Barleyhill House, Bohola in Co. Mayo

Stories handed down from generation to generation through the years in Bohola indicate that Oliver Cromwell rewarded the services of one of his soldiers by granting him the deeds of possession of Barleyhill farm. It seems that the soldier saw the farm as a bad deal with poor lands, and he subsequently sold the deeds to a local man named McManus, who became the new owner of Barleyhill farm.

McManus the Landowner

McManus proved to be a tough landlord with little thought for the people, he deterred them from trespassing on his property by driving sharp pointed iron stakes around his estate. However, he appeared to prosper, for the present Barleyhill House was built by his family sometime in the 1790's. The coach house was built in 1795, and the date is engraved in the stone work. A tower was started at the back of the house, in McManus' time, but it remains incomplete, it has windows and doors but no floors.

The family was Catholic, the farm or estate was much larger than it is today, and many of the families who lived on part of it have now disappeared. The highest rate of annuity was £15 and it was paid on the buildings of Barleyhill House. The tenants on the McManus estate were all tenants at will - that meant that if they paid their rent on the 'Gale Days' they were not usually dispossessed.

The Year of the French

The McManus family were landowners in Barleyhill for over a century in Barleyhill, by the time the French arrived in Mayo, in August 1798. The story is told that McManus, on hearing of the soldiers' approach, gave orders that all valuables in the big house should be removed and buried under the kitchen floor of one of his tenant's houses.

He met the French army at Turlough, and leading them was a man named Jordan, who is believed to be a descendant of the same clan who built Straide Abbey and Roslevin House. The soldiers had planned to travel to Ballylahan, but decided instead to take the other route, passing through Bohola.

When they reached Barleyhill House, there was a banquet prepared for General Humbert on the lawn, and a bull was roasted on one of the gates. Some men from Bohola joined the uprising and set off with the French Army.

From Barleyhill House the French sent out raiding parties to the big houses in the locality to get horses. One of the raiding parties took horses from a family in Carrowgalda, then crossed the Gweestin River. More horses were taken between Ballyvary and Bohola. The story is also told of a local man who was asked to steal a horse and cart of hay, and bring it to the French camp in Swinford. He duly did, and was paid for his troubles.

In due course the French arrived at Ballinamuck and were defeated and treated as prisoners. The Irish rebels however were at the mercy of the English and hundreds were hanged on the battlefield. One young fellow facing the death penalty was a tenant on the Barleyhill estate, and his widowed mother, hearing of her son's plight, went to McManus to plead with him to intercede. He refused, and the lad was subsequently hanged. The widow cursed the McManus family, and it is said that they never had a day's luck in the years that followed.

Some years later the captain fell dead in a house in Straide after he had eaten a meal. It is rumoured that his drink was poisoned. Unlike many of the landed gentry of the period, the McManus family remained Catholic. Their burial vault is situated on the hillside of the old burial ground.

The 'ghostly' dinner guest

Like so many other big old Irish houses, there is an interesting 'ghost' story told about Barleyhill. This story, which has been handed down through generations of the Deane Family of Carragown House, was told to us by Madame MacDermot of Coolavin House, Ballyhaderren, a descendant of the Deane family.

Her great-grand-uncle, Edward Deane, was cordially invited to dine with Mr McManus in Barleyhill House one warm summer's evening in the year of 1820. As he waited in the entrance hall for his host, he looked idly through a window, which looked onto the courtyard at the front of the house. There he noticed a fine gentleman dressed in period clothing, astride a magnificent white horse. Not recognising the man, his curiosity was aroused, but just then, a servant arrived to show him to the dining room.

Enjoying the entertaining conversation with his host, Edward soon forgot about the stranger he had seen. However, just as dinner was about to be served, he remembered, and mentioned that perhaps they should wait for the second guest. A startled McManus replied that Edward was, in fact, his only dinner guest that evening. Edward mentioned the gentleman he had seen in the courtyard, and the two men went outside to identify the stranger, who was nowhere to be seen.

On hearing Edward's description of the mystery guest, Mr. McManus remembered the story of a young man who had been tragically killed in the grounds of Barleyhill House when he fell from his horse some years previously … to the very same day. And thus the story of the Barleyhill dinner ghost!

The sale of Barleyhill House

After the famine a great number of landlords were in debt, and the Encumbered Estates Act was passed in the House of Commons in 1849, to help bankrupt landlords. In 1851, there was a public sale of McManus lands in Barleyhill and Rathruane. At this time, McManus was in debt to the tune of £13,900 and was permitted to sell by the new Act. In all, the property, including the house, amounted to over 1,400 acres, and it was sold to Mrs. Perry for £9,000. The Aitken Family

In 1867, a Mr Aitken came from Scotland to Newport with his sons. He settled his second son in Bohola where he bought Barleyhill House and some land. He was the great-grandfather of Johnny, Andrew, and James Aitken. He did not stay in Ireland himself but went back to Scotland with his youngest son. Barleyhill Bog was for some time rented to tenants for the purpose of turf cutting.

Almost two hundred years after it was built, Barleyhill House is still an impressive landmark in the parish. No longer is it a 'rich landlords house', but rather the family home of popular local retired vet Johnny Aitken, and his family.

The house is in immaculate condition, with many of its original contents still being used by the Aitken family. The huge table in the dining hall seats twenty people, and memories of the lively banquets, which took place over two hundred years ago, are deeply engrained in its rich mahogany surface. The old sundial at the front of the house is no longer used to tell time, but it too brings reminders of life in another Bohola and another century.

Extract from 'Bohola: Its history and its people'. Reproduced by kind permission of its publishers, Sheridan Memorial Community Centre Committee. 'Bohola: Its history and its people' was published in 1992 under the auspices of Bohola Community Centre Committee which was established in 1988.