On a crispy cold January afternoon I made the trek out to Kilcurly to collect completed recording sheets from Grace McKevett. Just two miles west of Dundalk, the townland is on the eastern fringes of the drumlin belt that stretches up into south Ulster. It is a landscape of gently rolling hills, well watered with streams and occasional small lakes that are absent from most of the County. Kilcurly is a middling sized townland of 178 hectres. It sits at the heart of the small civil parish of Dunbin (just 11 townlands), on the border of the barony of Upper Dundalk.
Grace lives in Kilcurly House, a beautiful old Georgian dwelling built in the latter part of the 19th century. The house was not the first building on the site. The first edition OS map (1835) shows an earlier ‘Kilcurly House’, which was apparently in ruins by the time of Griffiths’s Valuation (1847-64).
The house overlooks a much earlier landscape. Immediately NW of the house is the site of an old burial ground. The monument survives today as an oval area of ground, enclosed by a low bank with traces of stone. It’s about 50m by 35m in size, and situated on the edge of a hill, with the ground sloping sharply to bogland to the north-east. It’s difficult to know how old a monument like Kilcurly burying ground is. By 1835 it was considered to be an ‘old burial ground’ and it had definitely fallen out of use by 1907, when the 25-inch map was surveyed. One clue might be in the name of the townland. The place names division (logaimn.ie) translates the names as Cill Choirle or the chuch of Coirle. This name would suggest an early ecclesiastical presence in the townland that might be connected with the old burying ground.
To the west, the house looks over a marshy swathe of ground called ‘the bog’. The bog was partially drained in the 1980s, but is still damp and rushy. It was probably originally a lake. Kilcurly crannog sits at the centre of the bog, standing out as a low raised mound about 50m by 30m in size. Crannogs are manmade island dwellings found in lakes and bogs. They were inhabited from the early medieval period right up till the sixteenth century in certain parts of the island. Kilcurly is one of only four crannogs in Louth. This low number is largely due to the geography (lack of lakes) and the Anglo-Norman presence in Louth, which inhibited crannog construction after the 12th century. Monaghan in contrast to Louth, for example, has 92 recorded crannogs, because of the proliferation of small drumlin lakes in the county, and because it was under Gaelic control into the late medieval period.
Kilcurly crannog was not the only early medieval site in the townland. It also has five souterrains, or underground passages, which are typically early medieval in date. About 130 meters west of the crannog there is a strange mound on the hillside planted with beech trees. The mound is about 30m by 20m in size and has quite steep sides. It’s marked on the first edition OS map (1835) as a ‘fort’ and it could be a raised rath or, perhaps, even a type of barrow, or prehistoric burial monument. Another site maked ‘fort’ on the 1835 OS map survives as a crop mark in the ten paddocks field.
It was on top of this earlier landscape that the modern landscape of large regular fields was laid out. This estate landscape is evident in the field names recorded by Grace. Many of the names refer to their position in relation to Kilcurly House: the front field, the near long field, the far long field, the near road field, the far road field. There are also names that refer to animal husbandry: the calf field, the bullock field, the ten paddocks (grazing) and the pigeon field which might have once housed a pigeon house.
Several of the field boundaries in the townland are in the form of the famous ‘Louth fence’. In Larkin’s field, flanking the site of an early nineteenth-century corn mill there is a lovely example (pictured). In this case we can date the fence as having been built between 1835 and 1907, because it is shown on the 25-inch map but not the first edition 6-inch.
Further south in the townland is a beautiful railway bridge from the Great Northern Railway.