The link of Portumna, Lough Derg, Bove Derg and Lir


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The link of Portumna, Lough Derg, Bove Derg and Lir

Bodhbh [Bove] Derg, son of the Dagda, was chosen king; and Manannan, their chief counsellor, they arranged the different places of abode for the nobles among the hills. Several of the sidhs mentioned in this narrative are known, and some of them are still celebrated as fairy haunts.
Sidh Buidhbh [Boov], with Bove Derg for its chief, was on the shore of Lough Derg, Portumna.

When you see swans on Lough Derg again you may see them differently!

Which brings us the great story of the Children of Lir or The Four White Swans

In the days of long ago there lived in the Green Isle of Erin a race of brave men and fair women—the race of the Dedannans. North, south, east, and west did this noble people dwell, doing homage to many chiefs.
But one blue morning after a great battle the Dedannans met on a wide plain to choose a King. “Let us,” they said, “have one King over all. Let us no longer have many rulers.”
Forth from among the Princes rose five well fitted to wield a sceptre and to wear a crown, yet most royal stood Bove Derg and Lir. And forth did the five chiefs wander, that the Dedannan folk might freely say to whom they would most gladly do homage as King.
Not far did they roam, for soon there arose a great cry, “Bove Derg is King. Bove Derg is King.” And all were glad, save Lir.
But Lir was angry, and he left the plain where the Dedannan people were, taking leave of none, and doing Bove Derg no reverence. For jealousy filled the heart of Lir.
Then were the Dedannans wroth, and a hundred swords were unsheathed and flashed in the sunlight on the plain. “We go to slay Lir who doeth not homage to our King and regardeth not the choice of the people.”
But wise and generous was Bove Derg, and he bade the warriors do no hurt to the offended Prince.
For long years did Lir live in discontent, yielding obedience to none. But at length a great sorrow fell upon him, for his wife, who was dear unto him, died, and she had been ill but three days. Loudly did he lament her death, and heavy was his heart with sorrow.

When tidings of Lir’s grief reached Bove Derg, he was surrounded by his mightiest chiefs. “Go forth,” he said, “in fifty chariots go forth. Tell Lir I am his friend as ever, and ask that he come with you hither. Three fair foster-children are mine, and one may he yet [44] have to wife, will he but bow to the will of the people, who have chosen me their King.”

When these words were told to Lir, his heart was glad. Speedily he called around him his train, and in fifty chariots set forth. Nor did they slacken speed until they reached the palace of Bove Derg by the Great Lake. And there at the still close of day, as the setting rays of the sun fell athwart the silver waters, did Lir do homage to Bove Derg. And Bove Derg kissed Lir and vowed to be his friend for ever.
And when it was known throughout the Dedannan host that peace reigned between these mighty chiefs, brave men and fair women and little children rejoiced, and nowhere were there happier hearts than in the Green Isle of Erin.

Time passed, and Lir still dwelt with Bove Derg in his palace by the Great Lake. One morning the King said, “Full well thou knowest my three fair foster-daughters, nor have I forgotten my promise that one thou shouldst have to wife. Choose her whom thou wilt.”
Then Lir answered, “All are indeed fair, and choice is hard. But give unto me the eldest, if it be that she be willing to wed.”
And Eve, the eldest of the fair maidens, was glad, and that day was she married to Lir, and after two weeks she left the palace by the Great Lake and drove with her husband to her new home.
Happily dwelt Lir’s household and merrily sped the months. Then were born unto Lir twin babes. The girl they called Finola, and her brother did they name Aed.
Yet another year passed and again twins were born, but before the infant boys knew their mother, she died. So sorely did Lir grieve for his beautiful wife that he would have died of sorrow, but for the great love he bore his motherless children.
When news of Eve’s death reached the palace of Bove Derg by the Great Lake all mourned aloud for love of Eve and sore pity for Lir and his four babes. And Bove Derg said to his mighty chiefs, “Great indeed is our grief, but in this dark hour shall Lir know our friendship. Ride forth, make known to him that Eva, my second fair foster-child, shall in time become his wedded wife and shall cherish his lone babes.”
So messengers rode forth to carry these tidings to Lir, and in time Lir came again to the palace of Bove Derg by the Great Lake, and he married the beautiful Eva and took her back with him to his little daughter, Finola, and to her three brothers, Aed and Fiacra and Conn.
Four lovely and gentle children they were, and with tenderness did Eva care for the little ones who were their father’s joy and the pride of the Dedannans.
As for Lir, so great was the love he bore them, that at early dawn he would rise, and, pulling aside the deerskin that separated his sleeping-room with theirs, would fondle and frolic with the children until morning broke.
And Bove Derg loved them well-nigh as did Lir himself. Ofttimes would he come to see them, and ofttimes were they brought to his palace by the Great Lake.
And through all the Green Isle, where dwelt the Dedannan people, there also was spread the fame of the beauty of the children of Lir.
Time crept on, and Finola was a maid of twelve summers. Then did a wicked jealousy find root in Eva’s heart, and so did it grow that it strangled the love which she had borne her sister’s children. In bitterness she cried, “Lir Gareth not for me; to Finola and her brothers hath he given all his love.”
And for weeks and months Eva lay in bed planning how she might do hurt to the children of Lir.
At length, one midsummer morn, she ordered forth her chariot, that with the four children she might come to the palace of Bove Derg.
When Finola heard it, her fair face grew pale, for in a dream had it been revealed unto her that Eva, her step-mother, should that day do a dark deed among those of her own household. Therefore was Finola sore afraid, but only her large eyes and pale cheeks spake her woe, as she and her brothers drove along with Eva and her train.
On they drove, the boys laughing merrily, heedless alike of the black shadow resting on their step-mother’s brow, and of the pale, trembling lips of their sister. As they reached a gloomy pass, Eva whispered to her attendants, “Kill, I pray you, these children of Lir, for their father careth not for me, because of his great love for them. Kill them, and great wealth shall be yours.”
But the attendants answered in horror, “We will not kill them. Fearful, O Eva, were the deed, and great is the evil that will befall thee, for having it in thine heart to do this thing.”
Then Eva, filled with rage, drew forth her sword to slay them with her own hand, but too weak for the monstrous deed, she sank back in the chariot.
Onward they drove, out of the gloomy pass into the bright sunlight of the white road. Daisies with wide-open eyes looked up into the blue sky overhead. Golden glistened the buttercups among the shamrock. From the ditches peeped forget-me-not. Honeysuckle scented the hedgerows. Around, above, and afar, carolled the linnet, the lark, and the thrush. All was colour and sunshine, scent [49] and song, as the children of Lir drove onward to their doom.

Children of Lir Portumna 1


Not until they reached a still lake were the horses unyoked for rest. There Eva bade the children undress and go bathe in the waters. And when the children of Lir reached the water’s edge, Eva was there behind them, holding in her hand a fairy wand. And with the wand she touched the shoulder of each. And, lo! as she touched Finola, the maiden was changed into a snow-white swan, and behold! as she touched Aed, Fiacra, and Conn, the three brothers were as the maid. Four snow-white swans floated on the blue lake, and to them the wicked Eva chanted a song of doom.
As she finished, the swans turned towards her, and Finola spake:
“Evil is the deed thy magic wand hath wrought, O Eva, on us the children of Lir, but greater evil shall befall thee, because of the hardness and jealousy of thine heart.” And Finola’s white swan-breast heaved as she sang of their pitiless doom.

The song ended, again spake the swan-maiden. “Tell us, O Eva, when death shall set us free.”
And Eva made answer, “Three hundred years shall your home be on the smooth waters of this lone lake. Three hundred years shall ye pass on the stormy waters of the sea betwixt Erin and Alba, and three hundred years shall ye be tempest-tossed on the wild Western Sea. Until Decca be the Queen of Largnen, and the good Saint come to Erin, and ye hear the chime of the Christ-bell, neither your plaints nor prayers, neither the love of your father Lir, nor the might of your King, Bove Derg, shall have power to deliver you from your doom. But lone white swans though ye be, ye shall keep for ever your own sweet Gaelic speech, and ye shall sing, with plaintive voices, songs so haunting that your music will bring peace to the souls of those who hear. And still beneath your snowy plumage shall beat the hearts of Finola, Aed, Fiacra aid Conn, and still for ever shall ye be the children of Lir.”

Then did Eva order the horses to be yoked to the chariot, and away westward did she drive.
And swimming on the lone lake were four white swans.

When Eva reached the palace of Bove Derg alone, greatly was he troubled lest evil had befallen the children of Lir.
But the attendants, because of their great fear of Eva, dared not to tell the King of the magic spell she had wrought by the way. Therefore Bove Derg asked, “Wherefore, O Eva, come not Finola and her brothers to the palace this day?”
And Eva answered, “Because, O King, Lir no longer trusteth thee, therefore would he not let the children come hither.”
But Bove Derg believed not his foster-daughter, and that night he secretly sent messengers across the hills to the dwelling of Lir.
When the messengers came there, and told their errand, great was the grief of the father. And in the morning with a heavy heart he summoned a company of the Dedannans, and together they set out for the palace of Bove Derg. And it was not until sunset as they [52] reached the lone shore of Lake Darvra, that they slackened speed.
Lir alighted from his chariot and stood spell-bound. What was that plaintive sound? The Gaelic words, his dear daughter’s voice more enchanting even than of old, and yet, before and around, only the lone blue lake. The haunting music rang clearer, and as the last words died away, four snow-white swans glided from behind the sedges, and with a wild flap of wings flew toward the eastern shore. There, stricken with wonder, stood Lir.
“Know, O Lir,” said Finola, “that we are thy children, changed by the wicked magic of our step-mother into four white swans.” When Lir and the Dedannan people heard these words, they wept aloud.
Still spake the swan-maiden. “Three hundred years must we float on this lone lake, three hundred years shall we be storm-tossed on the waters between Erin and Alba, and three hundred years on the wild Western Sea. Not until Decca be the Queen of Largnen, not until the good Saint come to Erin and the chime of the Christ-bell be heard in the land, [53] not until then shall we be saved from our doom.”
Then great cries of sorrow went up from the Dedannans, and again Lir sobbed aloud. But at the last silence fell upon his grief, and Finola told how she and her brothers would keep for ever their own sweet Gaelic speech, how they would sing songs so haunting that their music would bring peace to the souls of all who heard. She told, too, how, beneath their snowy plumage, the human hearts of Finola, Aed, Fiacra, and Conn should still beat—the hearts of the children of Lir. “Stay with us to-night by the lone lake,” she ended, “and our music will steal to you across its moonlit waters and lull you into peaceful slumber. Stay, stay with us.”
And Lir and his people stayed on the shore that night and until the morning glimmered. Then, with the dim dawn, silence stole over the lake.
Speedily did Lir rise, and in haste did he bid farewell to his children, that he might seek Eva and see her tremble before him.

Swiftly did he drive and straight, until he [54] came to the palace of Bove Derg, and there by the waters of the Great Lake did Bove Derg meet him. “Oh, Lir, wherefore have thy children come not hither?” And Eva stood by the King.
Stern and sad rang the answer of Lir. “Alas I Eva, your foster-child, hath by her wicked magic changed them into four snow-white swans. On the blue waters of Lake Darvra dwell Finola, Aed, Fiacra, and Conn, and thence come I that I may avenge their doom.”
A silence as the silence of death fell upon the three, and all was still save that Eva trembled greatly. But ere long Bove Derg spake. Fierce and angry did he look, as, high above his foster-daughter, he held his magic wand. Awful was his voice as he pronounced her doom. “Wretched woman, henceforth shalt thou no longer darken this fair earth, but as a demon of the air shalt thou dwell in misery till the end of time.” And of a sudden from out her shoulders grew black, shadowy wings, and, with a piercing scream, she swirled upward, until the awe-stricken Dedannans saw nought [55] save a black speck vanish among the lowering clouds. And as a demon of the air do Eva’s black wings swirl her through space to this day.
But great and good was Bove Derg. He laid aside his magic wand and so spake: “Let us, my people, leave the Great Lake, and let us pitch our tents on the shores of Lake Darvra. Exceeding dear unto us are the children of Lir, and I, Bove Derg, and Lir, their father, have vowed henceforth to make our home for ever by the lone waters where they dwell.”
And when it was told throughout the Green Island of Erin of the fate of the children of Lir and of the vow that Bove Derg had vowed, from north, south, east, and west did the Dedannans flock to the lake, until a mighty host dwelt by its shores.
And by day Finola and her brothers knew not loneliness, for in the sweet Gaelic speech they told of their joys and fears; and by night the mighty Dedannans knew no sorrowful memories, for by haunting songs were they lulled to sleep, and the music brought peace to their souls.
Slowly did the years go by, and upon the shoulders of Bove Derg and Lir fell the long white hair. Fearful grew the four swans, for the time was not far off, when they must wing their flight north to the wild sea of Moyle.
And when at length the sad day dawned, Finola told her brothers how their three hundred happy years on Lake Darvra were at an end, and how they must now leave the peace of its lone waters for evermore.
Then, slowly and sadly, did the four swans glide to the margin of the lake. Never had the snowy whiteness of their plumage so dazzled the beholders, never had music so sweet and sorrowful floated to Lake Darvra’s sunlit shores. As the swans reached the water’s edge, silent were the three brothers, and alone Finola chanted a farewell song.
With bowed white heads did the Dedannan host listen to Finola’s chant, and when the music ceased and only sobs broke the stillness, the four swans spread their wings, and, soaring high, paused but for one short moment to gaze on the kneeling forms of Lir and Bove Derg. Then, stretching their graceful necks toward [57] the north, they winged their flight to the waters of the stormy sea that separates the blue Alba from the Green Island of Erin.
And when it was known throughout the Green Isle that the four white swans had flown, so great was the sorrow of the people that they made a law that no swan should be killed in Erin from that day forth.

With hearts that burned with longing for their father and their friends, did Finola and her brothers reach the sea of Moyle. Cold and chill were its wintry waters, black and fearful were the steep rocks overhanging Alba’s far-stretching coasts. From hunger, too, the swans suffered. Dark indeed was all, and darker yet as the children of Lir remembered the still waters of Lake Darvra and the fond Dedannan host on its peaceful shores. Here the sighing of the wind among the reeds no longer soothed their sorrow, but the roar of the breaking surf struck fresh terror in their souls.
In misery and terror did their days pass, until one night the black, lowering clouds over-head told that a great tempest was nigh. Then did Finola call to her Aed, Fiacra, and Conn. “Beloved brothers, a great fear is at my heart, for, in the fury of the coming gale, we may be driven the one from the other. Therefore, let us say where we may hope to meet when the storm is spent.”
And Aed answered, “Wise art thou, dear, gentle sister. If we be driven apart, may it be to meet again on the rocky isle that has ofttimes been our haven, for well known is it to us all, and from far can it be seen!
Darker grew the night, louder raged the wind, as the four swans dived and rose again on the giant billows. Yet fiercer blew the gale, until at midnight loud bursts of thunder mingled with the roaring wind, but, in the glare of the blue lightning’s flashes, the children of Lir beheld each the snowy form of the other. The mad fury of the hurricane yet increased, and the force of it lifted one swan from its wild home on the billows, and swept it through the blackness of the night. Another blue lightning flash, and each swan saw its loneliness, and uttered a great cry of desolation. Tossed hither and thither, by wind and wave, the white [59] birds were well-nigh dead when dawn broke. And with the dawn fell calm.
Swift as her tired wings would bear her, Finola sailed to the rocky isle, where she hoped to find her brothers. But alas! no sign was there of one of them. Then to the highest summit of the rocks she flew. North, south, east, and west did she look, yet nought saw she save a watery wilderness. Now did her heart fail her, and she sang the saddest song she had yet sung.
As the last notes died Finola raised her eyes, and lo! Conn came slowly swimming towards her with drenched plumage and head that drooped. And as she looked, behold! Fiacra appeared, but it was as though his strength failed. Then did Finola swim toward her fainting brother and lend him her aid, and soon the twins were safe on the sunlit rock, nestling for warmth beneath their sister’s wings.
Yet Finola’s heart still beat with alarm as she sheltered her younger brothers, for Aed came not, and she feared lest he were lost for ever. But, at noon, sailing he came over the breast of the blue waters, with head erect and plumage sunlit. And under the feathers of her breast did Finola draw him, for Conn and Fiacra still cradled beneath her wings. “Rest here, while ye may, dear brothers,” she said.
And she sang to them a lullaby so surpassing sweet that the sea-birds hushed their cries and flocked to listen to the sad, slow music. And when Aed and Fiacra and Conn were lulled to sleep, Finola’s notes grew more and more faint and her head drooped, and soon she too slept peacefully in the warm sunlight.

But few were the sunny days on the sea of Moyle, and many were the tempests that ruffled its waters. Still keener grew the winter frosts, and the misery of the four white swans was greater than ever before. Even their most sorrowful Gaelic songs told not half their woe. From the fury of the storm they still sought shelter on that rocky isle where Finola had despaired of seeing her dear ones more.
Slowly passed the years of doom, until one mid-winter a frost more keen than any known before froze the sea into a floor of solid black ice. By night the swans crouched together on the rocky isle for warmth, but each morning [61] they were frozen to the ground and could free themselves only with sore pain, for they left clinging to the ice-bound rock the soft down of their breasts, the quills from their white wings, and the skin of their poor feet.
And when the. sun melted the ice-bound surface of the waters, and the swans swam once more in the sea of Moyle, the salt water entered their wounds, and they well-nigh died of pain. But in time the down on their breasts and the feathers on their wings grew, and they were healed of their wounds.
The years dragged on, and by day Finola and her brothers would fly toward the shores of the Green Island of Erin, or to the rocky blue headlands of Alba, or they would swim far out into a dim grey wilderness of waters. But ever as night fell it was their doom to return to the sea of Moyle.
One day, as they looked toward the Green Isle, they saw coming to the coast a troop of horsemen mounted on snow-white steeds, and their armour glittered in the sun.
A cry of great joy went up from the children of Lir, for they had seen no human form since [62] they spread their wings above Lake Darvra, and flew to the stormy sea of Moyle.
“Speak,” said Finola to her brothers, “speak, and say if these be not our own Dedannan folk.” And Aed and Fiacra and Conn strained their eyes, and Aed answered, “It seemeth, dear sister, to me, that it is indeed our own people.”
As the horsemen drew nearer and saw the four swans, each man shouted in the Gaelic tongue, “Behold the children of Lir!”
And when Finola and her brothers heard once more the sweet Gaelic speech, and saw the faces of their own people, their happiness was greater than can be told. For long they were silent, but at length Finola spake.
Of their life on the sea of Moyle she told, of the dreary rains and blustering winds, of the giant waves and the roaring thunder, of the black frost, and of their own poor battered and wounded bodies. Of their loneliness of soul, of that she could not speak. “But tell us,” she went on, “tell us of our father, Lir. Lives he still, and Bove Derg, and our dear Dedannan friends?”
Scarce could the Dedannans speak for the sorrow they had for Finola and her brothers, but they told how Lir and Bove Derg were alive and well, and were even now celebrating the Feast of Age at the house of Lir. “But for their longing for you, your father and friends would be happy indeed.”
Glad then and of great comfort were the hearts of Finola and her brothers. But they could not hear more, for they must hasten to fly from the pleasant shores of Erin to the sea-stream of Moyle, which was their doom. And as they flew, Finola sang, and faint floated her voice over the kneeling host.
As the sad song grew fainter and more faint, the Dedannans wept aloud. Then, as the snow-white birds faded from sight, the Sorrowful company turned the heads of their white steeds from the shore, and rode southward to the home of Lir.

Children of Lir Portumna 3

And when it was told there of the sufferings of Finola and her brothers, great was the sorrow of the Dedannans. Yet was Lir glad that his children were alive, and he thought of the day when the magic spell would be broken, and those so dear to him would be freed from their bitter woe.
Once more were ended three hundred years of doom, and glad were the four white swans to leave the cruel sea of Moyle. Yet might they fly only to the wild Western Sea, and tempest-tossed as before, here they in no way escaped the pitiless fury of wind and wave. Worse than aught they had before endured was a frost that drove the brothers to despair. Well-nigh frozen to a rock, they one night cried aloud to Finola that they longed for death. And she, too, would fain have died.
But that same night did a dream come to the swan-maiden, and, when she awoke, she cried to her brothers to take heart. “Believe, dear brothers, in the great God who hath created the earth with its fruits and the sea with its terrible wonders. Trust in Him, and He will yet save you.” And her brothers answered, “We will trust.”
And Finola also put her trust in God, and they all fell into a deep slumber.
When the children of Lir awoke, behold! the sun shone, and thereafter, until the three hundred years on the Western Sea were ended, neither wind nor wave nor rain nor frost did hurt to the four swans.
On a grassy isle they lived and sang their wondrous songs by day, and by night they nestled together on their soft couch, and awoke in the morning to sunshine and to peace. And there on the grassy island was their home, until the three hundred years were at an end. Then Finola called to her brothers, and tremblingly she told, and tremblingly they heard, that they might now fly eastward to seek their own old home.
Lightly did they rise on outstretched wings, and swiftly did they fly until they reached land. There they alighted and gazed each at the other, but too great for speech was their joy. Then again did they spread their wings and fly above the green grass on and on, until they reached the hills and trees that surrounded their old home. But, alas! only the ruins of Lir’s dwelling were left. Around was a wilderness overgrown with rank grass, nettles, and weeds.
Too downhearted to stir, the swans slept that night within the ruined walls of their old home, but, when day broke, each could no longer bear the loneliness, and again they flew westward. And it was not until they came to Inis Glora that they alighted. On a small lake in the heart of the island they made their home, and, by their enchanting music, they drew to its shores all the birds of the west, until the lake came to be called “The Lake of the Bird-flocks.”
Slowly passed the years, but a great longing filled the hearts of the children of Lir. When would the good Saint come to Erin? When would the chime of the Christ-bell peal over land and sea?
One rosy dawn the swans awoke among the rushes of the Lake of the Bird-flocks, and strange and faint was the sound that floated to them from afar. Trembling, they nestled close the one to the other, until the brothers stretched their wings and fluttered hither and thither in great fear. Yet trembling they flew back to their sister, who had remained silent among the sedges. Crouching by her side they asked, “What, dear sister, can be the strange, faint sound that steals across our island?”

With quiet, deep joy Finola answered, “Dear brothers, it is the chime of the Christ-bell that ye hear, the Christ-bell of which we have dreamed through thrice three hundred years. Soon the spell will be broken, soon our sufferings will end.” Then did Finola glide from the shelter of the sedges across the rose-lit lake, and there by the shore of the Western Sea she chanted a song of hope.
Calm crept into the hearts of the brothers as Finola sang, and, as she ended, once more the chime stole across the isle. No longer did it strike terror into the hearts of the children of Lir, rather as a note of peace did it sink into their souls.
Then, when the last chime died, Finola said, “Let us sing to the great King of Heaven and Earth.”
Far stole the sweet strains of the white swans, far across Inis Glora, until they reached the good Saint Kemoc, for whose early prayers the Christ-bell had chimed.
And he, filled with wonder at the surpassing [68] sweetness of the music, stood mute, but when it was revealed unto him that the voices he heard were the voices of Finola and Aed and Fiacra and Conn, who thanked the High God for the chime of the Christ-bell, he knelt and also gave thanks, for it was to seek the children of Lir that the Saint had come to Inis Glora.
In the glory of noon, Kemoc reached the shore of the little lake, and saw four white swans gliding on its waters. And no need had the Saint to ask whether these indeed were the children of Lir. Rather did he give thanks to the High God who had brought him hither.

Children of Lir Portumna 2


Then gravely the good Kemoc said to the swans, “Come ye now to land, and put your trust in me, for it is in this place that ye shall be freed from your enchantment.”
These words the four white swans heard with great joy, and coming to the shore they placed themselves under the care of the Saint. And he led them to his cell, and there they dwelt with him. And Kemoc sent to Erin for a skilful workman, and ordered that two slender chains of shining silver be made.
Betwixt Finola and Aed did he clasp one silver chain, and with the other did he bind Fiacra and Conn.
Then did the children of Lir dwell with the holy Kemoc, and he taught them the wonderful story of Christ that he and Saint Patrick had brought to the Green Isle. And the story so gladdened their hearts that the misery of their past sufferings was well-nigh forgotten, and they lived in great happiness with the Saint. Dear to him were they, dear as though they had been his own children.
Thrice three hundred years had gone since Eva had chanted the fate of the children of Lir. “Until Decca be the Queen of Largnen, until the good Saint come to Erin, and ye hear the chime of the Christ-bell, shall ye not be delivered from your doom.”
The good Saint had indeed come, and the sweet chimes of the Christ-bell had been heard, and the fair Decca was now the Queen of King Largnen.
Soon were tidings brought to Decca of the swan-maiden and her three swan-brothers. Strange tales did she hear of their haunting songs. It was told her, too, of their cruel miseries. Then begged she her husband, the King, that he would go to Kemoc and bring to her these human birds.
But Largnen did not wish to ask Kemoc to part with the swans, and therefore he did not go.
Then was Decca angry, and swore she would live no longer with Largnen, until he brought the singing swans to the palace. And that same night she set out for her father’s kingdom in the south.
Nevertheless Largnen loved Decca, and great was his grief when he heard that she had fled. And he commanded messengers to go after her, saying he would send for the white swans if she would but come back. Therefore Decca returned to the palace, and Largnen sent to Kemoc to beg of him the four white swans. But the messenger returned without the birds.
Then was Largnen wroth, and set out himself for the cell of Kemoc. But he found the Saint in the little church, and before the altar were the four white swans.
“Is it truly told me that you refused these birds to Queen Decca?” asked the King. “It is truly told,” replied Kemoc.
Then Largnen was more wroth than before, and seizing the silver chain of Finola and Aed in the one hand, and the chain of Fiacra and Conn in the other, he dragged the birds from the altar and down the aisle, and it seemed as though he would leave the church. And in great fear did the Saint follow.
But to! as they reached the door, the snow-white feathers of the four swans fell to the ground, and the children of Lir were delivered from their doom. For was not Decca the bride of Largnen, and the good Saint had he not come, and the chime of the Christ-bell was it not heard in the land?
But aged and feeble were the children of Lir. Wrinkled were their once fair faces, and bent their little white bodies.
At the sight Largnen, affrighted, fled from the church, and the good Kemoc cried aloud, “Woe to thee, O King!”
Then did the children of Lir turn toward the Saint, and thus Finola spake: “Baptize us now, we pray thee, for death is nigh. Heavy with sorrow are our hearts that we must part from thee, thou holy one, and that in loneliness must thy days on earth be spent. But such is the will of the High God. Here let our graves be digged, and here bury our four bodies, Conn standing at my right side, Fiacra at my left, and Aed before my face, for thus did I shelter my dear brothers for thrice three hundred years “neath wing and breast.”
Then did the good Kemoc baptize the children of Lir, and thereafter the Saint looked up, and to! he saw a vision of four lovely children with silvery wings, and faces radiant as the sun; and as he gazed they floated ever upward, until they were lost in a mist of blue. Then was the good Kemoc glad, for he knew that they had gone to Heaven. But, when he looked downward, four worn bodies lay at the church door, and Kemoc wept sore.
And the Saint ordered a wide grave to be dug close by the little church, and there were the children of Lir buried, Conn standing at Finola’s right hand, and Fiacra at her left, and before her face her twin brother Aed.
And the grass grew green above them, and a white tombstone bore their names, and across the grave floated morning and evening the chime of the sweet Christ-bell.

Church of Ascension – Gortanumera


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On the Sunday within the octave of the Ascension, 13 May 1934, Most Rev John Dignan , Bishop of Clonfert laid the foundation stone of the new church of Gortanumera. A year later, on the feast of the Holy Trinity, 16 June 1935, he blessed and dedicated it to the Ascension of the Lord. It was the culmination of many years of generous endeavour in difficult times by the people of the parish.
Monsignor Timothy Joyce was appointed parish priest of Portumna in December 1919. Four years later, October 1923 he and the parishioners held a meeting in the old church of Gortnacooheen, which had served the parish since 1832. The problem was to provide for an increasing population consequent on the recent division of the Clanrickard property.

Gortnacoohen church gortumnera Portumna 2009 1

The existing church was not more than sixty feet long by nineteen feet wide. It’s condition and location made its reconstruction a problem. Fortunately, an existing church came on the market which, it was felt, might fulfill the purpose. It had been built for Protestant worship in the town of Ballygar, about the middle of the nineteenth century, by the local landlord, Denis Kelly of Aghrane.
the elders of Gortanumera, the parish priest and the bishop met in Ballygar and there and then purchased the church, which was a neo-Gothic structure of fine quality. It was carefully taken down stone by stone, all 800 tons of it, and transported forty-two miles by tractor, slates, roof timbers, railings and all, to be erected with the addition of one bay, a porch and a belfry on the commanding site on which it stands.

Gortanumera Church Portumna 2009 1

In the lean years of the twenties and thirties money was scarce among the farming community. Instead to begin with, the families mostly gave livestock, poultry, farm and garden produce to be auctioned annually. In four years £1,200 was collected in this manner. It seems so little by modern standards but it purchased the church in Ballygar.

Gortnacoohen church gortumnera Portumna 2009 2

All the site work and the foundations to ground level were provided by the men of the parish working voluntarily – up to 80 of them – through the Autumn and early winter 1932/33 and the men of Boula came with their horses and carts. Individual donors provided the altar and its furnishings, the sanctuary rails and the beautiful stained glass window of the Ascension. Between 1929 and 1937 the parishioners of Gortanumera contributed by annual collection as did those of Boula and Portumna in the years 1933 – 1935 and in the year 1934 generous subscriptions were received from many parishes in the diocese as well as north Tipperary.

More recently Father Jennings erected the gallery and replaced the plain glass of the windows with cathedral glass by donation. Latterly, the church has been fully redecorated, by parish subscription for the most part, and a car park laid down by cooperative effort of the men of the parish, on a site which was donated.

Gortanumera Church 50th Portumna 1985 1

Gortanumera Church 50th Portumna 1985 2

The story of God’s house in Gortanumera spans thousands of years. On Church Hill stand the ruins of an early Christian church almost unique in east Galway. It is known as Lic Molaise, the balance of probability being that it was dedicated to and formed part of the “paruchia” of the celebrated St. Molaise, or Laisrian of Devenish on Lough Erne.

The parish retained the name, as it does to the present day but the Normans changed the dedication to St. Michael and William de Cogan granted patronage to the Cistercian Order. Their house in Portumna was vacated to be re-occupied by the Dominicans, but they retained the rectory of the parish while the vicarage was staffed by secular priests.

Gortanumera History map OSI 2

The reformation deprived the people of the parish of their church but a mass rock, which is still pointed out, served their purpose during the seventeenth century.
By the time George 1 (1714) there was a “mass house” in the parish, which possibly was the decayed ruin which joined to the early Christian church in Lickmolassey and in which old people say their parents heard mass. It lasted until 1832 when Dean Galvin erected the church of Gortacooheen.

A con-celebrated mass was held on Sunday, Feast of the Holy Trinity in 1985 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of it’s blessing and dedication.

Portumna Development Company – 1947 to date


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Portumna Development Company has done great things for Portumna, Co. Galway since it’s creation in 1947. Monsignor Joyce suggested the forming of the Development Company, seeing that committees formed and then dissolved themselves as soon as their purposes were achieved or not achieved at first attempt. Unfortunately he died before the full formation did see the draft of articles and suggested some changes.

Portumna won the name “Model Town” for itself among Irish Country towns.

The company was formed with £500 share capital divided into 10,000 shares of one shilling each. A full cross section of the community were and are shareholders thus giving all an interest on the work of the company.

Portumna Development Company badge 1

Their first move was to acquire the premises of “Civic Buildings” on Abbey Street. The company ran the branch Library and employed a Librarian, without the company Portumna would not have had this desirable public amenity, imagine Portumna without a Library. It also housed a Local Museum with objects of Local historical interest on view.

Portumna Flag

They were the group that realised that with Portumna being on Lough Derg and the corner of three provinces, this small town had an awful lot to offer, so the Development Company commenced the work of providing a proper swimming area and improved approach to the lake, which has been continually upgraded over the years to the great facility we have today.
Monsignor Joyce saw the beauty in Flowers and Trees when he visited Switzerland and felt that why could that not be done at home. The company and the town has inherited his love of flowers. As can be seen each and every year since. A great inheritance for a town to have and long may it continue.
A Chapter of history of Portumna was concluded when the Department of Lands purchased the Harewood Estate better known as Clanrickarde Estate. The estate owned the towns fair green and the tolls and customs of the fairs. The Development Company believed that running of the fairs should be in the hands of the townspeople, rightly so, and duly purchased the green for £400.

Fairgreen 1

Without the Development Company all this work and lots more would not have happened or we would be relying on the the goodness of government agencies.

The Development Company also produced the printed form of information called the “Portumna Review”. It had titles such as “Portumna 100 Years Ago”, “The Portumna Bridge and Parsonstown Railways” in 1947, with a 1848 edition featuring the Trial of Wilfred Blunt in 1888 with other titles as “Suggestions For Killing An Association”, “Give Us A Hand” and “Why Not A Town Of Trees And Shrubs”. Also the production of the Portumna Flag featured a few weeks previously.

Portumna Tidy Towns Hanging Flower Baskets

The Company’s biggest undertaking each year was the running of the “Civic Week” festival with a visitor booklet provided also. The fore runner to the festival we know in Portumna of the now.

The Development Company is to represent the town, but also more importantly a small community has united for a common purpose thus giving rise to a civic spirit. Individuals of the community will be justly proud to see their town looking it’s best and anxious about it’s progress.

Fr. Hayes said “Voluntary work creates citizenship. If we cannot have the community spirit in our parishes, how can we hope to have it in the nation as a whole”.
There is the danger that we will rely on the Government or the County Council, to do everything for us, and will blame them and not ourselves if we fail to make our native land a better home.

Portumna Development still going strong to this day with projects like Portumna Tennis Club and many more. Still the Model Company for any town.

Portumna Tennis Club 1

Portumna owes the Development Company a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you from all.

Attached pictures are from an article done on the development company in May 1949 titled “Self Help In Portumna – A Headline For Country Towns” by Donal Taylor, SJ. A lovely piece in “The Irish Monthly” magazine. Portumna Fairgreen, The Fair Grounds and Portumna on Fair Day. An still to this day the town inheritance – a love of flowers.

1949 Self-Help in Portumna_ A Headline for Country Towns 1

1949 Self-Help in Portumna_ A Headline for Country Towns 2
1949 Self-Help in Portumna_ A Headline for Country Towns 3

1949 Self-Help in Portumna_ A Headline for Country Towns 4

1949 Self-Help in Portumna_ A Headline for Country Towns 5

1949 Self-Help in Portumna_ A Headline for Country Towns 6

Portumna and the “Devils Own”, Connaught Rangers


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Portumna was the place of the raising of the famous Connaught Rangers, often know as the “The Devils Own” and the “88th Foot”. Would you believe in 1793?
This world famous regiment had its first gathering of recruits under the Clanricarde standard at Portumna Castle.

It is now over three hundred years since the regiment was raised and almost one hundred since its disbandment, but they are still arguably the most famous of the Irish Regiments, and are still held in high esteem, an honoured name, among the Regiments of the British Army.

The Connaught Rangers were crack troops in Wellington’s army and excelled at close quarter hand to hand fighting. They served in Picton’s 3rd Division in the Peninsular alongside the 45th Foot (Nottinghamshire’s) and 74th Highlanders. They also had the reputation of being the worst “plunderers” in the British Army. In the words of Arthur Bryant, the military historian: “The 88th were a tough crowd from the bogs of western Ireland with a bad reputation for filching Portuguese chickens and goats. But they were born fighters and their Scottish Colonel alexander Wallace had made them one of the crack regiments of the army”.

Connacht rangers medal 1

Their glorious Battle Honours, Victoria Crosses won, are the envy of all, chronicling their distinguished campaigns in Egypt, Europe, India, South Africa, and the West Indies. They served in the Great War mainly in France and Flanders, they were also at Gallipoli, the Balkans and the Middle East.

The 88th Foot or Connaught Rangers were raised in 1793 by the Earl of Clanricarde to help counteract the threat from Napoleonic France. They formed part of the expeditions to Egypt in 1801, South America in 1806 and the short campaign in the Netherlands against France. The 94th, formally known as the Scotch Brigade had fought in India (earning the Army of India Medal with three clasps) prior to joining the 88th in General Picton’s, 3rd Light Division in the Peninsular Wars against France. The Duke of Wellington used the 88th as shock troops in Spain where they formed the Forlorn Hope at Cuidad Rodrigo. The men of the 88th earned up to 12 battle clasps to the Military General Service Medal for services in Egypt and the Peninsula and the 94th, 10 clasps. After the Battle of Toulouse, the 88th departed to Canada while the 94th moved to Ireland and became over the next 50 years effectively an Irish Regiment. The 88th fought in the Crimean War of 1854–56 and during the Indian Mutiny of 1857–59. The 94th sent small detachments with the 18th Royal Irish Regiment to the Crimea and to Egypt in 1882 .

connaught_rangers_battle 1

The Connaught Rangers who mutinied as British soldiers in a far-away part of the empire became Irish heroes. News did not travel fast in 1920, but eventually details of the Black and Tan war reached the Irish-born soldiers serving in the British army in India.

On June 27th a group led by first World War veteran Private Joseph Hawes told their officers they would refuse to serve in protest at British military atrocities in Ireland. The revolt at Wellington Barracks, Jullundur, near the border with modern-day Pakistan, spread to Connaught Rangers companies at Jutogh and Solon near Hyderabad.

Private James Daly and 50 Irish soldiers in Solon took up arms and declared their hut to be known as Liberty Hall. Their chaplain intervened and persuaded the men to surrender their weapons, which were returned to the armoury on the understanding that no action would be taken for such serious insubordination.

connaught_rangers_battler 1

However, the mutineers had a change of heart and attempted to storm the armoury. Privates Patrick Smythe and Peter Sears were shot dead in the struggle and the remaining mutineers surrendered on July 2nd. They were led away to the notorious Lucknow Prison. Two months later Private Daly was executed by firing squad at the age of 22. The bodies of Privates Daly, Smythe and Sears were repatriated to Ireland in 1970 on the 50th anniversary of the mutiny.

Fourteen were sentenced to death, but their chaplain, Fr Benjamin Baker, intervened and their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. They were released in 1923. The mutiny had serious economic consequences for the men involved. Though many of them were veterans of the first World War, they were denied a military pension by the British government.

In 1936 the Irish Government intervened and passed the Connaught Rangers (Pensions) Act. It granted a State pension to those sentenced by the general court martial to death, penal servitude, or imprisonment for any term of not less than 12 months. In total 38 Connaught Rangers soldiers were awarded service pensions.

Connaught 1500 map

Wentworth and Links with Portumna


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In 1634, the Earl of Strafford(Wentworth) held a council in Portumna Castle, in order to establish the King’s title to the estates of Connaught, which being negatived by the jury empannelled for that purpose, the Earl placed both the jury and the sheriff under arrest and sent them prisoners to Dublin.

Wentworth ignored Charles’ promise that no colonists would be forced into Connaught, and he raked up an obsolete title—the grant in the 14th century of Connaught to Lionel of Antwerp, whose heir Charles was—and insisted upon the grand juries finding verdicts for the king. One county only, County Galway, resisted, and the confiscation of Galway was effected by the Court of Exchequer, while Wentworth fined the sheriff £1,000 for summoning such a jury, and cited the jurymen to the Castle Chamber to answer for their offence. In Ulster the arbitrary confiscation of the property of the city companies aroused dangerous animosity against the government. His actions in Galway led to a clash with the powerful Burke family, headed by the aging Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde. Clanricarde’s death was said by some to have been hastened by the clash: Wentworth, not unreasonably, said he could hardly be blamed for the man being nearly seventy. It was however unwise to have made an enemy of the new Earl, Ulick Burke, 5th Earl of Clanricarde, who through his mother Frances Walsingham had powerful English connections: Clanricarde’s half-brother, Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, by 1641 was to become one of Wentworth’s (who became Earl of Strafford in 1640) most implacable enemies.

It is from the remarkable series of Wentworth’s own letters that we learn best his aims and character. From his first appearance among his Council the gauntlet was thrown down. He made no attempt to be conciliatory, and he prepared for the great struggle against the ‘Graces’ by an attempt to make both the Council and the Parliament subservient to his will. His first demand was that a “voluntary contribution,” made in 1628, early in Charles’s reign, should be continued for another year, to meet the urgent costs of the army and the government. The earlier contribution had been made by the Catholics, but he warns the gentry that on this occasion the appeal would be to Protestants, and he advised them to save themselves by offering the contribution with a request for a Parliament in return. He made them “so horribly afraid that the money should be assessed on their properties that it was something strange to see how instantly they gave consent with all the cheerfulness possible.” The history of this contribution and of the ‘Graces’ with which it was connected leads us back into the previous reign. Even before the time of James I the experiments in plantations had resulted in a general sense of uncertainty and unrest all over the kingdom. No owner of land, whether he were an Irishman holding by immemorial custom and in complete ignorance of English land laws, or the old settler who now saw his property included in the vast tracts claimed on one excuse or another by the Crown, could any longer feel security for his possessions. In the universal fear of losing all they owned Englishman and Irishman suffered alike.


In Connacht a confiscation had long been threatened and as far back as 1585, when Sir John Perrot was Deputy, the gentlemen of the province had safeguarded their rights by entering into a pact known as the Composition of Connacht, which secured them in their properties. By far the largest landowner was the Lord St Albans and Clanricarde, whose vast estates about Portumna made him practically Lord Palatine over the larger part of Co. Galway. By some oversight, which it is impossible in the conditions of the time to ascribe simply to forgetfulness, the legal formalities required to make these arrangements binding in law were never carried out. The enrolments were not correctly entered, and though in James’s reign a sum of £3,000 had been paid by the landlords to the King for the completion of their patents, it was found that there were legal flaws in them which permitted the Courts to regard them as a dead letter. It was now proposed to take advantage of these flaws to carry out the general confiscation and replantation of the province.

The new plantations in Ulster, Wexford, and Longford gave urgency to the claims of the Connacht gentlemen to have their rights made clear; and early in Charles’s reign they approached him with a petition embodying their desires. Charles received the representatives graciously. He was intent on making himself independent of his English Parliament, and for this purpose he was anxiously looking elsewhere for the necessary funds to carry on his government. The result of the agreement made between him and the Irish gentry was the confirmation of certain privileges to the Connacht landlords, called ‘Graces,’ in return for a voluntary contribution from them of another sum of money, this time £120,000, to be paid in quarterly instalments spread over three years. The Graces originally contained fifty-one articles dealing with a number of matters relating to the better government of Ireland, such as the regulation of trade, the excesses of the soldiery and their support, the oppressions of the Court of Wards, the non-residence of landlords, and the maladministration of justice in the courts of law. But the two Graces [10] most eagerly sought after were those clauses concerning the surrender of titles in Connacht and Clare or Thomond, and for the recognition of a sixty years’ title to property, as settled by the Act, 21 Jacobi, but since brought seriously into question. The first of these Graces demanded the legal enrolment in Chancery of the surrenders of property made under James on the faith of his promise of confirmation of their titles, for which they had so long waited; the second made illegal the ancient and half-imaginary titles of the Crown to lands, such as had been made the excuse for the Wexford and other plantations, and confirmed the present owners in their rights.

Though Wentworth’s contribution to Irish cultural life should not be undervalued: it was under his patronage that the Werburgh Street Theatre, Ireland’s first theatre, was opened by John Ogilby, a member of his household, and survived for several years despite the opposition of Archbishop James Ussher. James Shirley, the English dramatist, wrote several plays for it, one with a distinctively Irish theme, and Landgartha, by Henry Burnell, the first known play by an Irish dramatist, was produced there in 1640.

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (13 April 1593 (O.S.) – 12 May 1641) was an English statesman and a major figure in the period leading up to the English Civil War. He served in Parliament and was a supporter of King Charles I. From 1632–39 he was Lord Deputy of Ireland, where he established a strong authoritarian rule. Recalled to England, he became a leading advisor to the king, attempting to strengthen the royal position against Parliament. When Parliament condemned him to death, Charles signed the death warrant and Wentworth was executed.

Portumna Castle Archaelogical Report



Excavations at Portumna Castle
Portumna Castle has been studied by art historians and architects alike due its innovative design that was influenced by trends originating from Britain and the Continent. However, when it came to the conservation and restoration of the castle and its grounds in the early 1970s there were questions that remained unanswered. Small-scale archaeological excavations at Portumna were carried out over a period spanning almost three decades associated with the restoration programme of the castle. The results of the excavations have revealed fascinating insights into various aspects of the castle’s architecture, drainage, surrounding gardens, and early driveways.

Constructed in the early part of the seventeenth century, the castle comprised a symmetrical, seven-bay, three-storey building (c.29m by 21m), with a basement and attached square corner towers. Stylised
battlements and small curved gables with pedestals and balls adorned the roof line of the castle. The design of Portumna represented a transitional structure between fortified castle and the typical larger house of the eighteenth century, retaining elements of defence such as firing holes and bawn walls, but essentially forming a domestic residence. These types of transitional structure developed in Ireland between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the seventeenth century (Leask 1999).
Amendments and additions to the castle’s interior were periodic and often reflected this changing functional dynamic. By the publication of Burke’s nineteenth-century guide to Country Houses Volume 1
, Portumna Castle was regarded as probably the finest and most sophisticated house of this period in Ireland (Bence Jones 1978). However, it was just after one phase of considerable renovations in the 1820s that the castle was unfortunately destroyed by an accidental fire and never rebuilt. Instead, the Clanricarde family adapted recently constructed stables and out-buildings, located to the east of the nearby Dominican Priory, as their residence. The restoration of Portumna Castle began in the 1970s and research on the history of the castle which accompanied this early phase of work revealed several previously unknown plans (Newman Johnson1988). These date to c. 1760, more than 60 years before
the devastating fire of 1826, and detail the layout of the original rooms in the basement, ground floor and second floor. An estate map by Cuddehy which dated to 1791 has also been instrumental in reconstructing those parts of the castle and grounds with no extant aboveground remains. Guests to the castle, the Beauforts, wrote extensively about Portumna Castle in their travel diary, dated between 1807 and 1810, and this diary provides further information of particular interest, especially concerning the castle interior (Craig 1976).
Bawn Wall archaeologist-Irish Portumna

As part of the reconstruction of the castle there have been multiple episodes of archaeological investigation. In 1979 Tom Fanning carried out some work inside the castle. A brief examination of the flooring levels and the drains in the basement was undertaken by Con Manning in 1980 and several trenches to the east and north of the castle were monitored by Heather King in 1993. A more detailed programme of archaeological works began in 1995 under the supervision of Archaeological Consultancy Services Ltd (ACS) and in consultation with Heather King. Also in 1995, Archaeological Development Services Ltd undertook a geophysical survey of the site. The archaeological excavations continued (1995 –
1997, 1999, 2005, and 2007) and have, to date, focused on various aspects of the castle, including the drive, the kitchen garden, the south and north gardens, drainage, and the castle exterior and interior. Several research questions were central to these various excavations and aimed to identify:
1.evidence for the construction of the castle;
2.the accuracy of the 1760 plans;
3.information regarding the internal stone-lined drains and how to stop seasonal flooding of the interior;
4.the original depth of the semi-basement
5.the accuracy of Cuddehy’s Estate Map of 1791;
6.aspects of the renovations undertaken by the architect George Papworth in the 1820s;
7.evidence for the line of the driveway.

The Castle pre-1791 Construction
The various excavations revealed a tantalising glimpse into the earliest stages of the construction of Portumna Castle and its associated buildings and gardens. The initial marl layer upon which the castle was built was even identified, along with an early seventeenth-century layer of mortar which was found in the castle’s interior. This layer contained traces of timber and iron slag as well as evidence for scorching which suggested that perhaps smelting had taken place here and that it was possibly even associated with the construction of the original buildings.

Several successive layers were also excavated that comprised the original stone and mortar foundation of the castle (in the immediate area to the west of the castle) and which contained dumps of stone, mouldings and mortar and red brick fragments. Some of this material derived from the construction of the basement. These layers were associated with the construction of the castle and the continued renovations and reconstructions resulted in a fluctuating ground level. It was therefore apparent that the original ground level would have been substantially lower. Initially, the castle was constructed with some discernable defensive attributes. Foundations for a possible tower which pre-dated the original castle drains were identified in the area to the west of the castle and represent one such defensive measure.
A second important original defensive component of the castle was the bawn wall. The bawn wall was, for the most part, destroyed in the late eighteenth century, presumably when renovations were made to the castle; however, some of the east – west and north – south sections were still standing after 1791.
Excavations revealed part of the foundation of the original (c. 1612) bawn wall (3m high) which was backfilled with material containing brick mouldings. The original bawn wall had gunports in places and continued past the sides of the castle, returning along the south side where the footing of part of the wall was identified. In addition to the bawn walls some other smaller garden walls were recovered, principally around the southwest corner tower. These garden walls are present on Cuddehy’s 1791 map. The construction of these garden walls would have been much later than, and therefore negated the need for, the bawn wall. The shift from the defensive, thick bawn wall with its original gunports to the less substantial garden wall provides an example of the diminishing defensive status of the castle. Other aspects of the construction of the castle and grounds revealed by the excavations included the castle’s
elaborate drainage system. The original castle drains were an integral part of the castle’s planned layout. During the 1980s and 1990s the castle had been experiencing problems with an internal stone-lined drain – which was not functioning satisfactorily and which flooded every winter in the basement – and therefore, large-scale excavation in the interior of the castle was designed to explore and repair this drainage system. The system centred upon the original main stone-lined drain into which smaller ancillary drains ran. The main drain ran from the northeast – southwest corners of the castle and out under the bawn walls and into the field to the west where it discharged into an open ditch. The lintels of the drain formed the base of the bawn wall which demonstrated that it was an original feature of the castle’s layout. This drain was relatively undisturbed in the north end of the castle and in the central spine, but was disturbed in the southern castle basement due to previous clearance works. It was this disturbance that had caused the drain to cease functioning successfully and the ACS excavations facilitated its repair and restoration.

Archaeological-Fury Original

Some of the ancillary drains associated with the main drain were identified in the east courtyard. The placement of two of these drains indicated that the castle builders intended that the water derived from the roof of the castle – at least on the north and east sides – would be used to flush out the garderobes in the two associated northeast and southwest corner towers and to help maintain a constant flow of water running through the main drain. During the latter part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth century it may have become necessary to bring additional water into this main conduit to prevent stagnation and a brick culvert which cut through the garden was most likely constructed for
this purpose.

Early Occupation
The 1760 plans of the castle interior give details of the layout of the original rooms in the basement, ground floor and second floor. A substantial amount of disturbance had taken place in the castle interior, especially in the basement, since the fire of 1826. Despite the disturbance, the lines of the walls on the 1760 plan could still be seen in the plaster in the later walls of the castle, thus validating the accuracy of this early representation. The combination of the plans and the excavations facilitated a greater understanding of the layout of the castle interior during this period.

Some of the original floor surfaces were recovered in the inner larder in the southwest corner tower and in a room in the northern end of the castle. The larder floor consisted of flags, mortar and some brick and was overlain with later flagstone paving. The floor in the second room comprised a cobbled surface in which small channels were positioned; these channels obviously drained away liquid waste. On the 1760 plans the beer and wine cellars are located further to the west in the castle but the archaeological evidence from this room indicates that the cellars had previously been located here. The presence of the channels and a large quantity of wine bottle fragments from this general area indicates that wine was stored here. One of the earliest ancillary stone drains travelled under the cobbled floor in this room, thus proving that it was used for storage from an early date. In the kitchen area of the castle there
was extant evidence for the ovens resting on a mortar base, which was shown on the 1760 plan. A rock-cut
well was located in the southeast end of the same room and would have provided a permanent water supply.

The Gardens
Evidence for gardens associated with the earliest phase of Portumna Castle was also revealed. In the area to the east of the castle, several layers of re-deposited subsoil and garden soil were excavated and represent the remains of a garden dating to the eighteenth century. Four pits and a disturbed, rough cobbled path indicate that the garden contained shrubs and pathways. A particularly notable early feature was found within a test-trench located at the edge of the south garden, beside the abbey
graveyard. This trench contained a rock-cut channel with stone-lined sides that were battered inwards; the channel was stepped and sloped gently towards the east. At the west end it was cut into the clay and at the east end had been cut into the rock; it extended northwest – southeast beyond the excavation area. A fragment of window mullion from the medieval abbey was found within its fill. The channel pre-dated a gravel roadway (it was evident in section above the channel) which was present on the 1791 Cuddehy map. The rock-cut channel is therefore either an original feature of the castle gardens or is
medieval in date and associated either with the nearby abbey or with some other and as yet unidentified structure. The boundary of the medieval borough is known to have existed in this area of the Portumna demesne and it is also possible that the rock-cut channel represents part of this boundary. A north – south ditch was located mid-way across the south garden and had been backfilled prior to 1791. It was located at equidistance between the central front of the castle and the western garden wall and was most likely constructed in order to provide symmetry with the castle.

Ephemeral evidence for other early features included the foundations for a building constructed against the bawn wall to the west of the castle, a further two rubble wall foundations also to the west of the castle, and also a portion of a building which was cut by a later ha-ha and which contained a fireplace and a flagstone floor, located to the southwest of the castle. Several cobbled paths were also present immediately along the southern front of the castle and some of these were disturbed by the construction of the porch and were therefore dated to the early to mid-eighteenth century. The porch construction in 1797 also disturbed several of the earlier drains in this area.

Castle Drain

In addition to the above-mentioned medieval fragment of window mullion, artefacts from this phase of activity include late sixteenth/early seventeenth ornamental wall tiles (which would have been part of the original house),seventeenth -century pottery, and a coin dating to c. 1680. Other later artefacts include pieces and fragments of terracotta and some of these were actually used in the construction of the downpipe drains. The presence of non-fragmented examples implies that they were never actually used for their original purpose. Many of the brick fragments from this phase that were excavated were examined by Dr Sara Pavia as part of a wider research project: Materials’ Audits for Building Conservation(Pavia et al. 2000). Her analysis revealed that the main mineral components of the Portumna brick are quartz, calcite, feldspar, clay minerals, and mica. The calcite was naturally occurring in the raw alluvial clay (most likely sourced from the floodplain of the River Shannon), rather than being deliberately added during the brick manufacture. The high calcium context in the raw clay resulted in lightly coloured bricks; the low temperature brick was pale – deep orange and the well – burned bricks were a light yellow. Some of the internal stone work including the interior doors through the spine
wall consisted of limestone blocks cut and carved with a decorative punch -work finish. Pavia acknowledged that the dimensions, general style and stonework of these doors do not accord with the general Jacobean style of the castle but that the stonework does blend with the surviving gothic doorways in the abbey. She therefore concluded that the doors were originally part of the Abbey and that they were reused in the building of the castle.

The Castle 1791 – 1826
The Buildings

In addition to ascertaining if there was any extant evidence for the construction of the castle, the excavations were designed to shed light upon the castle’s architecture and occupation during the period between Cuddehy’s 1791 estate map and the fire in 1826. Excavations in the castle’s interior revealed that several successive floor layers were built on top of each other which had resulted in a considerable raise in the floor levels in the basement. As suggested above, there was a gradual reduction in the depth of the basement and a corresponding increase in the external ground levels. The excavations also produced evidence for internal partition walls, some of which were represented by actual brick foundations and others by postholes. In 1797 a porch was constructed on the south elevation
and it disturbed several important, earlier stone-lined drains. This disruption in the drainage
system would have caused water to be continually flooding into the kitchen from the porch in rainy weather and a concentration of later drains in this area demonstrate continued efforts to rectify this problem. The porch was also associated with the burial place of a former resident of the castle: Fury the whippet. Excavations revealed his skeleton and nails in the corners of his grave indicated that he had been buried in a coffin. The castle’s tradition suggests that a child tumbled from the castle, only to have its fall broken by Fury. The damage to Fury’s back was considerable and although the child survived the dog unfortunately did not. Fury was buried in the exact spot as the incident happened, and a
commemorative plaque was erected into the porch:

Dying about April 20 1797 aged 11 year was Interred near this Place.
Alas poor Fury. She was a dog. Take her for All in All Eye shall not look upon her like again.

An annex was present within the perimeter of the former courtyard, located to the east of the
castle, and post-dated an earlier garden in this area. The annex had several phases of renovations and much of it dated to the late nineteenth century but had been demolished during the 1970s and at the time of excavation was covered with a thick deposit of rubble, indicating that the area had obviously been backfilled. It was originally constructed prior to 1791, across one of the original external doorways. It comprised a substantial four-roomed building (12m long by 10m wide) of at least three storeys, including a basement. Subsequent renovations included the opening of a doorway in the wall of the castle which gave access from the main stairwell of the castle to the ground and first floors of the annex.
Steps also led from the courtyard down into the lobby of the annex. The foundations for various internal walls were identified which demonstrated how the annex had been sub-divided into four rooms and a central hall. Two fireplaces, one on either side of a shared wall, were exposed. A brick doorway with a limestone doorstep represented a later insertion. A cobbled yard was exposed in the northern section of the excavation area and ran almost to the walls of the annex. It was associated with the annex and probably dated to the c. 1824 renovations.

The Driveway
Access to the castle and its annex during this period (1791 – 1826) would have been from the north. Evidence for a driveway is present on Cuddehy’s 1791 map where one is represented by a tree-lined avenue which was not in keeping with the symmetry of the gardens. A northern driveway which extends between the Gothick Gate and the Outer Courtyard Gate is present on the 1837 Ordnance Survey (OS) map. Both of these gates are thought to date to the end of the eighteenth century, when some major changes in the layout of the castle and gardens took place (Craig 1976, 5). These gates and the driveway represent part of the formal entrance and entering the grounds from this direction would have facilitated some of the best views of the castle’s architectural splendour. However, archaeological evidence suggested that this approach was only used on an infrequent basis. It is likely that the driveway present on the OS map
was constructed around the same time as the two gates, or slightly later. No aboveground traces of this
driveway were obvious in 1995. Excavations in spring of that year were designed to locate and fully expose the driveway, which would then be used as the foundation for the main approach path to the castle once restored. Not only did these excavations reveal the precise location of the driveway but they also presented evidence for the use of wheeled vehicles. The excavated driveway was directly aligned to the centre of the two gates. It consisted of a stone base covered with compacted gravel and was 0.12m thick. These two surfaces appeared to be broadly contemporary although the gravel was not present along the whole length. The driveway widened from 4m to 4.6m immediately before the junction with the Gothick Gate. Two pedestrian openings existed on either side of this gate, and the areas inside the gates and along the edges of the driveway were presumably grassed. A small paved area was uncovered along the eastern edge of the driveway which most likely represents a small path heading from the driveway in an easterly direction. Along the middle of the driveway, three north – south, shallow tracks (0.2 – 0.25m wide by 0.02m deep) were visible in the top gravel layer. These tracks were difficult to discern in places, due to their shallow nature. It is possible that the two outer tracks represent the ruts of carriage wheels and that the inner track represents that of a horse pulling the carriage. That these tracks were not found in abundance indicates that the driveway was not used regularly. The archaeological evidence indicated that this northern driveway was only in use for a relatively short period of time. This driveway is of a different alignment to that represented on the 1791 map, which must pre-date it. This dates the construction of the excavated driveway to after 1791 and most likely to
c. 1797 when the castle grounds were re-shaped. After the 1826 fire the excavated driveway was apparently no longer used and the castle was more frequently approached from the east. The driveway was covered with gravel following the excavations and now provides pedestrian access to the castle grounds. Rather than lying forgotten and neglected it is therefore once again fulfilling its original purpose –
providing the best visual approach to the castle – and is used with much more regularity than it was in the early nineteenth century.

The South Garden
A series of trenches was placed within the south garden in 1998 in order to ascertain if there were any
archaeological features in this area. The excavations revealed several outcrops of limestone, the foundations for the bawn wall on the west and east sides of the garden and the above-mentioned pre-1791 ditch. The exposed segments of bawn wall ran beyond the castle and were associated with a possible external ditch. Further segments of bawn wall were identified in other areas during the various excavations and these were marked on the 1791 map. Another section of wall, which may represent an earlier or smaller enclosure, was present on the internal, garden side of the bawn wall. A stone-lined ditch was present to the east of the garden, near the perimeter of the medieval abbey, and would have been associated with one of the later drains exiting the southeast corner tower of the castle. It appeared to take water away from the icehouse, located in a wooded area to the southeast of the castle (beyond the excavation area). Part of the gravel roadway, which post-dated the rock-cut channel (see above), and which was present on the 1791 map was excavated. It appeared to lead from the town, along the old avenue, and into the churchyard, possibly towards the lake which lies in this direction.
A geophysical survey was also conducted in this area and further test-trenches opened in order to investigate any anomalies detected by the survey. These trenches revealed the lines of north – south hedges or flower-beds located in this part of the back garden; these may have divided the garden longitudinally and suggest a formal layout of the south garden. Different phases of use of the garden were identified through various layers of made- up ground, including an east – west artificial bank and associated parallel ditch which effectively divide the garden into two further areas.

The North Garden
In March 2005 the outer front garden, to the north of the castle, was investigated. The OPW planned to re-landscape this area and to model it on the Cuddehy estate map. It was therefore essential to recover any evidence for the previous garden layout and to assess whether or not it concurred with that represented on the map. A single trench was excavated and this confirmed the presence of rough gravelled pathways in a plan that conforms to the layout illustrated on Cuddehy’s 1791 map. No evidence was recovered for any other paths or garden features. The paths consisted of coarse gravel and larger flat stones which may represent the remains of paving. They occurred at set intervals from both walls of the garden and therefore appeared to have been laid out very precisely. The evidence suggested the presence of a small path running around the inside perimeter of the garden at a distance of 1.8m from the boundary walls. In addition, a circular arrangement appears to have been present in the centre of the garden and consisted of a 3.2m-wide pathway positioned in a circular fashion with a smaller pathway constructed along its north – south diameter. No evidence was recovered for either an earlier or a later garden layout and it would appear that the arrangement shown on Cuddehy’s map continued until the castle was destroyed by fire. The geometric patterns and formality of this eighteenth-century garden are in keeping with contemporary picturesque theories about garden design. Indeed, the function of this garden is purely aesthetic. This northern garden would have played a crucial role in shaping the views and perceptions about Portumna upon arrival from the north. When this garden was created the northern approach comprised a tree-lined avenue. Visitors to the castle would have had their view and gaze directed by the trees towards the neat and formal gardens which lay in front of the grand architectural splendour of the actual castle. When the Gothick Gate and Outer Courtyard Gates were constructed along with the straight and properly laid driveway, this new heightened sense of formality would have been enhanced by the north garden.

4 Castle Gates Portumna

The Kitchen Garden
A community group, funded by FÁS, a government training agency, intended to develop the site of the walled kitchen garden as a horticultural centre. As a result, the kitchen garden was excavated in 1997. Three parallel north – south paths and two east – west paths were identified. With its cobbling and edging of large stones, the central path was the most formal. The east – west paths were marked on the 1791 Cuddehy map along with trees and plants shown along its edges. Several pits were identified in this area and may have represented the actual pits dug for the placement of these eighteenth-century trees and plants. Various trenches representing the remains of cuts for hedges flanked the paths. In addition to the paths, several areas of the actual garden soil were excavated and these generally consisted of
reddish-brown clay. Some of the soil layers may have been earlier than the paths, demonstrating the pre-
existence of a garden in this location before the paths were laid. Three areas of soil in particular were interpreted as possible vegetable patches or as sub-divisions for different plants within the kitchen garden. Shards of earthenware were recovered from the three vegetable patches and this
material would have been included in the manure that would have been regularly spread across the site. An informal pathway consisting of grey subsoil ran through one of these patches and would have been
created in order to provide access to the vegetables. The correlation between some of the excavated paths and those marked on the 1791 map, combined with associated eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pottery, suggests that the kitchen garden was in existence from the late eighteenth century. The garden is also marked on the 1837 OS map which demonstrates that it was either still in use or that it was at least still laid out formally with the same paths by this date. Much of the kitchen garden area was disturbed due to later activity on the site, including two French drains.

The kitchen garden would have been an important part of daily life at Portumna. Highly productive, it would have contained a diverse range of food, herbs and flowers for the family, staff and guests of the castle. Many of these plants would have been perennials and the garden would therefore have had an all-year-round visual appeal and utility. The pathways enabled the garden to be used throughout the year, and also subdivided the garden into geometric plots. Aesthetics, formality and functionality all combine to make the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century kitchen garden visually striking.

Many of the artefacts from the excavations dated to this period and included late eighteenth – and nineteenth- century pottery sherds, of which some fine examples with a thin gold band along the rim were recovered. Stone and plaster fragments were discovered, along with tile (some Dutch glazed)
and decorated terracotta fragments, roof slates and ornamental mouldings. Further domestic artefacts consisted of clay pipe stems, broken glassware, and pieces of iron.

The Castle After 1826
Although the castle was abandoned after the devastating fire of 1826 archaeological evidence for some activity was identified, notably in the area of the annex and the kitchen garden. A cobbled ramp and associated retaining wall were positioned above the stone steps of the former annex. This ramp gave access to two buildings: one which had been built prior to 1791 and which stood next to the castle and one which was constructed on the foundations of the southern end of the demolished annex. Both of these buildings remained standing until the 1970s when they were demolished. A third building was present in this area. The original roof-line of this building was clearly seen at the time of excavation in the external plaster on the eastern wall of the northeast corner tower ; the building therefore used
the external wall as part of its construction. Its other walls included part of the demolished bawn wall, as well as a new wall built between them. This small building only appears on the later OS maps, thus indicating that it dates to between c. 1840 and 1880. It forms an outside toilet, and two garderobes were exposed within its foundations. The garderobes were originally associated with a stone manhole, which was later replaced with one manufactured from red brick. Other walls which represented the remains of sheds or outbuildings were observed; they were located along the southern wall of the courtyard. Later renovations in the area of the kitchen garden included horse stalls which appear on the 1912 OS map; they are probably of late nineteenth-century date and used in association with the courtyard rather than the castle. A cobbled surface was identified in the southeast of the garden, between the wall and two of the paths, and represents the remains of the stalls. A line of seven postholes was also excavated which ran along the western extent of one of the pathways and forms the remains of a line of sheds that existed in this part of the garden in the early 20th century.

The Castle Excavations: Conclusions
The excavations have revealed much about Portumna Castle that was hitherto unknown and have therefore
played a crucial role in its reconstruction. The marl layer upon which the castle was originally constructed was revealed along with evidence for some of the early foundations. An association with the nearby abbey was demonstrated through the presence of the late sixteenth/early seventeenth ornamental wall tiles, early pottery, and some of the internal doors.

The reliability of the 1760 plans was reinforced, although evidence indicated that the wine and beer cellars had previously been located elsewhere within the castle interior. A succession of basement floors was evident and demonstrated that the original depth of the basement would have varied over time. A similar build-up of material was identified outside the castle and the original space between the first floor windows and the ground level would also have been substantially greater than observed before excavation commenced. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century the formal nature of the castle’s aesthetic appearance increased with the construction of the Gothick Gate, the increased symmetry of the driveway (from which evidence of the use of wheeled vehicles was also obtained) and gardens, and the construction of the grand porch. The excavations demonstrated the validity
of Cuddedy’s 1791 estate map. Some of the renovations undertaken in the 1820s were identified, notably within the castle annex and many of the surrounding gardens.

5 Castle Middle Gates Portumna

The internal and external drainage system was mapped, assessed and the problem of the flooding drain
rectified. Viewed in conjunction with the architecture of the castle, the excavations at Portumna Castle help contribute to the portrayal of the castle and grounds, as described by Burke, as probably the finest and most sophisticated house of this period in Ireland.

Bence Jones, M. 1978 Burke’s Guide to Country Houses, Ireland, Volume I . London, Burke’s Peerage Ltd.
Craig, M.J. 1976 Portumna Castle . Dublin, Gifford & Craven.
Leask, H.G. 1999 Irish Castles and Castellated Houses . Dundalk, Dandalgan Press.
Newman Johnson, D. ‘Portumna Castle –a little-known early survey and some observations’ in J. Bradley (ed.),
Settlement and Society in Medieval Ireland: studies presented to F.X.Martin, OSA, 477–503. Kilkenny,
Boethius Press.
Pavia, S., Bolton, J., Walker. G., MacMahon, P. and Dunphy, T. 2000 ‘The Brick in Portumna Castle, County
Galway, Ireland’, British Brick Bulletin, No. 80, 5–10


Old Customs (Part 1) from 1938


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Emblems and Objects of Value 14/12/1938

Notes taken by Thomas Couser from Mrs. L. Couser

Emblems Objects of Value page 1

Original Essay Page

In the country the people have a great deal of old customs in honour of the different saints. On St. Brigid’s night the people get a piece of brown ribbon and make it into the shape of a cross. Then they leave it out on a line that night and they say that St. Brigid comes and touches it. One piece of this ribbon is kept in the kitchen while the other part is hung in the outhouses as St. Brigid is the patron saint of stock. This ribbon is often known to have cured diseases which were incurable.

Another custom is that the old people when they are thatching, wear a cross inside the a roof over the door in honour of St. Brigid. About six miles from Portumna there is a place called Killimore. The people here on St. Brigid’s night, get a doll and dress here in white the they go from door to door saying “This is St. Brigid dressed in white, give her something for the night, she is deaf, she is dumb, give her money if you have some” . Then with the money they get, they hold a big feast that night and put the doll in the middle of the table.

The people practice another old custom on the first of May. They call the day May Day. On this day the people cut a bush and stick it in the ground. Then they decorate it with rags, eggshells, old shoes and boots etc and then they leave the bush there for about a month. But long ago when May night would come, the boys out of the town would go round the country and would burn all the May bushes on the people.

On Christmas Eve, the people decorate their houses with holly and it would be taken down on Shrove Tuesday and it is used to to cook the pancakes.

Collected by Thomas Couser, Killimore Road, Portumna 14/12/1938 Collected from Mrs. L. Couser, Killimore Road, Portumna, Co. Galway aged 45

Portumna Castles


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Portumna Castle is a large semi-fortified Jacobean house, built by Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde and his wife Frances Walsingham, the Countess of Essex some time before 1618. It has been described by Bence-Jones as ‘probably the finest and most sophisticated house of its period in Ireland’.

Richard Burke spent £10,000 on building Portumna Castle, and when it was completed it was unequalled in Ireland for elegance, style and grandeur, outshining other castles. The design is unique because it represents a transition between the fortified tower house and the country mansion, which was already popular in England. It was built as part of an extensive programme of works to consolidate the Earl’s claims to the Lordship of Connacht.

The castle is a symmetrical three-storey mansion built over a basement; two rooms deep linked by a central gallery with ornamental gables, carved doorcase and large windows. It was built for comfort and beauty with a wonderful view of Lough Derg, yet it has some defensive features including square corner towers and gun loops to protect the entrance.

The castle was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1826 when the entire contents were destroyed. The family moved to the courtyard buildings which were converted into a temporary residence. This is known as the ‘Dowager House’ and is situated near the Priory.

Dúchas – the Heritage Service has carried out conservation and restoration work on Portumna Castle and Gardens. The kitchen garden to the northeast has been recently restored. Portumna castle is a national monument and it is open to the public from March to October, 10am to 6pm daily. It is situated close to the Marina and Portumna Forest Park.

‘New Castle’, Portumna
A new Gothic mansion was built in 1862, at the opposite end of the Portumna Demesne. Designed by the architect, Sir Thomas Newenham Deane, it was two-storeys with a high pitched roof and an attic of steep gables and dormer-gables. There were small towers with pointed roofs and elaborate windows.

This ‘new castle’ was rarely lived in. The last Marquis of Clanricarde, who succeeded in 1874, was a notorious miser and eccentric who dressed like a tramp and spent his life in London. He died in 1916, leaving Portumna Castle and estate to his great-nephew Henry, Viscount Lascelles, afterwards 6th Earl of Harewood and husband of Princess Mary.

In 1917, Henry Lascelles had plans prepared for the restoration of the old castle at Portumna. These were never carried out however. The new castle was destroyed by fire in 1922.

Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary; 25 April 1897 – 28 March 1965), she was the third child and only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. She was the sixth holder of the title of Princess Royal. Mary held the title of princess with the style Highness from birth as the then great-granddaughter of the British sovereign, and later Her Royal Highness, as the granddaughter and finally daughter of the Sovereign, visited Portumna in 1928; the first time a member of the British Royal Family to come to Ireland after Independence. Later, Portumna demesne was sold, after Lord Harewood’s death in 1947. The Forestry Commission acquired the estate and it is now a Forest Park.

Nothing remains today of the New Castle only the view to the lake from its site (now the carpark in the Forest Park). Cut stone from the ruin was used to build the new Church at Portumna, which began in 1958 and was completed in 1961.

Hidden Treasure – The Abbey, Portumna, Co. Galway


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Hidden Treasure – The Abbey Portumna

“Outside the old ruined castle of Clan Rickard which lies south west of the village of Portumna is built a tunnel. People say that when Ireland was convulsed by a struggle with the Danes, the monks – who then had a monastery about 300 hundred yards away – used to hide their gold in this tunnel. The tunnel leads to a field beside the Shannon owned by a man called Elliot.hiding-treasure-at-the-suppression-of-a-monastery

When the Danes were found to be coming, the monks used to hide the gold in it and leave the tunnel by Elliot’s field beside the Shannon and take to the boats moored nearby to escape. The Danes were very fond of gold and on this account the monks built the tunnel to store their gold.

A land agent for Viscount Harewood named Moran and a couple of workmen on the Harewood estate opened the mouth of the tunnel; they went in some little distance with a lighted candle. After a while the candle quenched which proved there was no air therein. All the party saw a large dog which is supposed to guard the treasure, night and day, and it is believed will not allow anyone to touch it, so they fled in terror.

The Lord Abbots name was O’Madden and to him belonged the priceless treasure hidden in the tunnel. He was replaced by a man named McEgan, one of the McEgan’s from Ballymcegan in Munster. A big black wolf is said to have guarded the tunnel. The value of the treasure is unknown.

Hearing the story a man by the name of O’Toole decided to unearth it – being half way in the tunnel he was eaten by the big black wolf.

Some years after, another man by the name of Ryan made up his mind to explore the tunnel. This time with success, he emerged from the tunnel with a handful of precious jewels which weighed 3lbs.

The treasure is believed to be buried in the old castle now hidden from sight under the earth, in Silk’s Wood (called after the man who planted it) believed to be in a tunnel in chests consisting of precious stones and silver chalices, hidden in a smaller tunnel running into a larger one going to Stoneyisland.

While others believe The Danes to have taken the sacred vessels and thrown into the River Shannon.

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The Convent of Mercy, Portumna


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The Convent of Mercy, Portumna, a daughter house of Loughrea, was founded in 1882 and opened a residential Domestic Science School for girls in 1898. The founding manager was Sr. Mary Joseph Pelly. The convent may have run the school for some years prior to this as the third report of the County Committee mentions that the school was funded by the Board of Guardians (Portumna Union) and had been in operation for many years.

Under the 1891 Act Boards of Guardians were empowered to make grants available for agricultural education and training. The school was established to give “instruction in the science and practice of Cookery, Laundry Work, Dairy Management, Poultry Management, General Housework, Domestic Economy, and Needlework.

It had three principal objectives:
1) The training of farmers` daughters and other girls in improved modes of dairying and general household management.
2) The training of domestic servants.
3) The special instruction of girls about to become technical instruction teachers.

The admission requirements for prospective students were as follows:–
Pupils had to be sixteen years of age or older.

Applications for admission had to be signed by a “responsible person” who was well acquainted with the prospective pupil.

Pupils had to be able to read, write “with a fair hand”, spell with tolerable correctness, and have a knowledge of the basic rules of Arithmetic.

As pupils had to take part in all the work of the school and household they were required to supply serviceable dresses and aprons of plain washing material. In addition they were required to bring one good outdoor dress, hat and jacket, a pair of towels, house shoes, hair brush and comb, tooth brush, and clothes brush.

Whilst people might smile at the clothing requirements it should be remembered that it was always expensive to kit out children for boarding school.

Pupils from outside the Portumna Rural Union area had to be selected by either their Local Authority(Union) or Committee and submitted to the County Committee for Technical Instruction for final approval.

At the end of term (one year’s training) an examination was held under the auspices of The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland. Prizes were awarded for best exam results, neat-ness, and best notebook. A second terms training could be supplied if required.

Non resident pupils were admitted at a fee of ten shillings (€0.58) per quarter.

Pupils had to show an aptitude for the work of the school and if they failed to do so within two months they were to be sent home.

On completion of training pupils, who earned it, would receive a certificate of merit relating to their conduct and exam results.

The timetable makes it abundantly clear that there was little time for distractions. The day began with a 6.00am rise, with a half an hour for dressing and prayers. From 6.30 to 7.30 pupils were allocated various tasks such as milking cows, work in the laundry, dairy, poultry yard, or kitchen and household duties. At 7.30am they had
breakfast, following which they made up their beds, cleaned their dormitory and changed into their uniforms for the day.

From 9.00amto 1.00pm they were allocated duties in the workroom, kitchen, or laundry. Lunch and free time was from 1.00 to
2.00pm and from 2.00 to 4.00pm they were re allocated work in the workroom, kitchen or laundry. Lecture or examination time was from 4.00 to 5.00pm followed by tea until 5.30 after which they were allocated duties milking or work in the dairy, poultry yard or kitchen. Following this they all went to the workroom from 6.30 to 8.00pm. Supper and night prayers filled the last hour with bedtime at 9.00pm.

The subjects taught were Cooking and Domestic Economy, Needlework, Dairying, Laundry and General Housekeeping, as well as Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Geography.

The courses were designed to be practical.
During the year 1901/1902 there were eighteen resident pupils in the school. There was also a class for day pupils which dealt with Cookery and General Housekeeping. The boarders were in receipt of County Scholarships. During the first year of the scheme,(1901/1902) these were valued at £7 per annum. In the second year
of the scheme the scholarships were increased to £15 per annum

The teachers were: Margaret M. Riordan, Elizabeth M. Riordan, and Annabelle Gillespie.

In 1902 the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction’s Inspector reported that the school was the best of its type to come under his notice, As a result of his report the Department requested a set of six full plate photographs showing the various sections of the school at work. The photographs were to form part of the Department’s exhibit at the upcoming Cork Industrial Exhibition. It would seem that Portumna was to be used to set the national
standard for excellence.

In 1905 the Department took over the financing of the school and augmented the courses offered. By this means the school was established as a model school similar to The Munster Institute in Cork.