Collooney (Co. Sligo)
Collooney / Coloony (Cúil Mhuine – “nook / corner / angle of the thicket / shrubbery”) (pop. 1400), long a pretty little rural village, has grown considerably in recent years.
Situated near the confluence of the Rivers Owenmore and Arrow, on a small hill with splendid views of the Ox Mountains, Knocknarea, Ben Bulben, Slieve Deane, the Curlews and Kesh Corran, Collooney has a remarkably bloody past.
Collooney’s military history
The Gap of Collooney, a strategic area between Slieve Daeane and the Ox Mountains on the ancient route linking Connacht and Ulster, is mentioned in the Annals as the scene of battles in the years 673 AD, 844 AD, 1291 and 1326.
Collooney Castle, replacing a fortification erected in 1125 by Turlough O’Connor, High King of Ireland, was built in 1408 by The McDonagh of Ballindoon, and was later held by The O’Connor Sligo, traditional enemy of the O’Donnell clan’s attempts to expand their power from Ulster into Connacht and thus loyal to the Crown.
Collooney Castle was besieged by Red Hugh O’Donnell during the Nine Years War, and Sir Conyers Clifford marched to its relief, only to be fatally ambushed on 15th August 1599 by O’Donnell’s forces in the Curlew Hills near Boyle, where the English were utterly routed. Clifford’s severed head was brought to Collooney Castle to intimidate its defenders; The O’Connor Sligo surrendered shortly afterwards and reluctantly joined the rebels. (A fuller account of the Battle of the Curlew Pass is available here)
The 1798 Battle of Collooney / Carricknagat
Carricknagat, a small townland north of Collooney, was the scene of the first encounter in a battle on 5th September 1798 between British troops and a combined force of French soldiers and Irish rebels.
A long-anticipated French landing to assist the 1798 Rebellion had belatedly taken place when almost 1,100 troops led by General Humbert landed at Cill Chuimín Strand, Killala Bay, County Mayo on 22nd August. The nearby town of Killala was quickly captured after brief resistance by local yeomen and Ballina was also taken two days later, following the rout of a force of cavalry sent from the town to oppose their march.
General Humbert’s victory at Castlebar turned a trickle of Irish volunteers into a multitude from all over Mayo, but failed to reignite the rebellion nationwide as he had hoped. A massive British army of some 26,000 men assembled under the new Viceroy Lord Cornwallis was approaching, so Humbert moved towards Ulster with the intention of sparking a rising there.
When the combined Franco-Irish forces got to Carricknagat they were confronted by government troops from the garrison in Sligo town, and a minor battle ensued. General Humbert’s army pushed onwards but were halted by a British cannon installed high on Union Rock near Collooney.
Lieutenant Bartholomew Teeling, a young Irish aide to General Humbert, broke from the French ranks and cleared the way by single handedly disabling the gunnery post’s marksman with a shot from his pistol and capturing the cannon. This loss caused the Crown troops to retreat to their barracks at Sligo, leaving 60 dead and 100 prisoners.
Teeling was later taken prisoner and executed in Dublin. Colonel Charles Vereker, who commanded the Limerick militia in the standoff, was awarded a peerage for his role in the battle.
A statue of Teeling was erected in Carricknagat in 1898 to mark the centenary of the battle.
St Paul’s church (CoI) is a dour early C19th edifice.
The church of the Assumption (RC), built in 1843, had its impressive landmark tower added in 1878. It now serves the new parish of Collooney / Kilvarnet, which overlaps with the ancient parish named for An Cill Bhearnait (“the church of Barnet [O’Hara]”, the medieval ruin of which still stands, though long replaced as parish church by the church of St. Fechin and St. Lassara at Ballinacarrow).
Collooney’s Methodist church,centrally located on a landscaped half acre site, was built in 1861 in the face of strong objections and a boycott organised by a local Anglican land-owner.
Collooney Mill Falls, locally aka “Sligo’s Niagara”, is a cascade with a fish-pass for salmon to run upriver to their spawning beds, next to an impressive derelict mill behind a modern housing estate.
Collooney Railway Station was opened in 1862 on the Dublin / Sligo line. The tracks to Sligo town were shared with two other local stations on defunct Sligo, Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway line to Enniskillen and the Sligo / Claremorris line possibly due for restoration as part of the Western Railway Corridor). According to British geographer TW Freeman, Collooney “as a railway focus was more reminiscent of remote Welsh mining valleys with their duplicated shabby stations than of Crewe“.
Collooney was bypassed by the N17 Sligo / Galway road in 1992 and by the N4 Dublin / Sligo road in 1998, but is still near the meeting point of both highways.
Markree Castle, originally built overlooking a ford on the River Unshin in 1640 by the McDonagh clan, has been the home of the Cooper family since 1663. The current edifice dates from 1802 with exterior changes by the architect Francis Johnston and with some changes made to the interior in 1896.
Col. Edward Joshua Cooper MP (1798-1863) installed the Markree Observatory in the castle grounds, featuring the then largest telescope in the world. It remained active until the 1902 death of Edward Henry Cooper MP, who commissioned FJ Wakeman‘s drawings of County Sligo landmarks. It was the home of British army officer, Unionist MP and Independent TD Bryan Cooper until his death in 1930.
Allowed to fall derelict after WWII, the castle was restored in 1988 by Charles and Mary Cooper and is now a luxurious Country House Hotel / Guesthouse and wedding venue, approached by a mile-long driveway through landscaped grounds. The dining room is flamboyantly decorated in Louis Philippe-style plasterwork, and a stained glass window over the impressive oak staircase traces the family history back to the time of King John.
Ireland’s lowest officially recognised air temperature, -19.1°C (-2.4°F), was measured at Markree Castle on 16th January 1881.
Balygawley (Co. Sligo)
Ballygawley (Baile Uí Dhálaigh – “Ó Dálaigh’s townland”) (pop. 190) is a village located close to Union Wood, a forestry amenity south of Sligo town.
Castle Dargan, a modern luxury hotel opened in 2005 beside a medieval castle, has a health spa and a championship golf course designed by Darren Clarke.
The Ballygawley Mountains, an extension of the Ox Mountains, are a range of low hills which include Calliach a Vera, Sliabh Daeane, Sliabh Dare is argan and Aghamore Far, all four of which have cairns at their summits. Near to Calliach a Vera is a curious monument consisting of three stones, known locally as The Thief, the Boy & the Cow.
Next: Sligo Town & Environs