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County Cavan - Lake Country
by Bridget Haggerty



It's said that Cavan has 365 lakes - one for each day of the year. The Shannon-Erne Waterway links the two rivers, which spring from the barren Cuilcagh Mountains in Cavan’s north-west. The mystical source of the Shannon, known as the 'Shannon Pot', is just a few miles north of Dowra, on the Cavan Way. Is there a song about Cavan? Indeed, there is. "Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff" by Percy French.

An Cabhán which means "the hollow" is the most southerly of the Ulster counties. It features a greatly diversified topography - from mountains and low hills to a maze of small sheets of water-separated promontories and islands of every shape and size. Dotted with numerous lakes and small picturesque villages, the region is very popular with visitors - especially anglers.

Indeed, Cavan is a fisherman's paradise! Roach, bream, tench, perch, eels, hybrids and pike abound in the lakes, rivers and streams around the towns and villages of Cavan, Ballyconnell, Bawnboy, Belturbet, Cootehill, Gowna and Arva. And, while coarse angling is one of Cavan's biggest attractions, there is also game fishing for brown trout in Lough Sheelin to the south.

Beyond its scenic beauty and almost infinite angling opportunities, Cavan is rich in history and archeological heritage. The area has been inhabited for over 5,000 years and many of these ancient Irish lived on artificial islands or 'crannogs.' Crannogs were built by everyone regardless of social position and there are many of them in Cavan including one that can be seen in the lake just behind the remains of the medieval abbey at Drumlane. While crannogs were cramped and uncomfortable, they were often safer than dwellings on dry land. Access was either by rocks just under the surface of the water (and usually known only to the crannog's inhabitants), or by a cot - a form of flat-bottomed boat. More physical evidence of Cavan's long history is scattered throughout the county - from drumlins, stone circles and megalithic tombs to castles and monastic ruins.

Missionaries converted the area to Christianity in the 6th century. One of them, St Feidhlim, founded a church at Kilmore, while St Mogue set up an abbey at Drumlane. In the later Middle Ages (1200-1600), Cavan was a border area. It remained under the control of Irish chieftains. The Anglo-Normans had settled to the west and south. They even tried to conquer Cavan but were driven back. In 1579, County Cavan took on its present boundaries.

In the early 17th century, Cavan was settled by planters from England and Scotland who laid the foundations for many of the county's town and villages, including Belturbet, Killeshandra and Virginia. In the next century, their descendants built fine houses, many of which are still standing. Cavan's history as a holiday destination dates from this time, when visitors from all over Ireland flocked to the mineral spas at Swanlinbar.

The countryside prospered with the growth of the linen industry. The population grew dramatically, and in 1841 it was nearly a quarter of a million people - over four times the current population. At this time over half the population depended entirely on potatoes for food. When the potato crop failed for two successive years in 1845 and 1846, there was widespread starvation and hardship.

Following the Famine, Cavan became mostly rural, and while it had many lively market towns and villages, there was very little industry. Many people emigrated in search of work to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
points of interest:
from arva to virginia, cavan's many small towns and villages offer a warm and hospitable atmosphere. here's just a sampling:

cavan town, with its beautiful cathedral, is home to the popular Cavan Crystal brand of hand-cut glass, and also to Killykeen Forest park, on Lough Oughter, one of the finest coarse fishing lakes in Ireland. It is the only medieval town in Ireland founded by the Irish themselves, and its narrow streets still follow the same pattern that was set down seven centuries ago.

ballyconnell
According to tradition, it is named after Conal Cearnach, a first-century hero of the Red Branch Knights who was killed here by the men of Connacht in revenge for the slaying of their king. Above the village rises Slieve Russell. At 1331 feet, it offers splendid views of the surrounding countryside.


Belturbet
A market town on the east bank of the River Erne, midway between the waters of Lough Oughter and Upper Lough Erne, Belturbet is an ideal coarse fishing centre. A two-hour river cruise is available during summer months. Many popular attractions are located here, including Turbet Ireland Natural Park with Motte and Bailey Ruins of Augustinian Abbey at Drumlane, Trinity Abbey, Ancient Island Monastic Settlement, Lough Oughter Castle, Lord Kilbracken's Killegar Estate, Florencecourt House and Gardens, Crom Castle - Home of Lord Erne, Marble Arch Caves and many others.

Enjoy Castles? Cavan has some great ones!

Lough Oughter Castle:
Situated on an island in the middle of the lake, it was built by the Anglo-Normans in the early 13th century when they tried to conquer the Cavan area. It was soon captured by the O'Reilly family, the Irish rulers of east Breifne, who used it as a prison for the rest of the Middle Ages. Owen Roe O'Neill, leader of the anti-English revolt of the 1640s, died here in November 1649.
crover castle:
Reputedly built by Thomas O'Reilly in the late fourteenth century, it stands on the shores of Lough Sheelin, the border between the Irish and English in the later Middle Ages.

Tonymore:
Located two miles south west of Cavan Town, this well-preserved sixteenth century castle features a 'murder hole'. This could be used to throw missiles or boiling water on any unwelcome visitors.

Ballymagauran Castle: Just three miles or so south of Bawnboy, only the base of Ballymagauran Castle survives. It was originally a tower of two stories and was built by the Magauran family in the late 16th century.

Into Prehistoric Sites? Cavan can accommodate:

'Black Pig's Dyke': This was a series of defensive ditches built between Ulster and Connacht in the first century AD. It is also known locally as 'the worm ditch', because according to folklore, it was made by a giant worm wriggling across the land. There is a good example of the dyke on the slopes of Ardkill Hill, 3.5 miles east of Ballinagh.

Banagher Grave Complex: High on the slopes of Slieve Glah Mountain (4 miles south east of Cavan town on the road to Ballyjamesduff) is a prehistoric complex with tombs, stone circles and mounds of earth. It dates from between 2500 BC and 1500 BC.

Bellaheady Cairn: Three miles south west of Ballyconnell, not far from the Shannon -Erne Waterway, is a heap of stones marking the site of a prehistoric burial. This may be over three thousand years old. According to tradition, this is the spot where the legendary Conall Cearnach, who gave his name to Ballyconnell, is buried.

Cohaw Grave Site: Cohaw lies three miles south east of Cootehill, near the road to Shercock. The only features that survive from the early prehistoric era are burial sites because they were built of stone. Cohaw is unusual because it contains not just one burial chamber but four.

Shantemon / 'Finn's Fingers': This curious line of five stones, each one smaller than the other is referred to locally as 'Finn Mac Cool's fingers.' The stones might be the remainder of a stone circle or they could have been used in some religious ritual, or perhaps as a prehistoric calendar.

'The Giant's Grave': It comprises a number of graves, all facing to the north. Local folklore called the biggest tomb 'The Giant's Grave' as no one could believe that ordinary humans could deal with such large stones. The giant died after he was challenged by another giant to jump backwards over a cleft in the mountainside.

Moneygashel Ring Fort: Prehistoric and medieval Ireland could be a dangerous place and it was often worth people's time to take precautions against attack. The fort at Moneygashel consists of a circular stone wall, in places up to three metres thick. There are even two small staircases built into it. On the south side is an underground chamber or souterrain used for storage and during hostilities, for shelter.

Derryragh or Darragh fort: To the north of Ballymagovern, to the right of the Ballyconnell road is the Derryragh Hill Fort, dating from about 200 BC to 400 AD. This was one of the most important religious sites in the country, containing a shrine to Crom Cruach, the Celtic sun god. The central shrine was covered in gold and was surrounded by twelve smaller shrines.

Killycluggin: Three miles south west of Ballyconnell. A very fine example of a prehistoric carved stone was found here. The stone is covered with spiral decoration and may have been part of a fertility cult. The original is now in the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff but there is a replica at Killycluggin crossroads. A gold collar, now in the National Museum, was also found here.

Legeelan Sweathouse: Sweat houses were a form of building common in west Cavan and neighboring parts of Counties Leitrim and Fermanagh. They were small structures built of stone without mortar. A fire was lit in the central chamber and a patient would crawl inside and perspire for over an hour. They were used by people with a variety of illnesses, from rheumatism to skin complaints. Patients had to remove nearly all their clothes before going inside and it wasn't uncommon to find that their clothes had disappeared when they re-emerged! Sweathouses were used for many centuries, until the 1920s.

Bawnboy and Templeport: 1.5 miles south of Bawnboy is Port Lake. There is a small church and cemetery on an island. This was the birthplace of St Mogue, founder of Drumlane, who was amongst the first to preach Christianity in Cavan. In the later Middle ages (1200-1600) there was a school of poetry here.

Cuilcagh Mountain: The ascent of Cuilcagh Mountain is definitely worth the climb. Not only is it one of the best views over the surrounding countryside, but there are also the remains of a cairn or burial mound, possibly dating from c. 1500 BC. The climate was warmer then, and the farmers preferred the land along the slopes of hills and mountains to the boggy ground of the lowlands.

Historic Houses:

Bingfield House: North east of Crossdoney. Early mid 18th century three story mansion with Venetian window over doorway and hipped roof

Cabra Castle: Near Kingscourt. 19th century castellated mansion, formerly home of Pratt family. It is now a hotel.

Rathkenny House: Near Tullyvin. Early 19th century "S" front, three-bay mansion with Tudor gate lodge.

Ballyhaise College: In Ballyhaise. This is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Ireland. The college was built in the 18th century for the Canning family. It is now an agricultural college.

Top Attractions:

Cavan County Museum was officially opened by President Mary Robinson in June 1996. The museum houses the material culture of County Cavan and surrounding districts. Exhibition galleries feature unique Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval artifacts.

Lifeforce Mill - Cavan Town
A history of milling dating back from medieval times to the 1950s, now fully restored producing Lifeforce stoneground wholemeal flour and warm welcomes to visitors. All original machinery, including (what is believed) the only McAdam Water Turbine. "Big John" is also on site for when there is insufficient water pressure. The coffee shop (the mills latest addition) was a stone building originally located 50 miles away in the Boyne valley was transported and rebuilt stone by stone and now provides the perfect setting for the coffee shop and bakery.

Cavan Crystal was established in the 1960s. Just minutes from Cavan Town, it offers the visitor comfy sofas to relax in, open fires and the delights of the most unusual locally and nationally produced craft & design gifts available in the country. A master engraver is on hand to personalize any piece selected. The An Charraigin Restaurant designed by Irish craftsmen, boasts an array of local foods specially selected to delight the palate. The Audiovisual Theatre gives visitors an insight into the craft of mouth blown, hand cut crystal.

Maudabawn Centre

Delightful stone walled, thatched building. History/Heritage of Ireland classes are held here. Organized Heritage tours of the Cavan/Monaghan region are based from the centre. Local guides can bring the visitor on an informed tour of the Megalithic and Celtic sites in the vicinity. Audio-visual display. Quality gift shop. Snack bar. A centre of excellence for an informative and entertaining taste of Ireland.

"Rare Auld Times"

From pork festivals to power boat racing, bilberry picking to bonfire nights, days on the bog or nights filled with jazz, Cavan has it all. Here's just a partial list of what's on offer each year:

Ballyjamesduff International Pork Festival
Cornfean Vintage Ploughing & Field day
Killinkere Whit Jamboree
Killeshandra Festival of the Lakes
Music of the Drumlins
Percy French Festival
Knockbride Vintage & Heritage Festival
Bilberry Festival
Annual Virginia Street Fair
Belturbet Festival of the Erne.

Of Literary/Artistic Interest
From the 18th century poet, Fiachra MacBrady to the contemporary playright, Michael Harding, Cavan boasts an impressive collection of literary and artistic links. Here are just a few:
W. Percy French lived for five years in Cavan town. He was inspired to write one of his most famous songs, 'Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff'. He wrote over a hundred songs, including 'Phil the Phlooter's Ball', 'The Mountains of Mourne' and 'Are ya right there Michael?'

Thomas Sheridan, a classical scholar and school-master from Mullagh was a friend of Jonathan Swift who often stayed at Sheridan's home, Quilca House, and was godfather to his children. It's said that Swift may have been inspired in his writings by a local farmer called Doughty, who was so strong he could carry a pony on his shoulders.

Ed Reavy, the renowned fiddle player, was born in Cavan at Barnagrove near Cootehill. He emigrated to Philadelphia when he was fourteen. In the 1920s, he made some of the first recordings of traditional music. His contribution to Irish music is considered inestimable by players.

Mary Anne Madden was born in Cootehill. Just before the Great Famine she emigrated to Canada. She wrote a vast number of historical novels with Irish themes such as The Hermit of the Rock of Cashel and The Confederate Chieftains.

Shane Connaughton grew up in the village of Redhills. He has drawn on his experiences for his novels A Border Station and The Country Boy, which was made into the film The Playboys. He has also worked extensively in theatre and he wrote the screen-play for the Oscar-winning film My Left Foot.

The American novelist Henry James' grandfather William was born in Bailieborough. He emigrated to New York, and amassed a great fortune. When he died he was reputed to be the third richest man in America. His son Henry, the writer's father, visited Bailieborough, where his black man-servant caused great interest and enquiry!

Tracing your Cavan roots
The Clan O'Reilly were the rulers of Breffni, an area which approximates the present east Cavan. The last clan chieftain was Annadh, who died in 1220. Another strong clan were the O'Rourkes, who controlled the territory which lies roughly south of Lough Erne.

County Cavan Genealogical Research Centre offers a full genealogical research service for people with Cavan ancestry. There are close to half a million records included in the database and although not yet complete it is growing daily. It contains church records of baptisms, marriages, burials, civil records of births, deaths, marriages, census records, pre and post famine land records and numerous other sources of a genealogical nature. Contact: Irish Family History Foundation - Co. Cavan

So there you have it - our armchair tour of County Cavan. We hope you've enjoyed this brief look at "Lake Country."

Resources: Content and images are edited and adapted from the Cavan website. We were very impressed with how well this site is designed. It's easy to navigate and the content is well presented. To visit the site, please click here: Cavan Tourism

 

Fri, Nov 3, 2017

The Round Towers

The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.


Click for More Culture Corner.




Glorious Gardens of Ireland
by Melanie Eclare

A magnificent pictorial tribute to the splendor of Irish gardens, featuring more than 200 color images.
Eclare ushers readers into spectacular Irish garden settings...
Equally captivating are the book's gorgeous photographs of plants, beautiful stonework, outstanding statuary, and the voluptuous floral compositions that adorn Ireland's great castle estates, rural herb growers, country guest houses, and quaint cottages.
Alice Joyce
Click for Glorious Gardens.


 

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