The Loughsiders

Vol. 4 No. 1 - 1978

The Loughsiders

by Francis X McCorry

The name Montiaghs is an anglicisation of Mointeacha meaning moorlands, mosslands or boglands. Local usage in S.W. Munster and Ulster indicates Montiagh and Montiaghs to mean a district abounding in bogs.

Working the farm in Derrytrasna

In South Fermanagh the Montiaghs is an uncomplimentary name given to the people of the area rather than to the area itself. This is not the case in either the Lurgan Montiaghs or Aghagallon Montiaghs although the Irish among the townspeople traditionally enjoyed poking fun at the dress and mannerisms of the Montiagh people, conveniently forgetting that in very many instances their forebearers had originated in the area.

Local folklore strongly maintains that "it takes seven derries to make a montiagh" and the following townland names in the area are quoted, names Derryloiste, Derryinver, Derrytagh, Derrycor, Derryadd, Derrymacash." Nine other derries within the area, although not townland names, may also be mentioned: Derryveen, Derrymacburdary, Derryhal, Derryearig, Derrycrow, Derryavila, Derryinislintry, Derrinenarragh and Derrivarvenagh. This local saying linking the derries and the montiaghs is unheard of in any other part of Ireland yet it is quite intriguing and points to a general truth of great geographical interest in that many of Ireland's bogland uplifts, contain at various depths remains of the pine, oak and yew forests which once prevailed in the areas concerned and which may have given the uplifts the townland names.

Many of these are prefixed by Derry meaning oak forest or oak forest permeated with other trees. West of the Upper Bann and adjacent to the Montiaghs lies an area containing a very large number of place-names prefixed by Derry. The name Montiaghs is not applied at all to this area. The Montiaghs towards Washing Bay in County Tyrone consists of the townlands Derrytresk, Clonoe, Annagherboe, Kingsisland, Mountjoy, Derrylaughlan,

Best means of transport

Ballinamoney Cottages area, just out-side the Montiaghs on better land. The donkey and cart and the boat were the best means of transport available to most of the tenantry. Even in the early 1900s, parts of the three main roads were impassable because of winter flooding by the River Bann and Lough Neagh, and the surrounding countryside was unworkable for the same reason. M any therefore were forced to graze the long acre. An older lady recalled as a child tripping along after her grand-father on a winter day while he, too old to work, herded the family's one cow along the comparatively lush verges of the 'Trasna road and all the while he fingered his Rosary and prayed. In the child's mind, the old man had to say the Rosary while minding the cow so consistently did the two practices take placer

Many adults went to school in winter to be taught the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic paying threepence per week for the privilege. This practice is still spoken of with pride by the present mothers and fathers in the area. It would be easy to assume that in this proper society, education and culture would not have been emphasised but Felix Austin stated that his brother Patrick and himself spent many winter's nights in their youth reading the Annals of the Four Masters, literature of the highest order and yet known to the present generation by short extracts only. Master Armstrong was the schoolteacher in Derrytrasna in this early period and was known in the Montiaghs as the second smartest man in Ulster, having lost a battle of wits and knowledge with a schoolteacher in Co. Monaghan in the final of an unofficial competition among rural schoolteachers.


Edward Mullan was the first permanent postman in the Montiaghs and after completing his rounds, he attended school each afternoon. He also operated a six-seater sidecar which travelled between Lurgan and the Bannfoot. James McKeown from the Bay Shore had two sidecars which plied the same route. The fare from Derryadd corner to Lurgan was six old pence.

James McGreavy, the owner of the Commercial Hotel in Lurgan, initiated the first bus service to the Montiaghs with a Model T Ford 14 seater in the autumn of 1924. A new bus, another fourteen seater and still with solid tyres and seats arranged along the sides, replaced the original bus and was named The New Commercial. Two years later two twenty-six seater buses were purchased and the Golden Butterfly era began. The following ballad, written by Paddy McGeown of Derrycor in 1928, was related by Paddy McConville, formerly of Edward Street Lurgan, who for forty years (192666) was a bus conductor in the Lurgan area.

Come all ye Montiaghs weavers
And listen to my song
These verses few I'll tell to you
And will not detain you long
In praise of James McGreavy
Who keeps the grand hotel
He's a credit to his country
And Lurgan town as well.

Good whiskey, rum and brandy
He always keeps in store
You can have a glass of Bushmills
If your head is feeling sore
If your money it is done
You need not make a fuss
For he will drive you home contented
In his new Commercial bus.

The service ran for seven days per week. The normal timetable involved four return runs daily plus two extra on Thursdays (market day in Lurgan) and Saturdays. At "set" times, the timetable was abandoned and the buses made as many journeys as the travelling public demanded. Christmas Eve was the busiest day of the year, twenty return journeys being the order of the day and buses running to 11.00 p.m. The fare for the return journey was one shilling from Derrytrasna crossroads, ninepence from Derryvene and seven pence from Derrymacash Chapel.

At nine o'clock each morning
He's always on the go
From Lurgan to the Montiaghs
Let the wind blow high or low
At Derrytrasna cross-roads
The people gather there
They are never disappointed
For the market or the fair.

He was the first to start the bus
That no one can deny
The wee Commercial Snowdrop
And the Golden Butterfly
From Derrycor to Derryadd
It is their only cry
To go with James McGreavy
In his Golden Butterfly.

That to conclude and finish
The pen I must lay down
If any of you country folk
Have business on in town
The bus is always ready
The fare it is not high
You can have a drive with pleasure
In the golden Butterfly.

The new bus service was direct competition for the sidecars and soon replaced them. The latter lined up for hire at the Commercial Hotel, Lurgan, which was as much a part of market day as the animals and goods for sale. The buses had the road adjacent to the Church as their terminus, a mere fifty yards away from the older opposition. After James 1 McGreavey's death in 1928, William McAlinden and James McSherry acquired the bus company and ran it successfully until all private bus companies were absorbed by the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board.

LURGAN 9.00 a.m. 11.00 a.m. 3.00 p.m. 5.00 p.m.
DERRYTRASNA 9.30 a.m. 11.30 a.m. 3.30 p.m. 5.30 p.m.
LURGAN 10.00 a.m. 12.00 noon 4.00 p.m. 6.00 p.m.

The Bay Shore road, notable for its dwellings which present their gables to Lough Neagh and which had two houses showing their backs to both the Lough and the road was not developed until the 1850's and 1860's, although John Rocque's Map of Armagh (1760 A.D.) details a narrow road clinging close to the shore. The little wooden pier, now decaying, was once the focal point of the entire Bay Shore as the adjoining Derrytagh North and Derrytrasna townlands evolved into a fishing settlement.

Evidence is given in O'Mellan's narrative that good fishermen were using the bay in 1641 A.D. but the population then was small and probably not permanent. Pollan and eels were the traditional catch but trout and salmon were also taken. One experienced fisherman from the Bay area stated emphatically that two types of large trout were found in Lough Neagh and the flavour of the rarer trout was much better than sea salmon.


The pollan season ended at Hallow'een and the penalty for fishing after this date was severe and much feared. The normal penalty of a "pound per eye" represented in the 1920's a considerable threat to those who dared break the law. Many a young boy was posted on the roadside to keep watch for the local policeman lest he smell the forbidden fish being cooked out of season. Yet part of the winter diet was pollan, preserved by a simple and effective method. Just before Hallow'een a large portion of the pollan catch was gutted and the fish strung out along a scallop which was put through the "eye" (through the gill to the mouth). The scallop was then wedged into the large open chimney, well above the fire, where the fish were both dehydrated and smoked, becoming very hard. This practice was last observed locally in the Aghagallon or Upper Montiaghs, the pollan being prepared by an elderly resident who had returned home after spending over thirty years in America.

It may be relevant to observe that some other traditional crafts remained longer in the Aghagallon area than in Brownlow's Montiaghs or the Low Montiaghs. James Mulholland from Aghagallon had an international reputation as an osier and other men of the same surname still practice the craft. More fishing is carried on in the Aghagallon area than on the other shore. Perhaps the Low Montiaghs attitude was to forget as quickly as possible about anything connected with the days of hard unrelenting work and poverty.

Certainly a man who had been associated with the steam and lighter boats on the River Bann in the late thirties and early forties exclaimed "Yes, I know all about the lighters, my job in winter was to keep the Bann free from ice. The winters then were hard; the Bann was slow flowing and froze up most winters. I operated a '22' (a machine loaded on a boat) with a large iron ball which broke up the ice. We kept travelling up and down the Bann. It was miserable cold work. I hope those days don't return."

Not far from the Bay Shore is the site of the first Church of Ireland edifice in the Montiaghs. First mentioned in the Seagoe Vestry Records, "27th March, 1751; £8-0-0 to be levied off the Parish for a Clerk to officiate in Parish Church of Sego; and £4-0-0 for the Clerk of the Chappel in the Montiaghs," this small church was built in a three acre field close to the Lough Neagh shore in Ardmore. It was intended to serve firstly as a subordinate church in Seagoe Parish and later to become the Church of the envisaged Parish of the Montiaghs. The Church was blown down in a storm on November 4th 1783 A.D.

The site of this Church and the adjoining graveyard was discovered by John Emerson in 1929 A.D. while excavating gravel on his recently purchased farm. "When I hit the mortar and large stones among the gravel, I contacted the previous owner who said that he had flattened the foundations walls of an old church, years previously, while improving the land. A few days later I unearthed a huge stone which I took to be a corner stone measuring three foot square and weighing in the region of two tons.

The Church was sited in a three acre field. People began to mention to me if there was a church, there ought to be a graveyard, Weeks later while stripping ground prior to digging for gravel, I came across skulls and bones at a depth of two and a half feet. I then realised that twice as much stripping was needed when over a grave. Graves were oval in shape, not dug out for a coffin and all the skeletons pointed towards the East. The graveyard was in a two acre field and contained about twenty skeletons."

The Rev. John Carrol, first vicar of the Montiaghs, was holding eighty acres of land in Derryadd when the small Church in Ardmore was blown down. The eighty acres included a hill site and some first class agricultural land apart from some wet sour pasture. It was only natural therefore that the hill site was chosen for the new church and to this day it is known as Ardmore Church despite being well inside the boundary of Derryadd townland. A similar transfer of names occurred with the Catholic Church in The Montiaghs which originated as a Mass shed in Derrymacash.

The present Catholic Church stands in the townland of Aghacommon, built therein 1830 A. D. but it is always known as Derrymacash Chapel. Local tradition places the siting of the first Derrymacash Catholic Church, St. Patrick's on Lark's Hill in Raughlan demesne and indicates that its origin would have been before the Plantation. Workmen digging shores in Raughlan discovered a path four feet below ground level consisting of large wooden planks similar to railway sleepers laid about eighteen inches apart. The line of the path according to their limited excavation was from Lark's Hill to Oxford Island.

It was therefore assumed that the path was a traditional route linking two church sites, namely the early Church at Lark's Hill and the Church at Oxford Island which Brownlow found roofless on his arrival in these parts in 1610 A.D. What the workmen did not know was that this same path continued across the main Derrymacash road and onwards to the River Bann. This latter fact does not destroy the workmen's theory but it also points to a short transport link existing from Lough Neagh to the River Bann across reasonably good ground something virtually impossible in the rest of the Montiaghs.


There were three ferries crossing the River Bann in the 19th century, Robb's ferry, Rushe's ferry and the one which survives to this day, the Bannfoot Ferry. The latter which links the Lurgan-Derrytrasna road with the Columbkille-Maghery road at Charlestown saves the traveller at least twelve miles of a detour. Why not a bridge across the forty metres of water? In the beginning of the 19th century when Charles Brownlow was attempting the possible and the impossible in an effort to improve the Montiaghs, a bridge at the Bannfoot was on the agenda.

The Lurgan Mail reported nearly a century later on August 7th 1909, that to help alleviate hardship in the area, two proposals for fording the River Bann had been put forward at the most recent Council meeting. Both a bridge and a ferry were proposed but high cost immediately ruled out a permanent bridge and the idea of a ferry was therefore investigated. The County Surveyor maintained that a ferry was a feasible proposition and having studied ferries operating on the Rivers Avon and Severn in England, advanced a design which was in fact a smaller edition of the English ferries. The proposed cost was £300. A member of Lurgan Rural Council, objected to this proposal and stated that he would have a bridge put on the Bann if the Council adopted the ferry plan. Despite this generous threat the bridge was never built.

Earlier, in the Ordnance Survey memoirs, it is stated, "There is no bridge lower than Portadown and it has for some years been in contemplation to throw one across at the Bann Foot in place of the ferry. This is however opposed by the canal company and the ferry still remains."

Willie Wilson and the last manually operated cable ferry in the British Isles

This and earlier ferries would have been simply a boat. The latest ferry, however, was towed from Belfast Lough by a lighter captained by Joe Blair and destined for the Wilson family who have operated the ferry ever since. The ferry which consists of many buoyant barrels linked together and topped by a platform of wooden sleeper-like planks, was originally one of four floating building supports required for a major building project in Belfast Lough. The floating supports could be scuttled and retrieved at will, to suit varying building heights. Three of the four vessels were broken-up when the building programme was complete and the fourth was purchased by the present ferryman's father.

A somewhat similar technique to the floating support was used recently at the giant Belfast dry dock in a successful attempt to save a badly damaged Dutch dredger and deliver it to its owners in Holland. A barge brought from Holland was scuttled in the dry dock which was then flooded. The damaged dredger was then towed to a position directly above the barge, the dry dock slowly cleared of water and the water pumped out of the barge. The dry dock was again flooded and the barge and dredger, now joined by stanchions, floated high in the water ready for the long tow back to Holland.

It's a pity that the lighter trains on Lough Neagh and the River Bann, so beloved to older Montiagh residents, were seldom photographed as a recent comprehensive search proved. The lighters or barges were towed by horse from Belfast Lough down the Lagan and by the Lagan Navigational Canal to Ellis's Cut, near Lurgan. The steamers took over from there and towed the lighters in convoy across the Lough and up the Bann to Portadown.

First steamer on the Lough

The first steamer on the Lough was the Lagan Navigation Company s Marchioness of Donegal, launched at Ellis's Cut in 1821 A.D. and this boat was the first inland navigation steamer in Ireland. The last two steamers remembered were the Erne and the Elizabeth Jane, the latter is believed to have been lost at sea on a journey to England when her towing days on the Lough were over. It is ironic that the present three lighters used on the Bay Shore by Norman Emerson to bring in sand from the nearby banks arrived in the Montiaghs from Belfast Lough by road.

Any community appreciates the services of a local doctor but the Montiaghs had no resident doctor until 1899 A.D. Previous to that, the Doctor closest to the area was Dr. Harmen from Connaught who lived in the nearby townland of Kilvergan and who served the surrounding rural area. He was succeeded by Dr. Rowlett in the early 1880's. Dr. Hugh Reid was later appointed in 1899 A.D. and he lived and practised in the Dispensary residence at Derryadd until his retirement in 1929 A.D. He was presented with an address and a gold watch in Derryadd on March 23rd 1906 as a token of thanks for fulfilling his duties to the sick and for other reasons?

Extract from address (Lurgan Mail).

"Your efforts in securing pure water supplies and improved sanitary arrangements have met with the approval of all classes in the community"

Signed by - William Stevenson, Nelson Ruddell, John O'Neill R.D.C., John Magurran, George Murray, Henry McGeown, John McAleese, James Blaney R.D.C., E. O'Hagan, Solicitor and Treasurer. A pure water supply even in a well-watered area like the Montiaghs always posed a difficult problem in rural Ireland. The Ordnance Survey memoirs noted that there were few springs in the area and that the inhabitants had to sink wells from twenty to thirty feet before meeting with water. Almost eighty years later in July 1912 A.D., the Lurgan Mail noted that the existing well in the High Moss was very much polluted with animal and vegetable decaying materials. Six months later, no tenders had been received for sinking a replacement well and erecting a pump in the area.

Following Dr. Reid's retirement, Dr. George Jackson of Loughgall was appointed and in 1934 he asked to be transferred to the Aghalee district. In October 1934, Dr. Phyllis Minford was appointed and for forty years, until her retirement in 1974, rendered an efficient medical service to the Montiagh community. The vacancy, two years later, has not been filled. In earlier days, the Lurgan Board of Guardians had control of the appointments. In July 1947, however, the Board of Guardians' duties were transferred to the Northern Ireland Health Services Board. Under the Guardians, the doctor was appointed as Medical Officer of the Lurgan No. 2 Dispensary District. Lurgan No. 1 district was the urban area.


Of the cures mentioned during conversations in the Montiaghs, perhaps the most intriguing was given by Miss Hannah Russell, an octogenarian from Kilvergan. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a tree stood in the front garden of Miss Russell's grandmother's sister in Derryadd. When the bark of the tree was cut upwards and boiled, the resulting liquid was a cure for diarrhoea. When the bark was cut downards and boiled, the resulting liquid was a laxative. Mrs. Ancliffe, now living in Lurgan, stated that a proven cure for sore ears was the placing of an already heated core of an onion in the ear hole and the head wrapped with hot sacking.

A hare skin tied firmly on the back was considered a reliable remedy for many back ailments. A local fisherman spoke of the afternoon he was landing his catch on the shore when he noticed a man in a sitting position on the Bay Shore road. He went over to him and saw him to be in great stomach pain and seemingly very ill. An old man came on the scene, observed the sick man, asked the fisherman if he had two tench in the nets and on getting the fish, brought them into a local house where he prepared and cooked them. He then brought the fish to the sick man who ate them despite the prejudice involved. Within ten minutes, the fisherman said, the sick man had recovered and he then went on his way. No attempt was made to enquire into the preparation of the fish by either the sick man or the observers.