Lying in the north-east of Co. Longford the parish of Abbeylara runs in a north-west / south-east direction along the borders of County Cavan and Co. Westmeath. The name Abbeylara appear to have derived from "Lerha" which was the name given to a "monastery near Granard which was founded by St. Patrick and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The saint appointed St. Guasacht - son of Míolchú (Patrick's old master) to be its first abbot". The Irish name of the parish which is most frequently used is Mainistir Leathrátha - Abbey of the half rath but in the past it was referred to as Mainistir Laithreach -Abbey of the Ruins (Laithreach; ruined site, ruin). The landscape of the parish is mostly flat, rolling, pasturelands broken only by tracks of Turbary and woodlands and the placid waters of Lough Kinale and Derragh Lake.
The number of families in the parish is 293 and the population is approximately 815.
The patron saint of the parish is St. Bernard, which is hardly surprising if one bears in mind that monks of the Cistercian Order occupied the monastery at Abbeylara for over three hundred years (1214 - 1540). St. Bernard was Abbot of Clairvaux in France and was largely responsible for the rapid expansion of the order. The Church and the School in the village of Abbeylara are dedicated to him. St. Bernard's Church was blessed and opened on 28/06/1959 and replaced the old Church, which was sited in what is now the parish Cemetery. The Church and School in the other end of the parish are both dedicated to St. Mary. St. Mary's Church was blessed and opened in 1838 and was re-opened after reconstruction and repairs on 18/07/61. Oral tradition tells of Churches in the townlands of Derragh and Springtown prior to the openings of these edifices.
The Cistercian Monastery at Abbeylara was founded by Richard de Tuite, Norman Lord of Granard and was completed in 1214. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the first monks were brought from St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin. For the first two hundred years of its existence it was an Anglo - Norman house, noted in the 14th Century for its hostility to the Irish. In 1315 Edmond Bruce brother of Robert Bruce seized and plundered the Abbey and remained there during the winter of 1315. With the Gaelic Recovery of the 14th century the monastery came within the sphere of influence of the O'Farrells Chieftains of Arghaile and remained so until its suppression at the advent of the Reformation. In the year 1398 Philip Nangle, Abbot of the Abbey was appointed Bishop of Clonmacnoise. In the 15th century two of the Abbots of the Monastery were appointed Bishops of Ardagh: Richard O'Farrell who in 1540 surrendered the abbey and its lands to Henry V111 and was in turn appointed Bishop of Ardagh - an appointed not recognised by the Vatican.
A chalice in St. Mel's College Museum is inscribed as follows "Joannes Gauneus Leathrani Monasterii Abbas ex Ardachadensis Dioecoesis Generalis Vicarius 1625".
John Christopher Drumgoole (1816 – 1888)
Abbeylara's most famous son was born in the townland of Coolcroft on August 15th 1816. Some years after the death of his father at the age of eight he emigrated to New York to join his mother who had departed two years earlier. He worked as a cobbler from the age of sixteen to twenty eight when he became sexton of St. Mary's Church, Lower East Side.
Another nineteen years elapsed before he had the basic education to begin Theological Studies. He was fifty-two years old when he was ordained to the Priesthood. He sat about the task of providing food, shelter and education for the thousands who roamed the streets of New York.
In 1871 he took control of St. Vincent's Home for homeless boys in Lower Manhattan. By 1881 he had raised a ten - story building at the corner of Great Jones and Lafayette St. and two years later (1883) saw him move homeless boys and girls to new facilities at Mount Loretto on Staten Island, which at one time catered for twelve hundred waifs.
Fr. John died following the blizzard of 1888. In 1957 Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, introduced the cause of his beatification. The book - "The Children's Shepherd" tells the story of his life in New York.
Lough Kinale Book Shrine
This casket or shrine for a book was found on the bed of Lough Kinale in 1986. Although in a dismantled state most of its components survived and the object can be almost completely reconstructed.
The shrine is 345cm long, 28cm wide and is 11cm in depth. It consists of a wooden box to which metal plates are nailed, with the whole being strengthened by tubular binding strips along the corners and sides. It is the earliest and largest example of Irish book shrines and enough detail remains to enable it to dater to the eight century.
It is hoped to have it restored to its original splendour in the near future. The Annals of Four Masters refer to the death of Fiachra of Granard (Abbeylara) in 765 A.D. Was he one of the monks of the old Patrician foundation - Lerha - who lived while this beautiful artefact was being wrought.
In the townland of Ballyboy we find Tobar Rí an Domhnaigh - the well of the King of Sunday. According to tradition when wells in the locality disappeared during a particularly dry summer the people thought they could give water from Tobar Rí an Domhnaigh to the cattle and use it in washing and boiling potatoes and in making butter. However the cattle died and the plague followed.
In the village of Abbeylara is Tobar na mBan Naomh - the well of the Women Saints. It may well have been used by a religious community who according to tradition lived in the bordering townland of Cill Bhríde - Kilbride.
In the townland of Tubberphelim there is the holy well called Tobar Feilim, the water of which were reputed to cure typhoid fever.
Opposite St.Mary's Church, Carra lies Bully's Acre, a burial site where victims of the famine were interred. The majority of those buried here were formerly inmates of Granard Union Workhouse who had passed to their eternal reward. It was the inmates Themselves who dug the graves and in some instances carried the remains in sacks to their final resting place, if a cart and donkey could not be procured.
The frightful scenes of 1847 were re-enacted again in July 1997 when people walked in procession from the site of the old Workhouse behind a donkey and cart to Bully's Acre where Mass was offered for Those famine victims.
The chalice used at the Mass had been presented to the parish on the occasion of the opening of St. Mary's, Carra in 1838.
Crannógs: (Lake Settlements)
The summers of 2002 - 2004 have seen the Discovery Programme's Lake Settlement Project focus on the Parish's two lakes - Lough Kinale and Derragh Lough with interesting discoveries. The lakes hold three distinct high cairn crannógs.
The one in Derragh Lough is an oval site 30m in diameter and rising to over 2m above the muddy lakebed, Two are located in Lough Kinale, one off the shoreline of Toneymore which is similar in size and height to its comrade in Derragh Lough and the other off the Ballywillan shoreline which is slightly larger than the other two.
The Crannóg off the Toneymore shoreline is the one from which the famous Lough Kinale book shrine was retrieved in 1986. The settlement of the Ballywillan shoreline has yielded important artefacts of which a silver chalice deserves special mention.
All of these sites - Derragh, Toneymore and Ballywillan - seem to have been constructed in similar ways; all sitting on layers of timbers, some of which are radiating from the core of the island. It is worth noting also that these sites all respect each other's visual space; no high - cairn crannóg can be seen from the others.
In the struggle for Catholic Emancipation at the beginning of the 19th century one of Daniel O'Connell's most able and Vociferous supporters in Co. Longford was John D. Brady "a rather impoverished member of the middling country gentry" with an estate at Springtown in the parish of Abbeyara.
A member of the Cathloic Committee and The Catholic Association, Brady in 1826 addressing the latter body declared that "Catholics came before Parliament to seek our rights - not to deprive our neighbours of theirs. We seek not - political ascendancy but political equality - not the possession of power but eligibility to office".
Fine examples of Stone Circles are to be found in the townlands of Cloughernal and Cartronbore. Stone circles are generally assigned to the Bronze Age and are interpreted as ritual or ceremonial sites where druidic worship flourished.
Dúnchla(i) - The Black Pig's Dyke
This was a linear earthwork with accompanying ditches and fosses, which extended from Lough Gowna to Lough Kinale and ran through fifteen townlands in the parish.
The best preserved section is that which passes through the townland of Cartronbore. It was believed to have been part of the ancient boundary of the Kingdom of Ulster. Tradition tells of a black pig which used to run along the dyke at the base of this fortification.