Lord Longford launches 'Longford History and Society'

Did you know that Lord Granard borrowed millions of pounds from Maynooth in order to avoid bankruptcy or that he became a Catholic convert and was regarded as a 'model Catholic landlord'? Or that the Big Wind of 1879 caused the burning of Drumlish and displaced thousands of people throughout the county?

Did you know that Lord Granard borrowed millions of pounds from Maynooth in order to avoid bankruptcy or that he became a Catholic convert and was regarded as a 'model Catholic landlord'? Or that the Big Wind of 1879 caused the burning of Drumlish and displaced thousands of people throughout the county?

This just a flavour of a new book on Longford's history which was launched at the county library by Thomas Pakenham, aka Lord Longford last week. 'Longford History and Society' edited by Martin Morris and Dr Fergus O'Ferrall traces the history and society of the county from 1400-2005, through a series of essays written by various authors including Kathy Sheridan, Neil Farrell, Aidan O'Hara, Sarah Gearty and Maureen Murphy, to name a few.

"This is a most wonderful book," said Mr Pakenham, who added that he became immersed in the range and diversity of the essays from the moment he opened the book's cover.

"It struck me when I was reading about the landlords, who were often subject to very bad press, that now bankers have become the villains and there is a most wonderful quote from one landlord who said that 'You can be tough with the Westmeath tenants, but Longford tenants you have to treat with kid gloves'."

Mr Pakenham went on to say that the book highlighted the "violent struggle for land" and the sole source of power and social status that it brought. He added that the Gaelic literary heritage of the county had been addressed very well in the book and that the new material made for very interesting reading.

"I found it fascinating to learn that Lord Granard had become a Catholic convert," he said adding that the Lord had become so 'well in' with the Church that he was able to borrow millions of pounds from Maynooth as he tried desperately to avoid bankruptcy.

"He could barely pay the interest to Maynooth on the money he had borrowed and the local branch of the Land League closed in on him," he said.

"That was around 1879/1880 and he offered abatements of 20 percent of his land. The Land League said no to the 20 pecent and said that he needed to offer 30 percent and meanwhile Maynooth was cracking the whip with regard to the money that it was owed. Lord Granard was caught between a rock and a hard place."

Mr Pakenham said one of the most interesting parts of the book for him was the last part, which dealt with war and politics in the 20th century and how General San MacEoin emerged as a "local hero".

"You know that General San MacEoin was not just a local hero but he also became very important on the national stage. So much so in fact that Collins insisted on MacEoin's release as part of the conditions of 1921," Mr Pakenham explained.

"During the Big Wind of 1879 an old lady in Dring whose cabin was blown flat, took refuge in the cow barn and it was then blown away.Next morning she realised that she was not alone and that thousands of people were homeless in Longford and Drumlish was burnt to the ground."

Meanwhile, the editors of Longford History and Society Martin Morris, County Archivist and Fergus O'Ferrall thanked all those who had supported them and contributed to the book.

"This book deals with the history prior to the establishment of the county and as well as since its establishment," explained Mr Morris who added that local history challenged the generalisations that people made.

"This book brings out the distinctiveness and uniqueness that is Longford. It examines the Anglo Norman relationship and how the planters mixed with the locals. Hopefully this book will stimulate further research into the history of Longford."

Dr O'Ferrall said that the book illustrated the character of Longford people, a character which he said was unique. He went to read an excerpt which detailed an encounter between Jim Delaney and Patrick Reilly in the 1960s.

"Patrick Reilly has a wonderful memory and seems never to have forgotten anything he ever heard.....although he lives so near the Cavan border, he is a fierce Longford man and looks askance at anyone from Cavan," Dr O'Ferrall explained.

"He told me one time that he got into an argument with a Cavan man over the rival merits of their respective counties and when the Cavan man was giving hard blows against the 'Longfords' and very nearly vanquishing Reilly, Reilly's finishing blow was to accuse the Cavan man of poisoning Eoghan Rua O Nill. 'That finished him!', said Reilly. 'He had ne'er a word after that!'"

Tributes were also paid to Sarah Gearty, the staff at Longford County Library and to the late Professor Raftery "whose expertise between the covers of the book is phenomenal".

Professor William Nolan, Professor Emeritus of Geography, UCD, was then presented with a copy of Longford History and Society. The book is available at Grafton Court Books, Longford. Price €60.