Shercock is a civil parish in the southeast of Cavan, on the border of County Monaghan. To the Catholic church, it is part of the parish of Killan, which also includes Baileboro to the south. "Killan" means "Church of Ann," and the church there is now called St. Ann's, though it seems likely that the name originally referred to the Celtic sun goddess Aine rather than the Christian saint (just as neighboring Knockbride was originally named for the goddess Brigit, who later became St. Brigid). St. John's Eve (i.e. midsummer night's eve, June 23), considered sacred to Aine, is still marked around Shercock as a night when one is likely to encounter the Little People. The ancient celebration of Lughnassa (July 30-August 1), originally the feast of the Celtic god Lugh, was still observed in Shercock in the 19th Century, at a site known as Leix rocks.
The origin of the name of Shercock is obscure. Some trace it to "Shire of the Blind" (Shire Caoch), from the story of blind Niall O'Reilly, but this mixture of English and Irish seems improbable. It's also claimed the name derives from Searc na nOg, meaning "beloved of the young"; apparently the site of Shercock, nestled among three loughs (lakes), figures in a folktale as the meeting place of young lovers. But Shercock in Irish is spelled "Searcog," which translates as "Sweetheart"; visitors to the tiny, lovely town will not have difficulty imagining why it would be given that name. (One of Aine's titles was Leanan Sidhe, or "Sweetheart of the Sidhe," the fairy folk.)
Shercock was and still is a largely rural, undeveloped area, home to about 5,000 inhabitants in 1837. Geographer Samuel Lewis' description of Shercock in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland reflects the kind of agricultural life that our ancestors there must have lived: "The land, in general good, is chiefly under tillage, producing crops of oats, potatoes and flax.... There is a market for flax, poultry, and pigs every Wednesday; and a corn market every Saturday: and fairs, where horses, cows, sheep, asses, and goats are exposed for sale, take place on the second Wednesday of every month."
The parish is perhaps best known as the location of Lough Sillian, reputedly named for a daughter of the Irish sea god Mannanan. (Aine was also said to have been a daughter of Mannanan.) The loch is famed for its large pike and other fishing.
There were several schools in Shercock that enrolled some 400 students in 1837. The parish may claim as a famous son the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who wrote The Rivals and The School for Scandal; the Sheridans were friends of Jonathan Swift, who may have started writing Gulliver's Travels at their Shercock estate.
The town of Shercock, at the center of the parish, is a small village, with just one main street surrounded by countryside; today it has some 250 residents. A resident of nearby Cootehill reports that Shercock used to be known as a gambling town: Specifically, the residents were supposed to be keen "pitch and toss" players, a game that involved flipping coins.
The novel Tarry Flynn, by the acclaimed Irish writer Patrick Kavanagh, is set in the countryside around Shercock about a century later, but it still paints a vivid picture of the hardships and frustrations of rural Irish life.
The nearest "big town" to Shercock was Carrickmacross in County Monaghan; its 2,000 residents are about eight miles away. Lewis notes that Shercock was formerly noted for the weaving of coarse linen, but "of late years it has considerably diminished." The lack of employment in Shercock was much cited by the emigrants who came from the area.
Next: The Kearneys of Shercock.
This page was created by James Kearney Naureckas. Please email him with any corrections, suggestions or comments.