In the fifteenth century the O’Neill clan of Tyrone invaded South Armagh, took over a large area of land – which included the townland of Creggan – and in 1490 built a chapel there. The Catholic population worshipped there until the sixteenth century when it was taken over by the newly established Church of Ireland during the Reformation.
Consequently, the attached graveyard has people of both religions buried there. The existing church was built in 1758.
A feature of the graveyard is a small stone house with a stone roof and a small window in the side which some people believe was used as a watch-house to guard against corpse stealers. However, it is thought to be the burial house of the Eastwood family who lived locally in the eighteenth century.
The graveyard holds the graves of the famous South-East Ulster Gaelic poets Seamus Mór Mac Murphy, Padraig Mac Aliondain and the most famous of them all, Art Mac Cooey.
Another famous man buried there is Sir Thomas Jackson who was born in Urker near Crossmaglen in 1841. He worked for Bank of Ireland before going to Hong Kong and making his name in financial circles. He founded the Hong Kong and Shangai Bank in 1856 and was its manager until he retired in 1902. He was knighted in 1899 and made a baronet in 1902.
In 1903, he erected a clock on Crossmaglen Market House to replace a “dummy clock” which had been donated by the local landlord Thomas Ball, an event which give rise to a ballad beginning.
“We talk of great physicians and Dr Williams pills
And mother regal syrup as a remedy for ills
But long live Sir Thomas Jackson great laurels for to win
He gave speech unto a dummy clock in the town of Crossmaglin.”
Another impressive feature of the graveyard is an underground tomb containing preserved bones and over 70 skulls. It is the burial tomb of the O’ Neills who built the original church there. It is approximately 4 metres long, 3 metres wide and 2 metres high. This tomb was accidentally discovered in 1971 during maintenance work to the graveyard in preparation for the bi-centenary of Art Mac Cooey.
At the rear of Creggan Church you will find steps leading down to a bridge over the Creggan River which will take you into the Poets’ Glen, a picturesque riverside walk and sculpted garden. The walled garden was originally part of the rectory built in 1770 and home to the rector of Creggan Church of Ireland. The rectory was demolished in 1981. The main entrance to the Poets’ Glen is on the Newry Road and is signposted.
One of the Poets’ Trails is a walking route known as the Creggan Loop, stretching a distance of 8 miles. You begin at Creggan Church and go through the townlands of Glassdrummond and Mounthill. You then pass Roche Castle in County Louth before returning to County Armagh at Ballsmill Village and continuing along minor roads back to Creggan Church