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You know, it is amazing how you can see things without noticing them. When I lived in Northern Ireland some years ago, I must have travelled the road from Tandragee to Banbridge literally hundreds if not thousands of times, and I was aware of the village / townland of Tullylish. I am sure I must have noticed the Church standing just off the busy A50 yet I never visited it or indeed the small hamlet round about it.
Today, on a whim whilst my Father and I were out for a drive, we decided to have a look round and what a good decision that proved to be. Apart from a lovely hour spent on a gloriously crisp autumn afternoonwith views over fields of newly baled hay to the hills in the distance, we had a look round a graveyard (well, one in two halves to be precise) which was tremendously interesting. A little internet research alongside my own observations has thrown up some fascinating information about what is a small apparently insignificant hamlet in County Down.
Tullylish is perhaps an odd sounding name to non Irish people, but it derives from the Gaelic Tulaigh Lis meaning "hillock of the fort". It nestles on the banks of the River Bann, which provided the power for the numerous linen mills that used to operate here. There was an ancient monastic community on the hill East of where the old Church stood, probably founded in the 6th or 7th centuries. Unfortunately, all did not go well for the holy men as history records the killing of Abbot Dunchu here in the year 804 although the reason for the crime is not given. Interestingly, the monastery was situated within the circular and much older Celtic fort which gives it's name to the place.
Things did not get much better for the monks as the monastery was subsequently laid waste by marauding Vikings. Not many people appreciate that the Vikings had a large influence all over Ireland.
I cannot find out when the "old" Church was built to replace the monastic settlement but it was sacked in the rebellion of 1641 and rebuilt in 1698as a Protestant Church. All that remains of it now is the Tower and the old East gable wall which preside somewhat eerily over one portion of the graveyard.
Cross the small road to the rather impressive "new" Church of All Saints, consecrated in 1862, when the old Church fell into disuse and disrepair. The building was commenced in 1861 when the Rector was one W.B. Yeats. If the name sounds familiar, it is because he was the grandfather of the famous Nobel winning poet and dramatist of the same name. Perhaps less-well known is Yeats brother John (Jack) Butler Yeats (1871-1957), a painter of some renown who was the first Irish painter to sell a painting for over £1 million. He was also the first artist to draw a strip cartoon of the Sherlock Homes stories. By an odd coincidence, an exhibition of his work opened last week at a gallery six miles from where I write this. Until a week ago I had never even heard of him. Funny how things go round in circles, isn't it?
For fans of the silver screen, apparently the forebears of the actor Jeremy Irons originated from Tullylish.
Indicative of the times when it was built, the Church has a slightly unusual Gothic looking tower rather than the more traditional spire / steeple.
In the grounds of this Church the second portion of the graveyard lies. Readers of numerous of my other pages will know that graveyards fascinate me, not in a morbid way but as wonderful signposts to social history. I saw some things in these two graveyards that I found unusual and I shall construct a travelogue to do justice to the place in due course.
I do not expect that people will be flocking to Tullylish on the strength of this tip but for me it is exactly the kind of place that "Off the Beaten Path" was designed for.
For directions, please see the attached website, where there is a Google map link.
Updated Oct 16, 2010
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