Crossmolina is situated on the River Deel. A large stone bridge was originally built over this river, replaced in 1893 by an iron bridge and this in turn by the present bridge in the 1980’s.
The town derived its name from the Irish – Cros Ui Maolfhiona – as a result of a cross which was erected there in memory of O Maolfhiona, a member of the local ruling family and a chieftain of the Clann Fiachra.
In the past when Crossmolina was part of Iorrus – Domann inhabited by the fir-bolgs, the earliest known settlers of Moyleog (or Moylaw) were the Calry sept of the Fir-Domann. The Kings of Hy-Fiachrach kept a fortress at Inniscoe and another on Annagh Island in Lough Conn. One of the Fiachra sons Daithi reigned as Ard-Ri from 405 A.D. to 483 A.D. His brother Amhalghaidh or Awley became ruler of Hy-Fiachrach Moy and this territory became known as Tir-Awley.
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Errew Abbey was founded by St. Tiernan the patron of Crossmolina in the 6th century. The present ruins are those of a building of the 12th century which was probably erected by Tirawley Burke.
The Celts came to the area around 500 B.C. bringing with them their customs and traditions. The invasion of the area by the Barretts (Cambro-Normans who had been in Wales since around 1066) is placed at around 1270. By around 1300 the Barretts had established an Augustinian priory and castle. The priory, known as St. Mary’s Abbey, was situated in the area now known as Abbeytown.
Crossmolina Abbey was founded in 1300 A.D. by a member of the deBarry family who held estates in Crossmolina around this time. Later it passed into the hands of Edmund Albanach Burke of Inniscoe. In 1386 A.D. forces from Sligo Castle devastated the orchards of Inniscoe and Castlehill. In 1526, O’Donnell of Tirconnell captured Crossmolina and Castlehill. In 1570, Richard Burke of Castlehill opposed the other Burkes of Tirawley in widespread revolt against English misrule. The English, led by Richard Bingham, won the battle at the windy gap in 1586 and brought the prisoners to an island on Lough Conn.
In 1798, when General Humbert landed at Kilcummin, a large contingent from the Crossmolina area led by Hugh Maguire joined the French forces. A member of this contingent, Patrick Walsh, was sent to Ballina to prepare for the arrival of the French but was arrested and hanged shortly after entering the town. Fr. James Conroy from the parish of Addergoole, Lahardane, acted as interpreter between the French and the Irish. Fr. Owen Cowley from the parish of Crossmolina also acted as interpreter for the French and had to go ‘on the run’ after the rebellion.
The Great Famine 1845/49 left its mark on Crossmolina. Population figures for 1841 and 1851 show a drop of 5,000. In the latter part of the 18th century Crossmolina improved considerably as roads were developed and the Congested Districts Board became involved in land development.
In 1930, Henry William Cooke started a sawmill at Fortland. He purchased a steam engine, rack bench and push bench. He employed two men initially and they made egg and turkey boxes because of the huge export market for eggs and turkeys to Britain at this time. In 1944 as the business progressed, a Rustin Ormbsy stationary diesel engine was purchased to replace the two steam engines and forty men were employed full time. In the mid to late ‘40s the Government banned the cutting of native timber and all timber had to be imported. This made box making very expensive. In 1950, egg exporting stopped and by 1960 turkey exporting also collapsed. To insure men in this type of work was expensive and having had a number of accidents and therefore large claims, it was decided to let most of the men off in 1956.
The Oweninny works and the E.S.B. plant at Bellacorick have played a major role in the growth of the town. Those works were set up in 1952. Over the next ten years a number of tasks were undertaken including draining, construction of railways, roads surface grading and workshop construction. Production commenced in 1962 and all the milled peat produced was sold to the 40-Megawatt power station. The first ten years of production were difficult due mainly to bad weather but over the years the workforce increased and hence production increased. All sales have been made to the E.S.B. Power Station at Bellacorick.
Extract from article by Crossmolina Historical and Archaeological Society. Reproduced by their kind permission.