One of Castlebar's foremost buildings - a pre-Famine hotel - has received a facelift
Burleigh House overlooking The Mall – the full story of a property dating back to circa 1800
By Alan King
Burleigh House, a townhouse which is located on Ellison Street, dates from about 1800 and was one of the largest in the town.
A terraced, four bay, three storey building over a basement, it borrows from both Classic and Georgian styles.
The name ‘Burleigh’ (or Burghley) has been speculated to refer to Sir William Cecil, first Baron Burghley who was the chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Sir Richard Bingham (1528-1599), who was later appointed Lord President of Connaught, had worked for him and gathered intelligence on his behalf during various European wars.
Bingham’s descendants later became Earls of Lucan and presumably named the house in Burghley’s honour.
It is believed that Major General George O’Malley (1780-1843), Commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 44th Regiment at the Battle of Waterloo, lived in the house.
He had been a volunteer in the Castlebar yeomanry when General Humbert attacked the town in 1798.
His brother Owen resided in nearby Spencer Park whilst his niece Elizabeth married Dr. Edward Knott, Mayo County Surgeon (1807-1871). A monument to O’Malley was erected across the road in the grounds of Christ Church and may be viewed to this day.
Before the Famine, it is believed that the building was run as ‘Foy’s Hotel’ by a Thomas Gildea from Cloonagashel, Ballinrobe. He held the office of Clerk of the Peace and owned extensive property in Mayo.
During the Famine period, the hotel was used as an ‘auxiliary’ or extra Workhouse when the main Workhouse in the town became overcrowded due to evictions and hunger.
The next resident was Dr. Myles D’Exeter Jordan (1835-1903) who was Coroner for West Mayo and held the position of Medical Officer of the Castlebar Poor Law Union for forty years.
A nationalist and vice-president of the United Irish League, many public meetings took place at the rear of the building and the steps at the front door.
The building was leased in 1915 to Thomas Murphy (1876-1952), a master carpenter and building contractor who had been living there since the death of Dr. D’Exeter Jordan.
A native of Laois, he originally worked for Dwyer Coach Builders who were located next door until he decided to go into business for himself.
Murphy converted the store at the rear of the building into a workshop and carried out major renovations, adding a large extension onto the building.
He later built many houses around Castlebar and had the use of sawmills located at the rear of the houses in Spencer Street.
Murphy (a grandfather of former RTE broadcaster, Michael Murphy) was staying in Wynne’s Hotel in 1916 during the Easter Rising.
He later described the bay windows being blown out when nearby Liberty Hall was being shelled. He lost all his luggage and had to take shelter in the Custom House before making his way home.
During the flu epidemic of 1918, demand for coffins was so high he had to employ extra staff at his workshop.
In April 1922, Michael Collins, who was in town to address a Pro Treaty meeting, spent a night in Burleigh House.
The platform across from the Imperial Hotel in the Mall was disrupted by Anti-Treaty supporters and Collins was forced to take refuge with his sister Kitty in the foyer of the hotel.
A number of bodies such as the Congested Districts Board operated from the building in the late 1920s and in 1935 a proposal by Mayo County Council to purchase the building for use as a new library branch and HQ was rejected by the Minister for Local Government. This suggestion was made once again in 1987.
The Murphy family moved in the 1940s to a new house on the Green (Mall) and in 1947, the building was bought by Francis O’Brien, a native of Glasgow who with his wife Nancy carried on a dental practice there for many years.
They rented out some of the rooms to various businesses and organisations down the years, including O’Malley’s Florists, Burleigh Accountants, Mayo Refugee Centre, the Centre for the Unemployed, McGuire’s Shoe Shop, etc.
Following the deaths of the O’Briens, some of the rear garden was sold to DH Burke’s who had a supermarket next door.
The entire building was sold in 1993 to Seamus Regan, local builder, who carried out major renovations and converted it to apartments.
A house with architectural and historical features, it is being renovated again at the time of writing.
(Alan King is a member of the staff of Mayo County Library).