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SHRULE – J.F. Quinn’s History

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The Old Manors

After the Normans had found their feet in Ireland they made elaborate preparations to hold on, erecting strongholds, in the vicinity of which they encouraged their fighting men and income producers on the land to place their dwellings. They formed both in England and Ireland what are still known as the Manor, and the head men, known as the Barons, encouraged the erection of small towns, given the status of boroughs for local administrative purposes, and in this way we had over a score of corporate towns in Mayo, most of which have ceased to exist. Amongst them was Shruher, still obtaining as Shrule, placed in the far end of the county, yet a place of considerable importance in those times. The Normans, who at the time were of superior intelligence, granted land on easy terms to encourage the building of towns. This was and is known as Burgage tenure, giving rise to the Irish Burghus, called Burgs in Scotland, and in England and Ireland “Boroughs.” The places still known as Burris and Burg are a survival recording the existence of the old towns.

We have still evidence that such places existed in Mayo, for we have the Manors of Moyne, Cong, Straide, Shrule, Kilveen (taken to be Kilmaine, or it could be Kilvine, the ancient name of Ballindine, and there is a townland called Burris there). Ballinrobe, Burrishoole, Aughagower, Kilmoremoy, Burriscarra, Castlekirke (which is supposed to be Barrett’s Castle, near Foxford), Ballylahan (Straide), Ballymonagh (which cannot for now be placed), Ross (near Killala), Mayo, Castlemore, MacCostello (Ballaghaderreen) and Lehench.These Manors were broken up under the Composition, and while we still have the ruins of most of the old castles, we know but little about the extent of the territories. I have already described how these ancient structures were built, there being no doors or windows on the ground floor, the only opening being slits for the discharge of weapons of defence, access to the upper chambers being by ladder. This was a security procedure taken against robbers and raiders, however when the conditions became more normal flights of stone stairs were erected. One of such a type were castles of Ballykine, Cushlough, Ballinahiney and others in the barony of Kilmaine.

A Single Exception

When the Barons had developed the country somewhat, and were able to live in peace, many of the old castles were re-converted, and the new ones put up indicate a changed conditions of things, the disorders -starting early in the 14th century resulting in the erection of strong defensive walls round many of the castles, like the gigantic barricade that was put round Doonamona, the Hag’s Castle and Ballyloughmask. We have one bare instance of the extent of the manors, and that in regard to Lehinch, near Hollymount. Some details of it are furnished by a law suit in the reign of Edward 11. (crowned in 1307 and murdered in Berkeley Castle twenty years later), when one of the Great Prendergasts, who gave name to the barony of Clanmorris, sued the Roches for recovery of the lands of the Manor. The result is not given, but apparently Prendergast lost, as in the same reign we had Roche’s widow successfully suing for dower. There were also other lawsuits in the same regard and we have mentioned the villas of Coolcan, Coolisel (Lisatava), Ballylayne, Dericoul Oughteragh, Derinrus, Bailibloghan, Ardalas, Synnaghcathyn, Skealoghan, Moneycrower, Lathathlong, Derineserchath, Kilglassan, and Carthy (Camas). The Manor was in the parish of Kilcommon, and the site was within the Hollymount demesne, within which Lehench demesne is still pointed out, but it was obliterated long ago, and before the mansion known as Hollymount House was built by Spencer Lyndsay.

Religion Of The Normans

Mayo writers, including Ruskin, would like us to throw dirty water on the Normans, to try and apologise for their zeal in church building, and would have us understand it was all make-believe, to curry favour by conforming to the practices of those they conquer or in other words, to make themselves popular. It is alleged they never conformed properly to Christianity, but we know this to be a lie, though they were fierce soldiers, always ready to use the sword to enforce their will. A conquering race, never put God in the forefront, but to say the Normans conformed to Christianity only as far as it suited them, and that they put up altars to decieve God and stay His hand against their acts of tyranny and bloodshed is in contradiction of the facts. We have to admit they were of the superior intelligence at the time, the Irish being steeped in ignorance and slavery. Since their coming, very early in the 11th century, many noble churches in England and Ireland were erected by them. We are now asked to believe they were barbarians, and that the noble abbeys and churches they built in Mayo and liberally endowed was part of their programme to enlist the services of God in their work of conquest.

Real Test

Even when the Normans were compelled to bend the knee to “England”, even when they had been robbed of their lands, they did not abandon the Catholic faith. The strongest proof we can have of this is their wills. I have quoted some of them, and certainly they did not indicate they had made religion a blind. We have had many Norman descendants zealous Catholic Bishops; we had some great and distinguished nuns, and I have quoted references from the Irish and Papal records showing the motives moving them when they established monasteries, many of the founders of the families taking the habit, and ending their lives in the cloister. Under diabolical pressure many did apostatise to try and hold the land, but not a whit quicker than many of the native Irish

The Moral Code

These same writers, without any foundation in fact, also assail the moral code operating under the Norman sway. It was in fact higher than in any European country. Even with all the impositions of the Normans, the high tradition of the Brehon Code survived, and early marriages were the custom. Grace O’Malley has not escaped the mud of hostile writers, and we have many at home who sneer at her and tell us extraordinary stories about her. She lived her life decently in rude times, and was not niggardly in the endownment of monasteries, churches and convents. Her strong forte was early marriages for her people, and in the battle, apportionment of land and fishing rights the bachelor did not get preference. The Normans realising the importance of this canon, also encouraged it, and execution for the moral delinquent was not uncommon. The low moral code introduced by the British was not common to the soldier only. The new overlords had no moral code. The law winked at their grave faults, and the British Government gave us the poorhouses to help to cover them up. The end of the revolting practices was not the introduction of a higher moral code, but the land laws, which finally released the tenants from their clutches, then the passage of the Law Amendment Act, and legislation which made the profligate civilly liable for his sins.

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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