Welcome to my ‘5 Things Friday’ blog where this week I’m taking a look at some interesting facts about Co. Longford. From an Irish name meaning ‘The Fortification’ Co. Longford is the fourth smallest of the 32 counties in area and is the second smallest in population. Historically known as Annaly and Teffia (after which many places and businesses in the county are still called) it was ruled by the Farrell Clan before the Normans invaded in the 12th century. It is in the province of Leinster, having been added to the province by James the first in 1608, where previously it had been considered part of Connacht.
Population of Longford: 38,970 (2011 Census)
Area: 1,091 Sq. Km (421 Sq. mi)
It is a beautiful Lakeland county, lying in the Shannon Basin and lovely Lough Ree forms much of the county’s western border. Although a small county, it punches above its weight in national and international terms and there are many interesting little-known facts about the county and its sons and daughters that only serve to enhance its reputation and standing.
I have listed 5 of my favourite facts about Longford below. This is not an exclusive list, just things I enjoyed learning or things I think you might find interesting. And don’t worry, there are many more to come in the months ahead…
The former president of Argentina, Edelmiro Julián Farrell, had Longford roots. He was the grandson of Longford man Matthew Farrell. President Farrell ruled from 1944 – 1946 and was responsible for introducing his military subordinate Juan Perón into government when he appointed him his secretary when he was Minister for War. Perón went on to act as Farrell’s vice-president and in fact succeeded him as president in 1946. Perón and his wife Eva (Evita) went on to become iconic figures in Argentinian political history and Farrell’s character, as instrumental as he was in Perón’s rise to political power, appears in the musical film Evita several times.
Situated on Lough Ree, not far from the shore, lies a very interesting island called Inchcleraun or ‘Quaker’ Island. Once a home of religious reflection and learning in the Middle Ages, it is home to the ruins of seven churches, including St. Diarmuids Monastery and Templedermot and Templemurray churches. St. Diarmuid was the teacher of St. Ciaran who went on to build the nearby Clonmacnoise and you can see some similarities here, with an unusual square bell tower like the one at Clonmacnoise.
The island’s name comes from Inis Clothrann or the island of Clothra, Queen of Connact and sister of Queen Maeve. They were both married by their father, along with another 4 sisters (nice father!) to Conchobar Mac Nessa the King of Ulster. Maeve was his favourite, but she grew tired of him and when Clothra became pregnant with Conchobar’s son, Maeve, jealous of Clothra’s title as Queen, killed her and became Queen. But the unborn son survived, and when Maeve retired to Inchcleraun years later, he seduced her there and killed her on the island!
Now that doesn’t bode well for the island and those particular ladies, but it is Templemurray Church that is really fascinating. Whether it is borne out of the story of Queen Maeve and Clothra or not, local legend has it that any woman who crosses the threshold of the church will meet her death within 12 months. Of course, we all know how non-literal Irish folklore can be, and this is a long-abandoned theory at this stage, but I’m not entirely sure I would be willing to risk it, just in case!
Ballinamuck in Co. Longford was the site of the last pitched battle between any national forces in this part of the world when the French military and Irish rebels were defeated by the British in the last stand of the 1978 Irish Rebellion. The French, under General Humbert, and Irish auxiliary recruits, faced a massive and bloody defeat against approximately 26,000 soldiers under the command of Lord Cornwallis. When it was clear that defeat was nigh, the French surrendered but 1,000 or so Irish rebels under the command of Colonel Teeling continued without indication of surrender. They continued to be attacked and a mass slaughter ensued. At least 500 lay dead on the field while another 200 were taken in the mopping up operation and later hanged. Since this bloody pitched battle over 200 years ago, thankfully no other national forces have fought a pitched battle on these islands.
The VERY pretty Victorian planned village of Ardagh, and Ardagh House, in Co. Longford has a very famous place in literary history, as it features strongly in Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer’. In 1744, a young Goldsmith visited Ardagh House thinking it was an Inn and not the home of landed gentry. (Its owners, the Fetherston’s, later planned and built the village on their estate). His attempts to court the daughters of the house were met with great glee by the family, and they played along, serving his dinner and drinks as if they were ‘lowly’ inn maids, much to his embarrassment the next morning when he found out! This is the central theme of the play it inspired him to write which went on to become one of the most successful plays of the 18th century. It has been turned into a film several times and continues to be performed around the world today. And to think, it all started in lovely Ardagh, Co. Longford!
Two of Hollywood’s biggest stars can boast Co. Longford ancestry. Mel Gibson’s mother Ann Patricia O’Reilly was from Co. Longford and her son Mel Gerard Colmcille Gibson was named after St. Mel’s Cathedral in the town. Actor Will Ferrell has also spoken of his Longford roots. His name is derived from Farrell, so he naturally rocked up to Eamon Farrell’s pub in the centre of the town to do some research one afternoon on a trip to Ireland with his Dad. He mentioned that he might return later that night, and when he did so was greeted by over 1,000 Farrells all keen to meet their ‘cousin’. He ended up in a local house until 3am but as to whether he got any closer to discovering his real ancestors I can’t say.
So there you have it. Some of my favourite ‘interesting things’ about lovely Longford. There are many more as I say, but I’ll save those for another day. Please feel free to comment below or share the blog with your friends.
Happy Irish Travels