Tyrrellspass (Co. Westmeath / Southeast)
Tyrrellspass (Bealach an Tirialaigh) is a pretty village with several good pubs, eateries and accommodation options.
Tyrrellspass Village Green (photo by Sarah777) Located on the green is a charming sculpture of three small children by Imogen Stuart, erected in 1970.
Laid out in the early C19th by Jane, Countess of Belvedere (d. 1836), Tyrrellspass is noted for its Georgian buildings, particularly along the Crescent, and has won a prestigious European Architectural Heritage Award.
The community derived its modern toponym from a famous battle during the Nine Years War (1592 – 1601).
The Battle of Tyrrell’s Pass
Most (but not all) historians seem to agree that in the summer of 1597 Captain Richard Tyrrell, a chief ally of Hugh / Aodh Mór Ó Néill, won a major victory locally.
This triumph came from ambushing Crown forces under the Baron of Trimblestown’s young son, Christopher Barnewall, in a leafy defile on a route across the bog north of the village, since called Tyrrell’s Pass: “the English being thus hemmed in on both sides, were cut to pieces; the carnage being so great that out of their entire force only one soldier escaped the slaughter, who having fled through a marsh carried the news to Mullingar. … Young Barnwall being taken prisoner, his life was spared, but he was delivered to O’Neill.”
It is also recorded of Tyrrell’s deputy, “O’Connor Faley of the King’s County”, that “from the heat and excessive action of O’Connor’s sword-arm on the occasion, his hand became so swelled that it could not be extricated from the guard of his sabre until the handle was cut through with a file.”
Fartullagh was the former name of the village (and the local barony).
Tyrrellspass Castle, constructed c.1411, was the seat of the Tyrrells of Fartullagh, a branch of the semi-Hibernicised Norman family, cousins of William the Conqueror, who came to Ireland in 1169.
After the Nine Years War, Richard Tyrrell retired to Spain. Taken more than once during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the castle is said to have been severely treated by Cromwellian troopd in 1650, it is said the occupants suffered a great deal, and many were executed.
The building visible today is a rectangular 20m high four storey stone Tower House with crenellations. Alongside the entrance door is a murder hole through which intruders could be severely discouraged from proceeding any further. The original spiral staircase and one of the original roof beams dating from 1280 can still be seen. (Photo – www.athlonechamber.ie)
Extensively restored in the 1970s, the building was converted some twenty years later into an atmospheric medieval banquet venue and modern steakhouse known as Tyrrellspass Castle Restaurant.
The 1st floor Museum contains several interesting artefacts, ranging from Viking coins, antique weapons and IRA dispatches to the altimeter used by Col. Howard Bury on his 1921 reconnaissance of Mount Everest.
St Sinian’s church (CoI), constructed c.1810 and altered c.1828, is a fine stone edifice in the Later English style, with a handsome tower and spire, possibly added later. Dominating the Crescent, it contains several interesting monuments to the Earls of Belvedere, one by the renowned English sculptor John Bacon the younger. To the rear is the grave of James J Daly, executed in India in November 1921 for participating in a mutiny of Irish troops protesting against the actions of the British Army during Ireland’s War of Independence.
St Stephen’s church (RC), located opposite Tyrrellspass Castle, was built in 1858 and recently renovated at considerable expense.
Castletown Geoghegan (Co. Westmeath / South)
Castletown-Geoghegan (Baile Chaisleáin Mhic Eoghagáin) (pop. 800) is a rural community with a couple of pleasant pubs. (Photo by Sarah777)
The village derives its name from a medieval castle of the MacEochagáin / Geoghegan family, Gaelic descendants of the Cenel Fhiachaigh (Southern Ui Neill clans, from Fiachu Fiachrach, son of Niall Naoi Noigíallach / of the Nine Hostages); having agreed to the Tudor scheme of Surrender & Regrant, they were major landholders in the Barony of Moycashel prior to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but lost most of their estates during the Cromwellian land redistribution and later resettlements.
The mound of the original motte and bailey and the overgrown stump of the stone keep are still visible, but most of the castle was used in the construction of other buildings.
A boulder at the southestern end of the village is said to have been used by the MacGeoghahan clan for the ceremonial inauguration of chieftains.
St. Michael’s church (RC), a fine if rather sombre Gothic Revival edifice, probably designed by TF McNamara, was erected in 1885 to replace an earlier church (1810) now used as a parish hall.
The former Church of Ireland building, erected in 1808, is now in ruins, and the ancient churchyard is, sadly, currently overgrown and unkempt. The parish it served was called Castletown-Kindelane or Vastina.
Vastina House is a splendid Georgian country house overlooking the village, with landscaped gardens, extensive parkland, and the ruins of C18th Mount Druid House / Kindelane Cottage. The attractive gate lodge is now separately owned.
The late actor Cyril Cusack and his talented family resided locally for many years.
Castletown Geoghegan is near Lilliput on the shores of Lough Ennel, south of Mullingar.
Middleton Park House
Middleton Park House is a magnificent late Georgian Italianate style mansion designed by George Papworth to replace a smaller residence that had belonged to J Middleton Berry.
Completed in 1850 for George Boyd-Rochfort, the house remained for over a century in the hands of his descendants, notably the polo-player and big game hunter George Arthur Boyd-Rochfort, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in WWI and bred several successful racehorses.
The property has since had several owners, and was famously raffled by the charismatic Fermanagh-born ex-Jesuit seminarian racehorse trainer, gambler and philanthropist Barney Curley in 1986.
The interiors are superb, with one of the few Richard Turner conservatories in Ireland, while the beatiful parkland estate has memorably hosted major international three-day events and hunter trials.
Now carefully restored and refurbished as the Middleton Park House Hotel, specialising in weddings, the house and grounds are open to the general public.
Ballinagore (Co. Westmeath / South)
Ballinagore is attractively set amidst low hills, with traditional stone walls radiating out from the central bridge over the River Brosna. The village was once an important milling centre, producing linen, ground corn and flour in the C18th and C19th.
The large “lower mill” southwest of the village, now derelict, was long owned and operated by the Perry family.
Ballynagore House was designed in an elaborate Italianate style by John Skipton Mulvaney and built c.1852 for John Perry.
Ballinagore is said to have been one of the first rural communities in Ireland to have gas lighting.
Liskelly Park on the Lough Ennell Road is a pleasant place for a picnic, as is the riverside seating area beside the bridge in the village itself.