O'Cahans and the leaping dog
Published 23/08/2002 | 00:00
Ciaran O'Neill delves into the colourful history attached to Roe Valley Country Park near Limavady
A WALK through Roe Valley Country Park on the outskirts of Limavady is also a walk through one of the North West's most historic locations.
The park, which stretches for three miles along both sides of the River Roe, is home to the original site of the famous O'Cahan's Castle.
The O'Cahan clan have been associated with the Roe Valley since 1122, where they enjoyed undisputed rule until 1260 when they were defeated by the Normans.
The O'Cahans did not regain power until over a century later. However, once re-established, they ruled for a further 30 years.
The O'Cahans fought many heroic battles in order to maintain supremacy and endured numerous sieges.
The story is often repeated that during one such siege, a faithful dog of the O'Cahans managed to leap across the Roe to deliver a message to their allies in Dungiven.
The spot from which the dog leapt was duly named, 'Leim an mhadaidh' or 'Leap of the Dog', and is still known to this day as the Dogleap.
The Dogleap is just south of O'Cahan's Rock, where another famous jump occurred. To escape the forces of the law, a member of the O'Cahan clan is reputed to have leapt from this high cliff on horseback and to have landed safely on the opposite bank. It is said a hoof mark can still be seen in the rocks below.
The chief seat of the O'Cahans was at 'Leim an mhadaidh', and the old town of Limavady derived its name from the Irish translation of Dogleap.
The Castle of the O'Cahans was occupied until approximately 1607, and the original site of the stronghold can still be seen today.
Sir Thomas Philips was an English soldier to whom James I granted much of the land forfeited by the O'Cahans, including the Roe Valley.
He demolished O'Cahan's Castle and built a two-storey house with pleasure garden, dove cote, orchard and deer park.
Sir Thomas also founded 'Newtown Limavady' and constructed a weir at O'Cahan's Rock in the 17th century, which harnessed the waters of the Roe to power a lade system and water mill.
The park is also home to the oldest hydro-electric station in Ulster.
The Power House was built by JE Ritter in 1896, after he had experimented with hydro electricity in his own home.
The station, which was taken over by the Electricity Board of Northern Ireland in 1946, supplied the Limavady area with electricity until 1963.
Although now out of use, the station is still open to the public as a museum.
The historical links between the Limavady area and the weaving are also in evidence at the country park.
The Roe Valley, with its damp soil and moist climate, was ideal for growing flax and the river was also a source of water power for machinery to process the flax and make linen.
In the 17th century, Plantation settlers developed the linen industry, and within 100 years, Limavady became the most important weaving town in Co Londonderry.
Nestling within the park's grounds is a weaving shed, dating from the 18th century, which was an early and successful attempt to centralise the home-based weaving industry in the valley.
The thriving industry went into decline in the 20th century as cheap imports became available but the shed keeps alive the link with Limavady's prosperous past.