Farrell: History of the County Longford

Pdf Farrell, James P. History of the County Longford. Dublin: Dollard, 1891.
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History of the County of Longford by James P. Farrell was published in 1891 and tells the history of the county from ancient prehistoric times until the late 19th century.

The territory of Annaly roughly corresponds with the borders of modern County Longford was until the Norman invasion of the 12th century controlled by the Gaelic Irish Farrell or O'Farrell clan. Ó Fearghail or Uí Fhearghail means 'descendents of Fearghal' Fearghal, who fought with Brian Ború against the men of Leinster and the Vikings at Clonfarf in 1014. The stronghold of the O'Farrells was Longphort Uí Fhearghail or 'O'Farrell's stronghold.'

James P. Farrell claims they were desdendants of the Milesian conquerors of Ireland who supposedly defeated the mythical Tuatha De Danaan hundreds of years before Christ. The Milesians are said to have come from Spain . Their ancestor was Ghaedhal or Gatelus a sixth generation descendant of Noah. Noah is said to have been a ninth generation descendent of Adam the first man. This reveals the common perception in the 19th century that the Earth was merely a few thousand years old.

In the 1169 the Norman invasion of Ireland began and the territory of Longford was awarded to Hugh De Lacy, a follower of Richard De Clare better known as Strongbow, as part of the 'Liberty of Meath.' Christian orders such as the Cistercians and Augustinians established a series of monasteries at Ardagh, Abbeylara, Abbeyderg, Abbeyshrule, Inchcleraun Island in Lough Ree, and Inchmore Island in Lough Gowna. However English rule was weakened by civil wars at home, the Black Death, military commmitments during the Crusades and the 14th century invasion of Edward Bruce, brother of the Scottish king Robert Bruce. The O'Farrells recovered their territory and held it until the 16th century.

The Gaelic Irish and many of powerful Old English families who were descendants of the Norman conquerors refused to renounce their Catholicism or surrender their feudal power to an increasingly assertive English Protestant monarchy. In the 16th and early 17th century the Gaelic Irish were defeated after a series rebellions and British Protestant settlers began arriving in Ireland .

The Plantation of Ulster begun in 1609 by James II led to a Catholic uprising in 1641 that soon saw two thirds of the island of Ireland ruled from Kilkenny by a confederation of Gaelic Irish and Old English aristocrats. They made a strategic alliance with the Royalist cause during the English Civil War and in 1649 the victorious Oliver Cromwell led a Parliamentarian invasion of Ireland . Catholic lands were confiscated and given to Protestant settlers.

More than a generation later the defeated Gaelic Irish and Old English tried to regain their lands again by supporting the Catholic King James II only to be defeated by William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The Catholic O'Farrells were reduced to the status of tenants and landless peasants paying rent to an Anglo-Irish Protestant elite and tithes to the established Anglican Church. They were deliberately kept in their place by the penal laws which discriminated against them socially, economically, politically and religiously.

Families such as the Edgeworths, Dillons, Pakenhams and others established landowning dynasties that controlled Longford until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In time these families came to consider themselves Irish but had little culturally in common with their Irish tenants. Robert Lovell Edgeworth MP whose family gave their name to Edgeworthstown served in the legislatively independent Irish Parliament in the late 18th century and opposed the Act of Union in 1800. He campaigned with other MPs for the repeal of the penal laws.

Other more radical Anglo-Irish Protestants formed the United Irishmen and joined forces with Presbyterians and Catholics in a rebellion in 1798 inspired by the American and French Revolutions. They sought to overthrow British rule in Ireland and create an Irish Republic . A French military expedition sent in support of the rebels and led by General Humbert was defeated by the British General Cornwallis (who surrendered to George Washinton at Yorktown) at Ballinamuck, County Longford in 1798. Brutal British reprisals against the local population followed the French defeat.

In 1829 Catholic Emancipation was secured by Daniel O'Connell and the Irish Catholic Church began a campaign of church building throughout the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. St. Mell's Cathedral was built between 1840 and 1856. Religious freedom did not relieve the plight of the Catholic poor of Longford who survived on a diet of potatos and were ravaged by the Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.

In Longford as elsewhere in Ireland, the Fenian movement, the Land League and the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Charles Stuart Parnell agitated for land reform in late 19th century. A famous confrontation in Drumlish between tenants and police led to a reduction in rents. A series of land acts were passed by the turn of the 20th century by which time tenant farmers had succeeded in buying out the estates of the Anglo-Irish Protestant elite.

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