Killarney of the north
When I was in Primary School all the pupils in third and
fourth class learned some geography by rhyming out loud
the chief towns of each county. When it came to Co. Cavan
we said Cavan, Cootehill and Belturbet and as
we progressed to fifth and sixth classes we added Kingscourt
and Bailieborough. Were the same system of learning
in vogue today (and I doubt it is) I am quite certain that
the name Virginia would be included.
Often referred to as The Killarney of the North,
Virginia is a picturesque town situated by the shores of
the beautiful Lough Ramor on the main Cavan/Dublin Road
between Cavan town and Kells, Co. Meath. In my youthful
cycling days I figured that the distance between Cavan Town
and Virginia was fifteen statute miles. According to an
Irish Touring Guide published by Appletree Press
in the 1980s Virginia is 19 miles (31k) south-west of Cavan.
As far as I can ascertain the town first came into existence
in the early seventeenth century during the Plantation of
Ulster. Some houses were built on lands confiscated from
McPhelim OBrien. These were built by English Army
Officers who were instructed to name the town after Queen
Elizabeth who was known as the Virgin Queen.
In 1641 a Colonel Philip OReilly led a Rising and
reclaimed most of the lands from the Planters. The new families
included Taylours, Sankeys and Kelletts. Some of the Taylours
became baronets and one became Marquis of Headfort. The
Taylours were regarded as good landlords, built more houses
and shooting lodges. They gave good employment and were
credited with many more improvements in the area.
For the foregoing paragraph on the historical origins of
the town I am indebted to Mr. Tony Router for an article
which he had published in the Anglo Celt Bi-Centenary Supplement
of 1996 and trust I will be forgiven for taking extracts
from the same.
In the past I heard the Irish name for Virginia as Acadh
Lir and I was under the impression that it had something
to do wit the old story of The Children of Lir
due to the number of swans on Lough Ramor. However, I now
see that Virginia is called Acadh An Iuir which
would indicate that it was the place of the yew tree. A
recent publication by the Lurgananure School Reunion Committee
edited by Aine Bn. Ui Sheasnain gives Lurgananure
as The Hill of the Yew Tree. According to historians
the population of Virginia at the time of the 1846 census
was approximately 1,000. Today it would probably be more
than treble that.
The locals, day-trippers, holiday-makers and all visitors
are well catered for. Almost all professions are represented
- pubs, pharmacists, medical practitioners, physiotherapists,
supermarkets, all types of retail shops, restaurants, theatre,
four excellent hotels (The Park Hotel, Riverfront, Lakeside
Manor and Manor Lodge), complimented by two churches, a
garda station, a national school and a vocational school.
Several organisations and societies exist in the town including
the Golfing Society which takes charge of a beautiful golf
course, Agricultural Show Committee, Macra, Ramor Theatre
Festival Committee, a group called Active Virginians
and Virginia Pike Angling Club.
Active Virginians promote blowing, card-making
and playing, keep-fit classes. Macra has its own promotions
and recently held the Cavan Blue Jean Queen
competitions. Ramor Theatre provides concerts, festivals
or traditional music, artists competitions and piano
workshops. Computer training takes place in the vocational
Whist is played in the nearby Billis Presbyterian
Hall and the town has also a number of Bridge
enthusiasts. The lake is known throughout the world for
its coarse fishing. It also provides all types of water
sports, boating trips to and picnics on its islands. It
is the scene of the famed annual regatta.
At the south side of the town there is an opening towards
the lake with the Showgrounds alongside. This is the venue
for the annual Agricultural Show which draws exhibits from
all over Ireland and beyond and is usually the most successful
such event of the year.
On the industrial front Virginia is a thriving town with
many industries most notably Virginia Milk Products.
As I have mentioned a number of games and pastimes relative
to Virginia, I must now turn to the world of gaeldom. The
first Cavan Senior Football Championship in 1888 was contested
by Virginia Sarsfields and neighbouring Maghera McFinns,
with victory going to Maghera. Over the years since then
Virginia won a number of senior, junior and minor championships.
The present club which caters for all grades of football
in the parish (Lurgan and Virginia) is known as Ramor
United. Formerly there were Virginia Sarsfields
and Virginia Blues. When those of my generation
think of Virginias connection with gaelic football
our minds go back to that great goal scored by the late
Vincent McGovern in 1933, which ended Kerrys hopes
of five All-Irelands in a row. What memories a walk through
the town today would evoke - seeing such names as Mick Higgins,
Paul Fitzsimons, Hugh B. ODonohoe, Ronan Carolan,
Fintan Cahill, not forgetting Armaghs Oisin McConville.
Other names like Philip Kermath, Ray Cole, Derek McDonnell
and several more spring to mind. Recent successes by the
vocational school teams show that the spirit shown by its
pupils in winning the McDonald Cup on six occasions between
1969 and 1975 is still evident in the scholars of today.
Hurling, handball and camogie also had their adherents.
A hurling club was formed in Virginia in 1917. In 1967 Virginia
took part in an under 14 hurling competition. When Dr. Martin
Comey became CC in Virginia, 1930, he organised camogie
clubs in Ardlow, Maghera, Munterconnaught and Virginia itself,
and these took part in competitions from 1932 onwards. Fr.
Comey became President of the County Camogie Board and Gertie
Elliott, Virginia, was secretary.
The present GAA pitch is on the Meath side of the town.
It was here that Cavan players trained for their last Sam
Maguire Cup win in 1952, while staying in the Park Hotel.
It was here, also, that my first club, Lavey, won the county
junior football championship in 1950 and the senior championship
in 1951. My first visit to the Ramor pitch was about 1939
when I saw a senior league game between Bailieborough and
Cornafean. I do not remember much about the game except
that the late Patsy Lynch (wearing runners) was full-forward
for Bailieborough. He made a great catch, turned and shot
for goal, but his county colleague, the late
Willie Young dived across the goalmouth and made a spectacular
save. The late Packie Masterson was playing for Cornafean
and wearing the same type of footwear as Patsy Lynch. In
the summer of 1940 my brother and I played there for Upper
Lavey in a challenge game against Cross, which was followed
by a great game between Killinkere seniors and a team from
the army unit drafted into Virginia at the start of the
Lurgan was the first club of the legendary Jim Smith (Killinkere).
One of the first football games I was brought to was a game
between Virginia Blues and Lavey. Joe Biggars played at
the Smiths land in Drumgora, Lavey, home place of
Cardinal Bradys mother. The match was abandoned due
to an injury to a Virginia player. A shed door was taken
off its hinges and used to convey the player to a
waiting car. Apparently, that was the only stretcher available
in those days!
The excellent Lurgananure publication, previously mentioned,
contains a photograph of about forty teachers, from all
parts of County Cavan, gathered in Virginia, 1924, for classes
in the Irish language. These were held in Virginia old school.
Latest news from Ramor United is that they are
making arrangements for Feile na nOg 2008. In the early
nineteenth century the first chapel in Virginia was a chapel
of ease, built on the site of an old sand-pit, the parish
church being in Lurgan. In 1845 Fr. Owen OReilly,
the PP received a long-term lease of a site in Virginia
from the previously mentioned Marquis of Headfort. The Church
dedicated to Mary Immaculate and a parochial house were
built on this site on the Dublin side of the town in 1846.
This Church was used until 1989 when the new Mary Immaculate
Church was built. The old Church is now the seat of Ramor
Theatre. The present church is situated outside the
town on the Bailieborough road and adjacent to the Primary
School. It was dedicated by Bishop Francis McKiernan on
8th October, 1989, while Fr. Eugene Dowd was Parish Priest.
The ruins of a medieval church are to be seen at Lurgan
in a place called Cill Dubh. There is a holy
well at Gallanbrathar known as Friars Well.
Tradition states the Black Friars were in charge of the
Church and a hospital there. The Church was used by the
Church of Ireland until 1818. The stones were then taken
to build the Church of Ireland in Virginia.
In post-penal times the Church of Ireland Rector gave a
site to his Catholic congregation in Virginia are in the
capable hands of fellow Lavey-man Rev. Fr. Johnnie Cusack,
well-known promoter of the Pioneer TAA and of religious
will conclude with lines penned by a visitor to Virginia
over fifty years ago:
Lough Ramor of fadeless glamour,
Your islets seem to me,
Like galleons of old whose sails unfold,
When they put out to sea,
The charming town looks smiling down,
Bedecked in its virginal robe,
Sweet lady of the lake, your trappings make,
A garland on the terrestrial globe.
ndeanai Dia trocaire ar anamnaca dilis na ndaoine thuas-luaite
ata imighe uainn ar Shli na Firinne.