Kilcormac (Co. Offaly / West)
Kilcormac (Cill Chormaic – “Cormac’s church”) (pop. 1000) lies on the Silver River at the feet of the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
The Silver River at Kilcormac (Photo – www.hallerfamily.co.uk)
The name Kilcormac refers to the site of a hermitage inhabited in the C7th by Cormac ua Liathain, a holy seafaring friend of Saint Colmcille’s.
The town was known as Frankford until the early C20th, for reasons that are not clear; some claim it was so called by / in memory of Francis Magawley, said to have founded the settlement in the C15th (when neighbouring Ballyboy was more important), while others refer to John Franks, who established a local Charter School in 1753.
Frankford’s name was changed in May 1903 to Kilcormack by unanimous vote of the County Council, a decision celebrated locally with a festival of music, dancing, singing, drama, poetry and folklore sessions.
The Kilcormac Missal (1458) preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, belonged to a C15th Carmelite priory established locally under the aegis of Odo O’Molloy of Broughall Castle.
The Kilcormac Pieta, a beautiful C16th statue carved from a block of solid oak, is the only one of its kind and era in Ireland. It is thought to be of Spanish origin and, according to tradition, was donated to the parish by “a rich lady”. Initially kept in the old church at Ballyboy, it was hidden from Cromwellian troops in 1650, and lay buried in the bog for almost 70 years. It is said that by 1720 only one man remained alive who knew where it was buried; according to tradition, he was carried out on his deathbed to point it out. The carving was carefully disinterred and found to be in perfect condition; it is now enshrined in the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1865).
The church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (RC), consecrated in 1867 and enhanced in 1907, replaced a smaller succession of C18th structures on the original site of Cormac’s hermitage. This has been called one of the finest of the smaller churches in the county; unusually, it contains memorials to local gentry, some of whom had strong Continental connections. A weathered medieval Crucifixion panel is built into the north wall of the churchyard.
Broughal (Co. Offaly/ West)
Broughal Castle, aka Broughall / Broghill / Braghall / Braghaly / Braghalloe Castle, was the chief seat of the O’Molloys, long renowned for their hospitality in general and Christmas parties in particular. The stronghold was taken and partially demolished by Crown forces under Lord Grey in 1538. The land passed to Edward Bermingham and later Sir William Petty. The remains of the castle were removed c.1930.
Broughal House, a Gothic edifice built c. 1835, is now only a vestige. The last resident owner, Christopher J Banon, needed two armed police escorts for protection against his tenants. He had leased the premises in 1879 to a friend of the local resident magistrate, Captain Hamilton, a falconry enthusiast called Captain F Sandes Dugmore, who became heavily involved in rural politics; he and a Miss Hanna Reynolds promoted the Land League’s Plan of Campaign so enthusiastically that they were both committed to Tullamore gaol.
Lough Boora Bog
Lough Boora Bog was one of the earliest areas of C20th commercial peat production by Bord na Móna, and as a result the first area in which large tracts of cutaway emerged. The horribly scarred land has begun to heal under sensitive care.
Lough Boora Parkland is a 2,000 hectare pilot project to convert cutaway raised bog into a welcoming ecosystem through natural re-colonisation, with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous forestry, pastureland, wetlands, fishing lakes and 50km of walkways.
The magnificent wetland wilderness is a unique landscape for a wide range of flora and fauna. Ireland’s last remaining population of grey partridge lives here, and over 130 bird species have been recorded in the area, many of which can be seen from bird hides located throughout the Parklands, as can mammals, insects etc.
Lough Boora, a 50-acre lake drained in the mid-C20th , is now a shallow expanse stocked with fish for anglers. (Photo – www.hallerfamily.co.uk)
A stone plaque marks the location of 1970s excavations that uncovered the earliest known traces of human activity in the Midlands. Campfire sites, carbon dated to between 6800 and 6500 BC, were the temporary campsites of Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) fishermen and hunters.
The Parkland now hosts some of the most innovative land and environmental sculptures in Ireland. The artists, inspired by the rich natural and industrial legacy of the bog lands, have created a series of large-scale sculptures that are now part of the Parkland’s permanent collection.
Cloghan (Co. Offaly / West)
Cloghan (“a cluster of small stone buildings”), at the centre of the ancient territory of Lusmagh, was originally a monastery established by Saint Cronan in 600 AD, later attacked by the Vikings. The local crossroads used to be famous for fairs.
Cloghan / Lusmagh Castle is an architectural complex with sections dating from almost every century since shortly after the arrival of the Normans. (Photo – www.enchantingireland.com)
In 1203 a medieval monastery was founded with a defensive wall around it, part of which still exists.
In 1336 Eoghan O’Madden, the greatest chief of his clan, conquered the territory of Lusmagh. He is thought to have built the present keep. The O’Maddens lost the castle to Crown forces in 1595 after a siege that cost 200 lives.
Two companies of Cromwellian soldiers occupied the castle from 1651 and built several extensions, including two towers.
The castle figured in the Williamite War when the Jacobite Army camped outside the gate in 1689. A number of gun metal coins frm that period have been found on the site.
The estate, once 3,200 acres, was reduced after the Great Famine, and again in 1908. Nowadays it takes in 70 acres of beautiful parkland and another 80 acres of ancient woodland, conserved as a wildlife sanctuary.
Belmont (Co. Offaly / West)
Belmont / Belmount, aka High Street, is a small village on the north bank of the River Brosna.
Belmont Mills, an impressive old weirside industrial complex, was founded in 1760. Dating mainly from the mid-C19th, the watermills were operated by the Perry family for 138 years until 1997, and are now run by Tom Dolan and Sandy Lloyd as a creative venue with large studios and accommodation facilities for visiting artists and craftsfolk. (Photo – Howth Yacht Club)
St Saran’s church, a prettily situated early C19th single-cell edifice, is now in use as a parochial hall, replaced as a place of worship by the church of Ss Patrick & Saran (RC).
Belmont Lock on the Grand Canal is a daunting double lock, navigable with the assistance of the friendly lockkeeper.