The modern spelling of the name of the village is very different from its origin. The correct English spelling is Forkill, but in many places, you will see the spelling as Forkhill. In Forkill there was neither a fork nor a hill and it is in fact named for the Irish word An Foirceal meaning a trough or a hollow.
Richard Jackson (1722-1787), the landlord of the Forkill estate, created the village of Forkill in the townland of Shean. Jackson also owned an estate in Cavan and large amounts of property in Dublin. He was the High Sherriff of County Armagh in 1760.
Richard Jackson obtained a patent for a fair in 1760 which had the added benefit that the authorities at the time had the policy to build roads to the site of a fair. There was a monthly fair and an annual “Big Fair” each September when musicians from all over Ireland came to compete. Visitors, musicians, and singers pitched tents on what is still known today as “the Fair Hill.”
After Richard Jackson’s death, his will was so complicated that its administration needed an Act of Parliament in 1879 to sort it out. The arguments about his estate added more pressure to a situation which was becoming increasingly more tense with the on-going conflict between local militia groups, the Protestant Peep O’Day Boys and Catholic Defenders, and the years which followed saw several outbreaks of violence.
Points of Interest
Urnaí is a church and graveyard within the townland of Dungooley. The word “Urney” means “prayer or place of prayer”. Urnaí was once dedicated to St Patrick and tradition says he built the church himself. During the penal eighteenth century, Urnaí was a place of worship for all the country round about. The church was tiny, only 28 feet long by 16.5 feet wide, but stories tell of congregations of hundreds packed in for mass. Urnaí is the burial place of Peadar Ó Doirnín whose grave is marked with a commemorative stone erected by Éigse Oirialla in 1969 in his honour.
2. Eaglais Mhodhach Fhoirceala
Forkill Methodist church
Look out for the Wesleyan Methodist Church, just below Main Street near the river. This church was established after the founding of the village but had a tiny congregation of just 5 men and 10 women in 1862. The church, referred to locally as the preaching house, closed and later became The Tech (a technical college teaching woodwork and other practical skills). It has now been renovated and is a private dwelling.
3. Beairic Constáblachta Fhoirceala / Páirc Shíochána
Forkill constabulary Barracks/ Peace forest
Over its history, the Barracks has been located in four different places in the village. It was originally in the middle of Main Street, it was then moved opposite the Irish National Foresters hall at the top of the street. The purpose-built barracks that replaced this building was demolished after a rocket attack in 1982. The Royal Ulster Constabulary then moved into the larger army base behind it. This base was dismantled as part of the normalisation process under the Good Friday agreement and has now been transformed into a Peace Forest planted with over 1000 trees, areas of wildflowers and a lovely looped footpath.
4. Scoil Náisiúnta Fhoirceala
Forkill National School
The original school building is on the School Road. It was started in 1856; the principal was James Kirk who was just 21 years old. He taught 40 children in one room measuring just fifteen by thirteen feet. The school is now a vacant building and the school has moved to a modern purpose built building but is still named for St Oliver Plunkett as the original school was.
5. An Fháschoill
On the way to the Gaelic Athletic Club GAC/ Cumann Lúthchleas Gael CLG, call into the ‘Plantin’ for a picnic, this lovely park is being managed for wildflowers. Local stories tell that the trees surrounding the park were planted by Mr Richard Jackson in 1839 to celebrate his love for his wife. Seen from above on the slopes of nearby Slieve Brac they form the shape of a love heart. In the centre of the park there is a kissing stone, be careful who you sit with on this stone, as legend says that within a year a couple sitting here will be married.
6. CLG Pheadair Uí Dhoirnín
GAC Peadar Ó Doirnín
The Gaelic Athletic Club is named after Peadar Ó Doirnín one of the finest poets of the eighteenth century. Born around 1700, and buried in Urnaí graveyard on April 5th, 1769, O’Doirnín’s most beautiful poem is “Úr-chnoc Chéin Cáinte” in praise of a young woman with whom he was in love.
“O choicest maid of fairest form,
O peerless gem of Adam’s race,
O tresses bright, poet’s idea,
All feasting’s naught without thee!
More beauteous than the sun at morn
Thy smiles that banish sorrow
Forlorn am I that walk alone
On Kileen Hill without thee!”
Ó Doirnín conducted a school of poetry at Dunreavy with the Gaelic poet and outlaw Seamus Mór Mac Murchaidh and both opposed the infamous Johnston of the Fews; an astute, relentless and despotic constable who had a great hatred of the native Irish. Ó Doirnín also ran a successful hedge school in Forkill – hedge schools (‘scoileanna scairte’ in Irish) provided education to the Catholic community during the penal years, teaching a mixture of reading, writing and arithmetic, along with Greek and Latin, often through the medium of Irish. These schools, like the Mass rocks, were often secret and held in barns or people’s homes. After many years as master of the hedge school, Ó Doirnín was found dead at his desk by his pupils.
7. Eaglais na hÉireann
Church of Ireland
Jackson is buried, along with his wife Nicola Ann (née Cecil) and his sister Susanna Barton, in the graveyard to the left of the church. Jackson was mentioned favourably in the song “The Boys of Mullach Bán”, though some say this was a canny ploy from the song’s writer to gain favour from Jackson’s widow.
8. An Seomra Boird
The Board Room was built in 1804 by the trustees of the Jackson Charitable Bequest. This building was in use for over 200 years and the committee met four times a year to manage the bequest and organise its distribution. Apart from a six-month interruption in 1839, due to damage after ‘The Night of The Big Wind’, it was used continuously right into the twenty-first century.
9. Baois Mhic Shiacais
This was built on a small Jackson’s folly hillock above a small lake as a place for the ladies and gentlemen to picnic. The folly was built on the site of a medieval ‘beacon’ tower, one of a number of such towers which were used to warn of attack from the south.
10. Teach Reachtaire Fhoirceala
Strangely, considering that Forkhill church was built in its village, the Forkill rectory was built in 1775 in the townland of Shanroe nearer the village of Mullaghbane. This meant that the rector had to travel almost two miles from his home to his church on foot or on horseback; in rain or shine. Belmont Barracks was later built overlooking the site.
The rectory, which is remembered as very imposing in local folklore, ceased to be occupied by 1920. It was burned by the local IRA in 1922 just as it was about to be taken over by British forces.
11. Beairic Bhelmont, an Seanró
Belmont Barracks, Shanroe
Please be aware that the site of the former Belmont Barracks is now a private residence. The village commands a better view of the building, which is best appreciated from a distance due to its scale.
The original barracks on the present site was built in 1689 and was known as Shanroe Barracks. It was abandoned in 1750 but the outbreak of sectarian violence between the Peep O’Day Boys and the Catholic Defenders in the Mulllaghbane/Forkill area in the 1780s and early 1790s meant that a new barracks was required to house a company of foot soldiers.
The new Belmont Barracks was opened in 1795. It housed The Forkill Yeomanry, under the command of Colonel John Ogle who was married to Julianna Barton, the niece of the local landlord, Richard Jackson.
It is said that General Gerard Lake, military commander for Ireland during the 1798 rebellion resided for a time in Belmont. A party of North Britons, fencible infantry (from the word “defencible”), was stationed at Belmont during the rebellion and a local ballad gives a flavour of the time:
“Though the Scotch Horse were in
Belmont and Roden’s riders too
We forged good steel in Quilly
Beside the old Creg- dubh”
During this period Belmont Barracks gained some notoriety as a place of torture and hangings but by 1821 the barracks had ceased to operate, although some of the fortifications remain even today. It passed into the Campbell/Quinn family and from 1892 to 1984 it housed the Catholic priests of Forkill parish. It is now privately owned.