ByRoute 15.2 Co. Longford (W) // Co. Mayo (N)

Turlough & Parke (Co. Mayo / Central)

Turlough (Turlach, from tuar lach – “dry lake”) (pop. 1000), a village and district northeast of Castlebar, lies along the Castlebar River (An tSiúir). The surrounding countryside contains several Standing Stones and other signs of prehistoric human activity.

Turlough’s Round Tower, presumably erected sometime between 900 AD and 1200, is thought to have marked a monastic settlement which may well have been established  bySaint Patrick, who is traditionally believed to have founded a church here and baptised converts at the nearby Holy Well. It had probably ceased to be a monastery long before it was reportedly pillaged by MacWilliam in 1236. A 1792 drawing shows the cap in a ruinous state, although Lewis (1837) described the tower as being “in an excellent state of preservation“. Restored in 1880, the absence of a pointed capstone adds to the illusion of squatness.

The roofless church adjacent to the tower incorporates a C16th mullioned window, a smallCrucifixion plaque dated 1625, a second undated Crucifixion panel and several carved stones. This structure, which  Lewis (1837) referred to  as “some remains of an old church“, is said to have been reduced to ruin by Cromwellian soldiers.

Turlough Park / Museum of Country Life


The land around the original turlough / seasonal lake that gave the district its name was held from c.1450 by a branch of the de Burgos who became known by the titleMacWilliam Eighter, until 1696, when Col. Walter Bourkedeparted for France as one of the Wild Geese.


John Fitzgerald chose a site near the previous owners’ Tower House on the south side of the Castlebar River to build an early Georgian style  residence, now in ruins near the entrance bridge to the Turlough Park estate.


George Robert “Fighting Fitzgerald” (b.c. 1748), a nephew of the Earl of Bristol / Bishop of Derry, was educated at Eton and received at the court of Versailles, but spent most of his life at Turlough, where he is said to have kept bears and other ferocious animals as pets. Notorious for his wild ways and frequent duels, he commanded a body of Irish Volunteers, using them was to intimidate neighbouring landowners and even his own father, who he held to ransom for £3000. He brought one young wife to an early grave, mourned extravagantly, and before long married a second. Convicted of procuring the murder of obnoxious Chancery attorney Pat Randall Mc Donnell and another, Fitzgerald and two accomplices were executed in Castlebar on 12th June 1786. His daughter, brought up by a relative, died in 1794, it is said of anguish on reading of her father’s fate in an old copy of the Gentleman’s Magazine, hidden away on a top shelf.


The present Turlough Park House, designed in the Gothic style by TN Deane, was built in 1866 for Charles Lionel Fitzgerald, whose descendants remained in residence well into the C20th. It was run as a guesthouse in the 1970s and occupied by the Butler family up to 1991, when the property was acquired by Mayo County Council.


The Museum of Country Life (part of the NMI), opened in 2001, occupies the beautifully refurbished house and an impressive modern OPW-designed exhibition complex set in 37 acres landscaped with rare trees, shrubs and terraced lawns overlooking an artificial lake dug where the original turlough lay. (Photo – NMI)


Thousands of visitors come each year to view the National Folklife Collection, comprising some 50,00 artefacts (farming implements, trade tools, household utensils, furniture, décor, clothes, adornments, toys, crafts etc.) illustrating facets of everyday work and leisure in old rural Ireland.

Turlough church (CoI) is a handsome early C19th edifice with a striking tower.

Turlough Civil Parish, which extended northwards to take in Pontoon, had a very significant population decline during the Great Famine, dropping from 7,430 in 1841 to 4,516 in 1851.

Turlough is close to Castlebar on ByRoute 14.

Parke / Park is a rural hamlet near two good coarse fishing lakes called LevallinreeandDerryhick.

The church of the Holy Family (RC), serving the parish of the same name that takes inTurlough and several other villages, is a relatively modern edifice with an attractive fountain in its grounds.

Ballyvary (Co. Mayo / Central)

Ballyvary / Bellavary (Béal Átha Bhearaigh) (pop. 150) is a village on the River May, which flows northwards to Lough Cullin.

Ballyvary used to be quite important. In 1752 it was granted town status and chartered to hold three annual fairs plus weekly markets. An 1802 survey recorded that the houses all had a chimney and were all built of stone, each having a chimney and most having out-offices. At its zenith the town had a large corn mill, four public houses, a post-office, a Presbyterian assembly hall, an industrial school, a Constabulary Barracks (burned out in 1920 during the War of Independence) and a Petty Sessions Courthouse (where Judge Patrick Burkedispensed justice during the Civil War).

St Joseph’s church (RC), erected in 1841, serves the ancient parish of Keelogues, formerly known as Kildacammoge.

The Fair Green was presented to the village by CL Fitzgerald of Turlough Park.

Bellavary railway station, opened in 1894 on the Ballina / Manulla Junction branch of the Midland Great Western Railway line, was  used mainly by pig dealers attracted to the monthly livestock fair and emmigrants leaving home, and was closed by CIE in 1963.

Ballyvary is not far from Bohola on ByRoute 16.

Straide (Co. Mayo / Central)

Straide / Strade / Styrade (An tSráid – “the street”) (pop. 600), formerly aka Templemoreand previously as Athlehan, is a village south of Lough Cullin.

Straide Abbey


Straide Abbey was founded c. 1240 as aFranciscanFriary byJordan de Exeter, lord of Athlehan, who at the behest of his domineering wife transferred it to theDominicansin 1252. (Photo by snowcopter)


The complex was burned in 1254 and an indulgence was granted in 1434 for its restoration. After King Henry VIII’s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteriesit was leased to James Garvey in 1578, to Patrick Barnwell in 1588, and some of the land was granted to Edmond Barrett in 1595. Lewis (1837) mentions “members of the order” living nearby.


The most striking element of the ruin is a spectacular sculptured tomb nichewith a magnificent hood / canopy of Gothic tracery, dating from c. 1475. The front of the tomb has two panels carved with figures in arches. The weepers include the Magi, Christ showing His five wounds, a kneeling figure (the deceased?) taking off his hat and two bishops, possibly Saints Peter and Paul. A photograph can be viewed here. Under the east window is a fragment of another C15th tomb carved with a Pieta flanked by two kneeling figures.


Most of the complex seems to be C15th work, except for the Chancel, with six slender lancet windows in its north wall, which appears to date from the C13th. There are some good medieval tombstones in the Sacristry.

The Abbey grounds,  long used as a cemetery, feature a Celtic Cross marking the grave of the great C19th agrarian leader Michael Davitt.

Michael Davitt

Michael Davitt (1846 – 1906).was born locally, the second of five children born to Martin and Catherine Davitt, who were evicted from their home in for non-payment of rent arrears in 1850. They briefly entered a local workhouse before emigrating to England and walking to Haslingden in East Lancashire, where he lost an arm working in a cotton mill at the age of nine and was subsequently educated by local Methodists. He became heavily involved in theIRB and was arrested in London in 1870 for arms smuggling; he served half of a 15-year prison sentence before political agitation led to his release on a “ticket of leave”.


After a lecture tour of the USA (where his mother and three siblings had settled) he returned to Mayo, where many were suffering from another famine, and began a campaign for agrarian rights that led to his cooperation with Charles Stewart Parnell to form the Land League to abolish landlordism in Ireland and enable tenant farmers to own the land on which they worked. They launched the Land War in favour of the “Three Fs” – Fair Rents, Fixity of Tenure and Free Sale – with mass rallies, demonstrations and the new tactic of “boycotting” land agents. Davitt was imprisoned twice more, severely damaging his health, but the campaign led to a series of major legislative reforms.


First elected MP for Mayo in 1883, Davitt welcomed Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill, but favoured land nationalisation and later split with Parnell. He became more interested in workers’ rights and grew impatient with Parliament, resigning from the House of Commons in 1893. He renounced his Fenian oath, campaigned for Kier Hardy’s Labour movement and frequently visited Scotland to support the crofters in the Highlands and Islands. He was elected again in 1895 and resigned again in 1899 on the issue of the Boer War, travelling to South Africa to support the Boers and Russia to investigate accounts of anti-Semitism. He favoured the Liberal Party’s proposals for state schools free of denominational control, bringing him into conflict with the Roman Catholic hierarchy.


20,000 mourners, including the Lord Lieutenant, filed past Davitt’s coffin in Dublin before it was brought by train to Mayo  for burial in Straide. In later years he was cited as an inspiration by Ghandi and other great Civil Rights leaders.


Rory Breslin‘s 2002 bronze statue of Michael Davitt stands near the Abbey in front of the C17th church where he was baptised, now converted into a museum dedicated to his memory.


The Michael Davitt Museum contains an extensive collection of photos, posters, letters, postcards, press cuttings and other documents and artefacts connected with Davitt’s life and times.

The Church of Ss Peter and Paul (RC), built in 1916 on a hill marking the centre of the village, is flanked by two pubs, The Davitt Lounge and The Copper Beech.

Ashbrook House, the birthplace of George Moore (1727-1799), founder of the Moore Hallestate on Lough Carra, formerly stood on land now given over to residential developments.

Ballylahan Castle


Ballylahan Castle was built near the River Moy in the C13th by Jordan de Exeter (fl. 1239-1258), an Anglo-Norman knight who participated in the 1230s conquest of Connacht under Richard Mór de Burgh, took possession of the cantred / barony of Gallen and was the ancestor of the Siurtain Gaileng / Mac Siurtain / Mac Jordan sept. (Photo by Pamela Norrington) (More photos can be viewed here)


King Henry III appointed him Sherriff of Connacht following the death ofWilliam de Brit at the Battle of Termon McGrath in 1247, and gave him 25 marks yearly “in reward of services until he should be given waste lands worth £20 a year, which were given about the parish of Killallaghtan in Galway, to be held by the service of one knight.” Jordan’s most famous exploit was leading the cavalry charge that won the First Battle of Athenry in 1249. He was killed in 1258 while fending off a pirate raid, apparently by Eóghan of Argyll.


His notoriously bossy wife Basilia was a daughter of Meyler de Bermingham, lord of Athenry. Their sons were Meiler de Exeter (d. 1289) and Jordan Ógde Exeter (fl.1269-1319), also Sherriff of Connacht and Constable ofRoscommon Castle, whose son John na Conairte de Exeterwas described aslord of Athelethan in 1335.

Templemore Civil Parish saw a significant population drop during and after the Great Famine. The 1841 population of 4,251 had dropped to 2,387 by 1851 and 1,938 by 1911.


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