Belturbet History, the foundation of the town and colorful heritage

According to Ptolemy, a 2nd century a. d. Greek astronomer, this tract was first occupied by the Erdine, designated in the Irish language Ernaigh. It was this race of people who gave their name to the river Erne. The river that flows through the town of Belturbet, Co Cavan.

The name Belturbet, originally spelt Beal Tair Bert means the opening, Beal, to the near by Tairbert Island. The ancient name was later anglicized into the name by which it is known today. The near by shallow crossing place added to the strategic and commercial importance of the town. Drumlane Monastery was burned in 1246 and again in 1261. The people who lived around the Monastery moved to the area of this crossing place and they started the Harbor Town of Beal Tair Bert (Belturbet).

The river Erne was the main mode of transport. Many strenuous battles were fought on this ground. The O’Reilly clan kept their footing here in this gateway to the north through the stormy clamor of long centuries of English sway. The 16th century was a time when Breffni’s marksmen guarded the castle of Turbet in Belturbet, and sallied forth at the first sound of the tower bell. The Castle of Turbet was built on a slope commanding the Ford by Hugh O’Reilly of the ruling Cavan family in the 16th century. It was of sufficient importance to appear on the map of Cavan and Leitrim made by the celebrated Dutch map maker of the time.

In 1607, The Flight of the Earls, which signaled the final defeat of the Irish, by the English, left the way open for the Plantation of the province Ulster. In that year the Lord Deputy Sir Arthur Chichester of Carrickfergus made his tour of the proposed plantation area. In his notes of remembrance he observed that ‘‘Belturbet by actuation is a fit place to be strengthened by a Lord or other residents and well affected subjects. For the reason that it lies upon the head of Upper Lough Erne.’’ Any attack on King James 1 heartland to the north by the native Irish would have to come from the south. Therefore Belturbet would have to be taken first. So Belturbet became a garrison town from 1610 until Independence in 1922.

The town owes its foundations to Sir Stephen Butler, the second son of a commoner – George Butler of Bedfordshire. Sir Stephen was one of fifteen ‘’ Undertakers ‘’ who secured a grant of 2000 acres or more of land in County Cavan at the Plantation of Ulster in 1609 to 1610. His share was ‘’the greater proportion of Belturbet and Derringlasse in the barony of Loughtee in the County of Cavan.’’ To this he added by purchase the lands of similar grantees so that his estate in this neighborhood amounted to over seven thousand ‘’profitable’’ acres. In consequence of the grant Sir Stephen Butler was required to erect a Castle and bawn of great strength and establish a town. In 1618 captain Nicholas Pynan in his survey of the plantation found that the castle and bawn of four stout walls were erected on a hill overlooking the river, and that the town consisted of thirty-five houses of wickerwork in the Irish fashion. He found the town dwellers were British, most of them tradesmen, and each having a house and garden plot with four acres of land, with a common right for a certain number of cattle. The town prospered with the erection of   two corn mills, a fullering mill, a tuck mill, a saw mill and a flax mill. Later a large Distillery and a Brewery were built. Cattle and horse fairs, pork, butter, fowl and fish markets were held on regular bases.

Sir Stephen Butler became Lord Lanesborough.

In 1613 King James 1 by letters patent set up Belturbet as a borough and granted it a charter. This document decreed that the new borough was to be governed by a provost and twelve free burgesses and have two sergeants –at –mace, a treasurer and town clerk, a herd and marshal –keeper or jailer. In addition the town was empowered to return two members of parliament. This right was retained until the parliament of Ireland and Britain became one by the Act of Union in 1800.

On the 24th Oct 1641 Myles O ‘Reilly seized Belturbet for the Irish Confederation. The town remained under native control until 1652.  Owen Roe O’Neill used it as a base for his northern Army. In 1649 he held a provisional council of the Northern Irish here. Soon after his death a council of the nobility and officers of the Ulster Irish was held in Belturbet.  In 1652 the town surrendered to the Cromwell Ian army. Belturbet then reverted to the sons of Sir Stephen Butler, who had died in 1639. He and his wife are buried in the chancel of the local Church of Ireland.

Shane McGovern a native of the Lawn. Belturbet, and living in Canada has compiled and published a limited edition of: ’’The Town Book of the Borough of Belturbet.’’ Taken from the often space records of Belturbet Corporation minutes books.

George Morrissey has compiled and published;’’Belturbet.Co Cavan a Chequered History.’’On sale in Seagraves, Newsagents and Henderson’s, Barbers, lower Bridge Street,Belturbet, Co Cavan, Ireland or Price 8 Euro.

Discover the unique and historic sites of Belturbet Cavan and surrounding areas.