From Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland – 1837:

CULLYBACKEY, a village, in the parish of AHOGHILL, barony of LOWER TOOME, county of ANTRIM, and province of ULSTER, 8 miles (N. W.) from Ballymena; containing 235 inhabitants. This village, which is situated on the river Maine, contains about 50 houses, including a place of worship for Presbyterians. The manufacture of linen is extensively carried on, and a fair was formerly held for its sale. Cullybackey House was formerly the residence of John Dickey, Esq., by whom, in 1778, a corps was raised, called the Cullybackey volunteers; it is now the seat of John Dickey, Esq. Iron-works are said to have formerly existed here, and vitrified substances have been found.

The McCullough’s were born in the Northern Ireland town of Cullybackey which is within the borough of Ballymena in County Antrim.

The name Cullybackey has become so Anglicised as to render its interpretation difficult, sufficient of the original spelling remains to indicate that it is composed of two Irish words. There are at least two possible interpretations. “Cully” – a derivative of “Coill” – a woodland, and “Backey” a derivative “Beith” – a Birch Tree, thus rendering the meaning of the name as “The Woodland of the Birch Trees”. There are numerous birch trees in the area and they form part of the original flora of the neighbourhood.

Cunningham Memorial Church
Cullybackey, Co Antrim
Photo by Terrence Gregory

Alternatively, “Cully” from “Coole” – a corner and “Backey” from “Bac” – a spade; “The Corner of The Spades”. There is a tradition that a forge for the manufacture of shods (plates for wooden spades) formerly stood on the site of the Cuningham Memorial Church, whose spire can be seen in the photo on the right. The spade maker obtained his fuel from the surrounding forest and his profession was highly regarded in the community. No doubt his forge by the riverside, because of its warmth and shelter, was the rendezvous of the locals and its name “Coolebac”, the Corner of the Spades, became applied to the cluster of habitations build up around it.

Cullybackey in the latter part of the 19th Century consisted principally of a single street – Main Street. However, by the early 20th Century the spirit of enterprise saw the village expand and the formation of new streets. The village proper then extended from the bridge over the River Maine to the Railway Station.

Cunningham Memorial Church
The Cuningham Memorial Church was dedicated on 1 September 1881 and replaced the previous place of worship affectionately called the Sun-Dialed Meeting House. The architects were Young & MacKenzie of Belfast, while the builders were Hugh MacManus & Sons of Randalstown. The church cost £5,500 to build.