Ballyjamesduff CBD

Ballyjamesduff CBD

Tue 14 Apr - to Clonabreany


My penultimate day, and sadly I start to head eastwards in the general direction of home. But it's not over yet, and today was again full of interesting stuff, including one unexpected find.

You may remember when I was in Dublin I visited part of the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks, and mentioned that there was a "Country Life" part in Castlebar. That was my first port of call this morning.

A museum like this probably deserves at least half a day to itself. But given that it opened at 10.00am, and that I was determined to get to the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff before it closed at 5.00pm, everything in between had to be rationed.

Sadly, I was told later that the Country Life museum is likely to be closed on economic grounds. I haven't talked much about the 'Austerity' measures in place in Ireland since September 2008, when the country's financial system effectively went bust, the banks had to be guaranteed by the Irish Government, and the country had to be bailed out by the 'troika' of the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. But I'm told that some of the Heritage Centres which I've found to be closed may actually be because staff haven't been replaced, rather than seasonal reasons as I had supposed.

The first of these shots shows the manor house in Turlough Park, with the Country Life museum the modern building just to the left, and the round tower across the river on the horizon. There were several Cunninghams and Morans in the modern part of the graveyard beside the ruins.


  • Michael Davitt

Shortly after leaving Turlough, as I headed east on the N5, my eye caught a sign-post to the Michael Davitt Museum. There was a name I recognised from my history classes, so I took the short detour to the village of Strade/Straide to investigate.

I was greeted at the door by Joe, who could talk the hind leg off a donkey, even though I explained that I was in a hurry. The abbreviated version is that Davitt was born here in 1846 (the height of the Great Famine), the son of a tenant farmer whose eviction resulted in Michael starting work in a Lancashire cotton mill at the age of 10. It was there he lost his right arm in a machinery accident. His youthful interest in Irish history lead to him joining the Fenians and then the Irish Republican Brotherhood, through whose activities he was arrested in London in May 1870, and sentenced to 15 years for treason. Paroled from Dartmoor in 1877 he rejoined the IRB and became one of its Supreme Council.

In prison he had laid plans to link Charles Parnell’s constitutional reform with Fenian activism to achieve political-agrarian agitation, and with Parnell's cooperation Davitt founded the Land League in nearby Castlebar in 1879. The Land League organized resistance to absentee landlordism and sought to relieve the poverty of the tenant farmers by the "Three Fs" - fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale of the tenant’s interest. The League had quite early success with Gladstone's Land Act of 1881, followed by the 'Ashbourne' Act of 1885.

But with further jail terms for seditious speeches, and with failing health, Davitt became increasingly marginalised, and he spent much of his time travelling the world lecturing on humanitarian issues. Despite becoming more of a peaceful parliamentarian, his relationship with Parnell deteriorated, and when Parnell's divorce scandal broke in 1890 Davitt was one of his fiercest critics. Davitt died in Dublin in 1906



Knock Shrine is one of the holy places for the Roman Catholic church. To quote from its web site: "The Story of Knock began on the 21st August, 1879 when, at approximately 8 O’ clock in the evening, fifteen people from the village of Knock in Co. Mayo, witnessed an Apparition of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and cross on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church. The witnesses watched the Apparition in the pouring rain for two hours, reciting the Rosary. Although they themselves were saturated not a single drop of rain fell on the gable or vision. There were fifteen official witnesses to the Apparition, most of whom were from the village of Knock and surrounding areas and ranged in age from just 5 years old to 74 years old. Each of the witnesses gave testimonies to a Commission of Enquiry in October 1879. The findings of the Commission were that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory."

  • Holy water on tap

I hardly had any time to stop in Edgeworthstown, far less to do any exploring. The town is named for the Edgeworth family who first settled there in 1583. The most prominent members of this family were Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744 - 1817) and his daughter Maria (1768 - 1849). Richard was a famous inventor and surveyor while Maria stands as one of the most influential novelists of the English language, best known for her first novel 'Castle Rackrent', published in 1800.

My determination to get to Ballyjamesduff brings us back to Percy French, whom we encountered last Saturday in Corofin. Here's why:

French's connection with the area stems from his early career as an "Inspector of Drains" for the Co. Cavan Board of Works - he had graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1881 as a civil engineer. Hence the presence of a small exhibition - just one smallish room - in the Cavan County Museum, which is located on the northern side of the town of Ballyjamesduff. Click here to link through to the museum's page, which explains that the main collection of French's memorabilia is actually, and by an amazing coincidence, in my home town of Bangor, Co. Down.

French himself had no connection with Bangor that I know of, but the Percy French Society was founded there in 1983 (some years after I had left) at the instigation primarily of a local councillor, T Oscar Rollins. The story of how it came into being can be read here, together with a lot more information on French.

In his early days French considered himself more as a painter than a musician. He painted mostly watercolour landscapes, which, while not my taste, became fashionable and sought after when he had become famous as an entertainer.

How that came about was that around 1887 the Board of Works reduced its staff, and French had a brief period as editor of The Jarvey, a weekly comic paper, but when the paper failed, he started what became a long and successful career as a songwriter/entertainer.

His most popular songs included Abdul Abulbul Amir (written while he was still at Trinity), Phil the Fluther's Ball, Slattery's Mounted Foot, McBreen's Heifer, and probably best-known of all The Mountains of Mourne. There are 24 numbers on Brendan O'Dowda's album "The Complete Percy French Collection", available on iTunes, although Wikipedia lists 43 titles as being attributed to French.

French was married twice - his first wife Ettie died in childbirth in 1891 at the age of 20. He himself died of pneumonia in 1920, aged 65, in Formby, Lancashire, where he is buried.


After an early dinner in Caffrey's pub in Oldcastle, followed by a couple of wrong turns amongst the country lanes, I reached my abode for tonight. Clonabreany House is predominantly a function centre specialising in weddings, but it has accommodation it can offer too. It looked so attractive on the web, and the location ideal for my itinerary, that I emailed and asked whether they did ordinary B&B as well. Certainly they did, but there would be a breakfast pack left for me. It turned out I was the only guest! So not only did I have a whole suite to myself, but once the girl who checked me in had gone home, I had the entire property to myself. Pity I couldn't stay longer!


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