Historical Notes, Granard, Co. Longford, 1886

Historical Notes and Stories. Part III – Chapter I – Granard.

GRANARD – Ancient References

In a previous portion of this work, I have stated that there is no place in the County Longford possesses so much interest for the ecclesiastical student as the neighbourhood of Granard. The very same thing could be said of its historical importance. In fact, truly speaking, in the old pagan days of our country, and up to 1315, Granard was the only capital of the County Longford, if we are to understand by that the ancient kingdom of Annaly.

The word”” Granard”” was supposed by the learned Dr. O’Connor to be derived from the two Celtic words, “” Grain,”” the sun, and “”ard,”” a high place or hill; so that the proper meaning of the word “”Granard “” would seem to be “”the Hill of the Sun.”” The reason this name was given to the town would appear to be, that in the early ages of the population of Ireland the people were sun and fire worshippers – that is, they worshipped these things as a deity, potent to relieve them from troubles and to afford them safety in dangers. It is also said that they worshipped the moon and stars, but this is not verified. It is thought, however, that sun and fire worship prevailed amongst our pagan forefathers, just as amongst the Aztecs in the days of Montezuma. The usual place from which the people prayed to the sun was off a high hill or eminence. At the foot of this hill they stood in a circle, whilst the Druids ascended and offered sacrifice to their deities.

Now, Granard is very favourably situated for small worship. On the one side they had the Hill of Granardkill and the Moat of Granard; and on the other side they had the Hill of Carragh, which commands a view of the whole county. An old bard, who sung of the Kings of Conmacne, describes, in the peculiar weirdly-thrilling chant of his profession, the “glories and magnificence”” of Granard in its old pristine excellence. The Granard of to-day is by no means the actual site of old Granard, which, according to the Ordnance Survey Maps, was built about half a mile from the present town, in a somewhat western direction.

This old town was destroyed by Edward Bruce, in his march towards Dublin, in 1315, having been, up to then, the residence of King Con O’FARRELLl, of Annaly, who lived here in royal splendour at the time. Its destruction is described a little further on. Mr. O’Donovan thinks that the correct interpretation of Granard is, the ‘Ugly Height’, from the fact that when the father of a king named Carbre was getting it built, he called it an ‘Ugly Height’, or, in Irish “is Grána, ard é”, meaning, “”it is uglily high.”” Another derivation Mr. O’Donovan gives is, Gran-ard-meaning ‘Grainhill’, which, he says, would go to prove that there was a great deal of cultivation here for a long period. He subsequently tells us that the Moat of Granard, or SlieveCairbhre, in the north, and the River Eithne, or Inny, in the south, were anciently the boundaries of Annaly. Carbre, who gave his name to Slieve-Carbrey, was the eighteenth in descent from O’CATHARNAIGH, who was progenitor of many families in ancient Teffia, or Meath, including the FOXES, O’QUINNS, CARNEYS, CAREYS, &c.

It is related in Colgan’s “Acta Sanctorum,”” in reference to this Carbrey, that when St. Patrick reached Granard on his apostolic mission, where King Carbre lived at his fortification – the Moat – this monarch refused to listen to his teaching; and some of his chieftains in the then fertile plains of Ballinamuck presented the Apostle with a hound dressed for dinner. The saint, naturally moved with anger at such treatment (it is told), pronounced a malediction on the sons of Cairbre, as well as on the land of the place he was in and, as a result of this malediction, the land became barren, and mis-fortunes came on the line of Cairbre, from whose race the sceptre passed away. Subsequently, it is said, that his sons received the saint with all honour, and presented to him the beautiful place of Granard. There is another version also given in. reference to the cursing of Cairbre, which the following note, taken from the life of St. Patrick, will explain “Cap. Iv., Part ii. “But on the first day of the week, Patrick came to Taelten, ,in the County Westmeath, where the royal fair and public games and exercises of the kingdom used to be held yearly ; and there he met Carbreus, the son of Niall, and brother of King Laogarious, and like his brother in ferocity of mind and cruelty. When Patrick preached the word of life to him, and pointed out the way of salvation, the man of adamantine heart not only refused to believe the preached truth but laid projects for the death of him who was pro-pounding the way of life, and caused the companions of the holy man to be scourged in a neighbouring river, called Sele, because Patrick called him the enemy of God. Then the man of God, seeing that the man was of inveterate mind and reproved by God, says to him : – “Because you have resisted the doctrine of the Heavenly King, and refused to carry His sweet yoke, neither shall kings nor the pledges of the kingdom rise up from your stock; but your seed shall obey the seed of your brethren for ever; nor shall the neighbouring river, in which you have whipped my companions, although now it abounds in fishes, ever produce any fishes.’ “”

These two versions of the same story differ a little as to locality, cause, and effect; but it is certain that St. Patrick did visit Granard on his first apostolic mission and tour of Ireland, because the old town was a place of great natural strength, as well as being an important town in the kingdom in those days.

The Moat of Granard is well known as being one of the largest and oldest of its kind in Ireland. It seems to have been originally cut out of a large hill, because it is situated in such a position that the hands of man could not possibly have framed it. The approach to it is steep, and the visitor comes to a fosse, or trench, which surrounds it, before he can approach the side; after this the ascent has to be made in a zig-zag direction, in order to avoid the dangers of a sudden descent; and when we come to the top we find a level and partly hollowed surface, wide enough to support a large body of troops, and partly protected in several places by the remains of what formed the rampart of the original fortification. Mr. O’Donovan says that he was told that an old castle existed inside the moat, to which there was a secret entrance; and that the Tuites and Daltons built it as a protection against the attacks of The O’Farrell in the 13th century, but he thinks it was a storehouse for grain in the days of King Carbre. It is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters under dates – 236, 476, 765, 1069, 1272, 1275, 1475, 1586. But the events which took place at these dates were merely nominal; and it will here serve my purpose just as well to mention them to show the exact amount of importance attached to this old and venerable structure, which I believe can compete with any in Ireland for its antiquity and size. It is not so long since I was upon its top, from whence I could discern the spire of Longford Cathedral, twelve miles away ; Lough Sheelan, in Westmeath ; and Lough Gownagh stretching away into the County Cavan.

Hereinafter I insert several important historical scraps taken from the Annals of the Four Masters, in which the great antiquity and unquestioned historical celebrity of the old town of Granard is clearly set out. The reader will doubtless perceive that at the very time that St. Patrick should have been making his tour of Ireland (476 and 480), no mention is made of Carbry the Incredulous as reigning at Granard, whilst in O’Harte’s”” Pedigree”” the King of the Ulster line called Carbreus, is set down as reigning at least 600 years before Christ.


“” A.D. 236. This year Cormac, the grandson of Conn, who was King of the Lagenians (Leinster), overthrew the Ultonians (Ulstermen) in a great battle fought at Granard. Their defeat was so great that many of them fled to the Isle of Man and the Hebrides, and Cormack was ever after known as Cormack Ulfoda.

“”476. In this year a battle was fought between the Granardians and the Leinstermen, in which Eochaidh, who was descended from Enda Madh, King of Leinster, was defeated and slain in the battle.

“”480. In this year a battle was fought between the Lagenians themselves, in which Fionchadd., Lord of Hy Kinsellagh, was slain by the Granardians.

“”747. Conang, grandson of Dhubhan, Lord of Carlry of Teffia (Granard), died

“” 766. Artgal, son of Connell, Lord ofeadry of Teffia, died.

“”1069. In this year Murchad, the son of Diarmuid, marched into Meath and burned a large amount of property, lay and ecclesiastical. He also burned Granard and Ardbraccan, the Lord of which met and slew him.

“”1103. Cathalan, son of Seanan, was slain by the people or Capra Gaura (Granard).

“”1108. Donnell, son of Donnell O’Rorke, Lord of Breiffney, was slain by the people of Granard.

“”1161. Matudan, grandson of Cronan, Lord of Carbry Grabha (Granard), fell by the sons of MacComgall at Granard

“1162. Carlry-na-Ciardha (Granard) was plundered by Maolsaochlin O’Rorke. He was, however, defeated, and many of his men were killed.

“”1262. In this year The O’Donnell marched through many countries until he came to Granard, in the County Longford. In every place he went he was granted his demands, and he returned home in triumph.

[NOTE.- Whenever the word Carbry Grabha, Carpra Gaura, or Carbry-na-Ciardha occurs, the reader may underrstand that Granard is referred to, because these words seem but corruptions of “” Carbry”” (the Incredulous), who seems to have given his name to this place.]

“”1272. In this year Hugh O’Connor, of Connacht, invaded Meath and burned Granard.

“”1275. Art, son of O’Rourke, the descendant of the valiant Tiernan, of Brei:ffny, was slain by the English, and many of the people of Granard were slaughtered.

“”1475. In this year John O’Farrell, of Annaly, died suddenly at Granard just as he was sitting down to his inaugural banquet.

“”1562. In this year there is recorded the death of O’Rourke, who owned lands and horses and many servants, from Granard to Tiererach, and Fenagh to Croghan, and was a very learned man.””

GRANARD – The O’Farrells of Granard

King Con O’FARRELL was a brave soldier, and. renowned for the glory of his military exploits. When Edward Bruce landed at Carrickfergus, a number of the native chieftains flocked to his standard; but a number stayed away also, mainly because they were jealous that a foreigner, as they unfortunately looked on him, should come to rule over them. Amongst those was the King of Upper Annaly (so called by O’Connor; O’Donovan calls it North Teffia ) – perhaps prince would be the better title to give him; he had also another motive in absenting himself, which was, that a neighbouring chieftain, with whom he was at feud, was one of Bruce’s strongest adherents. Bruce, as the reader of history knows, first tried to approach Dublin by Drogheda, but subsequently had to fall back on the approach of the Saxon troops. He then determined to go by the midland route, and did penetrate as far as Lough Owel, in Westmeath, in the year 1315, when the severity of the winter compelled him to go into quarters. He had previously been refused admission into Old Granard by Prince Con, who proudly refused to surrender when called upon to do so; and so returning, when he saw further progress was impracticable, he hurled his whole force against the gates of Granard, and for two days an awful carnage reigned, so that the living made a road of the bodies of the dead; after which Bruce’S superiority in umbers prevailed, and Granard, the erection of thirteen centuries, was taken, and was subsequently levelled to the ground by Bruce before he left the spot.

Many old thrilling tales are told of the days when the head of the O’FARRELLS ruled in royal state in Granard. Thus, it is told of one monarch, named Congal, that his wife, the most beautiful woman in Leinster, was smitten down in child-birth, her demise being so sudden that Congal accused his chief Druid of using some sacred rites to destroy her. It was in vain that the latter protested his utter innocence. The king’s ire was raised, and he ordered his execution after one year from the time of his wife’s death. In the meantime he shut himself up in his palace, and refused to let anyone even see his face, at which his subjects were very much troubled. The end of the year was drawing nigh, and the chief Druid’s day of doom was surely coming. At length his daughter prevailed on him to allow her to intercede with the king for his pardon; and her father consented, believing that, like all his subjects, she could not see the face of her monarch. The maiden, however, disguised herself as a servant, and hung continuously about the royal entrance. In the end her patience was rewarded. One day the king asked for a drink of pure water, which the Druid’s daughter immediately fetched to him, and, on entering into his presence, fell on her knees and implored the pardon of her father. The king was struck with her singular beauty, which attracted his attention immediately, and he told her that if she attended him every day for twelve days he would give her a decisive answer. Each day, accordingly she brought him the same drink, and at the end of the twelfth day he not only granted her request, but asked her to take the place of the wife he had lost. This request, according to the laws of the country, she could not accede to, nor could he marry one beneath him in station without the consent of his people, which they refused to him, nor could all his arts persuade them. At length he abdicated his throne, and allowed his son to reign in his stead, in order that he might enjoy a peaceful life with the object of his sudden affection.

On another occasion, a King of Annaly, having married a wife whom his brother had previously loved, but vainly, incurred the mortal hatred of the latter. He collected a large force of the enemies of the fortunate monarch, and one night treacherously surprised the town, putting every man in the king’s service, himself and his wife, to a cruel death, He then set himself up as king; but the kingdom that had formerly been a model of peace, was now a den of disorder and debauchery. Meantime, Nemesis was approaching in the person of the lawful son of his murdered brother, who, on the night of the massacre, was saved by his nurse, and had since been reared at the house of O’Rorke, in Breffni. Twenty years passed away, and he grew to man’s estate, and then, swooping down like the tiger on his prey, he hurled the usurper and his disorderly crew from their ill-gotten possessions, and, ascending the throne himself, commenced a reign which, for prosperity and happiness, exceeded any ever known in the kingdom.

GRANARD – Modern Stories

In modern years the story of the headless horseman occupied a great deal of attention in Granard, where it was almost universally believed that each night a man rode through the streets of Granard on a headless horse, himself being also headless. This story arose from a very singular, and ever since unexplained, suicide, which occurred in the barracks of Granard during the early years of the eighteenth century. Almost the very first regiment quartered there was one of the most ungovernable corps in the British service. Its capptain was one BLUNDELL by name; and in dress, manners, sporting propensities, and general recklessness, was the cream of the service. One night a great ball was given in Granard by the officers, at which he was the leading figure almost; and the next morning, not having turned up at the usual hour, his room was broken open, and he was found lying dead upon the floor, his head being severed from his body, No one could have committed the act, because the captain’s door was closed on the inside, and his window barred on the outside. Neither could any motive be ascribed for it; and the matter has remained a mystery ever since, giving rise to the weird story of the headless horseman and his midnight rides. Granard, from its very antiquity, is naturally the spot from which one would expect to hear such stories, and is, therefore, worthy of all the attention we could well bestow upon it, I am sure that, could the treasures buried in the ruins of old Granard be dug up, a fund of fireside lore sufficient to make many volumes would be the result. But, alas! man is made of dust and into dust, must return; and whether it be on stone or parchment that man’s acts are written, they are equally liable, as is he himself, to temporal decay

granard was the scene of very active work during the Rebellion of 1798, and here were enacted some of the most bloody deeds history can record.

In one portion of this narrative, I have given, in a faint way, a history of the momentous battle which took place at Ballinamuck, in 1798. I have also taken some extensive quotations from the Cornwallis Correspondence, to show the in-human cruelty that was the distinguishing characteristic of the British soldiers, yeomen, and officers on that occasion. Well, indeed, could General Lake, writing to the iron-hearted tyrant who ruled the roost in Dublin Castle, “”return his most sincere thanks”” to them for their”” great exertions and assistance on this day.””

But dark, cruel, and dreadful as were the scenes that took place at Ballinamuck, they were but mere toying towards the treatment meted out to the”” rebels”” in Granard. Thither a small band of the County Longford insurgents, under the command of DENISTON, of Clonbroney, O’KEEFE, of Prospect, and Pat FARRELL, of Ballinree. “”the biggest man in the county,”” had retreated after the affair at Ballinamuck.

Above all other places in the country there is none so well adapted, in every sense of the word, to warfare as the town and neighbourhood of Granard. The town is almost surrounded on all sides by hills, and on the moat alone a thousand men could keep a ‘hundred thousand in check, such are the facilities for defence. The approaches to it, too, are hilly and inaccessible; and so we can well understand that, under the command of an able and skilled general, a small force could keep a much larger one at bay for long enough.

Granard was under the control of a fearful tyrant at this period, a man whose name is destined to live in odium until the end of time, viz., HEPENSTAL, “”the walking gallows.”” This wretch was tall and very strong, and, through constant practice, had made himself up on a ready system of hanging people; for although he held the distinguished post of a lieutenant in the Wicklow Militia, he never looked to the dignity, if such it could be called, of his position, but on all occasions undertook the (to him) more congenial office of hangman. In this position he, as old work styled it, “”jerked more men into eternity”” about the neighbourhood of Granard than have been sent there by a violent death since. His method of hanging was novel in the extreme. Just let him catch a rebel – the rope was adjusted and slung across his shoulder, a pull and a sudden jerk, and the”” rebel’s”” days on earth were ended.

GRANARD – Modern Stories

People will wonder that such a wretch would be allowed to walk on green grass even in the eighteenth century; but then few people know the trials and sufferings that”” the Irish rebels”” went through in ’98. The following brief and traditionary narrative about the battle (massacre it should be called) of Granard in ’98 may give an idea of it:-

As I have said, to Granard went FARRELL, DENISTON and O’KEEFFE, with a small force of men, after the rout at Ballinamuck. They found, on their arrival, the whole place in a state of confusion and uproar. People were running hither and thither in the wildest confusion, because every minute Lake and his bloodstained soldiers were expected from Ballinalee, whilst another squad was said to be on the march from Cavan. The appearance, therefore, of the three local and well-known leaders, with even a small body of men, was hailed with triumphant shouts, and immediately a council of war was held, at which it was unanimously resolved to make a bold stand for liberty, and to defend Granard. Scouts were at once posted on the moat and Granard Kil to watch the approach of the enemy, whilst all the entrances to the town were barricaded.

To O’FARRELL fell the lot to defend the Finea entrance, to DENISTON the Ballinamuck, and to the approach from Ballinalee the command was given to O’KEEFFE. The first to appear in sight were the Finea troops under the command of HEPENSTAL, who had specially gone to Cavan to bring them
up in hot haste. O’FARRELL was a very tall man, fully seven feet high, with immense breadth of chest and strength of muscle. Consequently he was the very man who was an even match for the ruffianly HEPENSTAL; and the struggle between both parties was not far advanced until the giants met, and O’FARRELL, with one ponderous blow of his broken sword-hilt, put HEPENSTAL‘hors de combat’, and his ragged mob of yeomen soon after took to flight. Almost before a pursuit could be made, a messenger arrived from DENISTON, to inform him that a large force of the enemy were approaching from Ballinamuck. The brave man at once re-called his pursuing followers, and collected all his forces to oppose the entry of LAKE’S men into Granard. The three batches were massed on the Barrack Gate road, and in a short time a desperate engagement, which lasted for about three half hours, took place. By word and act Pat FARRELL did all that a brave man could do to animate his sadly-thinned little force; and in this he was ably seconded by O’KEEFFE and DENISTON. Here, there, everywhere he ran, now striking a blow, now parrying one, and again dashing forward into the very thick of the conflict. In the middle of the combat – luckless misfortune – HEPENSTAL and his Finea yeomen returned to the fight, and, finding no opposition to their entry, soon attacked the now jaded Irishmen in the rere. Hemmed in between two fires, O’FARRELL did not lose his presence of mind. He knew the fate of the” rebels”” at Ballinamuck; he knew there had been no quarter shown them, and in an instant he resolved to die game. With a quick and unexpected movement he turned his men to the right, and in an instant had drawn them out by a side lane from the net in which they were held, whilst his enemies, in their eagerness to cut him off, dashed together like the angry waves of a tidal river. To the trenches of the moat the insurgents dashed, and would have gained it but that DENISTON being dismounted, whilst O’FARRELL rode a splendid white blood mare (whom in affection he called Bonnie Bess), the two forces became separated. Round DENISTON gathered HEPENSTAL and his Finea militia, whilst O’FARRELL was cut off by the Ballinamuck yeomen. Like an enraged tiger, the latter turned in his saddle to relieve DENISTON, when a bullet from the cowardly murderer, HEPENSTAL, pierced his heart, and he fell to rise no more. DENISTON managed to catch his horse as he was dashing away, and endeavoured with might and main to retrieve the fortunes of the day. But the fall of Pat FARRELL had already decided it, and it was no longer a question of fight, but a question of how best to retreat. In this attempt the insurgents were captured in dozens, and DENISTON, seeing that to remain were worse than madness, whispered to O’KEEFFE to mount behind him, and they would make a bold dash for freedom. O’KEEFFE had been fighting all through like a valiant soldier; but having lost his horse at the commencement of the battle, was of no avail to save the day. He therefore jumped up behind DENISTON, and together they dashed out of Granard by the Ballinalee road. Pursuit was instantly made by some British officers, who were anxious to make such big captures.

Poor Pat FARRELL’S mare was, however, more than a match for them, and, heavily weighted as she was, would have kept far ahead, but having lost a shoe became suddenly lame; they therefore had to turn into the fields, before which stretched out a large bog. In front of the bog were the usual number of bog-holes, across which the mare flew with the greatest ease, and landed safely on the dry heather. But when the pursuers attempted the same game, the result was that two of them went clear in, and their horses were drowned.

Further pursuit was, therefore, useless, so they gave it up, and Deniston and O’Keefe escaped in safety, but were outlawed for three years afterwards, until a general pardon was proclaimed, when both men returned to their homes, only to find that the hand of the despoiler had filched from them their lawful possessions, to which they were never restored. The same night Pat Farrell’s mare, Bonnie Bess, galloped home to his house at Ballinree riderless, and conveyed to his sorrowing family the sad tidings that Granard was lost, and Pat Farrell had died a patriot’s death.

But the darkest scene in this melancholy battle had yet to be enacted, namely, the executions. As I said before, the effort to make a retreat had resulted in the capture of the rebels in dozens. These poor men – most of them country farmers and labourers – were tied hand and foot, and thrown for a whole night on the streets of Granard, guarded by a strong batch of yeomen. In the morning a number of yeomen, who had been sent out during the night to gather cattle for provisions, arrived with a drove of fat bullocks, and without any ceremony they drove this herd over the fallen, prostrate Irish, until they trampled the very life out of them; and such of them as showed any signs of animation after this brutal treatment, were given over to the tender mercies of Hepenstal, who swung them out of existence as fast as they were handed to him. History does not record this horrible British cruelty, neither does the historian who composed or compiled the ‘Cornwallis Correspondence; but tradition, the unwritten history of every nation, does; and it is well known that the whole incidents of the battle have been carefully suppressed in order to hide these facts.

More than once have I seen references made to the cruelty of the British troops in foreign countries; but if they could be so cruel at home in Ireland, what must they not be away! Doubtless, Hepenstal may have instigated the commission of this wholesale sacrifice, though that is scarcely likely, seeing he was so fond of acting the hangman himself. A fearful fate overtook this Hepenstal afterwards ; for we are told, in a book called”” The Informers of ’98,”” that he was seized with ‘morbus pedicularis’, with which disease his body was devoured by vermin, and he died after twenty-one days in great agony. He is said to be interred in St. Michan’s Churchyard, in Dublin.

Granard, since ’98, has been a comparatively quiet and easy-going sort of place, and has managed to keep up in the race with the rest of Ireland, whether in political or commercial matters. The accession of the town within the past few months to corporate dignity, is in itself a proof of its increasing prosperity; and whilst there are few places more worthy of the attention of the antiquarian or the poet than Granard and its moat, I regret to say that very few people, even in the place itself, seem to care for its ancient glory. Many respectable families live in its neighbourhood; and in the town itself there are to be found a number of Tuites, Petits, and Daltons, who are the lineal descendants of the Anglo-Saxons of the twelfth century who settled here and became ‘Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis’. The Reillys and O’Reillys, of East Breiffny, or Cavan, form a strong element here too, and are mentioned to the number of sixty-two as living in Granard Barony in the year 1659. There is no doubt that this parish was considered in olden days the central parish of Ireland, and that much importance was attached to it by the English of Meath and Leinster. Nevertheless, in modern days it has on many occasions fought stubborn battles for faith and fatherland, and has often proved a stumbling-block in the way or those who first endeavoured to use it as a power against the liberty or our nation.

Very fierce election battles were fought here since the Union, in which many men lost their lives and their homes when fighting for what they prized dearest on earth, the cause of “” Their own dear native land.