Having spent a few hours in Bundoran, albeit, due to inclement weather, a substantial part of it in the bar of the Great Northern Hotel, I decided on a route back to Enniskillen (where I was staying) which I don’t recall having ever taken before, that is via the R281 to Belcoo on the border and, from there, on into Enniskillen.
Having passed through the small village of Kinlough (which takes name from its position at the head of Lough Melvin – the Irish Cionn Locha meaning head of the lake) I spied the ruins of an old building, surrounded by trees, less than 50 metres off to my right so pulled in for a closer look.
The building turned out to be an old church surrounded and indeed overrun, yes overrun, by an old graveyard – exactly the sort of place I love exploring.
I made my way into the church grounds, past a small herd of cattle which had congregated at the gate to investigate the two strangers that had turned up to interrupt their grazing, or whatever else they might have been up to.
My greatest difficulty with writing this review was verifying the name of the church and graveyard. Yes, Dear Reader, armed with my pictures of various headstones I have trawled through numerous cemetery sites on the internet trying to get a match. The problem I encountered was that there appeared to be only a handful of family names in the local area and common first names seemed to be the fashion so the names I had kept popping up in the records of numerous cemeteries in the area – nine generations and nine Terence Connollys, to name but one.
The one thing that I could tell from the names, and a memorial to James Connolly – to which I return later – is that it was a Roman Catholic cemetery. In the end I surmised that this was the former Kinlough Church and Cemetery. I stand to be corrected on this. Agggggh, the delights or frustrations of trying to understand or get to the bottom of anything in Ireland.
Leaving a positive identification of my whereabouts aside, I had a closer look at the former church ruins, now home to many graves itself, and what particularly intrigued me was the lack of windows and doorways. Apart from a narrow splayed window in the east wall and a doorway in the south wall no other doorways or windows were present in the structure. Certainly artificial lighting would have been required here day or night.
In terms of gravestones, some are very old, dating back to the 1700s, while a number are very recent. Looking around the graveyard I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the graves belonged to people who lost their lives in momentous Irish events such as the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion against British rule and the infamous famine which started less than fifty years later.
The Irish War of Independence, the Civil War and Kinlough Cemetery
The Irish War of Independence (1919 -21) ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty (6 Dec 1921) which provided for a self governing Irish state of twenty six countries, the six north-eastern counties opting to remain within the United Kingdom. Under the Treaty, the newly established Irish Free State remained within the British Empire with the British monarch as head of state – akin to the Australian and Canadian models.
The terms of the Treaty were not acceptable to all, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) split in two, and (leaving out a lot of interim detail) on 28 June 1921 Ireland plunged into civil war – with the Pro-Treaty side pitched against the Anti-Treaty side. The latter felt that the Pro-Treaty side had sold it out and real independence had not been achieved. The Pro-Treaty side, which formed Government, determined that something was better than nothing. Right across the Irish Free State communities and families, formerly united in their desire for an independent republic separate from Britain, were now severed in two and consumed in civil war.
James Connolly of Kinlough, Co Leitrim (not to be confused with the more famous James Connolly who was executed for his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising) was in the Anti-Treaty camp. Connolly was Captain of the Third Western Division of the IRA based at Finner Army camp on the outskirts of Bundoran and was one of the first Anti-Treaty people to be killed at the hands of the Pro-Treaty side.
When British troops withdrew from Finner Camp it was handed over to the Anti-Treaty side of the IRA. On 29 June 1922 the Pro-Treaty side launched a surprise attack on Finner and, while other Anti-Treaty soldiers scampered into the adjacent sand dunes, Connolly was shot and killed in his attempt to escape.
Two years earlier, in 1920, Connolly’s father (also called James – (Seamus in Irish)), also a staunch IRA man, was shot and killed at his home by the Black and Tans (officially the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve) in a reprisal for an IRA attack on a local police station. The intended target had been James junior but he was not at home at the time of the attack so his father sufficed.
Interestingly, and representative of how things had changed, the person who give the oration at Connolly senior’s funeral was a member of the party which attacked Finner Camp, leading to the death of Connolly junior, less than two years later.
James Connolly was buried here in Kinlough Cemetery with full IRA military honours. The republican memorial we see today, to both father and son – hence the dates 1920 – 22, was erected in 1950. I found it interesting that the rifle on this memorial is depicted pointing upwards, as opposed to being in the more common reversed position which has been used as a mark of respect or mourning for centuries.
Even though Connolly’s death occurred only one day into the Civil War people’s thoughts were firmly focused on the fact that Irish people were now killing each other though they understood the need for such actions and were prepared to forgive the actions of their neighbours. In his graveside oration Brigadier Devins of the No.1 Brigade, 3rd Western Division, IRA said “ Captain Connolly would not harbour thoughts of revenge or indulge in ill-feeling…. Captain Connolly would have forgiven those who shot him had he had time for expressing forgiveness.”
The cemetery is reasonably well tended and has beautiful views of the Dartry Mountain range across green pastures. All in all, well worthy a stop if passing by.
Getting to Kinlough Cemetery/ Church: Take the R280 Road out of Bundoran and then the R280 from Kinlough. Approximately 5-6kms from Bundoran.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on Bundoran, Ireland. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Lough Melvin – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – On The Wild Atlantic Way.