The Early History of Charlestown in Co. Mayo

In the 1840's, the land occupied by what is now Charlestown, was a bog. Stepping stones across what is now known as the Roundabout, led to the ancient town of Bellaghy, just across the county border in County Sligo. There, the Mayo tenants of the Lord Dillon Estate had to carry their sacks of potatoes and grain on market days. Because they were Mayo men and tenants of Lord Dillon, they were forced to wait at the weighing scales until all the Sligo men had their produce weighed.

The Mayo tenants complained bitterly to the agent of Lord Dillon, one Charles Strickland, who protested to the Lord of Sligo estate, one of the Knox family. He was rebuffed, but it was not until later, when Strickland was publicly insulted, that he swore vengence "I will wipe out Bellaghy", he said.

With the consent of Lord Dillon (Charles Dillon) the 14th Viscount, Strickland immediately offered a large holding of rent free land forever to the man or woman who would build the first house in what would be a new town. He had takers from many sides.

In the end it boiled down to a two horse race. One July day in 1846, the labourers and builders employed by the Henry family looked across at their opponents and began to worry. Their opponents had now rafters in place and were calling for the slates to finish off the job. Henry's men decided on a daring move, they would have to delay that cargo of slates to the Mulligan family. Since Michael Henry, who hailed from Swinford and married Mary Mulligan, whose father John Mulligan gave the young couple the gift of the site, had his men to go to Swinford, and meet the carters who were bringing the slates from the port of Ballina. There they entertained the carters for Mulligans, and gave them all the drink they could purchase. They duly drank everything and forgot about bringing the slates for the required time.

While the workers on the Mulligan house sat about waiting for the slates, the men on Henry's house worked around the clock to slate their roof and light a fire, they completed the first house, won the race and claimed the land that went with it. Henry's opponents, the Mulligan family, were related to Michael Henry's wife, and it is not suprising that relations were a bit cool for many years afterwards. Michael Henry's son Mark C Henry was later elected to the Swinford Board of Guardians, Mayo County Council and Dail Eireann. Mark Henry was born in 1854 and died in 1952 aged ninety eight years.

© Cathal Henry

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