Burke: Loch Cé and its Annals

Pdf Burke, Francis. Loch Cé and its annals: North Roscommon and the Diocese of Elphin in times of old. Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co.,1895.
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Lough Cé and its Annals: North Roscommon and the Diocese of Elphin in Times of Old by Francis Burke describes the history of Lough Key, County Roscommon and the history of the Diocese of Elphin from ancient times to the late 19th century. It is based on two lectures he gave, the first at the Parish of Ardcarne and the second to clergymen in Boyle, County Roscommon .

The region now known as Roscommon was inhabited since prehistoric times and Lough or Key is said to be named after a pagan druid and the lake is said to have appeared over his grave. It is an area of natural beauty and in ancient times was the domain of the Mulrooney clan also known as the McDermotts who were related to the powerful O'Connors. The area was known as Moylurg or Magh Luirg an Dagda after the ancient Irish deity Dagda. At some earlier point the McDermotts seized control of Moylurg from the Mac Riabhaigh or McGreevy clan and controlled the area until the 12th century.

After St. Patrick converted the Gaelic Irish, early Irish Christianity was centred around monasteries. Corcoghlan, later known as Elphin, was founded by the saint himself in 834 or 435 and the first abbot was his disciple Assicus, said to have been skilled with metal, the patron saint of the diocese. The diocese of Elphin which includes parts of the modern counties of Roscommon, Sligo and Galway was formally created after the Synod of Rathbreasil in 1111. The cathedral of the diocese was dedicated to the Blessed Mary the Virgin.

In the 12th century the invasion of Ireland began when Richard De Clare better known as Strongbow conquered Leinster .  Connaught was subdued by the Burkes who allowed the Gaelic Irish to keep their lands in return for tribute. The name Roscommon or Ros Comáin means St. Coman's Wood. By the 14th century the Burkes and the Gaelic Irish had intermarried, so much so that the 'Old English' were 'more Irish than the Irish themselves.' War and plague meant that direct English rule was confined largely to Dublin and the Pale.

A re-conquest of Ireland occurred in stages between the English Reformation in the 1530s and the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne in 1691. A series of wars led to the defeat of the Catholic Gaelic Irish and Old English and the creation of an Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy. The Gaelic Irish were reduced by the penal laws to the status of tenant farmers and landless peasants dependent on the potato crop. In the Great Famine of the 1840s the poor of Roscommon were decimated by famine, disease and emigration.

Following the Reformation, two parallel dioceses of Elphin existed. The established Anglican Church with the British monarch as titular head was supported by a mandatory system of tithes regardless of the inhabitants' religion. The majority of the population refused to renounce their Catholicism despite the destruction of their cathedral and monasteries. Catholic priests educated abroad operated in secret risking arrest, torture and execution. Between the late 18th century and 1829 when Catholic Emancipation was finally achieved, the oppression was lifted. A program of parish church building began across Ireland in the 1830s and the building of the new Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Sligo town was begun by Bishop Laurence Gillooly in 1874.

The King family acquired the land around Lough Key in the 17th century following the victory of Cromwell's invading army. Moylurg was renamed Rockingham and Rockingham House was built in 1809. By the 20th century the campaign for land reform by the Land League and the Irish Parliamentary Party was successful. The Land Commission subdivided the land in lots of 50 acres granted to local people. The southern shore of Lough Key was taken over by the Irish state in the 1950s and Rockingham House burned to the ground in an accident in 1957. After the ruins were demolished in 1971, the area opened as a forest park in 1972 which has become popular for outdoor recreation.

Francis Burke was rector of Ardcarne and Dean of Elphin. In 1900 he married Harriette Jameson, the daughter of Thomas Jameson, rector of Finglas. His family home was known locally as the Abbey, a manor house in Roscommon town, County Roscommon. In the early 1960s it was sold to the Grealy family who transformed it into a hotel.

 


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