Lough Gowna and the winding banks of Erne


Legends on hallowed places and sacred traditions which surround Lough Gowna on the winding banks of Erne, can be gleaned from the Rev. Father MacGivney's book Irish Place-Names of the County Longford, published in 1908. The Reverend Author's scholarly research made use of ancient topographal and historical works, which among others, included: - The Annals of the Four Masters, Dr. O'Donovan's Field Books on the County Longford and The Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many, O'Curry's Manuscript- Materials of Ancient Irish History and O'Halloran's History of Ireland, written about 1778.

Lough Erne's name:
Lough Erne is supposed to have got its name from Erna, one of Queen Meadhbh's attendants' who was drowned there. The more ancient name of the lake and river was Samhaoir. Partholan was one of the first inhabitants of this country; he landed on an island below the waterfall (Assaroe) at Ballyshannon. Here, in a fit of jealousy with his wife, he killed her faithful hound, called Samhaoir; the River Erne and Lough Erne were for ages afterwards known by the name Samhaoir, and the waterfall at Ballyshannon was called An t-Samhaoir. Afterwards it came to be known by the name Assaroe, or, in Irish, Eas Aodh Ruaidh, i.e., Red Hugh's waterfall. This Hugh was King of Ireland and was drowned in the river Erne: --
"Or were the sunny waters fall
At Assaroe, near Erna's shore. "

Another explanation for the name is that Loch Erne burst fort in the reign of Fiachadh, a descendant of Tighernmans, the idolater, and submerged a large tract of land, the property of the Ernians, who were of the Firbolgic tribe, and from them it took the name Erne.

Loch Gowna (Loch Gamhna):
O'Donovan, who travelled through County Longford in connection with the Ordnance Survey in 1837, states on his manuscripts that the lord of the soil intended to change the name Loch Gowna to Erne Head Lake. The landlord's able coadjutor in this matter was Parson Dopping, who called his place (near the lake) "Erne Head." But the parson is gone, and the power of the landlord is gone, and Loch Gowna remains Loch Gowna.

Gamhain, is the Irish name for a year old calf in the month of Gam (November). November got the name Gam from the Greek word for a wedding, because it was a fashionable time for the ancients to marry. Gamnach is Irish for a milking cow with a year old calf; it also means a stripper cow.

Loch Gamhna is about six miles long and varies from a half to three miles in width. It is a very irregular sheet of water, winding around dense woods, which contribute very much to the scenery. About a mile north of Inishmore (Loch Gamhna) is a small island called Jasper, because stones of the jasper kind were found there. When the lake rises this island cannot be seen. The lake, partly in the barony of Clanmahon, but for the most part in the barony of Granard, divides the parish of Columcille- more correctly Columcille West from Columcille East, now better known as parish of Scrabby. It is worthy to note that, up to the days of Dr. Kilduff, former Bishop of Ardagh, this parish was known only by the former name. Streams which rise immediately north of Granard flow into Loch Gowna, which sends its superfluous waters through Erne, into the ocean at Ballyshannon, while streams which rise in and south of Granard flow southwards, into the Inny, which empties itself into the Shannon which discharges itself into the ocean at Limerick. This shows that Granard is, as its name, high ground, (Greine Ard, hill of the sun) implies.

Inis Mhor, great island of Lough Gowna. Inis derived from inse, difficult of access, is not as much used in the spoken language as oilean - O'Donovan.
"The local tradition is that the ruined church which still remains on it (Saints Island, in Loch Ce), was founded by Columcille about the same time as he founded the church on Oilenan na Naemh, or Saints Island, in Loch Gamhna (Gowna). St. Columcille founded a church on some island in Loch Ce about the year 550." --O'Curry. "After this blessed man journeying into Breffney, blessed an island situate on the lake there called Loch Gamhna."
The blessed island contains about twenty-five acres of good land. There on it the remains of two churches, St. Columcille's to the south, and St. Ciaran's to the north. A remnant of a wall is all that remains of St. Ciaran's ancient home.
There is also in Inchmore a Large Stone, much worn, on which according to tradition, St. Columcille left the impression of his two knees, hard as those of St. James, from constant praying, and of this four fingers and one thumb. On looking closely at this stone these impressions will be seen.

Gowna Village:
Gowna; Gamhna, this is the genitive case of gamhna which means a calf. Mananan MacLir, the Neptune of the Irish, lived, it is said, in his palace at Lake Enniskeen, in County Monaghan. On getting some unpleasant news from St. Columcille he left the country. He was succeeded by MacMirneanta, who was chief of the Ulster fairies. This gentle man selected for his tir-n-og the hill of Ballimackelleny, now the hill of Scrabby in the County Cavan.

Transactions of Ossianic Society.
According to O'Donovan the village of Scrabby is very ancient. It was originally called (as given by Lewis in corrupt English) Ballimackelleny, and in the year 1831 contained forty human habitations, and 183 souls.
The Post office authorities having put up the name Gowna over the Post-office in the village of Scrabby (Recte, Screabach-O'Donovan), County Cavan; the village is now known by that pseudonym.

Legend of the Mysterious Pig:
The name in Irish for the village of Ballainamuck in Beul atha Muice, literally, mouth of the ford of the pig. Legend had it that the mysterious pig commenced operations at Scarva, in County Down, and by its rooting formed a large fosse known as the "Dane's Cast," and in width measuring from 70 to 80 feet. This trench, with its mound, is said to resemble the Wall of Antoninus of Great Britain. "The western end of this wall is called the Swine's Dike and a village near Langton is known by the same name". This strange animal, is said, to have continued its rooting till it came to Lough Gowna, where it was killed. If this be true some other mysterious pig or powerful agent must have taken up the work, and is called by the old people, Gleann na muice dubhe, or, the Valley of the Black Pig. It is also called the Dunchladh, and was the boundary line between the ancient territories of Breffney and Annaly.

Very Ancient Bell:
A very ancient bell which originally belonged to Teampull Cholumcille, or St. Columcille's Monastery, on Inch Mor, Lough Gowna is in the belfry of Dunbeggan Chapel. After the dissolution of this monastery, about 1540, the bell was taken away by the Protestants, but it was brought back, or, as the people in the parish of Columcille say, "it came back." Again it was taken away, and the tongue taken out of it, but again it was brought back. Fearing it would disappear again, Peter Mulligan and Julia Sullivan, his wife who lived on the island, rolled it up in a piece of frieze, seven yards long, they say, and buried it deep in the ground, where it lay concealed till the days of persecution had passed away. About sixty years ago (before 1908) one of the Mulligans, Tom, on his death bed, told Father Monahan, the then curate of Columcille, where the bell lay concealed. He, with some diggers, at once repaired to the spot and immediately unearthed it; then arouse a sharp contention between the people of two divisions of the parish as to the ownership of the bell, but the Parish Priest settled the dispute by placing it in the belfry of Dunbeggan Chapel.