ByRoute 15.2 Co. Longford (W) // Co. Mayo (N)

Keenagh (Co. Longford / Southwest)

Keenagh (Caonach – “moss”) (pop. 250), historically aka Moss Town / Mosstown, is a photogenic old village. Originally erected to serve the former Mosstown Estate, it nowadays principally comprises a long wide curvaceous main street of commercial and residential premises in a variety of architectural styles dating from different periods.

Mosstown House

 

Mosstown House was originally a Norman Tower House, connected to nearby Ballyknock Castle by an underground passage used for sanctuary in times of danger. In 1623 it was owned by Robert Newcomen, who was created Baronet Newcomen of Keragh at the end of that year.

 

The edifice was defended against attack during the 1641 Rebellion by Sir Thomas Newcomen / Newcombe, who at the end of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms acquired property in Lawrencetown in County Galway under the Cromwellian redistribution. His son Brabazon Newcomen represented Kilbeggan in the Irish Parliament.

 

The Williamite War saw a 1690 Jacobite assault bravely resisted by Lady Sarah Newcomen who, aided by about 200 of her tenants, fortified the building and held out until the enemy  brought up artillery, leaving her with no choice but to surrender the house, arms and ammunition.

 

The 6th, 7th and 8th Baronets represented County Longford in the Irish House of Commons. The baronetcy became extinct on the eighth Baronet’s death on 27th April 1789.

 

The substantial family estates were inherited by Charlotte, only child and heiress of a grandson of the sixth Baronet. Her husband William Gleadowe had assumed the additional surname of Newcomen at the time of their marriage in 1781, when he was created Baronet of Carrickglass.

 

Mosstown suffered its last siege during the 1798 Rebellion, when it was attacked by local insurgents in September of that year. The lessee Alexander Crowford Kingston surrendered shortly after the attack was instigated, and little damage was done to the house itself.

 

Lady Charlotte was elevated to the peerage in 1801 as Baroness Newcomen of Mosstown, and became Viscountess Newcomen in 1803.  She and Sir William were both succeeded by their son Thomas Gleadowe- Newcomen, who sat as an MP in the British House of Commons. He inherited the Newcomen Bank, but after speculative investments ruined his own family and many clients he shot himself in his office in 1825 and all the titles became extinct. (The former bank premises, adjacent to Dublin’s City Hall, now houses the Rates office, with an entrance on Lord Edward St)

 

Mosstown remained the residence of the Kingston-Murray family for many years. The grounds featured artificial ponds designed and build as a relief scheme during the Great Famine, renowned for their beauty and tranquillity. The mansion was demolished in 1962.

 

Mosstown Stables are run by the Harrison family as an AIRE-approved Equestrian Centre, and are the home of Mosstown Riding Club, which hosts many competitions, including show-jumping, cross-country and one-day events at both local and national level.

 

The Pigeon House, a large octagonal dovecote built in 1808 to supply eggs and pigeon meat to the ‘Big House’, was re-roofed c.1990, and is believed to be one of only six such structures remaining intact in Ireland. Although privately owned, it is visible from the main road.

 

The White Gates, flanked by imposing eagles on pillars, are the old entrance gates into Mosstown Estate. The Lime Tree Avenue was one time promenade for the ladies of Mosstown and their guests.

The  old Wesleyan church beside the White Gates was built c. 1820, and described by Lewis (1837) as a ‘Primitive Methodist chapel‘. The Primitive Methodists were founded in 1810/11 following a split from the main Methodist movement. They were later amalgamated back into a main Methodist movement after the Methodist Union in 1932. The building, which is no longer used for worship, retains many attractive features and materials including unusual gable end windows, delicately cast hoodmouldings, a fine timber door with decorative cast-iron hinges, chamfered limestone sills and some leaded glass.

St George’s church (CoI), a beautiful cut stone building designed by William Farrell and erected in 1832 to serve the parish of Kilcommick, features an attractive four-pinnacled tower and exceptionally well-kept grounds. A plaque on the tower indicates that this church was built under the patronage of Jane, Dowager Countess of Rosse. Inside, the Caen stone and marble memorial pulpit commemorating Rev. JJ Hayes was added c. 1895 to designs by Richard Langrishe. This church, the adjacent school and the nearby rectory form a pleasant grouping at the southeast end of Keenagh village.

(Kilcommick / Kilcommock parish derives its name from Cill Dacomoig – “St Dachomog’s church”. It is believed that after the Dominican Priory founded in 1400 on the site of Longford town was suppressed c.1540, the monks sought refuge in Kilcommock, where they worked until the early C19th.The previous Kilcommick parish church (CoI),  now in ruins, was built in 1630, and had a very long and troubled history. A well near the old church is called Cloree – “stone of the king”).

The Clock Tower is the principal local landmark. A distinctive stone edifice built in 1878, it commemorates the powerful landlord Lawrence Harman King Harman (1816 – 1875) of Newcastle House, Ballymahon, whose family estate, comprising almost 30,000 acres, was the largest in County Longford at the end of the C19th. A poem about the monument can be read here

The Mosstown Mill was a source of local employment until 1912, when it accidently burned down.

The “Seven Dwarf Cottage“, situated on the banks of the Kenagh River facing the old mill, was built for the mill manager and originally known as Millers Cottage.  From 1942-1945 it was home to the young David Tynan O’Mahoney, later better known as the comedian Dave Allen (1936 – 2005), whose father was managing editor of the Irish Times. The cottage is still used a a private residence.

St Dominic’s church (RC) a striking sub-hexagonal post-modernist edifice designed by John Keenan of Limerick and built in 1981, stands to the north end of Keenagh  in its own grounds. A water font in the interior with the initials ‘H. C.’ (for Hubert Cahill, a priest) is dated 1642. There is a free-standing cast-iron bell tower on the north side of grounds, built c. 1830, perhaps relocated from the former parish church at Cartronawar, now disused. A carved limestone plaque in the boundary wall, brought here from another church site, reads MORS EST CERTE. SED HORA INSERTE.

Derryglogher Lodge, the new ISPCA National Animal Centre in Keenagh, has lots of cats and dogs etc. looking for new homes.

The Royal Canal was opened through Kenagh in 1817 and closed to boat traffic in 1962. Unfortunately some of the bridges were lowered throughout County Longford. Restoration work began in 1990 and is virtually complete, (although a hovercraft would still be advantageous on some stretches!).  A poem about the restoration can be read here. The canal towpaths are a great amenity for walking and in some places for cycling.

Mosstown Harbour, located to the west of Keenagh, was probably built to designs by John Killaly (1766 – 1832), the engineer responsible for the construction of the Royal Canal through County Longford, and retains its original form. Constructed with a high level of expertise, the quality of the ashlar limestone used is indicative of the grandiose ambitions of the Royal Canal Company during the early part of the C19th.

The peatland bogs in the area are not only a source of fuel and power, but also places of stark beauty and habitats for many plants and animals in their natural environment. The bogs have played a very important role in shaping the local economy, history and culture; Kenagh is proud of its traditional bog lore.

The Corlea Trackway & Interpretative Centre

 

The Corlea Trackway, locally aka the Danes’ Road, is an Iron Age bog road / togher built c.150 BC and excavated over the last 30 years by teams under Professor Barry Rafteryof UCD.   (Photo by Kevin King)

 

The largest of its kind to have been uncovered in Europe, it was built from split planks of oak laid on top of raised rails and suitable for wheeled traffic. Raftery estimated that the sleepers alone amount to a 300 large oak trees, or a thousand wagon-loads, with a similar volume of birch for the rails. About 1km long, the Corlea Trackway ended on a small bog island, from which a second trackway connected to dry land on the far side of the bog.

 

The construction of the roadway required a great deal of labour, comparable to that used in the erection of monuments such as Stonehenge or Newgrange. Seemingly built in a single year, the Trackway brings to mind the tale Tochmarc Étaíne (“The Wooing of Étaín”), where king Eochu Airem sets Midir tasks such as planting a forest and building a road across a bog where none had ever been before at a place called Móin Lámraige.

 

Whatever its purpose, the roadway was usable for only a few years. Gradually sinking under its own weight, it was covered by rising bog within a decade, and thus remained preserved for two millennia.

 

The Corlea Trackway Visitors Centre preserves and interprets an 18m stretch of the road on permanent display in a specially designed hall with humidifiers to prevent the ancient wood from cracking in the heat.

 

A large number of toghers have been found nearby. The majority are constructed from woven hurdles laid on heaped brushwood on top of the surface, built to be used by people on foot.

 

While today a generally flat and open landscape, in the Iron Age it was covered by bog, quicksand, and ponds, surround by dense woodlands of birch, willow, hazel and alder while higher ground was covered by oak and ash. The terrain was dangerous and impassible for much of the year.

 

For the smaller toghers, an expert has remarked that “there is a growing sense that these were not structures designed to cross the bog, but to get into the bog“, possibly for ritual purposes.

Bord na Mona and the Heritage Service have carried out conservation work on the surrounding boglands to ensure that it remains wet and that the buried roads are preserved.

Keenagh is

Barry Castle, near Kenagh, was reportedly destroyed in 1295.