John Fitzgerald was a planter who acquired the lands at Turlough under the Cromwellian Plantation of 1656, when they had been confiscated from the Bourke clan. Fitzgerald built his fortified house on the south side of the Castlebar River a short distance from the castle occupied by Walter Bourke. The ruins of this house are situated inside the Entrance Bridge to Turlough Park House.
The house is probably best known as the home of the notorious George Robert Fitzgerald who was better known as 'Fighting Fitzgerald'. George Robert was a controversial character who took part in many duels. As a young man he built up a thriving estate and planted several thousand trees on the estate.
He fought with his father George and brother Charles Lionel over his succession rights and quarreled with neighbouring landowners, whom he terrorized with the aid of his company of bodyguards whom he called his volunteers. He was eventually executed in 1786 for the part he played in the murder of Pat Randall Mc Donnell from Chancery.
T.N Deane built the present Turlough Park House in 1866 for Charles Lionel Fitzgerald. It is a fine three-story victorian gothic country house. The Fitzgeralds abandoned their original georgian house either due to its low-lying position or because of its association with their ancestor George Robert Fitzgerald (the Fighting Fitzgerald).
The house is situated on 37 acres of landscaped gardens, which include many rare trees, shrubs and fine broad-leaved mature trees. The house is built on an elevated plateau overlooking a dried up artificial lake, which contains three islands. Built from local limestone, it features some of the finest stonework and carvings to be seen in the country.
The plan of the house is traditional except for the principal staircase ingeniously designed to pass over the front door so that its half-landing is a glazed Venetian loggia. The facade is symmetrical, with a high-pitched roof and dormers, conventionally extended to a service wing and a lower stable block. It also features pink marble shafts between the gothic triple front windows, which are of stained glass and feature the family coat of arms.
The house was run as a guesthouse in the 1970's and was occupied by the Butler family up to 1991. Mayo County Council acquired the property in 1991 and, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, developed the National Museum of Country Life there.
The house and gardens opened to the public in 2001 and they house the prestigious National Folklife Collection, a branch of The National Museum of Ireland. The collection comprises some 50,000 artifacts (tools, clothes, household utensils, crafts etc.) and gives a physical record that helps us recall and understand the social history of Ireland and Irish country life between 1850 and 1950.
By Brian Hoban