Sir William Stewart of Fort Stewart

The surname Stewart has been associated with Ramelton for over 400 years. The founder of the dynasty, Sir William, came to Ireland during the C17 Ulster plantation, which followed the "Flight of the Earls" in 1607. This grand plan of settlement had two facets the territorial arrangement of settlers and the conditions of acceptance it prescribed for grantees.

There were to be three types of owners: English and Scottish "undertakers" (so called because of the conditions they undertook to fulfil), servitors, (military officers and government officials), and Irish grantees. Each county was divided into administrative units called baronies. In these areas allocated to undertakers, it was decided that there must be no native Irish residents. Conditions stipulated that each undertaker erect within a given period a stronghold, or bawn on his estate, and import settlers at the rate of 24, 000 men per 1,000 acres.

In June 1608, Captain William Stewart was dispatched by the government to Ireland in command of 100 foot soldiers. Originally from Wigtownshire, Stewart was a soldier of fortune who had served under the kings of Sweden and Denmark before arriving in Ireland. In recognition of his military service to King James 1, he received 1,000 acres of land at Ramelton in 1610. This was part of the forfeited estates of Aodh Dubh O'Donnell. Sir William immediately set about fulfilling the conditions laid down for the establishment of a self-sufficient colony.

In 1611 he had built a bawn of lime and stone, called Fort Stewart., sited on the shores of Lough Swilly. By 1619 he had built a castle and bawn and erected a village and church at "Rathmelton". The castle was burned during the rebellion of 1641, and there are no extant ruins today. Such were Sir William's achievements, that he was granted considerable estates in Donegal and Tyrone. In 1623 he was made a baronet and given the title "Sir".

In 1641 the elder branch of Sir William's descendants were ennobled with the title of Viscount Mountjoy and Earls of Blessington. The title remained in the family until 1761. The Stewart family was to remain a very influential one in Ramelton over the next 300 years. Sir William's descendants continued as landowners and entrepreneurs of industry.

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