An old door with a phone number helps visitors learn more about Leitrim townlands

One of the doors part of Amach - To the fields project

Do you ever wonder about who lived on your land before you, or imagine who used to call an old farmhouse home?

The people of Leitrim are sharing their stories with one other and with visitors in a project that celebrates the richness of Ireland’s townlands.

Every townland in Ireland is steeped in folklore and history and in Leitrim the stories of 21 of the 1,058 townlands are being told.

Edwina Guckian curated the Amach - To The Field project which was born out of a love for the local area and conversations with elderly people.

The project ran at the end of 2023 and will resume later this year with a fresh batch of townlands.

An old door, taken from a local house or farmyard, and two chairs were placed in each of the 21 townlands and visitors could listen to a recording made by the local landowner.

Ms Guckian says conversations with older people have inspired her work.

“... I end up listening to a lot of stories... I’m a farm girl and I’ve lived on our farm all my life and by hanging out with these older generation people I have a direct connection to them... to the land and something to communicate with them about,” she said.

The project had a dual function. Not only was it educational, there was a social aspect too, as people from the townlands would go to the doors and provide deeper context than the recorded stories ever could.

“Loads of people visiting the doors have told us that they have got a much more enhanced visit because when they got to ring the numbers on the doors... by the time they were finished, there would be people standing beside them from the townlands that had come out to talk to them and suddenly were telling them more stories about the townlands,” Ms Guckian said.

One of the townlands featured in the project was Castletown and a family who live on the land shared some interesting stories on the history of their home.

Oran O’Connor, a boy who calls Castletown his home, said: “The castle on this land is O’Rourke’s Castle and it was the first use of gunpowder in Ireland in 1487”.

Eimear O’Connor, Oran’s mother, whose family have lived in the townland for generations, tells a story about her townland and a famous sailor from the ill-fated Spanish Armada.

“De Cuellar, who was washed up at Streedagh Beach [in Sligo], was a famous sailor for the Spanish Armada,” Mrs O’Connor said.

“He made his way all across Glencar and his diaries record the natives helping him the whole way across Glencar.

“He had no clothes, no food and he stayed in huts along the lake and eventually O’Rourke gave him refuge here, so there are recordings in his diary of staying in Castletown, hiding from the English.”

Gerry Bohan, of Aghadrumcarn, or Aghran, tells the story of a mystical tomb buried on the land and the curse that keeps locals scared to this day.

“Blessed with the responsibility of being the caretaker of a neolithic burial ground that stands on my land, to avoid hooves damaging the ancient structure I have erected a livestock-proof fence around it,” Mr Bohan said.

“Protected from human interference by the stories of its powers, a story told about a man called James Dean digging into it looking for treasure has been talked about many a time by the people of our townland.

“Spending most of the day digging, he had got more than halfway down the 10-foot-high cairn but had found no treasure.

“Coming onto evening and jobs still needed to be done on the farm, he left the cairn with the intention of returning the next day to delve further into the heart of the ancient burial tomb.”

Mr Bohan continued: “Whilst milking the cows that evening, a usually quiet cow turned wild and stabbed his eye with her horn, poking him again she drove a horn deep into the man’s ear.

“It was said that from that evening on, the man witnessed two worlds; from his good eye and ear, he could see and hear the same world as everyone else.

“From his damaged eye and ear, Dean witnessed a world where ghosts and spirits taunted him day and night.”

Mr Bohan went on to say that in a written evaluation of 1847, James Dean is listed as an occupant of the townland, however, there are no Deans in the townlands now and the only remnants of the existence of that family are the “words and numbers in that evaluation”.

The project not only enticed people from Leitrim to find out more about the area but has also sparked interest from people outside Ireland who have contacted the organisers ahead of visiting.

Ms Guckian said she has had expressions of interest from other townlands.

Amach - To The Field was in collaboration with artist Natalia Beylis and farmer John Matthews supported by Save Leitrim, Creative Ireland & Leitrim County Council.