St Johnston History
From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
JOHNSTOWN (ST.), a village (formerly a parliamentary borough), in the parish of TAUGHBOYNE, barony of RAPHOE, county of DONEGAL, and province of ULSTER, 8 ½ miles (N. by W.) from Lifford: the population is returned with the parish. This place is situated on the river Foyle, which is here of considerable breadth and forms a boundary between the counties of Donegal and Tyrone. It originated in the plantation of Ulster, when a grant of the lands of Dromtoolan and Gollanogh, together containing about 210 acres and 80 acres of other lands, was made by James I. to Louis Stewart, Duke of Lennox, and Earl of Richmond, on condition of his settling here 13 families of English or Scottish artisans or mechanics. For the use of this settlement the Earl was to assign 60 acres for the site of a town, to be called St. Johnstown, and to consist of one street of 13 houses, to each of which was to be allotted 5 acres of land, to be held of him in fee-farm at a trifling rent. This settlement was incorporated by charter of James I. in 1618, under the designation of the "Provost and Burgesses of the Borough and Town of St. Johnstown," but never attained the local importance contemplated by the founder; and the corporation seems to have exercised scarcely any of its municipal functions, except that of returning two members to the Irish parliament, which it continued to do till the Union, when the borough was disfranchised.
The village is situated on the western bank of the river Foyle, which is navigable to its junction with the lough for vessels of 50 tons, and consists only of one street containing a few neat houses; it has a penny post to Londonderry. The market granted by the charter is discontinued, and of the four fairs, only one is held on the 25th of Nov. It contains a place of worship for Presbyterians, the parochial school-house, and a dispensary. In the vicinity are some small vestiges of the castle of Montgevelin in which James II. held his court till the termination of the siege of Londonderry.
St Johnston is a town/village near the River Foyle that has its origins in the Plantation times.
Before the Finn Valley Railway was set up, goods going to Donegal Town, Ballyshannon and Sligo were transported through the town. Pack horses were used at first and then carts. This was used also as a primitive postal service. Mr Lyndsay of Altaskin made efforts in the 1670s to ensure that this service was improved.
At the time of the Siege, Reverend John Mackenzie of Cookstown wrote, "Captain Forward from Newtowncunningham and Mr William Stewart of Ballylawn brought about two or three hundred horses into the city, and Mr John Cowan of St John's Town, a company of foot, which they offered to our service."
John Cowan was an alderman of Derry and resisted the Test Act which demanded that if anybody held public office they must take communion in the Established Church, the Church of Ireland. Cowan refused as he felt it was inconsistent with his Presbyterian faith and religious tolerance. Cowans sister was the grandmother of Lord Castlereagh.
The army of King James II led by Sir Charles Coote used St Johnston as its headquarters in 1688 during the Siege of Derry. The king himself stayed at the residence of Presbyterian Elder Robert Cowan at Monreagh. The army plundered St Johnston and Carrigans and burned them down to the ground.
The king offered a safe pass with a view to meeting those who wished to have Derry surrender. "Given at our quarters at St Johnston 17th day of April, 1689, at four o clock in the afternoon, in the fifth year of our reign. By His Majesty's Command."
We know that on the 4th of November 1757 a fair took place in St Johnston and it was remarked that a huge number of cattle had been sold fetching good prices.
There was an agent for the Earl of Abercorn who lived in Lifford. The agent’s name was Nathaniel Nesbit and he visited the market at St Johnston on 20th April 1758. He said that £100 of green unbleached linen was bought. The townspeople told him they wanted horseracing and cock fighting. But as he didn’t want drunken people and idlers coming to these events he wouldn’t allow them. He then informed the Earl that the turf-cutting at Carrickmore, St Johnston had been stopped.
On the 17th November 1758, the same measures were taken to stop idlers being drawn to the St Johnston fair. These measures entailed the discontinuation of horse races and cockfights. It was endeavoured to keep the focus on sales of livestock and linen and other items of merchandise.
Cattle sales were impressive at the 25th November 1782 fair. It was so successful that another fair was required for Easter Tuesday in 1783.
The formation of the Presbyterian Congregation at St Johnston was rife with controversy for it was formed despite the disapproval of Monreagh Presbyterian Church. William Gray poached some members of the Monreagh Congregation when he began preaching at a Lime Kiln near St Johnston. Soon a Church was built, "The first house of worship erected in St Johnston stood in the village street, and was in use up to the year 1849, when, during the ministry of the Rev. Joseph McConaghey, the present Church was built on a commanding site, overlooking the Foyle" (Lecky, The Laggan and its Presbyterianism, published 1905).
1794 - Householders in St Johnston were
John M' Clintock
Edward O' Donnell
Charles O' Donnell
SORTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY SURNAME
Wilson, William 1
Wilson, William 2