Swinford (Co. Mayo / Northeast)
Swinford (Béal Átha na Muice – “ford-mouth of the swine”) (pop. 1500), historically aka Swineford, is a former market town situated on a tributary of the River Moy, and best known as a fishing destination. (Photo by Liz McCabe)
Sir Anthony Brabazon of Ballinasloe Castle, younger brother of Edward Brabazon, 1st Baron Ardee, ancestor of the Earls of Meath, was dispossessed of his Galway lands in 1652 and forced to flee to Spain. His son George and his wife Sarah (née Burke) from Galway came to the parish of Kilconduff and built Brabazon Park house and stables in Swinford. Their son Anthony (c. 1750–1803) inherited the estate, married Anne (née Moyneux) in 1776 and in 1797 was made Baronet of Newpark in the County of Mayo, in the Baronetage of Ireland, though for what services is unknown.
Sir William Brabazon (1778–1840), a pro-Repeal Whig MP for Mayo from 1835, was responsible for much of the development of Swinford as a town. He had the fairs removed from the hill road leading to the cemetery, had a Markethouse, a Post Office and a police station built, and was responsible for the erection of the Union Workhouse. He died a bachelor at his own lunch table choking on a chicken bone after attending the first session at the new Swinford Courthouse.
Major Hugh Higgins – Brabazon, a nephew of Sir William, was a benevolent landlord during the Great Famine. He helped his tenants improve their homes and even had their rents repealed during the worst years of the catastrophe. He purchased two houses in the town and set up soup kitchens and shelters for those who could not make it to the workhouse. He died in 1864 and shortly afterwards the family emigrated to England. The last of the Brabazons to visit the town was Sir John Palmer Brabazon, who returned with his sister for a short while in 1877.
In 1880 during the land disturbances two companies of the Nottingham and Derbyshire regiments of the British army occupied the house.
The estate was later sold to the Congested District Board, who gave it to the Land Commission. The Land Commission in turn distributed much of the lands among the local people, while the demesne known as Brabazon Park was given to the people of the town.
Some of the land was sold to the Sisters of Mercy and the house and lands were used as a Domestic Economy School until 1964. This section of the estate has since been purchased by the Western Health Board who developed Aras Attracta, a complex of hospital units to cater for the disabled.
Brabazon Park, near the town centre, has facilities for football, athletics, gymkhana, a 9-hole golf course and and a new centre for all indoor activities.
Swinford’s Protestant church, built with funds from the B0ard of First Fruits in 1807, had a tower added in 1811, but was demolished c. 1982, leaving little behind. Sir William Brabazon and his nephew Hugh were both interred in the family vault in the crypt underneath the church, and many members of the now extinct local Protestant community were buried in the surrounding churchyard, as well as a number of rectors.
Swinford Courthouse, completed in 1839, was burned down during the Civil War, but was remodelled and reroofed soon afterwards. A section of the building has been turned into a Public library
Swinford District Hospital was formerly the administration office of Swinford Union Workhouse, openedat the height ofthe Great Famine in 1847; its occupants died so fast that they were buried in an open grave nearby. The 564 victims are remembered by a plaque near the site of the grave. Another burial site behind the former Vocational School known as the Famine Graveyard holds the remains of thousands of famine victims who did not make it to the workhouse.
The church of Our Lady Help of Christians (RC), built in 1891, has beautiful stained glass windows by Hubert McGolderick and Richard King.
Swinford Railway Station opened in 1895, closed for passenger traffic in 1963 and finally closed altogether in November 1975. At present there is work being carried out to reopen the line as part of a Western Corridor.
The “Swinford Revolt” was a the support garnered by a vehemently hardline speech delivered on 25th August 1903 at the Swinford Workhouse by John Dillon, the long-serving MP for East Mayo at Westminster, against the doctrine of conciliation espoused by William O’Brien with regard to the resolution of the Land Question. This seriouly divided the Party and led to the departure of William O’Brien, but despite the turmoil, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, George Wyndham‘s Irish Land (Purchase Act) 1903 passed at Westminster, resolving the Irish Land Question.
War of Independence
The War of Independence saw considerable action in and around Swinford.
The Galway Observer of Saturday 24th July 1920 carried an article entitled Shots in Swinford: “A military patrol of the Border regiment from Claremorris was fired at on Saturday night at Swinford and two soldiers were severely wounded. The soldiers halted at Swinford courthouse, from which four streets branch and immediately shots were fired at them by unknown parties. The lorry was riddled in several places with several bullets. The military returned the fire, discharging as many as 500 rounds, with what result did not transpire. The wounded soldiers were conveyed to Claremorris, where their wounds were dressed prior to removal to the Curragh Hospital.”
On 27th Augus 1920 IRA activists from Swinford and Bohola attacked and captured Ballyvary RIC Barracks, and on November 27, 1920 two Swinford men, James Henry and Thomas Fraher were convicted at a military court in Galway of possessing weapons and intelligence on the RIC. Both were sentenced to periods of imprisonment.
Local folklore has it that other British patrols were ambushed in rural areas outside the town, and that local Volunteers from the (Old) IRA climbed onto the roof of the RICpolice barracks (now the site of the Gateway Hotel) and burnt it to the ground by breaking slates and pouring petrol into the building. During this period British soldiers were also billeted in the town.
Jack Judge (1872 – 1938), musician and composer of It’s a long way to Tipperary, was the son of emigrants from Swinford.
There are guided walks around Swinford on Sundays and there is also a guided tour of famine sites on Sundays. There are several nature walks in the area, and a wealth of archaeological sites are within walking distance of the town. Pony trekking facilities are also available.
In the evenings there is often Irish traditional music in some of the town’s 15+ pubs.
Quinns Bar on the corner of Lower Main Street and Circular Road, is a popular and friendly old-fashioned pub run by Padraig and Elaine Quinn, with regular live music sessions and reasonably priced B&B accommodation facilities.
The Gateway Hotel*** on Main Street, the only hotel in Swinford, is generally well reviewed, and serves superb carvery lunches.
Cashel Schoolhouse, built in 1910, has been converted to provide modern self catering accommodation in a rural area 3km from Swinford town.
Siamsa Sraide Swinford (“Fun in the Streets of Swinford”), one of County Mayo’s largest summer festivals, held over five days in the first week of August since the mid-1980s, features live bands playing open air concerts, céilí dancing, an international busking competition, and a special day when shop fronts are changed and vintage cars as well as many historical and heritage items are on display, plus history walks and pageantry depicting the traditions of East Mayo.
Swinford will host the Mayo Fleadh Cheoil 2013 from 10th to 12th May.
Killasser & Callow (Co. Mayo / Northeast)
Killasser (Cill Lasrach – “church of Lasair”) (pop. 900), which derives its name from Saint Lasser, an c8th AD holy man who has a Holy Well dedicated to him on the shore of the Lough Callow’s Upper Lake, is a district rich in archaeological heritage including megalithic Court Cairn tombs, bronze Age Fulachta Fiadh cooking sites, crannogs and nearly 200 ringforts.
The oldest church in the parish, in the townland of Killshesnaun, was built by Sheshnan O Ruane, a descendant of the O Ruane chieftains who built a castle on the top of Sron, a local mountain. According to local folklore Sheshnan was a handsome young man who enjoyed a good time in his younger life. As he grew older he changed his ways and went to Rome to beg forgiveness from the Pope, who invited him to take a seat and sit down. Sheshnan declined the offer until such time as he had confessed his sins. The Pope requested him to build a church in his own parish as an act of penance. The church is now in ruins.
The Great Famine saw the parish suffer a decline in population from its 1837 high of almost 7,000.
All Saints church (RC) is an attractive Victorian edifice set in well-kept landscaped grounds
Hennigans Heritage Centre, overlooking Lake Cragaballa / Creagaballa, occupies less than 10 acres of poorish land that has been home to generations of the Hennigan family for some 200 years. The centre incorporates a thatched cottage, an original farmhouse and a theme farm where animals roam freely. Visitors can inspect agricultural artefacts ranging from prehistoric implements to C20th machines, experience the barter and meitheal systems used when people lived in frugal self-sufficient communities, and enjoy lakeside picnic facilities.
Carraig Abhainn Farm is an open farm with traditional farm animals and other attractions.
Callow (An Caladh – “the lakeside meadow”) is a valley district bound on the north and east by the villages of Carrick and Carn, standing on high stoney ground as the names suggest, and to the west by Lough Callow.
Lough Callow‘s Upper (south) and Lower (north) lakes, joined by a narrow navigable channel, measure approximately 100 acres each. Both hold good stocks of wild brown trout and get good hatches of duckfly, mayfly and sedges.
Surrounded by green woods and purple heather hills, the Lough is fed by numerous streams, notably Baile An Mhuileann which drains Loch Much from which Foxford gets its water supply and the forge stream.
The O’Ruane clan had a castle on the island on the Lower Lake, long in ruins.
The Lough Callow Loop is a beautiful 6.5 km trail incorporating country lanes and bog tracks overlooking the lakes, suitable for both walking and mountain biking.
The Callow district contains pre-bog sites (like those found at Ceide), wedge tombs, dolmens, Ringforts, Bullaun Stones, Crannogs, Standing Stones and fulachtadh fiadh, all evidence of human activity over five millenia in an unspolit area still abounding with wild life, of interest to anglers, bird watchers, geologists, climbers and antiquarians.
The church of St Thomas the Apostle (RC), built in 1863 to replace an edifice erected in 1811, was renovated in 1948. A penal crucifix with a date of 1759 and extensive symbolic carvings is preserved by a family in the area.
Callow is near Foxford on ByRoute 15.
County Mayo laneway.