A heritage guide to Cushendall/Cushendun

Read all about the heritage of the area and where you can still see the evidence of it today

The Cave House
About 1826 the townland of Sleans was purchased by Nicholas De la Cherois Crommelin. This townland comprises all the lands and properties south of the river and extending from the sea up to Agola burn i.e. up to the first bend on the way to Knocknacarry. This includes the two houses at the end of the bridge and the two houses on the right as you go up the road as well as all the other buildings to be mentioned below.
The Huguenots: In the same era as Shane O’Neill was fighting and killing and being killed, the mid 1500s, there was religious conflict in France. The Protestant Calvinist movement was advancing in influence and many educated and prominent professional and skilled converts came together to form the Reformed Church of France, this group commonly being referred to Huguenots.
The ultimate leader was Prince Henry of Navarre whose wife was Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Catherine di Medici. Henry became heir to the throne. France was a Catholic country and intolerant of Protestants such as Henry. The king was assassinated in 1589. To gain acceptance, Henry converted to Catholicism. Nevertheless he retained much sympathy with his former co-religionists, and in 1598 promulgated the Edict of Nantes guaranteeing civil and political rights to Protestants and rights to practise their religion. This was a few years before the flight of the Earls from Ireland.
After the death of Henry in 1610 while his successor was still a minor, Cardinal Richelieu joined the Council of State in 1624 and exercised considerable influence. This manifested itself in increasing intolerance of Protestants and pressures against them. Throughout the 1600s there was increasing emigration by Protestants to other sympathetic countries that welcomed them both from the point of view of religious toleration and a wish to avail of the skills and energies of the people concerned.
Cromwell and Charles II of England both encouraged them to come to England in the mid 1600s, as also did the rulers of Holland, Germany etc. In 1685 Dragoons were sent to the south of France to harass the Protestants and by 1685 it was considered that there were so few left that the Edict of Nantes could be revoked.
This was done and this revocation of the Edict of Nantes led to the escape and fleeing of many of the remaining Huguenots. A period of religious intolerance against Protestants followed which lasted until the Napoleonic era at the end of 1700s, thus mirroring that period of the penal laws in Ireland against Catholics which finally ended here in 1829.
Following the Cromwellian disturbances in Ireland and the Williamite wars culminating in the battles around the time of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, much of the country was depopulated and unproductive. During the latter half of the 1600s and particularly after 1690 immigration to Ireland by the Huguenots was encouraged and many Huguenots groups settled here in places such as Youghal, Potarlington, Waterford, Cork and Lisburn.
Among them were the De la Cherois and the Crommelins, both families of whom who were highly successful industrialists. Much information on this subject is available in the Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn.
Louis Crommelin came from Picardy and was a master bleacher who introduced new industrial methods to the linen industry in Ireland and left a lasting legacy. Daniel De la Cherois also came from Picardy and arrived in Lisburn in 1699 after having married Marie Angelique Crommelin a cousin of Louis Crommelin in London.
They had one daughter. Nicholas De la Cherois, his brother, joined him and married Mary Madeleine Crommelin, a sister of Louis Crommelin. Nicholas and Mary Madeline had a son Samuel who adopted the name Crommelin thus creating the composite name De la Cherois. Crommelin which acknowledges the inter relationships of the generations.
His grandsons Samuel De la Cherois Crommelin owned property in Donaghadee and then built Carradore Castle where the family lived and became known as the Crommelins. Their descendants bought the lands in the area of the future Newtowncrommelin in 1800 where they engaged in many speculative projects in mining, estate development, road building, smelting and many other undertakings of dubious financial reward.
In the 19th century the family seems to have endured a chronic state of financial crisis. Their Cushendun project which commenced about 1826 involving the harbours and mills were a natural continuation of all this, but they added the eccentricity of building their residence on a site accessible only through a cave and for which a considerable amount of road construction and retaining wall construction was necessary.
There was a logical master plan to these activities. Somewhat unsuccessful as this complex of projects may have been, they were a massive investment into a remote struggling area, which would have given lasting prosperity, if they had succeeded.
The Newtowncrommelin project was even more difficult than Cushendun. Taking the two projects together they are a remarkable testimony to the flair and entrepreneurial spirit of the descendants of these two Huguenot families who settled far from their homeland in what they saw as a land of freedom and opportunity. It is regrettable that so little of their legacy is remembered, and that even their name cannot be commemorated in any visible way e.g. in the names for the new bay development.

The Harbour

Cushendun is the nearest land in Ireland to mainland Britain. The road from Clogh through Newtowncrommelin over the mountain has existed for many years and is the direct route from the centre of the county. Cushendun was linked by regular ferry with Dunaverty in Scotland for two centuries until the 1840’s and merited both a customs house and a passport office before the Act of Union of Britain and Ireland of 1800.
When Alexander Nimmo was surveying the north coast to plan improvements to the fishing industry in the early 1800’s he found that there were about 15 vessels associated with Cushendun. At that time there was no bridge and the whole basin was available. An old pier probably existed where there is still a pile of stones below the fishery, as one of the plans drawn up for that site by James Donnell in 1828 was to incorporate an existing old pier. Donnell drew plans for two different projects each involving construction of piers at the mouth of the river and on both sides. All that was ever constructed was a south quay wall along where the hotels are now sited. And it is still there.
The present sandstone bridge was built about 1860. Previously there had been a wooden bridge up at the narrow part below the Sleans road.
Sir John Rennie had drawn up plans for a much more grandiose harbour south of the river mouth in 1833 at the request of Nicholas Crommelin and several detailed acts of parliament were obtained in relation to this.
It was a commercial port probably to provide a service for Ballymena but failed to materialise due to Crommelins endless financial difficulties. The inspiration may have been the harbour developments at Donaghadee. The project was finally killed by the construction of the alternative Red Bay Pier. The stones you see opposite on the north side of the river is a crude breakwater built by the National Trust for some ill-defined reason about 1986. They spent £250,000 on it. It was said that there had been a previous structure there in the past which Maurice Finlay is said to have destroyed it early in the twentieth century.

The Ropework Buildings

An industrial mill complex was constructed about 1860 along Donnell’s south quay. This comprised a scrutch mill, a spinning mill, a starch works, a corn store a rope works and perhaps other facilities. It was the only steam driven mill in the Glens – a place where is a lot of free hydro- power. You can see a photograph dating from about 1870 reproduced on the interpretation board on the beach.
In that picture parts of the present buildings have not yet been commenced. By the early 1800s things were not going well and the project failed. It was said that there were about 60 workers employed. There were bleach greens up behind, and a reservoir along the bottom. Even this had to be supplemented by taking water up from the river in the summer because the broken sandstone geological base of this entire hill does not retain enough water to supply springs. A large water tower stood behind the Glendun on the hill.

The Hotels

The Glendun: After a relatively short time the industrial buildings had gone derelict and were divided up for redevelopment. The first to develop was the Anchorage Hotel the name of which was later changed to the Glendun Hotel. This was Maurice Findlay’s project and that business eventually went bankrupt. When the Elliots bought it in 1927 they changed its name to the Glendun and extended and redesigned it.
The Bay Hotel: The Glendun Hotel property included the ground which extended east towards the rocks and this was eventually to be the site of the Bay Hotel which Mr Elliot built and opened in 1936. This hotel was very soon extended by the McAllisters in the 1970s to gain extra bar space and a larger lounge. James McAllister had bought the hotel from Tommy McKenna who owned the Manor Hotel in Ballymoney.
Subsequent owners were the Quiggs, the McCartneys and the McQuillans. Now demolished, it is replaced by 46 apartments of very considerably increased mass and bulk designed to replicate a west of Scotland fishing village frontage of nineteenth century houses converted to flats. This idiotic pastiche is what passes for architecture and enjoys the blessing of the planning service who purport to be preserving and enhancing the conservation area. Perhaps there was felt to be a need to balance the Cornish elements of the village.
Cushendun Hotel: Mrs McBride acquired the site for her Cushendun Hotel about 1920 and building commenced shortly after. Two of the three hotels in Cushendun have gone. The third is now effectively obsolete and requires modernisation which realistically will never be achieved, and indeed, could not be achieved economically.
In its original concept it had 30 rooms, home grown vegetables and other produce from the hotel farm across the river, hot and cold seawater baths, electric light (from 1935), interior sprung mattresses, H&C in all bedrooms and friendly service.
Surrounding Buildings: The house at the west end of the hotel is a reworking of a row of four houses which were built at the same time as the mills and the stone is similar. This was a row of houses for artisans and had garden strips. The building under construction behind the hotel replaces a block of five. The address is Crommelin Row.
They had been constructed before 1830 and some of the internal ceilings resembled in style the wooden ceilings in 3 Main Street (1828) and Cloney House (1790?). The other two houses at the back of the hotel are larger. One is a complete replacement, and one is original for the better class artisan as it had a basement storey consisting of animal housing for a horse and a cow. The houses at the end of the bridge are of similar age and were upgraded recently.

Up the hill behind the hotels there stands the ruins of a Church. This was built in 1834 as an Orthodox Congregational Meetinghouse. It is one of four churches in Cushendun parish and like the Church of Ireland it faces east. There is a tablet on the west gable:
Orthodox Congregational Meetinghouse
And the Lord said I have hallowed this house which
Thou hast built to put my name there for ever and
Mine eyes and thine heart shall be there perpetually

Sleans Fishery

The little building at the rock point in front of the Bay Developments is Seamus McNeill’s fishery building. This property was built about 1970 as a habitable living accommodation and has full modern services and facilities including underground supplies for electricity and telephone. There is operational ground adjacent.

Copyright Glens of Antrim Historical Society