Virginia, County Cavan
Irish: Achadh an Iúir
The town of Virginia situated beside Lough Ramor
Virginia is the second-largest town in County Cavan. It was founded in the early 17th century, at Aghanure during the Plantation of Ulster and was named Virginia after Queen Elizabeth I. The population is 4,393 as of 2016.
The town is on the N3 route approximately 53 miles north-west of Dublin, where once it was a strategic staging and rest point for the coaches plying between Enniskillen and Dublin. In more recent times, Virginia is connected to the capital by an hourly bus service from Cavan town. Regarded these days as a commuter town with its proximity to larger trading towns east and west, the local industry consists mainly of farming and milk processing at the local Glanbia factory which produces skim milk powder and cream for the Baileys Irish Cream liqueur. Other local manufacturers include the Fleetwood brand of paint products. It has also been home to the popular annual Virginia Agricultural Show for over seventy years and more recently hosted Ireland's only Pumpkin Festival. The Virginia Pumpkin Festival takes place every October bank holiday weekend at Halloween time, it has been doing so since 2007.
Virginia began as an Ulster Plantation project, where an adventurer named John Ridgeway was granted the crown patent in August 1612 to build a new town, situated upon the Great Road, approximately midway between the towns of Kells and Cavan. The chosen site according to tradition existed a ruined O'Reilly castle, and was then described as Aghaler, a location once set within the ancient Lurgan parish townland of Ballaghanea. Patented conditions of settlement which were to introduce settlers to the area and build the town to incorporated borough status. Ridgeway's difficulty in attracting sufficient English trades people and settler families into what was then regarded as a hostile territory outside of the protection of the Pale, managed to build a few wooden cabins and a corn mill near to the castle and situated close to the shores of Lough Ramor. Ridgeway passed the patent on to another Englishman captain Hugh Culme who already possessed lands about Lough Oughter in County Cavan and had access to building timber. Culme persuaded the Plantation Commission to move the location of Virginia to its present location close to the Blackwater tributary river, whereupon he built a number of cabins for the settlers but still failed to meet the Commission's time frame for developing the town further before giving up on the task, probably for the same reasons as his predecessor. During November 1622, the Virginia estate came into the possession of Luke Plunkett, 1st Earl of Fingall who also held extensive lands around Meath. Plunkett, who was a Catholic Anglo-Irish lord of Norman descent, whose family had come to Ireland in the twelfth century, undertook to complete the patented project.
Complaints from the Virginia inhabitants about the lack of development progress reached the Commission by 1638 whereupon Christopher Plunkett, 2nd Earl of Fingall was ordered to submit a substantial bond with the Commission court and to build the church in Virginia or face forfeiture of his county Cavan lands. The Anglican Bishop of Kilmore, William Bedell undertook to lay out the town in accordance with the Commission requirement. However events which led to the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and Irish Confederate Wars enveloped Virginia causing widespread destruction and de-population. The summer of 1642 saw the outright destruction by government forces of the castle along with the burning of stocks of hay, corn and turf in a bid to punish the outlawed Earl of Fingall for his role in the Siege of Drogheda (1641). What remained of Virginia after the wars can be assessed through hearth tax records from the 1660s, indicating a small resident community. During the following century estate surveys were undertaken for the absentee landlord (exiled since the Williamite wars of 1688-91) which tell of a wayside Inn that existed since the earliest times (exact location unknown), operated then in 1727 by a Cornelius Donnellan and was frequented around that time by Jonathan Swift during his several excursions to Co. Cavan. The Virginia estate was eventually sold around the year 1750 on behalf of the Plunkett's to pay off mounting debts, setting the way for a new landlord Thomas Taylor, Lord Headfort to continue in building the town where others had failed. It is recorded that Taylor's grandfather, also a Thomas Taylor, was a cartographer who assisted Sir William Petty with the Down Survey during the previous century.
The Taylors (later Taylour) had built a substantial mansion (now the Headfort school) beside Kells and turned their attention to making the unproductive lands around Virginia into profitable farms through land drainage and afforestation of low-lying areas, resulting also in increases in rent paid by the farm tenants. While this in itself was not unique among Irish landlords, an acre of land at twenty old pennyies (20>240) became fifteen shillings (180>240) per acre before the end of the century with a premium paid by flax growers. The results of which brought employment and management to the Headfort estates and quickly led to the setting up of markets and fairs in Virginia where local produce including flax yarn and linen was traded on the streets. Virginia's population grew to double from 467 inhabitants between the census years of 1821 to 1841, as did the rapid construction of the town with the Main street as we know it today. Successive Lords Headfort, who later became Earl of Bective and Marquess of Headfort, created their own private demesne and a hunting lodge (now Park Hotel) overlooking Lough Ramor.
The Great Hunger caused by successive failures in the potato crop brought with it extreme hardship for the poorer classes, death was widespread caused by diseases like typhus and cholera, pandemic throughout Europe at that time and the result of poor sanitation, contaminated drinking water and deplorable living conditions. Starvation which ravished many parts of the country was averted in Virginia due to the efforts of the local Famine Relief Committee, who made extra rations of Indian meal available in return for hard labour, this included women and children breaking stones for making roads and the building of the local Catholic church which took place during 1845 on lands donated by the landlord. In subsequent years Virginia prospered with the introduction of a Butter market in 1856, followed by the opening of the Great Northern (GNR) railway line between Kells and Oldcastle in March 1863. Cattle and livestock could then be moved for export, however this also meant that produce such as coal and beer could be transported from the larger towns into rural areas which led to the closure of the local malt brewery and several bakeries in the town.
Until relatively recently emigration was a feature of rural Irish life down through the centuries and Virginia was no exception to this. Perhaps the most famous Virginia emigrant was Philip H. Sheridan, whose parents came from nearby Killinkere, left Ireland around 1830 and settled in America. Sheridan achieved success through a military career, particularly during the American Civil War. President Lincoln stated, "this Sheridan is a little Irishman, but a big fighter", eventually became commanding General of the US Army and had many honours bestowed upon him. Other famous people who have associations to Virginia are Dean Jonathan Swift who penned his well-known novel Gulliver's Travels while staying nearby at Quilca, the home of his cleric friend Thomas Sheridan who also kept a classics school and later became headmaster of Cavan's Royal School. Playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan was Thomas's grandson, while other notable Virginians from the nineteenth century were Thomas Fitzpatrick a noted London physician, and entrepreneur Joseph Rathborne, the son of local mill owner Henry Talbot Rathborne, Joseph went to America and created the world's biggest lumber mill with the Rathborne Cypress Lumber Company in Louisiana. Admiral Sir Josias Rowley had links here through his brother Rev. John Rowley who was an Anglican clergyman and incumbent at Virginia during the period that the First Fruits church was built. Admiral Rowley also helped to finance the rebuilding of the church after a major fire destroyed the roof on Christmas night 1830.
Virginia continues to modernise as a growing urban community with a foothold still clinging on to its rural origins. The closure of the Virginia Roads railway station and GNR line in 1958 came about as Ireland's population fell to its lowest levels, the 1951 census lists Virginia with a population then of just 297 persons. In 2007 the local Development Association submitted a proposal to have a new Regional Hospital built near Virginia, on a site owned by Cavan Council. Although widely supported by the community and the region's political representatives, the bid however had to be abandoned with the government announcement that there was not a 'red penny' available for such a project. However road transport links to Virginia have since made significant improvement leading to the opening during 2010 of the M3 motorway linking Virginia to Dublin. This has led to a continued rise in local prosperity, with many new houses and commercial business being built.
The most recent national census, undertaken in April 2016 by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), reports the population of Virginia town at 2,648 inhabitants, having risen by 16.0% since the previous 2011 census. The electoral division which accounts for the town and the surrounding district sets the population to 4.393 persons, representing a 11.53% increase since the previous census.
- Placenames Database of Ireland
- "About Virginia Pumpkin Festival".
- Book title VIRGINIA -One for the Road by local historian Chris Kirk ~ Rediscovering the past 400 years using archive material, maps and photographs.
- Griffiths Valuations
- News website for Virginia and its surrounding communities
- Virginia's Pumpkin Festival October Bank Holiday Weekend
- Virginia Group of Parishes website
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