Historical Tour of Castlebar in Co. Mayo
The following is a guide to some of the historical sites of the town. The guide is intended to make your visit to the town more interesting or perhaps encourage historians to delve deeper. The tour, My Own Place, which takes approximately one hour to complete starts and finishes at The Mall, a beautiful tree lined park, which provides a focal point in the town centre.
The Mall was originally used as a cricket pitch by the Lucan family. It got its name from the double line of trees running from the Holy Trinity Church of Ireland to the Lucan homestead known as The Lawn. It was donated to the people of the town in 1888 by the 4th Earl of Lucan. The present trees surrounding this fine park were planted around 1870.
Christian Fellowship Building
This building was originally a Methodist Church. John Wesley laid the foundation stone on May 2nd, 1785 and there is a plaque to his memory on the building.
The gateway leading to the Military Barracks beside the Convent was built in 1831. The present barracks was built on this site in 1834, although it had been used by the British military prior to this. A portion of the barracks was burned down by the anti-treaty side during a siege in 1922 at the height of the Civil War. Many of the anti-treaty side were interned in the Curragh Military Camp, County Kildare and in Ballycinlar Camp in Co. Down following this event. The barracks was rebuilt in the years following the Civil War. It is reported that the Third Lord Lucan had the rear windows of the buildings blocked to prevent army officers looking at his wife.
It was in this hotel formerly known as the Imperial Hotel that, Michael Davitt founded The Land League of Mayo in August 1879. Opposite this hotel stood the hanging tree which was blown down in a storm in 1918. Private feuds were often settled here by night and public hangings took place here to act as a deterrent to locals. Three thrashers were hanged here in 1807 and four Kilkenny men are also reported to have been hanged here for treason.
The last public hanging took place in 1818, reputedly of a legendary figure called Gallagher of Lough Conn. The most notable hanging was that of Fr. Conroy of Addergoole parish (Laherdane) in reprisal for the part he played in the 1798 rebellion. Beside this site is a memorial to Ernie O Malley Freedom Fighter and Writer (1898-1957). This sculptor by Peter Grant depicts Manannan Mac Lir; the Sea God, and was presented to the people of Castlebar by the family of the late Ernie O Malley.
Glenpark Nursing Home
Mayo County Council recently acquired this building, next door to Daly's Hotel. It was used prior to this as a nursing home and as a bank. It was originally built in 1786 as a jail and was known as a Bridewell. George Robert Fitzgerald was hanged here in 1796. The jail was transferred from here in 1835 to where Mayo General Hospital now stands. Across the road from here stands Castlebar courthouse built in 1834 which prior to The Local Government Act of 1898 was known as The Grand Jury.
Birthplace of Margaret Burke Sheridan
Just two doors from the courthouse is the birthplace of Margaret Burke Sheridan Prima Donna. This house was originally the Post Office. There is a plaque to her memory on the front wall. Garda Barracks.
The Garda barracks was built on the site of the cavalry barracks. The only remnants of that building are the two lions that once stood on the pillars leading into the barracks and are now at the front entrance.
Arás an Chondae
The County Council Offices are built on what was once the County Infirmary, which was built in 1834 and was in use up to 1932. Before the new offices were built it was used as a machinery yard and fire station for the County Council.
Holy Trinity Church of Ireland
This fine church was built in 1739 and was renovated in 1829 following storm damage. Inside the main gate (opposite Post Office) lies the gravestone of The Frazier's Fencibles, a Scottish regiment, who were killed in 1798. There is also a monument to Major General George O Malley erected by his friends in 1845 in recognition for his bravery in the British Army. Major General O Malley served with the British in Egypt, North America, and The Mediterranean and in the Battle of Waterloo where he was wounded twice in 1815. He died in London in 1843 aged 63 years and is buried in his family plot at Murrisk Abbey.
Across from the Church of Ireland stands a memorial to the people who died fighting for freedom in the Rising of 1798. Beside this is the grave of John Moore, First President of Connaught who died in Waterford in 1798. His remains were re-interred on 13th August 1961 with all the honours of church and state. This ceremony was attended by the then President Eamonn de Valera.
Saint Mary's Hospital
As we proceed left towards the Westport Road we come to St Mary's Hospital. St Mary's Hospital has been in continuous use since it was opened on St George's Day 1866. It could then cater for 222 beds. Prior to that St Bridget's Hospital in Ballinasloe catered for all of Connaught. The first admissions to the hospital numbering 132 patients were conveyed from Ballinasloe by horse drawn vehicle, a distance of some 70 miles. The original building was only a quarter of its present size and at the time of its opening there was controversy over its size with some people reckoning it would not be big enough.
This proved to be the case and by 1876 The Board of Governors reported overcrowding, 100 patients more than the hospital was supposed to cater for. Extensions were built in 1878, 1882, 1902 and 1936. The foundation stone for the "New Wing" as it is still called was laid in 1934 and it bears the inscription: "FAIRSINGE A LEIGHEADH LE TEACH NA NGEALT 1934".
The hospital was formerly known as the District Lunatic Asylum and was then more akin to a jail than a hospital with high outer wall, locked gates and locked doors. This all began to change however with the removal of the locked main gates in 1957 and the outer main wall in 1963. Since the 1960s the emphasis in psychiatric care has changed.
St Theresa's Admission Unit was built in 1969 and a new industrial training Centre was opened in 1981. The emphasis has since being moving towards community care with former residents moving to hostels or group homes under the auspices of Mayo Mental Health association. Some of the building still houses psychiatric patients, but most of it has been acquired by Galway Mayo Institute of Technology who provide a third level educational facility here.
The Old Graveyard
As we turn back towards the town the old graveyard is visible on our left. This graveyard was the site of an early Christian church (from which the Parish, Aglish gets its name). The first of the Binghams is buried here. It was handed over to the church of Ireland in 1650 and was used by their congregation until 1739. Beside the graveyard is Lough Lannagh, also known locally as Church Lake. Older maps spell it Leanna- thought to be derived from the Irish word leanbh meaning child. There is a crannog visible in the lake and a pre-Christian dug out boat was discovered here in the 1960s.
As we move back towards the town centre past the Post Office we enter Ellison Street, named after Rev Ellison who was Church of Ireland rector in Castlebar at the time of the 1798 rising.
To our left is a small lane, called Cavendish Lane named after Lord Cavendish who founded "The Connaught Telegraph" newspaper in 1828. The offices of this newspaper are still here and the paper has been in continuous circulation since then. It was later owned owned by the Daly and Gillespie families. It has as its motto "Be just and fear not." It was always pro-nationalist in it's outlook, backing such movements as O Connell's Repeal Campaign, The Tenants Rights of the 1850s, the Land League and Home rule Movements.
There was a brewery and a tannery at the bottom of Cavendish Lane in the 19th Century. The town also had a number of small industries - gas works at Newtown, pottery at Rathbawn, soap and candle making factories at Main St and Linenhall St, snuff and tobacco plant at Linenhall St and a brick making plant at Antigua townland at the junction of the Galway and Belcarra roads.
The Market Square
As we go to the end of Cavendish Lane and turn right we pass Dunnes Stores and enter Market Square. This was once the main trading area in the town where agricultural produce was sold. The Market day was Saturday. A crane and weighbridge for the weighing of potatoes etc. existed here up to the 1960s. The Forester's Hall stood where the dry-cleaners now stands and was the meeting place for The Irish National Foresters.
The organisation was founded in Dublin in 1877 as a benefit society for members and their families. Its leaders were members of the IRB and other Nationalist organisations. To qualify for membership one had to be born in Ireland or be of Irish descent. One of its main aims was to assist members in search of employment. "The Connaught Telegraph" of the time has records of several fundraising functions that the organisation held.
The Catholic Church, known as "The Church of Our Lady of The Holy Rosary", was opened in October 1900. There was a lot of controversy over the building of the church. It all started in 1872 when Archbishop John Mc Hale instructed Cannon Mc Gee to build a new church. The monies for the church were raised at home and in the USA and the building was erected to roof level on the site now occupied where the Archdeacon's house now stands.
There was outrage when the new Archbishop Mc Evilly announced he was pulling down the new structure and building a new church on the opposite side of the road. The town was incensed and public meetings were held in protest and many people stopped attending mass, workers were refusing to work on the scheme and contributors were demanding their money back.
After passing the church we turn right, and on our left where the Al Muretto Restaurant stands once stood the Rooney Hall. It was a meeting place for Sinn Fein, Na Fianna and Cumann na mBan. The hall was named after William Rooney, journalist and language revivalist, who was co-founder of "The United Irishman". He was also the co-founder of Cumann na nGael whose aims were to foster the study of the Irish language and culture and in general to combat the Anglicisation of Ireland.
This organisation was later absorbed into Sinn Fein. Major John Mc Bride and Maud Gonne who were vice-presidents of Cummann na nGael were frequent visitors. Further down this street is the town hall, now The Linenhall Arts Centre. This was once the trading house for the linen industry. This industry thrived in the area for some time and was started by planters who moved into the area from Ulster, hence place-names such as New Antrim Street are common.
The bridge at the bottom of the street was the site of one of the major battles of the 1798 rebellion and is commemorated in a plaque on the wall of the Kingsbridge Inn. As we look up to our left there is a hill known as Staball Hill which derives its name from "The Races of Castlebar", where the British troops were routed by French and Irish troops many of whom were armed only with pikes. Further up the street on our left is The Humbert Inn. This was originally Mc Geevers Hotel and it was here that a Provisional Government of Connaught was declared in 1798.
At the top of Main Street, we turn left and enter Castle Street and begin the last leg of our journey. This street is known by most locals as Castle Lane. It was originally stepped, with the steps leading up to the Castle from which the name of the town is derived. The remains of the steps were to be seen during road works some years ago. There was a jail built here in the seventeenth century. The Third Lord Mayo was hanged here for the part he played in the rising. The birthplace of Stephen Garvey (1902-1962), bandleader, musical director and organist is also in this street.
Once we climb the hill in this street we are back to the starting point of our tour.
Article by Brian Hoban