Dungannon: Ancient stronghold with a fresh vision of the future
DUNGANNON is one of the most venerable towns in Northern Ireland, yet its fresh spirit of reinvigoration is evident everywhere. Dungannon is a growing, go-ahead community of 16,000, where the legacy of the past is cherished by adapting it to the needs of the 21st Century.
For example, Moygashel Mills, one of the greatest names in the historic heyday of the Irish linen industry, has been given a new lease of life as The Linen Green, the craft, design and factory outlet centre which attracts customers from all over Ireland and beyond.
Another example is the tasteful transformation of an ornate church hall into a popular restaurant in one of Dungannon’s beautiful terraces which bears witness to the town’s wealth in the Georgian and Victorian eras.
Now all this belongs to the mythical genre of history but is nonetheless a very valuable tradition. The story of the fort of Geannan would have been familiar to the O’Neills, who would have heard these tales recited by the bards and harpers.
It was associated with the Heroic Age, a sacred place to the druids and to an important family like the O’Neills. It would have done the O’Neills no harm at all to be associated with Dun Geannain. The dinseanchas was transcribed from the oral tradition at a much later date.
Dungannon was the main stronghold of the O’Neills from the 14th Century until the Plantation of Ulster. The former Belfast Bank now known as Ranfurly House Arts and Visitor Centre situated at the top of Dungannon Market Square, houses an interactive heritage exhibition telling the story of the Flight of the Earls and the Plantation of Ulster. From the three storey building, the glass doors open onto a terrace and walkway leading directly to the newly landscaped park known as the Hill of The O’Neill. The park offers panoramic views over church spires to the drumlins of Tyrone, the Sperrin mountains and the Mournes and onwards as far as the eye can see to the counties of Cavan and Monaghan.
Dungannon has been a centre of ecclesiastical and educational excellence for centuries, The Royal School Dungannon dates from 1614; the bronze statue in front of the school depicts ex-pupil General John Nicholson, who died heroically in the 1857 Indian Mutiny.
Champions and celebrities
Today’s local heroes are more likely to be sporting giants like golfing genius Darren Clarke, international rugby legends Jimmy Davidson and Jim McCoy, of snooker ace Patrick Wallace, Ryan Farquhar of professional motorcycle racing, Kris Meeke for Rally Driving and TV stars like Birdie Sweeney of Ballykissangel fame, Malachi Cush of BBC’s Fame Academy, and of course Andrea Begley of The Voice.