“The Lamberts of Athenry” – Review – August 1999

Home » Library » The Lamberts of Athenry Book » Record

“The Book Shelf” by Tony Galvin – Saturday, August 21,1999 The Tuam Herald

“The Lamberts and their like helped make us what we are”!

Doing full credit to a marvellous and absorbing volume such as Finbarr O’Regan’s The Lamberts of Athenry is almost an impossible task because of the nature of space constraints in a newspaper – attempting to list the material contained let alone its merits could drive a reviewer demented.

Suffice to say that this is a thoroughly enjoyable read and a significant contribution to the understanding of the history and heritage of not only the Athenry area but the West of Ireland and indeed the country as a whole.
The volume was born of the efforts of Finbarr O’Regan and his team of young researchers at Carnaun National School who set out to record the history and heritage of their area using the story of the Lambert families as a nucleus to weave this great story around.  Its publication coincided with the holding of a very successful symposium on the history of the Lambert family held in June.

The area around Athenry boasts an unusually high number of grand houses, explained by one contributor as partly the result of the Tribes of Galway moving out to country estates but still wishing to remain within travelling distance of the city – the source of the mercantile wealth which allowed the luxury of acquiring country estates in the first place.

A map on page 59 pinpointing some of the ‘Big Houses’ around Athenry accompanies an chapter entitled ‘Landlords and Gentry around Athenry’ which was contributed by Patrick Melvin, Leinster House Librarian.
This article provides a fascinating insight into the ebbs and flows of the fortunes of many of the landed gentry of the area and how far from a stable and secure existence many of them actually led.  Debt and death ensured that estates constantly changed hands and with this in mind it is remarkable that so much has been gleaned on the Lambert family and compiled in this valuable publication.
Athenry’s medieval heritage has deservedly won attention and wider recognition in recent years but this book redresses the historical imbalance by highlighting the rich heritage which lies beyond the ancient walls of the town.
History did not stop here once the town went into decline.  The rich farmland and access to the port of Galway attracted the attention of adventurers and planters and the Lambert family settled in Ireland as beneficiaries of Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing.
And so what became known as the Protestant Ascendancy obtained a firm grip on the land of Ireland which was not to be relinquished until the Land Acts of the late 19th century.
What makes this volume so interesting is that every effort has been made to trace the local linkages so the reader can trace the progress of history through the familiar landmarks of the area.

Some of the ‘Big Houses’ are still in use, most like Belleville are ghostly ruins and a few like Castle Ellen are gaining a new lease of life and once again finding a role in the community.
Whatever our feelings about the landed gentry, history in the light of the Famine and land clearances had understandably not been kind to their class, we must accept that they played an integral role in the shaping of modern Ireland and who we are today.
This invaluable publication by recording one small area of the country’s history in microcosm not only gives us a fascinating insight into local history but instils in the reader a clearer understanding of our general history, in the greater picture.

The Lamberts of Athenry is not just the story of one extended family, it is the story of an area illustrating in an accessible and entertaining manner where that family fitted into the overall picture.
The reader can trace the story of the locality from Norman times, through wars and rebellions, famine and land agitation and meet figures such as Edward Carson who played hurling as a youth in the fields around Castle Ellen.
Great care has been taken to bring history alive for the reader and the inclusion of Castle Lambert Tapes, recorded accounts of troubled times as recalled or told by local people, brings history alive and brings the connection between the generations up to date.
Indeed, my own favourite tape is an account of how Isaac Butt, the great Westminster parliamentarian, defended a man named Barrett who was accused of attempting to assassinate a landlord known as Captain Lambert on July 11th 1869.
It seems that Barrett’s father had been evicted from his holding at Moorpark by the Captain and his son travelled from London to get revenge. The landlord was shot but not killed and Barrett was brought to trial.
And now comes the most interesting part of the story. Three witnesses were  presented before a court, presumably in Galway, two of whom testified that it was not Barrett who was seen in the area and the third claiming it was because, according to the teller of the tale, he expected a reward for doing so.
The judge, showing the wisdom of Solomon, gave the witnesses a needle and thread each. The first two managed to thread their needles but the witness who claimed Barrett did the deed could not and so the case was dismissed. What need of legal eagles like Butt when there was a foolproof system like this of ascertaining the truth.
This volume is highly recommended for anyone who has the slightest interest in  our history, both local and national, and is a credit to all concerned.

“The Book Shelf” by Tony Galvin for The Tuam Herald Saturday, August 21. 1999

Note: See also -A report in The Tuam Herald, Saturday, July 24, 1999 by Tony Galvin – The History of the Athenry Corporate Mace and Seal

– –

About this record

Written by Tony Galvin, Tuam Herald

Published here 16 Jul 2023 and originally published 1999

Page 012 of the The Lamberts of Athenry Book archive.

– –