ByRoute 17.2 Co. Longford // Co. Sligo

Bellanagare (Co. Roscommon/ West)

Bellanagare / Belnagare Belanagar / Ballinagar etc. (Béal Átha na gCarr – “ford-mouth of the carts”) is a rural village on the N5 road just north of the Owennaforeesha River (Abhainn na Fraise) (Photo – Eric Jones)

The O’Conors of Bellanagare

 

Bellanagare Castle, now an overgrown roofless ruin, was for many years the home of the descendants a younger brother of the last High King of Ireland, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair / Rory / Roderic O’Conor. One, who followed King Charles II into exile in 1649, was restored to his estates after the Restoration by the Act of Settlement, served as a major in the army of King James II, and died a prisoner in the Castle of Chester. At great cost, some 900 acres of poor land were rescued from the wreck of the family property.

 

Charles O’Conor of Belanagare (1710-1791), who was born in the Castle but later built Hermitage House (still extant), overcame Penal Law obstacles to become a distinguished Irish language scholar, historian and antiquary, best known for his Dissertations on the History of Ireland (1766). His valuable library, containing the world’s largest private collection of original documents in Irish, is now preserved at Clonalis House, Castlerea, the  ancestral estate of the most regal branch of the O’Conor family.

 

Alexander O’Conor Don of Clonalis House died in 1820 without male heirs and the title was inherited by the O’Conors of Bellanagare. Some members of the family were distinguished antiquarians in the C19th, notably Matthew, Denis and Charles M O’Conor, three generations who had their seat at nearby Mount Druid (where, although the old house has long vanished, the remains of the stable yard are listed as part of of County Roscommon’s architectural heritage, and fine trees still exist in the former demesne land).

 

Although their various landholdings were acquired in the early C20th by the Congested Districts’ Board, the estate and family records are still held at Clonalis House.

Bellanagare church (RC) serves the ancient parish of Kilcorkey.

Morahan’s Pub, a local landmark, has been a licensed premises since the early C19th.

Bellanagare is

 Frenchpark & Tibohane (Co. Roscommon/ West)

Frenchpark in winter (Photo by Roscommoner)

Frenchpark, a rural crossroads village historically known as Dungar (Dún Gar – “the fort of favour”), was renamed in the late C17th after the local landlords’ estate.

French Park 

 

The French Park estate was founded by Patrick French fitzStephen (c. 1583 – 1667) of Galway city (where the family, whose ancestors had participated in the Norman conquests of both England and Ireland, had been established since the early C15th, and was included in the “14 Tribes”). He was granted 6,000 acres in in 1656, and died 13 years later “at his mansion house of Dun Gar, built by himself“. He was buried in the nearby Dominican Priory in a vault near the belfry bearing the family arms and the inscription: “Pray for the soul of Patrick French Fitz Stephen, of Galway, burgess, who lived in this world eighty-six years“.

 

Dominick French of Frenchpark was granted 5,000 acres (20 km2) in the barony of Boyle in 1666. His grandson John French, nicknamed Tierna Mór (“the great landowner”), received a further 2,000 acres in the barony of Ballymoe in 1677, and sat in the Irish House of Commons for Carrick, County Galway and Tulsk. His son and grandson both represented County Roscommon in the Irish Parliament; the latter, John French, was about to be raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Dungar when he died in 1775. His younger brother Arthur French (1728–1799) took up his Irish Parliamentary seat but declined elevation to the nobility.

 

Arthur French (1764 – 1820) sat in the Irish Parliament as a Whig from 1783 to 1800, when he refused to support the Act of Union despite being offered an Earldom, and continued to represent Roscommon in the British House of Commons. Later he also refused a Barony with no strings attached. He criticized the continuation of martial law in Ireland and opposed the policy of collective fines as a deterrent to the illicit distillation of potín, incurring the wrath of Chief Secretary of Ireland, Robert Peel, who called him “an abominable fellow“. His death was reportedly due to  “excessive fox hunting“.

 

His eldest son Arthur French (1786 – 1856) sat as Whig MP for Roscommon from 1821 to 1832. In 1839 he was created Baron de Freyne, of Artagh in the County of Roscommon, and 12 years later he was made Baron de Freyne, of Coolavin in the County of Sligo, in the peerage of the United Kingdom,  a title carrying the right to sit in the British House of Lords (until 1999).  Baron de Freyne & de Freyne died childless, whereupon his first title became extinct, but the 1851 creation passed by special  remainder to his male siblings, Rev John French (1788–1863), 2nd Baron de Freyne, and Charles French (1790–1868), 3rd Baron de Freyne. Their youngest brother, Fitzstephen French, was MP for Roscommon from 1832 until his death in 1873.

 

The validity of the 3rd Baron’s 1851 marriage to a Roman Catholic had been questioned, and they had wedded again  in 1854 in the Church of Ireland. Due to the uncertainty over the first marriage the title passed to  the first boy born after the second ceremony, their third son, Arthur French (1855–1913), 4th Baron de Freyne, who owned 36,000 acres of land until forced by successive Land Acts to sell most of it to tenants.

 

Arthur Reginald French (1879 – 1915), 5th Baron de Freyne, served as in the Royal Fusiliers from 1899. He married an innkeeper’s daughter in 1902, and was cut off by his father; unable to keep himself in the style appropriate to a British officer, he sailed for North America, where he intended either to join the North-West Mounted Police, or to travel to the ranch of his uncle William French in Frenchtown near Cimarron, New Mexico. His mysterious disappearance from a New York hotel caused uproar, involving the New York City Police and the British consulate, widely reported in the press. After a month it was discovered that he had enlisted as a private in the US Army at an island post in Long Island Sound,, and was known as “the Dook of Fort Slocum,”  where he was popular with the other troops, sponsoring dinners for his colleagues (by selling his civilian suits). He remained with the regiment when it transferred to the Philippines, but purchased his way out on inheriting his title in 1913. He rejoined the British Army at the outbreak of WWI and was killed in action at the Battle of Aubers Ridge on 9th May 1915, fighting alongside his half-brother, the Hon. George Philip French, as a captain in the South Wales Borderers. He is buried at Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, Pas-de-Calais, France. His widow died in 1962.

 

He was succeeded by another half-brother, Francis Charles French (1884 – 1935), 6th Baron de Freyne, who sat in the short-lived Senate of Southern Ireland and died at home in French Park on Christmas Eve. His Glenstal Abbey.educated son Francis Arthur John French  (1927 – 2009), 7th Baron de Freyne, who was also a Knight of Malta, sold the ancestral estate in 1952, and moved to Oxfordshire. As of 2013 the title is held by Fulke Charles Arthur John French (b. 1957), 8th Baron de Freyne, who lives with his wife and family in Putney.

 

French Park House, originally built in the mid-C17th with red bricks imported from Holland, was said to be the first and for many decades the only brick mansion in Connacht. Remodelled c. 1729 in the Palladian style, reputedly to a design by Richard Cassels, and altered / extended several times over the years, the main house was surrounded by beautiful gardens with ornamental lakes and orchards. The manor house had its roof removed by the Irish Land Commission in 1953 and was eventually demolished some twenty years later.

 

Two very different siblings were close cousins of the de Freynes, and spent parts of their childhood on the ancestral estate:

 

Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French (1852 – 1925), who distinguished himself in the Mahdi War in Sudan and the Second Boer War, became Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1912 but resigned over the Curragh Mutiny, and then served as the first Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force for the first two years of WWI before serving as Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1918-1921, during most of the War of Independence, and took a hard line towards the IRA and Republican prisoners, including those on hunger strike.

 

His sister Charlotte Despard (1844–1939) became a radical suffragette and Sinn Féin activist, In 1908 she joined with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins to form the Irish Women’s Franchise League. They urged members to boycott the 1911 Census and withhold taxes and provided financial support to workers during the Dublin labour disputes. She moved to Dublin after WWI and was bitterly critical of her brother. During the War of Independence, she and Maud Gonne formed the Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League to support Republican prisoners. As a member of Cumann na mBan she opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and was imprisoned by the new Irish Free State government during the Civil War. She is buried in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

 

A historic smoke house dating from c.1730 and an ice house are the only surviving de Freyne legacies. The 12ft-high wall around the demesne has been reduced to stumps of rubble, but the former deer park still contains a five-chambered souterrain with alleged Druidical associations.

St Asicus’ church (RC), a handsome cruciform structure erected c.1815, had a gable-fronted doorway and bellcote added in 1889. A wall plaque is one of several memorials to the French family, most of whom converted to Roman Catholicism in the  C19th.

The Markethouse, built c. 1840 on the main street of Frenchpark village, served an important economic and social function for many years. The impressive edifice later become a garage , and although reportedly used as a film location in the late C20th for a movie about Robert Emmet, is sadly now virtually derelict.

The Breedoge River, a tributary of the River Shannon, is popular for course fishing.

 Frenchpark is

Cloonshanville Bog, located 1.5 km east of Frenchpark village, is the site of very diverse habitats containing a substantial area of open intact raised bog, and one of best examples of bog woodland in the country.

Cloonshanville Priory of the Holy Cross was built by MacDermot Roe for the Dominican Order in 1385 on the site of an early monastery founded by Saint Conmitius, a local bishop in the time of Saint Patrick. The ivy covered bell-tower still stands and some ruined walls may be seen, together with the French family vault and an interesting piscina (stone basin used for washing the sacred vessels) near the altar. A tall stone cross with stunted arms located in a nearby field may point to the presence of an earlier ecclesiastical foundation; the local legend is that families brought their dead to that point for the remains to be taken over by the Friars and interred near the chapel. Three large pools of water in the bog, known as ‘The Friar holes’, are where English soldiers are said to have drowned the monks (in fact believed to have made their way to Bayonne and Aquitaine).

Cornaveagh Bog is a Natural Heritage Area of interest to botanists.

The Tonroe Mill and Forge date from the C19th and remained operational until the 1950s. Oats, wheat and barley were transported by farmers to be milled into wholemeal flour and animal feeds, while the corn was being milled, the farmer attended to other tasks such as “shoeing” the horse or repairing farm implements.

Loughbally is the location of ‘St Patricks Chair‘, a huge stone which resembles a chair.

Rathra / Ratra House, probably built in the late C18th, was owned at the beginning of the C20th by Lord de Freyne’s brother the Hon. John French  and rented by Dr Douglas Hyde / Dubhghlas de hÍde (1860 – 1949) , a leading language scholar, Professor of Irish at UCD and founder of  the Gaelic League, who often wrote under the pseudonym An Craoibhín Aoibhinn (“The Pleasant Little Branch”). On his marriage to the English/German artist Lucy Cometina Kurtz, the  League bought the house from Mr French and presented it to Dr Hyde, who wen on to  was restored  by Roscommon County Council. Dr. Hyde’s contribution to modern Ireland is highlighted in the exhibition by the use of informative charts, maps, photographs and an audio-visual display. The grounds have been tastefully landscaped and include the Garden an Chraoibhín, where a statue of Dr Hyde stands in a thoughtful / heroic pose amidst trees and shrubs illustrating an ancient “Calendar Alphabet System”. Dr Hyde received a State funeral in Dublin (see video) and was buried in the adjacent cemetery with his family.

Tibohine (Ti Baethin),an attractive rural district, was a medieval “hundred” and formed part of Tir Eanna / Tir Enda.

St Baethin’s Monastery occupied the site now taken by the old cemetery in Tibohine. Tradition holds that Saint Baethin, the son of a local Chieftain in the first half of the C5th, was engaged in battle with another Tir Eanna clan at a place called Gort na Fola when Saint Patrick happened upon the scene and stood silently, a little way off, with his companions, making a gesture of peace with his right hand, whereupon  the fighting clansmen ceased without any orders from their Chiefs. Baethin approached, was converted with his clansmen and became the first bishop in the area.  Other sources indicate that he was a later contemporary of Saint Nathy of Ballaghaderreeen and Saint Attracta of Breedogue.In 1230 Aodh Muineach O Concubhair and his brother plundered Ti baethin and its cealla and carried away considerable quantities of gold, silver and leather goods. The village (Ti Baethin) recovered from these and several other raids from Ulster (of cattle) and it was not until the Cromwellian soldiers who had settled in the area, the Frenches (later De Freynes) arrived that Domus Baetheni suffered its final destruction. They carried out a massive raid on Connaught and after much bloodshed spent 9 days carrying away the total contents to Dun Gar (Frenchpark) camps. Ti Baethin was burned and the Frenches took possession of many of the 15 sean cleithi of Airleach over which they became landlords in the following century. The locals fled with many articles which they buried in bogs and even Loch ?Techet, hence the old saying “Ta saidhbreas so Lock nach eisc.”

Although the monastery was destroyed by Cromwellian soldiers,  ruins of a medieval stone oratory are still visible.

St Baethin’s church(RC) was built in 1861 to replace a stone building with a thatched roof erected c.1830 on a site supposedly granted by the O’Connor Don in Teevnacreevna but destroyed by the  Frenches, who would not have any churches on their lands until the 6th Lord de Freyne’s conversion to Roman Catholicism.

The War of Independence saw some fighting in the Tibohine district . In Sepember 1920, members of the South Sligo Brigade IRA ambushed an RIC Patrol at Teevnacreeva, leading to the deaths of  two policemen and the Republican Captain Tom McDonagh. A few months later John McGowan,  captain of the Tibohine Company IRA, was surrounded by Black & Tans at a neighbour’s house at Rathkeery and was shot dead. A cross to his memory is located near the spot.

Fairymount Hill (Ard Senlis) (586ft), the highest point in County Roscommon, gives its name to a small rural community. The summit,  commanding great views of the surrounding countryside, is the location of an as yet unexcavated mound, thought to be a passage grave. The hill top is partially enclosed by two large interlinked hill-forts, thought to date from the Iron Age, and now crowned by a water tower erected with exquisite aesthetic sensitivity by Roscommon County Council.

Cill i Hooley is the site of an early ecclesiastical foundation associated with Saint Lallocc, the niece of Saint Patrick said to have been responsible for bringing of Christianity to Fairymount. There are no ruins, but the location is known as sacred ground and was used as a burial place for unbaptised infants until about fifty years ago.

The church of the Sacred Heart (RC), a good example  of High Victorian ecclesiastical architecture, was built in 1876. Splendid stained glass windows include five made between 1907 and 1910 by Michael Healy, one of the most distinguished artists who worked with An Tur Gloine, and a superb depiction of  Saint Brigid by Hubert McGoldrick,  created in 1922.

Fairymount village is

 

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