minister of Dunlop in Ayrshire, he had conducted a school in Dublin in conjunction with James Fullerton, a fellow Scot. Amongst their pupils was James Usher, afterwards the famous Archbishop of Armagh. Hamilton, who was a man of great ambition and energy, was soon to prove himself the most active and successful of the Scottish settlers. He made Bangor his family seat, building for himself a fair stone house on a site adjacent to the present Bangor Castle. King James the First was a friend of Hamilton’s and bestowed upon him considerable lands in North Down. James the First constituted two members to parliament, a right which lasted until the Union in 1808. It was against this background that the Reformation took place in Bangor. In common with other parts of Ireland, orange Societies probably existed in this area. We know that General Schomberg landed with his army at Groomsport and on his way to Bangor crossed over an old stone bridge which is still in existence. He camped in the Bangor Demesne which is now Bangor Castle Park and indeed a tree to which he was reputed to have tied his horse remains as a monument. When King William himself arrived, he stopped off at Lambeg on his way to the Battle of the Boyne. There he stayed with people called Alderice and part of the dinner service which was used by him, and the goblet, is in the custody of one of the Bangor Lodges No. 447. The United Irishmen, a republican society, founded in Belfast in 1791, was supported in the North Down area by many Presbyterians. The Orange Order had been re-formed after the Battle of the Diamond and was growing rapidly in many areas. In East Down the Lecale area became an Orange stronghold and by 1798 had the first Orange District in Ireland.

The Orange Lodges were used to counter the threat of revolution and many of their members made up the Yeomanry Units of the day. All of you will be aware of the tale of 98, Betsy Gray is reputed to have lived within three miles from here and whilst there is some confusion between historical date and folklore there is no doubt that the Bangor area was a stronghold of the United Irishmen.

It is probably for this reason that the Orange Order had a very slow start in the Bangor area.

By 1815 the North Down area had only two centres of Orangeism, one in Portaferry and the second in Newtownards. After the Act of Union in 1800 the Order suffered one of its many periods of decline. Fortunately Daniel O’Connol’s Catholic Emancipation Movement, which used tactics of mass protests and threats of violence to demand the right of Roman Catholics to vote, emerged. As O’Connol’s movement grew so did opposition and consequently the Orange Societies.

During the 1820’s two Orange Lodges were formed in Bangor. L.O.L. 1057 and L.O.L. 1769. Both of these Lodges were part of No.4 District, Ards.

During the 1830’s the Government banned all outdoor processions but rather than cause the order to disappear it continued to flourish. A repeal of the Party Processions Act, which outlawed parades, led to large Twelfth Demonstrations in 1845 and impressed many people. This happened against a background of Roman Catholic agitation against the Act of Union and a growing threat of physical force from the Young Ireland Movement. These factors all appear to have contributed to leading many Protestants to join Orange Lodges which were seen as a bulwark for the Union. By 1848 Lodges had also been established at Conlig, Cottown and Groomsport, outside the immediate Bangor area. After the Battle of Dolly’s Brae on the 12th July 1849, the Government reimposed a ban on parades and a further decline in Orange activities took place.

By 1850 two new Lodges had replaced the original numbers in Bangor. The new Lodges were L.O.L. 969 and L.O.L. 1052. A split in the Ards District in 1860 caused L.O.L. 969 to join No.11 District, leaving L.O.L. 1052 in Bangor.

It was at this time that the oldest of the current Lodges was founded. L.O.L. 677, originally a Newtownards Lodge, moved to Bangor in the year 1860. Since Dolly’s Brae there had been no outdoor processions. The ordinary Orangemen were not too pleased about this but the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland urged acquiescence. This may have been partly due to the fear that Orange Institution, which had been banned twice in the previous 30 years, would have been declared illegal if they opposed the Government. But the Orange leadership, being basically conservative, also found the thought of opposition to the Government of the United Kingdom distasteful. This view was not shared by the ordinary rank and file Orangeman.

William Johnston, of Ballykilbeg, who was a small landlord from the Lecale District, proved to be the charismatic leader needed to break the deadlock. He recognised that the rank and file of the Orange Institution would support a move to break the ban. Initially he intended to persuade Grand Lodge to oppose the measure.

In 1863 he advocated a massive demonstration but the then Grand Master Lord Enniskillen persuaded Grand Lodge not to agree to Johnston’s plan. However, a resolution was passed that something must be done. The initiative was tipping towards Johnson and militants.

In 1866 Johnston got the support of the Belfast County Grand Lodge for a Twelfth of July Demonstration. It was held on Johnston’s own demesne and was thus not in contravention of the act. It was also held under the auspices of the Downpatrick Protestant Association so as to save himself expulsion from the Order.

Johnston, having tested the mood of the Orange rank and file, now planned his next move. A full scale parade would take place and it was important that he choose the correct venue. Newtownards to Bangor.

His reasons for this route were well thought out. Firstly he was walking within Co. Down, whose County Lodge was both sympathetic to Johnston and in favour of breaking the Act. Secondly, the route was close to Belfast where he was already the champion of the working class Orangemen. He could expect large numbers of Orangemen from both Down and Belfast to respond to his appeal. Lastly, he was aware that he must conduct the parade in an area where he would be unlikely to provoke animosity between different classes of Her Majesty’s subjects. This was unlikely to happen in Newtownards.

He arrived in Bangor on 12th July 1867 accompanied by an estimated 40,000 people. The parade and its publicity were undoubtedly a great shot in the arm for Orangeism in the North Down area but it didn’t have too great an effect on the Bangor District.

A rationalisation of the Ards and Upper Ards Districts took place around 1880. Newtownards District and No. 11 Ards Districts went their separate ways with Bangor coming under the Ards District. There were three Lodges in Bangor at this time, L.O.L. 677, 969, and 1885. The District Master was a Bro. D. Harvey, of L.O.L. 969.

A disagreement between the Orangemen of Bangor caused a split which resulted in Bro. Harvey resigning as Worshipful District Master and L.O.L. 969 and 1885 stopped attending the District. Eventually they had their warrants cancelled. Therefore L.O.L. 677 remained.

In 1894 County Down Grand Lodge agreed to call a meeting of Orangemen to consider the best manner in which the Institution could be revived and the Lodges started afresh. Some brethren wished to form a new district including Groomsport and Conlig, and others wanted to join Holywood. The latter group won the day but the County Lodge was unwilling to accept this solution. It was almost another 12 years before the matter was resolved. Bangor District L.O.L. No.18 consisted of the following Lodges: –
L.O.L. 589 GROOMSPORT. An interesting feature about this Groomsport Lodge is its number. It was formed in the 1840’s in No. 11 District as L.O.L. 859 and its number had originally been a marching warrant. It continued in Groomsport until approximately 1885 when the Lodge number became L.O.L. 589.

L.O.L. 677; L.O.L.695 CONLIG. There is evidence of an earlier Lodge No. 1056 being formed in 1862 in the village with John Glover as its Worshipful Master. This Lodge disappeared between 1873 and 1877 and was replaced by L.O.L. 2008, whose first warrant holder was Samuel Hamilton. The Lodge was known as the Village Star and it would appear to be a direct forerunner of L.O.L. 695 which was founded in 1894 in the Holywood District.

L.O.L. 769; L.O.L 933; L.O.L. 1038 GROOMSPORT; L.O.L. CRAWFORDSBURN. 1091 was formed in the village in 1905 and was then in the Holywood District. The first Worshipful District Master was James Rose Cleland.

What were the Lodges doing 80 years ago? And what was it like being a member of the Order at that time?

The oldest Lodge of Bangor was 677. It had its own flute band which was called Bangor Unionist Star Flute Band. The earliest recorded Master was William Skillen in 1869 when dues were 3d. per month. The records show many brethren leaving for America and Australia at this time.

Another point of great historical interest at that time was the initiation on August 4th 1894 of Thomas Cree, my grandfather. The Lodge was involved at an early stage in helping its members before the welfare state came into being. Regular payments were made to members and widows in reduced circumstances and to orphans. A visiting committee was in existence which visited all members who were ill. In 1915 many members were initiated into the Lodge. It was stated that they were presently serving with Kitchener’s Army under training at Clandeboye.

On the financial side they were quite well off with £30 invested in the post office. Incidentally the treasurer, Bro. Moffatt, wasn’t too pleased about the money being taken from him before being deposited and said he would have nothing else to do with it. He was then coaxed a little by some of the members but others passed a proposition that he be relieved from his office. Several nominations were then made for treasurer and just as the Worshipful Master was proceeding to elect the new treasurer by voting, he had not asked the three nominated brethren to retire and a Bro. McCready addressed the chair and said that the brethren should be asked to retire and I quote 2passed a few other remarks”, which caused the Worshipful Master to hand in his resignation as follows,
“Dated the evening of the meeting 9th July 1915, I beg leave to resign my office as Worshipful Master of this Lodge from this date and signed” It took several meetings before he resumed the chair.

It was also the practice of the Lodge to pay the funeral expenses of its members. A Juvenile Lodge was re-opened in June 1918. The ban had since floundered and the Lodge used drums and hired a fifer for 35s. for the Twelfth Demonstration.

The funeral of Bro. Mawhinney cost £4. 13s. 0d. plus a doctor’s bill of 25s. This was paid by the Lodge and represented a considerable sum of money at the time. A juvenile band was started shortly afterwards.

The Lodge took a great deal to do with the Lord Enniskillen Memorial Orphan Society and was the largest giver in Co Down in 1918 when 88 candidates were elected to benefit.

The Lodge was large with over 100 members and took decisions to attend services on its own without recourse to the District Lodge. It was quite common for example for the Lodge to decide its own time of departure and route to a church service. In 1919 there were four Lodges in the town – 769, 447, 677 and 933.
The installation of officers in January 1920 was held with over 100 members being present. Bro. G. B. Hanna, M.P. for East Antrim, was the guest of honour and after complimenting the Lodge on its excellent turnout dealt with the present Home Rule Scheme.

In July 1920, L.O.L. 769 unfurled a new banner. At the installation of L.O.L. 677 in 1921, Crawford Brown, the Commandant of the B. & C. Specials was present. He asked as many Orangemen as possible to join. Application forms were completed at the monthly meeting.

At the District Lodge the state of the country gave considerable unease to the members. It was stated that Orangemen should be ready and all they needed was a leader. A Special Meeting was called to counteract the spread of Sinn Fein propaganda. Turning now to the District as a whole – in 1908 L.O.L. 1038 which was encamped at Groomsport, applied for transfer to the Holywood District or they would hand their warrant in. At the County Grand Lodge meeting the application for a new warrant under 14 was refused. About the same time 10 members from L.O.L. 695 requested a new warrant at the District. This had arisen from Mr Walsh who had been nominated as a candidate but turned down by the District on the grounds that he was a Roman Catholic. One of the 10 members who wished to transfer stated at the District meeting that he had been a member of 695 for 22 years “and his reason for wishing a new Lodge was that every Lodge night in Conlig there was too much running out to get a bottle of stout and that brethren, after returning, could only then speak their minds”. The application was refused. The principle reason being that it was very likely that it would be the means of starting a lot of unpleasantness and strife in Conlig village by the introduction of a second Lodge. The matter dragged on to the County Lodge which was held in Loughbrickland on the 12th November 1908. On reporting back to his District the Worshipful Master said that he had fought as hard as he could at the County meeting but the Grand Lodge saw no reason why the warrant should not be granted. L.O.L. 695 itself had no objection to the issue of a new warrant so the county had decreed that a new warrant should be issued and it was now in the Bangor District. The new Lodge was L.O.L. 862.

The Grand Lodge having met in Dublin appointed an Emergency Committee to give financial support to brethren of the South and West of Ireland who were badly treated in many ways and oppressed by the United Irish League. The Bangor District, after some consideration, agreed to send £1 to the Emergency Committee, 5 shillings to be sent at once.

From 1909 the Bangor District went with Belfast for their Demonstration. In 1909 they went to Dunmurry whilst two of the Lodges 1038 and 862 went to Newtownards. They were fined 10 shillings for so doing.

The District Lodge was getting professional and in 1910 ordered a tablecloth, rituals, a bible and a new minute book for the Lodge. A motion that no person would be admitted into the District Lodge without the annual password was defeated. The District Lodge also decided that it would hold two services per year. One in July, immediately before the Twelfth, and the second to commemorate the Gun Powder Plot. A Bro Galway of 447 proposed that any services held in Bangor District be held in the Parish Church until such times as some of the other ministers in Bangor become members of the Order. This was passed by 11 votes to 3. There were 9 Lodges in the District in 1910.
A Bro. James Hayburn of 589 was suspended for five years for drunkenness on the day of the Memorial Service for the late King Edward the Seventh. He was however reinstated in October 1913. The District met once per month, 9 times in the Bangor Orange Hall and in the months of March in Groomsport, August in Conlig and December in Crawfordsburn. This matter caused much discussion over the years until it was eventually decided to hold all the meetings in Bangor.

Apparently the Church Services were well attended and in 1911 two members of Committee were appointed to attend at the Abbey Church on the 9th July. This was to be before the brethren arrived to ensure that the Church was not over-crowed with children. In 1911 the Bangor District went to Craigavon for their Annual Demonstration. They also looked forward to welcoming Sir Edward Carson who would be at the Demonstration. At this time things were hotting up on the Home Rule front. The minutes of all the Lodges contain exciting references. In February the formation of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Ulster took place. Drill meetings were held every Saturday evening. A Demonstration had been planned for Balmoral on the 9th April. Bro. McIlroy undertook to drill the District Lodge so that they would be in a proper order at the Demonstration. Local Districts still had not got their own acts together. No 4 Newtownards and 14 Holywood had decided to come to Bangor. Bangor, the host, had decided to go to Cloughfern in Belfast. A Unionist Club had been formed in Bangor in 1912. There appeared to be some opposition to it from some of the Bangor Orangemen. The Ulster Provincial Grand Orange Lodge approved a form for enrolment and scheme for the U.V.F. It was passed to all private Lodges. Collecting cards were also received in connection with Sir Edward Carson Defence Fund.

The Lodge later called a meeting of Worshipful Masters to produce information on numbers of Orangemen NOT in U.V.F.

Circulars sent to Canada and Australia to raise funds to fight against Home Rule. Some £160 received.

In November 1913 Bro. Rowley asked why District Lodge did not have a warrant as did the Holywood District. He was told that there was no such thing. Eventually they obtained on from County Grand Lodge.

Ammunition and range practices were arranged. In July 1914 No. 4 District invited Bangor to attend a demonstration on 13th. This was accepted. No. 4 then expressed their pleasure at this acceptance and suggested that No.18 also brings the Unionist Club and the U.V.F. to accompany the District Lodge. Newtownards had arranged to unite with its respective companies. Bangor did so, and reply from Bangor U.V.F. said “we are pleased to attend, but the U.V.F. is comprised nearly all of Orangemen so that a very small contingent would be left and therefore it would be inadvisable to attend. The Unionist Club’s reply stated that U.V.F. had accepted the invitation, Unionist Club and U.V.F. were practically one.

Another interesting occurrence at the time involved Joe Thompson, Alex Roberts the local gas manager, called to fix gas in the Donaghadee Orange Hall, before being allowed in, had to swear an oath on his knees that he would not divulge anything he might see. What he saw was Joe Thompson in the roof space degreasing or cleaning rifles. Alec Roberts father, who owned the Donaghadee Gas Works and lived in Newtownards, was told to leave his Humber car full of petrol one night as it may be needed. During the night he heard it drive away and it was returned the following morning in good condition and full of petrol.

Towards the end of 1921/22, three new Lodges were formed. L.O.L. 865 BANGOR RISING SUN; L.O.L. 1027 SONS OF ULSTER and L.O.L. 1029 COTTOWN.

A further Lodge No. 235 appeared during the early twenties and Orangeism in Bangor maintained its numbers up to the second world war and immediately after that reached a period of expansion. Standards of working greatly improved.

In 1947 two new Lodges were added. L.O.L. 1193 BALLYHOLME and L.O.L. 726 BANGOR ABBEY. Both were not allowed to recruit from other Lodges in the District for 10 years – subsequently changed to 7 years.

Unfortunately 1193 handed in its warrant in 1964 and 865 ceased working in 1968. However a new warrant was issued to L.O.L. 1229 (Crawfordsburn) in 1974.

There are presently nine Lodges in the Bangor District. All have grown and contracted over the years. All have had their peaks and troughs.

During my research I have been enthralled and impressed by many of the characters I have discovered. Men of quality and integrity and ordinary men.

The Orange Institution is now firmly grafted onto Bangor, the ancient “City of the Saints”. There is every reason to be sure that good Orangemen will continue to be produced to promote the cause we all hold dear. Therefore we can justly link Orangeism to the reference to Bangor in the antiphonary.


(Bangor Abbey L.O.L. No. 726)