By Hazel Turkington
The Montiaghs received creditable mention in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 1837. At that time, the area was described as a Parish in the Barony of Oneilland East, County Armagh, four miles north-west from Lurgan, on the road to Stewartstown, by way of the Bannfoot ferry.
The Parish, which then had 2,891 inhabitants, is situated on the southern shore of Lough Neagh and bonded on the south-west by the River Bann. An extract from Archdeacon Atkinson’s address, at the opening of an Ardmore Parish Church Bazaar in 1912, reads: "In 1765, ten townlands bordering on the lough were cut off from the Parish of Seagoe and formed into a Parish of their own, called the Montiaghs, the meaning of which is ‘bog-lands'.
"Eight of these townlands begin with the prefix Derry which means a large oak wood, so that, in the Parish at that time, there were eight oak woods and plenty of boggy lands as the word Montiaghs implied". The townlands in question have remained as Derryadd, Derrymacash, Derrycor, Derrytagh North, Derrytagh South, Derrytrasna, Derryloiste, Derryinver, Ardmore and Ballynery. Lewis adds: "It comprises, according to Ordinance Survey, including islands, 18,098¼ statute acres, of which 12,178 are in Lough Neagh, 305½ in Lough Gullion and 83 in the River Bann".
Of the remaining 5,566¾ we are told more than half is arable and the remainder bog. Charles Brownlow of Lurgan, owner of the lands and patron of the Parish, attempted to drain and reclaim the bog, erecting a windmill for the purpose. This was soon destroyed by a storm and was replaced by a steam engine. This, too, proved ineffectual. Brownlow had also an extensive embankment formed across Lough Gullion, the steam engine being long employed to drain it, but all efforts were fruitless, the "water seemed to return by subterranean springs". Probably the same springs which overflowed Eochy and turned it into Lough Neagh.
Taking a look at each individual townland, it is worth noting that the Montiaghs is made up of Gaelic origin. Ardmore, for instance, derived from An ard mhorc, meaning the big height. In the low-lying Montiaghs, Ardmore is a relatively high promontory, set in Lough Neagh.
Derryadd comes from Doire fhada, the long oakwood.
Derrycor derives from Doire corr, oakwood of cranes and herons, while Derryinver was formerly Doire inbhir, oakwood of the estuary. Derryinver, appropriately, lies on the right bank of the Bann where it enters Lough Neagh. Derryloiste has quite a history behind it. Doire, as we already know, is oakwood, but loiste is the Irish word for losod (losset) or fatland and primarily denotes a 'kneading trough', i.e. a wooden vessel in which the dough was worked during baking. By a natural extension of the meaning, it is also applied to anything that is rich in the promise of food, like a well-stacked table or a fertile field and, in certain 17th century documents, we find references to "a losset of butter".
Derrymacash derives from Doire Mhic Cais, or McCash's oakwood, meaning the son or descendant of a man called Cais.
Derrytagh (North and South), formerly known as Doire eiteach, means winged oak- wood, with eitcach's definition as having wings or fins. The most remarkable point about this townland is that it comprises two parts which do not touch. Directly between them lies Lough Gullion and, on the map, they look like two gigantic wings or fins on either side of the lake, probably the reason for their name. The two parts were first distinguished as North and South by the Ordinance Survey Department in 1855. Derrytrasna was simply Doire trasna, cross or transverse oakwood. It was probably so called because it stretches across from the River Bann to Lough Neagh.
It would appear there was no such derivation of Ballynery but, within the area, several other points of interest have also taken their names from the old Irish references. For example, Lough Gullion is the former Loch G-Cuillinn, or Holly Lake, while the (Bann came from Ban-dea, female God. Goddess river names, as a class, are very ancient and demand highly expert study. The early Celtic people called some rivers by names of Goddesses. h
Adjacent to Derrytrasna is the little known Derryveen which, we are told, derives from Doire mhin, or fine oak grove, composed of smallest slender trees. And, on the border-line of the Montiaghs, Aghacommon comes from Achadh caman, or hurling field. The ancient game of hurling survived as a popular pastime in the Lurgan area, down to the middle of the last century. Writing in the year 1834, O'Donovan reported that it was then the custom for young men of the neighbourhood to play a game of hurling on Easter Monday.
The glebe house at Raughlin was erected in 1820 by aid of a gift of £415 7s. 8½d. and a loan of £55. 7s. 8¼d., British currency, from the Board of First Fruits. A small church was built in 1765 close to the shore of Lough Neagh, but it was blown down in a storm on November 4, 1783, after which the present church, Ardmore Parish, was built in 1785 on "a more eligible site". Its elevated situation and tapering spire, Lewis says, render it an interesting object when viewed from the lake or any of the neighbouring shores. The Board of First Fruits gave £276 18s. 5½d., British currency, towards its erection.
In 1837 over seventy children were being educated in the small, stone, thatched, white-washed parochial school, which was principally supported by the incumbent (then the Rev. Daniel Wills McMullen). "The school-house was large and commodious. There were also three other private schools in which were about 130 children and a Sunday school".
Charles Brownlow built the village near the Bannfoot ferry, naming it Charlestown, and we are told he intentionally erected it equidistant (seven miles) from each of three towns - Portadown, Lurgan and Stewartstown. He obtained a patent for a fair at Charlestown, but it was not successful. The present rector of Ardmore (Montiaghs), the Rev. G. A. Guthrie, is 16th incumbent. John Carroll was vicar for 17 years. He was followed by Robert Henry (15 years), Henry Clark (3), Thomas Radcliffe (21), James Saurin, D. W. McMullen (20), John Evans Lewis (31), James Lyons, Henry William Lett (II), John Joseph Major (3), Edward Burns (9), Robert Dixon Patterson (7), James Smyth, G. A. Boulger, and the present rector who has been incumbent since 1937.
Bannfoot is not an old village, having been built about 170 years ago, but if the way in which it has become "depopulated" over the past sixty years is anything to go by, it is ageing fast. Approaching it from the direction of Lurgan, Bannfoot is not a normal village in the sense that through the years it has not increased in size through ribbon development. If anything, it is contracting! It begins abruptly and ends, strictly speaking, at the River Bann where, after a 97-mile meandering course from Slieve Muck mountain east of Hilltown, it pours into Lough Neagh.
The Montiaghs owes its unique character, in part, to Master M'Gra', the famous greyhound - according to local legend. His owner was Lord Lurgan who, until the dog's phenomenal success, lived well enough off the rents of his estate. But when Master M'Gra' became a celebrity, Lord Lurgan found it a little difficult to keep up with the aristocratic 'Joneses'. He searched around for a fresh source of money . . . and settled on the Montiaghs, to which he owned title.
The place was rich in turf, but Lord Lurgan could find no local labour to dig it. So he advertised throughout Ireland that parcels of bog could be rented cheaply in the Montiaghs. As a result, skilled turf-cutters from the Province of Connaught 'emigrated' to County Armagh and settled. Their intermarriage with the local population resulted in the unique community which still exists today.
Our thanks to Hazel Turkington for this article.