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It was 1984. For a number of years there had been a growing recognition in South Armagh that the area's rich history and heritage should be documented and preserved for future generations. There were local history groups in the vicinity - in Mullaghbawn, in County Louth, in Armagh and County Monaghan but these did not specifically cover the area of Creggan /Crossmaglen/ Newtownhamilton.
Although there was no formal structure in place that did not mean that there was no activity. In fact, many local people were interested in the history and cultural traditions of the area and had been engaged in a variety of activities to document and preserve local customs, artefacts and sites.
To fill the gap, a group of amateur historians gathered in Crossmaglen Community Centre on the evening of 25 October 1984 to discuss the formation of a local historical society. Although the meeting had been widely advertised only a small number came.
That did not deter them and before the evening was over a body had been formed with preliminary objectives and an interim Committee. By the end of the year the name of the Society had been finalised, membership criteria and subscriptions agreed and a Bank account opened. The practical approach of the Committee was demonstrated when they arranged for Benny Murphy, of the Mullaghbawn Society, to talk to them about the policies and practices they would need to follow to ensure success.
The first months of 1985 were concerned with getting the new Society established, and to help with this and to begin to put together a programme of work, an application was successfully made to Government for the resources to employ and Action for Community Employment (ACE) worker. The first worker, Gerald Rushe, started work in May of that year. He was to be the first of four such workers - John Fee (September 1985 to September 1986), Peter O'Hanlon - (October 1986 to May 1987) and Bernadette Miroudotte - (October 1987 to ????).
The rest of the year was devoted to making the Society known to as many people as possible and to securing the co-operation and participation of local churches, schools and other groups who had a contribution to make to the growth and development of the Society. The Society was privileged to secure the backing of the Church of Ireland Rector of Creggan Church, Canon David Clarke and Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich who was, of course, a local man and an eminent Irish Historian in his own right. Cardinal O'Fiaich was the Society's Patron from 1988 until his tragic and premature death in Lourdes on 8 May 1990. The Canon (who retired in 1989) and the Cardinal were keen supporters of the Society.
Early in 1986 the Society decided to publish a regular Journal (to be named "Creggan") and John Fee was appointed Editor. It is clear that everyone put an enormous effort into the production since the Journal was launched on 2nd July.
South Armagh has close associations with the O'Neills, a group of whom migrated there, from their Co Tyrone fastness, in the late fifteenth century when they outgrew its capacity, and built a castle above Glassdrummond Lake. The clan was the main focus of social, cultural and political activities in the Upper Fews area until the Flight of the Earls in 1607. The O'Neill chiefs settled in Spain. This link with the Iberian Peninsula was commemorated on the occasion of the launch of the Creggan Journal as Cardinal O'Fiaich presented a bound copy of the volume to King Juan Carlos of Spain on the occasion of the King's visit to Dublin on 2 July.
No Journal was published in 1988. Instead, the major effort was the research and publication of a "Guide to Creggan Church and Graveyard", based on the painstaking work of Kevin McMahon and Jem Murphy (with earlier input from Cardinal O'Fiaich). The launch of the Guide took place at an ecumenical service in Creggan Church on 17 September. All the major denominations were present as was their clergy. The Church and grounds were thronged and the occasion was such a success that the ecumenical service has been repeated every year since then.
In the eighteen years of its existence the Society has published ten volumes of "Creggan", one of which - 1991 - was devoted to the late Cardinal. This issue was a truly unique tribute, comprised entirely of the reminiscences of a wide range of people, of all denominations, ecclesiastical and lay, who had known him. The universal affection that he inspired, the tributes to his total recall of people's names and circumstances, his complete absence of affectation, his spontaneous humour, his 'common touch', his essential goodness, shone through every contribution. It was clear that everyone felt that knowing him had enriched his or her life. It is a book well worth reading for it uplifts the spirit.
In the ten issues of the Journal, 38 authors have contributed 138 articles. Some authors have contributed proportionally more than others; demonstrating their scholarship and dedication to the recording of local history. In total, there are 1190 pages of articles, supported by 301 photographs, maps and facsimiles. This amounts in volume to several substantial history books and it is clear that the Journals in themselves constitute a significant archive of local history.
The publication of the Journal was funded by adverting revenue for its first two issues. The Society covered the cost of third issue itself. The fourth to the nineth was funded through individual page sponsorship while the tenth was aided by Awards for All.
Over the years, the Society also devoted time and resources to additional projects that have added to the archive of printed material.
In 1993 the Society published a reprint of a unique scholarly work first published in 1838 "A Historical and Statistical Account of the Barony of Upper Fews" by John Donaldson.
Also in 1993, Dr Geraldine Carville, a historical geographer and leading authority on the Cistercians in Ireland, visited Creggan to see the O'Neill Vault and the graves of many of the Ulster Poets. During her visit she noticed the stone roofed building in the graveyard known as the "Eastwood Vault" and thought that it bore the distinguishing marks of an early Celtic church site. Dr Carville, using a variety of scientific approaches, including an unusual technique involving astronomy, concluded that the building was indeed an early Celtic Christian church, possibly linked with St Jarlath MacTrena, the 3rd Bishop of Armagh and a disciple of St Patrick. Dr Carville's book was published by the Society in 1996 and although its findings have been the subject of dispute among historians there is no doubt that it has added valuable insight to the development of Christianity in South Armagh.
The Chairperson of the Society, Mary Cumiskey, as part of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (Irish Studies) in Queens University, Belfast, completed a dissertation on the effects of the Great Irish Famine in the Upper and Lower Creggan Parishes. This dissertation was published by the Society in March 1998.
The Society, as part of its approach to historical research and understanding, instituted a programme of membership visits and guest talks and lectures. Details of these can be found in the Past Lectures page.
The Society also -