Johnston of Ballykilbeg Papers

Personal and political papers of William Johnston, M.P. (1829-1902), the prominent Orangeman of Ballykilbeg, Co. Down, and also of several members of his family, 1847- 1902. Born in 1829 and educated at Trinity College Dublin, William Johnston was the eldest son of John Brett Johnston and his wife Thomasina Anne of Ballykilbeg near Downpatrick. Originally intended for the medical profession, Johnston instead made his career in politics, devoting his significant energies to the Orange Order which he had joined in 1848 and was a prominent member for most of his life later becoming Deputy Grand Master of Ireland and Sovereign Grand Master of the Black Institution which was founded on his proposal in 1865. Publishing widely in support of the organisation from 1853 in various tracts, novels and newspapers, and as an Independent Conservative MP for Belfast from 1868-72 and 1878-1902, Johnston was the most important figure in Orangeism during the 19th Century. Of his political triumphs, the repeal of the 1850 Party Processions Act of 1850 in 1872 is counted amongst his chief successes. He also held the position of Inspector of Fisheries from 1872 until he was dismissed in 1885 for his verbal attacks on supporters of Home Rule and the Land League. These and other events and details of his life are fully documented throughout the archive which includes 32 of his diaries, 1847-1902; envelopes of his personal, political and Orange Order related correspondence and literature, 1841-1902; and many of his speeches in pamphlet format. Johnston's many outside interests and skills are also represented in the collection in the form of copies of songs and novels written by him between 1849 and 1863. Copies of the 'Ballykilbeg Newspaper' which he was largely responsible for are also to be found. These include articles and features on a range of topics such as horticulture, poetry, the weather, local and national news, etc., and date from 1844-49. The collection also contains a large number of title deeds, leases, testamentary papers, rentals and estate accounts pertaining to Johnston property at Ballykilbeg and Downpatrick, Co. Down, 1739-c.1900. A selection of Johnston family photographs dating from the 1880s and 1890s are also contained.


The importance of the collection lies in the information it provides about the Orange Order and Irish political history in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Johnston was the most important figure of the day in Orangeism.

Physical characteristics

c.1,000 items comprising a range of documents, volumes, photographs and newspaper cuttings and occupying the space of 15 PRONI boxes.

Description or Catalogue

See PRONI reference D/880 for catalogue of the papers. The catalogue is available for consultation in PRONI's Public Search Room.


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Added by PRONI | Last updated on: 09 February 2018