Brize House, Mayo Abbey in Co. Mayo

Article from Mayo Abbey Parish Magazine 1994

The edifice that is Brize House stands in the townland of Barnagreggaun and the Barony of Clan Morris. Reputed to be built circa 1800, it is a three storied, twenty roomed mansion, set in tranquil woodland and at that time was surrounded by an estate of 400 acres.

According to local lore the earliest known occupiers of Brize House was a family called Anderson. The Andersons, who were a Presbyterian family, came originally from Northumberland and settled in Hollymount and later moved to Brize.

They would probably have farmed the lands in Brize in the early part of the nineteenth century and seem to have severed their connection with the place around 1870. The Andersons are buried in the old Protestant Graveyard, by the ruins of the Protestant Church and adjacent to the building known as The Glebe, in Mayo Abbey.

The next family to occupy Brize House was the Coughlan family. William Coughlan came to Brize from Cloonboy around 1873. Married to Dorina Burke of Curlea, the Coughlans had a family of two sons and three daughters. A son and daughter, William and Maud, died at a young age.

As well as farming the lands at Brize, the Coughlans also rented large tracts of land locally. They also ran a race horse training stable at Brize and some very useful horses spent some time there. Notable among them were horses named Cygnum, Isis, Flygate, Double Blue, Nellie Mac, Sister Clare, Carra Lass and Cygnet.

The most prolific winner to race from the Brize stables was a mare called Spinning Queen. She is reputed to have won fourteen races, including the Metropolitan Plate at Baldoyle and a third place in the famed Galway Plate at Ballybrit.

The Coughlans gave a lot of employment at Brize. Their workforce included a professional jockey named Michael Fox, several apprentice jockeys and other general workmen. The Coughlan era at Brize came to a sad end on an October day in l9l9, when John Coughlan, who was then the Master of Brize, was accidently killed while out riding a young horse on the Balla - Claremorris road.

A memorial monument marks the spot where the tragedy occurred. His death caused widespread regret in the locality as Mr. Coughlan was a very popular young man. While his racehorse training enterprise was operating there was life and excitement in the area. The Coughlans are buried within the walls of the old Monastery in Mayo Abbey.

After Mr. Coughlan's death the enterprise at Brize was managed by a man called Frank Cannon, who was reported to have considerable success with the horse training business for the next two years. Eventually the remaining members of the Coughlan family decided to sell their interests in Brize and at a subsequent sale the estate was purchased by John McEllin, a member of the well known Balla business family.

In 1922 during "the troubles", a Company of Republicans were domiciled at Brize House for a period, but were subsequently ambushed by Free State troops. No casualties or woundings were reported from this escapade. The new owner of Brize House was an accomplished footballer, being a member of the Mayo senior team for about l2 years. In 1925 during his captaincy, the Mayo squad did most of their training at Brize.

In that year, due to a pile up in the fixtures list in Connacht, the championship was not decided in time for the All-Ireland final. So as Mayo were Connacht champions for the four previous years they were nominated to meet Wexford in the final.

The other two semi-finalists that year, Kerry and Cavan, were declared illegal by Central Council due to some irregularities. Mayo beat Wexford in this match and returned home thinking they were All-Ireland champions. But then the story took a bizarre turn when at a subsequent wrangle at Connacht Council level, it was decided that Mayo must play Galway for the Connacht title. Galway won this match, and were also awarded the All-Ireland crown, leaving Mayo with another near miss!

In 1932 Mr. McEllin ceded the lands west of the Westport Castlebar railway line, about one half of the estate, to the Land Commission. As a result of this five new homesteads were created plus additions of land to a few local tenants. When Fianna Fail attained government in the l930s Mr. McEllin was elected to the Senate, and at that time entertained nearly every minister in the Government at Brize House. Notable among them would have been Frank Aiken, Sean Moylan, James Ryan, P. J. Ruttledge and the then head of state, Eamonn de Valera.

Later Mr. McEllin became first Chairman of the Irish Sugar Company. He was also Managing Director of Irish Press Newspapers and could truly be described as one of Mayo's most illustrious sons. John McEllin married Una King from Westport, and they had a family of four daughters. The McEllins left Brize in 1945 and went to live in Dalkey, County Dublin.

Brize House changed hands again in 1947, and was purchased by a Dublin businessman named, Denis Brown. Around this time the house was destroyed by fire, and Mr. Brown put the place on the market once more. The new purchaser was John Kennedy, a returned emigrant, who rebuilt Brize House and restored it to its former glory. Mr. Kennedy farmed at Brize until his death in 1961. The present occupier of Brize House is John Kennedy who inherited the estate from his uncle in 1961.

First Published in "The Facefield School Centenary Booklet" (1992), and reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

by Mattie Ruane, Brize