The Augustinian abbey at Grange
The early history of Grange is obscure. The Tripartite Life of Patrick records the names of seven churches in the vicinity of the river Faughan which were founded by Ireland’s patron saint, one of which, Domhnach Cati, has been identified with Donagheady, the name of the parish in which Grange is situatded. The Tripartite Life also mentions a further church, Domhnach Mescan, where St Patrick’s brewer, Cruimthir Mescan, came from. It has been suggested that it may have been in the townland of Gortmessan near Bready and suggested it as a possible site. The old burial ground of Grange in the modern townland of Grangefoyle, adjoining Gortmessan, marks the site of a former monastic foundation of which little is known. There is no traditional date of foundation.
An inquisition held in Dungannon in 1608 noted that the ‘late abbot of Columbkille of Derry was seised of the grange of Bundiened.’ Bundiened is obviously modern Burndennet, the river that flows into the Foyle one mile south of Grange monastic site. By the middle of the thirteenth century the original Columban foundation at Derry, known as the Dub Regles or the Black Church, had adopted the rule of St Augustine. The monastery at Grange was therefore Augustinian. As the name Grange is generally used to describe a monastic farm and comes from the Old French word for barn the role of the abbey at Grange was probably to supply grain to the main abbey in Derry. A small chapel on the abbeylands would have served as the place of worship for both the monks of the monastery and the local inhabitants.
‘The Grange’ is marked on a late sixteenth-century map of Ireland. To-day, there are no remains of this monastery, which would probably have been located within the confines of the present burial ground. Taylor and Skinner’s Maps of the roads of Ireland (1777) and the Post Chaise Companion (1803) mention the ruins of a church at Grange. In 1837 the ruins were described as ‘extensive’, though they are not marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of the area.
Undoubtedly, many of the buildings in the immediate vicinity of the graveyard were built using stones taken from the abbey ruins. It is not known when precisely the monastery at Grange finally closed, but it was almost certainly before the end of the sixteenth century. In the early seventeenth century the lands belonging to the monastery at Grange were granted by the Crown to Sir Ralph Bingley, an English army officer and land speculator. They were later purchased by Hugh Hamilton of Lisdivin, a Scottish trader in luxury foodstuffs, who was one of the wealthiest men in north-west Ulster in the early seventeenth century. In 1638 the southern portion of the former monastic lands was detached from the rest and granted to a kinsman of Hugh Hamilton, confusingly another Hugh Hamilton. This portion was named Drummeny, with the northern part continuing to be called Grange. Grange remained in Hamilton hands for the rest of the seventeenth century and for the whole of the eighteenth. In the early nineteenth century it was purchased by John Hutton of Summerhill, Co. Dublin, who leased it to Robert McCrea, about whom more will be said later. In 1693 the bishop of Derry, William King, proposed that a chapel of ease to Donagheady parish church, be built on the site of the former monastery at Grange. He suggested that the lands formerly belonging to the monastery could be purchased from the Hamiltons and used to endow the chapel. However, this proposal was never put into effect.