Little is known of the exact reasons for choosing, in 1891, this site for a new National School in the townland of Carnaun but although added to and renovated, the original building still stands in 1991. The name Carnaun is a direct translation from the Irish “Carnán” which may refer to either a heap of stones or an area of high ground. As most of the townland is a relatively flat plain, the name probably comes from some kind of stone heap. The presence of low sand hills, none of which exceeds 200 ft above sea level, along with the spread of loose surface rocks suggest the presence of large masses of ice during the ice age. These glaciers may also have deposited the spread of rich fertile soil which covers the underlying limestone rock. This good quality farmland attracted settlers from early times and the land was cleared and farmed. The presence of hand made ridges in some stretches of land, which are now considered unsuitable for cultivation with modern methods, suggests that this land once grew crops to feed those settlers.
A short walk from the school through Carnaun to Castle Ellen brings to life, in a real sense, centuries of history. Monuments, though now partly in ruin, offer us an insight, not only into the quality of life of our ancestors but also the lifestyles and indeed the mentality of those who were attracted to the area. Remains of ancient forts, one in Rabbitte’s wood and one on Kennedy’s farm are evidence that the area was settled long before the Normans arrived. Part of the ringfort on Kennedy’s farm is a children’s burial ground referred to as a “Lisheen” and used according to records “only for the interment of unbaptised infants”, although some adults were buried there. A dense mass of small stones set on end in the ground in the North-Eastern section of the enclosed area mark the burial places of those infants, some of whom were buried there as late as the 1940s.
The castle, just to the south of the school and referred to on Ordnance Survey maps as “Convent in Ruins”, was a fortified military structure designed and built by the defense-conscious Norman settlers of medieval times. Sited on a commanding hill with a clear view of King John’s Castle it is well defended by an encircling bank and was, it appears, built as a military outpost and once housed soldiers and horses of the Anglo-Norman army. The grass grown roadway outlined by two earthen banks and leading to the castle was not part of the original stronghold and may have been added later, possibly as late as the 19th century when the castle may have served as a dump for stones cleared from fields.
Castle Ellen Big House and the remains of what was once the Lambert Estate represent an era of deprivation and oppression, felt by our ancestors at the hands of English landlords. The quality of life of five generations of wealthy landlords of English descent was in sharp contrast to that of the poor landless native tenants. The Lambert family lived in an old castle beside where the big house now stands. Castle Ellen townland gets its name from this castle. The townland along with Saint Helen’s and neighbouring townlands is referred to as “Cahir McGrenoge” on a 17th century map. Saint Helen’s gets its name from Saint Helen’s House which is shown on the 1838 ordnance survey map and stood near the site where Gill’s old house used to be (west of Michael Forde’s house). It was here to this house that the Lambert family moved while the new house was being built. Stone from here and from the old Norman tower house at Castle Ellen were used in the new building. Greater attention was paid to the building of the gate lodge, outhouses and yard, which were added later, and for these a better quality stone was brought from quarries in Rockfield and Ballinasloe. The Regan brothers, stonemasons from Athenry, worked for seven years cutting and shaping stone to produce stone-faced buildings of such high quality.
Waiter Peter Lambert, whose name appears on the 1821 census list, was born in 1816 and was landlord until his sudden death in 1892. It is said that he choked while eating breakfast in a Tuam Restaurant. His son Peter Fitzwalter Lambert was in poor health and may as a result have neglected the farm. Captain Walter Peter Lambert, who was still very young when his father died, was the last Lambert landlord. Like his father and grandfather, who were known to the locals as “Watty”, he mixed with local people and was well liked and respected. A measure of his popularity was the reception he got when he returned after his marriage. Many locals attended the celebrations and the party went on for days. He never fully recovered from his experience with the Connacht Rangers during the First World War and when he returned had little interest in the estate which was sold to the Land Commission in 1923. A copy of an order, recording the appointment of A.W. Hazell as receiver to the estate on 30th November, 1910 and ordering tenants to pay rent to him is on file in the High Court in Dublin. Captain Waiter Peter Lambert died in 1977 and is buried in Oughterard.
A regular visitor to the house was Edward Carson, a nephew of landlord Walter Peter Lambert. He is remembered as Sir Edward Carson who later played a major part in the course of Irish history as founder of the Ulster Volunteers. Part of the estate was then divided, the remainder was sold to James McDonald. He lived there for a short time and re-sold it to the Land Commission in 1937 when most of the remainder of the 650 acre estate was divided. For those who were employed there the collapse of the landlord system meant an end to secure jobs at a time when employment was hard to find. Farmers who had campaigned for land welcomed the much needed additions to their holdings. Some had been moved into the area and had worked hard at clearing and improving their farms. They now feared that the landlord would again move them and welcomed the security and the financial help, in the form of low interest loans which the Ashbourne Land Act of 1885 offered them. Land which had been confiscated and planted in the 17th century was now once again in native ownership. This land was originally the property of Maine, an Ulster prince, who came to Connacht sometime in the 4th century. It is said he was given a kingdom in Connacht by Dui, King of Connacht, sometime in the 5th century. The territory comprised the southern part of County Roscommon and the south east of County Galway. The original territory of Maine was gradually extended as the process of absorption of the neighbouring chiefs went on and at a later date it extended as far west as Athenry and the hill of Knock Mas, south of Tuam.
Of the eleven Carnaun families who had members enrolled in Carnaun N. S. during the period from 1893 to 1915, i.e. Mahons, Qualters, Cusacks, Gills, Mullins, Fahys, Fordes, Kennedys, Rabbittes, Joyees, Williarns and Coens, seven still live in Carnaun. The other four families moved to farms in neighbouring townlands: Qualters and Mullins to Pollagh, Mahons to Loughaunenaghan and Gills to Mountain North. The settlement pattern of the 19th century is in sharp contrast to the settled nature of the 20th century. Records show that a Rabbitte family, probably ancestors of the present Rabbitte family, lived in Carnaun 300 years ago and is the only family to have survived this length. The 1821 census shows that along with four Rabbitt families, Morrisseys, Higgins and Hessions lived in Carnaun. According to the 1838 ordnance survey map, four families lived close to where the Kennedys now live, while the others lived beside Rabbitte’s house. There were no houses in Carnaun Village north of Kennedy’s house. It was sometime later that some new families came to live in the village and while those mentioned above have survived to this day, family names such as Hession, Whyte, Monahan and Tierneys (two families) had disappeared by the start of this century. The 1901 census lists Hansberry, Burns and two Hession families in Saint Helens and Lambert, Cahalan and Boyd family names in Castle Ellen. Family names such as Clancy, Forde and Wilson from Castle Ellen appear on the schools early register. Those came to live in Castle Ellen and worked as labourers both skilled and unskilled in the big house. With the increase in employment opportunities in Athenry and Galway in recent times some new families have come to live in the area and so we are now witnessing a new settlement pattern and for the first time in half a century an increase in the number of families in the townland of Carnaun.
The presence of landlords and the occupation of lands which was theirs by right aroused in the people of the area a keen interest in developments, both social and political at local and national level. Indeed many became actively involved in the fight for the land and the struggle for independence. During the Rising of Easter Week 1916, Mick and Martin Joyce, Thomas Coen, Tom and Pat Kennedy, Tom Forde, Phil Fahy and Pat Killeen all deceased members of the Cussane Company of the old I.R.A., from Carnaun, marched with Liam Mellows to Moyode Castle and took command of it. All were later awarded commemorative medals and were granted military pensions in recognition of their services.
Over the years there has always been a keen interest in all forms of sport. The Galway Blazers “Point-to-Point” was staged in Carnaun for a number of years in the forties and fifties. The course ran to the south of a hill on Kennedy’s farm, which acted as a viewing stand. The land here is rough-surfaced in places and this may have been responsible for the number of casualties. Among the popular local winners was Padraic Raftery’s “Monty” who completed the 41/2 miles course and cleared 13 stone wall fences and 4 hurdles to win the farmer’s race as a 40 to 1 outsider. One punter, local workman Micko “Doyle” Monaghan, collected £4 on 2/= invested. Many racing enthusiasts travelled to Ballybrit racecourse to watch the late Tom Varley’s “Castle Ellen” complete a difficult course in the Galway Plate.
The greatest level of participation over the years has been in hurling and football and many played on successful local and parish teams; the Derrydonnell hurling team, the De Wetts football team, Cussane hurling team, Wolfe Tones football team and more recently on St. Mary’s hurling and football teams. Athletics has also attracted great interest and many have competed with considerable success in track and field events. In recent times, Michael and Willie Killeen and Peter Gilhooley have earned quite a reputation in marathon running, Michael Killeen having the distinction of competing in the Galway, Dublin, London and New York marathons.
When Carnaun N. S. was opened on the 6th March 1893, the first pupil to register was Matthias Cusack, Carnaun. By coincidence, the last pupil this year and the eight hundred and ninth girl to be registered is his great grand niece Maria Gilhooley, and so a story which covers one hundred years of the school’s history and spans four generations of pupils continues.
Written by Paddy Forde
Published here 05 Feb 2021
Page 035 of The Carnaun Centenary Book
Athenry Project at United Nations
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