Come along to the Ring of Gullion Lúnasa Festival 2021 and immerse yourself in the rich landscape, culture and heritage of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This festival is part of the Aspiring Mourne Gullion Strangford Geopark programme of events and is funded by Newry Mourne and Down District Council. To find a full list of events visit www.ringofgullion.org
Gullion A Tours are pleased to offer this Bessbrook tour with a difference as part of the Ring of Gullion Lúnasa Festival 2021. Not only can you avail of a fascinating tour of the first model village in the British Isle but you can also visit a linen exhibition in Derrymore House. Linen was the corner stone of Bessbrook village and the tradition of linen work is kept alive by a group of dedicated local women in the South Armagh Lace Collective and Clanrye Lace Group.
Bessbrook was the first model village in the British Isles. Model as in, this is a good way to do things, you should copy it model, though I think they’re missing a trick by not having a village model of the model village. Bessbrook was founded on the Quaker principles of the three P’s, no pubs, no pawn shops, and no police station. To this day, there are still no pubs within the original village limits. The model was then adopted by the Cadbury family who developed the far more famous model village of Bournville; let’s face it chocolate is generally, more appealing than linen.
The village was developed by John Grubb Richardson from 1845 onwards. Richardson was a real trail blazer, who turned it from a small village of only 200 in 1844 to a world renown source of Irish linen. Richardson purchased his mill at a very fortuitous time; it coincided with a sudden and unexpected upturn in the fortunes of the Irish linen industry, caused by the cotton famine in Britain. In the first two years of its existence, annual profits rose from just over £8000 to over £41,000.
The civil war in America also saw an increase in the sales of Irish Linen due to the reduction in the availability of cotton. Due to the large amount of linen leaving the port of Belfast, Belfast was known as Linenopolis. Titanic was also full of Bessbrook Irish linen – though please don’t hold Titanic’s fate against the linen.
There is much to see on a dander around the byways of Bessbrook though to get the full experience, you should allow Anne, our very friendly, Ring of Gullion native, to show you the way. The tour will take in the highlights of Derrymore house, a National Trust property, which was home to the last Chancellor of the Irish Parliament and is a place where oral history states, the Act of Union was signed. From the house explore the quirks of the 100 acre estate, with its views of the Mournes and panoramic view of Bessbrook village.
Wander down the hill into the model village, one of the few places which had a growing population during the Irish potato famine (1845-1852). Anne will share stories of how Richardson grew the village from 200 in 1844 to over 3300 in 1880 from the starting point of a mill and 50 acres of land; it even boasted one of the first electric tram lines in the British Isles. Bessbrook was narrowly pipped to the post by the Giant’s Causeway; as they get the lion’s share of tourism marketing as it is, that’s quite enough about them. You can even visit an original mill workers cottage and see the remains of the mill itself as well as the associated mill pond.
Other stories to hear on your dander are the stories of the American invasion during WWII. A friendly invasion to be sure, and I daresay many a local lass had her heart stolen by an American GI temporarily stationed in Bessbrook for training.
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