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Lough Ramor

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By Chris Kirk

From earliest records Vita Tripartita identified as the territory of Cenel Muinreamhair. The literal meaning of the term Muinreamhair is “fat-neck” and appears to be derived from a prehistoric or mythical ancestor warrior, connoting great strength. An early reference to Maine, son of Muinreamhair who was said to be buried at Tara. Loch Muinreamhair also appears in early manuscripts included in the Annals of the Four Masters.

References to an early Christian foundation in the Loch Muinreamhair region are to be found in the Martyrology of Donegal, enters at 6 th February the festival of Saints Brandubh and Coluim of Loch Muinreamhair. There is a similar entry in the Felire of Gorman and other undated Irish Calendars. It is therefore inferred that these personages flourished shortly after the introduction of Christianity during the fifth century. It is also assumed that in accordance with circumstances that an island was used as the initial foundation for the early church in Loch Muinreamhair. One such island has mediaeval ecclesiastical associations, it’s early name is not recorded, but since the early eighteenth century it has been known locally as Woodward’s Island, after a prominent Kells family bearing that name, and lies within the town land of Pollintemple.

The mediaeval island church belonged to the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary’s in Ceanannus (Kells), an Anglo-Normaninstitution, not to be confused with the earlier Columban Abbey of Ceanannus that was founded by St. Colmcille. There was a local tradition that some of the early period monks had previously lived on the island and that they were killed by robbers who plundered the church. The Augustinian St. Mary’s Abbey acquired the island ecclesiastical site probably during the 13 th century, after ecclesiastical diocese boundaries were changed to incorporate the new diocese of Kilmore in the territory then known as east-Breiffne.

Lough Ramor - Virginia, Co. Cavan

 

As neither saints Brandubh or Coluim are mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters. The name Brandubh (literally interpreted as Black-Raven) is however mentioned in more regal terms from being the King of Leinster, who died in the year 601. Saint Patrick introduced Christianity to the valley of the Blackwater, a century before St. Columncille came to the region. However it is nowhere recorded that St. Patrick ever ventured toward Ramor, though his influence did extend there as evident from the holy wells and early churches dedicated to him.

A warlike race of people called Luigni and the Gailenga ruled over the Blackwater and Ramor regions, where it may be inferred that St. Patrick sent missionaries into the territory and that St. Coluim and St. Brandubh were these early missionaries.

There is ample evidence of early civilisation in the Lough Ramor region dating back to 2000BC, where there once stood a Neolithic dolman (stone table burial site) in the town land of Ballaghanea. Other stone markings identified as coming from the later Bronze age period have been identified about Munterconnacht. It has also been noted that archaeologists working on the Virginia by-pass project have also uncovered signs of previously unknown habitation during trial digs all of which will become identified in due course.

The island ecclesiastical site (Woodwards Island) comes into prominence during 845, when the Four Masters describes the Loch Ramor territory of the Luigni of Sliabh Guaire. They were a warlike tribe introduced from the western seaboard and established here during the third century, one of a chain of “buffer states” to guard the frontiers of the kingdom of Tara. Traces of many raths, lios and ring forts abound the region. Maelseachlainn, King of Meath led an attack to exterminate a band of marauders who had established a stronghold on the island. The chronicles describes the event:

“The demolition of the island of Loch Muinreamhair by Maelseachlainn, son of Maelruanaidh against a crowd of ‘sons of death’ of the Luigni and Gailenga who were plundering the districts at the instigation of the foreigners (Norsemen) and they were destroyed by him”.

A similar mention is entered within the Annals of Ulster, given as the year 846. But local tradition tells that the robbers fought amongst themselves for a share of the spoils from various plundering raids including the island church, may be an echo down through the centuries that a fierce battle did however take place upon a hillock known locally as Cnoc Fola , the hill of blood.

With the decline of the kingdom of Tara during the sixth century led to the disintegration of the Luigni and Gailenga controlled territory as well. The Norsemen arrived on the east coast in great numbers at the end of the eighth century and moved inland from the River Boyne and Blackwater. It is recorded that Kells was burned in 802 and repeatedly plundered over a lengthily period of time. In this regard the Loch Ramor island affray was significant as the island was well fortified and strongly defended. The king of Meath was determined to put a stop to the plundering of his territory and took his battles to the enemy in order to destroy them, such was the lawless tendency of the age where the king of Meath drew little differentiation between the Norsemen, Danes and Irish plundering warriors. While it is recorded in the annals that the Luigni and Gailenga continued to occupy the Meath-Breifne border territory up until the twelfth century and the arrival of the Anglo-Normans. There is a record that the O’Reilly’s became prominent early in the twelfth century, where the year 1111 is marked as the year that the O’Reilly’s attacked and burned the monastic town of Kells.

Other prominent events are mentioned in the Annals of Ulster, noting that in the fifth year of Aedh 592.. The battle of Doete, called Bealach-fheadha (Ballaghanea) by Aedh, son of Ainmire, against the men of Meath where Colman Beg, son of Diarmaid, king of Meath was slain. St Canice of Ossory it is said had already reprimanded Colman Beg for his deeds of violence. Where there is mention that St. Canice rested at the spot where Colman Beg had fell.

 

The Virginia Brooch

The Virginia Brooch

Lough Ramor gave up one of it’s great mysteries during the early part of the nineteenth century, when a silver bossed Irish Pennanular brooch was discovered. Described as zoomorphic in design from the circa 9 th/10 th century, a period already described as being turbulent within the region. The brooch has all the appearances of being symbolic of an ungodly people. The bird motif on the brooch is representative of the Raven, where Morrigan the Celtic goddess of battle, strife and fertility was a bearer of

knowledge of the otherworldly sort. Perhaps the brooch was once therefore worn by a warrior leader noted in the annals as being the “Sons of Death” and was lost to Loch Muinreamhair in the turmoil of battle.

 

The Natural Heritage

As we look at the region today we view Lough Ramor as a peaceful domain, partly wooded and that of a wetland site making a haven for many species of wildlife both resident and migratory. Available recorded history tells us that nearly half of the 170 acres of Deerpark woodland was once Oak used for building and agricultural purposes. Quite different it seems from previous times during the seventeenth century, when it was reported that the early Virginia settlers had to transport their building timber from west Cavan and Fermanagh. The early nineteenth century saw extensive tree planting of Ash, Elm, Oak, Larch, Spruce and Scotch Pine. While in recent times we see more broad leaf varieties planted including Sycamore.

The most recent site synopsis conducted by the Government Dept. of the Environment outlines the Lough Ramor region as a hollow in the Silurian strata that cover most of eastern Cavan. Lough Ramor is a very shallow lake with a pH of about 7.5 and a maximum depth of six metres. The water is nutritionally poor but suffers from periodic enrichment, resulting in algal blooms. Being situated on a different rock type than other Cavan lakes it differs also in appearance. Much of the shore has semi-natural woodland of Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Willows (Salix spp.) and Hazel (Corylus avellana), those stands near Virginia being originally planted.

Hazels and Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) scrub is widespread on relatively dry sites with Brambles (Rubus fruticosus) , False Brome (Brachpodium

sylvaticum) , Wood Sedge (Carex sylvatica), Violets (Viola riviniana), Common Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and Primrose (Primula vulgaris). Where such communities occur on a rocky shore Crab Apple (Malus Sylvestris) often grows with Roses (Rosa spp) and Dog Violet (Viola canina). The scrub grades into woodland in several places on the southern shore and here Ash (Flaxinus excelsior) and Oak (Quercus spp) occur with Holly (Ilex aquifolium). The bird community in such sites includes Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and locally Blackcap, Woodpigeon, Sparrowhawk, Jay, Pheasant, and Woodcock are also found.

The islands are mostly covered by Willows, in more open places Black-headed Gulls nest, Mallard, Teal and Red-breasted Merganser breed on the island, Great Crested Grebe largely use the mainland shores of the lake.

Freshwater marshes exist in many places around the shore but extensive reed-beds stretching out into the lake are rare. The margins of the marshes are mostly sedge dominated by such species as Bottle Sedge (Carex rostrata), Bladder-sedge (Carex vesticaria), Tufted-sedge (Carex elata), Common Sedge (Carex nigra) and occasionally Water Sedge (Carex aquatilis), Water Horsetail (Equissetum fluviatile), Marsh Cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris) and Bur-reeds (Sparganium spp) also occur commonly. Also on the fringes occurs a more varied community characteristic of base-poor areas, with such species as Marsh Ragwort (Senacio aquaticus), Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula), Devils-bit Scaboius (Succisa pratensis), Marsh Bedstraw (Galium palustre) and Hoary Willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum), Creeping Bent (Agrostis stolonifera), Sweet Vernal-grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) and Purple Moor-grass (Molinia caerulea). Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) occurs commonly and Bog Violet (Viola palustris) and Greater Spearwort (Ranuunculus lingua) are to be found in places.

Stretches of the shore with muddy or stony substrates provide niches for Bur Marigold (Bidens tripartite) and the scarce Tasteless Water-pepper (Polygonum mite) and Small Water-pepper (Polygonium minus).

The lake supports nationally important numbers of Cormorant (averaging around 200) and notable concentrations of Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Grey Heron and Lapwing. Snipe, Lapwing and Curlew also nest in the fringing marshes.

The plant communities along the lake margins are of note and combine with over-wintering bird numbers to make Lough Ramor an important wetland site.


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