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Social History


Rental Rates  - Lakeview Holidays Portumna self catering accommodation


Social History  - Lakeview Holidays Portumna self catering accommodation


The first settlers in Ireland arrived about eight thousand years ago.  The earliest evidence of habitation in this area dates from the Neolithic age, circa 4000 to 2500 BC.  Many of their stone burial sites, megalithic tombs, are still visible today.


The first Celts may have come to Ireland as early as the 6th century BC.  They brought with them their language, religion and laws.


St Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in 432 AD.  Within 33 years he had effectively Christianised the entire country.  However, many old druidic practices and feasts were continued under the auspices of Christianity.


The River Shannon was the highway of the eatly Christian Ireland.  Monastic ruins at Holy Island, terryglass and Portumna, as well as those further upstream at Clonfert and Clonmacnois testify to this.  St Brendan is believed to have sailed up Lough Derg to his monastery at Clonfert before his voyage to America, one thousand years before Columbus.  The river also provided the Vikings with access to monastic settlements, both to plunder and trade, which they did from the 9th century onwards.


Within fifty years of Strongbow’s arrival in Ireland in 1170 the Normans had gained control of most of the country.  Richard de Burgo, Lord of Connacht, had all the lands of Connaught granted by charter to him in 1226.  He built a fortification at Portumna which was to begin a 700 year family association with the area.


Henry VIII used the rebellion of Silken Thomas in Dublin in the 1530s as an excuse for imposing English rule and his new religion, Protestantism, on both Normans and Irish alike.


The Penal Laws were enacted to further crush Catholiciam.  Catholics were now excluded from many positions and priests allowed to practice only after taking the Oath of Allegiance.  The practice of celebrating mass in secret at Mass Rocks such as Lough Atorick thus became necessary.


Ireland was ravaged by famine from 1845-50 in which 2-3 million people either died of starvation or emigrated to England, the Americas or Australia.  The population of Ireland was decimated by emigration and starvation, falling from 8 million in 1845 to 4.5 million in 1911.


After the famine, the landlord class generally adopted a policy of profit extraction rather the investment, which set in train a landlord policy of evictions and rackrenting.  The Irish Land League was founded in 1879 by Michael Davitt in an attempt to combat this policy and promote tenant ownership.  The activities of the Land League brought Woodford to the attention of the international press.  The second Marquess of Clanricarde, Hubert de Burgh Canning, owned over 56,000 acres in East Galway.  This he controlled from London, and was known as ‘The Champion Irish Evictor’.


One such eviction was planned at the house of Thomas Saunder at Drummin, 1km North of Gurteeny, on Friday 20 August 1886 – within one week to be renamed ‘Saunders’ Fort’.  Locals inside forced the police to retreat, as they were again to do the following day.  The next assault was postponed until Friday 27 August.  On that morning the eviction party of 200 soldiers and 500 RIC men were again faced with a barricaded house and 22 determined occupants hurling rocks, boiling water and beehives at them.  After many attempts, and with the help of a battering ram, the police finally forced entry through the roof and arrested the occupants.  Saunders’ Fort had fallen but a major psychological victory had been won by the tenants.


One of those arrested. Tommy Larkin, was sentenced to 18 months in Kilkenny Gaol.  He died there on 27 September 1887 aged 23 years.  The inquest jury gave the cause of death as ‘neglect by the prison doctor’.  It is estimated that 20,000 people attended his funeral, the largest ever seen in East Galway.  A plaque was erected in his honour at his birth place in Gurteeny.

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