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Tombstones of the Ulster Plantation

Alexander Sandirson


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This memorial is set into the wall of the south aisle of Desertcreat Church of Ireland church, near Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Prior to this it had been in the floor of the church immediately in front of the chancel steps. It commemorates Alexander Sandirson who died on 8 December 1633. Sandirson or Sanderson was one of the most interesting men to have settled in west Ulster in the seventeenth century. The inscription, which runs around the edge of the stone, states that Sandirson had been born in Scotland. He had then embarked on a military career fighting as a soldier in Belgium before becoming a commander of both cavalry and foot soldiers in Poland. He then moved to Ireland where he was a justice of the peace and served as high sheriff of County Tyrone. The carvings on the memorial consist of a coat of arms flanked by a curious looking human figure and what appears to be a horse. Below this is a skull carved as if one is looking directly down on it from above, and beneath this are faintly incised crossed bones.

 

Of Sandirson early life we know nothing. However, we can assume that he was born into a gentry family and on becoming an adult went to the continent where he fought as a soldier of fortune for whoever would hire him. Following his military career he came to Ulster, probably in the 1610s, and acquired the estate of Tullylagan in east Tyrone. Tullylagan was a nominally 1000 acre estate in the precinct of Mountjoy that had been granted to Scottish settlers as part of the Ulster Plantation scheme.

 

He was not the original grantee of Tullylagan – that was George Crawford – but he was certainly its owner by 1618 when he was given responsibility for mustering the British settlers in his area. The following year it was noted that Sandirson had built a ‘good bawn of clay and stone, rough cast with lime, having two flankers and a very good house of lime and stone, himself and his wife and family now dwelling there. And about him some number of houses inhabited with British families’. In 1630 Sandirson received a grant of denization, giving him the same rights as English citizens, and his lands were erected into the ‘Manor of Sanderson’. The descendants of Alexander Sandirson acquired an estate in County Cavan and moved there. The most famous member of the family was Colonel Edward Saunderson MP, the leader of the Unionists at Westminster during the first two Home Rule crises.

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Alexander Sandirson's memorial
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Alexander Sandirson's memorial

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