Golfing in Cloonacastle - History, Ballinrobe in Co. Mayo

Cloonacastle Tower House was built circa 1238 and was first in the ownership of the Fitzgerald family. By the early 14th century it had come into the possession of the Bourkes. During the latter half of the 16th century the Bourkes were in constant conflict with Sir Richard Bingham. At the time of the "Composition of Mayo" in September 1585 Richard Oge Bourke was the owner of Cloonacastle and he was granted 8 quarters of land adjoining his house there. He was hanged by Sir Richard Bingham the following year and his brother Walter Bourke was ousted from Cloonacastle in 1591 by Sir Richard's brother John Bingham. There is still a site close to Cloonacastle called "poll-na-marbh" or "hollow of the dead" where fifteen women, by the name of Mary Bourke, were executed by Sir Richard Bingham are supposed to be buried. The site is now commemorated by a cairn overlooking the 17th green.

John Bingham obtained a grant in fee from King James 1 of the castle and manor of Cloonacastle and 14 quarters of land on the 4th December 1609. He was succeeded at Cloonacastle by his nephew Sir Henry Bingham who was in possession at the time of Strafford's Inquisition of County Mayo.

It is unlikely the Bingham family had much direct contact with Cloonacastle during the 18th and 19th centuries. They derived income from the property by leasing it to the Gildea family. This began early in the 18th century and Gildeas remained there as tenants for well over a hundred years. A lease from Sir John Bingham to James Gildea in September 1745 mentions the "house" of Cloonacastle. It is not known when this James Gildea died but he was succeeded as tenant by his eldest son, another James. This James died in 1790 at Cloonacastle and the Gildea's lease of property was renewed in November 1790 when Lord Lucan leased it to George Gildea, son of James, for 3 lives or 31 years at an annual rent of £485.

The register of trees records the extensive tree planting that George carried out on the estate during the first two or three years of the new century. This register shows George's planting of 24,200 trees at Cloonacastle by 1803 and specifies the different varieties - 6,000 firs of different kinds, 500 oak, 1,500 ash, 2,000 beech, 3,000 alder, 1,500 elm, 600 birch, 300 mountain ash, 3,000 sycamore, 5,000 whitethorn, 300 fruit trees and 500 aspen.

By the time of Griffith's Valuation in mid 19th century the family of George's nephew James Cuffe Gildea had been living at Cloonacastle. Detailed descriptions of the larger houses of the time can be found in the House Booked of the various parishes. Cloonacastle was described in 1843 as a steward's house and it measured 49 x 25 feet and was 21 feet in height. A pencil plan of the house and it's outbuildings shows the position of the kitchen (which was not attached to the main house), coach house, stables, cow house, turf house, office and gatehouse. It is about this time that the Gildea connection with Cloonacastle came to an end. James Cuffe Gildea died in 1842 leaving a young family of 4 girls.

During the 1850's James Simpson, a Scot, became the tenant of 2,260 acres of Lord Lucan's estate including Cloonacastle where he lived. Simpson appears to have brought a new approach to farming in the west of Ireland. He went in for tillage on a large scale and kept many of his cattle in during the winter months. Simpson provided employment for many people and kept a steam engine at Cloonacastle which was used to drive a saw mill, a bone grinding mill and a threshing and winnowing machine.

Simpson's lease ran out in early 1880's and 1884 a new 25 year lease of Lord Lucan's Ballinrobe property began with Messers Egan, Daly and McDonnell. The Egans took up residence at Cloonacastle and in the 1901 census John P Egan, a bachelor was living there. However, before the 1884 lease ran out the estate was taken over by the Congested District Board in 1907. The owners of the lands were the Walsh family succeeded by the Hobans from whom the Golf Club purchased the Estate in 1992.