The Great Western Loughs

Tourmakeady & Partry (Co. Mayo)

Tuar Mhic Éadaigh (“McKeady’s [flax] bleaching field”) / Tourmakeady / ToormakeadyTarmacady (pop. 1500), a townland, village and picturesque rural district between the shores of Lough Mask and the Partry Mountains, lies within the largest Gaeltacht region in Ireland (or, indeed, the world!), and has long been a popular destination for anglers, walkers and nature lovers.

The modern district straddles the frontier between the old baronies of Carra and Ross; the latter formed part of County Galway until 1898, and the area within County Mayo was considered part of the Civil parish of Ballyovey and the Ballybannon division of the old Roman Catholic parish of Mount Partry.

Tourmakeady in the C19th

Tourmakeady was long part of the extensive estates held by the Blosse Lynch family of Partry House and the Moore family of Moore Hall on the eastern shore of Lough Carra. The latter were exceptionally considerate landlords, never evicting a single tenant for non-payment of rent during times of economic hardship.


William Conygham Plunket (1764 – 1854), a Presbyterian-born politician (who as MP for Dublin University had strongly supported Catholic Emancipation), lawyer and judge, was ennobled in the Peerage of the UK in 1827 as Baron Plunket and served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1830 to 1841. His son Thomas Span Plunkett (1792 – 1866), having visited the area on holiday, acquired land from the Moores in 1833 to build Tourmakeady Lodge. He was appointed as the Church of Ireland’s Bishop of Tuam, Killala & Achonry in 1839.

The bishop and his sister Katherine were leading members of  the Irish Church Mission Society, of which he was Treasurer; during the Great Famine she ran a soup kitchen for those who converted to Protestantism, and was known as Cáit a Bhrotháin (“Kate of the Soup”) when the derogatory term Souper came to be applied to those who changed their religion.


Heavy losses forced the older landlords to sell parts of their property to the Plunkets in 1851 and 1854, so that by the time the Bishop became the 2nd Baron Plunket he was one of the largest landowners in the county. His agent did evict tenants, not for non-payment of rents, but for refusing to send children to the new and supposedly non-sectarian National Schools, widely regarded as Protestant establishments. An anti-proselytisation campaign was mounted by local priests,  Fr. Peter Conway and Fr. Ward, who in an 1854 letter to the Dublin Telegraph listed 104 families evicted from the Plunket estate.


In 1860 Bishop Plunket’s Roman Catholic counterpart in Tuam, Archbishop John McHale, appointed the pugnacious Fr. Pat Lavelle as Administrator of Partry parish. He escalated the campaign against these practices, forbidding parents to send their children to the schools, denouncing those who did so as “perverts”, challenging ejectment orders at Ballinrobe Petty Sessions and the Assizes in Castlebar, and raising money from abroad (notably the newly founded Fenian Brotherhood in the USA) to establish the Partry Defence Fund to resettle evicted tenants.

The crisis peaked when Dr. Plunket recruited a “crowbar brigade” of army and police, under Colonel Knox, Mayo’s High Sheriff, to evict 60 families from the villages of Gortfree and Gurteenmore. Every house was then razed to the ground in what became known as the Glensaul Evictions. (Some sources suggest that only five houses were involved, so perhaps the figure 60 referred to the number of people evicted). Such behaviour was roundly condemned from the pulpits of Ireland and France to the news desk of The Times in London. As Dr. Plunket’s support ebbed away, Fr. Lavelle pressed home his advantage, building a network of schools in the area with Franciscan brothers as teachers. Victory was achieved when the Plunket family abandoned the area. The Tourmakeady estate was sold in 1876 and split up among its tenants c.1900.


The War in Partry, Fr. Lavelle’s published account of the era, made him a household name. In an interview with The Nation, the leading nationalist newspaper of the day, Fr Lavelle told how the evictions had ‘aroused his determination to do all in his power to assist the movement for national independence’. He became increasingly committed to the Fenian cause, appearing on platforms all over Ireland and as far afield as Glasgow. These activities  brought him into direct conflict with  the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Paul Cullen, who strongly disapproved of nationalism and reported the priest to the Church authorities in Rome for leading several thousand mourners on a funeral procession to Glasnevin cemetery for one of the Fenian leaders. Fr. Lavelle responded by giving a well-publicized lecture in Dublin’s Rotunda in which he reasoned that when a country is misgoverned, it has a right to revolt and that it is the Church’s duty to weigh in behind that revolt. He told an American interviewer that it had been foretold that a redhaired bishop would arise in Leinster and cause great grief to the Gael, infuriating Dr. Cullen, who could do little while the priest remained under the protection of the Archbishop of Tuam, another Fenian sympathiser.


Fr Lavelle gained massive support following the 1867 execution of the “Manchester Martyrs“. Several Bishops and 1,400 priests signed the petition seeking the release of Fenian prisoners. However, the now Cardinal Cullen prevailed upon  Pope Pius IX to issue an 1870 decree making membership of the Fenian Brotherhood grounds for excommunication. Fr. Lavelle posted a testimonial to Rome signed by 94 priests who could vouch for him. (It was widely noted that all the priests of Tuam wrote in a very similar hand.) Dr MacHale effectively promoted him by making him parish priest of Cong.


Fr. Lavelle published a book called The Irish Landlord since the Revolution which described its subjects as ‘territorial monsters’ and ‘murderers’, but became increasingly friendly with several such creatures, notably George Henry Moore of Moore Hall and Sir Arthur Guinness (Lord Ardilaun from 1880) of Ashford Castle, who may have paid his debts arising from numerous libel actions against him and provided the priest with a new residence and 13 acres of free grazing.


When Fr. Lavelle came out against a Fenian candidate in the 1874 election, the Connaught Telegraph suggested he had become ‘a henchman’ of the landlords. After his death in November 1876, his funeral was attended by several members of the gentry but no nationalist leaders, and an obituary in the Freeman’s Journal stated that it was ‘well-known that under the influence of social agencies to which he was impervious at an earlier period, his later course of action was decidedly changed’.


Bishop Plunket and his sister died within months of each other in Tuam. The bishop’s daughter Katherine (1820 – 1932) was the longest living Irish person ever recorded. The title of baron passed to his brother, whose descendants included an Archbishop of Dublin, a Governor of New Zealand and a Bishop of Meath.

The Glensaul Valley in the eastern foothills of the Partry Mountains (and formally in the townland of Greenaun) was formed millions of years ago by a falling meteorite, and is dominated by a lovely lake. (Photo –

Mount Partry Friary & School was founded in 1848 on land beneath Tournasala donated to Archbishop McHale by George Henry Moore and was run by the Franciscan Orderuntil 1927, when the Sisters of Mercy used the site to build Colaiste Mhuire, a girls’ boarding school that survived until 1990. It is now a co-educational all-Irish voluntary secondary school for the local community.

Christ church (CoI), a Gothic edifice designed by Joseph Welland and built in 1852 to serve the parish of Ballyovey, with the Rev. Hamilton Townsend as its first  rector, is now an elegant but roofless ruin with an intact tower and steeple. Bishop Plunket is buried in the walled churchyard.

Drimbawn House, built for Bishop Plunket’s sister Katherine, was the home of the Hollywood actor Robert Shaw (best known for A Man for All Seasons and Jaws)  until his death in 1978, aged 51

St Mary’s church (RC) is a handsome building surrounded by an interesting graveyard.

Tourmakeady Lodge & Woods


Tourmakeady Lodge, used as a holiday home from 1876 to 1913 by the families of Joseph and Abraham Mitchell, mill-owners from Bradford, is now a private residence.



Tourrmakeady Woods is now a Coillte forestry plantation and recreation amenity. The original forest was broadleaf and consisted of oak with other native species such as ash, rowan, and birch. The area was replanted with fast growing conifers and there are also some examples of the more exotic broadleaves such as red oaks and poplars. Other species in the area are notably heather and rhododendrons. Foxes, rabbits and pine martins are the main species of mammals. The forest is home to a wide variety of bird species including wrens, crested grebes and jays. A lovely signposted circular walking trail taking in the waterfall and a wildfowl lake.

Colaiste Chonnacht, an Irish language summer school founded in 1905 by Micheal Breathnach and Maire Ni Tuathail, became known as Cliabhran Conradh na Gaeilge – “the cradle of the Gaelic League”. Famous visitors included Douglas Hyde, Padraic Pearse, Eamonn De Valera (who married Sinead Flanagan, a former teacher at the school), Kuno Meyer, a renowned German scholar of Gaelic, Padraic O Domhnallain and other writers. It survived a serious 1908 schism within Conradh na Gaeilge to remain an Irish language teacher-training college until 1950, when it was converted by Gaeltarra Eireanninto a knitwear factory to provide  much needed employment in the locality. Long supported byUdaras na Gaeltachta, set up to boost the economy of Gaelic speaking areas, the factory has since moved and is now privately owned.

The Tourmakeady Ambush

The Tourmakeady Ambush, aka the Battle of Tourmakeady, was an attack launched on 3rd May 1921, during the  War of Independence, against RIC policemen and Black & Tans by the IRA‘s South Mayo flying column of around 30 men under Commandant Tom Maguire, together with a small number of men from east Mayo, who killed four policemen and subsequently sought refuge in the nearby Partry Mountains, where they were hunted down by British soldiers.


The long held account of the following action claimed that the column were surrounded by over 700 Crown forces guided by aeroplanes. Maguire was wounded and his adjutant killed, but the column managed to escape with no further casualties. British casualties were not revealed but were long believed to have been high. Some recent research however has raised the possibility that fewer than forty British soldiers were in the vicinity and that Maguire’s column was forced to abandon their weapons with only one British officer wounded.


The precise circumstances, still shrouded in controversy, are examined in a book called The Battle of Tourmakeady – Fact or Fiction by Capt. Donal Buckley (2008).

Eamonn DeValera instituted a local drama festival which was held for several years in the mid-C20th.

Tourmakeady Community Centre, a barn-like structure long used as a dancehall, is  strongly reminiscent of the famous Ballroom of Romance.

Tourmakeady is linked via an exceptionally scenic mountain road to onByRoute 1.

An tSraith (“the water meadow”), anglicised as Srah, is a tiny hamlet near a distinctive conical hill of the same name in the Party Mountains.

Partry/ Partree (Pártraí) (pop. 500), a village and district located between Lough Mask and Lough Carra, was long known as Ballyovey, the name of the old Civil parish. Agriculture is the principal source of income, together with tourism based on the fine local fishing facilities.

Local historical / archaeological sites include a Holy Well, the remains of a monastic settlementon an island off Ballygarry,  old churches and a Stone Age causeway crossing the Carra at Kilkeeran.

Partry House


Partry House was originally built in 1667 on the remains of Cloonlagheen Castle in the townland of that name (‘the meadow of the little lake’), acquired by Sir Henry Roebuck Lynch of Castle Carra in compensation for the Cromwellian confiscation of his lands. The house was intended by Arthur Lynch as a dowager house for his widowed mother Lady Ellis. The Lynch / Blosse Lynch family remained in residence for over 330 years, altering the house to meet their changing needs.


A tall stone arch guards the approach to the estate, nowadays run as a game sanctuary and organic farm. A two-acre walled vegetable garden is close by the house. A fine cut stone stable yard with belfry has been completely restored, as have the stone boathouse and pier, providing an attractive lakeside leisure area.


An ancient Ringfort on the estate is the site of a Lynch family graveyard dominated by a large stone obelisk commemorating their achievements. One inscriptions recalls that George Quested Lynch MD, on hearing of the Great Famine, returned at once from Baghdad  and died here of Typhus in 1848, aged only 34. Three one-time islands are linked to the shore by means of the Famine Walk, built between the lake and a bog area. The Lynchs, along with the Brownes of Westport House and the Moores of Moore Hall chartered the ship the Martha Washington to bring corn from America for their tenants. Two old cast iron pots used to cook cornmeal stand in the garden. 


Partry Lodge is available for self-catering holiday rental.

The Lough Inn is a cleverly named bar and restaurant just outside Partry village, formerly known as Harrington’s and now run by the Ward family.

Partry is


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ireland and it's history, culture, travel, tourism and more!