Charlestown, which holds a Carnival commencing on Sunday next the 22nd of May, may be said to be the result of the determination and pride of one man - Charles Strickland. As agent to the Dillon estate, Strickland was a good man and a fair administrator but he was a determined and revengeful enemy if he was once crossed in his dealings. It is said that the Knox family, who owned the adjoining Sligo estate, once slighted him in public, and refused to recognise him as the important personage that he was, and to be avenged Strickland built Charlestown.
Yet other people say that the people of Bellaghy, living and trading in the Knox Estate, snubbed the traders and farmers from Mayo by making them wait until the end of the market before allowing them to use the scales to weigh their produce, thus crippling them in their trading. Whichever reason is the more feasible, both acted as an incentive to the building of Charlestown.
One day Strickland announced that he wanted six houses built, adding that the man to complete the first house, would receive sixty acres of land at a shilling an acre, along with having the house rent free forever. Carpenters and slaters worked feverishly, and in a short period the race developed into a two-house struggle. Tradition has it that one set of carpenters and slaters got drunk in the final effort, and their nearest rivals - those building Henrys - finished first, the owner thus qualifying for the prize. The year was 1846.
Strickland determined to have his revenge in full, decided to hold a market, and as the farmers from Bracklough, Tample and Curry trudged down with their produce picking their way nimbly through the marshy ground on their way to Bellaghy, they found a scale erected near the first house - Henrys. This was three years after Strickland was having his revenge. This damaged Bellaghy, and Knox was worried, so worried that he instituted proceedings against Strickland and did his utmost to prevent him from securing a patent for his scales. He was successful, but Strickland, shrewd man that he was, evolved his 'driving a coach and four' through Parliament. He took down the scales from one place as the Court ruled, but erected them in another place, quite lawfully. Knox found the instituting of actions for every new scale too costly and he admitted defeat. Strickland's revenge was complete. He then got to work with a vengeance to erect a Town out of the bog. The Parish Chapel was in Bracklough, Strickland wanted it in Charlestown, and so he put contractors to work. So eager was he to have Mass said in it, that he did not wait to have the Church completed. Father Higgins, the then Parish Priest celebrated Mass before the floor was completed, and the contractors left without finishing the floor.
Soon afterwards however, a perfect floor was installed. The Town was growing fast for three years afterwards and in the year 1849, forty houses had sprung up.
The name Charlestown was given it, as the landlord was Charles Dillon. Later on it was called Dillonstown, but as the people came to admire and respect Charles Strickland, the more they reverted to the former name of Charlestown, because they felt it their duty to commemorate the name of the man who had founded the town.
He was methodical in what he did and to all building of Public Houses he got them to have them so arranged, that the Publican had a separate entrance other than through the Bar. This was done with a view to trading after hours, for the Publican could entertain visitors, and in the event of prosecution the case was dismissed, as Charles Strickland was also Justice of the Peace and in that role was very accommodating.
One result is that to-day in Charlestown the town boasts of thirty-eight Bars, an enormous number compared with the size of the town. The Charlestown of to-day is a model town, for as readers will see from the advertisements to follow, it boasts of a very big business life. Foremost in this respect are it's industries. The oldest industry in the town is Donohue's Bakery, established over sixty years ago by James Donohue, father of the present owner, Mr Jack Donohue. The industry has a large clientele all over Mayo.
In a town of so many Public Houses, two Mineral Water factories have been erected, one by Mr P J Henry and the other by Mr J J McIntyre. The year 1911 saw the erection of Charlestown's second oldest industry, P J Henry's Mineral Water factory. Since then their name and their products, including wines, have reached the furthest end of Connaught and to-day the industry still flourishes, despite post-war conditions. The recently erected factory is McIntyre's of Lowpark and it's products, mineral waters and stout enjoy a large clientele also, and the industry is expanding to meet demand. Both factories have recently installed the latest and most up-to-date machinery and are providing considerable employment in the district.
Also giving employment is the twenty-five year old knitting industry owned by Mrs M Parsons. Although badly hit during the War years, is now able to meet the demands of the public more easily.
The town is well laid out, with excellent circular roads and a Square, reputed to be the largest in Ireland, and it's wide streets, knows no traffic problems.
Charlestown with all its great facilities is still forging ahead to even greater heights, and its latest enterprise is truly a noble one and one which is backed by the majority of the town - the building of a new GAA Park. Led by its newly-appointed Parish Priest, that well known Gael, Very Rev Fr Edward O'Hara, the town purchased nine acres of level land in Lowpark and undertook the gigantic task of erecting a Park second to none in Connaught. The Park is in its final stages and will be completed this week. It is a sign which pays just tribute to the energies expended by the people of the town and particularly by its great and enthusiastic leader, its kind and homely Parish Priest, Very Rev Fr O'Hara.
Funds are needed to clear the enormous debt and this problem is being tackled in typical Charlestown style by the oganisation of a Monster Carnival. The spirit of Charlestown's business people, who have advertised in this page, shows their wholeheartedness to make the Carnival a success. They have shown that they appreciated the work of the Pastor and that they support the aims and ideals of the GAA organisation which is going ahead to make the Carnival a memorable one - parades, novelties, fun-fair and an excellent dancing programme.
And as Charlestown starts its second century of business life, it is keeping abreast with the march of time. Its founder Charles Strickland must be smiling as he sees the spirit of determination and to a certain extent, justifiable pride, which were so characteristic of himself, being maintained and carried ahead by this generation of Charlestown people. And as Charlestown embarks on its second century may we say "Charlestown good luck and may God bless all in it and what they do - now and forever".
The following are the list of names of the Park Committee which helped to make the Fr O'Hara memorial park what it is today: E O'Hara, A Walsh, T Phillips, T E Henry, W Moffit, J A Mulligan, P Howley, P J Honan, V Harrison, J Donoghue, W Gallagher, Canon O'Connor, J Mahon, J O'Donnell and J McIntyre.
In May 1949, the Committee in charge of organising the Carnival, asked the new reporter from the town, to write an article in support of the forthcoming Carnival. The young reporter was the late John Healy, one of Charlestown's most famous sons, who had joined the Western People the year before. John in those days wrote under the Pseudonym "Kipper".
After writing this short history of the early years of the town, John then moved to Dublin in 1950. He joined the staff of the Irish News Agency and later on joined the Irish Press group, before joining the Irish Times in 1959 to become the youngest National editor, running the Sunday Review, and going on to edit Ireland's oldest paper The Evening Mail. He continued his association with the Irish Times, as a contract journalist, with one short break, until the Summer of 1988 when he agreed to write for the Independent group of newspapers.
He was elected Mayo man of the Year in 1967 and was also voted TV Scriptwriter of the year in 1967. He was a Trustee/Director of the Matthew Gallagher Royal Hibernian Academy and the Paul O'Dwyer Forestry Trust. The National Theatre commissioned a stage presentation of his book "Death of an Irish Town" and it was scheduled for the Abbey's 1989 Spring programme.
John Healy was described as "The father of modern Irish political journalism".
© Cathal Henry 2005