This article is reproduced from
an email sent to us by Rory S. Kieran
Unfortunately the place-name 'Forkhill' along with hundreds
more has suffered greatly from the desire of some people
to curtail such names almost to the point where the
original name or part thereof has become redundant through
disuse. In many instances the name resultant from such
curtailment bears little or no relationship to the original
name or to its meaning.
The correct Irish name of Forkhill is "FOIRCEAL
na CLEIRE". Clearly the present-day English version
derives from the FIRST PART ONLY of the original Irish.
This is most unfortunate from two aspects. Firstly,
the "FOIRCEAL" portion of the Irish name has
always been the subject of debate as to its meaning,
Secondly, the "na CLEIRE" portion has disappeared
entirely but it is, historically, the more important
portion of the two parts. "na CLEIRE" means....
"of the PRIESTS" or "of the CLERGY"
and is a direct reference to the crucial historic fact
that the FRANCISCAN PRIESTS founded a LOCUS REFUGII
in this immediate area during PENAL TIMES.
The "FOIRCEAL" part of the placename is widely
held to signify "COLD WOOD", but this is by
no means the only posssible meaning. Another translation
which has found some favour, admittedly nowhere near
to the general acceptance of "COLD WOOD" is.....
"SUB CELL" which would indeed serve to differentiate
between the foundation near FORKHILL and the MOTHER
HOUSE in DUNDALK, some six miles distant. Since the
foundation of any locus refugii is, initially deemed
by its founders to be of a temporary nature, lasting
only until danger has passed, it may well be that the
name given to this particular foundation was indeed
"SUB CELL". Our best guess however is that
the placename in its entirety ought to be translated
into english as "THE COLD WOOD OF THE PRIESTS".
Having elaborated on the ecclesiastical origin of the
place name of FORKHILL, it is now apt to define, geographically,
the site of the Franciscan friary from which that placename
derives. On the road from DUNGOOLEY CROSS to FORKHILL,
a journey of approximately one mile, one passes on the
left hand side Donnellys' Road which leads to Carrive
and on the same side the Bog Road which loops around
Forkhill village at some distance, to emerge at "Jacksons'
Having passed these two landmarks one comes immediately
to Stanleys' Hill, a fairly steep gradient which is
in two distinct parts. A comparitively level stretch
of roadway separates these two parts. On the left hand
side of this level stretch of road and adjacent to it
lies the land of Bernard O'Hanlon R.I.P. of Dungooley.
Just inside the gate to that field and slightly to one's
left is the site of the Franciscan Friary. This land
is situated in the townland of SHEAN.
It is only a few hundred yards distant from the centre
of FORKHILL village. The site was pointed out to me
more than half a century ago by a local man who was
then very old. Many years later I read an article in
"Co. Louth Archaeological and Historical Journal"
which supported, exactly, that which the old man had
told to me. Other placenames in the immediate area bear
adequate testimony to the existence in penal times,
of this religious foundation.
BAILE na mBRATHAR, (the townland of the Brothers) lies
between the mouth of Donnellys'Road and Dungooley Cross.
URNEY, the ruins of a Church together with its graveyard
is only a few hundred yards distant from the Franciscan
Friary in the townland of Dungooley. The word "URNEY"
means PRAYER but the late CANON McKEEVER of FAUGHART
parish, a highly respected historian pointed out that,
latterly the word could be taken to mean, not only prayer
but the place in which such devotion was carried out.
Urney is a most peaceful place and well worth a visit
by any person who has even the slightest interest in
There are "mass rocks" in very many parts
of Ireland but one in the immediate area of the Franciscan
Friary at Shean is worthy of note because of its size.
It is a huge whin-covered tumulus and it lies in the
field on the FORKHILL side of the mouth of Donnellys'
road. Many years ago there was a popular belief that
this rock and URNEY had, at some time in the past been
connected with the Friary via underground passages.
This may have been a confusion between passages or walkways
and much more common "souterrains".
At one time Urney bore the name of the Patron Saint
of Ireland, St Patrick. In fact, popular opinion ascribes
the building of the original church on the site to the
Saint himself but I think that it is much more likely
that St. Patrick was, to use the phrase so common at
this time "flat out" converting and ministering
to his rapidly increasing flock.
It is impossible to write about the history of a particular
area without regard to its connections with other adjacent
areas and indeed areas which may well be at some considerable
remove. My comments re. FORKHILL (above), and ,of course
SHEAN, and placenames mentioned therein have connctions
with people, places, and eras long gone as well as the
obvious connection with the IRISH language. A little
insight to such connections is afforded to the reader
by a glance at the works of ART BENNETT.
ART was a renowned scribe and historian. He also wrote
quite a considerable amount of poetry but his prowess
in this field has been debated. I am certainly not about
to judge him in this matter. Nobody ever questioned
his status in the first two fields. He lived in BALLYKEEL,
a townland some three Irish miles from FORKHILL village.
His works are written most often in the Irish language
but there are some English writings. It mst be borne
in mind that Irish was the first and in the majority
of cases the only language of the population during
Art's lifetime (1793--1879).
The reason why I mention him here is that in one of
his poems written in Irish "IMBRUAGADH NA gCEARRBHACH"
( THE ROUT OF THE CARDPLAYERS) he mentions many local
placenames, including "Baile na mBrathar"
and "Foirceal na Cleire" (sic). There is no
further need to debate the original form of the Irish
It is a most salutory lesson to those of us who are,
at the present time, given to bemoaning our lot in this
vale of tears to read just a small amount about Art's
life and times including those woeful famine years.
Those among you who come to visit south Armagh in general,
and the Forkhill district in particular will surely
have time for a visit to BALLYKEEL where locals will
be able to indicate to you the site of Art's dwelling.
Make certain, when you are there, to visit the attractive
tripod dolmen in that townland and also ask about "Doctors
Quarters" another most historic place only a few
hundred yards from Ballykeel. Soon we will mention one
of the most famous persons from Forkhill, the renowned
poet Peadar O'Doirnin.
Art Bennett was most unfortunate, not only with regard
to the harsh physical and economic climate into which
he was born and which prevailed throughout his lifetime.
He was unfortunate also with regard to the fact that
he was born during or after the decline and fall of
the great school of S.E. Ulster poets. As I mentioned
previously, Art's prowess in the field of poetry has
been the subject of much debate. One of the causes for
this was, undoubtedly the fact that he was constantly
being compared with the acknowledged great poets of
a previous generation eg. O'Doirnin, McCooey,McAlinden
etc. There is no evidence that Art ever set himself
up as an equal or indeed a rival to these all-time greats,
but as we all know, people will compare and contrast.
All we can say is that Art Bennett surely had a difficult
if not an impossible act to follow.
He was however, the last tenuous link in a hitherto
unbroken chain of poetry extending from his time right
back several centuries through the great bardic traditions.
Art makes many references in his writings to Peadar
O'Doirnin, who is popularly esteemed as the sweetest
of all the S.E. Poets. Before we examine that which
is known about this man, let me counsel extreme caution
in the matter of grasping wildly at dates etc. and deeming
them to be proven historic facts. The reason for such
caution arises from the huge amount of unsubstantiated
facts which has in the past, and will no doubt in the
future be churned out as documented history.
Firstly the place of his birth has never been established
beyond doubt. Places as far away as CASHEL in Co. Tipperary
and as close to hand as ROSKEAGH in Co. Louth have been
mentioned. You may take your choice. Since his birth-place
has not been geographically defined, there is no definite
proof of the date of his birth. In this matter also
we may only use various recorded facts to make deductions.
Worry not my friends. I shall now short circuit the
entire deduction system for you. Please accept them
as best guesses unless otherwise stated.
O'DOIRNIN was born at a location unascertained in or
about the year 1684. His parents had considered educating
him for the Priesthood but they never did this because
of the harsh penal laws which were in force,particularly
against the catholic clergy at that time. He did receive
a wide education during his perigrinations and came
for some time to reside with Arthur Brownlow near Lurgan
as a tutor. After a difference of opinion with that
household he left the area. He took unto himself a wife
and spent his honeymoon around Ballymoyer. Subsequently
he moved to FORKHILL where he set up a "hedge school"
in opposition to one already established under the tutelage
of Maurice Gorman. Such was the popular appeal of the
new school that eventually O'Gorman was forced out of
business. I bet you thought that "falling rolls"
was a present-day phenomenon!
O'DOIRNIN in common with many other poets was, to say
the least, very fond of strong drink and weak(willed)
women, and not in that particular order. His idea of
heaven was a full glass in his hand and a comely girl
on his knee. He continued writing his poetry and teaching
school for many years. He was a close friend of BIG
JEM MURPHY . (more of this relationship anon) Onde day
he permitted his scholars to go out to play while he
was having a little nap. Eventually the pupils noticed
that they had been out longer than normal and they returned
to find the master , as they thought, asleep in his
chair. The Illustrious PEADAR O'DOIRNIN had died.
Another renowned poet from the area, ART McCOOEY wrote
O'Doirnin's gravelay which enables us to pinpoint the
date of his death as APRIL 5th 1769.
O'Doirnin was taken from his school in BAILE na MBRATHAR
( translated in one account as FRIARSTOWN) to be buried
in URNEY. I have already mentioned these two places,
and not by accident. There are many poems attributed
to O'Doirnin but, almost unbelievably, some poems which
he did write have been attributed to other poets, while
some which he most certainly did not write have been
attributed to him. He did write some poems which were,
to say the least, only suitable for very broad-minded
adults. To the very best of my knowledge, none of his
works are in English and I have never seen any substantial
number of his poems in a collected English translation.
The poem for which he will be forever remembered is
entitled " Urchnoc Chein Mhic Cainte". A haunting
air was put to this equally haunting love poem by P.
O'Dubhda of *Myers' Cross.
O'Doirnin was also connected with JOHNSON OF THE FEWS
in a rather dangerous way.
ONE THING IS CERTAIN. O'DOIRNIN IS, TO DATE FORKHILL'S
MOST FAMOUS SON.
*Mayer's Cross - is marked on modern maps as Hackballs
cross. On the main road from castleblaney to dundalk.
Peadar o'dubhda , throughout his lifetime refused to
use this 'british name' as the place where he was reared
preferring instead to use the local name.
Ronnie Martin - June
I have visiting Warrenpoint for over 40years and have
been researching my Family history for the past 12 yrs,
And recently came accross the Marriage of my Great Grand
Parents & and birth Grand Father in Shean. I have
since visted the place called I also visted Saint Mary's
R.C.C. where the Priest allowed me to see the record
books - to which I am truly grateful, I return to Shean
whenever I visit Ireland.
Incedently their name was Murphy (Thomas) married to
Mary Quin 1864
Sinead- Jan '07
The name of the club is Peadar O Doirnin C.L.G. This
was a most interesting and informative article.
Fred Gannon - Nov '06
Interesting article. A part of my family (O'Neill) comes
from Forkhill, as I discovered a few months ago. This
short reply to mention Kyla Madden 's recent book, "Forkhill
protestants and Forkhill Catholics, 1787-1858".
Sean Cunningham - Nov
As I lived in Forkhill for 20 years I found the artical
very informative and interesting. Are there any photos
of the areas mentioned in the article?
Gary Shean - Sep '06
Fascinating story - what can you tell me about Shean?