Cultural & Historical Society
Nestled in the geographic centre of Co. Mayo is the historic village of Straide (An Stráid). Although the smallest parish in the smallest diocese (Achonry) of the country, the parish of Straide (more formally known as Templemore) is, undoubtedly, one of the most historic.
Straide Cultural and Historical Society was set up in recent years to document and promote local history and culture. Much is known about Michael Davitt and the Land League. However, this is only one aspect of the community’s noteworthy, and very significant, historical past. Others are mentioned below.
2016 marked a number of significant anniversaries in Ireland. That year also marked a number of anniversaries with local significance. Those anniversaries are documented in a magazine published that year – Historic Straide Celebrates 2016.
Michael Davitt (1846 – 1906)
Straide’s most famous son, Michael Davitt, was born on March 25th 1846. His legacy, stemming from the Land League, would benefit the plight of farmers and tenants for generations. His grave in the local cemetery continues to receive many visitors each year, as does the nearby museum dedicated to his memory.
Ballylahan Castle built c. 1240
Ballylahan Castle was built by the Norman Jordan de Exeter c.1240. Shortly after building his own castle, he also built ten smaller fortifications in the locality for his ten sons. The castle of Atha Leathain (Ballylahan) was a very significant structure. It is one of the oldest and biggest baronial castles in Mayo and the only one whose plan can still be made out. Jordan deExeter rose to the rank of High Sheriff of Connacht. He died at sea in 1258 while defending the Western seaboard against pirates. His sons also rose in prominence and became very influential and powerful, both in the county and in the province. The ruins of Ballylahan Castle are today preserved by the OPW and can be seen along the busy N58.
Straide Friary built c. 1250
Beside where Michael Davitt lies are the ruins of the thirteenth century Straide Friary built by the Mac Jordans who earlier had built Ballylahan Castle. The friary was initially inhabited by Franciscans until, in 1252, it was transferred to the Dominicans by order of the pope who was persuaded to do so by the Mac Jordans. The Dominican presence continued in Straide until 1837 when the last Dominican priest died.
John Moore (1767 – 1799) First President of an Irish Republic
John Moore was the son of a prosperous merchant, George Moore, from Ashbrook in Straide. George Moore, upon return from Spain, built Moore Hall in 1795 on the shores of Lough Carra as a new family home. At the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 a force of 1,000 French soldiers, under General Humbert, landed at Killala. John Moore joined the French, as did a considerable number of his tenants. On August 31st 1798 (four days after success at the Battle of Castlebar) General Humbert issued a decree appointing John Moore as the President of the Government of the Province of Connacht. The new republic was short-lived. Moore was captured by the British and died a few weeks later in Waterford while being taken prisoner to Duncannon Fort in Wexford. He was buried in Wexford. In 1961, upon the rediscovery of his grave, his remains were exhumed and reinterred in the Mall, Castlebar. The inscription over his grave reads: “Ireland’s first president and a descendant of St Thomas More, who gave his life for his country in the rising of 1798 … By the will of the people exhumed and reinterred here with all honours of church and state.”
Many members of the Moore family are buried in Ashbrook House, Straide – the family’s old ancestral home.
Anne Deane (1834 – 1905) President of the Ladies Land League
In January 1881, when the Leaders of the Irish Land League were under threat of being arrested by the British Government, Anna Parnell (encouraged by Michael Davitt) set up the Ladies Land League along with her sister Fanny, Anne Deane (Ballaghaderreen, Co. Mayo) and Bea Walsh (Balla, Co. Mayo). Anne Deane would become its first President. While the church and political leaders, including C.S Parnell, were opposed to the Ladies’ Land League, these female figures attracted huge crowds at the Land meetings. They became very successful in helping many tenants to retain their land holdings by raising funds, building temporary huts and preventing land grabbing. Apart, altogether, from her work with the Land League, Anne Deane was very highly regarded for her charitable works.
She was responsible for encouraging her life-long friend, Agnes Morrogh-Bernard, to come to Foxford and establish a Convent there as well as setting up the woollen mills to offer much needed employment to the locals. Anne Deane is buried in Straide Abbey under a monument erected to her memory by her cousin, John Dillon, Member of Parliament for East Mayo, who lauded her for her loving kindness and generosity. Her very ornate headstone was carved by Padraig Pearse’s father, James, who was a noted stonemason. The inscription on the headstone reads “In this grave is buried Anne Deane, wife of Edward Deane, born Anne Duffe of Ballaghadereen. She was a great friend of the poor and oppressed, a lover of Ireland and of liberty. This monument is erected to her memory by her cousin, John Dillon, Member of Parliament for East Mayo, who owes his life and all that he possesses to her loving kindness and generosity.”
Tadhg O’hUiginn The Match Stick Man and Bard of Straide (c. 1550 – 1591)
A well-known late-Gaelic era poet, Tadhg Dall Ó hÚigínn was a member of a family of professional poets from north Connacht. He was called dall because he was blind. His brother, Maol Muire Ó hÚigínn (died in 1590), was Archbishop of Tuam. Tadhg had lands at Achonry, Kilmactigue and other parcels of land scattered throughout county Sligo.
Tadhg once had the misfortune to become involved in a bitter dispute between two branches of the Ó hEadhra (O’Hara) family – the Ó hEadhra Buí (Yellow) clan and the Ó hEadhra Rua (Red) clan. Legend has it that Tadgh was murdered in Banada (Sligo) at Corpus Christi Friary on a Sunday afternoon of March in 1591 by members of the Ó hEadhra Rua clan. The murderers were eventually captured and taken to Sligo where, in 1593, they were tried for the crime. However, due to a surprising lack of witnesses and evidence, they were released without charge.
Tradition holds that Tadgh Dall O’Huigínn was buried in the grounds of Straide Abbey, as many of his ancestors hailed from the area. His unnamed grave remains visible today. It is marked by a simple grave stone marker which shows a carving of a matchstick man superimposed on a Celtic cross. Over four hundred years later his memory lives on. Tadhg O’hUiginn is, today, commonly referred to as the Bard of Straide or the Match Stick Man of Straide.
The Old Penal Church
The church which was in use prior to the present one is, today, home to the Michael Davitt Museum. It contains many artefacts connected to the life and times of the Irish patriot. The building dates back to the penal days. When in use as a church, it was here that the infant Michael Davitt was baptised in 1846 at the height of the Great Famine. Upon the opening of the new church, after centuries of use as a place of worship, it now functioned as a community hall. In 2016, to mark its closure as a Church and, also, the opening of the new church, Mass was celebrated in the building for the first time in 100 years.
Church of Ss. Peter & Paul’s Church – (built 1914 – 1916)
The foundation stone of Straide Church was blessed on Sunday, June 28th 1914 (the eve of the feast of Ss. Peter & Paul) by Bishop Patrick Morrisroe. Over 5,000 people turned out to witness the event – practically every man, woman and child in the parish of Straide as well as many others from far and wide. By all accounts it was a spectacular occasion.
The architect for this cut stone church (one of the last to be built in the country) was William H. Byrne & Son, Suffolk Street, Dublin. The builder was John Mulligan & Brothers, Swinford. The Church took two years to complete and cost £4,000 – equivalent to €625,000 today.
The Church was consecrated and opened on Sunday, August 27th 1916 by Bishop Patrick Morrisroe who described it as “a little corner of heaven come down to earth.” It was originally intended that the Church would be called “The Davitt Memorial Church” as a memorial to Straide’s most famous son, Michael Davitt. It seems, however that Davitt, in his will, expressed a desire that his name should not be used in connection with any public monument. Thus, it was that in deference to his own and his relatives’ wishes, there was no reference to his name in connection with the new building (which was dedicated to Ss. Peter & Paul) or with the ceremonies of dedication and opening.