and murder in Castlebar
As a child growing up in Castlebar, Turlough Park, a few
miles outside the town was a place of mystery, legend and
above all the source of grizzly ghost stories.
Tales of murder, hangings, people being kept prisoner in
secret rooms, torture and all sorts of cruelties entertained
and enthralled us during daylight, kept us terrified and
awake through the hours of darkness.
How amusing it is now to find that apart from the fact that
all the above mentioned horrors had not happened while we
were a few miles away in school, the stories surrounding
the eerie gothic pile sitting in the Mayo countryside, believe
it or not, were all true.
Today Turlough Park is home to the magnificent National
Museum of Country Life which is without doubt one of the
most interesting and worthwhile visitor attractions in the
West of Ireland. But in 1786 it was the setting for a terrible
tale of death, cruelty and terrible retribution when the
most notorious member of the Fitzgerald family came to a
sticky end at the end of a rope in Castlebar.
I gleaned the facts which formed the basis of my childhood
scare stories when on a recent visit to Turlough Park I
picked up a copy of Turlough Park & the Fitzgeralds
which contains a brief account of the fascinating life &
Times of one George Robert Fitzgerald, better known as Fighting
The last of the Fitzgeralds left Turlough Park in 1991 and
Patrick Butler who lived there from childhood until then
has put together a concise and very readable potted history
of the family and Turlough Park itself.
Turlough Park & The Fitzgeralds traces the family from
their origins in Florence: the Gherardini were one of the
noble families of that great city state. They moved from
Italy to Normandy, then to Britain via the Norman conquests
and on to Ireland where they became part of the Geraldine
nobility and eventually the Fitzgeralds.
John Fitzgerald got the To Hell or to Connacht
Ultimatum in 1653 and the Mayo dynasty begun.
By one of those happy incidents of synchromicity which delight
bibliophiles, on relating the tale of the bold George Robert
to my father, Tom Galvin, he was in a position to verify
the account and even flesh it out further with a contemporaneous
account of his trial and execution.
My father now only knew of the Fitzgeralds of Turlough Park
from his days as a vet in Mayo but recalled picking up a
book in a second-hand book shop in Claremorris in the 1950s
which had an account of the tale concerned.
Sure enough a perusal of his library unearthed a copy of
Oliver J. Burkes Anecdotes of the Connacht Circuit,
subtitled From Its Foundation in 1604 to Close Upon
the Present Time. The present time being 1885. The
authors address is given as Owner, Headford and the
last owner was one Connor Maguire, MD Claremorris, before
it passed into the Galvin estate. Although, truth be told
title could yet be subject to litigation as I note a stamp
indicating that it was once the property of the Incorporated
Law Society of Ireland.
The Fighting Fitzgerald
George Robert Fitzgerald was born in 1748 and squeezed quite
a lot into the 38 years between this even and his hanging
in Castlebar in 1786. Educated at Eton, he joined the army
at 17. He was a favourite at the French court before being
caught cheating at the gaming tables and making a nuisance
of himself because of his fondness for duelling.
Posted to Galway in 1767, he was shot in the skull in yet
another duel and some account his even more irrational behaviour
from this date.
He is said to have fought a legendary number of duels in
his short career, including one with Humanity Dick Martin.
In short he was a wild man and lived the life of a rake,
and his relationships with his father and family were not
good, to say the least.
George Robert took debt seriously, at least debts owed to
him. When his father reneged on payment due to him he was
chained to Roberts pet bear. On another occasion he
was tied to a dray and abandoned and later incarcerated
him in a cave.
For these cruelties he was imprisoned in Castlebar jail
and fined £500 but he escaped and took his long-suffering
father off to an island in Sligo Bay before being re-arrested
and put back in irons.
Influential friends got him free again and back in Turlough
he set up his own group of Volunteers and fortified a rath
on his property with Cannon. This family feud set in train
a series of events which came to a head on the Castlebar
gallows late one June night.
Courtesy of Tony Galvin and the Tuam Herald