EARLY HISTORY of Lough Allen Region
When the region around Lough Allen was first inhabited we really don’t know, but it was probably not very long after man first arrived in this country. We certainly know that people of the Mesolithic or middle stone age camped on the North West shore of Lough Allen in Drummod Lower townland just above Spencer Harbour. There they made their knives, arrowheads, axes etc. in complete unpolished form, this probably was about 3,500 BC. (Ulster journal of Archaeology 1970)
About the same time or a little later, the Neolithic, or Late Stone Age man, arrived in the area. These people polished their stone implements giving them much greater efficiency. they tilled the land, kept domestic animals within the stone compounds and divided the land into spacious fields. They buried their dead in elaborate tombs. The vast number of megalithic tombs that dot the entire region bears witness to these burial places.
Mythology leaves us in little doubt as to the importance of the region and especially Sliabh Anierin during the time of the Tuatha De Danann. They were reputedly a race of small dark people who fled into the more inaccessible regions of the country before the bigger stronger invaders. The invaders, it seems, only managed to get fleeting glimpses of them. From the secluded and seeming battle shy little people has emanated all the stories of fairies and leprechauns found down the years in Irish myth and legend. Sliabh Anierin was their headquarters (Keating Vol.1)
All the stories and mythology was not without foundation, the Tuatha De DANANN were reputedly early Brozen Age people. The large number of Brozen Age finds n the area certainly points to considerable habitation in the region during the period, the supposed time of the Tuatha. e.g.
A brozen dagger was found in a bog in Murhaun townland. (Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland)
A canoe was found in Drumconnor Bog which dated back to the Brozen Age. Near the same place what was described as a brozen sword was found which was given in exchange some years later to a traveling tinsmith exchange for a new tin can ( Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland). But the most important find from the period was the beautifully decorated horse-bit found on Duck Island off Cormongan (Journal of the Royal Society 1972)
There are many references to the Fianna hunting wild boar on the slopes of Sliabh Anierin. Tradition has it that the legendary leader of Ireland’s first standing army, Finn MacCool himself, was buried under the carn at Sliabh-beg. Of course, Finn’s favourite dog Bran was drowned in the lake on the Drumshanbo to Carrick-on-Shannon road which is still know as Lough Bran to this present day. Finn is reputed to have been killed and his army destroyed by Goll MacMorna somewhere to the West in the shadow of Sliabh Anirin. There are probably a lot of implements and relics lying buried around the district.
It was little surprise that the area which produced much of the evidence of being an important centre of activity in the past has produced so little evidence and trapping of civilisation from next two millennia . But there may be an explanation. Along the Western shore of Lough Allen when the lake was dropped by the E.S.B. to as low as 150 ft O.D. vast areas of shoreline were littered by great oak trees. Oak does not grow with its roots in the water. So it would seem that the lake was much lower then, probably below 150 ft OD above sea level. It would seem also that the waters from the lake then flowed out into the Atlantic by the North West passage, this passage became silted up or was closed off by some kind of volcanic eruption. The lake filled up and began to flow south to join the Shannon basin. The land between the mountains ranges was probably quiet fertile from the alluvia coming down the hills all around the lake. The fertile land was covered by the water as the lake filled up and the regions became less useful for habitation.
Indeed the lake seems to have not quiet filled up by the 17th century as can be seen from Tadhg O Rourke’s description of the area in 1680. “The land is mountainous in many places, they are wooded and course. The soil wet and deep but very fertile abounding in all its lowlands with good green grass. The chief product is black cattle, where it is well stored. In a few places very good rye, wheat, barley, oats and peas are grown. There are very good woods of ash, oak, alder, birch, whereof a great part is consumed by several ironworks around the region.”
Source (History of Adagh and Clonmacnois)
In ancient and medieval times, the area around Lough Allen was part of the West Breifne and was within the territory ruled by O’Roukes.
In 1584, Lord Deputy formed East Breifne into County Cavan, and West Breifne in Co Leitrim. The area around Lough Allen was divided into districts ruled by local clans. From the Annals of Connacht we learn that – Monterrolish Oghtragh represents a rebel and territorial name of Moylish and it comprised the ancient pre-reformation parishes of Annaduff , Fenagh, Kiltubrid and Kiltoghert. As Catholic parishes they are still known, but Kiltoghert has been altered to form a new parish of Murhaun now Drumshanbo.
Lesser Chieftains staked their claims to the Composition of Connacht. It was the English policy to make divisions between the different chieftains to kill the power of such a mighty Lord as O’Rourke and hence the divisions.
Mounterkenny has for its Irish form – Muintir Cionaith which is a both a tribal and territorial name – lying North, North west of Lough Allen. Its ancient territorial name of Inishmagrath which is its ecclesiastical name – chief town – Drumkeeran.
On the West side of Lough Allen is a territory Tir Thuathail from Thathal maol Gobh grandson of Cairbre one of the sons of Niall the Great. Far beyond the time of Tuathal the history or rather the pre history of the district stretches back into time as is evidenced by the numerous examples to be found there of those megalithic monuments. Fifteen stand near Lasser’s well close to the ancient graveyard of Kilronan.
O’Maulmhiadhaigh or Mulvey a section of the Muintir Eolius people from their own territory in the present parish of Murhaun to the east of the Shannon moves across the Shannon into Tir Thuathail and took Tir Tuathual with the permission of their over-Lord the O’Roukes. Book of Fenagh (page 387)
In the Annals of Lough Ce under date 1186 we read as follows;
Conchaobhar Meanmaighe come to Mucart and Aodh O’Ruaire went into his house and gave hostages to Conchobhar and gave Tir – Thathail to the Connacht men.
Conchubhar was the son of Ruidhri O’Connor the last Ard Ri of Ireland, succeeded his father as King of Connacht and now proceeded to strengthen his authority at the expense of the neighbouring chiefs. He invades the territory of O’Ruairi and the Cheiftain “went into his house” a Gaelic way of saying that they O’Ruairi submitted to the invader.
Another family long identified with Kilronan and Lough Allen region was that of the Mac Manus were also a branch of the O’Connors being descended from Mac Manus Mioghran son of Turlough Mor O’Connor – King of Ireland
To the South of Lough Allen Muintir Eoluis it as divided in Muintir Carolan. The dominate clann there the O’Machniadhnaigh. Magh Nisi was another sub division lived in by Mac Giolla (Gilhooley) further south and east of Lough Allen was the Reynolds. The village of Leitrim, belonged to the Mac Rannals but was forcibly taken from them in the sixteenth century by their over Lord O’ Ruairc.
In 1540, Brain Bollach O’Ruairc proceeded to build a castle there despite the efforts of MacRannal assisted by MacDermot and by O’Reilly to prevent him O’Ruairc complete his castle and fortified it strongly making it one of his principal residences.
In 1602 O’Sullivan Bears received hospitality and care for his sick from the O’Ruairc of the time Brian Og outside Leitrim village after their long march from Cork pursued by the English.
Crannog’s and Ancient Lake Road on Lough Allen just south of O’Connors Island (Inisfale)
Crannnog’s are on Lough Allen, just south east of O’Connors Island. The Shannon river is the boundary between Roscommon and Leitrim here, running up to the lake above O’Connor’s Island. The E.S.B by building Sluice gates at Ballintra can control water levels on Lough Allen from a high level of 163 ft above sea level down to 152 ft above sea level. By lowering the Lough Allen these dwellings were discovered.
Ten of the crannog’s and the crannog fortress are in Drumshanbo. About eight of the crannogs are in Kilronan parish, they stretch in a line about 80 yards across the Shannon to the lake shore. The crannogs consist of stones arranged, sometimes ovely, sometimes circularity in raised formation with diameters of from 12 to 18ft. The crannog next the river is two feet above the water, the rest are just below water level.
Approximately 42 yards from the line of crannogs is a circular construction of stones – 30 ft. in diameter and averaging two feet above ground level. Some locals say this may possibly have been a kind of fortress for the lake dwellers.
The roadway is easily discernible by its arrangement of stones laid down to form a submerged pathway to the dwellings above 15ft wide, the complete arrangement was destroyed by the sinking of the Shannon by the E.S.B.
Experts examined the site and pronounced the road to be the most important yet discovered in the country (Leitrim Observer) of its kind. Items found during the sinking, was a shallowly hollowed out tree trunk about 15ft long which was perhaps used , during that age.
Murhaun (that is Murthan, the little wall or rampart) is the northern part of the ancient parish of Kiltoghert. It lies along the Shannon and Lough Allen, and includes the mountainous district of Sliabh-an-Iarainn (1,922 feet in height). The parish name was taken from the pre-Emancipation chapel which stood at Murhaun, about three quarters of a mile north of the village of Drumshanbo. Though Murhaun as a parish is not ancient, it has a good claim to have been trodden by the feet of St. Patrick himself. According to Dr. Healy it was here, about a mile and a half north of Battlebridge, that the saint first crossed the Shannon into Connacht. This would be at the ford of Drumboylan, that is Drom-buaidmaoil, which derives its name from Buaidmaol, the Saint’s charioteer, who died there and was buried on the Connacht side where the little church of Cill-Buaidmaoil afterwards preserved his name. At Drumboylan the Shannon forms a considerable island, Inis-na-gcon, where the stones that formed the ancient ford may still be seen on the bank whether they were removed in recent times to clear the river bed. Tradition here is very vivid and emphatic in assigning this as indeed the place of Patrick’s crossing the river, and in its belief that these well-worn stones were indeed trodden by his apostolic feet. It may well be so, though the view is not without its difficulties.
After Patrick ‘s visit to Magh Sleacht his journey westward to the Shannon can in all probability be traced by the holy wells and still bear his name in the parishes of Fenagh and Kiltubrid. The latter parish especially preserves the memory of its association with the apostle in the Middle Ages when its church was still St. Patrick’s. This line would lead easily to the ford of Drumboylan and the fertas would lead easily to the ford of Drumboylan.
THE ISLAND OF INISMAGRATH (OR INCH ISLAND) situated on the north east of the lake .
The parish of Inishmagrath comprises an area of about 36 square miles and lies to the north and north-west of Lough Allen. This island lies a short distance from the mainland, near the entrance of the Shannon to the lake, and embraces an area of a little over seven acres.
On this island stands the ruin of an ancient church, as well as a disused graveyard. According to Dr. James Mc Partland, “the nave measures fifty feet by thirty. The windows and ruins of the aisles seem to be proportionate” (statistical Survey of Co. Leitrim for the Royal Dublin Society, 1802).
For many centuries, it would appear, the people of the district buried their dead on Inch Island. This, however was very inconvenient and was often attended with much hardship and danger. Dr. James Mc Partland, in the Statistical Survey 1802 referring to above, states: “It was, time immemorial the burial place and hardships attending these internments. Expecting a calm hour, or boldly brave the strong waves in a crazy little boat, to reach this island of promise.Even when Fr. Myles Mc Partland had the little church erected in 1735 at Kilbride, with its adjoining cemetery to be a more convenient burial ground for the area, internment’s still continued to take place on the island, and Dr. Mc Partland, referring to this, continues: “I myself have known, for days together, the coffins to have remained on the shore, covered with sand, and the good old neighbours sitting around them, smoking and exposed to the stormy elements waiting for a calm hour.
Tradition has it that the funeral cortege was conveyed to and from the island on a large stone flag. This flag was supposed to have self-propelling powers and there was a prophecy connected with this burial ground that if ever anyone who was not religious was buried in it there would never be another burial on the island. Some outsiders of a different religion, who had come to settle in the vicinity, heard about the prophecy, and decided to put it to the test. Accordingly, one of their members having died was interred on the mainland but that night they exhumed his body and conveyed him across to the island for burial.. But when they were returning the flag broke into two parts and sank to the bottom of the lake, thus the prophecy was fulfilled. One part of the flag was later washed ashore at Deadman’s Point, where it is to this day.
It has been suggested that this practice of island worship associated with Inismagrath Island – and also with the island of Lough Key on the Sligo-Leitrim border, and Lough Derg in Donegal – may have been introduced to this country by the Firbolgs, who came from the continent where island worship flourished in pagan times.
It is not clear how the island got its name. Tradition speaks of a law suit which took place many years ago regarding the ownership of the island. It is said that the litigants were from Inismagrath parish and Ballinaglera respectively and that the suit went in favour of one Magrath from the area. This man Magrath obtained possession of this island during the operation of the Brehon (Old Irish) Law. That being so, the law case would have taken place about the middle of the 16th century, for around the year 1585 the old Irish legal system was replaced by that of England system.
Deadman’s Point as already mentioned, is where the only remaining part of the stone flag, used in the funeral corteges across to the island, lies. It is the name given to the point of land jutting into the lake where the people kept watch over their dead until a favourable opportunity for internment on the island presented itself. This then became known as “Gob na ndaoine marbh” or “The Dead Peoples Point”, more commonly spoken of as “The Deadman’s Point”.
DESCRIPTION OF LOUGH ALLEN AND SURROUNDING AREA.
BY ISAAC WELD ( IN 1832).
This beautiful sheet of water which possesses all the attributes of an individual lake deserves to be regarded under such a point of view. Besides the water which poured into it from the Shannon it is supplied by various streams which descend along the sides of the mountain, all small. The river discharged by the lake towards it’s southern extremity, which there can no longer be any hesitation in naming the true Shannon, seems in ordinary seasons insufficient to carry off all the excess flood water of so large a lake.
Lough Allen is bound on each side by mountains steep but not precipitation’s, several parts of their base afford slopes, scattered cottages and small farm houses many of them, whitened may be distinguished at intervals as far as the eye can reach, although the little town of Drumshanbo likewise at the foot of the hills near the south eastern end, shows its clusters of houses, and its new church yet in the general scene bogs, heather and rocks predominate and the aspect of the country is one of wildness.
The scarcity of wood is remarkable and circumstance the more to be regretted since there can be no doubt that the hills formerly not only produced trees but very large ones judging from the size of the stumps and roots which may occasionally be traced. Plantations might be carried far up the mountains and probably in such a situation would afford more profit in the end than any other employment of the soil since the trees when grown to a suitable age, might readily be brought down to the lake and be conveyed along the Shannon and canals to a market.
The shores of Lough Allen are not naturally favourable for the landing or unloading of boats and with the exception of two small docks one at Drumshanbo and the other at Spencer Harbour formed on the Western side of the lake by the Irish Mining Company for the purpose of shipping their coal nothing has been done to improve them.
At the head of a narrow bay which forms it’s most southern extremity a canal was opened in 1817. It was constructed to avoid the rapids of the Shannon.
TEAMPULL NA GCURRACHADHA (CURRAGHS)
On the western shore of Lough Allen a little over half a mile south of Tarmon Church stands the ruins of what may have been a very old religious foundation. O’Donnovan writes in his survey letters: “There is an old church in ruins in the townland of Curraghs situated on a point running into Lough Allen.”
In D.C. Grose in the Irish Penny Magazine 1833. The monastery, is totally silent as to its history or name – dependent on the abbey of Kilronan about six miles off. Dr. Madden refers it as this venerable building the ancient Abbey of Tarmon.
Surmising that Tarmon derived its name from the abbey sanctuary as explained on note on Tarmon. Tradition maintains that it was occupied by a community of Black Friars.
TEAMPULL NA GCURRACHADHA (CONAGH OR NUNNERY POINT)
About one mile north of Curraghs Ancient Abbey of Tarmon in the townland of Cartronbeg near The Leitrim/Roscommon border stand the ruins of the old convent of Conagh also known and Teampull na gCailleacha Dubha.
This convent was built on a peninsula which protrudes into lough Allen and is called Nunnery Point. Dr. Madden visited the place in 1840. The Nunnery was occupied by a large community of nuns until the year 1642 when the convent was burned down and the nuns slaughtered by sir Frederick Hamilton and his soldiers.
Amongst the many victims of the Hamiltons ruthless massacre were two beautiful young daughters of the chieftain of Muintir Kenny – Garret Forde. This convent was burned down by Hamilton on the same night when he took Forde a Prisoner. It so happened that two of the Forde girls escaped in a row boat from their crannog rock, off Corry Point. The lake was at low level and they were pursued by Hamilton’s men and traced to the Convent at Cartron where they and all the nuns that were living there were burned to death.
Lough Allen and Irish Mythology
Siabh an Iarainn figures prominently in tales of the Tuatha de Danann who according to Irish mythology came from Greece and having conquered the Firbolgs, later attempted to keep out Milesians from the land of Erin. They are credited with having had magical powers which enabled them to settle on the summit of Sliabh an Iarainn.
The Goban Saor – local tradition that noted elusive character of Irish Folklore of the 7th century made use of the famous iron ore. He would never disclose his secrets so that no one could repeat his work.