Heritage: ‘Yesterday’s gift to today; today’s gift to tomorrow

Black ’47 recalled in the hills above Keadue and Ballyfarnon

Famine grave and altar beneath the fir trees overlooking Kilronan

BLACK ‘47, the worst year of the Famine, brought death and devastation. Among its victims, high in the hills above Geevagh, Ballyfarnon and Keadue, were a group of local people, their friends having been too weak to bring them back down the mountain for burial in Kilronan Cemetery. Now, every year around this time, people from the area remember those who died and were buried at the spot.

PERCHED on a hillside above Kilronan, overlooking Keadue and Ballyfarnon, is a scenic spot, just as it probably was 160 years ago, its view extending away over Lough Arrow, Lough Meelagh and beyond. But as famine stalked the valley beneath in 1847, death and devastation loomed.
Today, a summary of a famine horror that unfolded at the spot can be read there, thanks to the efforts of a Famine Grave Committee and Fr. Sean Tynan, a local priest who has just been moved to the parish of Ballintogher.

A closer view of Famine grave with crosses

Weak from Hunger
Many people from the surrounding area fled to those mountains so that they could live above the "briar line," the briar, it was believed, having been the main carrier of potato blight spores.
In September 1847, four people from the upper end of the Arigna Valley died there, having come up from the Ballyfarnon/Keadue area. Subsequently, their friends set out to bring them "home" to Kilronan Cemetery, across the Sligo/Keadue road from the well-known St. Lasair’s Well.
But as they climbed the mountain, to the top of what is known as Stanton’s Brae, they could go no farther because they were so weak, and so they stopped at a small shack to shelter.

Coins left on one of the Famine gravestones



The Horror Deepens

During the night, two of the four died. Others from the house had also died around that time and were not buried. The remaining people were "worn out" and were unable to bring the corpses to Kilronan. The best they could do was bury all nine people in a common grave beside the house where, at least, they could look down on their home place.
The burial ground was marked at the time by the surviving members of the house with some small stones, and the memory of the awful event was kept alive, the story handed down through the generations. Today, at the end of a small path beneath a grove of fir trees, the graves can still be seen. There’s also a simple stone altar, as well as votive offerings such as coins and other items.




Lady of Lourdes and the Black Diamond Mine

The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes overlooking the entrance to a disused mine shaft

The spot is also beside what was also once a hive of coal mining activity, long after the Great Famine. Nearby is the entrance to an old mineshaft, above which stands a statue of Our Lady Of Lourdes, a mute reminder of a custom adhered to by miners in the area. The custom had been to display a picture of the Sacred Heart with a Sacred Heart lamp inside every working mine. Miners removed their helmets and prayed for their safety before they entered the pits to begin their work shifts.
In 1955, the Noone mining company replaced this with a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The statue was erected by Jim Gallagher, Alderford, assisted by Tom Gray and John Gaffney, Ballyfarnon.
When mining ceased, Mick Flynn, of Flynn and Lehany Mining Company, moved the statue to an operating mine called Black Diamond, where it remained until the mine closed in 1990.
The statue now on display was purchased and erected by the Famine Grave Committee, with permission from Denis Flynn, Hillstreet Quarries. The purpose of replacing the statue was to honour the generations of miners who worked underground, while respecting and acknowledging their deep faith in Our Lady of Lourdes.

Faith, history, tradition, mining, and breathtaking scenery — all part of what make up this beautiful area straddling the borders of Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim.

I am grateful to the Sligo Champion for permission to reprint this article:
Story: Harry Keaney
Pictures: Seamus Finn














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