County Offaly: Edenderry

Thursday 7th June 2018. Hot.

I arrived in Dublin at 8.20am and boarded the Bus Éireann coach (Route 120) to Edenderry (population 7,500). It is 60 kilometres (36 miles) from Dublin.

A pleasant journey thru Lucan in West Dublin thru towns and villages in County Kildare……Celbridge, Straffan, Clane, Prosperous, Coill Dubh, Allenwood and Derrinturn. All are well worth a future visit.

Edenderry is just inside County Offaly. It is situated on the Grand Canal. The population has doubled in the last twenty years and it is on the outer reaches of the Dubln commuter belt. Local employment is mostly in the Bord na Mona (Turf Board) factories in Offaly and Kildare.

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The former Town Hall is the only interesting feature that I noticed on my short visit.

I then got the Route 120 Dublin-bound coach back towards Dublin.

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County Armagh: Lurgan

Wednesday 6th June 2018. Very hot.

Just two miles from my home. I am in Lurgan once or twice a week. It seems remiss that I have not written about it.

Lurgan (population 25,000) is in North Armagh and about 41 kilometres (25 miles) from Belfast. It is about two miles from the southern shore of Lough Neagh, Ireland’s biggest lake.

The area was given to William Brownlow an English settlor “planter” in 1610 and the Brownlow family (Lord Lurgan) built the town soon after. They built Brownlow House which overlooks Lurgan Park (apparently only the Phoenix Park in Dublin is a bigger public park) .

The town’s fortunes grew with the rise of Linen Industry in the mid-19th century and waned with the fall of Linen in the late 20th century.

In population terms, the town is about 60% Catholic (Irish nationalist) and about 40% Protestant (British unionist) but Lurgan is officially part of the “new city” of Craigavon. In the mid-1960s, the Unionist government of “Northern Ireland” created Craigavon, as a model city based on post-war “garden cities” in Britain.

The “new city” was created by joining Lurgan with Portadown (a strongly Protestant/unionist town which is five miles from Lurgan) and villages such as Waringstown and Bleary. The name “Craigavon” honoured the first Prime Minister, James Craig (later Lord Craigavon) and the name itself created a cold place for Catholic nationalists. While anti-Catholic discrimination in jobs and housing was rife, it is also fair to say that many old residents of Portadown had negative feelings about “Craigavon”. The government enticed people to move to the new city with offers of houses and re-settlement grants but the new residents were not overly welcomed by the indigenous population. The new residents were often believed to be social misfits from Belfast.

Although most young people would not connect the name “Craigavon” to the name of a unionist politician, few people actually use the word. Most people say that they live in “Lurgan” or one of the other towns and villages. Nowadays, Craigavon refers to several housing estates built between Lurgan and Portadown. The name was dropped from the local shopping mall and the more bland “Rushmere Shopping Centre” is the new name.

The decline of the Linen Industry, the closure of the major “new” employer, Goodyear Tyres in the 1980s and retail business lost to Rushmere have all contributed to Lurgan’s decline. The Troubles from 1969 also had an effect. Several people, mostly Catholics lost their lives to loyalists and Lurgan was part of the “Murder Triangle”. This is not to under-state the killings that the Irish Republican Army and British Army/Royal Ulster Constabulary carried out.

Sectarianism is an issue in Lurgan. The town is split into a predominantly “Catholic” north side and a predominantly “Protestant” south side. Irish Flags, GAA Flags and Palestine Flags are common sights in the north side and British Flags, Orange Order Flags and Israel Flags are common sights in the south side.

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The neutral zone lies between the War Memorial and the “Bleachers” a monument dedicated to the workers in the Linen industry.

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I have lived in two different villages near Lurgan since 1982. But I have a historic connexion. My paternal grandfather (the son of a Royal Irish Constabulary police officer) grew up here. My paternal grandmother was born and grew up here. She made hankerchiefs in a local factory.  And they were married in St Peters Church in 1908. They moved (via England) to Belfast.

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So even growing up in Belfast in the 1950s, Lurgan and the surrounding areas was often mentioned. I recall my granny singing “Master McGrath” to me.

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“Master McGrath” was a greyhound owned by Lord Lurgan (Brownlow) who won the Waterloo Cup, the premier greyhound race in England in three separate years. So he lives on in the statue donated by the Brownlow family in the 1990s and the name of one of a Lurgan’s pub (bar). And of course the song.

Sadly in the late Victorian era, greyhound racing or “coursing” involved live (soon to be dead) hares.

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The most famous “resident” of Lurgan has actually been dead for three centuries. Margorie McCall was buried around 1705 but was not dead. This was only discovered when grave robbers tried to steal her wedding ring. Hence her gravestone reads “Lived Once…Buried Twice”.

This may or may not be true…but it should be.

 

 

 

County Kildare: Maynooth

Thursday 31st May 2018. Hot.

On the train returning from Longford, I decided to stop off at Maynooth in County Kildare.

Maynooth is 27 kilometres (16 miles) from Dublin. The population is 12,000 but during the academic year, there is an additional 12,000 students. It has a tree-line main street and two large shopping malls. The businesses cater for the local population while others are clearly aimed at the student population.

In the 16th century, this was the western edge of the Pale, the area controlled by the English Tudors. Maynooth Castle was on the frontier with the native Irish, literally beyond the Pale.

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The Castle was owned by the powerful Fitzgerald family, who fell from grace after the rebellion led by Thomas “Silken Thomas” Fitzgerald. The castle was damaged by cannon, possibly the first use of artillery in Ireland.

Along the main street, a plaque honours the Robert Emmet Rebellion of 1803. There is a certain irony for the British Government had been dismantling the penal laws against Catholics in the final decades of the 18th century and the key year was 1795, when the Government set up St Patricks College at Maynooth to produce loyal pro-British priests. Both the British Government and the Catholic Church had reason to fear the power of the French Revolution. The Church hierarchy condemned the “republican” rebellion of 1798 but many rank and file priests were supportive of the rebellion.

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To some extent this tussle between the Catholic Church and the “Republic” of Ireland is the story of the 20th century in Ireland and the primacy of the Republic has only really been established in the last decade or so. “Maynooth” is still the bye-word for Irish Catholic Church power. The Catholic bishops meet here.

With the fall in vocations etc and the growing needs of the Irish population, Maynooth is effectively two universities-in-one. It is both “St Patricks, Maynooth” AND the “National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM)”.

While the buildings are ecclesiastical, the atmosphere is almost like any other university.

I declare an interest. I stayed for seven nights in Maynooth College in 1974. And in 2009, I stayed here for two nights when I attended a seminar with “mature students” from the universities of Ireland.

Some anecdotes from my first visit in 1974. The Library in St Patricks College has a notice in Latin which states that taking a library book out of the library means excommunication. The corridor in St Patricks College has paintings of Irish cardinals and bishops and students arranging to meet say “I will see you under Cardinal D’alton” or whatever. There are also class photographs. The number of priests ordained annually is a downward trend. But in 2018, as I looked at these class photographs, I wondered how many had subsequently voluntarily left or been expelled from the priesthood.

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I was also told that one room in the College was closed after two students in the 19th century had committed suicide. Apparently one reported  a demonic presence before he died of his injuries.

As a Historian of sorts, I have always loved that the Department of History is in “Rhetoric House”.

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The “new” campus features a memorial to Pope John Paul ll who visited here as Pope in 1979.  The memorial stones around the statue are dedications donated by alumni and one is dedicated to the 9/11 Terror attack in New York City. There is also a building dedicated to Nobel Peace laureate John Hume, who was a student at Maynooth in the 1960s. Some random photographs from the campus are shown below.

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I left about 6.30pm and returned to Dublin.

Count Longford: Longford Town

Thursday 31st May 2018. Hot.

I took the Ballina-bound  coach from Busaras, Dublin at 10am to travel to Longford. I arrived shortly after noon.

Longford (population 14,000) is about 120 kilometres (72 miles) from Dublin. The county lies on the eastern side of the River Shannon and is therefore in the province of Leinster. Yet it seems to have much in common with Connacht counties like Leitrim and Roscommon. The O’Farrells  was the main Gaelic clan in pre-English times.

The county (under 40,000) is the second smallest county in terms of population. It is almost anonymous and has enjoyed no sporting achievements in Gaelic Football, Hurling or Camogie.

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The first thing to notice in Longford is the impressive St Mel’s Cathedral, the cathedral for the Diocese of Ardagh and Clnmacnoise. Across from the Cathedral is the monument dedicated to the War of Independence.

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There is a surprise in the Town Square. There is a “British” War Memorial. This is not unusual in itself but a major surprise is the “Longford Remembers” monument bearing the names of 320 people from County Longford who died in the First World War. This is the first time I have seen such the centenary marked in this way.

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A walk along the main street leads to another square. I like this statue dedicated to people from the area who have migrated to other nations.

 

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Continuing along the street, there is a bridge over the River Camlin, which is a tributary of the River Shannon.

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The name “Longford” is derived from two words “long” means “ship” and “port” (a Viking word) of course means “port”. This references an ancient Viking settlement on the eastern side of the Shannon.

Although I had travelled to Longford by coach. I decided I would leave by train.

County Westmeath: Athlone

Wednesday 9th May 2018. Heavy Rain.

Arriving in Dublin at 8.20am, I decided to visit Athlone. So I caught the 8.30am coach (#2) for Galway. The coach travelled via the M50 to Maynooth (County Kildare) and then via Enfield (County Meath), Moyvalley (County Kildare again), Clonard (County Meath again),  Kinnegad County Westmeath)  Milltownpass (Couny Westmeath) Rochfortbridge (County Westmeath) , Tyrellspass (County Westmeath) , Kilbeggan (County Westmeath), Horseleap (County Offaly) and Moate (County Westmeath again) to Athlone. I arrived there about 11.15am.

Athlone is on the River Shannon. Historically the river divides the province of Leinster (in this case County Westmeath) from the province of Connacht (in this case County Roscommon) but the town is on both sides of the river and is “officially” in County Westmeath.

The population is about 24,000 and the distance from Dublin is 125 kilometres (75 miles). The precise centre of Ireland is a few miles from Athlone.

The name derives from “Luan’s Ford” and seemingly the settlement grew up around his tavern. “Sean’s Bar” claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland. Later the Conchobair (O’Connor) clan would build a fort in the 11th century and the Anglo Normans would build a castle in 1210.

It is a short walk from the Train/Bus station thru Castle Street, the narrow main street, which is currently undergoing extensive road works which adds to a feeling of being a bit run-down. Paradoxically the shopping mall “Athlone Town Centre” is very nice.

Outside the Civic Centre is a statue of (Papal) Count John McCormack, the opera singer who was born in Athlone. And a memorial to the War of Independence is just a short distance away.

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The River Shannon dominates the town.

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While the business end of Athlone is on the Leinster side of the River Shannon, the historic heart of Athlone is on the western bank around the Castle. Crossing the bridge, it feels like stepping back in time.

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It is inevitable with History in Ireland that castles in strategic locations were subject to siege and battle. The siege during the Confederate Wars is often over-looked but the sieges of 1690 and 1691 are much better known.

The first siege ended when the Williamite Army withdrew.

The second siege was a bloody affair. The Williamites occupied the Leinster side of the River Shannon and bombarded Athlone Castle. The Jacobites had destroyed the bridge over the river but the Williamites tried to repair it with planks. Eleven Jacobite soldiers led by Sgt Custume fought on the bridge. All were killed. They were replaced by ten more men and all but two were killed. Eventually the Williamites took the Castle and the western side of Athlone by finding a ford across the Shannon.

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Sgt Custume is immortalised with a statue in the museum inside Athlone Castle. He also gives his name to Custume Barracks about 200 metres from the place where he was killed. It is the only Irish military establishment named for a non-commissioned officer. Custume Barracks is the headquarters of the Western Command of the Irish Defence Forces. Underground the Barracks is the (now de-conmmissioned) nuclear bunker from which the government of the Republic of Ireland would be carried on in the event of a nuclear war.

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The (Catholic) Church of Saints Peter and Paul is just a short distance from the Castle.

After a few hours, I took a train to Dublin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County Dublin: Dalkey

Thursday 3rd May 2018. Cloudy.

Dalkey is a seaside town (population 9,000) which is 17 kilometres (10 miles) south of Dublin. It is suburb which retains its “village” feel. It is an affluent area and several Irish celebrities including U2 members, Bono and The Edge live in the area. It is also home to several mega rich business people.

I took the Route 145 Bus from Heuston Station to Bray and then travelled the short DART train journey to Dalkey.

Arriving at Dalkey DART Station at about 3.25pm. I assumed that the town centre was to my left and found myself going up the very steep Dalkey Hill. I had walked several very exhausting metres before I realised that I was going further away from the town and was directed down another road into the centre.

It has a narrow (only) main street…Castle Street. Named for at least two castles on the street. Dalkey has seven castles, most in ruins but it is an ancient port, dating back over ten centuries to the Vikings (the name “Dalkey” is Viking meaning “Thorn Island” ) and the Anglo-Normans.

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Archbold Castle (named for long term tenants of the Dungan family) and Goat Castle are in Castle Street. There is also an ancient church (now Church of Ireland) and a more modern 1840s Catholic Church. Goat Castle is now a Heritage and Visitor Centre.

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I had often wondered about Goat Castle. It turns out that the name is derived from Cheevers Castle and a Norman family who owned it. “La Chévre” is the French word for “goat”.

It is a town that does not seem to have a McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Burger King. If it does, these down-market eateries are invisible.

In a town that is proud of its history, it is expected that pubs advertise their date of establishment. Finnegans was established in 1868 and The Magpie was established in MMXI which is an amusing nod to the this tradition. The year MMXI might look historic but it is of course… 2011.

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And then the biggest shock of the day. The DART station is in the town centre. If I had simply turned right, rather than left, I would have been in Castle Street. So that mile long hike up and down Dalkey Hill was a learning curve…….literally.

I travelled by DART back to Dublin at 4.30pm.

County Carlow: Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown)

Thursday 3rd May 2018. Cloudy.

Muine Bheag (population 3,000) is also known as Bagenalstown and is 110 kilometres (66 miles) from Dublin. It is situated on the River Barrow and is on the main Dublin-Waterford rail line. The train station was featured on a set of Irish stamps in 2017.

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I got the 10.15am express from Heuston Station and arrived in Muine Bheag about 11.25am. I took some photographs at the River Barrow.

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The name Muine Bheag derives from the Irish “small thicket”. Bagenalstown comes from Walter Bagenal, who had grandiose plans to build a “New Versailles” but abandoned the project.

After independence, Muine Bheag became the official name. But Bagenalstown is still used.

I spent only 40 minutes in the town before getting the train back to Dublin.