A short history
of Limavady

Limavady council 1904 AD

Back row from left to right: 

M.E.Walker - S. Cassidy J.P. - H. Connell, J.P. - J.T.R. Chambers (Treasurer) - W.J. Shannon (Rate Collector) - S. Stirling - Major A. Boyle, J.P. - S. Macartney, C.E. (Surveyer) - John Miller

Limavady council in 1904

Front row from left to right:
R.A. Thorpe - J.W.Watson M.D - J.D.Boyd, J.P. (Clerk) - B. Douglas, J.P. (Chairman) -
S. Bloomfield - J.W.Black (Gas Department - W. May (Town officer)

It is said that the new town of Limavady (Newtoun Limavaddy) was founded in the early seventeenth century and that it was burned down to the ground twice 'ere that century was over. This feat is easier said than done, because the constant rain which has been dripping down here ever since the dinosaurs last ruled the place (surprising how few things have changed over the years), must have made that task  near impossible.
 A Border Collie
The name 'Limavady' is of Gaelic origin and means "Leap of the dog" (Leim an Mhadaidh). This is a reference to a rather charming legend featuring a clever dog who warned the clan of the O'Cahans, who were the dinosaurs in those days, about approaching enemies with evil intent. He did this by leaping across the River Roe with a message in his mouth. I like to think that the brave canine in question can only have been a medieval ancestor of the Border Collie, because jumping ravines whilst carrying pointless equipment is just the sort of stunt border collies like to do every day of the week
Numerous members of this lovable canine breed still populate the valley. Every one of them stubbornly determined not only to save the O'Cahans, should the need arise again, but the whole of Ireland and possibly the rest of the planet as well!

Over the years the Roe Valley has exerted an irresistible attraction to any collection of macho guys who happened to feel like indulging in a spot of marauding. DNA analysis indicates that the first settlers, who arrived here during the early iron age, came from the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal. They had adopted a Celtic culture and some of them were fairly careless with their gold ornaments. The famous Broighter gold, which was discovered just outside Limavady by a farm worker, is a magnificent example of Celtic metal working skills. 

By the standards of the time the valley was well populated, witness the many raths in the area. The Rough Fort is a well preserved example of such an ancient farmstead.
              golden Broighter boat

During the eight and ninth centuries the Vikings put in an appearance and one or two battles were fought in the area. Rumour has it that the Norsemen didn't have it all their own way, but they won in the end.

Next came the Normans, who not only raided the place, but decided to stay. They lived in their 'Manor of Ro' (Roe) and already had two water mills. Water power has always been an attraction of the Roe Valley. However, the Normans themselves were replaced by another invasion, this time from Scotland. In 1315 Edward Bruce and his Scottish troops laid waste the 'Manor of Ro' and drove the Normans out. The locals, under the leadership of the O'Cahans, took advantage of the power vacuum and seized the rule of the Roe Valley. This didn't bring lasting peace either, because there was constant bickering between the local chieftains.

If you consider how out of the way Ulster is and also ponder upon the fact that there are few natural resources, the interest shown in this place by all these warlike outsiders must have been very gratifying for the locals. Next in the long line of invaders was Henry VIII. Bored with all those wives, he decided to grab Ireland before the Spaniards did so,  and by 1591 the O'Cahan territories had been made a shire, and we hear the first mention of the 'Baronie Lymbavadye'. The locals rebelled, but by 1609 they had been defeated. The earls took flight and the plantation arrived.

Because Ulster had been the most difficult part of Ireland to control (surprise, surprise) most of the province was confiscated by the crown who proceeded to distribute the bits and pieces to various friends and cronies - what you might call an early form of privatisation.
The fishmongers crest For the Roe Valley all this meant that the place was carved up between four of the big London guilds: The fishmongers, whose somewhat mutilated local crest can be studied on the left, the grocers, the haberdashers and the skinners. They drew lots out of a hat for their land (beats taking out a mortgage) and felt pretty smug about it, until they heard about Captain Thomas Philips, who had captured O'Neill's castle in Toome a few years before. Sir Thomas must be the envy of every estate agent in the valley because he persuaded the crown to give him 'the horse pond of Limavdy', 3 500 acres of the best agricultural land in the valley.

As part of the development of all these riches, he founded a small settlement, consisting of a few houses and an inn and called it 'Limma Vadde'. In 1612 the valley was made a corporate borough and given the right to select two members of parliament.

As indicated earlier, not all was plain sailing and the town got involved in the unrest of the times, but few equally exciting things have happened to the lucky inhabitants of this quiet little place as the centuries dragged on, (discounting being burned down to the ground twice at the first attempt, of course).

In 1842 the poet William Makepeace Thackeray travelled through Limavady and recorded his stay at the local inn in his book "The Irish Sketch Book". Evidently he fell in love straight away, if that splendid poem "Peg of Limavaddy" is anything to go by.

In 1870 the town's folks finally got sick of that long name "Newtownlimavady" and the place has been plain and simple "Limavady" ever since.
It's 1896 now, and a local farm hand, while ploughing a large, rain soaked field, stumbled across the famous 1200 year old Broighter Gold. This ancient treasure can be admired in the "National Museum of Ireland" in Dublin. Duplicates of these beautiful gold ornaments are usually in Belfast's "Ulster Museum"  and a holographic display can be admired in the council offices.
Jane Ross house in Limavady Jane Ross is said to have jotted down the famous tune "The Londonderry Air"; i.e. "Danny Boy" (originally 'The O'Cahans' lament'), whilst hearing it played outside her window in Main Street by a blind fiddler.

The name "Ross" is still very common in the area and many people come to Limavady solely to tread the same dusty pavements as Jane. The building in the photograph is rather helpfully known as the "Jane Ross house" and can be found in Main Street. Once a year the town holds a Danny Boy festival.

Around 1900 or so, the woods along the River Roe were put up for sale, so that some unknown business man could cut down all those lovely trees. Luckily the people of Limavady, who enjoyed a good walk more than most, started a petition, collected lots of money, bought the place and established one of the first protected woodlands in Ireland. This is now the Roe Valley Country Park
The Massey dinner
In 1856 William Ferguson Massey was born in Limavady. His family moved to New Zealand and from 1912 to 1925 he was the prime minister of that country. Limavady honoured him by naming Massey Avenue after him and recently they placed a bronze statue of the honourable gentleman outside the council offices.

In 1916, during the first World War, William Massey visited Limavady and a splendid luncheon was given in his honour. 

The venue was the Alexander Memorial Hall. The menu included soup Julienne, oyster patties, chicken and ham, roast mutton and sirloin of beef  followed by trifle and coffee.

Not at all a bad wartime spread! The photograph on the right commemorates the memorable occasion.

Control Tower on the Limavady airfield During the next world war an airfield was hastily built in the area, because Limavady was the closest place to the United States.

 Thousands of  British, American and Canadian pilots and crew were stationed on and around the Limavady air field at Aghanloo to patrol the Atlantic seaways. Many of the old army Nissan huts still remain, and the student of history can learn how the soldiers in 1942 must have lived.  Link to Limavady aerodrome

Unfortunately the runway was very close to beautiful mount Benevenagh, which caused many planes to crash and many young men lost their lives when their plane missed the runway and crashed into the surrounding slopes.
Richard Branson
              over Limavady A few years back there was further excitement when a different kind of flyer - Richard Branson - flew his silvery balloon over the town. He and his co-pilot had just crossed the Atlantic from America. The daring men in their hot-air balloon touched down in a field just outside the town, lost some gas tanks and took off again, only to plunge into the sea just off Rathlin island some miles away.

However, the short landing in Limavady proved to be crucial in establishing a new record: The very first non-stop balloon flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Not many people know this, but Mr. Branson also holds the record for the most round-about gas delivery to the Roe Valley ever.

During the recent troubles, the valley has suffered like other places in Ulster. Many people have lost loved ones or got injured themselves. Nevertheless, Limavady still is - and always was - a nice and friendly place where all are welcome.

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