KILREA, a market and post-town, and a parish, partly in the barony of Coleraine, but chiefly in that of Loughinsholin, county of Londonderry , and province of Ulster, 28 miles (S.E..) from Londonderry, and 110 (N.) from Dublin, on the roads leading respectively from Coleraine to Portglenone and Castle Dawson, and from Garvagh to Ballymoney ; containing 4262 inhabitants, of which number, 973 are in the town. This place is situated on the western shore of the river Bann, over which is a substantial stone bridge of seven arches, forming a communication between this neighbourhood and the county of Antrim, with which there is a great intercourse. The town, which has a sub-post-office to Portglenone, is near the river, in that part of the parish which is within the barony of Loughinsholin, and consists of a square and four principal streets, comprising 237 houses, of which about 12 are slated, and the remainder thatched. The inhabitants are supplied with water from a public fountain in the south-eastern angle of the square. A spacious and commodious hotel, and a handsome residence for their agent have recently been erected by the Mercers‘ Company, of London, who are proprietors of the town and surrounding district. Their estate of which this town may be considered the head, comprehends 41 townlands, of which 9 are in this parish. 9 in Desertoghill, 11 in Maghera, 5 in Tamlaght-O‘Crilly, 4 in Aghadowy, and 3 in Killylagh, together comprising an area of 21,060 statute acres, of which nearly one-fourth part is bog and rocky ground. The spinning of yarn and weaving of linen are carried on generally throughout the district; and the river is navigable for lighters from Belfast and Newry, through Lough Neagh, to Portna, about a quarter of a mile distant from the town. The market is on Wednesday ; a flax and linen market is held every alternate market day; and fairs for cattle and horses are held on the second Wednesday in every month. A large and handsome market-house is now in progress of erection on the north side of the square, at the expense of the Mercers‘ Company, who have also built a barrack in Bridge-street for the constabulary police. Manorial courts are held occasionally, and petty sessions on the first Monday in every month.
The parish extends along the western banks of the river Bann more than six miles, and comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 6314½ statute acres, of which 3486 are applotted under the tithe act, and 138½ are in the Bann. The soil, though varying in different parts, is generally light, resting upon a substratum of basalt, which in many places rises above the surface, and of which detached blocks of various sizes are scattered in the wildest confusion. There is neither limestone nor stone for building in the parish nor is there any timber or plantation in the neighbourhood; but many of the leases having expired, the Mercers‘ Company have already commenced some extensive and valuable improvements. The land is principally under tillage, producing tolerably good crops; the system of agriculture, though better than formerly, is still capable of farther improvement ; there is an extensive tract of bog, affording an abundant supply of fuel. The line of road between this place and the county of Antrim is now being changed, which will greatly increase the facility of travelling. The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £258. 9. 3. The glebe-house, situated near the church on a glebe of three acres, was built in 1774; and there is a glebe in the parish of Tamlaght-O‘Crilly, comprising 351 acres. The church is a small and very ancient edifice, with a bell turret on the western gable; arrangements are in progress for the erection of a larger at the expense of the Mercers‘ Company. In the R.C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Desertoghill, called also Kilrea. There is a place of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the third class; and a small congregation of Seceders assemble in a temporary building.
About 550 children are taught in five public schools, of which the parochial school is supported by subscriptions, aided by the rector; one by the trustees of Erasmus Smith‘s charity, for which the Mercers‘ Company erected a handsome stone building, in 1813, at an expense of £700 ; and two others by the same company. There are also three private schools, in which are about 140 children. The company supports 22 schools on their estate, in which together about 1000 children are gratuitously instructed and supplied with books. There are some picturesque remains of the ancient castle of Movanagher, about 1½ mile to the north of the present town: during the parliamentary war it was garrisoned for the king, but shortly after fell into the hands of the parliamentarians, by whom, after being repeatedly taken and retaken, It was finally dismantled in 1649. The ford at Portoneil, and the ferry across the Bann, were in the same war scenes of much slaughter; and in 1688 they were severely contested and alternately in the possession of both parties.