Kiltamagh (Co. Mayo / Central)
Kiltimagh / Kiltamagh / Kiltemagh (Coillte Mách) (pop, 1500), guarded on the west by Sliabh Cairn and surrounded by three rivers (the intertwined Rivers Glore and Gweestion and the Yellow River), is an old market town noted for its picturesque C19th houses and old-fashioned shop fronts.
According to folklore, the name Kiltimagh derives from a Fir Bolg chieftain, Maghu, who fled the battle of Moytura and settled on Sliabh Cairn c. 1000 BC. A clifftop cairn on the hill is traditionally held to be his grave. Numerous ring forts in the vicinity are evidence of early settlement in the area.
Kiltimagh is situated in the old Barony of Gallen, supposedly named after the ancient Celtic Tribe of the Galenga. The area was ruled from the mid-C13th by the Norman Jordan de Exeter and his sons from their main castle situated at Ballylahan and two others locally at Ballinamore and at Rathslevin (where their direct descendants, the Jordan-Gavigan family, lived until recent times).
The old Civil Parish of Killedan / Killeaden took its name from an ancient church founded by Saint Aodan / Liodan in the eponymous townland where the Franciscan order founded a friary in the C16th.
The Ormsby family from Lincolnshire acquired the lands of Ballinamore and surrounding area in 1677 and remained until the 1930s.
Landlord George Browne started a local market at the end of the C17th. Initially the village was called Newtown Brown, but over the course of the C19th the name changed to Cultymagh / Kiltimagh.
Kiltimagh and its surroundings suffered greatly during the Great Famine and from the subsequent flow of emigration. Some 400 deaths occurred in the parish from October 1846 to April 1847 due to starvation and disease. In 1848 the Earl of Lucan had 145 people evicted in Treenagleragh. A horrifyingly descriptive letter written in 1849 by the parish priest, Fr Daniel Mullarky, to the Prime Minister Lord Russell can be read here. The district lost over 20% of its population in ten years. Another famine seriously threatened the district in 1881.
The Land War was hard fought locally. In 1879, some 20,000 people attended a land agitation meeting in Kiltimagh, where the Land League had 700 members. In1881 local woman Kate Byrne was shot by RIC police during during a riot at Treenaglersgh. In 1887 many demonstrators were injured when the police attacked a peaceful land march in the town
Sligo-born Fr Denis O’Hara (1850-1923), parish priest for many years, was responsible for the construction of a new church and no less than 8 national schools in the area. Then, with the help of the St Louis Sisters, technical schools were set up to provide instruction in household management, sewing, carpentry and horticulture, to foster a sense of self-sufficiency and well being. A leading Land League campaigner, Fr O’Hara is also given the credit for bringing the railway to Kiltemagh, which revolutionised the local economy, and for the town’s sewage and gas system, comprehensive circular roads, Town Hall, Cottage Hospital, ‘People’s Park’ and Factory Field.
In 1901, a Nationalist Meeting in Kiltimagh was attended by an estimated 7,000 people.
In 1909, James Kelly of Main Street became World Handball Champion and was feted on his return home with the newly-formed Kiltimagh Brass Band escorting him into the town from the Station.
A company of Irish Volunteers was formed in Kiltemagh in 1914. Between 8 and 36 Killedan men are believed to have died between 1914 and 1918 in WWI.
During the War of Independence, Kiltimagh’s most famous IRA activist, Sean Corcoran, who had been deported and imprisoned in England after the 1916 Easter Rising, and again arrested locally in 1917 before becoming O/C of the East Mayo Brigade, was shot dead by British soldiers after a short gunfight at Crossard crossroads on 1st April 1921.
During the Civil War, the anti-Treaty IRA’s Comdt Thomas Ruane was killed; 26 Irregulars were captured in an ambush at Ballinamore; the Glore ambush saw one Free State soldier dead, three injured, six Irregulars wounded and an innocent girl seriously hurt; the Kinaffe ambush saw one blameless man killed; Kiltimagh Railway Station was burned down; and Capt James Higgins was killed.
In 1944, eight people died in a tragic fire at Ruane’s, Main Street.
Due to its central location in the county, Kiltimagh Town (as locals proudly call it) likes to promote itself as The Gateway to West Mayo, and has an excellent range of accommodation options etc.
Long established as an anglers’ resort (with great brown troy and pike fishing in three River Moy tributaries, the Rivers Glore, Pollagh and Gweestion), the town’s tourist advertising emphasises traditional Irish family holidays and outdoor pursuits such as walking, cycling, mountain biking, horse-riding/trekking etc.
Kiltimagh Railway Station, Museum & Sculpture Park
Kiltimagh Railway Station opened in 1895 on the Claremorris / Collooney Junction (Co. Sligo) line, one of the last to be constructed in the C19th, and closed in 1963.
Kiltimagh Museum was officially opened in the old railway station office in June 1989 by one of the area’s most distinguished former emigrants, Thomas J Flatley of Boston, USA.
The Goods Store houses a range of interesting exhibits about local history and culture, while two railway carriages commemorate the thousands who had to leave the area to find work
The Station Master’s House, long semi- derelict, is now the home of the Mayo School of Music.
The Sculpture Park in the old station grounds features works by artists of local and national renown.
There is an ongoing campaign to re-open the railway station as a part of the Western Railway Corridor linking Sligo and Limerick.
The church of the Holy Family (RC) was dedicated in 1888.
The Town Hall built at the turn of the last century has recently been converted into a Theatre with seating for 200, an exhibition space and modern conference centre facilities, a popular venue for concerts, operas, ballets, modern dance, comedy shows, amateur drama productions etc. Kiltimagh Film Club screens films here on Friday nights and a children’s matinee on Sundays.
The Market Square used to fill up regularly with people buying and selling livestock and wares, depicted in a series of wall plaques showing traditional Fair Day activities. The square features a monument to Raifteiri an File (the poet Anthony Raftery) and a large bronze sculpture by Benedict Byrne entitled Eternal Spring.
St Louis Community School was formed in 1993 with the amalgamation of Coláiste Raifteirí Vocational School and St Louis Convent School, founded in 1907, perhaps the most imposing building in town.
The Savoy Cinema opened in 1944 on the site of the former Queen’s Hotel and for over half a century provided a constantly changing programme of entertainment (e.g. on 2nd June 1963 it was showing the 10 year old film The Vanquished, a “western thriller” in Technicolour starring John Payne and Jan Sterling, with the film The Gentle Trap in support. Later that week it would also have on offer Carry on Cruising with the usual “Carry-on” crew, Follow That Dream starring Elvis Presley, and The Vikings with Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine, promising “splendidly exciting battle scenes”) but sadly, could not compete with modern media and went out of business several years ago. (Photo by fire.house)
A mapped walking route exploring Kiltimagh Town takes in other points of interest such as a photogenic old forge or the quaint first National School, now a heritage centre. Another route follows an urban Sculpture Trail.
Killedan churchyard on the outskirts of Kiltemach contains a ruined medieval church (originally thatched), burned down and rebuilt in the C16th, and a well covered by a stone structure dating from the C8th and renovated in the C12th. Both have been partially restored, using the original stones whenever possible. The remains of a chapel erected in 1779 contain the remains of a C13th tombstone.
Antoine Ó Raifteiri / Anthony Raftery (c.1780-1835), born at Killedan, the son of a weaver, was blinded by smallpox while very young and worked as a stable boy for the landlord, Frank Taaffe, who is said to have banished him after a dispute.
For years he moved all over County Galway and built up a formidable reputation as the last of the great Gaelic bards. Raftery wrote about many themes, including the Whiteboys, a secret society of the time. His work survived orally until transcribed by amongst others, Douglas Hyde at the turn of the last century. Today he is recognised as one of Ireland’s foremost C19th folk poets, but is best known locally for his idyllic poem about Killedan which he describes as a land of milk and honey:
Cill Aodáin an baile a bhásann gach nidh ann
Tá sméardha subh cróidh ann ‘gus measardha gach sórt
‘s dá mbéinn-se ‘mo sheasamh i gceart lár mo dhaoine
D’imeoidh an aois uaim agus bheinn arís óg’.
Killedan, the land where everything grows
There’s an abundance of blackberries and all that is good
And if I were standing in the midst of my people
Age would fall from me and I’d be young once more.
Lois Ard (High Fort), a perfect circle on the top of a steep hill surrounded by a row of beech trees, visible for miles around, is the highest of the various fort / dwellings in the area, thought to date from between 600/900 AD. According to folklore, the fairies dance at certain times of year beneath the spreading branches of the old oak tree at the foot of this hill offered Raftery the gift of music or poetry, and he chose the latter.
Killedan House was originally part of church land held by the Knox family of Castlerea, but was long the seat of the Taaffe family, relatives of the Catholic lawyer Terence MacDonagh. The poet Raftery grew up and worked on the Taaffe estate. The striking house was later the home of the McManuses, a well known medical family, and is still a private residence
The Glore Mill, erected in 1913 on the site of the mill in Anthony Raftery’s poem Cill Aodain, has been renovated as the new home of Sally McKenna’s sculpture and painting studio, plus a seminar / conference area and art room. Visitors can tour the Millrace, Mill turbine and Mill machinery placed around the grounds as garden features, plus labyrinths and butterfly gardens featuring wild bog plants, a cottage garden and an evergreen winter garden.
Ballinamore House was built in the C18th by the Ormsby family. In 1938 they sold the property to the Order of St John, a Scottish order of nuns who used the house as a school. The building is now a private family-run nursing home. The old church (CoI) and graveyard on the estate were restored in 1996. Notable people buried here include members of the Ormsby family and Lottie MacManus (d.1944), an Anglo-Irishwoman who became an ardent Nationalist, Gaelic League activist and sentimental historical novelist.
St Patrick’s Knee in Ballinamore is a Bullaun Stone allegedly bearing the imprint of the apostle of Ireland’s knee after he prayed here on his way to Croagh Patrick.
There are also several Holy Wells in the vicinity, notably Tobar Cuimhne, which according to folklore moved overnight from beside the church of St Cuimhne in Cortoon to its present location in Lisnamonaghy.
Kiltemagh Wetland Park on the Swinford Road is a pleasant field crossed by a stream and planted with interesting native trees and flowering bushes around an attractive pond, with information panels about the local flora and fauna.
Tir Na nÓg Fun Park, a play area for children, is set in scenic surroundings complete with picnic tables etc. Maghu’s Castle incorporates an adventure maze on 2 levels, including an aerial runway, a rope bridge, a climbing ‘Giant’s Causeway’ and a giant 2m slide landing in a ball pond. The murals on the walls of the play area were designed by local artist Tom Meskell, while the sculpture called An Chéad Chéim (the first step) was carved by Jackie McKenna.
Kiltimagh Pet Farm & Wildlife Park is another popular children’s attraction.
Gene Tunney, winner of the 1926 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship, was the son of emigrants from from Kiltimagh, where his career was followed with pride.
Sean ‘Baller’ Lavan (1898-1973), who played Gaelic football for Kiltimagh and Mayo for many years, also played rugby on occasion and boxed at college. He won every athletic competition in Ireland in the 220 and 440 yard races (200m and 400m) between 1918 and 1924, and represented Ireland in the 1924 Paris Olympics on the first national team since independence. Four years later, he captained the Irish team in the Amsterdam Olympics and later acted as the Irish team’s medical officer in the Helsinki Olympics.
Michael Hogarty (b. 1920), who emigrated to New York in 1930, was one of elite few early graduates from the secret new Radar Bombing Navigational School during WWII, having contributed vital technical improvements to the radar bomb-sights of the USAAF B-29 Superfortress aircraft, he crewed on both the first and last fire-bombing missions over Japan.
Other famous Kiltemach people include Anthony J Carney, developer and chief contractor on the London Underground during its post WWII expansion; William Philbin, Roman Catholic bishop of Clonfert (1953–1962) and Down & Connor (1962–1982); and Louis Walsh, pop music manager, TV personality and talent show judge.
“Culchie“, a derogatory Dublin term for almost any Irish person not from the Great Metropolis (i.e. a country bumpkin), allegedly derives from Kiltimagh.
Although no longer boasting the 44 Licensed Premises registered in the 1911 Census of Ireland, Kiltemagh still has several good pubs, some of which host regular traditional music sessions, plus a couple of decent eateries. Our favourite is Marty & Marie O’Hora‘s Teach O’Hora Bar, Restaurant, Off-Licence, Auctioneer, Estate Agent & Undertaker on Main Street.
The Cill Aodain Court hotel*** on Main Street and the the Park Hotel*** (founded 1996) on the Swinford Road are both generally well reviewed for accommodation and food.
Kiltimagh’s St Patrick’s Day Festivities extend beyond its famously spectacular 17th March Parade to a major St Patrick’s Day Pageant and week long celebration featuring bands from all over Ireland, street entertainers, concerts, drama, fishing competitions, pub quizzes, comedy shows etc.
An Béal Oscailte (“the Open Mouth”) / In Sight of Raftery, held every June Bank Holiday Weekend, is an annual festival of storytelling, traditional music, dance, pageantry, creative writing workshops, children’s activities etc.
Sliabh Cairn/ Slieve Carn / Carn Hill (262m), an isolated hill northwest of Kiltimagh, comprising two peaks joined by a ridge, stands proudly above the plains of Mayo and commands vistas in a sweeping arc from the Pins past The Reek, taking in Clare Island and then on to Nephin, the Ox Mountains, and even on a clear day the top of Errigal, and thence to Ben Bulbin. The hill is mostly covered with ‘farmed’ blanket bog, and four wind turbines have recently been erected. Kestrels, even a buzzard and various other birds have been seen and if you are lucky in summer you may see a flock of Golden Plover. A UFO was reportedly seen hovering over Slieve Carn in the 1970s.