ByRoute 13.1 Co. Meath // Co. Offaly

Kinnegad  (Co. Westmeath / East)


Kinnegad (Cionn Átha Gad) (pop. 2150), long a regional market hub, grew considerably during the Celtic Tiger years, and became primarily a commuter satellite of DUBLIN. (Photo – www.kinnegadparish.ie)

Located on the border between two counties and at the junction of two traditional old main routes across the country, Kinnegad was a boomtown during the C19th heyday of stagecoach traffic.

The church of the Assumption (RC), a handsome edifice with an impressive tower and spire on Kinnegad’s main street, was designed by TF McNamara and built in 1909 to replace St Mary’s church (1793), which was destroyed by accidental fire and stands as a forlorn ruin in a nearby field.

Kinnegad was the birthplace of Richard Henry Jackson (1830 – 1892), whose family emigrated to the USA, where he enlisted in the army in 1851 and made his way up through the ranks, ending the American Civil War as a brevet Brigadier General and later commanding Fort Schuyler in New York.

Even though it has been bypassed by the M4 motorway, Kinnegad maintains a tradition of hospitality for travellers to this day, with a hotel, several pubs, and eateries catering for most tastes from early morning to late at night.

An Boreen Bradach is a pleasant if not quite awe-inspiring 3.5km walking route forming a semi-circle around Kinnegad, with unobstructed views across flat green fields stocked with grazing cattle and sheep.

Rocky DeValera & the Gravediggers, a Dublin rock group founded by Ferdia Mac Anna and others in the late 1970s, used to celebrate the joys of provincial touring with the memorable ditty: ”Naas they say is quite a place / and Clare is pretty bad / Ballinasloe is no place to go / but fuck me, Kinnegad?’ Apparently this was from The Bank Teller’s Lament, a poem composed in the 1960s by some anonymous bank employee about the terror of being sent to work in various small branch offices throughout the country.

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Rattin Castle / Kinnegad Tower House was founded in the C14th by Sir John Darcy, forfeited by Nicholas Darcy after the 1641 Rebellion, and destroyed in the C18th. The present ruin dates from the C16th.

Clonfad is the site of a monastery founded in the C6th AD by Saint Echten, the bishop reputed to have ordained Saint Colmcille / Columba and many others. An abbot of Clonfad called Blahmac was killed in 799 AD. The enclosure contains the remnants of a medieval church, an interesting but seriously eroded High Cross, a  fragment of another cross shaft, a graveyard anda rag / wishing tree known as the Bishop’s Bush.

Coralstown & Milltownpass (Co. Westmeath / East)

Coralstown / Correllstown is a rural community.

St Agnes church (RC), designed by JP Davis and completed in 1870 in a rather austere Gothic style, has since 1954 been somewhat disconcertingly adjoined by a splendidly ornate Tudoresque tower and steeple saved from the demolition of the former local Church of Ireland edifice (1820). Surrounded by an extensive graveyard, the church features exceptionally lovely stained glass windows depicting the Four Evangelists.

Mary Lynch’s Pub, a real old world local on the Royal Canal, now run by John & Mary Moriarty, is   recommended  by Georgina Campbell for its good food, and personally for its pleasant B&B accommodation facilities. (Photo by Sarah777)

Coralstown is near The Downs on the outskirts of Mullingar.

Milltownpass was one of the first villages in Ireland to have its own electricity supply, provided by a mill on the Milltown River.

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Rochfortbridge & Dalystown (Co. Westmeath / East)

Rochfortbridge (Droichead Chaisleán Loiste – “the bridge of the Burning Castle”) (pop. 1700), historically called Castlelost, was long a rural agricultural community, but grew considerably during the Celtic Tiger years, and is now home to many DUBLIN commuters.

Lewis (1837) recorded that the location was celebrated at a very early period from an extensive monastery, founded at Rathyne or Rathenin, (now Rahanine) by St. Carthag or Mochuda, in which he presided for more than 40 years over 867 monks, who supported themselves and the neighbouring poor by their labour“ and that “there was also a very eminent school under the direction of St. Carthag, in connection with the monastery; but in the Easter holidays of 630, he and his monks were driven from the Abbey by King Blathmac, and the saint took refuge at Lismore, in the County of Waterford, where he died in 636. He is said to have been succeeded by St Constantine, King of Britain, who resigned his Crown; and the names of succeeding abbots are preserved till the year 783, from which date there are no further records of the monastery“.

Castlelost Castle, a Tyrrell family stronghold built to replace the adjacent motte & bailey erected c.1180, was forfeit to the Crown after the 1641 Rebellion, and is now little more than a stump of masonry.

The village evolved around a ford on the River Derry, aka the Pass of Kilbride / Pace de Kilbryde; this stopping point on the ancient Slí Mór route across Ireland gave its name to the entire parish, aka Pace-Killbride / Killbride-Pilate, roughly co-extensive with the small barony of Fartullagh (where many toponyms are suffixed “pass”). The first structure spanning the river at this point was called Beggars Bridge, where travellers had to pay a farthing (¼d) to cross in either direction.

The first post-medieval village was largely laid out c. 1700 by Robert Rochfort (1651–1727), a leading barrister and MP for Westmeath, who received a grant from Queen Anne to hold a monthly market in the area, and financed the new bridge over the River Derry that gave the settlement its modern name.

Gaulstown & the Rochfort family


 

The Rochfort family are known to have lived in Kilbryde  from at least 1415, and to have occupied the Gaulstown estate in the second part of the C15th.

 

Lieut. Col. Prime Iron Rochfort killed a fellow Cromwellian officer, Major Turner, in a duel held in the grounds of Gaulstown House, then little more than a decaying Norman castle. It was discovered that the charge in Major Turner’s pistol had been tampered with; Rochfort was found guilty of murder and executed in May 1651, just days before the birth of his son Robert.

Robert Rochfort MP and his wife Lady Hannah (née Handcock) turned Gaulstown House into one of the finest houses in the County. After a successful career at the Bar, he was at various times Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Attorney General and a judge (Recorder of Londonderry and later Baron of the Exchequer), only returning to his beloved Gaulstown during periods of leave and for his retirement.

Robert’s eldest son George, together with his wife Elizabeth (née Moore) and his brother John (“Nimrod”), made extensive improvements to the property, including the laying of a “cartwheel” of roads around a hub with an equestrian statue of himself and the digging of canals and lakes, while entertaining famous contemporaries such as his father-in-law the 3rd Earl of Drogheda and Jonathan Swift. Unfortunately, George died suddenly on the 8th July 1730, just three years after his father, passing his seat in the Irish Parliament to the eldest of his three sons, Robert, aged 23.

Col. Robert Rochfort (1708 – 1774), popular in Court circles, held a series of military sinecures and was successively created Baron / Viscount  Belfield and finally Earl of Belvedere / Belvidere (1757). He is nowadays primarily remembered for commissioning the construction of beautiful Belvedere / Belvidere House on the shores of Lough Ennell, but deserves greater notoriety as a jealous, spiteful and cruel husband; even more appallingly, his monstrous tyranny was largely supported by the law of the time.

Robert was widowed within a year of his first wedding, and in 1736 married Mary, the 16-year-old daughter of Viscount Molesworth. In 1743 he heard a rumour that she had been having an affair with his brother Arthur, and accused her of adultery. She sought aid from her father, who disowned her as illegitimate; some sources claim she was prosecuted and sentenced to penal servitude in the West Indies, but this seems unlikely. In any event, Robert had her locked up for the rest of her life in Gaulstown House, where she could only walk the grounds with written permission, preceded by a servant shouting obscenities. Robert is also said to have shot and wounded his brother, and later successfully sued him for 2000 Guineas; Arthur, unable to pay, went into exile.

 

Mary and Arthur corresponded secretely and plotted to flee abroad together, but their letters were intercepted by the housekeeper, Mrs Coyne. Mary escaped from Gaulstown and appealed for help to her father, who again disowned her, and to her other brother-in-law, George, who reluctantly handed her back to his sibling’s servants. Her bid for freedom resulted in even harsher captivity, as she was confined entirely indoors and prohibited from seeing her children. Arthur was arrested in Dublin and  thrown into the Marshelea debtors’ prison, where he died.

 

Finally released after 31 years upon Robert’s death by order of their son, who had the house demolished, Mary had taken to chatting with portraits in a shrill whisper, and was evidently profoundly deranged; she apparently spent the short remainder of her life as a hermit nun at the convent in France where she is buried.

 

Robert and Mary had two sons: George Augustus Rochfort (1738 – 1814), 2nd (and last) Earl of Belvedere, who lived in Dublin and sold the Gaulstown estate in 1784 to Sir John Browne of Neale, 7th Bart, later Lord Kilmaine; and Lieut. Col. Robert Rochfort, aka Bobby Bán, whose Dunboden property passed on his death in 1797 to the Cooper family.

 

George Cavendish Browne,  3rd Lord Kilmaine, of Kilbride Park and Lady Cooper of Dunbroden Park had Rochfortbridge largely rebuilt  as part of a relief programme during the Great Famine, saving many locals from starvation and transforming the village from a shanty settlement into the nucleus of today’s community.

 

Gaulstown was purchased in 1903 by Denis O’Neill, whose resident namesake descendant`s collection of history and poetry about the Rochfort saga  is available here.

Christchurch / Gaulstown Chapel (CoI), founded in 1728 with a £200 bequest from the first Robert Rochfort MP (along with a generous £10 for the poor of the parish!),  and completed in 1774 by the 2nd Earl of Belvedere in memory of his wicked father with the erection of a tower made from the rubble of Gaultown House , contains the Rochfort family crypt, the unquiet inhabitants of which were disturbed during the War of Independence by IRA volunteers seeking lead to make bullets, leading the authorities of the day to fill the stairwell with mortar. The building, already in ruins in 1837, is surrounded by an atmospheric graveyard.

Gaybrook House, built by Ralph Smyth in 1790, was demolished by the Land Commission c.1960, but the main gates, gate lodges and several structures remain as historical reminders of the once great demesne and of the workers who served it.

Castlelost parish church, a simple Gothic edifice with a striking tower, erected by the Church of Ireland’s Board of First Fruits in 1815, is now a private residence.

Meelin parish church (RC), erected c.1850, with a tower, octagonal belfry and steeple added c.1880, lost much of it character due to post-Vatican II reforms in 1980.

The Convent of Mercy, established in 1862, was rebuilt in 1896 as a handsome complex in the institutional Gothic Revival Style by Scott & Son. The nuns ran a centre for deaf / blind girls until c.1940, when they founded the present secondary school.

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Dalystown is the home of the Lakelands Shooting Centre, where gunmen can assassinate clay targets at will.

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