Charlestown (Co. Mayo / Northeast)
Charlestown (Baile Chathail) (pop. 1500), once named Newtown-Dillon or Ballycattell, is an attractive planned town with old-fashioned shop fronts and several good pubs / eateries. Located at an important regional crossroads close to Knock Airport, it is surrounded by rivers, woodlands, bogs, green pastures and hills, with the Ox Mountains in County Sligo forming a scenic backdrop, County Mayo’s youngest town is a good base for touring the region.
Neighbouring Bellaghy, Co. Sligo, the local market town in the early C19th, discriminated against tenants from the Dillon family’s vast County Mayo estate, offering lower prices for their goods and services. In 1845 Lord Charles Dillon granted his land agent, Charles Strickland, permission to begin development of the new town, which he designed with broad streets and plenty of open space.
To encourage home building, Strickland advertised that the first person to complete a house would receive several acres of land rent free. This offer soon atracted settlers from neighbouring districts. A Mr Mulligan won the prize and the home he constructed, later known as the Imperial Hotel, one of two grandly named hotels in the town during its heyday, still stands in the Town Square.
Charlestown wa sstill only a scattering of houses during the Great Famine. Lord Dillon’s tenants were relatively fortunate because Strickland personally laboured to get food to those in need. He worked with the local Relief Committees to call on the government to set up Relief Depots in East Mayo. He purchased cargoes of Indian meal and corn and set up depots on the estate to keep the worst of the famine at bay. His efforts saved many locals from starvation.
By 1855 Charlestown had developed into a settlement of approximately 60 houses. There were many business establishments in the town, including a number of public houses, many of which doubled as grocery and hardware outlets.
St James’ church (RC), built in 1856 to serve the parish of Kilbeagh, was dedicated in 1858, as recorded on a plaque commemorating “the exertions of Charles Strickland Esquire, of Lough Lynn House in the County of Roscommon“. (The parish opened a second church, St Patrick’s at Bushfield – c. 1885 due to population growth in the surrounding villages).
Charlestown Railway Station opened on in 1895 on the GS&W line from Claremorris to Collooney, closed for passenger traffic in 1963, and finally closed altogether in1975. There is some talk of reopening the station as part of the restored Western Railway Corridor.
Charlestown’s Town Hall, built c. 1900, has bee n used for varied functions over the years. It currently houses the Charlestown Town Hall Arts Centre, which has a programme of Arts Exhibitions throughout the year.
The Fair Green became the main market trading area in the town in 1909. The rail service allowed various goods, including cattle, to be drawn into Charlestown market on fair days. By 1911 water and sewerage schemes had been installed, and Charlestown became one of the premier market towns in County Mayo for the first half of the C20th.
Charlestown Aqua Centre open-air swimming pool is open from June to August.Other sports facilities include a Sports Complex and Gym with weights room and sauna/steam room, a good floodlit GAA Pitch and a Football & Athletics club.
Charlestown Heritage Society collates and preserves information on local history and culture, old photographs etc.
The Mullaghanoe River, one of several local tributaries of the River Moy,which rises near Knock Airport, flows through Charlestown to join the main channel just downstream of Bellanacurra Bridge. It holds excellent stocks of small trout.
The Riverside Bar & Restaurant, a quirky 200-year-old building beside the river and close to the main square, is a friendly family-run hostelry with good B&B accommodation facilities.
John Healy (1930-1991) was a journalist for the Western People and a controversial political commentator and columnist for The Irish Times.
Healy wrote a series of articles about his native Charlestown which were published in book form in 1968 as Death Of An Irish Town, later republished as No One Shouted Stop!, highly critical of government policies towards rural areas.
The John Healy Road, as the N5 Charlestown by-pass is officially known, was opened in 2007.
The John Healy Weekend, attended by media personalities and academics from far and wide, has been held every November for the last five years.
Charlestown’s Siamsa Sráide street festival takes place in mid-August every year.
Charlestown – Bellahy (Baile Chathail – Béal Lathaigh) is a census town comprising the adjacent population centres of Charlestown (Co. Mayo) and Bellahy (Co. Sligo); the latter has been engulfed by the former for all practical purposes.
Carracastle // Doocastle (Co. Mayo / Northeast)
Carracastle (Ceathrú an Chaisil – “quarter of the fort”) is a rural district east of Charlestown, noted for its numerous Ringforts and sites of archaeological interest. Mullaghnoe Hill commands fine views.
St James’ church (RC), constructed in 1877 to replace a small thatched building which also served as a school house, contains a fine altar of Caen stone and marble, consecrated in 1884.
Cloonmore is the location of a former Holy Well said to have been dedicated to Saint Attracta; a field once used as a children’s burial ground; a ruined “Summer-house”, originally erected by the Phillips family, and a disused coal shaft said to have been sunk c.1844 by “an Englishman”.
Rooskey, the location of St Joseph’s church (RC), is a tiny community in the isolated wedge left as the northeasternmost part of County Mayo by the 1898 excision of Ballaghaderreen and other districts (as is Cloontia, now virtually inaccessible from anywhere else in the county).
Cloonakillina Lough gives its name to a SAC (Special Area of Conservation) noted for its “transition mires and quaking bogs“.
Doocastle, historically aka Ballindoo, is situated in the old civil parish of Kilturra, which Lewis (1837) called “KILTORA, or KILTURRAGH, a parish, partly in the barony of COSTELLO, county of MAYO, but chiefly in that of CORRAN, county of SLIGO“.
Lewis mentioned that “Doo Castle, the seat of J. M. McDonnell, Esq., occupies the site of an ancient fortress, of which there are still some remains near the present house“.
Joseph Myles MacDonell (1796-1872) – aka Joe Mór due to his size – was a notorious spendthrift, gambler, sportsman, piper, flautist, politician and bankrupt, once described as one of the ancient Irish chieftains, born several hundred years too late.
Doo Castle was already in ruins when Joe inherited the estate from his father in 1845, and he resided in an adjacent thatched dwelling variously described as a “cottage”, “house” or “mansion”. Almost his first action as landlord was to clear a number of tenants off the land and plant “the big wood” in their stead, for which he was cursed with a prophesy that he would “see the birds flying through his blackened rafters” of his home. Joe used Doo Castle as his address when he first served as MP for County Mayo (1846-47), but when an English periodical suggested that the Honourable Member would be better engaged in keeping the cattle from eating the straw roof of his “castle’ than in acting as a legislator in the Mother of Parliaments, Joe threw the paper into the fire, and the resulting sparks set the roof aflame, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
Like many impoverished Connacht gentry of his day – ‘as high-spirited and irresponsible as schoolboys’ – Joe Mór refused to let debt cramp his lifestyle. Irish hospitality reigned at Doo Castle, and while local custom demanded that no drink be consumed before dinner, that meal began at 4 pm. “After, the dining-room door was locked, the key thrown out the window,and the man who could not take his bumper of claret as the decanter went around was forced to drink a pint of salt water. Joe Mór is not likely to have ever suffered this penalty:He was known to drink twenty-one tumblers of punch after dinner – though he was never seen to be drunk, or even under the influence of liquor“. One story tells of a Dublin merchant who, having sold a large quantity of fine wines and spirits to Joe, paid him a visit to request payment, and found him regaling his friends with expensive wines. When the dealer suggested the guests might prefer whiskey punch, Joe agreed and famously complained “… sure where would I get the money to buy lemons?”
Joe kept a pack of hounds which had been reared from pups boarded out on his tenantry. Once he released a wagon-load of hares in the locality, first stipulating that all his tenants should destroy their dogs so that his should have a monopoly of the prey. On another occasion, to win a bet about whether his dogs could track in the dark, Joe sent out two of his servants with fox skins concealed in the linings of their coats unknown to themselves, and then released the hounds after them. Had the men not guessed what he had done, and climbed trees, they could have been eaten alive, for it seems the dogs could indeed track at night! In order to avoid his creditors, Joe organised fox-hunts by moonlight, with the participants returning to Doo Castle for a hearty breakfast.
Standing for Parliament as a Catholic champion supported by Daniel O’Connell, Joe was once caught eating meat on a Friday, resulting in derisive shouts when he next appeared on a platform: “Give him an egg to take the taste of mate off his mouth!” and an egg whizzed past his ear. Joe drew a letter from his pocket. “Does anyone here know the handwriting of His Holiness Pope Pius?” Without waiting for an answer, Joe read the letter at the top of his voice: -‘MY DEAR JOE, I am well pleased to hear you are fighting for the old faith down in Mayo. You are neither to fast nor abstain while the good work is in hand. With kindest regards for yourself and the boys that are helping you, I remain, Yours very sincerely, POPE Pius IX“. A roar of applause followed, and “Big Joe” was once more a popular hero.
Assuring his creditors that his only assets were “a flute, a bagpipes and a setter dog“, Joe was eventually declared bankrupt, went to live with his married daughter in Rathmines, and is buried in Glasnevin. His bagpipes are held by the NMI.
More scholarly but equally entertaining information (including a striking photo) can be found here.
Doomore Fort, presumably the ancient fortress mentioned by Lewis, is still visible as a large mound.
Kennedy’s Bar is a popular live music venue.
The Musicians of Doocastle are commemorated by this splendidly landscaped large stone memorial monument at Brackloonagh.