Boyd, Hugh (1690–1765), entrepreneur, was one of several sons of the Rev. William Boyd, vicar of Ramoan, Co. Antrim (who is said to have had at least two sons by a second marriage), and his first wife, Rose, daughter of Daniel MacNeill of Dunaneeny near Ballycastle. The Boyd family seems to have been related to the earls of Kilmarnock, and possibly to William Boyd (qv) (d. 1772). Rose inherited large estates round Ballycastle which she passed to her son Hugh, which suggests that he was her second son. An Adam Boyd has been suggested as Hugh's elder brother, and may have been the Adam Boyd who was ordained a presbyterian minister in America in 1724.
Hugh Boyd became manager of collieries near Ballycastle and in 1728 a partner in the enterprise; he bought out the other partners in 1736. The earl of Antrim granted him in 1735 a lease of Ballycastle; and in 1736, after he obtained a lease of the coalfields in perpetuity, he began to develop the village, which then had only sixty-two houses, into a prospering industrial town. The Irish parliament voted him £10,000 in 1737 to improve the harbour, chiefly so that coal could be shipped more cheaply to Dublin. Boyd himself was to undertake the work and in the event spent his own money on it.
He encountered considerable difficulties. A special ship was built at Swansea to transport oak from Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Boyd also built dredging ships and wagons; the ‘wagonway’, several hundred yards long, constructed of wooden rails, may have been one of the first tramways in Ireland. He diverted two rivers, built two new bridges, and kept labour costs down by providing cheap bread and oatmeal to his employees. He received advice from a Liverpool engineer, Mr Steers, but with local knowledge of the coast's notorious storms Boyd decided to build a larger harbour. His pride in the completed harbour was to be shortlived. An unusual kind of shipworm attacked the massive oak piles, and three hurricanes destroyed the weakened walls. Stonework then had to replace timber, but the expense of this added to Boyd's difficulties. In 1743 he had to account for extra expenditure to parliament.
However, the collieries flourished under Boyd's management; he opened new mines, including one running under the sea. He brought water almost a mile, and over a cliff, to drive the engine wheel of a large pump. Boyd owned four ships to transport coal and other commodities. Availability of coal and access to a good harbour was crucial in his pioneering enterprises; he developed salt manufacture and established a soap-boiling concern, linen bleach-green, glassworks, brewery, and tanyard.
It was not Hugh Boyd's fault that Ballycastle did not become a major industrial centre. His energy and his engineering and entrepreneurial skills were exercised there for forty years, and he provided the town with an inn, and a fine church, costing £2,769. 4s. 7.5d., gave the site for a charter school, and left legacies to found twenty almshouses and to clothe old people. He was also lieutenant-colonel in the Co. Antrim militia, high sheriff of Co. Antrim (1734), and possibly mayor of Coleraine (1725, 1734). After Boyd's death (15 June 1765), his descendants failed to carry out his plans, and in a later generation the estate was controlled by the court of chancery. The town's industries did not long survive the ensuing neglect.
Hugh Boyd married Anne McAllister (d. 1776) of Kenbane Castle; they had two sons and two daughters. One of the sons, Daniel, was mentally incapacitated; the other son, William, died in his father's lifetime. A daughter's son took his grandfather's name and became a well known journalist, Hugh Macaulay Boyd (qv). Another grandson, Ezekiel Davys Boyd, owned estates and collieries in Ballycastle, inherited his brothers' shares of family property, and married Amy Frisby; their eldest son was Hugh Boyd (qv) (1765–95).