The Brownes of Breaffy, Castlebar in Co. Mayo

The Browne family were first connected with the lands at Breaffy in 1680 when John Browne was granted 200 acres of land here in the period of land confiscation of the Cromwellian Settlement at the end of the 17th century. The first Breaffy House was probably built during the 18th century by Dominick Browne (1701-1776) and is shown in the Road Maps of Taylor and Skinner, 1770-1775.

The Browne estate had expanded during the eighteenth century during the period of the Penal Laws. In 1849 the estate was owned by Dominick Andrew, a great grandson of the aforementioned Dominick. The Brownes had lost most of their lands through their allegiance to the house of Stuart. The Great Famine also had a huge effect on the gentry of Ireland and many had to sell their lands to remain solvent.

The estate was leased in 1855 by William Rhodes. He was an absentee landlord and his agent, William Kearney of Ballinvilla, managed the estate. The estate came back into the ownership of the Brownes towards the end of the 19th century.

Dominick Andrew Browne built the present Breaffy House in 1890. The house is a Scottish baronial mansion and is victorian in style and was designed by English architect William Fawcett from Cambridge. The house has boldly recessed facades, a polygonal corner turret with battlements and pointed roof, a second turret set at an obtuse angle to the facade and stepped gables. The entrance front has a single story battlement porch. The building has tall slender chimneys and there are dormer windows on the roof.

When Dominick Andrew died in 1902 his eldest son, Dominick Sidney (b.1866) inherited the estate. Dominick Sidney, known locally as The Major, served in the Boer War (1899-1901) and also in World War1. He died in 1927 and was succeeded by Brigadier Dominick Andrew Sidney Browne, O.B.E. who was the last of the Brownes of Breaffy. He married Iris Kathleen Deane of Littleton House, North Winchester and they had four children; Peter Dominick, Miriam Dominica, Fiona, Naomi and Anne Patricia.

Dominick Andrew Sidney was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He commanded the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1924. He served in Italy and in north western Europe in 1944-45 and retired from the army after the war in 1945. He was joint master of the Galway Hounds (The Galway Blazers) from 1933 to 1936.

Under the terms of the Wyndham Land Act of 1903 most of the estate was sold to the tenants, except for the demesne. In 1961 the remainder of the estate comprising of 400 acres was sold to the Land Commission. Part of the land went to the Forestry Department and the house and 40 acres was sold to Una and Michael Lee. The house was opened as a grade A hotel in 1963 but was burned in a fire in 1969. In 1984 the Hotel was purchased by the Jennings group and it continues to thrive as a top grade Hotel.

During the period from 1900 up to the 1960’s approximately 25 people were employed as farm workers, gamekeepers and servants in the estate. The house was used as a place of entertainment for the local gentry. There were two shoots arranged on the grounds for the enjoyment of the Brownes and their friends and these were the social highlight of the year. The Brownes also kept jumping horses which were ridden by Percy Dickinson who won many prizes especially on a horse called Rathkeale.

Life in the Big House in the early part of the twentieth century, like most other houses occupied by the gentry was a series of social events- hunts, shoots, balls and garden parties where friends and other members of the aristocracy were entertained. The grounds of the estate were maintained with pleasure gardens, tennis courts, sunhouses, fountains and tree lined avenues all of which added to add to the ambiance of the place thus adding to the enjoyment of the guests.

Following the retirement of Dominick Browne from the army he played an active part in the social life of Breaffy parish. He was president and one of the chief organisers of Breaffy Sports, which were held in the sports field of his lands. When the local branch of the Gaelic League held an Aeriocht in the sports field Dominick and his wife came to see the Irish dancing and in fact his daughter Dominia actually learned Irish dancing.

After selling the estate in 1961 Dominick and his wife purchased a farm in Co. Carlow where they lived for some time, before retiring to Oughterard in Co. Galway. His wife Iris Kathleen died on 29th December 1977 and he died on 9th September 1982. They are both buried in the church of Ireland cemetery in Castlebar. The epitaph over his grave bears the inscription “He who would valiant be.”

Article by Brian Hoban