Mountbellew & Moylough (Co. Galway / Northeast)
Mountbellew / Mountbellew Bridge (an Creagán – “the rocky place”), historically aka Creggaun, is a village on the Castlegar River.
A monument to the famous racehorse Bobbyjo (1990 – 2001), winner of both the Irish and English Grand Nationals, owned by Mountbellew native Bobby Burke. (Photo by Sarah777)
The Bellew Estate
The branch of the Bellew family of County Louth that owned local land at the beginning of the C18th were Roman Catholics, but remained on good terms with their Protestant neighbours and managed to maintain and increase their holdings by the sort of prudent balancing act employed by other Catholics as their political situation gradually improved. The family chapel on the estate was later to become the parish church.
Christopher Dillon Bellew (1763-1826), a reforming landlord, did much to shape the town by energetically promoting the Tuesday market and giving generous prizes to encourage good farming practices and a move away from reliance on the potato. He invited the Franciscan Brothers to the town, where they founded a monastery in 1824. He was also responsible for rebuilding of the family house as a solid Georgian mansion. His library contained works ranging from the classics of various languages to practical manuals on farming and gardening to books on Irish history and language.
Mount Bellew House.
Michael Dillon Bellew (1796-1855), made a Baronet in 1838, was a friend and supporter of Daniel O’Connell and Archbishop MacHale, both of whom visited Mountbellew. He had a good reputation as humane landlord who tried to maintain the townspeople during times of hardship by abating rents and giving famine relief. His eldest son, Sir Christopher Bellew (1818 – 1867) died without male issue. His younger son Thomas Bellew (1820 – 1863), MP for County Galway, married Henry Grattan‘s granddaughter Pauline (d.1908), and their son assumed the additional surname of Grattan by Royal license.
Sir Henry Grattan Bellew (1860 – 1942), a member of the Irish Volunteers and the National Party, helped Horace Plunkett found the Mountbellew Co-operative Agricultural Societyand served as a lieutenant colonel in the Connaught Rangers during WWI.
Having transferred land to their tenants in accordance with the Land Acts, the Grattan-Bellews sold their remaining property to the Land Commission in1937. Attempts were made by a group of local people to have the house converted into a district hospital, but the Galway Board of Health refused, so the old house was torn down and the stones used to repair the roads in the parish. All that remains is a fine stone wall.
Mountbellew Demesne, now run by Coillte, comprises mature wooded areas of mixed coniferous and deciduous trees and a walled park enclosing a herd of Sika deer, and is a haven for many other wildlife species including red squirrels, otters, mink, rabbits, bats and a wide range of birds. Forest trails take in interesting historical artefacts.
Mountbellew Lake, drained by the River Shiven, is a sanctuary for all types of waterfowl.
Mountbellew Forge, a working forge and museum on Mountbellew Demesne, contains exhibits such as a huge bellows and anvil, plus a flat bottomed wooden boat over 1000 years old, recovered from a nearby graveyard.
Ballinlass, about a mile to the east of the village, was the scene of famous evictions in 1846, reported in the Freeman’s Journal by S. Redmond. According to his vivid account, 4,000 people had been evicted by the Gerrard family in the previous three years, despite all having offered their rents. In the words of a relative of the family, Mrs Gerrard was “the greatest exterminator of tenantry in the country — perhaps in Ireland, and it is not now she has commenced it — she is at it more than twenty years … she has turned out hundreds, aye thousands of people for the last twenty years, and, as you will perceive, turned the places into bullock pastures.” A parishioner said to Redmond: “Sir, the parish chapel … which used to be crowded, and where you could not sit on a Sunday by reason of the numbers, is now so deserted that you might make a ballroom of it; for since the people were turned out it is all but empty. The root and branch, and they are now scattered about in all directions.”
Mountbellew’s village square and the bridge that provided the alternative English toponym were designed by Sir Henry Grattan Bellew. The bridge contains a rare milestone inserted in the middle of its parapet, and the banks of the Castlegar River are landscaped.
Mountbellew Agricultural College is owned and managed by the Franciscan Order, who arrived in 1818 at the invitation of the Bellew family and taught a free primary school until 1884. In 1875 they opened a boarding school, which changed from Secondary to Agricultural Education in 1904. The old college was demolished in 1971 and replaced with a new one by 1975. In 1976 three Brothers from Mountbellew founded Baraka Agricultural College in Kenya.
Thomas J Kelly, born in Mountbellew in 1833, emigrated to the USA and fought in the American Civil War, then returned and became Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Arresdted in England in 1867, he and a companion were being driven to gaol in a black police van when a group of Fenian sympathisers attempted a rescue, and when a man tried to shoot the lock off the van door, one of the policemen guarding him was killed. Three men out of the crowd assailing the van were convicted on very little evidence of murder and hanged — the famous Manchester Martyrs. Kelly escaped and died in 1908. A plaque on the wall of a house in the Square marks his birthplace.
Mountbellew is home to the Malthouse Players, a small but active amateur drama group who stage two productions annually and regularly participate in national competitions, twice winning the All-Ireland one-act drama finals.
Mountbellew is linked by the N63 with Newbridge on ByRoute 14.
Moylough (Maigh Locha – “plain of the lake”), historically aka Newtown Bellew, is a small rural village.
Moylough Castle, a very early Hall House, was built in the C13th for the chief of the O’Mannin clan, who controlled the remnants of the ancient territory of Tir Soghain, roughly co-extensive with the barony of Tiaquin. Hugh O’Mannin surrendered the clan land to the Crown and received them back by letters patent in 1617. The whole property was confiscated under the Cromwellian distribution, but a small portion was restored under the 1676 Act of Settlement.
St Patrick’s church (RC) was erected in the mid-C19th.
Laught Lake is the location of a medieval church ruin.
Moylough is linked by the R364 with Glenamaddy on ByRoute 14.
Menlough & Skehana (Co. Galway / Northeast)
Menlough (Mionlach), historically aka Minla, is a village in the old parish of Killascobe (first mentioned in 1306), not to be confused with Menlo on the River Corrib. Massive expansion during the Celtic Tiger years resulted in the community largely turning into a dormitory settlement for commuters.
Menlough Castle, an O’Mannin stronghold standing in ruins in the fields behind the bizarre grotto in the centre of the village, was “lately destroyed by lightning” according to Lewis (1837).
St Mary’s church (RC) , having lost its roof on the night of “The Big Wind” in January 1839, was not completed until 1845. The baptismal font was taken from the ancient parish church at Killascobe.
The Killascobe Chalice, a pewter vessel dating back to the C18th Penal days, is now kept in the Diocesan Museum.
During the War of Independence, a major local landlord called Joyce was shot dead as he walked to Mass, but nobody was ever apprehended for the crime. Ironically, Joyce was a strong supporter of the Republican cause. The ruins of his house are still visible.
A monument commemorates the Menlough Battalion of the old IRA.
Skehana / Skehanagh is a rural half-parish.
Garbally Castle was built in 1499 by Malachy O’Kelly, damaged in 1504 bya MacWilliam De Burgo raid, and later destroyed by Cromwellian troops along with nearby Clooncureen Castle.
Skehana church (RC) was built in 1861 to replace a thatched church on the same site by the local landlord James Christopher Fitzgerald Kenney, who reserved a special entrance and front row seats for his family, and is buried in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral, which he also helped to found. Michael Davitt held the second ever meeting of the Land League at the church gates.
The Windfield estate was purchased in 1823 by the Jameson family of whiskey distillers, who later bought and moved to Montrose House in Dublin (now the home of RTE).