When I first heard of Lismore school I was mildly surprised that the new Catholic Comprehensive had not been called after a saint in the time-honoured fashion. Shortly after I arrived here in 1976 I became aware of a “lios mor” or ” big fort” in the school grounds from which our school received its name. The site of this Fort was seriously overgrown with brambles, bushes, trees. On the rare occasions when I would meet Canon Murray, the first Chairman of the School’s Board of Governors, in recent years, his first question was always, “Have you done anything about the fort, yet?”
The arrival of the 25th anniversary of the school’s opening provided the trigger. An examination of ordnance survey maps of this area back through the years revealed that the old fort was the only recorded feature up as far as 1964.
After studying the maps, I invited Michael McDonagh, a contract archaeologist from the Environment and Heritage Service, Belfast, to examine the site. He was quite excited by what he saw. He concluded that here was an early Christian Farmstead settlement which could be dated between 900 A.D. and 1200 A.D. All traces of buildings and original palisade fencing had long since gone but almost all of the original surrounding defensive ditch was still discernible. In the dense undergrowth what was probably the original causewayed entrance into the fort was visible, with the larger boulders upon which the entrance was laid protruding clearly. Michael had no doubt that if the site was excavated, we would unearth shards of bone, pottery etc.
Many of these early settlements were destroyed in the mid-Ulster area through farming and building developments down the years, though a fine example of an ancient fort remains at Lisnamintry, just a couple of miles from Lismore School.
The “lios” was normally a circular fort, often built on a hilltop, which would have housed an extended farming family and its animals. It usually consisted of walls of earth and an outer ditch enclosing a level area containing wooden huts with thatched roofs, the remains of which are now often buried under present grassy surface. The bank and ditch provided a strong defence against wild animals, including wolves, and hostile neighbours. Underground souterrains were used as refuges in many forts during times of unrest.
With the help of a grant from Craigavon Borough Council’s Leisure Services Department, and with the proceeds of a little local fund-raising, we were now in a position to clean up our “lios mor.”
Work began on clearing the scrub and vegetation in the fort area, which resulted in the revealing of the protected ditch and the causeway. Some levelling and reseeding of the central enclosed area followed, with the installation of a commemorative plaque naming and dating the “lios,” so that its serenity and antiquity can be more fully enjoyed by students and visitors.
Our “lios mor” is a landmark and a tangible link with the farmers and settlers who worked this land 1,000 years ago. We would like to preserve it as part of a common heritage for the benefit of all the people of this area, and in particular, the school children. It has been made available to some local schools and interested adult groups from both communities as a teaching aid, especially in history. We trust that it will also remind our own students and staff more clearly why the school they work in is called Lismore.
– Joe Corrigan (Principal of Lismore Comprehensive)