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Birr Historical Society gets 2018 season off to a good start

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Birr Historical Society gets 2018 season off to a good start thumbnailThe late Gerry Hoare second from right pictured at Birr Historical Society's 2017 Heritage week tour of Crinkill.

BIRR Historical Society began their 2018 season with a most interesting talk on Lord Dunkellin, by noted Portumna historian John Joe Conwell.

A large audience turned out on the evening despite the inclement weather of mid-January. Their efforts were rewarded by what turned out to be a most fascinating story of a famous member, of a leading Anglo-Irish family.

Brian Kennedy, President of Birr Historical Society, began by welcoming members and guests to the County Arms Hotel for what he hoped would be an enriching historical year for all their members. He noted, however, that Birr Historical Society was greatly saddened by the passing of life long member Gerry Hoare, since their December meeting.

He recalled how Gerry was a constant presence at all the society's activities. Gerry had a wonderful store of local historical knowledge and was always ready to reminisce on Birr, in bygone days.

Brian recalled how he, secretary Jimmy Shortt and several members enjoyed Gerry's company at the Heritage Seminar walk in Birr Castle grounds just a month before his unexpected demise. He concluded by expressing the sympathy of members to Gerry's wife Mary, sons, daughters and extended family on their sad loss.

A vote of sympathy was also extended to member Willie Eades on the sudden death of his sister Hazel Eades-Mellsop, Hazel's mother Betty, husband Bobby and extended family were included in the sympathy. A minute's silence was observed as a mark of respect.

John Joe began his talk with a potted summary of the de Burgo or Burke family from their arrival in Ireland at the time of the Norman Conquest. The Burkes of Clanrickarde were a formidable family with many power bases in Galway and lands stretching from Clifden to Portumna.

400 years ago this year, the Clanrickardes established what would become their headquarters in Portumna Castle. Many are familiar with this magnificently restored building.


When it was accidently destroyed by fire in the early 19th century it was replaced by a mansion, never fully completed, in what is now the carpark of Portumna Forest Park. The cut-stone from this house (also destroyed accidentally destroyed by fire in the early 1920's) was used to build Portumna's, St Bridget's Church, which opened in May 1961.

John Joe brought the audience on a fascinating journey through the short 40-year life span (1829-1869) of Ulick de Burgh (Lord Dunkellin). An MP for the area he was also responsible for the estates in the Portumna neighbourhood. A popular landlord, he lived a life of excess as did so many of his class.


In the end he died seven years before his father and was succeeded to the Clanrickarde title by his notorious younger brother Hubert, known as "the Miser Earl". Hubert, as 15th Earl, was unlike his brother a most unpopular man and responsible for many evictions in the Woodford area.

Following Ulick's untimely death in 1869, a committee was established to erect a memorial to him. Interestingly only people from Galway could contribute to this memorial. They commissioned John Henry Foley the noted sculptor to create a statue for Eyre Square in Galway.


Interestingly, as John Joe mentioned, Foley also sculpted the statue of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, in John's Place, as Jimmy Shortt had pointed out in the invitation sent to members for the meeting. The Galway statue was unceremoniously dragged from its pedestal in 1922 and dumped in the Corrib. This action, apart from the national struggle of the day, was probably influence by the unpopularity of the Clanrickarde family, due to Hubert's actions.

The talk was followed by a question and answer session. Concluding the meeting Brian Kennedy thanked John Joe Conwell for his talk and reminded members David Broderick would speak on the Heads of Derrylahan and the burning of their house during the War of Independence, on Monday February 19.

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