Castlebar Town A Brief History
© Brian Hoban, Adv. Cert. Marine & Countryside Guiding
Guided tour each Wednesday evening at 7p.m and in addition each Friday & Saturday July and August. Depart The Courthouse, The Mall at 10:30 am. Also group tours by appointment: 087 9234504
Adults €8, children U-12 free with accompanying adult.
Reproduced with kind permission from Brian Hoban.
Foundation of Town
The first settlement of note in the Castlebar area can be traced to the thirteenth century de Barra (Barry) family. The family were Norman settlers and the castle they constructed here in 1235 lent its name to the town that grew up around it. The de Barra castle and lands fell to the de Burgo (Burke) family who were themselves forced to fight to save their lands against the encroachment of later English influence.
Sir John Bingham had been granted the rebellious Burke’s castle at Castlebar in 1586 by his brother Sir Richard Bingham after he fought alongside him as assistant commissioner during Sir Richard’s raids in the province as the crown appointed Governor of Connacht. On 26 March 1613 King James I granted the loyal John Bingham a charter of incorporation. Under this charter the town was governed by a portreeve (mayor) and a fifteen member corporation. The corporation was entitled to send two members to the Irish Parliament until 1800.
In 1691 the town being the main British outpost in Connaught next to Galway, was made a garrison town. Over the years several regiments of the British Army were posted here including the Welsh and Scottish Fencibles, the 69th Regiment and later the Connaught Rangers. The present barracks was built in 1834 with the entrance pillars at Rock Square being completed in 1831. Portion of the barracks was burned during the Irish Civil War in 1922.
The Bingham Connection
The Bingham family remained patrons of Castlebar until the twentieth century. Sir Charles Bingham became 1st Earl of Lucan in 1795. In 1781, Sir Charles’ daughter Lavinia married George Spencer, later 2nd Earl Spencer. The Spencer family built a summer residence at Spencer Park in Castlebar. Lady Diana Spencer was great great great granddaughter of the 2nd Earl Spencer and his wife. The 3rd Earl of Lucan was notorious in how he treated his tenants during the Famine. He was known as the ‘Exterminator’ due to his wholesale eviction of tenants for non-payment of rents in the mid-1800s. Thousands died of starvation in the locality during that period, while thousands more emigrated. The 4th Earl was a more popular figure. He reduced the rents, provided the sites for schools and the Catholic Church and his successor donated the Green (town centre park) to the town in 1922.
Daly’s Hotel was founded in 1785. It was originally a Coaching Inn. The mail coach from Ballinasloe to Westport used stop here. It still retains some of the features from that period e.g. the stonework around the doorways, gaslamp over door, oak paneling and fireplace in dining room. In 1879, James Daly along with Michael Davitt founded the Land League in the hotel. Across the road from here once stood the hanging tree where patriot priest Fr. Conroy was hanged in 1798. John Wesley laid the foundation for the Methodist Church in 1785. A Bridewell Jail was built next door to here in 1786. It was here that George Robert Fitzgerald- “the Fighting Fitzgerald” of Turlough Park House was hanged in for his part in the murder of Randall Mc Donnell, a neighbouring landowner, in 1786. A monument depicting Lir, Celtic God of the Sea is situated near here in memory of Ernie O’Malley, Freedom Fighter.
Court sittings are recorded in Castlebar as far back as the 1600s. The present courthouse underwent reconstruction in the 1822. It has some interesting architectural features especially around the windows and the classic Greek Doric columns –one of the first such features made from wrought iron to be used in Connaught. Beside here also is the birthplace of famous Soprano Margaret Burke Sheridan- Prima Donna. Next to this stands the recently renovated Garda Barracks. This building was once the British Cavalry Barracks. The only remnants of the original building are the two statues of lions that once adorned the entrance pillars to the old barracks. As we move around the Green there are four Georgian Houses, once homes of British Civil Servants. On the site of the County Council building the County Infirmary was built in 1834 and was in use until 1932. Dr. Anthony Mc Bride, brother of executed 1916 leader Major John Mc Bride, was resident surgeon here in the early 20th century.
The Church of Ireland is one of the oldest buildings in the town. The foundation stone (situated inside the main gate) was laid in 1739. The church was renovated in 1828. The churchyard contains the gravestone of the Fraziers Fencibles, a Scottish Regiment killed in action in 1798. Also situated here is a memorial to Major General George O’Malley. George O’Malley was a member of an aristocracy family who resided at Ballinvilla and who served with the British Army in North America, Egypt and around the Mediterranean. He was also wounded twice in the Battle of Waterloo 1815. He died in 1847 and is buried in the family burial plot in Murrisk Abbey.
This monument was erected in 1948 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Races of Castlebar. Beside this is the grave of John Moore, from Moorehall, who was appointed President of Connaught following the capture of Castlebar by the Franco-Irish forces in 1798. He died in captivity awaiting deportation in Waterford Harbour in 1799. His remains were re-interred here in 1961. The ceremony was attended by the President of Ireland Éamon de Valera and was given the full honours of Church and State.
Ellison Street is named after Rev. Ellison, Church of Ireland Rector in Castlebar and land agent for Lord Lucan. General Humbert and his troops captured Ellison along with Bishop Stock from Killala in 1798. Bishop Stock wrote an account of the rising called “Stock’s Narratives.” Just off this street is Cavendish Lane- so called after Lord Frederick Cavendish, who founded the Connaught Telegraph newspaper on St. Patrick’s Day 1828. This is the oldest provincial paper still published in Ireland. The paper has as its Motto: “Be Just and Fear Not.” It was always pro nationalist in its outlook supporting O’Connell’s Repeal Movement in the 1840’s, the Tenants Rights movement in the 1850s, the Land League and Home Rule.
Market Square was originally known as Shambles Square. A Shambles or slaughterhouse once stood beside the river. It was the main trading area with markets being held on a Saturday. A system of tolls existed where stallholders had to pay a levy to the landlord. There was also a Crane here to weigh farm produce. The lessee of tolls and customs for Lord Lucan was Anthony Faulkner. Several court cases took place between Lord Cavendish and Faulkner over unjust levies and weights and measures. A Foresters Hall stood on the west side of Market Square. The Foresters were an organisation founded in Dublin in 1877 by members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was a benevolent society whose aims were to foster the welfare of its members. It later evolved into a social club with billiards and snooker being among its activities. It had its own town band in the 1930’s. The town gasworks were also situated off Market Square in the area known as Newtown. Marsh House, was once home of St. Clair O’Malley B.L, Land Agent for Lord Lucan and later became the offices of Castlebar Urban District Council. Prior to the establishment of a proper road network in the 1860s a landing stage existed here. Farm produce and fuel were brought here by boat from the Islandeady chain of lakes. It was later residence to the Feeney family, the last of whom died in the 1960s.
The Church of the Holy Rosary was dedicated in 1901. The previous church built in 1800 stood on the site between the present church and the De La Salle Monastery. It was a low sized thatched building. In 1872 the Archbishop of Tuam Dr. McHale instructed the parish priest Canon McGee to build a new church. Canon McGee went to the U.S to raise funds and proceeded to build a church where the parish priests house now stands. The church was built to roof level. Around this time Bishop McEvilly succeeded Dr. McHale and Canon McGee died. The construction of the church lapsed for some nine years.
Dr. McEvilly instructed Fr. Lyons to proceed to erect the present church as he deemed the existing partially built church unsuitable. There was unrest in the parish for some time in 1891 over the knocking of the McHale edifice. The disturbances eventually settled down and the present church was completed in 1901. The altar of the church is made of marble, which was imported, from Italy. Pearse & Co from Dublin, father and brother of executed 1916 leader P.H. Pearse constructed it. The altar was donated to the parish by Bishop Ludden of Syracuse, New York who had been born in Castlebar. Famous bandleader, musician and composer Stephen Garvey was organist in the church for 25 years. In the 1940s he fundraised in aid of restoration works, as the timbers in the church had to be treated with Cuprinol due to infestation by the Deathwatch Beetle. Fr. Lyons, who later became a Canon was also responsible for the building of the parish priests house, the boys primary and post primary schools and the Monastery for the newly arrived De La Salle order. The De La Salle order came to Castlebar in 1888 and remained until 2000. A statue of St. John the Baptist De La Salle, sculpted by Galway sculptor John Grant, was erected on this street in May 2001 to commemorate the work carried out by the order in the town.
The Linen Industry.
The streets in this area of town took their names from the fact that planters were moved into the area from Ulster in the 1770s to develop the flax growing and linen industries. The Linenhall was the clearing-house for the linen industry and was constructed in 1790. In 1798 General Humbert also held a victory ball here following the successful outcome of “The Races of Castlebar.” Fr. Ulick Bourke, known as “The Father of the Gaelic Literary Revival” , was reared in Linenhall Street. A plaque in his memory was erected some years ago by the local branch of Conradh na Gaeilge. Rooney Hall once stood on Tucker Street, so called after William Rooney one of the founders of the United Irishman newspaper and Cumann na nGaelheal. Cumann na nGaelheal was later absorbed into the IRA. Meetings of the IRB, Na Fianna, Cumann na mBan and other republican bodies were held here. New Antrim Street was originally called Shruffaun, a name still used by many older residents. It was so called as a small stream runs underneath it into the Town River.
Main Street and Staball Hill
In 1798 ‘The Year of the French’, one of the most important events in the history of the town took place. The major battle in which the British General Lake was defeated took place on the Main Street bridge. Prior to this the British had been chased down Staball hill, the Franco-Irish forces were cheered on by local tenants who shouted “Stab them All.” Hence the name Staball still exists up to the present day. Further up the street on the site of Paddy Fahy’s shop was Geevy’s Hotel. It was here that the French General Humbert stayed while in Castlebar. A banquet was held after the 1798 battle and it was here that John Moore was declared President of Connaught. Next door to here stood Wynnes business premises founded in 1864 by T.A. Wynne. In the 1860s photography was invented and Mr. Wynne pursued a career in photography, a move that insured he would go down in history. Collections of photographs, which he left after him, still exist on microfilm and give an accurate account of the social history of Connaught around 1900.
The narrow street which turns left off Main Street is Castle Street. A jail once stood at the junction of here and Ellison Street. Stephen Garvey the famous musician was born on Castle Street. The de Barra’s original castle was built on the site overlooking Castle Street where the later military barracks was built.
A mural depicting scenes from the 1798 period and the Famine times is situated here. The mural gives an excellent resume of the main events in the history of the town and the historical sites featured in the tour.