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Francis McGann - Mathematician, Mapper, Surveyor (1786-1815)

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Francis McGann - Mathematician, Mapper, Surveyor (1786-1815)

Posted: 965217600000
Classification: Biography
Edited: 993231521000
Surnames: McGann, McDonald, Reynolds, Kane, Baggot, Lawder, Peyton, Cox, Clancy, Forde
The ballad, "The Fate of Francis McGann," by John Cox, the poet of Clooncarne, records the life and tragic death in a snowstorm of a brilliant Co. Leitrim, Ireland mathematical scholar during the early part of the 19th century and keeps his memory alive:

"He was versed in the language of all foreign parts,
And master of several bright liberal arts,
The art of surveying he had a command,
Mathematics and logic he did understand.
He could measure the air, the sea or the land,
John Cox gives his praises to Francis McGann."

Francis McGann was born in 1786 in Drumlara, in the parish of Mohill and received his early education at a hedge-school there conducted by Hugh McDonald. Later, he attended a school kept by Owen Reynolds in Mohill; Reynolds was was reputed to have been an excellent teacher of mathematics and earned himself the title of "Bright Star" in mathematical learning. Later, McGann attended a popular school conducted by Parson Kane at Drumsna on the banks of the Shannon where he studied the classics.

McGann's chief interest remained in mathematics and he subsequently traveled to the south of Ireland to complete his education at the famous mathematical school of Ballingarry in Co. Limerick conducted by Baggot, a mathematician of great fame and a correspondent of the French physicist, Larpace.

Returning to Drumlara, Francis McCann established a reputation as a mapper and surveyor and a pioneer in the art of preparing accurate large-scale maps which was developed later by the Ordnance Survey. He drew a map of the district of Bunnybeg on a dried and pressed sheepskin for the Lawder family and also mapped the Killamaun and Eslin rivers. It is said he was offered a position in India as a surveyor but declined.

Following the 1798 insurrection there was considerable military activity in Co. Leitrim where undisciplined and irresponsible parties of militia and yeomen continued a campaign of harrassment. McGann was appointed leader of the "White Rocks," a national defensive organization which was a development of the United Irishmen in 1798.

In 1815, the Yeoman, lead by Minor Peyton, a local despot residing near Keshcarrigan, burned Drumcollop and had the road torn up to prevent people having access to the local Catholic church; his actions were denounced by McGann in a speech which was recited from memory by the people for a century thereafter.

While on his way to visit friends in the townland of Kilnagross, McGann perished in a heavy snowstorm on the morning of December 21st, 1815, and his body was subsequently discovered in a snowdrift.

More information can be found in "Schools and Scholars of Breiffne," Philip O'Connell.

Note - Regarding Irish teacher and school records, per John Grenham, "Tracing Your Irish Ancestors," there is a list of all parochial schools in Ireland, including names of teachers and other details, 1824, Irish Education Enquiry, 1826, 2nd Report, (2 volumes) in the National Library of Ireland. Indexed in "Schoolmasters and mistresses in Ireland," Dingfelder, NL IR. There are National School Records, National Archives, Dublin, consisting of NT's salary books from 1831.

Some published works include:
1. D. H. Akenson, "The Irish Education Experiment," London, 1970.
2. T. S. Corcoran, "Some lists of Catholic lay teachers and their illegal schools in the later Penal times," National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
3. Teachers of Cashel and Emly, 1750-60, "Catholic Bulletin, Vol. XXIX.
4. Brenan, "1775-1835: Schools of Kildare and Leighlin," NL IR.
5. R. ffolliott, Some schoolmasters in the diocese of Killaloe, 1808, "North Munster Antiquarian Journal, Vol. XI, 1968.
6. Linden, "Irish school-masters in the American colonies," NL IR.
7. Maura Clancy, Sr. Inspector, Dept. of Education, together with Patrick Forde, (both of whom are from Ballinaglera, Co. Leitrim) have written an account of early hedge schools and national schools and their teachers, "Ballinaglera: Aspects of its History and Traditions," 1980.

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