In 1978, workmen near Richhill found the preserved remains of a gigantic Irish elk (Megaloceros Giganteus). One huge antler was still attached to the head and the other had broken off.
Irish elk are now extinct but once they were largest of all deer and roamed across Europe and Asia as far as Africa. In Ireland, the remains of such beasts are usually found in bogs and are called in Irish fiaghmore. Weighing one hundred and ten stone, the Richhill elk would have stood nearly seven feet high and its antlers were twelve feet wide.
Close to Ballintaggert House was an impressive mausoleum, built for the remains of an important person. It consists of four chambers, aligned north-south, that together are thirty feet long. The walls of the tomb are made up of single rough-hewn stones that were originally covered by earth. The roof, which would also have been of stone, is missing entirely.
In 1966 there was a risk that the site might be damaged. To keep it safe, the entire tomb and the ground around it was carefully dug up and moved to the Ulster Museum in Belfast.
In the 1830s a hoard of late bronze-age (1200-300 BC) metalwork was found in a bog in Derryhale. Unfortunately, it is likely that the contents were later mixed with those from other finds and the resulting collection in the National Museum of Ireland is not homogenous, with items dating to significantly different times. Among the items found were knives, an axe, dress fasteners, rings and disc, cup and sunflowerheaded pins.
The early history of Richhill is that of the parish of Kilmore. Kilmore was from the year 422 AD a centre of religious activity. St Patrick is reputed to have visited it in 444 on his way to Armagh. The first references to it in written records refer to Cill Mór Enir, the Great Church of Magh Enir, this being the name of the area between present-day Loughgall and Portadown.
From its earliest times the Cill Mór Ua Nialláin was part of a monastery of the order of Céiili Dé or Culdees. This phrase translates as ‘Servants of God’. Some of the names of the monastery’s abbots can be found in the Annals of Ulster, written versions of oral histories compiled by a scribe in the late fifteenth century.
Attached to the monastery at Kilmore were some six hundred and seventy acres of land, the produce from which supported the monks. This land was farmed by families known as erenaghs or coarbs. The word erenagh means ‘son of the lord of church lands’ and coarb ‘heir or successor to a saint’. Both are hereditary lay offices that were often given in the first instance to the younger sons of royal families.
There were thirty-nine families of erenaghs and coarbs in County Armagh. Three lived in Kilmore; the Muinter Chuileain, Muinter Alriane and Muinter Ui Alagain. These families sometimes filled ecclesiastical positions in the Cathedral or Kilmore itself, such as when in 1440 an O’Cullen supplanted an O’Halligan as Vicar. Their names survive to this day in the Cullen, Fearon and O’Halligan families who still reside in the parish. The monastery no longer exists but its remains are still visible on the site of the current Kilmore House.
Ringforts are circular earthen structures that comprise an outer rampart enclosing an inner space. Despite their name, the purpose of ringforts was not primarily defensive, although they provided a certain level of protection against wild animals. Rather they were homesteads, providing space to live and work.
In Ballynahinch townland there is a ring fort with a one-hundred-and-fiftyfoot diameter, the height of which has been reduced to two feet through repeated ploughing. In Liskeyborough there is a much larger and better preserved example that, within living memory, was still surrounded by a double-ring of ditches. These have now been filled in but were originally twenty feet wide.
A third ring fort is at Rockmacreaney where it is positioned on the summit of a drumlin and looks down on a further, smaller rath to its north. With a diameter of almost two hundred feet, there is an additional mound that suggests a platform, perhaps for a building of some kind. The surrounding ditch is remembered to have been, as late as 1929, paved and surrounded by an outer rampart, now removed.
In 1534 King Henry VIII declared himself “Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England” and in 1536 the Irish parliament passed a law making him head of the Church in Ireland. This drove a religious wedge between the English and Irish, already split politically.
However, an attempt by the English government to impose a priest of the reformed church on Kilmore failed.
When, in 1593, the English tried to impose a new system of sheriffs on Ulster it was clear that these officials would rule the country without reference to the Irish nobility, who would be reduced to the state of impotent observers. Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, [pictured] established an alliance of threatened Irish noblemen and initiated what became known as Cogadh na Naoi mBliana, Tyrone’s Rebellion, or the Nine Years’ War. Cogadh na Naoi mBliana was the principal war fought by Elizabethan England, involving more troops than the wars against the Spanish.
Early victories by the Irish, such as that at the Battle of the Yellow Ford, encouraged support for the rising across the whole island of Ireland. O'Neill proved himself an excellent commander and the English retreated into fortified towns until the arrival of a well-supplied army under experienced generals.
The Irish were defeated at the battle of Kinsale in 1601 and thereafter could fight only a guerrilla campaign, which eventually petered out. Men from Kilmore fought throughout the war for their local chiefs and the area suffered during the famine that followed.