Granard's memory man Jimmy Donoghue recalls 100 years of history in north Longford town

Aisling Kiernan

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Aisling Kiernan

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newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Granard's memory man Jimmy Donoghue recalls 100 years of history in north Longford  town

Granard’s memory man has to be Jimmy Donoghue. He has been embedded in the community there for many years now and here he recalls 100 years of history around the town and indeed throughout the entire north Longford region.
Last year St Mary’s Church in Granard celebrated it’s 150th anniversary - it was an historic occasion - and Jimmy was part of a team that launched a commemorative book - ‘A Living Legacy’ which is still on sale locally.
Looking back now with both fond and sad memories, Jimmy Donoghue recalls how Fr Peter O’Farrell became bishop of Granard; the first convent in Ireland was in nearby Clonbroney and the famous blind harpist Turlough O'Carolan was a regular visitor to the town while staying in Castle Nugent House.
It was there he wrote his many famous tunes and Jimmy remembers a story about how when O’Carolan was heading for Mass in Granard one Sunday morning in Granardkille he met a Ms Featherston who asked him would he quit his way and come with her to St Patrick’s Church.
“He said that if he did, she would be the object of his devotion,” laughs Jimmy, before pointing to the fact that the musician went on anyway to Granardkille and while there said the mass was his notion but she was his devotion!
“He wrote a famous piece after that called O'Carolan's Devotion.”
Meanwhile, the first ever Fleadh Cheoil was held in Granard and went on to become famously known as the Harp Festival.
“It brought the top musicians of the day to the area - nowadays you would have Bono and the likes here - that’s how big it was,” recalls Jimmy.
“It brought music and culture to north Longford and beyond.”
It’s difficult to speak about Granard’s history without referring to its somewhat turbulent political past.
The Battle of Granard was planned in 1798; when General Humbert left Co Mayo he and his men were on their way to Granard they ended up getting defeated in Ballinamuck and never made it to Granard as a result of that.
The Battle of Granard did, however take place on September 5, 1798 and Jimmy recalls that it was a very bloody battle.
“They were slaughtered; in fact they rounded everyone up and ran cattle across them the next morning,” he adds, before pointing out that two Denniston’s from Granard were involved in the battle, but fortunately for them they escaped.
“In fact Denniston Park is named after them.”
The 1900s became very historic across north Longford and the town and its people faced the wrath of the 1916 Rising, War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War.
The North Longford Flying Column was established and according to Jimmy, Granard was the backbone of that.
He recalls too the great Battle of Clonfin in 1921.
Meanwhile war mode really began in north Longford on November 1, 1920 when Kelleher was shot dead in the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard.
“That started the whole thing,” says Jimmy.
“Kelleher was the District Inspector and originally from Macroom in Co Cork; nobody really knows who ordered the shooting but apparently they drew lots the far side of the road to determine who would do it.”
The War of Independence was a guerrilla war fought from 1919 to 1921 between the Irish Republican Army and the British security forces in Ireland.
It was an escalation of the Irish revolutionary period into warfare.
In April 1916, Irish republicans launched the Easter Rising against British rule and proclaimed an Irish Republic, and although it was crushed after a week of fighting, the rising and the British response led to greater popular support for Irish independence.
Meanwhile, in the December 1918 election, the republican party Sinn Féin won a landslide victory in Ireland.
On 21 January 1919 they formed a breakaway government (Dáil Éireann) and declared independence from Britain.
Later that day, two members of the police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), were shot dead in the Soloheadbeg ambush in Co Tipperary by IRA members acting on their own initiative.
For much of 1919, IRA activity involved capturing weapons and freeing republican prisoners. In September, the British government outlawed the Dáil and Sinn Féin and the conflict intensified.
The IRA began ambushing RIC and British Army patrols, attacking their barracks and forcing isolated barracks to be abandoned.
The British government bolstered the RIC with recruits from Britain - the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries - who became notorious for ill-discipline and reprisal attacks on civilians.
The conflict as a result is often referred to as the 'Black and Tan War' or simply the 'Tan War'.
“Collins too was travelling to and from Granard around that time,” adds Jimmy.
“He was arriving by train at Ballywillan Station and being driven back to Granard by Larry Kiernan,” says Jimmy.
“Collins was brought to Granard initially by a first cousin of Kitty Kiernan’s Paul Cusack and he worked in the GPO in London with Collins and the famous Sam Maguire.
“I remember Sean McKeon saying that the instructions leaving Dublin Castle for the Black and Tans was to ‘make Longford a living hell’.”
Aside from the fact that the north Longford town was a hive of political activity at the time, Kelleher was after being shot and the English were very unhappy about that. There were also other incidents at the time.
“A Constable Cooney was shot in Ballinalee around the same time; in fact he was shot outside a priest’s house in Clonbroney,” Jimmy recalls before pointing to the fact that 11 lorries of Black and Tans arrived in Granard “and they burned the town in November 1920”.
“There was a fella in the town called Mickey Degan and he was in the British Army and had a British uniform; when the Tans put Donoghue’s bar on fire he put on his uniform got water from Water Lane and everytime the Tans lit Donoghue’s bar at the top of the town, he put the fire out!
“Eventually, the Tans said, ‘the devil was in it’ and they left Donoghue’s building alone and didn’t burn it.
“There was a Fr Hugh Lynch here at the time; he was a Republican but the Tans called him a Fenian Bastard and fired a shot through the Parochial House.
“The bullet is still in the Parochial House to this day.”
Thereafter the Civil War left its imprint.
It waged between two opposing groups, Irish republicans and Irish nationalists, over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The forces of the Provisional Government supported the Treaty, while the Republican opposition saw it as a betrayal of the Irish Republic which had been proclaimed during the Easter Rising.
Many of those who fought on both sides in the conflict had been members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the War of Independence.
“People wouldn’t accept The Treaty and civil war broke out - that was brother against brother,” says Jimmy.
“I do think though that Collins did his best; it took a long time for people to heal.
“People didn’t talk about what happened for a long time afterwards too.
“In fact some people are still bitter to this day over the Civil War.
“Also there was shame particularly after World War 1 and World War 11 because it was very much looked down upon for an Irish person to have been involved with the British Army.”
Jimmy remembers too Thomas Ashe speaking in Granard.
He was only a young fella of about eight or nine; but the Granard man recalls how Ashe went on then to Ballinalee and spoke there but was subsequently arrested after making the speech and died on hunger strike later that year.
The 1960s and 70s were much more positive years in Granard and truth be told, the area thrived.
The Granada was built and the showband starts were packing the venue at the weekends. Young people were coming from all over the country to dance to the tunes of Larry Cunningham, Brendan O’Reilly and Big Tom & The Mainliners, to mention but a few!
“The Granada started in Granard in the 1950s and my first job in Granard was assistant secretary to Tommy Quinn who was secretary of the Show.
“I always felt that the new Granard started then.
There was a show office down in Smith’s front shed - the Smith’s were big into barrel making at the time.
“Cannon O’Kane objected to the Granada being built; Tommy Kiernan and Tommy Quinn built that; Tommy Kiernan also brought the mart to Granard - another great idea.”
The Sisters of Mercy, meanwhile, brought education and health to the fore in the north Longford town when they arrived in 1881
“Their influence was hugely positive in the town - they established both the national school and then Cnoc Mhuire,” smiles Jimmy.
“Of course the workhouse was there before that; the famous poet Pauric Colum was born in the workhouse in Longford town and indeed his father was the master of the workhouse.”