School days are the best days of our lives – sure we have all heard this well worn phrase but amazingly enough when you actually ask people about them, the majority seem to recall the same memories. What did they remember – well, they remembered the teachers, they would never forget them for one reason or another, the people they went to school with, their lunches – some wrapped in the Connacht Tribune, bringing turf for the fire – which they saw but didn’t experience the heat of, and then of course, stealing apples on the way home. Homework didn’t seem to play a big part in these times – all you learned you did it in school, mostly, and when you came home there was plenty to be done besides. Sure in my own time my brother left his school bag on the carrier, drove straight into the shed, left the lot there, and headed off for school the following morning. But his good luck changed when the dog had pups because one of the pups made tatters of his bag and its contents.
Beilville and Kilskeagh were well known addresses on the Carnaun Roll – Book with most families having four, five or six children trotting off to school. Amongst those who came from Bellville were the Cooley, Lally, Brannelly, Greaney, Spelman, Joyce, Caulfield and Commins families. Some of the Kilskeagh families were the Spelmans, Commins, Gills, Nohillys, Bohans, Fitzpatricks and Cooleys. Most people walked barefoot in the early days – if you wore shoes you were classed as being delicate, and anyone who wore them was awkward and usually got a nickname like “Big Foot,” “Softie”, or some other thing to that effect.
Time never seemed to matter then like it does now, of course when you came into view of the school you pretended to hurry up. Going home makes you wonder how we ever got there before bedtime – strolling along like a river meandering through the countryside – not a care in the world. But going back to earlier times in, say, the second decade of this century and afterwards, children didn’t tread as carefree as we did. When the Commins family at the railway were going to school, one thing they will always remember was meeting lorries of Black and Tans. That day was spent in fear, wondering if you would meet them again on the way home. Children seemed to be interrogated intensely as they knew that they would tell the truth. Teachers themselves couldn’t come to school either, when the Tans were on the rampage. Everybody feared them. I heard a story about one of them coming into school and taking Babs O’Regan’s new bicycle. She never got it back by the way. A new bicycle then must be the equivalent to a fair good car now. Some people seemed to outsmart them like Paddy Kelly’s father in Castle Lambert when he hid down in a tar barrel and the Tans were going around the yard looking for him. Stories have also been told about the Tans going into Cullinanes, searching the house and even leaving their hands on the bed to see if it was warm as a means of finding out if their father was long gone.
These were sad times but thankfully there were good times too. People enjoyed the simpler things in life then and if they happened to live near a castle as many of them did, it gave an even more colourful tinge to their life. They admired the lives of the Lords and Ladies and followed their doings with great interest. Bellville Castle, owned by General Sir Bryan Mahon and then the Persses had its glamour, colour and characters too. It was while the Persses had it that we seemed to get a greater look inside its mysterious boundaries. These same people owned the Distillery in Galway, after which “Distillery Road” took its name, and were related to Lord Eyre.
Mrs. Persse owned Moyode Castle and she had a daughter Rita. Rita married Colonel Bernard and they had two children – Melanie and Dudley. Dudley, also known as Burton Persse, was killed in Ballydavid. Both of them use to go down to play with the Commins at the railway. Melanie succeeded in getting herself three husbands but more about her later. After the Persses sold Bellville Castle, it was owned by a John Joe Daly from Corofin who in turn got a Tuam solicitor to sell off the land to the people who had money. Some people had to pay twice for their land, at least so we are told. Rumour also had it that when this professional man died the horses refused to budge under the hearse – nice one for the records.
After the Castle had been unoccupied, the natives decided to hold dances there. The regulations were that you had to get a letter of permission from the priest. This letter was given to Mike Hession at the Lodge and then everything was in order. No need to book a band or a group because the musicians were readily available-whoever was able to play did his part and an enjoyable night ’till morning would be had by all. Refreshments of tea and brack were available downstairs, while the floor boards were hopping upstairs. In the early hours of the morning the music faded and the people headed for home. Home to go to bed for a few hours is what you would be thinking about but no such luck, the following days agenda could consist of anything from “threshing” to “binding oats” or “picking spuds”. Still this did not deter them from going the next time round.
It is to be understood that an air of “Upstairs Downstairs” reigned in most of these “Big Houses”, while the ordinary people enjoyed the simple pastimes-the upper strata had their sights set on higher mediums – hunting with the “Galway Blazers” would have been one of these. The Blazers have had some remarkable masters and Mrs. Melanie Daly was one of these. As I previously mentioned, she was married three times, firstly she was Mrs. Trundle, then Mrs. Hanberry, and finally, Mr. Bowes Daly. She was hounded out of Ireland by Catholic Bishops who disapproved of her third marriage. She was born in Galway in 1911, the daughter of Cary Bernard and Rita Persse.
At this point in time a story about Rita Persse comes to mind. She was at an auction and was being driven home, some hooligans had tied wire across the road, which cut the windscreen of the car and more serious still, her throat. The driver thought that she was dead so he turned her upside down in the car and drove to the nearest cottage. A girl in the house who happened to be a nurse discovered that she was not dead. If she had not been upside down, she would have drowned in her own blood. It took her two years to recover, the family brought an action against the king and she was awarded about £3,000.
When Melanie Cary Bernard’s father retired in 1927 the family moved to Africa. Here she met Guy Trundle, a farmer in Kenya. They came back to London and one of her friends here was Molly O’Rourke. They dined and wined at such places as “The Ritz” and “The Savoy”. Her second husband Major James Hanberry, whom she met in Cairo was joint master of Engalnd’s Belvoir hunt. The Hanberry family had been fiercely against the romance-so much so that they offered Melanie £10,000 to stay away from James but James told her that he couldn’t live without her. Life was good while it lasted, but the marriage didn’t survive Melanie came home to Ireland in 1947 after six years in the war driving lorries from Benghazi to Baghdad. While at home she spotted an advertisement in the paper “The Horse and Hound”. “Wanted, a joint master for the Galway Blazers”. The Blazers had been started by her great grandfather and on her mother’s side she was related to Atty Persse, one of the most famous names in hunting. She succeeded and became Master of the Blazers. Her cousin, Denis Bowes Daly was joint master and they fell in love. After becoming Mrs. Bowes Daly she was very happy. The hunting was brilliant and she would now be mistress of Dunsandle Castle.
Even though she was a protestant and divorced from Hanberry, she was seriously in trouble with the Catholic priests who frowned on her new appointment. These were the days when Bishop Browne of Galway had all his diocese in straight jackets. The farmers were asked to boycott the hunt and this lasted for about six months, after which Melanie Daly resigned and went to Tanganika with her husband. They spent 12 years in Africa during which time they had a daughter. They came back to Ireland in 1972 where her husband Bowes Daly died from a heart attack at the age of 80. Her daughter married about the same time. She is now living alone in the village of Adare near lots of her hunting friends. She now believes that the Moslem faith is the best and the fairest.
Cill Sceach – Church of the Bushes – There was a church here about 1200 AD and was there until Cromwell’s time. During this period Kilskeagh seemed to be booming, there was a market place there, where potatoes, oats and wheat were sold. Lots of little villages around the immediate area with very little signs of these left today. The only ruins that can be seen today are those of the graveyard and the castle. There were people buried here up to the 1950s. Present families would have children buried there as well as older people. There was a cave going from the castle to the monastery. Murrough McSwaine lived in the castle after the battle of Knockdoe in 1504. The Somervilles also lived here. Then two sisters lived here and were known as witches. They used to rob the people coming from the fair and kill them so hence it became known as “The Castle of the Witches”.
Another story told about the graveyard was that a local man met “Jack O’ The Lantern” one night on his way home. He ended up in the graveyard and didn’t succeed in leaving it until the cock crew in the morning when evidently he was relieved of his spell.
There was a “Shebeen” on top of the hill and it was owned by Cahills so the area was called “Baile Carhail”. A cave was found to be leading from Pa Rabbitt’s house at the foot of the hill over to the top of the hill, an area that was known as Cahermore. But after a pig got lost in it they closed it up. There were clothes found in the cave also and when the people touched them they disintegrated.
The Mahons from Athenry, where Torpeys is now, came from Kilskeagh, as also did the Morrisseys where Jimmy Nolan is presently.
It is also said that one of these Morrisseys, Julia Mary Morrissy was very friendly with Liam Mellowes. By and large Kilskeagh seemed to have the makings of a good town – a monastery, a castle, a shebeen, numerous villages, a forge and a piper’s stone. The forge was down at the end of the hazel on the Tuam Road-Grady’s owned it and then they moved to Monivea.
Across from the quarry, there was another market place, known as “Baile na Croise”. Around this area also, near where Whites house is now, there was a “piper’s stone”- a flag (stone) where the piper played and they held dances. Did the piper get paid for his trouble or where he hailed from – that we don’t know.
It’s amazing that there were so many little areas, all with their own Irish names, and even the fields all seemed to be marked out – Garraí Judy, Gort a Mháire, Staighre Eamuinn and the Tobacco Field. A story told about this field goes as follows: Homes, the landlord in Cloonavadogue gave a field to Dempseys and the agreement was that they keep him supplied with tobacco – so naturally enough this was called the Tobacco Field. Cloonavadogue by the way means the Village of the Plovers.
We also have names like “Gleann Laighléis”, near Gardiners, and Páirc an Fhraoic near Cullinanes, which brings us into Mount Browne. It is said that there was a big house at the back of Cooleys in Kilskeagh, owned by a man named “Browne” and it was he that gave the name to Mount Browne. Cullinanes came from Baile Bhróin, town of the Sorrows, which got its name from the evictions.
Written by Mairéad Madden
Published here 05 Feb 2021
Page 010 of The Carnaun Centenary Book
Athenry: A Brief History
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