Clonbroney & Ballinalee (Co. Longford / Central)
Clonbroney (Cluain Brónaig), historically aka Clonbrone, is a rural district and parish taking in several townlands with unusual names, e.g. France, Cavan and Leitrim.
The River Camlin (An Chamlinn – “Crooked Pool”), from its source near Granard to its two branches enter the River Shannon, forms a natural boundary between north and south Longford. It enters Clonbroney below Clonfin Lough and meanders across the parish from east to west, a distance of ten miles.The river is easily accessible and good for fishing pike, trout, bream, roach and hybrids.
Old Clonbroney was the site of a convent, supposedly the first in Ireland, said to have been established c.440 AD by Saint Patrick himself, together with his foster brother Guasacht, Bishop of Granard, for the latter’s sisters, both known as Saint Emer. The convent was more probably founded in the C7th AD by its first recorded Abbess, Saint Furnech, who had a fiery prophetic vision of the grandeur of her successor Saint Samthann ingen Díaráin (d.739 AD), one of only four female Irish saints for whom a Latin Life exists, wherein we learn that a lascivious monk was once prevented access by a giant eel that attacked his genitals. References to the convent continue sporadically throughout the mid-C8th and early C9th, but then increasingly rarely, disappearing from the records after the death of Abbess Caillechdomhnaill in 1163.
Old Clonbroney cemetery contains remnants of a medieval church. A poem by Tomás Ó Cárthaigh about the graveyard and a headless hearse driver can be read here.
The church of St James (RC) is uniquely styled. The grounds, aka New Clonbroney, contain graves dating back to 1828, and include a Republican plot.
Ballinalee (Béal Átha na Laogh – “the mouth of the ford of the calves” ), formerly aka St Johnstown, is a village situated on the River Camlin, in the parish of Clonbroney.
St Johnstown was incorporated by Royal Charter of King Charles I, who had granted local land to Walter Lecky and others; “the corporation consisted of a sovereign, chosen from the burgesses, who, with his deputy, was justice of the peace, coroner, and clerk of the market, and was annually elected on the Monday after the festival of St. John the Baptist, and sworn into office on the Monday after that of St. Michael. The burgesses, 12 in number, were chosen, as vacancies occurred, from the free commons, by a majority of their own body; and by them a recorder, town-clerk, and other officers were appointed and freemen admitted solely by favour. The sovereign had power to hold a court of record, with jurisdiction extending to £20“.
After the nearby Battle of Ballinamuck, where General Humbert‘s army of French troops and Irish rebels was defeated in September 1798, the village was occupied by the victorious English forces under Lord Cornwallis, who had also camped at nearby Old Clonbroney before the Battle. Over 100 insurgent prisoners were summarily executed and buried in a field now known as Bully’s Acre.
St Johnstown continued to return two members to the Irish Parliament till the Union, when the borough was disfranchised. According to Lewis (1837) “No sovereign has been elected since 1825; the corporation is now extinct; and the town has become a mere village, consisting of 53 houses, of which some are neatly built, and a handsome lodge recently erected by Col. Palliser, who has also built a barrack for the constabulary police force stationed here”.
St John’s church (CoI), a handsome structure designed by John Hargrave (1788 – 1833) in the then fashionable castellated style, was built in 1825 with funds from the Board of First Fruits, and enlarged in 1830 with a donation of from the Countess Dowager of Rosse, was closed for several years but was reopened and rededicated in August 2012. It is set back from the road at the southern end of the village, surrounded with lovely mature planting and further enhanced with stone walls and cast-iron gate gates.
The church of the Holy Trinity (RC) enjoys a prominent position, set back from the street to the north end of Ballinalee.
The War of Independence saw the village become famous as a centre of Republican activity. At the Battle of Ballilee in November 1920 some 900 British troops, RIC policemen and Black & Tans who arrived to burn down premises in reprisal for the murders of four policemen (one in the village only days previously) were repulsed for three days and finally forced to withdraw and abandon their ammunition by about 300 local IRA volunteers, making Ballilee the only community in all of Ireland to win an outright victory against the British army.
Seán Mac Eoin (1893 – 1973), nicknamed “the Blacksmith of Ballinalee“, was the Commander of the IRA‘s North Longford Flying Column, responsible for a number of successful guerilla operations against Crown forces both before and after the Battle. In 1921 he joined the new Irish Free State army and pacified the west of Ireland in the Civil War, marching overland to Castlebar and linking up with a seaborne expedition that landed at Westport. For the rest of the 1920s his military career was a steady upward curve: he was appointed Chief of Staff in February 1929, but resigned four months later. He enjoyed a long career as a Fine Gael politician, serving as a TD for various constituencies between 1929 and 1965 and holding the offices of Minister of Justice (1948-51) and Defence (1954-57). However, he was twice narrowly defeated for President, in 1945 by Sean T O’Kelly and again in 1959 by Eamon De Valera. The forge where he once used to ply his father’s trade and debate issues of the day has been restored and a park is being developed around it.
Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st Bart, GCB, DSO, (1864 – 1922) born in Currygrane, and nicknamed “Ugly Wilson” due to wounds received while serving with the British Army in Burma and India, was a very senior officer and government military adviser during WWI, and was made Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1917. He had been involved in the Curragh Mutiny in 1914 and advocated strong measures against the IRA during the War of Independence. In 1921 he became security advisor to the new Northern Ireland government, and also briefly served as a Unionist MP. He was murdered by two IRA gunmen in 1922 whilst returning home from unveiling a war memorial at Liverpool Street railway station in London. Rightly or wrongly, Scotland Yard investigations centred around the involvement of Sam Maguire, then the Irish government’s chief intelligence officer in London, best remembered as the Gaelic football champion after whom the hugely prestigious All Ireland Cup is named.
James McGuire Park, the GAA premises on France Road, is home to the local Gaelic football team, named after Sean Connolly, an IRA volunteer born in the townland of France and shot in an ambush at Selton Hill, Co Leitrim in 1921. The extensive grounds, which contain a fully equipped gym and facilities for various other sports.
Gurteen Lake, adjacent to MacGuire Park, is a ‘bog lake’, very popular with local coarse fishing enthusiasts for its pike and perch, and also inhabited by swans, snipe etc. The antlers and bones of red deer have often been recovered from the lake, having been preserved by the antiseptic properties of the bog water. Gurteen Lake has no visible outlet, and was said by Lewis (1837) to “discharge its superfluous waters into the river Camlin by a subterraneous passage, extending a quarter of a mile in length”. This ‘natural sewer’ is now believed to comprise numerous cavernous passages in the limestone rock underlting the village.
The Ballinalee Connemara Pony Show & Dog Show takes place every year on the second Sunday in June.
Ballinalee is on the R194. Edgeworthtown, and Ballynamuck.
Corbeagh lake / Currygrane Lough, situated in the middle of the parish, is a small lake in a tranquil and secluded setting, surrounded by green fields and some small woodlands of mainly larch and birch trees. It has four small islands: Round Island and Fry Island are thought to be artificial Crannogs. Coarse fishing competitions are held on the lake, mainly for pike, perch and eel. A smaller lake called Farrelley’s Lough is joined to the main body of the lake by a narrow neck of water.
Moat Farrell, a townland containing the ruins of two castles and several ancient forts, is named for what Lewis (1837) called “a remarkable moat” near White Hill. The O’Farrell clan, ancient rulers of Annaly, were said to have had seven strongholds in the area, and this moat / motte was reputed to contain a hollow or cave into which, in time of danger, they used to escape from their enemies.
Moat Farrell is not far from Ballyhoolivan and Corboy on ByRoute 15.
Killoe (Co. Longford / Central)
Killoe (Cill Eo – “the church of the yew”) (pop. 1600), historically also spelt Killow, is a largely rural bogland district and parish, best known for its GAA prowess and its thriving amateur drama group, the Cill Eo Yew Tree Players.
Corn Hill / Cairn Hill / Carn Clonhugh (Carn Clainne Aodha / Sliabh Cairbré), (270m / 916 ft), the highest summit in County Longford, stands on the northern side of Killoe. Although there are several accounts of at least two ancient cairns /dolmens / passage graves on the hill (one reputed to be the burial place of Queen Maeve‘s nephew and murderer Furbaide Ferbend, who killed her as she was bathing in Lough Ree‘s with a slingshot from the shore a mile away), their exact positions are no longer obvious, apart from an uninspiring pair of moss covered mounds, and locals prefer the rye-based toponym. (Photo by Archaeomoonwalker)
It is a local custom to climb Corn Hill on the first Sunday of June and stand on the mescon, where a stone from each townland in the parish of Killoe was deposited during a special ceremony on 1st June 2000.
Today the hill is topped by the new 100m RTE midlands transmitter mast, replacing one erected in 1977. Although the planting of conifers on the hillside has ruined the once spectacular view from the summit, magnificent vistas are still available from the southern and southeastern slopes, and the River Camlin is clearly visible as a silvery line twisting across the landscape.
The River Camlin is fed by the pocket river and numerous fast flowing streams from Corn Hill. Many underground passages in the limestone rock are thought to exist along the course of the river, such as those located in ‘Fine Meadows’ in Esker.
Oghill Bog is a 60-acre expanse of cut-bog that has not been seriously touched for some 70 years, allowing a slow process of regeneration with abundant new tree growth and large heather plants supporting a range of wildlife.
According to tradition, famous visitors to the area included Queen Maeve and Saint Patrick, who both star in many local tales.
There are several Ringforts in the area. During excavation of one of these located on the Ballinalee Road, bones and artefacts were recovered and the Fort itself was covered again.
The historic tuath of Clann Aoda / Clan Hugh, corresponding to the area of Old Killoe, was described in a 1612 survey, many of the old toponyms from which still appear on modern maps.
Historically, the parish of Killoe was much larger then now. In the C17th and C18th it took in areas as far away as Dromard, Ballinamuck and Newtownforbes. In those days Killoe consisted of nearly 40,000 acres divided between 16 large estates and many smaller ones.
Lewis (1837) reported that during a thunder storm a portion of the Bog of Muckna on the River Camlin burst in several places, “leaving chasms from 10 to 30 feet wide, in a direction parallel with the river, and some at right angles with it; the bed of the river was forced up 3 or 4 feet above its former level; and in a few hours more than 200 acres of land were submerged, and continued for some months in that state, till the bed of the river was lowered with great labour and expense“.
The population of Killoe in 1837 was around 16,500. During the Great Famine the district lost many people to hunger, disease and emigration, and the latter phenomenon has only paused occasionally since then.
St Catherine’s church (CoI), an attractive Gothic Revival style edifice, stands beside two old graveyards on elevated ground near a quarry at Killoe and Glebe, a very rural area southwest of Ballinalee. Built in 1824 with funds from the Board of First Fruits and Willoughby Bond of nearby Farraghroe House, it was probably designed by the latter’s architect John Hargrave, who was also responsible for St John’s church in Ballinalee. The unusually large lateral tower and octagonal belfry, probably added during alterations in 1861, gives this building a striking silhouette. Although currently out of use and in poor condition, with rotten timber frames and panes of glass missing,the building’s main features remain intact. The oldest legible grave marker in the Roman Catholic cemetery dates from 1741; a church is marked here on the Down Survey map of Killoe dated 1654.
Ennybegs / Enybegs is a small village situated in the middle of Killoe parish.
St. Mary’s church (RC) was the nucleus around which Ennybegs grew.
The Titanic Monument & Garden, opened opposite the church on 15th April 2012, exactly 100 years after the Titanic sank, commemorates the bravery of James Farrell from Clonee, a below-decks passenger on the doomed ship whose heroic deeds helped to save the lives of two Killoe women, Katie Gilnagh and Katie Mullen, as well as sisters Margaret and Kate Murphy from Aghnacliffe, among others. After leading the women to the lifeboats, he gave his cap to Katie Gilnagh and shouted “Goodbye forever”. Eight days later, James’ body was recovered still clutching his rosary beads, given a brief religious service and buried at sea on 24th April 1912.
Cullyfad (Coill Fada – “Long Wood”), historically aka Killyfad, is a village in the southern part of Killoe parish. It has won many awards in the national Tidy Towns competition.
St Oliver’s church (RC), originally constructed in 1825, was the nucleus around which Cullyad village grew.
The local Community Centre caters for the social and cultural needs of the area, and hosts occasional concerts etc.
Carrigglas / Carrickglass Manor is built on, or close to, the site of an earlier house. (Photo – www.buildingsof ireland.ie)
Originally a manor of the Church of Ireland Bishops of Ardagh, Carrigglas estate was left to Trinity College, Dublin, in the C17th and leased c. 1695 to the Newcomen family of Mosstown (Keenagh), who appear to have bought the property in 1772.
Around 1794 Sir William Gleadowe-Newcomen commissioned the great James Gandon to design an unusual house/villa, but the financial troubles that led to the eventual collapse of the Newcomen Bank prevented work starting on the main building. However, a magnificent stableblock and farmyard with central pedimented archways were completed, as was an elegant triumphal arch gateway incorporating gate lodges to either side at Farragh, considered the finest in County Longford, where other examples of Palladian architecture are sadly lacking. An unusual oval-plan walled garden and a gardener’s house may also have been designed by Gandon.
Carrigglas was leased to, and later bought by Thomas Lefroy (1776 – 1869) an eminent barrister of Huguenot descent who served as a Baron of the Court of Exchequer from 1841 and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland from 1852. (It is often rumoured that Lefroy, while attending college in England during the late C18th, had had a romantic interlude with Jane Austen, who supposedly based the character of ‘Mr. Darcy’ in Pride and Prejudice on him). His professional success, coupled perhaps with the independent wealth of his heiress wife Mary (née Paul, of Silver Spring in County Wexford), provided the funds to replace Carriglass House.
Lefroy engaged the Scottish architect Daniel Robertson (d.1849) to design a new house for him at Carrigglas, demolishing its decrepit C17th predecessor c. 1837. Robertson envisaged the new edifice in an Elizabethan architectural style, creating a highly picturesque dwelling with a dramatic roofline of tall Tudoresque chimney-stacks, crenellated turrets and gabled projections that ranks as one of the finest buildings of its type in Ireland. Robertson was also an accomplished landscape gardener, and carried out extensive work in the wooded grounds of Carrigglas, a demesne watered by the River Camlin.
Carrigglas Manor was one of only two large estates in County Longford to remain in the hands of the same family throughout the C20th (the other being Castle Forbes). The last Lefroy to live there sold the house and grounds in 2005 to a speculator with grand ideas, which have come to naught.
The entrance gates today. (Photo – www.buildingsofireland.ie)
As of 2012, the floor and walls of the bedroom wing of a 96-bedroom hotel and the floor slab of some common areas have been constructed, but the structure has no roof and is substantially incomplete; major earthworks have taken place with underground drainage installed for a proposed 21-hole championship golf course, substantially incomplete; the foundations have been laid for a golf clubhouse; a development of 59 Village Houses stands at various stages of construction, out of a planning grant of approximately 265 units for this portion of the scheme; the previously completed houses are in need of refurbishment and repair; a development of 37 short-stay courtyard houses close to Carrigglas Manor and immediately adjoining the R194 route is almost complete.
A video criticising the current situation of the Carrigglas estate can be viewed here.