Granard (Co. Longford / East)
Granard (Gránard) (pop. 2000) is situated just south of the boundary between the watersheds of the River Shannon and the River Erne. Long an important agricultural market town and retail hub, it is a popular destination for anglers due to its location near Lough Sheelin, Lough Gowra and other lakes and rivers.
View of town from Granard Motte.
Neolithic people lived in this area as far back as 3000 to 1500 BC.
The toponym is very old. Historically rendered as Granairud, Granaret and Granard, its origins are unclear, but some experts believe it could derive from the old Irish Gaelic for ‘Hill of the Grain / Corn / Barley’ or ‘Height of the Sun’, and may once have been a location used for solar worship.
Granard features in the ancient Táin Bó Cuailgne as one of the places where Queen Medb of Connacht and her army paused on their raid into Ulster to steal the famed Brown Bull of Cooley. The earliest surviving written version of the epic is contained in the C11th Lebor na hUidre, which refers to “Gránairud Tethba tuaiscirt .i. Gránard indiu” (“Gránairud of northern Teathbha, i.e. Gránard of today”).
The Annals of the Four Masters (compiled 1632-1636) mention Granard eight times; some of the events are purely nominal, but those of interest appear here marked*.
*”236 AD. This year Cormac, the grandson of Conn, who was King of the Lagenians (Leinster), overthrew the Ultonians (Ulstermen) in a great battle fought at Granard. Their defeat was so great that many of them fled to the Isle of Man and the Hebrides, and Cormack was ever after known as Cormack Ulfoda“.
Niall of the Nine Hostages, legendary king of Tara (c.379 – c.406 AD), supposedly established two sons in Teffia, a territory which “comprehended the greater part of the present county of Westmeath, with nearly the whole of Anally, or the county of Longford.” The portion of Anally about Granard was called North Teffia or Cairbre Gabhra, from Cairbre, one of Niall’s two sons. The descendants of the early inhabitants were called the Glasraidhe.
Saint Patrick is said to have travelled through the area at least twice. He was reportedly ill received on his first visit to Granard, then one of the chief seats of pagan worship, and cursed the crops in revenge. As a result he was made welcome on his return, when he founded a monastic community. He appointed Guasacht, a son of his former master Milchú, as first bishop of Granard, but the diocese did not survive as a separate entity.
*”476. In this year a battle was fought between the Granardians and the Leinstermen, in which Eochaidh, who was descended from Enda Madh, King of Leinster, was defeated and slain in the battle.
*”480. In this year a battle was fought between the Lagenians themselves, in which Fionchadd, Lord of Hy Kinsellagh, was slain by the Granardians.”
Chieftains of the O’Fearghaill sept ruled the territory of Anghaille / Anally / North Teffia during the C11th and C12th.
*”1069. In this year Murchad, the son of Diarmuid, marched into Meath and burned a large amount of property, lay and ecclesiastical. He also burned Granard and Ardbraccan, the Lord of which met and slew him.
*”1103. Cathalan, son of Seanan, was slain by the people or Capra Gaura (Granard).
*”1108. Donnell, son of Donnell O’Rorke, Lord of Breiffney, was slain by the people of Granard.
*”1161. Matudan, grandson of Cronan, Lord of Carbry Grabha (Granard), fell by the sons of MacComgall at Granard
“1162. Carlry-na-Ciardha (Granard) was plundered by Maolsaochlin O’Rorke. He was, however, defeated, and many of his men were killed.”
Sir Richard Tuite / Risteárd de Tiúit (d. 1210), Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who Hugh de Lacy had granted extensive lands in the western part of Mide, was apparently invited to the area by the Gaelic Lords of Cairbre, and built / reinforced the Granard Motte with a defensive Bailey c.1199.
Feudal title to the territory was held by the de Gennevilles and de Mortimers during the C13th.
*”1262. In this year The O’Donnell marched through many countries until he came to Granard, in the County Longford. In every place he went he was granted his demands, and he returned home in triumph.
*”1272. In this year Hugh O’Connor, of Connacht, invaded Meath and burned Granard.
*”1275. Art, son of O’Rourke, the descendant of the valiant Tiernan, of Brei:ffny, was slain by the English, and many of the people of Granard were slaughtered.”
By the early C14th Granard was under the control of “Prince” Con O’Fearghaill, ruler of Upper Annally / North Teffia, who refused entry to Scottish troops under Edward Bruce on his ultimately abortive march on Dublin in 1315. The Book of Howth says: ‘About the feast of St. Tendrow the said Bruce did burn Kells and Granard and did spoil the Abbey thereof.’ . He reportedly “hurled his whole force against the gates of Granard, and for two days an awful carnage reigned, so that the living made a road of the bodies of the dead; after which Bruce’s superiority in numbers prevailed, and Granard, the erection of thirteen centuries, was taken, and was subsequently levelled to the ground by Bruce before he left the spot.”
Re-established on a new site about half a mile to the east, and reclaimed in the C15th by the O’Fearghaills, Granard soon became a significant market centre. In 1419 the Irish Parliament enacted a statute forbidding English merchants from trading there because of the damage it caused to the markets of Meath.
*”1475. In this year John O’Farrell, of Annaly, died suddenly at Granard just as he was sitting down to his inaugural banquet.”
Granard appears to have risen to importance as a town in the reign of King James I, who, in 1612, granted to Sir Francis Shaen some annual fairs, to which were added a grant of a market in 1619 to Sir Francis Aungier, who claimed to be descended from the Counts of Aungier and was made Lord Aungier, Baron of Longford. He was the progenitor of the Earls of Longford.
A 1678 charter of King Charles II to the Earl of Longford granted that the freeholders of Granard should have the privilege of returning two members to the Irish Parliament, which they continued to do until the Union, when £15,000 compensation was paid to G Fulk Littleton and W Fulk Greville.
Although the Forbes family of nearby Castle Forbes were granted (and indeed still hold) the titles of Baron,Viscount and Earl of Granard, the most important local landlords in the late C18th and C19th were the Tuite and MacCartney / Greville families.
In 1787, when the Rev Daniel Beaufort visited Granard, it was a small town with a few neat looking houses and a footbarrack, whose proprietors, the MacCartneys, had just recently erected a neat markethouse. Building continued during the ensuing decades, with notable examples including the construction of Moxhams Street (1809) and Water Street (1813), erected by Thomas Tuite.
Granard had begun to decline by the mid C19th and, with the notable exception of St Mary’s Church, the townscape changed little over the following decades.
On 31st October 1920, during the War of Independence, an RIC police officer, District-Inspector Philip Kelleher. was shot dead by two masked men in the bar of the Greville Arms Hotel. The following day the IRA killed an RIC Constable called Cooney in the nearby village of Ballinalee.
In reprisal, a convoy of Black & Tans entered the town on 5th November and systematically set about looting and burning the main business premises, including the hotel, but were eventually forced by Sean McEoin‘s North Longford Flying Column to withdraw to barracks. The next day, the same unit held Ballinalee against superior Crown forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition.
Ann Lovett, a 15 year-old schoolgirl, was found lying at the foot of a statue of the Virgin Mary in a grotto just outside the town on 31st January 1984. She had just given birth to a baby boy, but the child had died and Ann, suffering from shock and exposure, died later that day in Mullingar Hospital. The story of the utterly needless double tragedy was made known to the nation 5 days after the funeral, and initially prompted a bitter stand-off between the people of Granard and the media, but soon led to a massive change in Irish attitudes to issues of sex, morality and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The repercussions of the event are discussed here.
Baker’s Fort (or rath) is located off Main Street. The Annals say that ‘in 1161, Matudan, grandson of Cronan, fell by the sons of Mc Congall at Granard’. This may be the Cronan after whom the townland Rathcronan is named and this rath may have been the site of his residence. The rath is now only 45 yards wide as it was partially demolished in 1924; the farmer who owned the land discontinued work as he considered it an unlucky omen when all his cattle died. The rath is probably called after Mr Baker who had a shop in the town.
The Granard Motte
The Granard Motte / Moat, standing at 166 m (543 ft) above sea level, is reputed to be the highest such structure in Ireland. The approach is steep, and the mound is partially surrounded by a trench.
Although most authorities agree it was was built c.1199 by Sir Richard Tuite / Risteárd de Tiúit, others claim he merely reinforced a much older structure, said to have originally been cut out of a large hill. Some say this was the C5th residence of Cairbre, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages; another version has it that the interior was used during Viking raids as a storage facility, possibly for grain or perhaps even gold treasure.
There is a level surface at the top, wide enough to support a large body of troops and partly protected by the remains of what formed the rampart of the original fortification. The summit offers superb views across nine counties, taking in five lakes, rivers, forests, bogs and the Sliabh Bloom Mountains.
A statue of Saint Patrick was erected on top in 1932 to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the his second coming to Ireland. The statue is now very weather-beaten and its hands have fallen off to expose metal spikes, giving the Saint the aspect of an elderly Dalek overlooking the town.
Old Granard lies at Granardkille, about 1km the west of the present day town. Abandoned in 1315, the site was not affected by later development and so remains much as it was when Edward Bruce razed the walled town to the ground. Believed to be the only one of its kind in Ireland, the medieval site has yet to be excavated, although visible ruins are protected by the State.
St Patrick’s church (CoI), built or rebuilt c. 1760, was remodelled in 1861 and 1930. It is prominently set on a hilltop close to the Granard Motte, west of the town centre. Lewis (1837) records that the church at Granard ‘is a plain ancient structure‘ suggesting that the present edifice contains earlier fabric. The fine collection of cut grave stones, some of which are of artistic merit, complete the setting; the earliest dates to 1754, which also indicates that the present building stands on the site of an earlier church. A number of blocked-up doors and window openings were noted during works in 1980 also hinted that this building is of considerable antiquity.
Granard Market House, oddly positioned on a gently sloping site at a right angle to the main street, was built in 1785 by the MacCartneys to replace a building known to have existed in 1691. In addition to regular Friday markets, it has been used over the years as a venue for dances, classes, drama productions, films, games, dancing lessons and meetings. Described in 1889 as a disgraceful old building, it was refurbished in 1983 with the addition of a Branch Library.
St Mary¡s church (RC), designed in an Early English Gothic style by John Bourke (d. 1871), was begun in 1860 on an elevated site granted by Richard Greville, and dedicated in 1867. As can be seen from the interior, the roof is held in place by an elaborate structure of hammer beams and cross-braces, with decorative carved openwork. According to some local sources, the four-storey tower was added in 1887. The spire, rising to 170 ft and topped with a medieval style cross, dominates the town and is visible for miles around.
The Greville Arms Hotel
The Greville Arms Hotel***, founded in the C19th, was named (like its Mullingar counterpart) in honour of a family of landlord politicians descended from the C18th Longford poetess Frances Greville (née MacCartney), wife of a minor English aristocrat, and allied by marriage to the powerful Nugent Marquesses of Westmeath.
The hotel belonged for many years to the family of Kitty Kiernan (1892–1945) who was engaged to the founder of modern terrorism, revolutionary leader and Free State minister General Michael Collins. He stayed at the hotel on his frequent visits to see her between 1917 and 1922 (it is not clear if he authorised the assassination of RIC Inspector Kelleher on the premises in the midst of the romance). After Collins’ premature death, she married army Quartermaster General Felix Cronin in 1925. (In Neil Jordan‘s 1996 film Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson, her role was played by Julia Roberts, to mixed reviews).
The Greville Arms provides reasonably priced accommodation, with friendly staff serving good food and drink in the restaurant and the Michael Collins Bar; but despite its prominent role in Granard’s historical, cultural and social life, the hotel today is rather anodyne.
Granard has a strong sporting tradition, with numerous GAA triumphs to its name. The sports complex has a pitch & putt course, tennis courts and football pitches. There are interesting cycling and walking trails in the area; information can be obtained from the information office.
The Granard Harp Festival, first held from 1781 to 1785, when it was funded by James Dungan, an native son who had become a merchant in Copenhagen, and had heard of similar events being organised for bagpipers in Scotland, was revived between 1981 and 2011.
Blind Turlough O’Carolan (1670 – 1738), famed as the last great traditional Irish harpist / composer, stayed as a guest of Lord Nugent at Castlenugent from 1720 to 1721. While there he composed several tunes including Grace Nugent for the youngest daughter of the house. O’Carolan also composed Miss Fetherston in honour of a lady he encountered on his way to Mass in Granardkille, while she was en route to the Protestant church in Granard (another sign of the age of St Patrick’s?).
Frances Greville (née MacCartney) (c. 1724-1789), daughter and co-heir of James Coote Macartney, MP for Longford and Granard, was a celebrity poetess, wit and society beauty in Georgian England. A friend of Sarah Lennox, Duchess of Richmond, she was mentioned in Horace Walpole‘s poem The Beauties (1746) as among the most prominent women of Court. On 26th January 1748 she eloped with Fulke Greville (1717–1806) of Wilbury House, Wiltshire, a relative of the Earls of Warwick and Somerset and Dukes of Beaufort, who served as an MP from 1747 to 1754. Although notorious as a gambler and dandy, his love for Frances shines through his account of her (as “Flora”) in his Maxims, Characters & Reflections (1756). Frances’ own poetic career was marked by the success: of Prayer for Indifference, addressed to the fairy deity Oberon, first published c.1758 and reprinted regularly in the following decades, often paired with a poem defending the fashionable cult of “sensibility”. Her output otherwise was mostly within the confines of Vers de société. In 1765 Fulke Greville was appointed envoy extraordinary to the Elector of Bavaria and minister Plenipotentiary to the Imperial Diet of Ratisbon. Frances spent the 1760s and 1770s in travel and her old age in conversation, befriending Charles and Frances Burney, as well as Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who dedicated his The Critic to her. She had several children, including Frances Anne, who became Countess of Crewe, and Capt. William Fulke Greville (1751–1837) father of Fulke Greville-Nugent (1821-1883), 1st Baron Greville.
Michael Gaffney, born in Granard in 1775, founded the small town of Gaffney, South Carolina, in 1804. His heritage is evident there today with streets named after his wife and children and one also named Granard St.
Eddie Macken (1949-), international show jumping star, was born and lived for many years in Granard.
Clonfin / Cloonfin, a rural townland between Granard and Ballinalee, was towards the end of the War of Independence the scene of the Clonfin Ambush, carried out by the IRA‘s 21-strong North Longford Flying Column led by Seán Mac Eoin. On 1st February 1921 they detonated a roadside bomb as two British Army lorries were passing a bridge, then opened fire, triggering a two hour gun battle. After Lt Commander Worthington Craven was killed, the remaining policemen surrendered, with casualties of four Auxiliaries dead and eight wounded. Sean MacEoin’s treatment of the prisoners was humane, as three Auxiliaries testified at his later court martial, but delayed the IRA’s getaway and they were almost caught by 14 lorries of British reinforcements as they escaped across Clonfin Wood, taking 18 rifles, 20 revolvers ammunition, a Lewis gun and 800 rounds of ammunition. In the aftermath of the ambush, British forces raided nearby Killoe, Ballinamuck, Drumlish, Ballinalee, Edgeworthtown, Granard and Ardagh. A number of houses and farms were burnt. They also shot dead an elderly farmer, Michael Farrell, in reprisal for the ambush. Sean MacEoin was captured at Mullingar railway station in early March and charged with the murder of RIC DI MGrath. He was released in July under the terms of the Truce which ended hostilities. A Memorial was later erected at the site of the ambush.
Clonfin Lough was where a stone was found bearing ancient carvings similar to engravings on rocks in Galicia in Northern Spain, which early C20th antiquarians identified as being from the “Aenolithic era”.