Magheracloone is a parish in south County Monaghan. Its name comes from the Irish Machaire Cluana which means 'plain of meadow'. This is a strange name for such a hilly parish; it is derived from its most important place in ancient times; a flat area of land in the townland of Camaghy, on which the sports ground and ancient church of St. Molua were located. The parish covers 12,952 statute acres in area, making it the largest parish in South Monaghan. The parish borders three neighbouring counties; Cavan, Louth and Meath. (Magheracloone is the only parish in Monaghan to border Meath).
The parish contains numerous natural resources such as gypsum, which is mined locally. During the 1840s, the population numbered approximately 9,000; today, it is approximately 2000, but is again growing as a result of economic growth and construction, among other factors. The parish's location on the commuter belt, within 50 statute miles of Dublin (approximately 80 minutes' driving time), and 20 minutes from the M1 motorway, make for an idyllic and tranquil place to live, convenient to major urban centres and the capital.
The absentee 'Shirley Family' landlords once owned the majority of land in the parish. Their holdings have since been reduced to include a 4000-acre walled estate, just outside Carrickmacross, where the family seat, Lough Fea house, is located. They also technically own the west side of Carrickmacross Main Street, and continue to collect ground rents from most businesses located there, much to the ire of locals (the case for ground rent has been upheld in the Irish courts).
The 'Battle of Magheracloone' occurred in 1843 at Ss. Peter & Paul's Roman Catholic church. The text now follows of a plaque recently erected there in memoriam:
" In 1843 the tenants on the Shirley estate, of which Magheracloone was a part, refused to pay their rent until their complaints had been addressed by the landlord. Attempts by the bailiffs to seize cattle or goods from the tenants who would not pay were stopped by the activities of ‘The Molly Maguires’. The centre of British rule in Ireland, Dublin Castle, agreed to provide troops to protect the agents who were serving notices of eviction to tenants. On June 5, 1843, a bailiff from the Shirley Estate along with a company of troops marched toward the church of Saints Peter and Paul (this very church) in Magheracloone. The intention was to post a notice of eviction to several tenants in the area, on the door of the church. They were met by a large, howling and hooting crowd who blocked their path. The troops fixed their bayonets and moved forward, only to be met with a shower of stones. Several of the troops were hit with stones and at the same instant the entire company discharged one round each from their guns into the crowd. The crowd backed off. The Company Commander, fearful of a greater slaughter, called his troops back to their carriages and they beat a speedy retreat, followed all the way by angry remnants of the crowd. However, back on the road in front of the church a young servant boy lay dead. Peter Agnew from Lisnaguiveragh, Carrickmacross was at service with Owen Smith of Corrybracken Two days later the coroner’s jury (composed of six Protestants and thirteen Roman Catholics) held that as it was not known whose shot had killed the boy, no responsibility could be assessed. But the jury pointedly commented that ‘it has not been sufficiently proved to us that at the time of the firing the party of Constabulary were in imminent risk of their lives’. (Outrage Papers). While this incident may be described as a mere skirmish with one fatality, reporting of the event in the local, national and international newspapers prompted questions to be raised in the House of Commons ".
The people of Magheracloone worship in three churches; two Roman Catholic (Ss. Peter & Paul, and St. Patrick's) and one Church of Ireland (St. Molua's). St. Molua's is located on the site of the original Roman Catholic church, from which Catholics were barred during the penal laws. At that time, Catholics attended school and worshipped outside at 'hedge schools' and 'mass rocks', as they were barred from having suitable buildings for these purposes, speaking Irish was banned, and the people were required (in public office and many professions) to take an oath citing the supremacy of the monarch over the Roman Pontiff - an oath which Catholics obviously could not take. A fine example of a mass rock exists on private property along the River Glyde in Tonaneave; a long stone crosses the river to form a bridge; the priest would stand on one side, and the congregation on the other; the river served both to separate the people from the sacrament (the function performed by a redoros in a church) and to drown out their prayers, for fear of being heard by British soldiers. It is said that, during the Penal Laws, local Protestants kept watch on the hills above to ensure the safety of their Catholic neighbours hearing mass by the river in the valley below. Another example of such kindness comes from the story of a woman who was to be evicted from her home in the parish by bailiffs because she could not pay her rent; one of the soldiers took pity on her and passed around an iron cooking pot, collecting money from the other soldiers until enough was donated such that the woman's rent could be paid. Mass was most recently celebrated at this mass rock in the Jubilee Year 2000; it was concelebrated by PP Fr. Tom Finnegan, Canon Mohan and Fr. Michael J. Gilsenan and attended by a large congregation. The ceremony served to memorialise the victims of the unjust penal laws, which climaxed in the tragedy of The Great Famine. Catholic Emancipation saw an explosion in the number of fine Roman Catholic churches and schools built in Ireland.
St. Molua's cemetery contains the remains of both Protestants and Catholics and was cleared from its overgrown condition in the 1980s, to much acclaim. (All cemeteries in the parish are immaculately maintained). In the 1970s, however, both the interior and exterior of Ss. Peter & Paul church (constructed in 1825 and regarded as a fine example of a 'barn church') were extensively damaged as a result of perhaps well-meaning but nonetheless gravely ill-conceived 'renovations' by then parish priest, Canon Drum, much to the consternation of locals who wished to continue worshiping at the altar built by their ancestors as an expression of their civic pride in the climate of Catholic Emancipation. The work was carried out mainly in secret, as was in keeping with Bishop Joseph Duffy's policies of radical and unnecessary changes in church interiors throughout the Diocese of Clogher without consultation of the laity and at scandalous expense.
The Ss. Peter & Paul church still retains many fine features, including an intricate wooden ceiling. Constructed on an East-West axis, facing the rising sun (a symbol of Christ - The Celtic cross features the rising sun, a Celtic symbol, fused with a cross, as a symbol of the new Christian faith conquering the ancient pagan one), the building is renowned for its light and spaciousness. Its fine Turnerelli altar and side altars, redoros, mosaics, galleries and pipe organ, were all sadly lost. Two fine stone crosses were also removed from the pinnacles of the exterior gables and replaced with iron crosses of significantly less aesthetic appeal.
In 2000, the bell was electrified by McFab systems but is considered by many locals to be unsatisfactory; the wheel and chain of this fine Victorian cast iron bell were removed and have since disappeared. The system initially did not withdraw from the bell quickly enough upon striking it, resulting in a dull 'gong' rather than a proper peal. The Angelus bell also sounds at 11.50am and 5.50pm, rather than 12pm and 6pm, rendering it the most misleading angelus bell in Ireland ! Due to its strange appearance without its wheel, locals now refer to it as the "baldy bell".
The nineteenth century harper Patrick Byrne was a native of the parish. Born and raised in the town-land of Greaghlone, he went on to achieve international fame, becoming the first person ever photographed while playing a harp. He retired to the townland of Beagh at the end of his life and is buried in Carrickmacross. A monument to the blind harper was recently erected in a prominent location adjacent to a junction along the Carrickmacross-Kingscourt road (which passes through Magheracloone). A fine GAA sports ground and community centre are located next to this monument. Local harpist and All-Ireland medal winner, Rosey McCabe, fittingly played some traditional tunes at the unveiling.
Magheracloone is also home to several businesses, shops (including O'Rourke's service station and McGrane's 'Country Store') and numerous fine schools including Drumgossatt National School (formerly a barn church until Ss Peter & Paul was constructed); it has recently been extended to accommodate a significant increase in numbers.
The local Gaelic football team Magheracloone Mitchells won the Monaghan Senior Football Championship in 2004. They have achieved runner-up status three times; in 2002, 2005 and 2006. Their colours are those of the parish, being simply black and white, as are the people of the parish in their manner! Senior Gaelic footballer Thomas Freeman was presented with a GAA All Star award in 2007 and his brother, Damien Freeman is a former captain of county Monaghan's Gaelic football team. The parish also boasts under-14 boys' & girls' Olympic Handball teams. The boys' team achieved all-Ireland runner-up and the girls' team came 1st in Ireland in 2006.