THE RAMBLER 01/06/2001
A massive wooden gate, securely padlocked, now confronts the rural rambler interested in exploring the Montiaghs.
From time immemorial, people were free to come and go at will in this area, subject to close inspection if they were strangers, by owners of turbary rights.
As part of the precautions against foot and mouth disease the gate actually bore a 'no admission' notice this year.
Firstly, perhaps I should explain that 'the Montiaghs' is the name given to a boggy area on the South East shore of Lough Neagh. A cluster of townlands therein each has the prefix 'Derry' and locals are dogmatic that seven (or is it nine?) such 'Derry' townlands make a Montiagh.
But how come that one of these itself is the townland of the 'Montiagh', according to ordnance survey records? Only Euclid could sort that one out. 'The whole is greater than the part.'
The DOE gate bars access to a wide acreage of seggan, where all species of fauna now flourish undisturbed. The area has always been known as Lough Money. It was not always thus.
All my life, until very recently, I can remember Lough Money as a hub of activity at this season of the year, when turf making was at its peak. Note that I said, 'turf making' not 'turf cutting'. Half the local population had turbary rights and as soon as the weather permitted, they were busy with spades, rakes and shovels mixing turf mould and water to create slurry. By hard, back-breaking, labour this was processed and shovelled out like concrete mix, then manually formed with brick shapes for fuel, dried, stacked and carted home, mostly by donkey carts.
'The old order changeth...'. At one time townies employed as investigators 'buroo men' tillage and itinerant dealers, hadn't a hope of finding a local farmer or his family at home in May hereabouts.
They were either `in the mud' 'in the moss' or 'at the turf'. One 'buroo man' of my acquaintance checking on claimants 'doing the double', bitterly lamented that he had come on one plot of turf where there were nine bicycles, but only three men!
'Lough Money' is the ancient name of the territory which the DOE has acquired as a nature reserve. It adjoins the Moss Road and the Feather Bed. The latter has now been signposted Montiaghs' Road.
Once again, history has been wiped out. To get a glimpse of tradition let me quote from the Ordnance Survey memoirs of 1838, courtesy of the Institute of Irish Studies at Queens (Vol 21:P17):
Lough Money was formerly the scene of much pleasure in the neighbourhood in which it was situated, both as to fishing and shooting at wildfowl, the latter of which inhabited it to a large extent. It was likewise accommodated with boats for the above purposes. It was likewise ornamented with two ancient artificial islands erected on oak frames and sheltered with a handsome planting of ancient and modern willows.
Their ruins are now visible, but inaccessible by the surrounding morass. This sheet of water, which occupied about 65 English acres, was drained off at the instance of Lord Hertford in 1811.
John Montgomery, now residing on the remains of the lough, in labouring about his place in 1834, got about five feet beneath the surface of the above remains an ancient wooden vessel constructed out of a solid tree, but quite decayed when found. It was nearly-the shape of a churn about six feet long, one foot in diameter in one end, but narrower in the other. Alongside it lay two wooden hand spikes, supposed to have been used in carrying about the vessels.
In the same place also lay part of a wooden vessel supposed to have been an ancient meddar, but likewise quite decayed when found.
In the same remains of the Lough was also found a morticed oak frame nearly the shape of a doorcase. All these articles being decayed when lifted, they have been subsequently broken down for fuel.
About five feet beneath the surface of the remains was also found an ancient bread griddle two feet in diameter, tolerably thick and without handles. It is at present occupied as a fire hearth in John Montgomery's dwelling house, and occasionally serves for baking bread