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Tombstones of the Ulster Plantation

Robert Algeo


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The Plantation has frequently been presented as an exclusively Protestant settlement.  A remarkable stone built into a bridge in the village of Artigarvan near Strabane is a powerful piece of evidence that this was not actually the case.  The stone is built into the north side of the Malison Bridge in the village of Artigarvan.  It cannot be seen from the road and must be viewed after a fairly precarious climb down a steep bank and a walk along the larger rocks in the Glenmornan River.  Sadly this has not prevented the stone from being vandalised in recent years.  The stone bears the inscription ‘AD DEI GLORIAM ROBERTUS ALGEO 2 MAII 1626’.

 

It bears a scene of the crucifixion, a common emblem of the Counter-Reformation.  Although Algeo sounds Italian, it is in fact a Scottish name, mainly found in Renfrewshire, the home area of the Hamiltons.  Robert Algeo was an important figure in the Scottish settlement in Strabane barony in the early seventeenth century.  He was steward to Sir George Hamilton and therefore one of his closest followers. The symbolism on the stone can be explained by the fact that Sir George Hamilton was a Catholic and had introduced a significant number of Catholics to his estates near Strabane, including Robert Algeo. In a letter written in 1629 by George Downham, bishop of Derry, the names of the prominent Catholics in Strabane barony were listed and among them a Robert Anger (probably a corruption of Algeo) and his brother Claude, the latter being described a ‘lewde psewdo-Catholique’.

 

How the stone found its way to its present location is something of a mystery.  It is also unclear what the stone actually represents.  It may be a gravestone, in which case 2 May 1625 is presumably Algeo’s date of death.  At the same time a Robert Algeo is mentioned in 1629 as a patron of Catholicism in Strabane.  Algeo is, however, known to have had a son called Robert and the letter of 1629 may in fact refer to Robert Algeo junior.

 

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Robert Algeo's memorial
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Robert Algeo's memorial

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