Muriel Gahan was born in 1897 in Magherabeg just outside Donegal town to an English mother and a Church of Ireland, Unionist and Freemason father.
Her father Townsend Gahan worked for The Congested District Board - a body set up to improve the conditions of people in the poorest areas in the West of Ireland. In the autumn of 1900 he moved to Castlebar and took up residence at Creagh Villa (now Lough Lannagh Holiday Village).
Castlebar in 1900 had been a market town for over 300 years, was the administrative capital of the county and housed the County Courthouse, Gaol, Asylum, Infirmary and Workhouse. It was also the seat of the Urban District Council and Mayo County Council which were elected bodies established following the Local Government Act of 1898. It was also county H.Q. for the Congested District Board. Geographically, life in Castlebar centred around two major symbols of power, Castlebar House, the Lawn and the Military barracks.
Shortly after moving to Creagh Villa Townsend Gahan established croquet and tennis courts. Muriel enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Castlebar with children’s parties and concerts being the norm of the upper middle class in the town. Her family were friendly with that of Cannon J. O Hannay (alias George A. Birmingham) in Westport and cycling trips to Croagh Patrick or to join the Blosse-Lynch family for tennis at their Partry home were frequent. The freedom she enjoyed in Castlebar came to an end in 1910 when Muriel was sent to St. Winfred’s School for girls in Bangor North Wales. In 1919 her brother Mac developed meningitis and died. It was decided that Muriel and her mother would move back to Castlebar.
The family moved into Maryland House, situated between Castlebar Railway Station and the Military aerodrome. Maryland House was a seven bedroomed house situated on grounds of 28 acres. The family was at the centre of social life in Castlebar with frequent dances and parties been held in the big hall at Maryland.
During the Civil War Castlebar remained relatively quiet, having been a garrison town it was largely Pro- Treaty. The passing of the Treaty in 1922 meant the end of the British Military presence in Castlebar. Following the treaty things began to change in Castlebar. The Brownes in Breaffy were ejected from their home and left for England for six weeks, the home of the Brownes of Rahins was attacked a week later. The Gahan family did not experience any trouble, due to the goodwill that existed with Townsend Gahan and the good work he had done for the people over the years.
In July 1922 the anti-treaty forces burned down the gaol and part of the barracks in Castlebar and a month later the R.I.C. left Castlebar. Lord Lucan sold his house and grounds known as “The Lawn” to the Sisters of Mercy. The Fitzgeralds sold the contents of Turlough House and moved to England.
Following the dissolution of the Congested District Board, Townsend Gahan was employed by the Land Commission where he worked up to the time of his retirement in 1926. The family sold the contents of Maryland and moved to Dublin. Muriel Gahan devoted her life to the preservation of rural crafts and the betterment of the life of women in rural Ireland. Her achievements, for which she received an Honorary Doctorate from Trinity College, included her major role in forming The Irish Countrywomen’s Association and the Country Markets. She travelled around Ireland visiting rural craftspeople and she adopted the motto “Deeds not Words” which was the motto of the Society of United Irishwomen of which she was a member.
Muriel was a founder member of The Arts Council and the first woman vice-president of the R.D.S. She was instrumental in obtaining help from the Kellogg foundation to establish An Grianan in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth. In Dublin she established the Country Shop on Stephen’s Green.
Article by Brian Hoban