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Castles and Manors

SHRULE – J.F. Quinn’s History

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In the parish were three ancient churches. three abbeys and six castles. Shrule is of Patrician origin. In ancient days the name was applied to a deanery, which comprised not less than three baronies, namely, Kilmaine, Ross and Ballinahench,embracing nineteen churches within its limits. The territory within the confines of the present parish was, in the 15th and 16th centuries, parcelled out into three separate parishes, which were then both rectories and vicarages – Shrule, Kinlough and Killeenbrenan. It is, therefore, a composite parish. The names of the two latter have been long off the list of even the very old parishes. The entire area within the parish is very historic, and contains the ruins of three ancient churches and two abbeys. A third is mentioned, but it is doubtful. We also found within its limits the ruins of six castles. There were the churches of Shrule, Kinlough and Killeenbrenan, the abbeys of Killeenbrenan (Moorgagagh, the split church), and Moyne, the one of doubtful origin being Clogvanaba. There were castles at Shrule, Kinlough, Moyne, Ballycurrin, Moycarra and Ballisnahyny.

The Old Castles

There, were six old castles in Shrule parish- Shrule. Kinlough, Moyne, Ballycurrin, Ballisnahyny and Moycharra. Kinlough was one of three in Kilmaine barony that belonged to MacWilliam Burke, the chief overlord of the De Burgo clans. Moycharra, or Moycharra, belonged to the MacDonnell Gallowglass. This tribe had castles and lands all over Mayo, and got them as eric or warpay from the De Burgos, they being fierce mercenary soldiers, originally from Scotland and the Isles, who hired themselves out to Irish chieftains for war purposes and eventually they became strong and assumed chieftainship. In the subsequent years they were harassed by the British and it became a penal offence for Irish chiefs to hire them. For the most part those who held castles and lands in Mayo were the MacDonnells of the Scotch Isles, who settled in Antrim, and then came westwards. Speaking the Gaelic tongue they did so well out of war service in Connaught that they came to make raids on their own, and generally did a lot of destruction before they were either beaten off or exterminated. Many of them became permanent Irish leaders and patriots and the British generally seemed to have a special detestation for them. The Annals describe them as “well-appointed men of arms, and the stoutest men of their faculty.” The occupants of these castles were all Catholics down to the seventeenth century. Wm. Burke of Shrule, backed by a large array, was a claimant for the MacWilliamship at Rausakeera royal fort in Kilmaine in 1595. It was to be the last foregathering of the Northern and Western Irish chieftains when they assembled at this confederation at the gloomy and foreboding closing of the sixteenth century.


This strong construction was erected about 1238, and had an uneventful history down to 1570, when it was captured by Sir Edward Fitton and a strong British force, who on this trip took all the castles of Kilmaine. The De Burgos and McDonnells came to the rescue of Burke of Shrule, broke and pursued the English army, but the event of the battle was doubtful. The Saxons kept the field, and with cajolery and treachery held it as far as the Kilmaine chiefs were concerned. Fitton himself was wounded. Wm. Burke occupied the castle, in 1574; John, his son, in 1610; Richard Burke, the Earl of Clanricarde, got the castle and lands to the extent of four quarters about this time, and leased them to Pierce Lynch of Galway. The massacre of Shrule in 1641 has already been referred to.


This was a MacWilliam castle, and had a church close by. John Brown, of The Neale, described it in his map of 1584 as a “MacWilliam House.” The MacWilliam Eighter, who was then Sir John Fitz-Oliver Burke, lived there in 1574; Sir Richard Fitz-Oliver in 1618, and his son, Walter, mortgaged it to Sir Valentine Blake, Menlough, in 1628. Sir Thos. Blake leased it to John Darcy in 1668, and Pierce Joyce purchased the lands in 1852.


This structure stood on the Black River and was surrounded by six quarters of castle lands. It is a massive square tower, with a spiral staircase. David MacJonyn (Jennings) Blake was owner in 1574, and Ulick, Earl of Clanricarde, then got it by confiscation in 1585. Richard, his successor, got a re-grant of the castle, and four quarters of land in 1610. George French was occupant in 1678, and in 1683 Thomas Blake got it on lease from William Earl of Clanricarde. The Blakes retained it until 1750, when they moved to Merlin Park (Galway). Martin K. Blake resided there until 1838, when it was let to Patrick Henry Lynch, who -was regarded as a “millionaire.” This gentleman, afterwards resided at Strand Hill, near Cong, and was long a “Sunday man.” He was father of Henry M. Lynch one of the defendants in the very protracted law suit of Lynch v. Clerkin (1898-1901), also of Julia Lynch, the Ballinrobe nun, who founded convents in America. The Blake interest was sold in 1853 to Joseph Burke and Paul Ward.

Ballycurrin , Ballisnahyny and Moycharra

Currin or Marsh was the original name of Ballycurrin castle. It was then a MacShoneen stronghold. Ulick MacShoneen Burke occupied it in 1574. It does not figure in the Annals. Richard, Earl of Clanricarde, got it in 1610. It was leased to the Lynchs, who retained it until Chas. Lynch, of Ballycurrin, died in 1897. Mr. Clerkin held it in modern times, and it was burned some years ago. Ballisnahyny seems to have derived its name from Lisnaheighnighe, which is mentioned in the “Historia et Genealogia” of the De Burgos (1578). It was also mentioned in the Division of Connaught in 1574 as a De Burgo castle, and William Burke was the then occupant. The ancient “liss” surrounds it, and gives the castle its name. Moycharra castle was also a De Burgo castle, and given to the MacDonnells for war services. This castle was in the territory anciently called.”Eraght Thomas,” which consisted of eight towns divided among eight brothers. Two of these sold Moyne to Clanricarde, also its four quarters of land. David MacEdmund MacUlick, the MacWilliam of the time, let 440 quarters to Clanricarde at a rental and this same Earl purchased Moycharra castle from the MacDonnells. The Earl then let all the lands again to the MacShoneens, MacMylers and MacGibbons at a rental. These were all de Burgos, snuffed out by the confiscations, when Clanricarde and others shut out all the old owners by taking the lands directly from the Crown.

Legal chicanery

The whole process seems to have been legal chicanery to oust the Burkes and invalidate their titles, and no wonder Richard, son of John of the Termon, who then lived in Ballinrobe castle, went into rebellion, and prevented the clansmen from paying any rent to the grasping Clanricarde. However, it was only prolonging the evil hour and wasting the country. I have told how Bingham, persecuted, murdered and robbed the Burkes.

Names And Religion Changed

The MacShoneens changed their names to Jennings, and their religion in many instances. Indeed except the Browns, of Brownstown; the Burkes, of Ower; the Blakes, of Tower Hill, and some of Galway, practically all the old families of South Mayo and North Galway embraced the new religion, the law of the land established in order to share in the spoils of confiscation. They certainly got them in abundance! Almost all have melted and are forgotten already. The once powerful Jennings sank to a low level. The rest of them all died at Mount Jennings, near Hollymount. There are five or six tombs of Protestant Jennings in Kilmaine Protestant graveyard, and other tombstones tell similar tales of other renegade families. Walter MacShoneen Burke’s clan or people owned Ballisnahyny castle, and the clan of Thomas Burke owned Moycharra, Ballycurrin and Dalgan estates.

Two Holy Wells

“There is an old church near the village of Sruille, but it is not one of the ancient Irish churches; it is in the Gothic style, and certainly built by the Burkes,” continues O’Donovan. “In this parish is situate Cionn Locha (Head of the Lakes), now anglicised Kinlough, where there are an old castle and church, the erection of which are ascribed by tradition to the family of Burke. This place is mentioned by the Four Masters at the year 1596 as in the country of the MacWilliam Iochtair Burke. Beside that of Sruille, there are two square castles in this parish, whose erection is also attributed to the Burkes, but of which no history is known. There is one in Ballynahyny and another at Ballycurrin. There are two holy wells in the parish, one in the West side of the townland of Rathmoling, called Tobar Chairain (fans Sancti Kierani), and the other in the demesne of Dalgan, called the well of Lough Ree, but the name of the saint who originally blessed it is forgotten. The tradition of the battle of Sruille is distinct (vivid) in the country, and the name is accounted for by a fabrication that a stream of blood or sruth-fuil ran by the castle at the time.”

JF Quinn

J.F. Quinn series of articles on Mayo history published in the Western People during the 1930s

History of Mayo

by J. F. Quinn , Brendan Quinn
ISBN 0951928007 (0-9519280-0-7)
Hardcover, Brendan Quinn

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