Tourmakeady was once part of the estate of the Moores of Moorehall and subsequently of Lord Plunkett, Archbishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.
These lands were acquired in 1956 by the state forest agency, Coillte, by which stage most of the existing timber had been cleared. While remnants of old plantings (red oak and poplar) still survive, the bulk of the trees were planted in the period 1954-1959.
In the village are the roofless remains of a mid-19th century Gothic church. The remains of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Thomas Plunkett are buried in the churchyard.
The Plunketts first came to Tourmakeady in 1831, when Baron Plunkett built a fishing lodge. In 1833 the family acquired some land from George Henry Moore and Tourmakeady Lodge was built.
During the famine years the Moores of Moorehall owned the lands at Tourmakeady, and not a single tenant was evicted for non-payment of rent. George Henry Moore also donated 30 acres of land to the catholic archbishop for the establishment of a Franciscan monastery.
In 1847 Bishop Mc Hale laid the foundation stone for the new monastery and the following year the monastery was opened by two Franciscan Brothers, Bonaventure and Sylvester.
Following the famine however Moore was forced to sell portion of his estate due to debts accumulated. The Tourmakeady section was bought by the protestant Bishop of Tuam, Lord Plunkett, who was treasurer of the Irish Church Mission Society.
Shortly afterwards he became Bishop Plunkett and came to live in Tourmakeady. Bishop Plunkett got actively involved in the proselytising campaign and was aided by his sister Catherine. In 1852 he established a Protestant Church and appointed Reverend Hamilton Townsend as Rector.
The catholic priests Fr. Ward and Fr. Conway campaigned against the proselytising of the area. Evictions of tenants followed, not for non-payment of rents, but for refusing to send children to the protestant schools. In a letter to the Dublin Telegraph in 1854, Fr. Ward listed 104 families who had been evicted from the Plunkett estate.
Fr. Lavelle replaced Fr. Ward and continued the campaign against Bishop Plunkett. He had the full backing of his bishop, John McHale, and was more vocal than his predecessor, denouncing parents who sent their children to the protestant schools. Scripture readers went around to the children's homes encouraging the children to attend the schools and if they refused the agent was informed and evictions often followed.
Court cases between Fr. Lavelle and Bishop Plunkett were commonplace at Ballinrobe Petty Sessions and at the Assizes in Castlebar. Fr. Lavelle went to England to appeal for aid and the Partry Defence Fund was established and the monies raised went towards re-settling the evicted tenants. This conflict between Fr. Lavelle and Bishop Plunkett became known as "The War in Partry."
The biggest evictions took place in November 1860 when large numbers of police, together with a company of troops from the Curragh were drafted into the area. The 'crowbar brigade' under the command of Col. Knox, the Mayo High Sheriff, moved in and within three days the villages of Gortfree and Gurteenmore were cleared of their tenants and within a statute mile of the Catholic Church only one Catholic tenant was left in possession of their lands. The evictions became known as the Glensaul evictions.
The evictions however backfired on Plunkett due to the widespread condemnation in the newspapers. By 1863, Plunkett tired of the campaign of unrest sold his estate to an English industrialist, Mr. Mitchell and moved to Tuam and he was shortly to be followed by his sister.
This era was to be followed by a period of relative calm with peace and tranquillity returning to the region.
The Irish Speaking school, Colaiste Mhuire, was at the centre of the Gaelic literary revival. In 1905 Colaiste Chonnacht was founded as a summer school by Conradh na Gaeilge. The principal was Micheal Breathnach and his assistant was Maire Ni Tuathail. The school became known as 'Cliabhran Conradh na Gaeilge' - the cradle of the Gaelic League.
Among the people who visited the school was Douglas De Hide, later to become the first President of Ireland. Padraic Pearse and Eamonn De Valera were also frequent visitors. Kuno Meyer, the renowned German gaelic scholar, Padraic O Domhnallain, and other Irish writers also visited the school frequently. Eamonn De Valera was later to marry Sinead Flanagan who had been a teacher at the school.
Colaiste Chonnacht continued as a summer school until the 1960's when the school was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy who ran a boarding school for girls. In 1960 De Valera opened an Irish Drama Festival in the village and it ran successfully for a number of years. The Sisters of Mercy left in 1990 due to a drop in vocations. The school known as Colaiste Mhuire is now run as a community school.
By Brian Hoban