John O'Dononvan

Vol. 4 No. 2 - 1980

John O'Dononvan visits Magheralin

by T J Malcomson

In the course of his travels in Ireland on behalf of the Ordnance Survey Authorities, John O'Donovan visited the village of Magheralin. Here is his report on the subject:

"Moira, Wednesday, March 27, 1834."

Dear Sir,

On Monday, I walked hither from Hillsborough, a distance of five miles. I called upon the Revd. Mr. Beattie, and the rector of Moira parish, a very old man, but as he had been here only four years, he knows very little about the names or localities of the parish. He referred me to Mr. McCreevy, the parish schoolmaster, who is a native of the parish of Movia, [perhaps Moira?] and a very intelligent fellow, who is acquainted with the place. From the latter, I collected all the information, I could.

Yesterday, I walked southwards to the village of Magheralin, to see Revd. Boughey William Dolling, the Rector. He is laid up with the gout, and his wife told me that he could not be seen, as he was ill, but I said I should like to see him, upon which he himself walked out of his parlour wrapped up in flannel. He is a very polite and obliging English-man, who came here shortly after the rebellion of '98. 1 got him to pronounce the names of T. L. [townlands] within his parish, and he did so after his own English manner, seeing which I told him I should hear a native of parish pronounce them. He then sent for his parish schoolmaster, Robert McVeigh, a man of great literary acquirements, and who in the very middle of Ultonian slang, has acquired a correct pronounciation of English, but this is owing to his intercourse with the Rector.

McVeigh looked over the Parish Register, and soon found various authorities to serve my purpose, some of which I copied. It would appear from an entry in the Register that in the year 1715, the parish of Magheralin comprized that of Moira, and extended considerably further to the east than it does at present. I would wish to copy a good deal more of this Register, but he would be at present impertinent to my object, but should we ever come to write a statistical account of the Parish, I will know where to find it, and whom to consult for correct information.

McVeigh, who is a native of the Parish, pronounced the names as he heard them from his grandfather. He remembers when Irish was spoken in the parish, but says that there is not one now in the neighbourhood who understands a sentence of it. I told him that I was very anxious to ascertain whether or not there was any great Danish fort in the neighbourhood of Magheralin, for that the Irish annals record the erection of a Danish fortress at Linn Duaschail (which appears from all ancient Irish authorities to have been the ancient name of Magheralin) and that the same party had a fleet on Lough Neagh. By this, his curiosity was excited, and leaving his scholars to box for a few hours, he set out with me through the parish to view the different raths in it. He first directed his course to the highest ground in the townland of Ballymackeonan where he pointed out the site of a fort now levelled with the field but the spot whereon it stood does not produce such luxuriant grain as the remaining part of the field.

"This" he says "was one of the finest forts in the parish but it was levelled some years before I was born to give room for cultivation, for people cannot afford to pay rent for waste ground and, in my memory, 24 forts have been levelled within this parish."

The prospect which this fort commanded is the most sublime and beautiful I ever beheld. To the west, you see the dark surface of Lough Neagh, and the view is terminated in that direction by a chain of mountains in the county of Londonderry, of which Slieve Gallion is the most conspicuous. To the north the very prominent mountain of Slieve Croob, in the County of Down, terminates the view; to the south, the eye takes in the great extent of beautiful and well cultivated country, composed of undulating hills and interspersed with small plantations and whitewashed cottages; to the east the eye wanders over the whole breadth of the county, and is struck with awe at the majesty of that giant of the eastern shore - Slieve Donard, who from this spot appears dressed in sable colour, and capped with a white cloud; to the south east the view is terminated by the Mourne mountains.

I stood here for some minutes, and with ecstasy looked in every direction. We then moved onwards to see a perfect fort to the east of the same townland. It was a very large one surrounded with ditches and appears more like the work of rude giants than of men in any state of civilization. We entered a cabin near this fort, where we heard many superstitious stories connected with it.

The present church of Magheralin is erected on the site of the old one, of which a part of the old wall yet remains, but so battered that it presents no architectural features. The mortar is as hard as flint, and there is something like a niche in the wall, but for what purpose it was used, I am too ignorant of ecclesiastical and every other description of architecture to venture an opinion. The tradition of the country is that there was here a monastery and a nunnery but they know nothing of the date. In an adjoining field a quantity of human bones have (been) dug up, which points to the site of the ancient burial ground.

I had a long conversation with the Revd. Mr. Dolling, who is a truly refined man. He holds very curious opinions relative to the antiquities of Ireland, and though I could tell him a good (deal) about the dates of forts in Ireland, still I could not satisfy him, nor myself upon several questions he proposed to me. He thinks that all these forts were enclosures erected for cattle at no distant period since, to protect them from nightly attacks of wolves in this country, and thinks that the very best proof of the modern period of their erection is that tobacco pipes of rude formation are daily discovered in levelling them. "Now it is a well established fact that there were no pipes for smoking tobacco or any other weed in the world, until about the year 15 - , certainly not among the Greeks or Romans, for had so nonsensical a custom prevailed among them, their satirical writers, who have carped at all their luxuries and vices, would not have passed that over in silence." I replied as well as I could, but in such a manner as not to satisfy him nor myself. I even told him that we have discovered bronze pipes in Ireland. But nothing will satisfy clever men but a collection of facts and evidences.

He asked me would we publish any books to illustrate the maps. I told me (him) I did not know, but that it was probable we would. "If so," says he. "a (I) shall be locally interested, and do all in my power towards its completion." I thanked him, and moved in with Mr. McVeigh, to see more curiosities. He told me his history and the manner in which he acquired his learning. He is self taught-never learned at any school but the common rules of arithmetic, but from his own intense study he has acquired a very sound knowledge of Latin and Greek, and his extensive acquaintance with French writers is astonishing. If we ever come to write anything on this parish, McVeigh can give valuable assistance.

After having wandered all day through the parish of Magheralin, I returned to Moira about 5 p.m. much fatigued. I went to my bedroom and attempted to write, but sleep overcoming me, I stretched myself on the bed, and fell into a sound repose, during which there was an absence of dreams and thought from my mind. I awoke - looked at my watch. It was 6 o'clock! but whether 6 o'clock in the morning or evening, I could not tell. I started up, walked out, and being attracted by a semi circle of people standing at the sheltry side of Moira market house, I went down to them. Standing on [a] chair, I saw a venerable old man with beard hanging down to the middle button of his waistcoat, repeating aloud one of the psalms of David. His long bushy beard, his Abrahamic countenance, and his thick pronunciation of consonants characterized him a Jew. I gazed on him with wonder, thinking I would have an opportunity of hearing him preach the law of Moses, but I soon learned that he had abandoned the old cause of his tribe, and is now going about preaching the morality and doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yesterday was one of the most Romantic days I have ever spent, and I am convinced that, after reading this letter, you will conclude that I have been bewitched or fairy stricken.

I now return to Hillsborough where I remain for some days.

Yours truly,
John O'Donovan

Wednesday, 2 o'clock p.m. To The Superintendent The Ordnance Survey Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Note: O'Donovan's identification of Linn Duaschail with Magheralin has been challenged. According to Rev. J. B. Leslie it has been definitely established that Linn Duaschail was situated in the townland of Linns, near the mouth of the River Glyde in County Louth.

Boughey William Dolling came to Northern Ireland with Bishop Percy of Dromore. It was his son Robert Holbeach Dolling who built the village of Dollingstown. The saintly Father Dolling was a son of Robert Holbeach Dolling.