The Montiaghs received creditable mention in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 1837. At that time, the area was described as a Parish in the Barony of Oneilland East, County Armagh, four miles north-west from Lurgan, on the road to Stewartstown, by way of the Bannfoot ferry.
The Parish, which then had 2,891 inhabitants, is situated on the southern shore of Lough Neagh and bonded on the south-west by the River Bann. An extract from Archdeacon Atkinson's address, at the opening of an Ardmore Parish Church Bazaar in 1912, reads: "In 1765, ten townlands bordering on the lough were cut off from the Parish of Seagoe and formed into a Parish of their own, called the Montiaghs, the meaning of which is 'bog-lands'.
"Eight of these townlands begin with the prefix Derry which means a large oak wood, so that, in the Parish at that time, there were eight oak woods and plenty of boggy lands as the word Montiaghs implied". The townlands in question have remained as Derryadd, Derrymacash, Derrycor, Derrytagh North, Derrytagh South, Derrytrasna, Derryloiste, Derryinver, Ardmore and Ballynery. Lewis adds: "It comprises, according to Ordinance Survey, including islands, 18,098¼ statute acres, of which 12,178 are in Lough Neagh, 305½ in Lough Gullion and 83 in the River Bann".
Of the remaining 5,566¾ we are told more than half is arable and the remainder bog. Charles Brownlow of Lurgan, owner of the lands and patron of the Parish, attempted to drain and reclaim the bog, erecting a windmill for the purpose. This was soon destroyed by a storm and was replaced by a steam engine. This, too, proved ineffectual. Brownlow had also an extensive embankment formed across Lough Gullion, the steam engine being long employed to drain it, but all efforts were fruitless, the "water seemed to return by subterranean springs". Probably the same springs which overflowed Eochy and turned it into Lough Neagh.
Taking a look at each individual townland, it is worth noting that the Montiaghs is made up of Gaelic origin. Ardmore, for instance, derived from An ard mhorc, meaning the big height. In the low-lying Montiaghs, Ardmore is a relatively high promontory, set in Lough Neagh.
Derryadd comes from Doire fhada, the long oakwood.
Derrycor derives from Doire corr, oakwood of cranes and herons, while Derryinver was formerly Doire inbhir, oakwood of the estuary. Derryinver, appropriately, lies on the right bank of the Bann where it enters Lough Neagh. Derryloiste has quite a history behind it. Doire, as we already know, is oakwood, but loiste is the Irish word for losod (losset) or fatland and primarily denotes a 'kneading trough', i.e. a wooden vessel in which the dough was worked during baking. By a natural extension of the meaning, it is also applied to anything that is rich in the promise of food, like a well-stacked table or a fertile field and, in certain 17th century documents, we find references to "a losset of butter".
Derrymacash derives from Doire Mhic Cais, or McCash's oakwood, meaning the son or descendant of a man called Cais.
Derrytagh (North and South), formerly known as Doire eiteach, means winged oak- wood, with eitcach's definition as having wings or fins. The most remarkable point about this townland is that it comprises two parts which do not touch. Directly between them lies Lough Gullion and, on the map, they look like two gigantic wings or fins on either side of the lake, probably the reason for their name. The two parts were first distinguished as North and South by the Ordinance Survey Department in 1855. Derrytrasna was simply Doire trasna, cross or transverse oakwood. It was probably so called because it stretches across from the River Bann to Lough Neagh.
It would appear there was no such derivation of Ballynery but, within the area, several other points of interest have also taken their names from the old Irish references.
For example, Lough Gullion is the former Loch G-Cuillinn, or Holly Lake, while the (Bann came from Ban-dea, female God. Goddess river names, as a class, are very ancient and demand highly expert study. The early Celtic people called some rivers by names of Goddesses.
Upper and Lower Muckery or Mucrach is defined as "swine range", a place where pigs roamed and fed at will. Both these places are subsidiaries of Derryloiste. The Orange Hall is in Lower Muckery while Upper Muckery lies between it and the Bann.
Trowagh Bay - now the Bay Shore - goes back to the Celtic Troigh Dhubhach meaning a gloomy or tragic shore. Dhubhach suggests grief, as if arising from a boating tragedy. A small party of Sir Phelim O'Neill's soldiers suffered a severe defeat here on January 2, 1647, when several were killed or drowned and about twenty captured.
Raughlin, the former Reachlann, meaning unknown, was used on the Ordinance Survey may to designate an islet in Lough Neagh which is now connected to the mainland by a causeway. Until recently, Raughlin was the residence of the Fforde family, who were also proprietors of the island and of the adjacent land in Derrymacash.
Although there is no Celtic interpretation of Wolf's Island, this is probably also a translation from Irish. But then, this area is comparatively new to the Montiaghs.
The Esky goes back to An easca, meaning the sedgy bog or marsh. This name is now applied locally only to a hill in Derryloiste which rises boldly up from the surrounding marsh-land. Evidently, it was transferred from the marsh to the hill, after its meaning had been forgotten.
Farlagh derives from an faurlach, meaning the river edge or flood plain. On Rocque's map this name is applied to the margin of Derryinver, along the Bann, which is liable to floods. It still survives in the name of the Upper Farlagh River which separates Derryinver from Derryloiste.
Adjacent to Derrytrasna is the little known Derryveen which, we are told, derives from Doire mhin, or fine oak grove, composed of smallest slender trees. And, on the border-line of the Montiaghs, Aghacommon comes from Achadh caman, or hurling field. The ancient game of hurling survived as a popular pastime in the Lurgan area, down to the middle of the last century. Writing in the year 1834, O'Donovan reported that it was then the custom for young men of the neighbourhood to play a game of hurling on Easter Monday.
We have just taken a brief look at Raughlin but its history, like that of the glebe house, is worth investigating. According to Lewis:
"Raughlin is the former seat of J. Fforde, Esq., and is surrounded by plantations, gardens and pleasure grounds of a luxuriant character. It commands splendid views of Lough Neagh and the counties of Tyrone, Derry, Antrim, Down and Armagh.
"In the lake is an island (now known as Croaghan), beautifully planted with shrubs and evergreens, the whole forming a beautiful spot in the midst of a boggy and unproductive tract. On the opposite shore is the glebe house".
The glebe house was erected in 1820 by aid of a gift of £415 7s. 8½d. and a loan of £55. 7s. 8¼d., British currency, from the Board of First Fruits. A small church was built in 1765 close to the shore of Lough Neagh, but it was blown down in a storm on November 4, 1783, after which the present church, Ardmore Parish, was built in 1785 on "a more eligible site". Its elevated situation and tapering spire, Lewis says, render it an interesting object when viewed from the lake or any of the neighbouring shores. The Board of First Fruits gave £276 18s. 5½d., British currency, towards its erection.
In 1837 over seventy children were being educated in the small, stone, thatched, white-washed parochial school, which was principally supported by the incumbent (then the Rev. Daniel Wills McMullen). "The school-house was large and commodious. There were also three other private schools in which were about 130 children and a Sunday school".
At the parochial school, the church paid £3 towards the upkeep and the pupils a total of £8. The children were also asked to provide their own turf, for heating purposes. At that time, there were 37 boys and 37 girls on the roll, of whom 65 were of the Established Church and the other nine were Roman Catholics. The schoolmaster was a Mr. Sam McClelland.
Charles Brownlow built the village near the Bannfoot ferry, naming it Charlestown, and we are told he intentionally erected it equidistant (seven miles) from each of three towns - Portadown, Lurgan and Stewartstown. He obtained a patent for a fair at Charlestown, but it was not successful. The present rector of Ardmore (Montiaghs), the Rev. G. A. Guthrie, is 16th incumbent. John Carroll was vicar for 17 years. He was followed by Robert Henry (15 years), Henry Clark (3), Thomas Radcliffe (21), James Saurin, D. W. McMullen (20), John Evans Lewis (31), James Lyons, Henry William Lett (II), John Joseph Major (3), Edward Burns (9), Robert Dixon Patterson (7), James Smyth, G. A. Boulger, and the present rector who has been incumbent since 1937.
James Saurith appears to have been incumbent for a few months only. He was vicar of Seagoe from 1826 until 1832 and (as Archdeacon) rector of Seagoe 1832 to 1879. He died at Warrenpoint on May 11, 1879 and was buried at Seagoe. From private dwellings, I turn to a commune, the closely-knit village of Bannfoot, Charlestown or Newton. Call it what you will, because the three names are the same place.
Bannfoot is not an old village, having been built about 170 years ago, but if the way in which it has become "depopulated" over the past sixty years is anything to go by, it is ageing fast. Approaching it from the direction of Lurgan, Bannfoot is not a normal village in the sense that through the years it has not increased in size through ribbon development. If anything, it is contracting! It begins abruptly and ends, strictly speaking, at the River Bann where, after a 97-mile meandering course from Slieve Muck mountain east of Hilltown, it pours into Lough Neagh.
Here the river is spanned, not by a bridge, but by a rope connecting to the other side, the ferry which more than anything else, has made Bannfoot a "must" for so many summer tourists. A quaint wooden structure, the ferry is surprisingly buoyant despite its appearance and plies its way back and forth spasmodically - just as travellers require it. It is a rectangular construction which ploughs broadside through the water and is motivated, not by an engine, but by manual labour.
But the Bannfoot is not the only attraction in this district. The Montiaghs area of peat- bog is inhabited by people who have developed an attractive culture of their own.
Even the dialect has been a source of interest. In 1924, a Portadown man, William Lutton, published a booklet entitled "Montiaghisms", defining such words as:
A modern writer reveals the legendary beginning of the Montiaghs as he writes:
"The Montiaghs owes its unique character, in part, to Master M'Gra', the famous greyhound - according to local legend. His owner was Lord Lurgan who, until the dog's phenomenal success, lived well enough off the rents of his estate. But when Master M'Gra' became a celebrity, Lord Lurgan found it a little difficult to keep up with the aristocratic 'Joneses'. He searched around for a fresh source of money ... and settled on the Montiaghs, to which he owned title.
"The place was rich in turf, but Lord Lurgan could find no local labour to dig it. So he advertised throughout Ireland that parcels of bog could be rented cheaply in the Montiaghs. As a result, skilled turf-cutters from the Province of Connaught 'emigrated' to County Armagh and settled. Their intermarriage with the local population resulted in the unique community which still exists today".
In recent years, the Montiaghs has become a mixture of old style mud-walled thatched cottages and spacious modern dwellings. Although the Montiagh folk fear for their survival, most of them have hopes that the new city of Craigavon development will do them good. The Craigavon Commission planners have decided to preserve the Montiaghs district more or less intact. Along the shore of the Lough a scenic drive will pass. Tourists will be able to look across at the clear horizon of Britain's largest freshwater lake and swim from its sandy beaches. Nature trails will meander through the desolate 'moss'. Sedge-fringed Lough Gullion, in the centre of the wilderness, will be restocked with fish for anglers. Bird watchers will be encouraged to study the great crested grebe at the estuary of the Closet river, one of Europe's more important sanctuaries for this rare species.
Whatever changes take place, it would be a shame to lose the original character of the very famous and historic Montiaghs. It would be an even greater mistake if local authorities ignore the fact that such an attractive community exists. For the sake of the people, and also of preservation, don't let it die. The Montiaghs is much too valuable to be trodden into the peat-bogs it represents. I should know. I live in the long oakwood of Derryadd!