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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
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Longford: Loveliest County of the Irish Plain


Photo by Brian Kelly, Local Longford

by Suzanne Barrett

Longford is a quiet place, not remembered for famous battles, saga or myth. Its lakes and streams make up a sizable portion of the county's topography. Its rivers flow into the mighty Shannon, which takes on the appearance of a broad lake as it flows along the Longford shore.

In Longford, the Grand Canal, a man-made wonder of the nineteenth century, adds an additional watery aspect. But the true beauty of Longford lies in its quiet countryside of farmlands, bog, the occasional low hills and its pleasant views. Cairn Clonhugh at 916 feet is the highest point in Longford.

Never a strategic center, Longford has seen battle during the Confederate Wars of 1641. Ballinamuck, a cairn about four miles from the village of Drumlish, was the scene of a battle in 1798, where a combined French and Irish army under General Humbert was defeated by the English army of General Lake. Near the village, a statue of a pikeman commemorates the event.

The War of Independence and Civil War of the 1920's saw more action in Longford. In 1920, a retaliatory move by the British saw the destruction of buildings in the town of Granard, notably the Greville Arms Hotel, run by the Kiernan family. And Ballinalee was the home of General Sean McEoin, known as the Blacksmith of Ballinalee. He was captured and sentenced to death in 1921 but was later released. Eventually, he became the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Defense for the Irish Free State. His involvement in the Clonfin Ambush is recorded.

Longford has mighty literary connections. Pallas was the birthplace of Oliver Goldsmith in 1729. He spent three years as a young man in the town of Edgeworthstown, home of inventor and surveyor Richard Lovell Edgeworth and the novelist, Maria Edgeworth (1767 - 1849), one of his twenty-four children. Maria was born in England, but the family moved to Ireland in 1782 and from shortly thereafter, became synonymous with the town which bore their name and was, since 1583, the seat of the Edgeworth family. Author and botanist, Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812 - 1881) and the Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont (1745 - 1807) who attended Louis XVI were members of the extended family.

Edgeworth House is now a nursing home run by the Sisters of Mercy. Maria and Richard are buried in the family vault, situated in the local St. John's Churchyard.

County Longford, (Currygrane, south of Balinalee) was also the birthplace of Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson, one of the enemies of nationalism. His repressive measures earned him assassination in 1922 at the hands of Irish Republicans.

Granard is somewhat better known of Longford towns because it was the home of Kitty Kiernan, fiancée of Michael Collins. In 1917, Collins visited Granard and stayed at the Greville Arms Hotel, run by the Kiernan family.

Travel and Tourism

Ballinalee - a picturesque village occupied by Lord Cornwallis after the battle of Ballinamuck. Here he executed 130 insurgent prisoners. They are buried at the old graveyard called "Bully's Acre."

Corlea - In 1984, pieces of oak plank trackway, dating from the Iron Age, were recovered in a bog in the townland of Corlea. Further finds, now totaling fifty-seven pieces, were later found. They are on exhibit at a nearby center.

Granard - The Motte of Granard, built by Richard de Tuite in 1199 at the southwestern end of town, shows the remains of thirteenth century Norman fortifications. Portions of nine counties can be seen from its 590-foot height.

Longford Town - St. Mel's Cathedral is a fine example of Irish "post-emancipation" church architecture. Carrigglas Manor, a romantic Tudor/Gothic house, three miles NE of Longford Town on the Granard road, was built by Thomas Lefroy in 1837. His descendants still reside here and like to point out that Lefroy was romantically involved with Jane Austen as a young man. It is said that he was the model for Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. A small costume museum and Gandon-designed stableyard is open to visitors. Advance reservations must be made to tour the house.

Lough Gowna - lies partly in Longford, partly in Cavan. This lake with its surrounding low hills, islets, and irregular wooded shore is the source for the River Erne. The site of an ancient church on the site of a still more ancient monastery founded by St. Colmcille is located at the southwestern corner of the lake. Near the village of Augnacliffe is a large dolmen.

Longford is a place to savor. Spend time walking the byways, breathing in the clean country air, boating on the many waterways. Time moves slowly in this loveliest of Plain counties. You'll be glad you stopped to visit.

Until next time.

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Photo by Brian Kelly, Local Longford



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