A Brief History of Ardboe
Townlands and Legends
A History of Ardboe Parish, Co Tyrone
The old monastic church at Ardboe was founded by St Colman in the year 590. On the maps that were drawn up for the purposes of the plantation of Ulster in 1609, Ardboe appears as Munterevlin iochtar and Munterevlin vachtar, meaning the upper and lower O’Devlin territory. The lands belonging to the church at the time of the plantation were passed to the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, and the secular lands came into possession of one of the stewards, Lord Octiltree.
Ardboe Townland Names
The names of the townlands within Ardboe are invaluable in providing a picture of the parish as it was. They are all—with the exception of Brookend—Anglican forms of the original place names, and most of them have a geographical or historical significance. The parish was once densely wooded and the prefix ‘Kil’ or ‘Killy’ denotes a previously wooded area. There are six townlands beginning with these prefixes, including Killygonland meaning ‘O’Gonnalan’s wood’; Kilmenagh meaning ‘the middle wood’; Killwoologhan, ‘the weeping or wailing wood’; Killycanavan, ‘the wood of the wild’, and Kilmascally meaning ‘wood of the shadows’ because of the shadows it through on the lough. Lurgyroe means ‘townland of the red skinned people’, supporting the theory that there were two distinct races of people in the parish, namely a black-haired race of Celts who came down the River Bann from Coleraine, and a fair or red-haired race of Nordic origin who came up the Bann.
Legends of the Parish
What the parish lacks in local custom it makes up for in legend. Accordingly, the parish received its name from a magic cow, which appeared out of Lough Neagh and gave so much milk that its surplus was used in the mortar to build the old church.
Also at the old church, tradition has it that anyone who sticks a pin in the famous wishing tree transfers any sickness in his home to the tree. To make a ‘left handed wish’ or curse, the pin is then removed and the person walks around the tree from left to right. While it is a credit to the people of the parish that so many pins still remain in the tree, it is now slowly being poisoned by the various copper and tin objects inserted into the bark!
There is hardly a townland in Ireland where you will not find someone who believes in fairies and Ardboe is certainly no exception. The souterran or cove at Mullinahoe is generally thought to have been a refuge, but tradition maintains it was also a fairy dwelling. A farmer from a nearby farmstead is said to have borrowed money from the fairy, and as it was dully repaid, the farmer’s meal bin was never empty.
The parish received a heavy blow in 1940 when 35 families were asked to vacate their homes to make way for an airfield now known as Cluntoe. From 1942 to 1944, 2294 American soldiers occupied the base. It was closed at the end of the second world war, and re-opened in 1952 as a training base for Royal Air Force recruits. In 1955 the airbase was closed for good and the land sold back to the original owners.
Some blame the formation of the airfield for the division of the parish into the upper and lower districts. Others think it is not solely a territorial division and that the people from each end of the parish are of a different type. In 1937, JG Devlin stated:
‘The people who dwell by and near the Lough shore are essentially fishers. I think the fisher type is more cunning, more appreciative of nature and more intellectual than the people of upper Ardboe who are given to farming. The latter are more industrious, on the whole they possess more of this world’s goods and are more orthodox in dress and custom than the fisher type’.
He continued, ‘There is a curious parochial snobbery in Ardboe parish probably only recognised by people born there or who have lived there’.