( Gorvagh District )

by Thomas Melia

The half Parish of Gorvagh covers 6,000 acres divided into 48 town lands. The existence of Crannogs at Selton, Funshinagh, a ring fort at Finiskill, and small forts in other town lands indicates that people have lived in the Gorvagh area for centuries. The late Canon Masterson was convinced that St Patrick passed through Gorvagh. In Dromoughty More Tobar Patrick and Tobar Muire were important sites of pilgrimage., As far back as the eight century the monks from Fenagh Abbey maintained a vigil at the wells during the pilgrimage season of 17th. To 25th. March and 15th August to 8th September. During penal times large crowds came to pray at both the holy wells. Sadly both wells are now neglected and over grown. By 1600 Gorvagh was still sparsely populated with large areas of Forest remaining. The plantation of Ulster in 1607, Cromwell's campaign of 1648 and the aftermath of the battle of the Black Diamond in 1795 saw a large number of refugees settle in Leitrim. The plantation of Leitrim in 1621 and the Cromwellian campaign of 1648 also brought a number of settlers and refugees into the area. The failure of the 1641 rebellion brought the introduction of the penal laws, during the, ext 150 years Catholics suffered great persecution because of loyalty to their faith. A lone bush on Sean Reynolds land in Drumhanny marks the spot where a priest was killed while saying Mass. Fr Phelim Conlon P.P. Mohill 1708 - 1735 used to say Mass beside the house of John Logan R.I.P. Annaghderg. An old crab tree marked the exact spot. Fr Conlon had a hiding place less than 100 yards away in a limestone cave, which was later dug away to form a lime kiln.
Despite all the misery of Penal Times the population expanded rapidly. At first the people farmed the land in common and lived in small villages such as those at Doonarah, Drumlowan, Drumreask, and Glasdrumman. These communal farms were later divided into small holdings by the landlords who saw it as a chance to increase rent. This subdivision led to endless disputes between neighbours over fences and rights of way. During the 18th and 19th century poteen making became widespread as the people struggled to pay the rent, this led to many clashes with the revenue police the most noted being the battle of Drumcollop in 1795. The 17th and 18th century saw the destruction of the remaining forest cover with the landlords taking all of the good trees and the iron ore work at Castlefore using up 50 acres of forest per year. The end of the forest was a disaster for the natives as it deprived them of a source of food, housing materials and firewood. Potatoes, oats and cattle were the main produce of farmers around Gorvagh before the famine. Heeran's Cornmill and Kiln was in operation at Corgallion. The Canning family ran a corn mill and Kiln at Corgallion which continued working until 1965. Loughlin Canning, the miller was tragically killed in 1947 in an accident at the mill. In Annaghderg Andersons had a corn mill and kiln and a mill for making frieze cloth which was the style of cloth worn in the 1800s. The mill passed into ownership of the Dwyer family some time after Patrick Dwyer married Catherine Logan only daughter of the owner. The mills ceased production around 1900. In the 1800s a tannery was in operation at Meelick. The relief act of 1782 marked an easing of the penal laws and Catholics were allowed to set up schools. By 1826 schools had started at Breandrum, Gorvagh, Satrissaun, Drumboy and Aughadrumcarne.
By 1841 the population of the area was almost 4,000 with many people living in dire poverty in one room mud - walled huts. The famine of 1845 -47 decimated the area with the poorest suffering most. In 1851 the population had halved because of death and emigration. Despite continuing emigration the latter part of the 20th Century brought a gradual revival mainly as a result of the hard wrought
. reforms won by Daniel O'Connell before his death in 1847 and the reforms won in the 1881 Land Act in which many local farmers played an important part,

The 1898 Local Government Act was surely one of the events of the century because for the first time even the poorest Catholics had some say in the running of their lives. It broke the power of the protestant ascendancy. The Dispensary and R I C barracks were built at Gorvagh, Mrs Connell started the Post Office at Corrabeagh. The hall was built by the Ancient Order of Hibernians; schools were built at Sragarn, Finiskill, Cornagun, Adoon, and Glostermin. The opening of the narrow gauge gave farmers access to new markets.

In the 1880s William Murphy bought Mrs Mc Partlin's shop, Liam, Sean and Meehaul built up a thriving business employing up to 30 people during turkey season. Molly Canning and Mick Murray gave many years of service at Murphy's. Gorvagh was well served by tradesmen down the generations. John Mulligan and his son Patrick were coopers in Drumoughty Beg as were John and James Donnelly in Laura and Glostermin. Jack "curley" Reynolds, Adoon, was the last cooper in the area. Thomas Reynolds had a forge at Satrissaun and his son Frank set up beside the dispensary where Heterington's forge was many years earlier. In latter years Frank worked in the forge near his house at Corrabeagh. Tom Rourke's forge was at Funshinsagh crossroads. Paddy Kennedy and his son's did building work nation wide. Jack Heeran assisted by Jimmy Moran and Pat Gannon built many houses locally and further afield. Jack and Richard Ellis were bootmakers in Drumkillean. Frank "Ogie" Reynolds from Drumoughty was a carpenter. Pee Woods Laura was a builder and amateur actor. Michael Reynolds, Drumbeera founded a building firm and his sons have developed it into a thriving hardware and construction business. Willie Bohan and Fintan Moran are also successful builders. Stephen Egan has a furniture factory at Glassdrumman and Paddy Flynn Seltan, specialises in making hardwood windows and doors.
Vincie Flynn has developed a lovely herd of pedigree Limousin cattle in Breandrum King.
At the start of the 20th Century many small shops opened locally selling mainly tea, sugar, tobacco, and in later time paraffin oil. During the Second World War there was a desperate scramble for such necessities as flour and tea. Among the shop owners were, John Bohan, Srattrissaun, Reynolds' in Knockroosk, Harkins, in Drumcollop, Mick Leavey and Tuppeny Higgins in Drumreask, Michael Flynn, Breandrum, who also had a mobile shop.
Tom Banahan and Bridget Ellis in Glasdrumman, Ellis' also ran a small bakery. In 1920 Gorvagh R I C barracks was burned and the next night the hall was burned by the 'tans. On 11.3.1921 six I R A volunteers were murdered at Selton Hill by the British army. Two weeks later Willie Latimer an innocent local Methodist farmer-was murdered in retaliation on orders from Dublin. Some years earlier Willie had single handed prevented the eviction of a local Catholic family. In May 1921 James Moran, Currawn, was badly injured at Gorvagh by the British army.

Canon James Wall P.P.

Leaving Gorvagh Church with John B. Egan and P. Cassells 1963

Gorvagh Dance Committee IFA 1964
Back Row: Tommy Ellis, Edward Doherty R.I.P., Bernard Heeran, Michael Shortt, Joseph Dywer. Front Row: Molly Canning, Michael Logan, Mel Logan, Lena Canning, Malachy Canning

Before 1940 nearly all marriages were arranged by matchmakers and with large families the dowry had many stops on the way. The payment of the dowry along with rent, rates and drainage demand caused more hardship to many families than some landlords caused in the 19th Century. The housewives of that generation were the driving force of the country, while most men refused to do any house work, the women were expected to help with all the work on the farm while rearing large families. They also had to share their kitchen with pet pigs, suck calves, clocking hens, and crickets at various times during the year. Very often it was their income from hens that saw their family survive. Paddy Kennedy rebuilt the hall in 1926, many plays, concerts and ceili's were held there. The local band under the direction of Paddy Donnelly practised in it and the Gorvagh branch of Macra Na Feirme which was founded in 1949 also held meetings there. After the opening of Fenaghville in 1947 by Patsy Conboy the hall went into decline. In recent years Ceili's have been held there. The closure of Gorvagh Post Office in January 2000 marked the end of more than 90 years of service to the community by the Wrynne family. Mary Wrynne continues the fine family business tradition, producing household soft furnishings and in the process giving very valuable employment in the area. Among the postmen who served in the area were Pat Joe Fox, Tom Pierce, Johnny Duignan, Michael Shortt, Johnny, Tom, Joe and John Wrynne.
The dollar bill and ten shilling note in the post from our emigrants were especially appreciated during the hardship of economic war. Handball was a popular pastime in the area in the 30s, 40s and 50s with large crowds gathering every Sunday at alley on Paddy Casey's land in Ohill. Dr Muldoon's car was a novelty after the First World War. In the 20s and 30s Mike Bohan's gramophone and Master Flynn's radios, the caley houses, the dances and plays in Gorvagh Hall with rows after them were antidotes to the misery of the economic war. Ten elections between 1920 and 1935 added to the bitterness of the civil war. The shooting of Paddy Reynolds T.D. from Drumoughty on14.2.1932 in an incident at Foxfield stunned the local community. The pony and trap and the bicycle were the main forms of transport. Joe Wrynn's Ford Taxi was the only motorcar in the area. The late 40s and 50s were bleak years around Gorvagh as emigration robed us of many fine people. Patsy Conboy's Fenaghville and Cathal Flynn's exploits on the football field helped to relieve the gloom. In 1963 electricity came to most of the area and our way of life changed forever. In the 70s two group water schemes supplied water to the area and ended the hardship of many trips to the springwell or driving cattle to pools in the summer.

The Local Blacksmith Frank "the Smithy" with Declan Doherty 1961.

For farmers the changes have been dramatic too, Jack Bohan's and Michael Flynn's threshers put an end to the torment buffing and winnowing the oats. The Ferguson 20 and 35, the PZ and the rotary mower took the slavery out of farming. Baled silage ended the heartache of haymaking, so aptly described in lines from John McGahern "each cloud that drifted into the blue above as we watched as apprehensively across the sky as it were an enemy ship". Events outside their control conspired against local farmers, the disastrous summers of 1924, 50, and 85 and E.E.C. regulations signalled the decline of the small farmer. The latter half of the Twentieth Century
marked a recession in the Gorvagh area. The railway closed in 1959, in the 60s the dispensary, Cannings Mill, and Michael Flynn's shop also. The national school closed in the 70s, Murphy's shop closed in 1985 and in the 90s we lost McGarty's, John Flynn's, Johnny Wrynn's, Shortts, Conefrey's, Micky Wrynn's. The Post Office closed in January 2000. All our small farmers are long gone, the milking cows and the pigs are gone too. Not many hens are left either with no need for John Nutley anymore. The turkeys are gone too as is the bustle of Murphy's yard at Christmas time, and the trip to Maria Cassells, Drumgarne and Maggie Jane Moran's Stragarne is just a memory now. Brussels and the multinationals is our 21st Century Lord Leitrim.

In a generation so many well loved families are gone from us; The Smithy Reynolds, McGivney, Moran, Fox, Donnelly, Horse breaker and Dickety Cline, Shanly Biddy Hip, Mc Crann, Earley, Kennedy, Doonan, Oats, Mike Mulligan, Barry, Masterson, Kellegher, Willie Grier, Connor, Pat Cassel, Connon, Heslin, Harkin, McWeeney, Mulvey, Rodden, Hubert Reynolds, Joe and Frank Healey, O'Donnell, Michael Healey, Paddy and John Wrynn, Leavey, Greenan, Boyle,"Harry" "Horn" "Ogie" Casey and "Frankey" Reynolds, Kelly, McGuinness, Whelan, Maguire, Harte,Ward, Tom Doonan, Mike Kennedy and Master Flynn. All the state agencies are turning their back on small communities like Gorvagh. Even the Good Friday Stations have been stopped in Gorvagh which perhaps signals a threat to the future of the only remaining focal point in Gorvagh.