Crossmaglen is a small picturesque town in South Armagh with a population of approximately one and a half thousand people. It is encircled by the border and in fact four of the six roads leaving the town lead directly into Southern Ireland. The nearest large towns are Castleblayney in County Monaghan and Dundalk in County Louth. As a consequence of its location, many locals work, shop and socialise across the border.
The Irish translation is Crois Mhic Lionnáin, which literally means ‘Lennon’s Cross’. It is suggested that it is named after an Owen Lennon who lived here in the eighteenth century and who is famed as the owner of a shebeen, an illegal ale house. Locally, the town is known as ‘Cross’ and is first mentioned in a 1609 survey map when it was only a townland.
In the 1766 census it is shown as a village with 2 rows of houses at a T-junction. The population then consisted of 22 Protestant householders and 8 Catholic householders, one of whom is the aforementioned Owen Lennon. It is also shown to have a horse racing track and a large cattle pound. The focal point of Cross is the Cardinal O’Fiaich Square, named after a local priest who became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He died in 1990. The square has an area of five acres and is said to be the largest square in the island of Ireland. Most of the business premises are located around this square.
In the early part of the twentieth century most of the male population of Cross worked at buying and selling fowl, sheep, pigs and other livestock and were known as dalin’ men (dealing men).This prompted someone to write a song called The Dalin Men from Crossmaglen, the chorus of which goes like this:
“It wasn’t the boys from Shercock.
Nor the lads from Ballybay,
But the Dalin’ men from Crossmaglen,
Put the whiskey in my tay.”
For the first fifty years of the border’s existence people from the counties of Louth and Monaghan came to Crossmaglen to shop as goods were generally cheaper here. In particular, large numbers from across the border attended the Cross fair, which was held monthly.
With the onset of the troubles in the early seventies, this influx slowed to a trickle and for almost the next thirty years there were very few visitors or shoppers from the South coming to Crossmaglen. However, with the advent of the present peace initiative this trend has been somewhat reversed over the last number of years.