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Donaghmore Has A Wealth Of History And Tradition


STEEPED in a wealth of history and tradition, the parish of Donaghmore can trace its ancestry back millions of years, when molten volcanic rock erupted to form its enchanting countryside. Reminders abound of the Stone Age, the early Christian era, Gaelic clans, the Vikings and Normans, Penal times, as well as the progress of the last two centuries.

Most significant monuments are Donaghmore church, originally established by a disciple of St Patrick, - whose graveyard contains the remains of Presbyterian patriot, John Martin, - and Dromantine, once a Gaelic clan stronghold, stately home, seminary, and now a popular conference centre.

Born at Loughorne in 1912, John Martin, - a brother-in-law of the legendary John Mitchel, - is commemorated in Glenn John Martin GFC, as well as John Martin Street and John Martin Gardens in Newry. His political views were contrary to those of his parents, who were devout Presbyterians.

Having graduated in Arts at Trinity College, Dublin, he went on to study medicine. But this was halted by the death of his uncle, whose land and property he inherited. So he became a farmer and landlord.

An ardent supporter of Home Rule and the repeal of the Union with Britain, he toured the United States in 1839, also visiting his sister in Canada. On return home, he formed the Repeal Association, writing for “The Nation,” of which John Mitchel was editor.

However, the publican was suppressed, and Mitchel transported to Van Diemans Land (Tasmania), which angered and frustrated his brother-in-law. The 1846 Famine, and the wretched conditions of the people, resulted in John Martin establishing the Irish Felons Club, writing articles which spurned Acts of Parliament, and encouraging armed resistance to the law.

Arrested and indicted for treason felony, the Donaghmore agitator was sentenced to a 10-year sentence in Van Diemans Land. However, he was pardoned in 1856, visited America, and was hailed with receptions and banquets in New York and Philadelphia.

Returning home, John Martin was elected as an MP at Westminister. But he died on Easter Monday, 1875, at the age of 62, just nine days after that of his comrade, John Mitchel. He had caught a chill, while attending the latter’s funeral from his home at Drumalane to the Unitarian cemetery on High Street, Newry.

John Martin’s funeral and interment at Donaghmore’s historic graveyard was the largest ever seen in the region, apart from Mitchel’s. Inscribed on his tomb are the words: “He lived for his country, suffered in her cause, pleaded for her wrongs and died, beloved and lamented by every true Irishman and woman.”

Retired Bishop of Dromore, Dr Gerard Brooks, whose family have a long association with Donaghmore, has stated: “A knowledge of the history of any parish helps to build up a sense of community among its people. They will gain a better sense of unity by working together. Becoming aware of their roots, and what they hold in common.

“From a knowledge of the way their forebears faced up to the problems of the day, the present generation can appreciate and value the standards, as well as the spirit of the parish, which have been handed down top them.”

One only has to stand in the graveyard of the ancient Donaghmore church, and view the original national school across the road, as well as the large Celtic Cross, erected over 1,400 years ago to the memory of St Mac Erc, a disciple of St Patrick, to gain a real sense of history. A honeycomb of under-ground passages date from that period. Many Catholic families have also been interred in that hallowed ground.

The present church was erected in 1741, dedicated to St Bartolomew. The first minister was Rev James Johnston, who held the post for 59 years. John Martin’s grandfather was one of the original trustees.

Meanwhile, the Catholic people had to rely on Mass-Rocks, especially in Penal times. Two have been located around Barr. One was at Carrickavaddy, on John Sherry’s land, well hidden from Red Road. The other was on ground nearby, owned by the Rafferty family. This was later the location of the first Catholic school.

Mass was also celebrated at Cooley’s Fort, built for defence in the Norman period. This was sited on a hill across from Dromantine, overlooking Glenn chapel. A “Mass-house” was built on Barr Hill, a church being constructed on the same site in 1830.

In 1974, during repairs to a bridge at Rice’s Lane, near Dromantine, at a large flat slate stone was found in the bridge. On it was sculpted a crude cross, indicating its use about 1710. The stone had apparently been inserted for safekeeping. Removed to the home of J.P. Magee, it was built into a wall, and later sent to Queen’s University for analysis. It now has an honoured position at the forecourt to St John’s Church at Glenn.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008