Historical tours of old Castlebar with Brian Hoban

HISTORICAL evening tours of old Castlebar have recommenced with Bord Fáilte certified heritage tour guide Brian Hoban, writes Tom Gillespie.

They take place every Wednesday evening, assembling at the Courthouse at 7 p.m. and last one hour.

Meanwhile, on a Wednesday mornings in July and August he conducts a one-hour tour of the Lough Lannagh area, assembling at the car park at 10.30 a.m. where Brian pinpoints all the historical sites in that area. However, because of the Covid-19 crisis numbers are limited and the cost is €5 per head.

Brian, a fluent Irish speaker, is doing the tours for 15 years and he told me how he became involved in this sector, stating: "Many years ago we did a project for the Castlebar Ramblers Club on the history of Castlebar and I began to identify with a sense of place. When I was going to school I had no interest in history. After I finished up in the family shop I started to look at the interests I had.

"I knew one of my strongest skills was people. I dealt with people all my life in the shop and I had an interest in local history. Around that same time my dad died and I began to have some regrets that I did not record a lot of his memories.

"Over a period of time I began to delve a bit more into local history. I got the opportunity to go on a training scheme in Newport where I was doing some research into local history to put up on the Mayo On The Move website, and in return for that we got ECDL qualification.

"Around the same time a course became available in GMIT in guiding. I had to borrow money myself to do the course. Nearly everyone else on the course were from Gaeltacht regions and they got funding from Udaras na Gaeltachta. We did some of our training down in Erris and we had two juniors who were Irish speakers and I was the only one who could speak Irish to them."

Brian went on: "I decided I would try out these tours. At first I was very nervous. I did out cue cards for myself with the key points I wanted to put across. I would rarely use them now but I carry them with me all the time. They are like a little security.

"The first couple of years were successful enough and I got quite a good few people. But then they began to dwindle. They are the type of things you will not get very rich or famous on. But I do it for the love of it.

"Sharing local history is a labour of love. I found that since I started it I have become far more objective. As a child I would have been indoctrinated with republican history because my dad and all belonged to him were involved in the Troubles. When I started doing research I began to see things in a different light. I discovered that after the split in 1922 my grandfather, who was a leader of the IRB here, went with Collins as pro-treaty and the 16 in his family went anti-treaty. But I did not hear anything about that republican stuff because the people of that generation never talked about it.

"At that time everyone in Castlebar were republican in their outlook even though Castlebar was very much a garrison and pro-British town. The river divided the town. You had the higher end and the lower end.

"Up the Mall end was where the aristocracy and the better class people resided. The people from the republican side were all from the lower end in Sruffran, Newantrim Street, Tucker Street, Linenhall Street, and Lucan Street. Eight or nine members of Castlebar Mitchels were county players and they were nearly all of the lower end of the town. A lot of the people who got houses on McHale Road would have been from the lower end originally.

"I start the tour at Rock Square and I tell them about Barry’s Castle going back to 1235.

"A lot of the stuff I would share would have been passed down in the old tradition by word of mouth and up to very recently was regarded as not being important at all. Nowadays the folklore is seen as more important and the fact it has survived all down generations there has to be a certain basis to it.

"I talk then about the Lucans and especially about the third Earl who was nicknamed in the British press as the Great Exterminator. I do a bit on the Famine and how the Lucans treated their tenants without a social conscience. The tenant farmer was not really paying and a lot of the landlords were getting into this ranch-style farming. They cleared out their estates, evicted their tenants to run this ranch style farm and they developed, as they did here in Castlebar, a model farm.

"Under the composition of Connaught in 1585 Castlebar was granted a charter. In 1691 the first garrison was set up in Castlebar for strategic reasons. Castlebar at this stage was the second largest outpost in the region, second only to Galway. The present barracks was built in 1828 on the site of the earlier barracks. The castle was on a site on portion of the barracks overlooking a turning on the river.

"I talk then about how the history of Castlebar evolved around this. We look at the derelict site where the convent used to stand which once was Lord Lucan’s merchant bank.

"Where the boxing club used to be was once a Church of Ireland parochial hall. In the time of the Famine it was known as the Mall school. The rector at the time was Barker Stoney and he was involved with the Church Mission Society, an evangelical body that indoctrinated Catholics in the Protestant faith. They were fed soup or Indian meal on condition that they changed their religion. Quite a lot of people did and particularly in the Ballyheane area.

"In 1860 the Archbishop of Tuam, John McHale, became so concerned with the amount of evangelisation that he invited the Franciscans into the diocese and set up a number of Franciscan monasteries. One was set up in Bunacurry in Achill to combat the evangelisation. Another was set up in Tourmakeady. To combat the spread in Ballyheane, Errew Monastery was established. The practice became known as souperasim. Some of the people changed back to become Catholics again, and those people were called Jumpers."

The Mall area of the town is soaked in history which Brian explains in detail to the tour participants. The cost of the evening tour is €8 per head.

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