– Our Lovely Leitrim –
The Connacht county of Leitrim is all but landlocked, having a coastal outlet to the Atlantic only two miles in length on Donegal Bay between the boundaries of Co. Sligo and Co. Donegal. Co. Leitrim is otherwise bounded to the west by Co. Sligo and Co. Roscommon, to the south by Co. Roscommon and Co. Longford, to the east by Co. Cavan and Co. Fermanagh, and to the north by Co. Donegal. Co. Leitrim, therefore, has boundaries with both Ulster and Leinster.
Leitrim, once the county town, has the remains of a castle and some other ancient buildings, but has lost its former importance and dwindled to a village. Carrick-on-Shannon became the chief town of the county, which had one other borough, Jamestown, built for settlers in the I7th century, and three other market-towns, Manorhamilton (which derives its name from its I7th century settler founder, Sir Frederick Hamilton), Ballinamore, and Mohill.
Anciently the county formed part of the kingdom of Breifne whose Landlords, the O’Rourkes, retained some power until the confiscations of the 16th and 17th centuries. Dromahaire had, by that time, become their principal seat. After the sequestration of the O’Rourke chieftain’s territory, it was erected into the county of Leitrim in 1565. Prior to that time and the subsequent arrival of settlers the principal families besides the O’Rourkes were the subordinate septs, McGlanchy or McClancy, McGoldrick, McRannall (which has frequently become Reynolds), McGovern or Magauran, McLoughlin, McMorrow, and McTernan. By 1879 not one O’Rourke held land in the county according to a list of landowners of upwards of one acre. The commonest surnames today in the county are the ubiquitous Kelly or O’Kelly and the indigenous Reynolds in about equal numbers, followed, after a considerable gap in numbers, by Flynn and O’Flynn, McLoughlin, McHugh, Rooney and O’Rooney, McMorrow, and McTernan, all in about equal numbers, and then, in descending numerical order, Keany, McGowan, Moran, Reilly and O’Reilly, Dolan, Maguire, Beirne and O’Beirne, Gallagher, McDermon, McGovern, McSharry, Mulvey.
The county, which is thinly populated, is hilly, ranging from shaggy brown hills to lofty mountains, and with deep valleys. There are several beautiful lakes of which the best known are Lough Gill, Lough Allen, Lough Garadice, Lough Glenade, Lough Rynn, and Lough Melvin whose western shore is in the county of Leitrim and the eastern in the county of Fermanagh, many of the smaller lakes are also picturesque.
The county, in the medieval period, was thickly forested and five great forests endured into the I7th century but they have disappeared leaving bleak tracts of country. The soil of Co. Leitrim is exceptionally retentive of water which accounts, with its many lakes, for a standard joke that land in the county is sold by the gallon rather than by the acre. Despite the cold and damp climate agriculture has improved over the last century when the principal crops were potatoes, flax and oats. However, even in poorer times in the past almost every Leitrim family kept at least one cow. A great quantiy of butter was made in the county and sent in firkins to the markets whence it was exported to England. There were also large farms in the county where cattle were fattened for the Dublin and English markets.
There was but little commercial activity in Co. Leitrim and scant manufacture, but coal mines were opened up in the 19th century to the east of Lough Allen and where a vein was discovered in the Munterkenny Mountains. Sandstone, quarried in the Glenfarne region, was worked into ornamental objects. In the mid-I8th century, working of the county’s rich deposits of iron ore was abandoned due to lack of timber to fuel the furnaces. A few years later one O’Reilly family started an iron works designed to smelt the iron with coal but this was a financial failure due largely to lack of foresight and uneconomical experiments in trying to produce malleable iron instead of cast-iron.
GAA in Leitrim
What makes Leitrim unique in Gaelic Football circles is not the County’s achievements on the field but the high level of participation in the sport. Leitrim, the county with the smallest population of any of Ireland’s 32 Counties, has the highest number of G.A.A. clubs and players, per capita, of any County in Ireland. Leitrim has 24 G.A.A. Clubs for a population of 25,057 (1996 Census) and 54 adult teams playing in 5 League divisions. If you consider that the number of males between the ages of 18 – 32 in the whole of County Leitrim is only 2310, that means there is a team produced for every 42 males of normal football playing age, resident in the County. Of course a proportion of these players are normally outside the County during the week and return at weekends.
Not alone is this not matched by any other County in Ireland, but it is doubtful if any sporting organisation anywhere in the world could come close to this level of participation, it is an amazing achievement. In addition to Gaelic football there is also Hurling and Handball in the County as well as Ladies Football and Camogie.
The first G.A.A. Clubs in Leitrim were founded in Dromahair and Killanumery in early 1886. The first Championship was run in 1890 with Mohill beating Ballinamore in the final. The G.A.A. died in Leitrim in 1891 with the Parnell split and it didn’t revive again until 1904. Since then the Organisation has gone from strength to strength despite the awful depopulation of the County.
Success at County Level has been limited for Leitrim. The nearest the County got to a full All Ireland Title was in 1938 when they won the Junior “Home” final but, to their grief, lost the final proper to London in Croke Park. At Senior Level, Leitrim’s finest hours came in 1927 and 1994 when the Connacht Senior Championship was won. The people of Leitrim will never forget the historic days of the summer of 1994, culminating in their All Ireland Semi-Final appearance against Dublin.
There is a very vibrant Club scene in Leitrim from under-12 to Senior Level. Ballinamore Seán O’Heslins are the top club in Leitrim in terms of titles won with 20 Senior Championships. However each and every Club has their successes to point to.
Leitrim is probably the most enthusiastic county at participating in Scór – the G.A.A.’s winter talent activity. Many clubs from the County have won All Irelands at Scór and Scór na nOg level.’Se Leitrim ceann des no gContaetha is laidre sa tir thaobh na peile Gaelach de.