Table of contents
There are two ways to get to Inis Mor, by boat or by plane. From Galway, the boat of Aran Island Ferries will take you there by way of a bus shuttle to the ferry port of Rosaveal. Travelling by plane will result in a return ticket with Aer Arann Islands. Both give a different perspective and point of view of the big island. Once you set foot on the island, you can rent a bike and cycle around the island.
Who Angus was is unknown. According to legend, Aonghus belonged to a high-ranking dynasty who were displaced from their lands in Co. Meath in the early centuries AD. Another possible candidate, is Aonghus Mac Natfráich, King of Cashel in the 5th century AD, who had dynastic affiliations with Aran.
Recent excavations by a team from The Discovery Programme found evidence for human activity on the hilltop stretching over two and a half thousand years (c. 1500BC – 1000AD). First enclosed ca. 1100BC, the most dynamic period in the history of this hillfort was around 800BC. At that time, Dún Aonghasa was probably the political, economic and ritual centre for a group of people with a common ancestry. Only the elite members of this group would have lived in the fort. After 700BC, the importance of the site waned and, over the following thousand years, it seems to have been occupied only intermittently. A major rebuilding programme was undertaken in the Early Medieval period (500 – 1000AD) but the fort was abandoned shortly afterwards. Dún Aonghasa became a National Monument at the end of the 19th century and was extensively repaired shortly afterwards. It is now conserved by the Office of Public Works.
Covering an area of 5.7 hectares (14 acres), the interior of the hillfort is divided into an outer, middle and inner enclosure by three curvilinear walls terminating at the cliff. An additional stretch of wall runs along west side and, when the fort was occupied, there was probably a ‘safety wall’ along the cliff-edge. Outside the middle closure is a broad band of chevaux de frise (closely-set stone pillars) that even today are difficult to negotiate.
The original approach to the fort was from the north and the main entrances through the outer and middle walls face in this direction. Today, the entry point is through a breach in the outer wall, but the original doorway can be seen at some distance to the right.
The original doorway to the middle enclosure, about 50m to the right of the present entrance, is now blocked up because of the poor condition of the roof lintels. The entrance would have been closed off by a wooden gate and the sudden drop inside the threshold was probably designed to trip any unwanted visitors. The bodies of two young men were interred in the paved entrance around 1000AD. These may have had Viking connections but there was no evidence to suggest that they died violently.
The inner enclosure wall measuring 5m in width, was built up in layers so that the foundations could be stepped over rising ground. Originally, it was probably about 6m high and ca. 6500 tonnes of stone were used in its construction. The terrace on the interior gave access to the wall top and the small chamber in the west side of the wall may have been used for storing precious or perishable goods.
The stone foundations of seven houses were found in the inner enclosure. The floors were paved and a number had a stone hearth. The outline of a circular house, ca 5m in diameter, is still visible near the west wall. Its foundations are partly covered by the enclosing wall, indicating that the house predates the final alterations to the defences. A stone trough the outside door was probably used either for storing water, keeping shellfish fresh or for boiling meat using the hot-stone cooking method. In addition to meat and cereals, fish and shellfish were an important part of the diet of the Late Bronze Age occupants. Almost 8 tonnes of limpet shells were found during the excavations. Most of the tools in everyday use (hammers, axes, whetstones and quern stones) were made from stone. Clothing was made from wool or leather and fastened with bone pins; the range of needle types found also showed that the Late Bronze Age people used a wide variety of organic materials.
The rock platform at the cliff edge may have had a ritual or ceremonial function and a hoard of four bronze rings deliberately buried beside it was probably an offering to a deity. At the opposite end of the inner enclosure, a large hearth seems to have been associated with communal feasting and with the casting of bronze weapons and tools.
The history of Ballynahinch Castle, the 'household of the Island'
Ballynahinch Castle has been interwined in the history of Connemara and its people for centuries, from the recorded battle between the O’Flahertys and O’Malleys, in 1384, to the visit by all the Lord Mayors and Mayors of Ireland and some from overseas, to celebrate the Quincentennial year of Galway city receiving its charter.
Ballynahinch i.e. Baile na hlnse, means ‘household of the Island’, and refers to the O’Flaherty Castle built on an Island in the lake.
The land of Lar Connaught stretched from the Castle at Bunowen and the plain of Murrisk in Mayo over to Moycullen on the banks of Lough Corrib. This was the land of the O’Flaherty Clan, lords of Connaught and masters of Ballynahinch. It was into this family that the most famous resident of Ballynahinch married; this was Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen of Connaught, who married Donal O’Flaherty or Dónal-an-Chogaidh (Donal of the battles). This was about the year of 1546 when Grace was sixteen. The marriage united two of the most powerful families in the country and bonded the lands of Murrisk and lar Connaught. Ballynahinch was just one of the many Castles the O’Flahertys held. The others were at Aughnanure, Doon, Moycullen, Bunowen and Renvyle.
Donal at this time was tanist or heir apparent to Donal Crone, ruler of all Connaught. Grace divided her time between Bunowen and Ballynahinch, Bunowen being the newer building of the two. She gave birth to four children and on the death of Donal (it was said that he was murdered by the Joyce Clan as revenge for the seizure of Hen’s Castle on Lough Corrib) Grace took over as head of her family – some said she was a better “man” than her dead husband. Her life as a pirate is well known, as is her famous meeting with Queen Elizabeth 1st in September 1593. These two formidable ladies met on equal terms as monarch to monarch. They spoke in Latin, and of the only Gaelic woman ever to appear in court it was written: “In the wild grandeur of her mien erect and high Before the English Queen she dauntless stood.” The mystery of where her last resting place is has never been solved but it is generally thought to be Clare Island in Clew Bay. She died in 1603 – the same year as Queen Elizabeth the 1st.
In 1584 the Queen appointed Murrough-ne-Doe O’Flaherty as head of the Clan against the wishes of the vast majority of the O’Flahertys, thus causing a split in the clan. In this same year Murrough-ne-Doe captured the fortress of Ballynahinch, but Grace’s sons, Owen and Murrough, recaptured it later in 1584. Murrough, son of Grace, retained possession of the castle until early in the seventeenth century. A sad footnote to the O’Flaherty connection with Ballynahinch – In 1586 Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connaught, and arch-enemy of Grace, appointed his brother Captain John Bingham as a lieutenant of the area. In the same year, 1586, Captain Bingham, with 500 men, captured Owen O’Flaherty and eighteen of his followers, along with four thousand cattle, five hundred stud mares and horses, and a thousand sheep. With the livestock and men, he went to Ballynahinch.
A contemporary account describes Owen’s last hours. “That evening he (John Bingham) caused the said eighteen persons without trial or good cause, to be hanged. The next night following a false alarm was raised in the camp in the dead of night, the said Owen being fast bound in the cabin of Grene O’Molloy (Grace O’Malley) and at that instant the said Owen was cruelly murdered, having twelve deadly wounds, and in that miserable spot he ended his years unfortunate days.” Now if anyone has a good reason to haunt the Castle it is Owen O’Flaherty. The connection with Grace is kept to this day with a portrait of her by American artist, Cleeve Miller, which hangs in Fisherman’s Pub. The decline of the O’Flaherty family towards the end of the sixteenth century is marked by their recognition of the Queen’s Lord Deputy. In 1590 Robert Martin bought their estate at Ross outside Galway.
The Martins trace their ancestry back to the Crusader, Sir Oliver Martin, who received his armorial bearings from Richard the Lion-Heart, with the pious motto: “Auxilium Meum Domino”. He came to Ireland with Strongbow during the Norman invasion in 1169, and settled for a while in Limerick. His family established themselves as one of the Fourteen Tribes of Galway. The Martins were the first of the tribes to venture outside the safety of the walled city of Galway. The O’Flaherty’s still kept a jealous eye on the Martins after they had sold to Robert, and in later years they were to kill a son of Nimble Dick, a great grandson of Robert, who lived at Dangan on the (then) outskirts of Galway. It was in that house that Richard Martin, “Humanity Dick”, was born in 1754.
The present house at Ballynahinch was built by Richard’s father as an inn, so history repeats itself and has come in a full circle once again. The house was extensively renovated about 1813 and Humanity Dick moved there permanently. Hardiman recorded in 1820 –
“Dangan of late years has been suffered to go to considerable decay”
This move thereby made Ballynahinch the principal seat of the Martin family. Richard Martin was indeed a most colourful man in the mould of his good friend the Prince Regent, later King George IV. His lifestyle was opulent and he was well known for his lavish parties – which later contributed to his money troubles. He was also known for his duelling skills which earned him his second nickname, “Hair-Trigger Dick” He was the leading exponent of duelling in Galway, and prior to each encounter he would display an old wound to his opponent with the comment –
“Let this be your target, Sir”
His opponents were never on target but he usually was. Ballynahinch Castle was host to many famous people during the early part of the nineteenth century. Maria Edgeworth, author of “Castle Rackrent”, was one such visitor in 1834, and on arrival was personally brought a glass of port by her host. Of the food at Ballynahinch Miss Edgeworth made the comment –
“It is worthy of the greatest gourmet”
Hopefully, if she returned today, she would say likewise. Daniel O’Connell stayed a night and had lunch the next day before going to Clifden to address a Repeal meeting. The story goes that he spoke to the throng in English and only about 30% of them understood him. One hundred years later Eamon de Valera came to Clifden and addressed the crowd in Irish, and, as before, only about 30% of the listeners understood him!
In his travel log, “An Irish Sketch Book”, W.M. Thackeray wrote –
“O you who laboriously throws flies in English Rivers, and catch at the expiration of a day’s walking casting and wadeing two or three feeble little trout of two or three ounces in weight, how you would rejoice to have but one hour’s sport on Derryclare or Ballynahinch; where you have but cast, and lo! A big trout springs to your fly”.
And, also, it is nice to think that if Thackeray were to fish here again today he would not go away disappointed. One other notable visitor at this time was tutor to the Martin children who fell hopelessly in love with Richard Martin’s wife, Harriet, - he was one Theobald Wolfe Tone. Richard Martin was M.P. for the area, and during one election campaign he called on his duelling for the answer to the question of who was going to win. His reply was –
“The survivor, Sir”
As M.P. he introduced a bill to the House of Commons in 1822, the “Cruelty to Animals Act”. As a result of the bill being passed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed, and it is for this reason that Richard Martin is most fondly remembered as “Humanity Dick”. It was a final gesture on his part for, not long after, he lost his seat at Westminster. It was at this time, under pressure from creditors, that he left Ireland, never to return for he died in Boulogne, France, in 1834. Asked on his death bed why he was so kind to animals and so ruthless to humans his last words are reputed to have been –
“Did you ever see an ox with a pistol?”
Then he died, and thus passed on the king of Connemara, the master of Ballynahinch, and the man who owned the longest driveway in the world –
“Forty one miles from Galway to his front door at the Castle”.
Richard’s Town house in Galway still stands in Quay Street, it is now occupied by Naughtons pub and in the first floor, the aptly named “Humanity Dick’s” Restaurant. After the death of Thomas Martin (Richard’s Heir) who died of famine fever, the heavily encumbered estate was left to his daughter Mary (a prolific novelist). She left the country to avoid the debts and died in The Union Place Hotel, New York not long after her arrival in America. Her death was brought about by the anxious voyage and the birth of a child in board the ship.
The Martin family had other notable members in more recent times. One was Violet Martin of Ross House near Oughterard. Under the pen-name of Ross she became famous as half of the literary partnership of Somerville and Ross, who wrote the “Irish R.M.” stories. Another was the writer Edward Martin of Tullyra Castle, near Loughrea, Co. Galway. Along with Lady Gregory of Coole and the poet W.B. Yeats he founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and it was as a result of his generous patronage the Palestrina Choir of the Pro-Cathedral was founded.
After the Great Famine the Martins huge estate was sold up through the Encumbered Estates Court. The purchasers, the London Law Life Assurance Company of London, later sold it to Richard Berridge. It was the Berridge family who restored and enlarged the Castle to its present day structure. The Berridges were highly respected landlords, and were most kind and considerate to all their tenants. The lakes of Upper and Lower Ballynahinch, Derryclare, and Lough Inagh were all part of the estate. This continued up to the mid-fifties when a vast part of the lands were sold during the ownership of Mr. Noel Huggard.
After the Berridge family the Castle passed into the hands of His Highness the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanager, better known as Ranjitsinhji, or Ranji Prince of Cricketers. Ranji had come to know Ballynahinch through its famous fisheries and in 1924 he purchased the property from the Berridge family. He had fallen in love with the beautiful and rugged scenery of Connemara, and wished to own part of it. It was Ranji who was responsible for most of the landscaping of the gardens and woods, plus the erection of the fishing piers and huts along the river. He was a fabulously wealthy man, having property in England, and, of course, his many palaces in India. He is best known as a world class cricketer and is regarded as second only to the legendary W.G. Grace, of whom Ranji was a team mate. He still holds many cricket records, and has two mentions in The Guinness Book of Records, which have yet to be broken.
But it was Ballynahinch which granted him most pleasure in his later years. He arrived every summer, around June. In Galway before coming to Ballynahinch he would buy five motorcars, two limousines and three smaller cars, and when leaving for India in October, he would give the cars to the locals as gifts – one maybe to the parish priest, to the local vicar, etc. and this was done each and every year! The avenue up to the Castle was covered with marble chips, which were raked every day. Each year on Ranji’s birthday a party was held for all the staff who worked for him. The party was held in the billiard room (the present day bar). He served the guests himself, and had a truck outside the door to take home the by now well-intoxicated staff. He had his own train carriage from Galway to Clifden, stopping off at Ballynahinch station (the Galway-Clifden line closed down in 1936) and as he neared the station, the locals placed fire crackers on the line as a sign of welcome. The locals and his many Indian servants seemed to co-exist happily, and two of his nieces went to school at nearby Kylemore Abbey. Due to a shooting accident in Scotland Ranji lost his right eye, and this injury ended any hopes of his carrying on his cricketing. He had a glass eye, and, in one of his palaces in India, one can see five spare glass eyes on display.
When word got back to Ballynahinch that he had died of an asthmatic attack the locals did not believe it as the date was April 1st, 1932, All Fools Day! This time it was no joke, but the truth. In September 1983 one of the most famous gillies ever to work in Ballynahinch died. His name was Frank Cummins. The day before he died he was still remembering fondly the pair of ruby cufflinks that Ranji had given him over fifty years before. The kindly Indian Prince still lives fondly in the memories of the locals old enough to remember the Prince of Cricketers.
After the death of Ranji the Castle passed into the hands of his nephew Dulipsinhji who sold it to the McCormack family from Dublin. It was in 1946 when the Tourist Board took possession that the many years of private ownership came to an end.
This takeover gave a new lease of life to an old House, for it was insured that Ballynahinch Castle did not go the way of so many other stately houses, either being burned to the ground or stripped of its materials, as happened in the Castle of Dunsandle house, and Smiths of Maysinbrooke. For the first time the world famous fisheries were open to the public, and they took advantage of it. During this time the Castle played host to Eamon de Valeria. His signature is the first to be seen in the old visitors’ book. The writer Liam O’Flaherty was a regular visitor. Sir Alec Guinness, the actor, also stayed here, as did many other celebrities. The Irish Tourist Board (the forerunner of Bórd Fáilte) held the Castle until the early nineteen fifties when Mr. Noel Huggard took over the running of the Hotel in conjunction with Ashford Castle. From a tourist Guide in 1954 we can now see how prices have changed since then –
“Fully licensed: From 10 to 11 guns. B & B from 16/-; Meals: Lunch 6/- to 7/-; Tea 2/6 to 3/6; Dinner 10/6 to 12/6; (5 private bathrooms). Dogs not allowed.”
It is nice to think that we still have guests who first came in those days. The slight rise in prices does not seem to deter them. As was stated before Mr. Huggard disposed of a large part of the estate, including the fisheries of Inagh and Derryclare, and sold Ballynahinch Castle and Fishery in 1957 to an American businessman, Mr. Edward Ball. Mr. Ball in turn sold turn sold shares in the Castle to many friends and business associates. In 1978 when Mr. Ball was 89 and no longer traveling overseas he resigned as president of the corporation and nominated Raymond Mason for that post. Under his direction the Castle has undergone extensive renovation, and all-round standards have been improved. In 1981 the former President of America, Mr. Gerard Ford, and his wife Betty were guests of the Masons at Ballynahinch, as was former British Prime Minister James Callaghan. Ballynahinch has seen many changes since the days of “the ferocious O’Flahertys” over 700 years ago. It has been the home to many great and generous people. It has seen hardship – during the Great Famine of 1847 it was shelter for many starving people; it has seen great opulence and lavish parties; but, no matter what was placed in front of it, it lived on, and today the Castle takes a well-deserved rest as a leisurely retreat for the fisherman and a relaxing Hotel which caters for its Guests in a way that is personal, professional, and with the friendly Connemara touch.
Reproduced with kind permission of Ballynahinch Castle and Des Lally.
How centuries of census records were destroyed
Was it the most despicable act of cultural vandalism ever perpetrated in the name of Irish freedom, or just the most unfortunate piece of collateral damage wrought by a savage civil War? A century on, the destruction of priceless documents in the Public records Office remains a matter of hot dispute.
In April 1922, six months after the Anglo-Irish Treaty brought the War of Independence to an unsteady end, 200 anti-Treaty IRA men took over the Four Courts. Bedding in for a long siege, they aimed to force the British back to arms, which they hoped in turn would reunite the pro- and anti-Treaty Irish camps. Late June arrived with the rebels still dug in. The British, with thousands of troops still in Ireland awaiting evacuation, pressurised the pro-Treaty side to take action.
Fearing threats of a terrifying new, scaled-up British invasion, the Provisional government of Arthur-Griffith and Michael Collins had to get tough. On June 27th, the rebels were given an ultimatum to get out – or else.
A great deal of what happened over the next 48 hours is hazy. Most historians believe Collins gave the order to open fire with rifles and artillery, but others dispute this. Anti-Treatyites claimed they were preparing for an 8am evacuation when the bombardment began around daybreak. The rebels’ position was hopeless, but several hours before they surrendered a massive explosion shot a towering mushroom cloud into the sky. Raining down on the Liffey like black snow were the fitters of countless pages documenting Irish history, some dating back to the 13th century.
The blowing up of the Public Records Office destroyed the Irish census returns of 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851. Most of the wills and testamentary records that had ever been proved in the country were incinerated, along with more than half of all the Church of Ireland records dating back to the establishment of Ireland’s Anglican church. Centuries of unique law court and local government records went up in smoke.
The recriminations and conspiracy theories continue to this day. Some think the records were wantonly destroyed as another nailing the coffin of the British rule, while others have claimed the records Office was booby-trapped to kill Free Staters reclaiming the building. Perhaps the most widely held view is that smell hit two truckloads of gelignite in the rebels’’ ammunition store, making the catastrophe an unhappy accident.
Reproduced by kind permission of Irish writer Damian Corless. Follow Damian on Twitter or see his website for for details on many related titles he has published.
And if you are interested in history and genealogy and want to know more, consider having a look at our Genealogy and Bespoke tours !
Yesterday I saw a most delightful place indeed, much beyond any place I have seen in Ireland – Ballyfin
- Lady Kildare, 1759
For centuries the enchanting beauties of Ballyfin have been admired by visitors like Lady Kildare from Carton House in the adjoining county. Set at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the centre of Ireland, it is a place of history and romance, of tranquillity and great natural beauty. Stone walls enclose 600 acres of parkland, a lake and ancient woods, delightful garden buildings, follies and grottoes abound. Ballyfin is steeped in Irish history and the site has long been admired as the most lavish regency mansion in Ireland, the work of the great Irish architects Sirs Richard (1767–1849) and William Morrison (1794–1838).
Over the last decade the magnificent estate has been painstakingly restored to become a small hotel like no other. Indeed, after eight years of restoration aiming at returning Ballyfin as closely as possible to how it functioned when it was built, the estate re-opened in May 2011 as a 5 star country house hotel. It offers the very best of Irish hospitality in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable. Ballyfin is the perfect place for a break from the stresses of the modern world and provides discretion and privacy like few other destinations.
Its comfort lends itself to family celebrations, its magnificent grandeur makes it perfect for weddings while its unparalleled seclusion and privacy makes it an ideal setting for business retreats. Hence why we recommend at least a two night stay at Ballyfin at the end of any Bespoke Ireland trip before returning home, and is the ideal property for those discerning guests who expect exclusive use.
Hotel & Country Estate.
Founded in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family to be their principal stronghold, the original Castle of Cong remained ruled for some 350 years before Queen Elizabeth I recertified the Castle as a British fortress in 1589. Ownership then turned to the Oranmore and Browne family in 1715, who first named it Ashford Castle. They were responsible for the building of a French château at the centre part of the Castle.
Later, in 1852, Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness purchased Ashford and extended the estate to 26,000 acres, building new roads and planting thousands of trees and adding two large Victorian style extensions. The estate and Castle then passed to his son Lord Ardilaun in 1868; who welcomed the Prince of Wales in 1905, for which the George V Dining Room and Prince of Wales Bar were built to celebrate. In 1915 Ashford was retained by the Iveagh Trust on behalf of the Guinness family until it was leased by Noel Huggard in 1939. Huggard established the Castle as a first class hotel renowned for the provision of its country pursuits. As a hotel it changed hands many times, notably in 1970 by renowned hotelier John Mulcahy who developed the golf course, and in 1985 by a group of Irish American investors. In 2008 the hotel was bought by local entrepreneur Gerry Barrett.
Since 2013, Ashford Castle is part of Red Carnation Hotel Collection and has been lovingly restored to fully reflect the Castle’s extensive history and Irish heritage. Ashford Castle was voted in 2015 the Best Hotel in the World, by Virtuoso.
The Quiet Man
The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and directed by the legendary John Ford, is a 1951 romantic love story. The Quiet Man was filmed in and around the village of Cong, Co Mayo including much of the grounds of Ashford Castle. The film received a total of seven Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars. Guests can visit many of the film locations including The Quiet Man Cottage Museum and Pat Cohen’s Bar, complete with replica of the interiors featured in the film. Alternatively, guests can sit back and rekindle The Quiet Man experience in the Castle’s luxurious cinema.
Ireland’s School of Falconry
Ireland’s School of Falconry was founded in 1999 and is the oldest established Falconry School in Ireland. Home to the largest and most diverse collection of Harris hawks, it offers guests the chance to fly hawks around the spectacular Ashford Castle grounds and woodlands. Six instructors are on hand all year round to introduce guests to the 20 Harris hawks a species renowned for its’ easy-going temperament and unusually sociable nature, one Eurasian eagle owl and four falcons who all call the Falconry School their home. A hawk walk is highly recommended.