(The first ten years)

Michael McShane

Reproduced, with the Society's permission, from the 1994/95 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society


The Cardinal O'Fiaich lecture was now arranged for 31st January. The Cardinal delivered his lecture, "The O'Neills of the Fews", to a large crowd in the main hall in the Community Centre. He received a rapturous welcome on his entrance and, almost two hours later, a standing ovation. He congratulated the Society on their work and he also said how appropriate the name "Creggan" was for the Society.

It was early in 1986 that the Society took a decision to publish a journal. A lot of material had accumulated over the months and a number of people showed a willingness in writing and supplying articles. This generated a lot of interest among members. Sponsors were sought to help with the financial side and John Fee was given the job of Editor. John must be congratulated for the task he undertook. Mistakes were made, lessons were learned and, as the weeks and months went by, the journal began to take shape. Eight articles were selected for the first issue of "Creggan" - the name of the journal - and among them was one from Cardinal 0 Fiaich. This was a great honour for the Society - to publish one of the Cardinal's own unpublished works. The following are the articles published in the first issue: Crossmaglen before the Famine, by John Fee; Crossmaglen's Twin, by Kevin McMahon; Creggan, by Hugh Macauley; Poets and Scholars of Creggan Parish, by Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich; The Johnstons of the Fews, by Kevin McMahon; The Hirin', by Mary Cumiskey; Builders in Stone, by Dr. M. J. Yates; and What's in a Name?, by John Fee.

It was decided at the June meeting that on 2nd July 1986 the launch of the journal would take place in the Green Room, in Crossmaglen Community Centre, at 3.00p.m. Guests were to be invited. Later on in June, the Society learned that Cardinal O'Fiaich was to meet the King of Spain, who was on an official visit to Dublin on 2nd July, so it was decided to make a specially bound copy of "Creggan" available for the Cardinal to present to the King, to mark the occasion of his visit.

Wednesday 2nd July 1986 was a very historic day in the short life of the Creggan Local History Society. Representatives of all the associated groups were present at the launch of their first journal, including the newly-elected Chairman of Newry and Mourne District Council, Mr.Eugene Markey, and the ex-Chairman, Mr. Pat Toner. Other guest included Mr. Edward Richardson, President of the Society, and former M.P. for South Armagh; Mr. Dessie Bustard, representing the Northern Ireland Voluntary trust; Mr. Robert McKnight, Assistant-Chief Recreational and Tourist Officer; Mrs. Maureen Grant, South Armagh Festival Organiser. Rev. Canon Clarke, the Church of Ireland Rector, and his wife were also in attendance.

In her introductory speech, Chairperson, Mrs. Mary Cumiskey, gave a warm greeting to all present. She thanked the Newry and Mourne district Council for providing the marvellous buffet for the occasion and went on to give a background to the journal that was now being launched. She congratulated John Fee for the dedication and hard work he had put into producing such a fine publication. Mary also emphasised some of the major objectives of the Society, namely, to record the memories of the older people, to act as a watch-dog to prevent the destruction of our local historical sites and to create an awareness, especially among young people, of our history and heritage. The Chairperson then introduced the various speakers to an audience of about 40 guests. In his speech, Mr. Eugene Markey, Chairman of the Newry and Mourne District Council, complimented the Society and its A.C.E. workers on the production of such a fine document and went on to say that the preservation of the heritage of South Armagh was a major objective of the local people. He pledged his support to Creggan Local History Society and also said that an area such as Crossmaglen warranted, and could support, a local archives/museum, promising to do all he could to promote the idea in the area. Councillor Toner reiterated what his Chairman had said and pledged his support to the Society for this, and future, publications. Mr Dessie Bustard, representing the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, outlined the aims of the Trust fund and the financial support available for rural projects such as the Creggan journal. He mentioned how impressed he was with the publication and praised the Society for the hard work which they had put into the project. The whole proceedings ended with an informal but excellent buffet, arranged by Mr. Jim Pierce from the Newry and Mourne District Council and gave a worthy launch to the journal of the Creggan Local History Society.

The work of the Society continued during the summer months and, by September, St. Patrick's graveyard, Crossmaglen, had been mapped, all the plots and headstone inscriptions having been recorded and put into book form. Much of this was done due to the efforts of Francis McNamee and Rosemary Murphy.

Among the many items for discussion at the September meeting was the condition of Carran Mass-rock. This is one of the few remaining Penal-day Mass-sites in the parish of Upper Creggan and, when members of the Society approached the owner, Ms. Maggie McShane, she was delighted to learn that the site would be restored. It was agreed that a sign should be erected and a stile provided to gain access to it. These arrangements, however depended on the availability of A.C.E. workers to do the work and the Society was doing all it could to speed things up.

The Society were now searching for premises suitable for a museum. The "Billiard Rooms" were mentioned. Although these rooms were unused for some considerable time and in need of repair, they were ideally situated at the corner of the Square leading on to North Street. They were so called because of the fact that billiards were played in the building from as early as 1926 up to, and including, 1940. It was suggested that both Kevin McMahon and John Fee approach the owner, Mr. Michael McConville, to discuss the idea and report back to the Society at the next meeting. Although John's term as A.C.E. worker was now ending, he was to stay on as a member of the Society and help steer it to further achievements.

Opening the meeting held on 1st October, the Chairperson welcomed Mr. Peter O'Hanlon, the new A.C.E worker. Mr. O'Hanlon was to spend his time researching the files of the Newry Reporter and the Dundalk Democrat. The only progress reported on the "Billiard Rooms" at this meeting was that a member from Community Technical Aid was to visit the premises to assess its suitability for a museum.

Meeting No. 25 was held on Thursday 6th November 1986. It was the Annual General Meeting and a large crowd was in attendance. The Chairperson, in her address, expressed her delight at such a good tum-out. She went on to describe the marvellous year the Society had just had and spoke about the launch of the journal as being the highlight of the year. She thanked everybody who was involved in the production of the journal, especially the sponsors, without whose help the project would not have been possible. A special word of thanks was conferred on Geraldine, the Secretary, for having arranged the Cardinal O'Fiaich lecture and the Dr. Yates lecture. At the conclusion, The Chairperson and her officers vacated their seats for the election of a new committee, Mr. John Fee proposed that the entire committee be returned for another year, a show of hands was unanimous from the floor and so, for the second year running, the same committee was back at the helm. It was decided that the membership fee would remain the same for the coming year and the Secretary reported the names of prospective lecturers, such as, Professor Mallory, Department of Archaeology, Queen's University, Belfast, Archbishop Simms and Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich. All agreed to give lectures to the Society in 1987. Canon David Clarke saw out 1986 with a lecture on the Reformation in Ireland, on Tuesday, 9th December.

Cardinal O'Fiaich presents the first Creggan Journal to the King of Spain