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History of Virginia



Virginia began as an Ulster Plantation project, where an English adventurer named John Ridgeway was granted the crown patent in August of 1612 to build a new town upon the great road between the already existing towns of Kells and Cavan. The conditions of which were to introduce English settlers to the area and build the town to incorporated borough status. Ridgeway had little success in attracting English trades people and settler families into what was then regarded as a hostile territory outside of the protection of the Leinster Pale, managed to build a few wooden cabins and a corn mill close to the then existing O'Reilly castle, located close to the shores of Lough Ramor. Ridgeway passed the patent on to another Englishman captain Hugh Culme who already possessed lands about Lough Oughter in County Cavan and had access to building timber. Culme persuaded the Plantation Commission to move the location of Virginia to its present location close to the Blackwater tributary river, whereupon he built a number of cabins for the settlers but still failed to meet the Commissions time frame for developing the town further before giving up on the task, probably for the same reasons as his predecessor. During November of 1622, the Virginia estate came into the possession of Lucas Plunkett Earl of Fingall who also held extensive lands around County Meath. Plunkett was a Catholic anglo-Irish lord probably from twelfth century Norman descent undertook to complete the patented project.

Complaints from the Virginia inhabitants about the lack of development progress reached the Commission by 1638 where upon the second Earl of Fingall, Christopher Plunkett was ordered to submit a substantial bond with the Commission court and to build the church in Virginia or face forfeiture of his county Cavan lands. The Anglican Bishop of Kilmore then William Bedell undertook to lay out the town in accordance with the Commission requirement. However events which led to the 1641 Rebellion and Irish Confederate Wars enveloped Virginia causing widespread destruction and de-population. Subsequent hearth tax records and Fingall estate surveys undertaken for the absentee landlord (whom was living in exile since the Williamite wars of 1688-91), tell of a wayside Inn that existed in Virginia since the earliest times (exact location unknown), operated then in 1727 by a Cornelius Donnellan and was frequented around that time by Jonathan Swift during his several excursions to Co. Cavan. The Virginia estate was eventually sold around the year 1750 by the absentee Plunkett's to pay off mounting debts, setting the way for a new landlord Thomas Taylor, Lord Headfort to continue in building the town where others had failed. It is recorded that Taylor's grandfather, also a Thomas Taylor, was a cartographer who assisted Sir William Petty with the Down Survey during the previous century.

The Taylors had built a substantial mansion (now the Headfort school) beside Kells in County Meath and turned their attention to making the unproductive lands around Virginia into profitable farms through land drainage and afforestation of low lying areas. The results of which brought employment and quickly led to the setting up of local markets and fairs in Virginia where produce was traded on the streets. Virginia's population grew to double from 467 inhabitants between the census years of 1821 to 1841, as did the rapid construction of the town with the Main street as we know it today. Successive Lords Headfort, later became Earl of Bective and Marquess of Headfort, created their own private demesne and a hunting lodge (now Park Hotel) overlooking Lough Ramor.

The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 caused by successive failures in the potato crop brought with it extreme hardship for the poorer classes, death was widespread caused by diseases like typhus and cholera, the result of poor sanitation and deplorable living conditions. Starvation which ravished many parts of the country was averted in Virginia due to the efforts of the local Famine Relief Committee, who made extra rations of Indian meal available in return for hard labour, this included women and children breaking stones for making roads and the building of the local Catholic church which took place during 1845 on lands donated by the landlord. In subsequent years Virginia prospered with the introduction of a Butter market in 1856, followed by the building of a railway line between Kells and Oldcastle by around 1865. Cattle and livestock could then be moved for export, however this also meant that produce such as coal and beer could be transported from the larger towns into rural areas which led to the closure of the local malt brewery and several bakeries in the town.

Until relatively recently emigration was a feature of rural Irish life down through the centuries and Virginia was no exception to this. Perhaps the most famous Virginia emigrant was Philip H. Sheridan, whose parents came from nearby Killinkere, left Ireland around 1830 and settled in America. Sheridan through his successful military career during the American Civil War and subsequent period, eventually became commanding General of the US Army and had many honours bestowed upon him. Other famous people who have associations to Virginia are Dean Jonathan Swift who penned his well known novel Gullivers Travels while staying nearby at Quilca, the home of his cleric friend Thomas Sheridan who also kept a classics school and later became headmaster of Cavan's Royal School. Playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan was also descended from this family, while anothor reputable Virginian from the nineteenth century was Thomas Fitzpatrick a noted London physician. Admiral Sir Josias Rowley had links here through his brother Rev. John Rowley whom was an Anglican clergyman and incumbent at Virginia during the period that the First Fruits church was built. Admiral Rowley also helped to finance the rebuilding of the church after a major fire destroyed the roof on Christmas night 1830.

You have to wonder could any of our predecessors live today as Virginia continues to modernise as a growing urban community with a foothold clinging on to its rural origins. An air of prosperity presides following the recent building of many new homes and commercial businesses. The last census taken in 2006 put the population of Virginia at 3,188 inhabitants, having risen by 34.5% from the previous 2002 census.

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