Chapter One: Kinawley

Kinawley where we were born and grew up is also the home of our Leonard ancestors, the Leonards of Graffy, the townland adjoining our townland of Kinglass.  Terence Leonard, our earliest known ancestor (1788-1870) had a small farm in Graffy where his son, our great-grandfather Philip (the thumb)[1] was born in 1820. Granny Leonard, née Margaret Breen, also came from Kinawley, from the townland of Corrameen. On 22 February 1887, she and grandfather Philip Leonard of Clonursin were married in Kinawley RC church , the same church where we were baptized.  Our connections with Kinawley are therefore wide and deep.

The village of Kinawley lies in a remote area of south Fermanagh. The name means ‘The church of Naille’, the saint who established a monastery here in the seventh century. It gives its name to the parish of Kinawley, a narrow strip of country which extends from the foothills of the Cuilcagh mountains in county Cavan, northwards to the shores of upper Lough Erne – substantially the catchment of the Swanlinbar river. The parish is bisected almost at the middle by the border between Cavan and Fermanagh which is also the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.  In addition to the church in Kinawley, there is a church in Swanlinbar in the Republic.

Ancestral Family

Terence, the first known of our Leonard ancestors, died in 1870 aged 92 according to his death certificate, which would make his birth year 1778. He lived in the townland of Graffy, about a kilometre north of  Kinawley village along the Graffy road. Terence senior had at least three sons, Philip, Hugh and Terence.  Philip (the Thumb) was our great-grandfather. Terence (junior) succeeded to the Graffy farm and was in turn succeeded by his son John. We have records of three generations of Leonards in Graffy – Terence senior, Terence junior and John. These are the subjects of the next chapters.

According to the Griffith Survey in the 1850s Terence lived in a small house or cottage set about 100 yards east of  the Graffy road, on a farm of something over 12 statute acres[2]. These were originally Glebe (Church) lands and Terence, like most of his neighbours, had tenancy for successive 18 year periods. His grandson John and his family were still in occupation in 1895, but were gone by the time of the census in 1901, when the farm came into the ownership of a Veitch family. The farm lay adjacent to our home farm in Kinglass. The first recorded tenancy of Graffy in 1818 was obviously a continuation of an ongoing tenancy, but when it began we cannot tell. Terence may have been the first tenant, but it is more likely that he succeeded to a tenancy that went back for three or four generations before him.


The Kinawley landscape Terence knew has changed little today: a patchwork of rushy fields and ragged thorn hedges, of  low drumlin hills of unyielding clay surrounded by poor quality reclaimed peatland. An Ordnance Survey in 1834[3] established that a quarter of the countryside consisted of lowland bog. Tree growth even today is sparse and largely of shrub varieties, as it was in the 1800s. The same survey found: The general want of trees and the extent of the bogs towards Lough Erne make it ugly and dreary.”  To make it even more dreary is a persistent drizzle from the prevailing rain-laden Atlantic winds, releasing their watery burden in the lee of the Cuilcagh mountains. The countryside can indeed be dreary in sleety, winter days. But in summer it can be different, a pleasant, peaceful place of blossom and bird-song, of  flowery meadows fragrant with the scent of gorse and meadowsweet, and evenings “full of the linnets’ wings.”[4]


Kinawley today is up-to-date, with modern houses, roads and communications. It was different when Terence Leonard was bringing up his family on his small farm in Graffy. The Ordnance Survey mentioned above reported on the living conditions in Kinawley Parish at the time:

The cottages are very generally mud but some are of stone. The latter have generally 4 rooms, the former only two. They are universally thatched, very dirty and no comfort, with a few exceptions. The food is chiefly potatoes and buttermilk, sometimes eggs and stirabout. A few of the better class occasionally use bacon and fresh meal (meat?), the latter very seldom. The fuel is all turf of which there is no scarcity. The dress is not in general good, a great difference in this respect between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics; the former are so much better dressed. The usual number in a family varies from 5 to 10. They frequently marry as young as males 18 and females 15 years of age…There are a great many parts of families emigrate in the spring season to Canada and the United States, but none return. The inhabitants do not appear to go to England or other parts of the kingdom for harvest or other works… [5]

The last sentence refers to a pattern of emigration in parts of Ireland where people travelled for seasonal work to Scotland or England. Emigration from Kinawley was on a more permanent basis, usually to America or Australia. From famine times (1840s) to the second world war (1940s) the emigrant ship was the only outlook for most of the Kinawley youth. Those already gone would organise the emigration of younger members of the family. Families grew up in the expectation that sooner or later most or all of them would emigrate. The ‘American wakes’, a going-away party for those leaving was a common social event, poignant occasions of hope and heartbreak; hope for those leaving that they would find a new and better life, heartbreak for their parents at the realisation that they might never see their children again.

Those who came back after a lapse of years often came back as strangers, especially the men who had gone to America. The shy country boy who went away had become a fast walking, fast talking, city slicker, a ‘Yankee’, loud in voice and dress. For the emigrants’ part they too found that memory had played tricks on them. Home was much smaller and more cramped than the home they remembered. Life was more drab than their life abroad and the climate just awful. The country of their childhood and the land of their adoption were worlds apart. Few of them returned a second time.


The Swanlinbar valley was populated from prehistoric times, as the megalithic tombs on the eastern slopes of Bin (Benaughlin) mountain show.  Numerous raths, or hill forts, indicate a farming population here in the late Bronze Age (800-500 BC). It is thought that about the time of Christ there was an influx of Celts to the area. They had spread from Central Europe, bringing a new language and a new culture. Lough Erne would have been their main access route from the west. It is easy to imagine the mouth of the Cam river as an attractive landing place, and the ridge of Kinawley, three miles upstream to the south, a natural site to pitch camp. Centuries later, in the early 1600s at the Plantation of Ulster, Kinawley had another influx of strangers. The historian Rev. Dr. Traynor writes:

In the early years of the seventeenth century the old Gaelic order came to an end. Military defeat was followed by a vast scheme of confiscation and plantation throughout most of Ulster… Small holdings were granted to the native Irish in Clanawley, with large estates assigned the British Army servitors interspersed between them.[6]

The descendants of the Planters are now integrated into the community, their names easily distinguishable from the native Irish. Most common are the Scottish names, Crawford and Thompson. and those derived from the Scottish borders, Beattie, Crozier, Elliott, Foster, Graham and Storey among others.[7] These Planter names stand out from the identifiable Gaelic (and mostly Catholic) family names of which Maguire and McManus are the most numerous. Then there is Drum, the most Kinawley of all names. The Drums were herenachs, or guardians, of the church lands in Kinawley from the mediaeval times. Other well-known Kinawley names are McGovern, McHugh, Murphy, Gilleece, O’Reilly, Owens (Hoins) and many less numerous, including the Leonards. From Dr Traynor we learn that “many of the dispossessed natives from various parts of Fermanagh were given small holdings in the parish of Kinawley which explains the preponderance of Catholics in the area”  (a majority of about three to one) and which may explain why, in the early 1860s, eleven families of Leonards, whose ancient homeland is the area north of the Lough McNeans in south-west Fermanagh, appear as tenants of Scottish Servitors and of the Church of Ireland on small holdings in Kinawley parish.

Kinawley in the 1930s

In the Kinawley we knew in the 1930s, living conditions had improved in the intervening one hundred years. The mud cabins had given way to houses of stone and thatch, still heated by turf fires. There was an adequate diet of home-baked bread, home-made butter and jams and milk, and for main meals, potatoes, cabbage, parsnips and turnips, bacon and eggs and, occasionally a fowl or cut of beef. On Sundays and celebrations the main meal was followed by a sweet from home-grown fruit or rhubarb, also used for jam-making. In contrast to the Ordnance Survey of 1834 which reported that the road from Enniskillen to Swanlinbar “is now in many parts nearly impassable for want of repair”,[8] the main roads in our day were sealed with a tar-pitch-chippings mixture and the side roads stone-surfaced, all maintained by government. There was a creamery in Kinawley where farmers brought their milk daily, a post office with a public telephone and daily postal delivery. The slated two-roomed school we attended in the 1930/40s was founded in 1862 and constructed from the stones and slates of the old Catholic church in 1882. It had a turf-box in the porch which the parents supplied with peat for the open fire; they had the option of contributing money for coal. We went bare-footed over the fields and stony lanes to school in summer and played football with a rag ball in Bobby Crawford’s field behind the police barracks.

The Modern Kinawley

Kinawley today is populated by a new generation, self-confident and capable, living in a modern world of central heating and two-car families. A short distance south of the village there is the townland of Corgesh, a flat bog-land where once there was nothing but turf-stacks. Here there is a modern bungalow which houses a communications centre serving American business. The raw data which arrives during the night as offices close in the USA is promptly processed and returned to be on American desks at opening time next morning. On a rutty laneway behind the bungalow you may still see an old man trundling homewards with a donkey and cart; a disappearing relic of a past age when the only deadline was the approach of dark and the only clock the sun or the Angelus bell. What remains forever unchanged is the landscape of rushy fields swept by the rainy winds from the south and watched over by Bin mountain standing like a sentinel on the western rim of the Swanlinbar river valley.

[1]He lost the thumb of his right hand caught, we were told, in a bollard when working as a deck-hand on a boat plying between Melbourne and Tasmania.

[2]A landlord’s record of tenants, circa 1830, gives Terence Leonard’s acreage as just over five. This might have been the ‘arable’ acreage only, e.g. excluding bogs.

[3]Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland (the Colby Survey) 1834 (See Bibliography)

[4]W B Yeats, “Innisfree“.

[5]Ibid footnote 3.

[6] Kinawley Through the Ages, by the Very Reverend O F Traynor, PhD PP. p13.  (Clanawley is the Barony in which Kinawley is situated. There is no connection between the names.)

[7] These names are listed in Carlisle museum as family names of the Reivers, raiders from the Scottish border cleared out by James II and said to have been given lands in Fermanagh and Cavan.

[8]Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, p108.