The Brownes of Raheens, Castlebar in Co. Mayo

The history of Rahins estate goes right back to the time of some of the earliest settlers in the area. Archbishop Healy who wrote much of the early history of the parishes in the area suggests that St. Patrick visited the area and converted members of the Clann Cuan at Maigh Raithin (the plains of Rahins). He suggests that St. Patrick did not stay here but established a church at Annagh, a promontory on the opposite side of the lake about a mile from the Rahins estate, around 441 AD. There was supposed to be the remains of a Patrician church in the estate but this is disputed.

Dr. Healy refers to Raithin – “It was the northern boundary of Carra, which extends from the River Robe to Raithin.” Rahins estate lies partially in Castlebar and Islandeady parishes. Struane, a townland within the estate, is in fact a townland in Castlebar parish and is referred to in placenames in the area. There is a road within the estate known as Struane road. The Browne family have a burial place, a vault, near here at a place known as Killeen, a name referring to an old church.

Some of the early Annals of the Saints refer to St. Finan who settled among the Clann Cuan, and describe him as Abbott of Raithin. The Clann Cuan (from which the surname Quinn is derived) had their residence in Lough Lannagh, and a crannóg dating back to this time is still partially visible in the lake near Castlebar. Some maps around 1851 refer to Castlebar Lake as Lake Raithin.

There was always a strong connection between Rahins and Castlebar. Prior to the establishment of a proper road system the lakes were used to transport cattle, agricultural produce and fuel-turf and timber to Castlebar and these were landed where the lawn of Marsh House now stands. A canal connected Islandeady Lake to Clonkeen Lake, which adjoins Lough Lannagh. This canal was built as a relief scheme during famine times.

The Brownes

The Brownes, whose head was Lord Kilmaine, and who occupied the estate up to 1934, claimed to have a pedigree going back to the Battle of Hastings. These Brownes were of the same origin as the Brownes of Breaghy, the Neale, and Lord Sligo (Westport House). The Brownes came to the area and took over the estate at the time of the Cromwellian Plantations (1652-1660) in return for a favour. The local folklore suggests that Cromwell gave it to one of his soldiers who did not fancy it and he offered it to anyone who would give him a horse. The tale goes on to say that a soldier named Browne gave him an old white horse and received the estate in return.

At the time of the Restoration (1600) or shortly afterwards the Brownes did convert to Protestantism. J.F. Quinn in his History of Mayo states: “The Brownes of The Neale, Castlemagarrett, Breaghy and Rahins when the old faith was proscribed, following the breaking of the Treaty of Limerick 1691, did publicly Read the Recantations. Despite stories to the contrary and that a son came to oust the father, the head of the Westport family did not publicly deny the faith, as the law required, and take on the new religion. It was forced on the heir when a child and the whole family followed what was the new fashion.”

The original estate consisted of over 1000 acres and the residence of the Brownes, now a ruin, was once a fine mansion. It stood in beautiful parkland and was reached by a winding avenue over a mile long and bounded by charming groves. A large section of the estate south west of the Big House was divided up by the Land Commission and was divided among adjoining tenants. The Browne residence stood in Islandeady parish.

Dodwell Browne owned the estate at the time of the Act of the Union (1800). It appears that Dodwell was married twice. His first wife died and is buried in Ballinrobe. According to The Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead, the inscription on a tomb in Ballinrobe Protestant Cemetery refers to: “Elizabeth Browne wife of Dodwell Browne of Rahins and daughter of James Cuffe of Ballinrobe, who died on 13th March 1777 aged 44years and her daughter Elizabeth who died June 5th 1781 aged 18yrs.” Elizabeth was sister of James Cuffe who became Baron Tirawley. He was a notorious character, and died without issue and was buried in Ballinrobe.

Dodwell married Maria O Donel (a Catholic), in his second marriage. She was daughter of Sir Nial O Donel of Newport. There is a monument erected some distance from the house and is in alignment with the old Elizabethan mansion which was pulled down in 1835 by Mr. Henry Browne who built the house, a portion of which still remains. A moat and four bastions surrounded the original house.

Some years after her marriage Maria became ill and was taken to Dublin for medical attention. She reached Dublin and died shortly afterwards. Her husband Dodwell erected a cenotaph in her memory. This obelisk was erected at a time when the Brownes were powerful and wealthy. It was common at the time among aristocratic families to erect such monuments in memory of lost loved ones.

The monument is a fine imposing structure about height and is topped with an ornamental globe carved out of local limestone. On a polished slab, six foot from the base there is an epitaph in English and in Irish. The Irish version used what was as “cramped Irish” and reads “SIORD THU DOD CUIMHNE M’CARA O MO MUIRNIN DILIS D’IMTHIGH COIDHCHE DO LAITHIR GO BRATH A IARADH UIRM”.

The English inscription reads “This cenotaph was built in memory of Maria Browne O Donel, second daughter of Sir Neal O Donel.” There is another smaller slab inscribed in relief “A Marie Et A L’Amour Par Son Cherrepoux Dodwell, 1809”. Higher up is a round slab bearing the night profile of a beautiful woman, and the following epitaphin relief “Maria O Donel Browne”, and on the other side of the obelisk is the inscription “To Gaiety and Innocence”.

After the death of Dodwell in the 1830's his son Henry Browne took over the estate. He planted trees on both sides of the avenue and planted much of the wasteland in the demesne under forestry. During the Famine in 1847 he built the present house and stables and retained the kitchens of the original mansion. He used the local peasants as cheap labour paying them as little as four pence per day. He had no sympathy for the peasants who were starving and dying and went as far as depriving them of drinking water. The burden of all the construction work left him with no choice other than to mortgage the estate. He became ill and on his death his brother Neil became owner in 1870. Neill had been commanding officer of the Warwickshire regiment of the British army that surrounded Kilclodny wood near Cork during the Fenian rising in 1867 and killed O Neill Crowley, a local rebel. He did not run the estate for very long and passed it on to his son, Dodwell, who was popularly known as “The Judge”. Dodwell had spent 34 years in colonial service in Ceylon where he served some time at the Bar and the remainder as a High Court Judge. He returned from Ceylon in 1905.

He unsympathetic to the cause of home rule and strongly opposed Sinn Fein and the IRA It was his under his ownership that the estate was divided up and given to local farmers under the Compulsory Tillage Act. In return he was paid a yearly rent.

Dodwell had 3 sons – Dodwell, Keppel and O Donnell and a daughter Lucy. Keppel died as a boy, and Dodwell and O Donnell were educated at Trinity College. O Donnell became a doctor and took up practice in Naas, Co. Kildare while Dodwell moved to Australia where he also practised medicine.

On his fathers death in 1920, Dodwell became owner of the estate. As the days of the landlord were gone he returned to Australia in 1923. Lucy joined him in Australia following the death of her mother in 1932 and she went on to marry a man named Wright who owned tea plantations in Ceylon.

Dodwell was highly regarded locally. Patients came to see him on his visits home and queued to see him outside the mansion.

He engaged the services of Mr. Will Larkins, the most noted steeplejack in the world to carry out repairs to the monument. Some ash seedlings had become embedded in the masonry and as it grew it displaced several of the stones. The steeplejacks erected scaffolding and replaced the urn and globe using steel cables. This work was completed in a few days.

In 1933 the furniture, fixtures and fittings of the house were sold. The place was allowed to become derelict as Dodwell did not pay wages to his workers or pay rent and rates on the property. In 1941 a Mr. Mc Kenna purchased the estate from the land commission.

Famous Visitors at Rahins

John Wesley

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists visited the estate on at least three occasions. In his diaries he refers to what he saw on one visit when George Robert Fitzgerald was hanged. On another occasion he preached under the lime trees on the lawn outside the house. His last visit was on the occasion of his laying the foundation stone on the Wesleyan church on the Mall, Castlebar on 2nd May 1785.

General Humbert

Following the retreat of the British from Castlebar in 1798, Maria O Donel Browne wrote to the French Commander, General Humbert requesting protection as several of the aristocratic ladies felt under threat. She received the following reply:

Liberte Egalite

Au quartier general, a Castlebar,

Ie 13 Fructidore, au 6 an de la

Republique Francaife une a indivisible:

Le General Humbert,

Ordonne au tout officiers, sous-officiers &soldats, composant son armee de proteger de

tout leur pouvoir le Citroen Browne demeurant a Rahins.

Pour le Gl. Humbert,


Aide-de Camp.

The next correspondences is in the General’s own handwriting:

Castlebar, 17 Fructidor, An 6

The General Humbert’s compliments to Mrs. Browne is fully sensible of her very polite and proper conduct, takes this opportunity of telling her so and also of assuring her his protection; hopes Mrs. Browne will be able to succeed in tranquilizing the minds of the other ladies, and also that she will be so good as to have his horse taken care of. The General depends on the promise of Mr. and Mrs Browne of having the honour of their company at dinner this day at one o’clock.

(Source: Mayo Examiner - 24/09/1898)

It is reported that General Humbert visited the Brownes on at least three occasions. In another letter he states how much he values the horse as it had once saved his life. He also got Mrs. Browne to have some laundry work done for him.

Article by Brian Hoban