ByRoute 15.1 Co. Meath // Co. Longford (S)

Ardagh (Co. Longford / South)

Ardagh (Árd Achadh – “high field”) (pop. 1000), a rural community that  grew into a small town during the Celtic Tiger years, is remarkable both as an early Christian site and as a picturesque C19th Model Estate Village. (Photo by derfar)

Saint Patrick is said to have founded a church here c. 454 AD and put it under the responsibility of his trusted friend Mel, allegedly a son of his sister Darerca (mother of no less than 17 early Irish  saints). . It was much venerated throughout the Middle Ages and pilgrims came great distances to seek the intercession of the saint whose relics were preserved at Ardagh.

Saint Brigid is also supposed to have spent some time at Ardagh before leaving to set up her famous convent / monastery at Kildare.

St Mel’s Cathedral

 


St Mel’s Cathedral, a ruined C8th or C9th AD stone church, is almost all that remains of Ardagh Monastery, which probably covered an area as large as that of the present village; by the C12th it was undoubtedly the biggest and most important settlement in the region. (Photo by derfar)

 

An important relic  is the Crozier of St Mel, now preserved inLongford Cathedral Museum. It was much venerated throughout the Middle Ages and pilgrims came great distances to seek the intercession of the saint whose relics were preserved at Ardagh. The monastery was destroyed by fire in the C15th.

 

The interior of the ruined Cathedral is the reputed burial place of Saint Mel and also contains the grave of Sir George Ralph Fetherstone (1784 – 1853).

Ardagh shares its name with a historic diocese (arguably the oldest in Ireland after Armagh), recognised by the Synod of Kells in 1152, united with Clonmacnoise in the Roman Catholic Church since 1756 and with Kilmore / Elphin in the Church of Ireland since 1841.

Ardagh House


Ardagh House was originally built by Thomas Fetherston, who bought the estate c. 1703 and died c.1749; the edifice has beeen considerably altered, extended over the years.

 

The young Oliver Goldsmith was reportedly fooled into mistaking Ardagh House for an Inn. His attempts to woo the “servant girls” who were in fact the Fetherston daughters inspired the plots of his play She Stoops to Conquer, (originally called Mistakes of a Night).

 

Ralph Fetherstone was made a Baronet in 1780. His descendants included two MPs for Longford and a number distinguished Anglican clergymen. By 1900 the family owned 11,000 acres of land, sold to 300 tenants under the Wyndham Land Act 1903.

 

The house was torched by thugs in 1922, and sold in 1927 to theSisters of Mercy, who ran it as  a school of Domestic Science called St Brigid’s Training Centre until they left in 2008. It was originally a three-story structure, but another fire in 1949 removed the top floor.

 

The reconstructed Fetherston Stables are open to the public and well worth a visit.

St Patrick’s church (CoI), built in 18o9, lay in ruins for several years until restored in 2010. The churchyard features a rare and intact lynch gate, where the clergy would meet the coffin on the way to the grave in times past, and contains a small stone oratory, a remnant of the ancient monastery of Ardagh.

Sir Thomas John Fetherston (1824 – 1869) rebuilt the village between 1862 -3 as a Model Estate Village based on a Swiss design chosen by James Rawson Carrol (1830 – 1911). The scheme involved the construction of a number of stone houses of various designs, a land agent’s house, an RICbarracks, a post office, and a courthouse, centred around a triangular village green. Most of the estate buildings face towards the front of Ardagh House.

The clock tower on the village green, an  impressive and richly ornamented Gothic-style structure built as a memorial to Sir George Ralph Fetherston, bears an inscription by his English widow commemorating his ‘life-long devotion to the moral and social improvement of his tenantry‘.

St Brigid’s church (RC), a spectacular Gothic edifice designed by William Hague, was completed in 1881, with a bell tower added c.1903, and has cut stone waterspouts in the form of the four Evangelists and niches containing carved stone figures of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid. The interior features unusual and attractive wall mosaics, stained glass windows by Mayer of Munich, and J Watson of Youghal, a carved stone Baptismal font with elaborate gold painted metal cover on a pulley and chain system, plus beautiful carvings in Irish and Italian marble, in particular the high altar and altar rail, apparently carved by James Pearse (1839 – 1900), father of the sculptor Willie Pearse and the more famous Patrick Pearse, executed as leader of the Easter 1916 Rising.

Ardagh Heritage Centre occupies a schoolhouse that was built in 1898. It contains an intriguing exhibition that tells the complete story of this fascinating village, with emphasis on its literature, associations with Irish mythology, roots in the early church, and ultimately, its place in the country as a distinctive model estate village.

Ardagh has won the Supreme National Tidy Towns Award on three occasions and has also been the recipient of  the Prix d’Honneur of the Entente Florale.

Ardagh is

Slieve Gauldry / Bri Leith


Ardagh Mountain / Slieve Gauldry / Gouldry Sliabh Galra, historically aka Castlerea Mountain and (according to one C19th source) Tu Uynahearinaghtrihi, a forested hill that gives its name to a minor range a short distance outside Ardagh village, is known for a peculiar kind of rock called pudding stone, and a quarry of freestone was long worked for flags.

 

The hill was the location of Bri Leith, a famous centre of pre-Christian religious worship. The importance of the site, like Tara and Dun Aillnne, rested in the fact that it commanded extensive views over the surrounding countryside. With the coming of Christianity in the C5th, the focus of religious worship moved away from Brí Leith to Ardagh itself.

 

The name “Bri Leith” commemorates ill-starred lovers. The legend is that a great battle was fought between the followers of the Tuatha de Daanan leader Midhir the Proud, who refused to allow Bri to marry his daughter Leith; Bri was killed in the battle and Leith died of a broken heart. Midhir was the otherworld lover of Etain, the Queen of Royal Tara, who was stolen from her husband and hidden in the land of Tir na nÓg under Bri Leith; she was restored to her husband by the mighty magic of Dallan the Druid.

Legan / Lenamore (Co. Longford / South)

Legan / Lenamore is a village in a district that used to be known as Rathreagh (Ráth Riach – “grey fort”).

The Foxhall Estate


Sir Patrick Fox acquired the castle and the lands of Rathreagh but a Royal Commission of Visitation declared his title invalid. He retained possession however and in 1622 under the terms of Surrender and Regrant, the title passed to his son Nathaniel Fox (1588 – 1646).

 

The Fox family were s branch of the Sinnach O’Catharniagh / Fox O’Carney chieftains of Teffia, whose relatives owned extensive lands in Counties Longford and Westmeath. The Foxes changed the name of the parish from Rathreagh to Foxhall and remained as landlords until the C19th.  Cottiers and small farmers worked the Foxhall estate.

 

Richard Maxwell Fox (1816-1856), who represented Longford in the British Parliament, and his estate totalled, is said to have been a very good employer during the Great Famine.

 

Foxhall House was a magnificent building with 21 windows in front, an oval dining room, ornamental walls and ceilings. A high wall surrounded an impressive orchard, and there was a lawn in front of the house where picnics and parties were held. A Ha-Ha served to keep cattle from grazing too close to the front door, yet did no block the view of the house.

 

The Land Commission later acquired the Foxhall property of 4,172 acres, which was then divided among local farmers. The house was demolished in 1946.

 

Rathreagh / Foxhall church, now in ruins, contains a monument known locally as the Stone Man of Foxhall, erected in memory of Nathaniel Fox, who died in 1634. It originally consisted of a full sized figure clad in armour reclining on is right side with an engraving of the Fox family coat of arms with a Latin epitaph above the figure. The statue has unfortunately been damaged by  vandals over the years and despite this it remains an impressive monument and is well worth a visit.

The district lies north of the River Inny, which drove large mill wheels in the immediate vicinity in the C19th.

The Inny, a main tributary of the River Shannon, is called after the mythological princess Eithne who drowned and was cremated downstream at the rapids at Tenelick (Tine-Leac). Nature has restored and even enhanced the beauty and tranquillity of the riverbanks after a period of necessary and inevitable spoliation caused by river drainage in the 1960s.

Ballinacarrow Bridge, a fine stone structure spanning the river, was constructed in 1800 to replace an earlier wooden structure that straddled a major ford at this point.

Agharra (from Ath-a-Charagh – “the Fort of the Weir”) was the site of a medieval monastic foundation.

Agharra parish church, which was built in two stages, dates back to the Middle Ages, and is now in ruins.

Ardandra / Ardandragh (“Anrath’s height”) was the site of a castle that belonged to the  O’Farrells, who owned most of County Longford.

Legan Rock and Lady Well was the site of a mud-walled thatched church used from the height of the Penal Laws era in 1730 until 1843. An inscription at the well says that the church site was given to the people of Legan forever in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary by John Farrell of Ardandra.

The church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (RC) built c.1840, brought the name of Legan to the village of Lenamore, which is now known by both toponyms.

Kilglass, according to local tradition, was the site of a convent founded in the C5th by Saint Echea, sister of Saint Mel. A mound in the centre of the old cemetery points to the location of the original site. Outside the perimeter wall is a moat, thought to be security for people with valuable possessions, and it is believed to be linked to the nearby Blackwater River by a subterranean passage.

Newport Bog is a mixed wildlife habitat. In early summer the heather in the boglands is in full purple colour, while the whins/furze blaze their golden trail through the undisturbed countryside. Bog cotton with its distinctive white, fluffy head can also be found here. The area has many examples of wild woodland with evergreen trees, cypress, spruces, silver birch, pussy willow and furze. There is also an abundance of hawthorn among the hedges. This largely healthy and unpolluted rural heartland contains an abundance of wildlife; fox badger, grey squirrel, black and brown mink, rabbit, hare, and field mice. Blackbirds, thrushes, robins, wrens, swans, herons, swallows, skylarks, swifts and house martins can also be spotted in and around the bog.

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