Longford town (Co. Longford / West)
Longford (An Longfort, from Longphort Uí Fhearghail – “O’Farrell’s boat dock”, although some claim it was anciently called Áth fada – “Long Ford”) (pop. 9600) lies on the banks of the River Camlin. It is the county town (administrative capital) of County Longford, and also its largest urban concentration, with about one third of the county’s inhabitants.
Long a barracks town and regional centre for agricultural and commercial trade, Longford is nowadays home to various light industries, government departments, public and social services and a range of shops including several major retail outlets, some operating 24/7. The locals are friendly, and there is a decent range of good pubs / eateries and accommodation options.
Longford reputedly stands on the site of a monastery said to have been founded by Saint Idus, a disciple of Saint Patrick.
The area was long under the sway of the Uí Fhearghail / O’Farrell clan which controlled Anghaile / Annaly, the territory now comprising the south and middle parts of County of Longford.
A Dominican Priory founded in 1400 by The O’Farrell, prince of Annaly, in honour of the Blessed Virgin was destroyed by fire in 1429; Pope Martin V and his successor, Pope Eugene IV, granted indulgences to all who should contribute to its restoration. The establishment appears to have survived till King Henry VIII‘s 1539 Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The land was successively granted to different parties in the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I, and was given by King James I to his favourite, Sir Francis Annesley, 1st Baronet, together with the right to hold a market and fair locally.
The estate was soon acquired by the Cambridge-born Sir Francis Aungier (1558–1632), Master of the Rolls for Ireland, commissioner of the plantations at Munster in 1616 and Longford in 1620, who obtained the grant of an additional market and two more fairs in 1619 and in 1621 was created Baron Aungier of Longford by patent, which stated that he descended from the Counts of Aungier. (It was he who purchased the lands of the White Friars Monastery where he resided in Dublin, where in 1677, Aungier Street was named honour of family).
Longford Castle, which from its strength had become a post of importance, was, in 1641, taken by the insurgents from the O’Farrells, and the garrison put to the sword. It was layer replaced by a fortified manor.
Francis Aungier, 3rd Baron Aungier of Longford, had his lands converted into a manor in 1657 by King Charles II, with the power of appointing bailiffs for his manor court, and maintaining a gaol for the manor and town of Longford, which, under the same charter, was incorporated by the designation of the “Sovereign, Bailiffs, and Burgesses of the Borough and Town of Longford.” He was made Earl of Longford in 1677, but both titles became extinct upon the death of his brother Ambrose in 1706.
In 1739 their niece and heiress Elizabeth Cuffe married Thomas Pakenham, MP for Longford, who was created Baron Longford in 1756, while Elizabeth was created Countess of Longford in the Peerage of Ireland in 1784. Their grandson, the 3rd Baron, became the 2nd Earl of Longford (2nd Creation), and in 1821 was created Baron Silchester in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, which gave him and his descendants an automatic seat in the House of Lords.
Longford corporation returned two members to the Irish parliament till the Act of Union, when the borough was disfranchised. By then the corporation exercised few municipal functions, having little more than a nominal existence. The recorder and town-clerk were appointed by the lord of the manor.
By the early C19th Longford had a cavalry barracks, with stabling for 147 horses, and an artillery barracks, with stabling for 55 horses, both with hospitals attached.
The extension into the town of a spur of the Royal Canal in 1830 made it the passenger boat terminus for Bianconi carriages to Sligo and considerably improved the town’s commerce, putting it among the country’s best markets for grain, pork, bacon, and butter. Lewis (1837) recorded that ” a spacious market-house, and corn stores along the canal, have been erected by the Earl of Longford; several new houses have been built, and some new streets laid out, and the town is rapidly improving…..There is a large distillery, in which, on an average, about 50,000 gallons of whiskey are annually made and 35 men employed; there are also a large brewery and a tannery. At the termination of the new cut from the Royal canal a basin for boats has been constructed by the Earl of Longford, who has also erected a butter market and shambles at his own expense….. A passage boat to Dublin plies daily on the Royal canal, affording facility of intercourse with the metropolis and other towns; and the situation and other local advantages of the town are favourable to the extension of its trade. The markets are on Wednesday and Saturday; the latter, which is the principal market, is amply supplied with corn, butter, bacon, pigs, hemp, and flax, and is numerously attended“.
The town also had a chief constabulary police station, a courthouse “and a gaol, well adapted to the classification of prisoners, … erected in 1825, on the radiating principle, containing 8 day-rooms and airing-yards, in one of which is a tread-mill, with separate cells for the prisoners, who are instructed by the schoolmaster and matron; three looms are also kept in the gaol for the employment of such as can weave”
The county infirmary and dispensary were also in the town, and a Workhouse was built in 1842 to accommodate 1000 paupers. County Longford suffered greatly during the Great Famine and the workhouse became greatly overcrowded, with over 2,300 inmates at the end of 1848. Disease, particularly typhus fever, was rife and a 64-bed fever hospital was also erected. The number of deaths (over 16,000 in the first ten years of the workhouse’s operation) necessitated the creation of mass graves in a graveyard known as “bully’s acre”, used in later years for the burial of still-born infants.
Ballymacormack cemetery contains the ruin of a medieval church. The parish of Ballymacormack was united in the late C18th within the parish of Templemichael, which includes Longford town.
St John’s church
St John’s church (CoI), located to the north end of Longford town centre, was built in 1710 on the site of the Dominican Priory established c. 1400 by the O’Farrells, and may contain fabric from this earlier complex. The church was altered c. 1780 (it was described as ‘new’ in 1787) and again c. 1811 to accommodate a larger congregation following the enlargement of the nearby barracks. It is well-detailed throughout with fine cut stone detailing, particularly to the delicate needle spire. (Photo – www.buildingsof ireland.ie)
The neoclassical interior contains a number of impressive marble memorial monuments: the earliest, probably moved from an earlier deconsecrated church, dates from 1691 and commemorates Rev. James Sterling. The attractive carved oak pulpit was designed in 1902 by John William Gunnis, the English-born County Surveyor from 1891 – 1914.
The extensive church grounds contain several finely carved gravestones, one dating back to 1717, and another commemorating Sergeant Joseph Ward (1832 – 1872), who received a Victoria Cross for his bravery during the “Indian Mutiny” of 1857. Charlotte Brooke, (c. 1740 – 1793), probably the only one of 22 children fathered by the Cavan writer Henry Brooke to survive childhood, whose translations of songs and ballads, published as Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789), represented a milestone in the rrecognition of Irish language literature, is also believed to be buried in St John’s churchyard.
The cast / wrought iron gates and railings and limestone gate posts are of the same design as found at the nearby Church Hall to the west, built 1864.
Sean Connolly Barracks (Longford’s former cavalry barracks, renamed in 1922), encompassing the former Longford Castle (which fell into ruins and was demolished in 1972), the original town marketplace and Markethouse, the Butter Market Building and various old military edifices, was closed in January 2009 as part of government cutbacks, and the personnel transferred to Athlone. The site is due for redevelopment.
St Mel’s Cathedral
St Mel’s Cathedral (RC), a neo-Classical stone building at the north east side of the town, was dedicated to Saint Mel (d. 488 AD), who came to Ireland with Saint Patrick and was ordained as the first bishop at Ardagh. The seat of the modern Diocese of Ardagh & Clonmacnoise, it was variously called Longford’s “landmark building“, the “flagship cathedral” of the Irish midlands region and “one of the finest Roman Catholic churches in Ireland“.
The cathedral was designed by Joseph B Keane. The foundation stone (taken from the ruined cathedral in nearby Ardagh) was laid on 19th May 1840. Work was delayed by the Great Famine, but the church was opened for worship in September 1856. The belfry by John Bourke was added in 1860, and the portico by George Ashlin in 1889. The cathedral was finally consecrated on 19th May 1893.
The cathedral featured stained glass windows made by Harry Clarke Studios. “The Holy Ghost” above the baptismal font was by Imogen Stuart. The 1975 furnishings, including “The Second Coming” tapestry behind the bishop’s throne, were designed by Ray Carroll.
Just after 5:00 am on 25th December 2009 a fire began at the back of the building. Freezing weather disrupted attempts by firefighters to put out the blaze as their pipes were frozen solid, causing the fire to go on for several hours. At one point flames were reported jumping sixty feet into the air. Bishop Colm O’Reilly, who had celebrated Midnight Mass in the building hours before the fire began, described the cathedral as “just a shell” and “burned out from end to end”. Saint Mel’s Crosier, a relic dating from at least a thousand years ago, was burned.
As a result of the fire, Longford parishioners held their Christmas Day Masses in the local Temperance Hall, and thereafter used a school chapel and sports hall.
The estimated cost of the damage to the cathedral was €10 million. Although Gardaí had ruled out arson, the origin of the inferno had still not been determined by 18th September 2011, when the cathedral ruins were opened to the public for the first time and thousands of people paid their respects to the site.
One commentator summed up the devastation: “The only thing the town has had to be proud of is gone. ”
Longford Convent of Mercy, built 1872-74 at a then huge cost of £30,000 to designs by John Bourke (d. 1871) on a twelve acre site donated by the Earl of Longford, , contains a large Gothic Revival chapel, probably designed by William Hague (1836 – 1899), and consecrated in 1893.
Longford Methodist church, located to the north end of Longford town centre, was built in 1897 to replace an earlier chapel known to have existed in 1838 (when the town also had a Presbyterian place of worship).
The Mall is a centrally located landscaped park on the banks of the River Camlin. Home to Longford’s sports & leisure complex, containing a swimming pool, gym, both indoor and outdoor football and basketball grounds, the park also contains outdoor exercising equipment, a childrens activity play area and a wildlife sanctuary for various species of wild duck. The Mall itself is a popular walking spot, a lap of which is approximately 2 km.
Pearse Park is the headquarters of the Longford County GAA, with a ground capacity of around 11,000.
The Longford Slashers GAA Club, founded in 1954, have had their own grounds at Farneyhoogan since 1980, dedicated in 1986 to the memory of Michael “Smiler” Hay, with a floodlit all-weather playing pitch inaugurated in 2005.
Backstage Theatre & Arts Centre, opened in 1995, is a purpose-built facility located in the Slashers GAA Complex, with a 200-seat auditorium and a flexible black box space for workshops, conferences, seminars, courses etc.
Longford Town Football Club, founded in 1924 and elected to the League of Ireland in 1984, has its grounds at Flancare Park on the Strokestown Road. Soccer was introduced in the C19th by British Army soldiers, and Longford has produced several players of note. Longford Town won the FAI Cup in 2003 and 2004, and has competed in the UEFA Cup.
St Mel’s College is a large Catholic boys’ school, founded in the mid-C19th as a diocesan seminary, then mainly a boarding school until 2000, best known for its strict rules of conduct and its success on a national level with Gaelic football, rugby, soccer, basketball, and athletics; its cricket players were formerly famous for wearing black
Longford town has two other secondary schools: Scoil Mhuire (a Catholic girls’ school run by the Sisters of Mercy) and Templemichael College (formerly known as Longford Vocational School), plus a number of primary schools, including a Gaelscoil, and an adult education centre.
The poet Padraic Colum (1881-1972) was born at Longford workhouse, where his father was Master.
The old workhouse was renamed Longford County Home in 1921, then became St Joseph’s Hospital in 1952 and was demolished in 1970. The former fever hospital is now Mount Carmel Hospital.
The Great Famine Commemorative Garden was created to mark the 150th anniversary of the tragedy by renovating the graveyard, now a landscaped area with commemorative cross and plaque.
Longford town has a decentralised government department which employs approximately 300 people with plans for a further 160 to be employed at the Irish Prison Service‘s new headquarters in the Lisamuck area of the town.
Longford Railway Station, opened in November 1855, is served by Sligo-Dublin intercity services. Despite its distance from the capital, the town also has a regular, well-utilised commuter service to Dublin: journeys generally take about an hour and three quarters.
Longford Town’s branch line of the Royal Canal, currently derelict and partially filled in, has a pleasant tree-lined tow path walk. The spur is due for restoration and redevelopment to attract water-borne traffic to a new amenity area in the town centre.
The Royal Canal itself was reopened in 2010 after years of being derelict and overgrown, and the stretch south of the town is now a popular recreation area.
Longford town is
There are a number of portal dolmens located around Longford town.