ByRoute 17.1 Co. Meath & Co. Cavan (SW)

Lackan lake, one of the Nadreegeel Loughs, which are popular for coarse fishing. Boats are readily available. (Photo by Henry Clark)

Ballyjamesduff (Co. Cavan / South)

Ballyjamesduff (Baile Shéamais Dhuibh – “Town of Black James”) (pop. 2300) supposedly derives its name from an officer who was stationed locally (some say in 1798, but the toponym appears in a Deed registered in 1714). It more probably comes from Béal atha a’seiscinn duibh – “the mouth of the ford of the black marsh”.

Ballyjamesduff has often been the butt of jokes and sneers amongst snobbish urban sophisticates, for whom its name, like various places called Ballymuck / Ballynamuck (place of the pigs) and beautiful Ballydehob in West Cork, epitomises rural Irish backwardness.  It is said to have an exceptionally high rate of single men, and until recently had the most pubs per head of population in the British Isles. From its Wikipedia entry the town does appear to harbour a tradition of racism, including anti-Semitism, and cruelty to animals.

Ballyjamesduff more than doubled its population between 2002 and 2006; most of the newcomers were families of commuters attracted by the prospect of the M3 Motorway link with Dublin. The 2006 census also showed that more than 25% of people in the town were from overseas.

Cavan County Museum


The Cavan County Museum, established in 1996 in the former Convent of St Clare, designed in 1888 by William Hague, and beautifully situated amid extensive grounds, is almost the only reason for visiting Ballyjamesduff.


A series of elegant exhibition galleries trace the history and heritage of County Cavan from prehistoric and pre-Christian times to rural life  in the 1950s.


Most importantly, the Museum attracts thousands of visitors from Northern Ireland for its impartial coverage of County Cavan’s history of sectarian strife in a wonderful room festooned with the banners and regalia of both the Loyal Orange Lodge and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.


Rare and precious artefacts include the 4000 year old Killycluggin Stone, the three-faced Corleck Head, the 1000 year old Lough Errol Log Boat, medieval Sheela-na-gigs and the 18th Cavan Mace. There are also many costumes, implements and machinery on display.

At least one Presbyterian church congregation existed locally from 1721 until 1980. Lewis (1837) mentions “a place of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, and of the third class“.

John Wesley, founder of  Methodism, preached in the town and built a church here during the C18th. By 1837 there were two Wesleyan places of worship.

Ballyjamesduff’s long, wide main street dates from when it was a coaching stop on the old Dublin – Cavan road. The route was changed in 1820 and, although still a venue for “amply supplied” markets and regular fairs, the town became something of a quiet backwater.

The Market House, built in 1813 by the Cumming landlords, was designed by Arthur McClean, a Cavan-born architect who left Ireland c.1825 and settled in Brockville, Ontario, where he built a number of Anglican churches. It is almost identical to the market house at Ballinagh and very similar to that at Balbriggan, County Dublin. The top floor was a ballroom used for dances, concerts etc. (Photo by Henry Clark)

Christ church (CoI), built in 1834, is in poor condition. According to Lewis (1837) “The parish was created in 1831, by disuniting nine townlands from the parish of Castleraghan, five from that of Denn, two from Lurgan, and four from the parish of Kildrumferton.” (Photo)

Marcus Daly (1841-1900), known as “the Montana Copper King”, was born near Ballyjamesduff and died in New York.

Ballyjamesduff was the focus of national attention in 1872 after Patrick Lynch, having returned a wealthy man from the USA, was beaten to death on the roadside near his home. The press revelled in the three trials it took for Lynch’s neighbour Laurence Smith, blinded in a mining accident in Australia, to be convicted of the murder and, despite the judge’s plea for mercy, hanged in Cavan town.

Percy French


Percy French (1854-1920), who worked for Cavan County Council as a self-styled “Inspector of Drains” during the 1880s before finding fame as a song-writer and music hall star, had one of the first bicycles in Ballyjamesduff . He put the town on the map with the popular sentimental song Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff, about a local Jarvey (coach driver) who emigrated.


Bronze figure of Percy French  in the town square with words and music of Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff. Legend has it that the statue is actually of the local shopkeeper who  funded its erection, as apparently no one knew what French looked like!

The Tannery, allegedly founded in the early C17th, was destroyed in a 1983 fire, but was rebuilt a year later.

St Joseph’s church (RC), a handsome modern structure opened in 1966, replaced a building erected in 1834. The free standing bell-tower is linked to the church by a canopy. (Photo)

The Percy French Hotel & Paddy Reilly Bar (originally Wilson’s Imperial Hotel) closed in 2007 and was acquired in 2011 by an organisation called the Word of Life Church.

St Joseph’s Town Hall (1959), opened officially in 1968 by showband Big Tom and The Mainliners, saw a near riot in 1978 when the Sex Pistols failed to show up for an advertised gig, of which it turned out they were never aware.

Pete Briquette of the Boomtown Rats was born and brought up locally, where he is still better known as Patrick Cusack.

Ballyjamesduff’s yearly pig fair is a traditional event, with farmers coming from miles around to wheel and deal, spitting on their hands and slapping them to clinch deals.

The Frolics“, a week-long festival held annually in Ballyjamesduff since 1943, is notorious for elephantine slapstick humour.

The Pork Festival, started in 1994, includes a pork barbecue, a Speaking in Pig Latin Competition (the current record of over 9 hours is held by a local schoolteacher), a Swine & Cheese party, a Kosher Food Eating Contest, Pig Racing, a Pamplona-style Pig Run,  and the Olympigs – track and field events for pig farmers, including a 10-legged race for contestants with pigs tied to their legs.

Ballyjamesduff is

Crosserlough & Kilnaleck (Co. Cavan / Southwest)

Crosserlough is a rural district taking in some 70 townlands.

Lewis (1837) has an entry for the area that begins: “KILDRUMFERTON, or, CROSSERLOUGH, a parish, partly in the baronies of UPPER LOUGHTEE and CLONMAHON, but chiefly in that of CASTLERAHAN, county of CAVAN, and province of ULSTER, 9 miles (N. W.) from Oldcastle, on the road from Killesandra to Ballinagh ; containing 9687 inhabitants.” He goes on to explain that “The Roman Catholic parish is co-extensive with that of the Established Church, but is commonly called Crosserlough“.

St Mary’s church (RC), designed by William Hague and inaugurated in 1888, has some beautiful early C20th stained glass windows and a free-standing iron campanile. (Photo)

Kildrumferton and Duffcastle townlands feature impressive dolmens; there are also several ring forts in the area.

Curraghabreedin is the location of St Patrick’s Rock, locally famed for curing warts.

Lehery is the site of a Mass Rock from the Penal Law days.

Kill cemetery evokes many legends, including the shooting of a priest for saying Mass during the Penal Law era. There are lead coffins and a number of “cures” throughout the graveyard.

St Patrick’s church (CoI), built in 1812 to cater for the parish of Kildrumferton, (and “rebuilt in 1819” according to Lewis) is aka Kilnaleck church as it stands fairly close to that village and the rectory is located there. (Photo)

Kilnaleck / Kilnalec (Cill na Leice – “church of the flagstone”) (pop. 333)  is a small rural community.

The Dublin Weekly Register for Wednesday, 6th April 1825 reported a sectarian crime: “Atrocious Murder -The Rev. P. O’Reilly, Administrator of the parish of Kilnaleck, whilst returning home in the evening about a fortnight ago, was waylaid and barbarously murdered. Our correspondent in Granard informs us that the Coroner’s inquest on the body was three – several time adjourned, at length the Jury brought in the following verdict ‘came by his death in consequence of wounds inflicted by some person or persons unknown’.” The report continues to say ” It is said, we trust without foundation, that this inhuman murder like many others which have disgraced the North, was the effect of party spirit. We expect that this affair will be strictly investigated. Though the Catholic Association no longer exists, the Public Press will endeavour to Supply its place and watch over the administration of justice“.

St Patrick’s church (RC) was erected in 1882 and renovated and extended in 1973. In the porch is a statue of St Joseph the Worker, hewn from bog oak.

Kilnaleck was briefly the centre of a mining boom in 1879 when a school headmaster and some local businessmen decided to develop the coal that existed nearby. However, the coal was very deep and hard to extract and the mine was forced to close.

Kilnaleck once vied with Ballyjamesduff as the pub capital of Ireland, reputedly having more pubs per head than anywhere else in the country. Due to economic circumstances the numbers have dwindled and there are only a few left.

Kilnaleck is

Kilcogy (Co. Cavan / Southwest)

Kilcogy (Coill Chóige – “wood of the war”), is a small village in the parish of Mullahoran, renowned for its strong GAA tradition.

A Monument to virtuoso fiddle player Sean Maguire (1927 -2005) and 20 other local musicians was unveiled in August 2012 near the old Maguire homestead. The main Stone was sculpted by Micheál McTigue. (Photo – Cavan Arts)

Kilcogy is



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ireland and it's history, culture, travel, tourism and more!