ByRoute 14.2 Co. Roscommon // Co. Mayo

Shrule (Co. Mayo / Southeast)

Shrule (Sruthair – “stream”) (pop. 600), aka Shruel, is a photogenic village on the north side of the Black River, which acts as the modern border between County Mayo and County Galway.

C17th etching of Shrule

Although Shrule is said to have been visited by Saint Patrick, and was long a Deanery, perhaps even an episcopal See, it was the Normans who established it as a market town, hosting regular cattle fairs until the 1960s.

The old parish church, supposedly erected on the spot where Saint Patrick planted his crozier, is thought to have been built between 1170 and 1230.

Shrule Castle, a fortification built by the de Burgo family c.1238, was granted in 1408 by Richard Óg de Burgo, 2nd Earl of Ulster, to his son John, and leased in 1610 by Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde ,  to Pierse Lynch, Mayor of Galway 1615 – 1617. The ruin is unsafe and so closed to the public.

JF Quinn, writing in The Western People in the 1930s, explained that there were “six old castles in Shrule parish- Shrule. Kinlough, Moyne, Ballycurrin, Ballisnahyny and Moycharra. Kinlough was one of three in Kilmaine barony that belonged to MacWilliam Burke, the chief overlord of the De Burgo clans. Moycharra, or Moycharra, belonged to the MacDonnell Gallowglass. This tribe had castles and lands all over Mayo, and got them as eric or warpay from the De Burgos, they being fierce mercenary soldiers, originally from Scotland and the Isles, who ……. [had] settled in Antrim, and then came westwards. Speaking the Gaelic tongue they did so well out of war service in Connaught that they came to make raids on their own, and generally did a lot of destruction before they were either beaten off or exterminated. Many of them became permanent Irish leaders and patriots and the British generally seemed to have a special detestation for them. The Annals describe them as ‘well-appointed men of arms, and the stoutest men of their faculty’. The occupants of these castles were all Catholics down to the seventeenth century. Wm. Burke of Shrule, backed by a large array, was a claimant for the MacWilliamship at Rausakeera royal fort in Kilmaine in 1595.

“Currin or Marsh was the original name of Ballycurrin castle. It was then a MacShoneen stronghold. Ulick MacShoneen Burke occupied it in 1574. ….. Richard, Earl of Clanricarde, got it in 1610. It was leased to the Lynchs, who retained it until Chas. Lynch, of Ballycurrin, died in 1897. Mr. Clerkin held it in modern times, and it was burned some years ago. Ballisnahyny seems to have derived its name from Lisnaheighnighe, which is mentioned in the “Historia et Genealogia” of the De Burgos (1578). It was also mentioned in the Division of Connaught in 1574 as a De Burgo castle, and William Burke was the then occupant. The ancient “liss” surrounds it, and gives the castle its name. Moycharra castle was also a De Burgo castle, and given to the MacDonnells for war services. This castle was in the territory anciently called.”Eraght Thomas,” which consisted of eight towns divided among eight brothers. Two of these sold Moyne to Clanricarde, also its four quarters of land. David MacEdmund MacUlick, the MacWilliam of the time, let 440 quarters to Clanricarde at a rental and this same Earl purchased Moycharra castle from the MacDonnells. The Earl then let all the lands again to the MacShoneens, MacMylers and MacGibbons at a rental. These were all de Burgos, snuffed out by the confiscations, when Clanricarde and others shut out all the old owners by taking the lands directly from the Crown.”

The Battle of Shrule, fought in June 1570, towards the end of  the failed rebellion by Conor O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Thomond, arose from the Crown campaign to capture the most strategic regional castles, under the command of Sir Edward Fitton, Lord President of Connaught, who was unhorsed and wounded during the fierce fighting with the local Burkes and their allies; he put the garrison to the sword and left the castle in the keeping of the Earl of Clanricarde.

The Bloody Massacre of Shrule Bridge


The Shrule Bridge Massacre took place on 18th February 1642, in the aftermath of the 1641 Rebellion.

About 100 English settlers, including Dr John Maxwell, the Anglican bishop of Killala, who had surrendered to the rebels at Castlebar in the hope of saving their lives, were accommodated for over a week in Shrule Castle by the Sheriff of Mayo, Myles Bourke, 2nd Viscount Mayo, who ordered an escort to take them 14 miles toward the then border of County Galway, where other forces would take them on to the Galway fort.

A cousin of Lord Mayo, Edmond Bourke, who led the escort duty, then directed his men to begin killing their settler charges. Estimates of the dead ranged from less than 30 to as many as 65. Survivors were taken to Headford by monks from Ross Errilly.

Though Mayo tried to save some prisoners, and had to be driven away, he was executed in 1652 by a Cromwellian inquiry into the killings.

Claims that Shrule derives its name from sruth-fuil– “river of blood” – due to the Massacre are vehemently denied by locals, who insist the toponym is many centuries older.

St Joseph’s church (RC), a handsome, relatively modern edifice, has a Millenium Labarynth and some ancient Standing Stones in the grounds.

Dalgan Park


Dalgan Park, an estate acquired in the C17th by the Kirwan family, who built a magnificent Georgian house c. 1801, was acquired in 1853 (reportedly amidst great local celebrations) by Francis Russell, 7th Duke of Bedford, for his relatives.

Jack Southwell Russell (1884 – 1909), 25th Baron de Clifford, established a stud, racing stable and racecourse in the demesne. Described as a frail, neurotic type, eternally smoking cigarettes, he entertained royally, spending money like water, and soon had to sell up. There was good competition for the fashionable bungalows he had set up (one is still used by a well-known millionaire for his annual vacations), while the equine installations were disposed of all over the country. The Baron was killed in a motor car accident.

(His son Edward, a racing car driver and prominent British Fascist, proposed introducing speed limits in his maiden speech to the House of Lords, and was the last peer tried for a felony by “the peers”, being acquitted of vehicular manslaughter in 1935. The House’s previous trial in 1901 had resulted in the bigamy conviction of another relative, the philosopher Bertrand Russell’s elder brother Frank, 2nd Earl  Russell; known as “the wicked earl”, he was issued England’s first car number plate, A 1, in 1903, and later served in the first Labour government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport, who abolished speed limits).

The mansion was used as the Columban Fathers’ Chinese Mission College from 1918 to 1944, when the priests moved to County Meath, keaving it to fall into roofless disrepair until it was eventually demolished.

The Shrule Turlough is a popular birdwatching location in winter, when seasonal migrants such as Whooper Swans and Golden Plover flock to the shallow water.

Kille / Killeenbrennan / Murgagagh Abbey, founded sometime before 1428 on the site of an earlier place of worship, was established for the Third Order of Franciscans, set up by Saint Francis for married men and women wishing to follow the Rule of his followers. The unmarked ruin is overgrown and uncared for.

Shrule is

Turin/ Towrin Castle, a medieval Tower House probably erected by the de Burgos, and known to have been held in 1586 by one  Walter Mac Jonyn (Seonin), was used in 1589 by “her Majesty’s AttorneyMr. Comerford, who participated with Edward Birmingham of Milltown Castle in the defeat of Teig O’Flaherty, bringing his head to Sir Richard Bingham, who he reported to be “wonderful glad, for this Teige was the stoutest man in the province and could do most”. Abandoned for at least 250 years, the castle was restored in 1997, and is now available for holiday rental, wedding receptions etc.

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