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Windows on our Past

The Parish of Carrigallen, which today consists of 67 townlands, has had its boundaries extended considerably over the past few centuries. The oldest map of the parish, which gives details of townlands and land ownership as well as parish boundaries as they were then, dates back to the 1650's. When the Cromwellian war came to an end in 1652 with the surrender of Galway, its administration charged Sir William Petty with the task of carrying out a census and survey of the whole country. The main purpose of this exercise was to locate lands for confiscation, to be given in payment to the soldiers and financiers who had supported Cromwell in his campaign. Thankfully the result of this survey is still available to us, and provides very interesting information.

According to this survey, the parish of Carrigallen did not extend very much beyond what is to-day known as the Carrigallen half of the parish.There are some blanks on the map, which relate to lands around Killegar already granted to Sir James Craige in 1640 and not surveyed on this occasion. As the map stands, the only portion of Drumeela that would have belonged to the ancient parish of Carrigallen would be the townlands of Curraghboy, Corglass and Kilnemar. It is possible that some other townlands, like Drumhaldry or Cullen & Brownhill, which are not shown on this map for the above reason, also belonged to Carrigallen. The rest of Drumeela as it is to-day was part of the parish of Drumreilly.

Modern parish boundaries have their roots in ancient history, and are generally based on the old Irish Tuatha system under which the land was owned and run by an extended family system and ruled over by a chieftain elected from the family. The Tuatha in turn would form part of the greater kingdom whose territories are represented by today's diocesan boundaries. In ancient Ireland, Tuathas, Chieftains and Kings were not a matter of consensus and election. Powerful families emerged from time to time and carved out their kingdom. Boundaries and territories altered with the fortunes of war through the centuries.

The earliest settlers in the parish would have travelled up rivers from the Erne valley. Evidence of pre-historic settlements can still be seen around Newtowngore where cromlachs, locally know as druids altars, are almost certainly megalithic tombs dating from about 3,000 BC. The coming of the Celts to Ireland about 750 to 500 BC brought with them the ring-forts and crannógs which we can still see all over the parish. Early man depended on rivers and waterways for travel and movement, so the greater evidence of early life will be found around Newtowngore, close to Garadice, and around the rivers and lakes from Killegar to Gulladoo.

In the 7th and 8th centuries, the area since known as Breifne was conquered and settled by the Uí Briúin who were a branch of the royal family of Connacht. The Uí Briúin, of whom the O'Rourkes were hereditary chieftains, established themselves, first in Leitrim and then into what is now Co Cavan. During the 12th century the O'Rourke's reached the height of their power under the kingship of Tiernan O'Rourke. Tiernan spent most of his long reign from 1124 to 1172 at war, and he expanded the boundaries of his territory until it ran from Drumcliffe in Co Sligo to Kells in Co Meath. Most historians now agree that King Tiernan, also described as 'a great man of battle,' ruled his kingdom from Tuam Shanshadha, now Woodford, at Lough Fenvoye (Garadice), and maintained a fortress on Cloch Inse na Dtorc (Cherry Island) on the same lake.

Tiernan married Dervorgilla, Princess of Meath, in 1152. Like many royal matches, this had more to do with power than with love. Her family, the line of King Malachy, was in difficulty with the High King, Ruaidhri O'Connor, who depended on the support of O'Rourke to keep him in power. This marriage must have been seen by the Meath dynasty as the perfect alliance to secure the future of their kingdom. The wrath of the High King was not however stayed and a few years later he invaded the Kingdom of Meath. Tiernan did not aid his wife's family, but appeared toremain neutral. However when the spoils of war were being distributed, he received the Kingdom of Meath by way of grant from the High King.

Some of the most talked of and written about events in the history of Ireland were about to unfold on the shores of Garadice Lake. For it was these events which were generally accepted in folklore and tradition as having led to the Norman invasion and the ultimate conquest of Ireland.

As the purpose of Dervorgilla's marriage to King Tiernan O'Rourke was no longer relevant, she availed of his absence on pilgrimage and gathered together her servants and her cattle and departed for Leinster to join with King Diarmuid MacMurrough, her lover of earlier years and an old ally of her father's family. Tiernan on his return, hearing what had happened mustered his army and called on the High King, Ruari O'Connor, for help to wage war on Leinster, and Diarmuid MacMurrough­their mutual enemy. Diarmuid agreed to peace talks, and an agreementwas worked out in the Black Stairs Mountains which provided for the return of Dervorgilla with all her train to Breifne. Over the following 18 years as wife of Tiernan O'Rourke, Dervorgilla performed many queenly ceremonies. She is recorded in the annals of Ireland as having been with her husband, Tiernan, at the consecration of the Church in Melafont, and in 1167 she had the nuns' chapel of Clonmacnoise restored. Clonmacnoise at this time was also within the territory of Tiernan O'Rourke.

Dervorgilla's association with the Norman invasion, and the loss of the Kingdom of Ireland, grew through the ages and she became an 'Eve' figure to an unhappy and defeated people. There is nothing in history that can associate Dervorgilla with the Norman invasion. Dervorgilla had in fact lived 20 years as Queen of Breifne and dutiful wife of Tiernan O'Rourke following her sojourn in Leinster, before ever a Norman set foot in Ireland. In 1172 Tiernan O'Rourke was killed at the Hill of the Ward in Meath while negotiating terms with the new Norman Lord of Meath, Hugh Delacy. Following the death of Tiernan O'Rourke, chieftains of the clan continued to reside either on Inish na Dtorc (Cherry Island) or at Tuam Shanshadha (Woodford) depending on whether peace or war prevailed at the time over the next 200 years.

A great battle fought between the O'Reillys and the O'Rourkes in the year 1256 near Ballinamore led to the division of Breifne between the O'Rourkes and O'Reillys, with West Breifne eventually becoming Co Leitrim and East Breifne becoming Co Cavan. This division changed the importance of Tuam Shanshadha as a centre of power. So, instead of being in the centre of what was all Breifne, it became a stronghold on the Eastern margin of West Breifne, as there is evidence to show that West Breifne was ruled from Tuam Shanshadha intermittently up to the early 15th century. Sr Elizabeth O'Rourke, in her recently published Stronghold of West Breifne, cites a number of interesting events which gives credence to this theory.

In 1257 Con, son of Tiernan O'Rourke, having gone to the residence of the O'Connors to ratify a peace with them, conceded their demands for all lands of Breifne, together with Clough Inish na d'Torc on Lough Fenvoy, to which Hugh, the son of O'Connor sent a garrison. In the same year a further entry in the annals or Ireland states that 'Clough Inish na d'Torc on Lough Fenvoy was burned by O'Rourke and the garrison was turned out of it'. In 1386 Anne, daughter of Teige McDonagh and wife of Tiernan O'Rourke, one of the most worthy women of Leath Cuinn (northern half of Ireland), died at Tuam Shanshadha at Lough Fenvoy and was buried at Sligo. In 1418 the annals of Ireland refer to Cherry Island again in two separate mentions, noting that in that year Owen, son of Tiernan Mór, Tánaiste of Breifne, was drowned after Christmas while returning from Inish na d'Torc where his father was on his death bed. Later it states that 'Annie's husband, Tiernan Mór O'Rourke, Lord of Breifne, the most valiant man of his race, died at an advanced age and was buried at Sligo Abbey'. Following this time, the administration of Breifne shifted away from Tuam Shanshadha and from this parish, to North Leitrim initially and Dromahaire, and eventually to Leitrim village. Cherry Island and the great fortress at Tuam Shanshadha, which was said to have covered more than half an acre, waned in importance, not alone in the context of Breifne, but also within the parish.

The late 16th and early part of the 17th century were critical periods for the last remaining outposts of the old Gaelic order, which West Breifne still was, and of which this parish was a part. In 1541, Henry VIII introduced a law whereby chieftains who had not yet submitted to the Crown could avail of an arrangement whereby they could surrender their lands to the Crown and have them re-granted. Under this settlement too, pardons would be extended to all those who were named by the Chieftain as having participated in previous wars or disturbances.

It is in this context that we come across an entry relating to Carrigallen. On June 2nd 1585 Brian O'Rourke, Chief of Breifne, living at Dromahaire, surrendered his lands to the Crown. The entry lists his estates and names his supporters and landowners who are to be pardoned. In his statement which refers to Carrigallen parish we find that there is no reference whatever to Tuam Shanshadha or Inish na d'Torc and, while he includes the lands from Gulladoo, to the Woodford river, the only O'Rourke named is at Clooncorrick, so what becomes obvious from this is that Tuam Shanshadha had declined over the previous 150 years and a new seat of importance had developed within the parish at Clooncorrick. Another very interesting point which arises from the detail of this surrender is the name of the parish. It was known as Cowlloffluyn, which was a corruption of the Irish Cúl Bhfloinn, meaning the 'backhill of the O'Flynns', which was the old territorial name of the area.

The O'Flynns had been the dominant family in the parish prior to the formation of Breifne. Around that time the inquisition which set the boundaries of the county and the baronies, meeting in Dromahaire, substituted the name of Carrigallen for Cúll Ó Bhfloinn, and this appears to be the first time the name of Carrigallen in its present form was used. It is probable, therefore, that the name Carrigallen is a corruption of the older name Cúll Bhfloinn, and only came into general use around 1606. The political scene within Breifne continued to change, as it did within the whole country, and with it changes were felt in Carrigallen. Briain (Ramparts) O'Rourke, the subject of the surrender and re-grant arrangement, was hanged a few years later in London for aiding Spanish sailors wrecked from the Armada. His son Briain Óg, based in Leitrim, took over the chieftaincy, and joined a general revolt by Ulster chieftains, which continued for nine years. Their defeat at Kinsale and the eventual surrender of O'Rourke left Leitrim without an effective chieftain. In the years that followed, plans were made for a plantation by King James I and this came into effect in 1620.

The Carrigallen half of the parish remained in the hands of the natives, while the Drumeela half was distributed between the Earl of Westmeath, the Earl of Meath, Sir James Craige and Robert Nugent. These arrangements, however, were short lived. War was on the land again and defences were being strengthened to protect the area against Cromwell. Castles were built at Longfield, Clooncorick and Woodford; the islands on Garadice were fortified. Eoghan Roe O'Neill was training an army at Tully and Gortermone.

At the end of the Cromwillian war, we get the first information on population density from William Petty's census. The total population of the parish as shown in this census was 210 persons. This is broken down into two categories, English and Irish. It is quite possible that this figure is understated, since children under 16 are unlikely to have been included, but it is obvious that there are large tracks of the parish that were unoccupied, and large areas which would have been totally covered with natural woodland. It should be noted that the war at the beginning of the century was said to have led to the deaths of one third of the population, while the Cromwellian war reduced the population further by 25%. The townland of Du Carraig for instance, which is present day Newtwongore, had nobody registered; nor had Mullyaster. Gortermone is also without population. Towmanaghan, which was the name then given to Tuam Shanshadha (Woodford), is recorded as having 46 occupants, 32 English and 14 Irish. This was obviously a Cromwellian garrison.

By the end of the 17th century, with the conquest and plantations completed, the parish was fully in the hands of what became known as the landlord class. The next indication we get of population is from the religious census of 1766, which records that there were 126 Protestant families and 398 Catholic families living in the parish in that year. The population continued to grow until it peaked before the famine at a population of 8,100. Through deaths, emigration and migration the population declined steadily from there on, and by the end of the century had dropped to around 3,500 It can be seen from the foregoing figures that high population levels only covered a short period relative to the long history of the area. Large families were a contributing factor, nature's reaction to uncertainty, famine and untimely deaths. But a greater influence was the huge number of migratory refugees who would have come to the area from other parts of the country where the hard landlord regime of the 18th century was executing forced clearances and dispossessing the indigenous people. Many such people from various parts of the country moved into the parish, rented small portions of land, built a cabin and paid rent to the local landlord, usually for what was called a tenancy-at-will. The repressive regime of the 18th century begot a severe backlash, when in 1798 the oppressed Presbyterians, supported by the Catholic population, led a rebellion against the Government and the Crown. It was a bloody civil war, which we know involved great numbers on both sides from the parish, and ended in September of that year with a massacre of rebels at Ballinamuck.

A story remembered from the period was told to me outside Drumeela church by the late Michael McGovern and Eugene O'Kelly. As the French army under General Humbert marched through the county that September on their way to Granard, many young men along the way joined up to travel with them in support. These in turn were veryoften followed by their families. One such family, a group of children, lost their way and were gathered up in the townland of Drumbrick. These camp followers, as they were called, were set upon by yeomen at the end of the Drumbrick Lane, and some of the children were said to have been killed and buried there. All would have been killed only for the intervention of an Arnold man who lived in Drumeela and came to their rescue. He took home two children whom he and his family fostered and reared until they were able to look after themselves. But if 1798 might appear a failure, it brought in its aftermath changes which were for the better. Freedom and equality were eventually granted in the 1820's for both Catholics and Presbyterians, and agitation through the 19th century was for land rights and votes.

Following the famine of the 1840's, as before in local famines, disease and afflictions continued to plague the people of the parish. By the late 1870's, Charles Steward Parnell, a landlord from Co Wicklow, was providing the leadership to harness the power of an aggrieved people and converted to a political force to bring about much needed changes. Meetings were being organised all over the county, and in September 1879 a great rally was organised in Carrigallen. Parnell's political career was sadly short, but the movement to which he had given leadership and credibility would not be set aside until the people had control of their lands and control of their lives as they saw it.

To this end came a great ally from within the parish in the person of John Arthur Godley, who had inherited Killegar when still a schoolboy, and became private secretary to Gladstone when still a young man. As such, he worked with the premier on the first of a series of Irish Land Acts that would enable tenants to become owners of their lands. While this act was resisted vigorously by landlords throughout the country, Godley was one of the first to encourage tenants to purchase through a long-term land-purchase scheme, which up to our own time was run by the Land Commission. John Arthur Godley for his services was created a Baron by King Edward VII in 1909 and became the first Lord Kilbracken.

The villages of Carrigallen and Newtowngore are late arrivals in the history of the parish. The first suggestion of establishing a town came in 1640, when Charles I granted an area around Killegar and Drumeela to Sir James Craige and Dr John Craige of Riccarton in Scotland to be established as the Manor of Craigstown with a patent to hold courts and establish a town, fairs and markets. However, while Craigstown remained in the Craige family into the following century, no town was established.

We know that in 1686, when Tadgh O'Roddy of Fenagh published a survey of the county and refers to all the towns and villages, no town or village appears for this parish. It is probable that some semblance of a village must have existed around Clooncorrick, which continued in use as an O'Rourke castle up to the Williamite/Jacobite wars of the 1690's, and a list of the high sheriffs of Leitrim shows a Hugh O'Rourke of Clooncorrick, high sheriff in 1689. Carrigallen as a village in its present location probably started to develop in the early 18th century after the purchase of Craigstown by the Morgans.
Last Updated: March 27, 2012
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