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Lough Key - a brief history

 

Lough Key is frequently referred to as the "Jewel of the West". From the more westerly Lough Gara, the Boyle River flows into Lough Key, before continuing its journey through to the mighty River Shannon.If the first waters from Lough Gara had a voice, they must have said "We will rest here a while, and leave an everlasting memory". The waters rested, filled an almost circular valley, 3 miles wide, created 33 beautiful islands, and became known as Lough Key (Loch Cé). It is our beautiful "Jewel of the West" and star attraction of the area to later become Port-na-Carraige, Rockingham and subsequently Lough Key Forest Park.
 
Writers, poets, artists and later, photographers, have chronicled and recorded the history, legends and images of Lough Key for nearly 1000 years. Despite such attention, the Lough Key area still seems shrouded in mystery, and at times a forgotten place of beauty, sensibly protected from the short-term promises offered by the increasingly avaricious world of commercialism. The Fitzpatrick song, "The Isles Of Lough Key" beautifully captures one man's pen-picture of the area:

"The emerald green valley lay smiling,
'neath the shade of a beautiful moon,
As I wandered along to the hillside,
Which cradles the grey Rock Of Doon.
 
And from there I gazed down enchanted,
On a scene that was heaven to me,
For the angels must surely have fashioned,
Those lovely green Isles Of Lough Key.
 
Lough Key with your silvery moonlight,
With you background of woods and green braes,
I'm wondering why bards have forgotten,
To sing e'en one song in thy praise.
 
Perchance you prefer your soft slumbers,
And resent this intrusion of mine,
On your sweet tranquil sleep of deep silence,
Lough Key with your islands divine".

Back in around 1041, when the Annals of Lough Key were being compiled on Castle Island, and when the Annals of Boyle were being compiled on Trinity Island, little did those scribes think we would be eternally grateful to them for their immense contribution to the history of this region. Both documents are now preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, and tell of countless battles fought around the lake's shores and on its islands, as powerful local chieftains, such as the McGreevy and MacDermot, fought off attackers.

Castle Island:
To this day, many wonder why the island is also referred to as "The Rock". Questions remain as to its origin. Some claim that the island is man-made, and was created on top of a large rock that projected above the waters of the lake just 100 metres from the south eastern shore of Lough Key. This theory says the island was created as an inhabited location or lake dwelling that could be easily defended against human and animal attackers, something similar to the Crannóg dwellings on neighbouring Lough Gara.

At some stage, a settlement was created on the island and a wooden structure built there. An early report says it was struck by lightning in 1187 and burned down.

A castle built later featured in the final act of the conquest of Connacht in 1235, by Richard de Burgo whose army included 500 mounted knights. The castle came under siege, first by a raft-mounted catapult, and then by fire ships made of wood from nearby Ardcarne. A combination of rocks and flames proved too much for the castle garrison, forcing Cormac MacDermot, King of Moylurg to surrender.

The castle is mentioned frequently in the ancient annals, being a focus for both fighting and partying. A poem addressed to Tomaltach-an-einigh MacDermot (King of Moylurg 1421-58) tells the story of the Hag Cé, after whom the lake is called, and who used (or abused) Cormac MacDermot's (1218-44) hospitality by staying on the Rock for a full year, and laid upon the MacDermot family the obligation of perpetual hospitality. Brian of the Carrick, Chief 1585-92, is reported to be last head of the clan to live on the island.

A poem by Eochaidh O hEoghusa, written about 1600, laments the castle's uninhabited and ruinous condition:

"...Thy bright fair form has changed,
gone are thy gold-rich dwellings
from thy fair comfortable long-walled enclosure,
nor does the lime-white adorning of thy frontal remain..."


In later times, during the 19th century, Lord Lorton employed the renowned English architect John Nash to design and build a folly castle on top of the earlier castle walls as one of the adornments to the estate whose centrepiece was Rockingham House

Isaac Weld, writing in 1832, describes as part of "the castle proper" 2 rooms, one above the other, each 36 feet by 22 feet, with walls of over 7 feet thickness. It is not clear whether this refers to part of the original castle, or the later construction. The folly castle, used as a summerhouse, was gutted by fire shortly before the Second World War.

 

 

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GPS Co-ordinates:
53 58'23.N 8 17'51.W
 

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Email: info@marycooney.com  Tel/Fax: +353 (0) 71 966 2265   Mobile: 087 243 7350
 

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