Emyvale - gateway to the north

In 1959 a group of workmen were employed in carrying out renovations to a well-known Emyvale hostelry when they made an amazing discovery. By Seamus McCluskey.

Digging up the old kitchen floor they came across a large stone slab which they duly lifted and uncovered a small square chamber, eighteen inches by eighteen inches, containing an earthware urn and the remains of some charred bones. They had unearthed a ‘Bronze Age Tomb’, a perfect replica of which is currently on display in the National Museum in Dublin. Unknown to these workmen they had just proved that there had been a habitation of some kind in this Emyvale area some 3,500 years ago. Few towns or villages in Ireland can boast of such an ancient history.

The first recorded inhabitants of the Emyvale area was known as the ‘Ui Meith Tire’ and it is from this Ui Meith that the modern name Emy is derived - Emyvale and Emy Lough are simply extensions of the word Emy. Originally it was thought that these Ui Meith came from the south-east but, in a lecture recently given in Monaghan by Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Duff, Bishop of Clogher, he has suggested that it was more likely that they came from the Clogher/Augher/Lower Truagh area to the north-west.

Either way, they were the original ‘Emy-ites’ or ‘Emyvale-ites’ and are reputed to have arrived here in the fourth century. The crannog in Emy Lough was probably one of their first habitats. Another branch of the tribe, the ‘Ui Meith Mara’, had settled in North Louth, and the Irish word for the town of Omeath in the Carlingford peninsula is ‘Ui-Meith’ - the exact same as the ‘Ui Meith’ for Emy. A war-like tribe, their first chieftain in this North Monaghan area was called Finian, while later chieftains were named Scannlan, who died in 672, Artach, who died in 737, Muireadach Meann, killed in 742 and Maeldun who died in 824.

With the coming of Christianity, it is recorded that St. Patrick himself visited the area on no less than four occasions in the fifth century and founded one of his most important churches at nearby Donagh, from which the parish takes its modern name. This church (or, as some historians believe - a monastic settlement rather than simply a church) must have been of extreme importance as it is clearly marked on the earliest maps of Ulster and Monaghan, even of Ireland.

In the eighth century came the McKennas, first as deer-hunters, but then as chieftains of the entire area. It is recorded in history that this great clan had established their small Kingdon, stretching from the Blackwater at Aughnacloy to the Blackwater at Monaghan and from Bragan to Glaslough, by the middle of the twelfth century. Their headquarters were at Tully, a mere stone’s throw from the the present village, and what an impressive series of fortifications this must have been, with three double-ringed forts on a north-south axis atop the hill and a fortified crannog on the lake below. Unfortunately, these were ravaged and plundered during several invasions by English armies, most notably under Mountjoy in March 1602, and under Hamilton in 1942 and Stewart in 1643. The McKennas had played an important role in the Nine Years War (1595-1603) and even more so in the Insurrection of 1641 (1641-1649).

The power of the McKenna clan was eventually broken at the Battle of Drumbanagher, near Glaslough, in March 1688 when the last of the great chieftains, Major John McKenna, and his Catholic force were defeated by a Protestant force under Anketell. Major John was executed on the spot, then beheaded, and his head delivered to his grieving widow at Minmurray, where he had then resided. A local legend tells that the McKenna Treasure had been dumped in Minmurray Lake just prior to the defeat at Drumbanagher and several pieces of treasure discovered in the Emyvale area are still on exhibition in the national Museum, but are only listed as part of the “Dawson Collection.” ‘McKenna’s Kingdom’ had, surprisingly, survived for half a millennium....from the mid 12th century as its epicentre. Again few villages in Ireland can have such an important history to be proud of.

Following the departure of the McKenna ‘power-base’, the area never lost its craving for nationalism and freedom and this was made manifest towards the end of the 18th century when the United Irishmen had a strong base here. Three of those involved, Johnston, Hughes and Carbery, were hanged in Glaslough in 1797 for being members of the Society - Johnston was a Presbyterian and Colonel of the United Irishmen in the area while Hughes and Carbery were Catholics. A commemorative plaque (to their memory) on the gable wall of the Pillar House Hotel in Glaslough was unveiled by Sir John Leslie in 1998 on the occasion of the bi-centenary of the 1798 Rebellion.

It was also during this 17th-18th century period that the name Scarnageeragh, from the Irish ‘Scairbh na gCaorach’ (the ford of the sheep) was given to the area. It was obviously an important gateway to the North, or one of Ulster’s many ‘Gaps of the North’, and the wide shallow part of the river at this point made it a safe crossing place for both travellers and animals. Evidently a small habitation had grown, thus giving rise to that name and part of the overall ‘Emy’ (Ui Meith).

As the centuries passed it grew and grew, until its population had risen to just under 900 in the year immediately prior to the outbreak of the Great Famine in 1845.

That population was decimated during the three years of the dreadful ‘great Hunger’ and the upper floor of the local Market-house had to be converted into a hospital, but became so over-crowded with those unfortunates dying from the fever that harrowing reports were later recorded of half-dead corpses being brought on hand-carts to the nearby St. Patrick’s Church at Corracrin for burial. One third of the village’s population was wiped out during that dreadful era.

Some years prior to the Famine, the local Parish Priest, Canon Patrick Moynagh, who then resided in Mullaghbrack, to the south of the village, had organised a mass emigration from the area to Prince Edward Island in Canada. He had been in contact with the Pastor of other Irish emigrants to that island and, in response to a request from him, sent out some sixty families from Donagh parish in the year 1930 for a new life there. That number of families were all large ones. The population of the parish at that stage was approx 10,000 so the exodus of so many at that stage would have made such a major hole in the population of Donagh parish as it would have done in later years, or even today, when the population stands at some 2,500. Thus began the connection between Co. Monaghan and Prince Edward Island, and the much later ‘twinning’ of the two places, but it should not be forgotten that it all began from the Emyvale area.

The aforementioned Canon Moynagh was also a very important figure in parish history during the 19th century. He was P.P of Donagh parish for an amazing 45 years - from 1815 until his death in 1860. For a number of those years he had also been Prior of Lough Derg in Co. Donegal. Added to all that, he carried the people of Donagh parish and the village of Emyvale through the dreadful Great Famine period as well as building St. Mary’s Church at Glennan in 1837. He had contributed handsomely out of his own pocket towards the building of the latter. On his death he also bequeathed the interest of his property to the poor of Donagh parish, and that interest is, amazingly, still being paid out to the poor of Donagh to this day, through the auspices of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It may only be a pittance in today’s money but it was a major amount in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Emyvale was made famous during the late 19th century by a story called ‘The Fair of Emyvale’, written by the great Irish novelist William Carleton, who received his classical education here from 1812 to 1814. Carleton had lodged with man named Paddy Treanor in Glennan and got his education from a Fr. John Keenan, a curate in the parish. He later described his years spent in and around Emyvale as ‘the happiest days of his life’. One of his class-mates at Keenan’s school was the later much famed ‘Honest’ Peter McPhillips, after whom ‘Peter’s Lake’ in Monaghan town is named.

Carleton’s ‘Fair of Emyvale’ is the story of an abduction and was based on fact, but the same Fair of Emyvale had also regularly been the scene of much rioting, particularly in 1812 and again in 1870. A prolonged court case followed the 1812 murders and the legendary Daniel O’Connell was brought down from Dublin to defend the Catholics involved in the riot. Emyvale Races, probably the most famous ‘country meeting’ of its time, had also been the scene of much rioting, but both Fair and Races all died out following the decimation of the population during the Great Famine.

Enter the 20th century and the ‘War of Independence’ (1919-21) period when the local police barracks (RIC) and village court-house were both burned down. The village grew at a slow pace and conditions were slow to improve, but by 1924 the first ever Boot Factory in Co Monaghan was set up at Mullanmills by local businessmen Charles McCluskey and JP McKenna to produce ‘Emyvale Brand’ footwear, mainly for the farming section of the community.

WW2 also had a devastating influence on the area but, with the return of peace, conditions improved. The later ‘Border Troubles’ have also had a detrimental effect on Emyvale but, thankfully that has also ended and the village has improved by leaps and bounds in more recent times. New housing estates have also brought in some much needed ‘fresh blood’ to the area and hopefully that trend will continue during the years ahead.

On the sporting field, the area has long held a very sporting tradition, with the GAA taking its proper place on the local calendar of events. Boxing also had an innings, while the local Emyvale Cycling Club and the Glaslough Harriers Athletic Club cater for the budding athletes and cyclists of the area. The Community Games idea is also very strong, thus giving the young ones a great opportunity to make a name for themselves in the sports of their choice. Long may it continue to do so.

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2004