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by L.A. Clarkson
‘There is more Irish history slumbering in the rocks of Ballykeel than ever Belfast possessed.’ - Family and community in Forkill in the early-nineteenth century.
"This is principally an exercise in statistical history, a genre R.H. Tawney once described as history at its most obnoxious. The quotation in the title may serve to lighten the touch; it also identifies the focus of the study, the parish of Forkill in south County Armagh. Ballykeel is a small townland in the parish and was the home of Arthur Bennett (Art Mac Bionaid) author of the lines quoted above. It is based on a surviving census enumerator’s schedule for the parish of Forkill in 1821, listing more than 6,000 inhabitants scattered over almost 12,000 acres of mountain, meadow and bog. At a later date the names were annotated to identify the few hundred Protestant inhabitants."
This article, by LA Clarkson, examines family and community in Forkill - an Anglican parish created in 1771. It contains 22 townlands and is dominated topographically by Slieve Gullion. The land falls away from the west of the mountain into a broken landscape of small farms interspersed with patches of bog and woodland. To newcomers, it presented a forbidding aspect, being described variously during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as ‘savage’, ‘miserable’ and ‘uncivilized.’
Before the Famine Forkill was more typical of Ireland than any town or city. The people were poor, but they were enterprising and many (most?) were well schooled in the ways of the market and possessed a strong sense of their identity. This article examines their history.