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Castlepollard started as a small group of houses at a crossing point of three major roads, the Dublin-Granard route, the Mullingar to Cavan road and the Oldcastl e to Longford road. It was founded by the Pollard family who originated in Devonshire in England. Captain Nicholas Pollard accompanied the Earl of Essex to Ireland and settled in Westmeath where he was granted the castle and lands at Mayne. Little is known of his military achievements but the grant of the lands of Mayne suggests that his services were valued highly. His grandson, Walter Pollard built Kilafree church in 1672 and Kinturk house and jail in 1716. King Charles II granted letters patent to Walter Pollard charging him with the building of a town in county Westmeath on the lands of Rathyoung and Ballinagross. It also conferred on him the right to hold a fair and weekly market. Between 1803 and 1839, Castlepollard was transformed into an elegant and spacious small town by William Dutton Pollard. It acquired a symmetrical shape in the form of a square with a green inside it. Houses were erected around three sides of The Square which were used for both business and residential.
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On the west side of the green a market house was erected which encouraged trade as it provided farmers and their customers with a reliable means of weighing crops and livestock. Adjacent to this the first Catholic Church was situated but this fell in 1805. The present chapel was built the following year. A fever hospital which could accommodate ten patients opened in Church Street in 1821 and also around this time a new Protestant church was built on the Square. In the subsequent years, a courthouse, a police barracks, pubs, hotel, post office, schools and shops were erected. The water supply was drawn from a number of pumps and wells, including a pump in the middle of the Square. In 1867, a Presbyterian Kirk was built on the Dublin Road to cater for the families of Scottish land stewards who worked for the larger land holders. In 1887, the Jubilee Hall (Parochial hall) opened. It was built to honour the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s reign. In 1891 St. Michael’s hall in Church Street opened.
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In 1892, Walter Pollard Urquhart died and was succeeded as Lord of the Manor House, Kinturk by his brother Francis who lived in Scotland. This meant that the Pollard family no longer resided full time in Castlepollard and their connection to Castlepollard which had stretched back over 300 years began to weaken. The Manor house was purchased by the Sacred Heart Sisters in 1934 and they added a chapel wing. The sisters operated an institution for unmarried mothers (also known as a Magdalen Asylum) there for many years. In 1899, the first County Council elections were held. There were six candidates for the Castlepollard area, Mr. Smyth (Ringtown), Mr. Hope (Gartlandstown), Mr. Sutton (Collinstown), Mr. McCormick (Glenidan), Mr. Kearney (Castlepollard) and Mr. Evans (Gillardstown). In 1911, the Hibernian Bank (now Bank of Ireland) was built and in 1916, St. Joseph’s orthopaedic hospital opened in Coole and a new cemetery was opened on the Oldcastle Road, Castlepollard.
The 23rd May 1831 was Fair day in Castlepollard and the town was crowded with men, women and children enjoying the various sideshows and stalls which were a feature of fairs at that time. About 2 o clock in the afternoon somebody broke a jug in Fagan’s public house on the corner of the Square and Water Street. A row arose as to who would pay for same. The Constabulary came on the scene and arrested a man but the crowd took the prisoner from the police. The police were again in the town sometime after 5 o clock when the women began to jeer at them and some youths threw stones. The police went down to the Barracks, got their muskets and returned to the Square under the command of Chief Constable Peter Blake. They formed up between the corner of the Market house and the pump in the centre of the Square and fired a number of volleys into the crowd resulting in thirteen deaths and several injuries. The following were the deceased: Patrick Dignam, Mary Kiernan, John Slevin, Patrick McCormick, Brian Mahon, Tomas Kiernan, Patrick McDermott, Patrick McDonagh, Mary Neill, James Fagan, Patrick Keegan, Patrick Ledwich and Peggy Leary. An inquest was held on the victims and the Coroner committed 19 policemen to jail in Mullingar to await trial on charges of causing the deaths. The policemen were tried at the Summer Assizes in Mullingar in July 1831. Mr. C.P. Wallace, solicitor, prosecuted the case against the police. After 30 hours hearing a verdict of not guilty was found in all cases and the policemen were discharged.
In the 18th century, education in Ireland was expensive and for the vast majority non-existent. However there were quite a number of schools in Castlepollard parish in the first half of the 19th century. These were, for the most part, made up of hedge schools and parish schools. The fees charged were around eight shillings per year and the subjects taught were the “Three Rs” - reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition, some schools provided classes in the Roman Catholic cathecism. There were hedge schools at Ballymanus (teacher P. Gaffney), Castlepollard (teacher J. Walsh), Cresley (teacher E. Reilly), Ballinamee (teacher J. Cooney) among others. There were also schools located in private dwellings or rented rooms. These were located in Finea (teacher F. Moore), Castlepollard (teacher C. Dobbin), Raheen (teacher P. Gaffney), Millcastle (teacher P. Meredith) and elsewhere. Edward Fox kept a boarding and day school in Castlepollard where the fees were £32 per annum for boarders. Sunday school was held in Castlepollard church and this was a free school. In 1848, a school was built on the Oldcastle Road by Rev. Walter Murtagh P.P. at a cost of £232.13.7. This school was divided into a girl’s school and a boy’s school. An infant’s school was added in 1868. The master’s name was Michael McCarthy and the mistress was Mary Grace. In 1966, St. Michael’s new national school on Water Street was opened. The cost of erecting the building was £25,000.
In 1916, the principal teacher in the girl’s school was a Ms. O’ Connor who also happened to be the organist in the local church. Three of Ms. O’ Connor’s brothers were serving at the front in World War 1 and Ms. O’ Connor in a show of support for her brothers played “The Marseilles” and “God save the King” in the church after mass on various Sundays. This practice was resented by many of the citizens of Castlepollard and resulted in many refusing to send their children to school. The ringleader of the boycott was the local curate Rev. P. Smyth ably assisted by the local Sinn Fein party. A Sinn Fein school was opened in a house in Castlepollard to cater for those who were boycotting Ms. O’ Connor. Ms. O’ Connor subsequently married Dr. Ryan and against all expectations returned to teach in the school. This further angered the boycotters and they took possession of the girl’s national school as a protest. The matter was resolved when Ms. O’ Connor agreed to resign on condition that the occupation of the school and classroom be ended and that the Sinn Fein school be disbanded.
Post Primary School
County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee (VEC) opened the first post-primary school on Water Street, Castlepollard in 1937. It offered subjects such as home economics, book keeping, maths, English, woodwork and mechanical drawing for the boys. It also provided adult education classes in farm accounts, boat building, dress making, Irish dancing and Irish language. A new community school was built on the Mullingar Road in November 2004.
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In 1831 cholera ravaged Europe, England and Ireland and the first case in Castlepollard was diagnosed on November 30th 1832 and the last case was on February 27th 1833. There were 122 cases in all and sixty-two people died. In Kilafree graveyard there is a tomb near the doorway of the church and it commemorates Captain Aaron of the 91st regiment who died early in 1832. Was he a cholera victim? Or did he bring the cholera to Castlepollard?
Johnny Patterson (1840 - 1889)
Johnny Patterson, a Clare man, was a famous ballad composer, song writer, musician and circus entertainer. Among his best known songs were “The stone outside Dan Murphy’s door”, “Bridget Donoghue” and “The Garden where the praties grow”. He was one of the best known and highest paid entertainers of his day. In 1887 he arrived in Castlepollard with his circus. He was staying in a house belonging to Hugh Coughlan on the Dublin Road where the Garda station is located now. Johnny was very taken by a young girl called Bridget who he saw working in the garden. In his show that night he dedicated a song to her. As he did not know her surname, he amended his well known song “Bridget Donoghue” to “Bridget don’t know who”. He subsequently wrote the song “The garden where the praties grow” about her. Johnny Patterson and Bridget Murray were married a year later in St. Michael’s Church, Castlepollard.
Myths & Ledgends
Diarmuid Agus Grainne
Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna were great warriors who protected Ireland from invasion. When Fionn was seventy, having been widowed twice he asked Grainne, the beautiful young daughter of Conor MacAirt, the high king of Tara to marry him. Grainne had no choice but at the wedding feast she met a young warrior, Diarmuid, and persuaded him into running away with her. For more than fifteen years Fionn and the Fianna pursued Diarmuid and Grainne. Eventually an uneasy peace broke out between Fionn and Diarmuid. One day, Diarmuid met Fionn and the Fianna hunting a wild boar on Ben Bulben in Sligo. Diarmuid joined the hunting party and they chased the boar to Cionn Torc hill near Castlepollard. There, the boar attacked Diarmuid and gored him with his tusks. Fionn had the power to heal Diarmuid by allowing him to drink water from his cupped hands. Three times Fionn carried water in his cupped hands from the well “Tobar na mBos Toll” (“Well of the leaking hands”). Each time just as he approached Diarmuid he recalled Diarmuid running away with Grainne and he allowed the water slip through his fingers. In spite of the pleadings of the other warriors, Fionn allowed Diarmuid to die.
Randoon hill is situated on the left hand side of the main road between Castlepollard and Collinstown. On the top of this hill was situated Turgesius’ fort. Turgesius was a Viking warrior who conquered Ireland in the 7th century. In 840AD, Turgesius, who was already married fell for the daughter of Malachy, King of Tara and asked that she become his mistress. Malachy was afraid to refuse this request but suggested, to avoid embarrassment that his daughter would go to Turgesius in the dark of night. He further agreed to send fifteen of the most beautiful maidens in county Meath and that Turgesius could have his pick. Turgesius invited his fifteen most favourite warriors and awaited the arrival of the ladies. Meanwhile, Malachy got fifteen of his beardless warriors, dressed them as women with their weapons hidden underneath their clothing and then sent them to Turgesius fort on Randoon. On their arrival, Turgesius choose Malachy’s daughter whereupon the warriors threw off their disguises, attacked and killed the Viking warriors and captured Turgesius. They tied him up and put him in a barrel and rolled him down the hill into Lough Lene where he drowned.
The Children of Lir
In ancient Ireland during the days of the Tuath De Danann tribe there lived a king called Lir who had four children named Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Con. Their mother the queen had died giving birth to the twins Fiachra and Con. Lir subsequently married Aoife, the sister of his wife. Aoife grew jealous of Lir’s love for his children so she planned to get rid of them. One day she brought the children to Lough Derravaragh where she cast a spell over them and turned them into four beautiful swans. She told them that they would spend 300 years on Lough Derravaragh, 300 years on the Sea of Moyle and 300 years on the Isle of Glora and only the sound of a church bell could break this spell. When Lir found out what Aoife had done he banished her from his kingdom. He spent the rest of his days beside Lough Derravaragh, talking to his children until he grew old and died. After 300 years the children left Lough Derravaragh for the Sea of Moyle where they spent 300 tough years on the cold and stormy sea. They then travelled west to the waters of Inis Glora. There, one day they heard the sound of a church bell. An old man stood outside a little church. He was amazed to hear the swans talking and sprinkled some holy water on them. As soon as the water touched them they changed into old people and soon died.
Knockeyon hill, overlooking Lough Derravaragh, is situated on the right hand side of the road between Castlepollard and Crookedwood. Legend has it that St. Cauragh was expelled by St. Colmcille from a monastery in Kells and that he came to Knockeyon where he built a little chapel dedicated to St. Eyon. Beside the chapel was a well whose waters were supposed to be miraculous. In ancient times, thousands of people visited the well as part of pilgrimage. Legend also has it that three men were hung on the top of the hill and that grass never grew there again.
The Fore Crosses
These are a series of eighteen stone crosses situated between Fore and the Foyran. They have for the most part been damaged over the years but parts of them can still be seen. The exact purpose of the crosses is a subject of debate but there are a number of stories associated with some of them.
There is a cross at Bigwood, Castletown-Finea, near which Mass was said during the Penal times. A look-out would stay at the Cross during Mass to warn if the enemy were approaching.
There is a cross at Foyran about which there are a number of stories. One story is that a number of men attempted to remove the Cross but they subsequently couldn’t sleep at night until the Cross was returned to its’ position.
Another story tells of two men passing the Cross and one man said that it must have been a bad man who was killed there and not to waste prayers on him. However, a voice came from behind the Cross saying ‘I got forgiveness between the stirrup and the ground’. The ‘bad man’ was on horseback when he was killed.
There is a cross at Carpenterstown which, unlike the other crosses, had an inscription. The story is that a man, who had become a hermit and was living in the Anchorite Cell in Fore, was a keen follower of the hunt in his younger days. On entering the Anchorite Cell, he took an oath never to come out the door again. One day he heard the huntsman’s horn and the baying of the hounds. He jumped out the window and followed the hunt to Carpenterstown where he fell off a wall and broke his neck.
There is a cross at Fore outside the Arch where it is said the lepers prayed as they were not allowed come any further. The Arch is known as the ‘Lepers Arch’.
Castlepollard Mother and Child Home
In 1934, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary bought the Pollard Manor House and estate from the Pollard family. This was a Cork based order and many of the approximate twenty nuns were natives of Munster. They built a hospital and a church (with a stained glass window designed by the famous Harry Clarke) with the view to starting a mother and child home. At that time in Ireland, young unmarried girls that became pregnant were considered to bring embarrassment upon their family. Therefore as pregnancy advanced and became more obvious, the girls were sent to a mother and child home. This was usually arranged by the parents with the help of the local doctor or the Parish priest. On other occasions, the pregnant girl presented herself without the knowledge of her family. These girls came from far and wide, many arriving on the bus from Dublin. There were up to 200 girls there at any one time.
The nuns put great emphasis on ensuring the privacy of the girls and towards this end devised many strategies.
Ø On admission, they were given a different first name and thereafter known as Miss Mary, Miss Bernadette, Miss Josephine etc.
Ø Each week a bag of letters were sent to an English convent to be stamped and posted back to the girls’ families in Ireland. The reason was to add credence to the rumour that the girl had gone to England to work.
Ø Contact between the convent and the townspeople was kept to a minimum and neither the nuns nor the girls ventured beyond the convent gates. Furthermore, groceries were delivered from Dublin.
Ø When two girls came from the same area every effort was made to keep them apart by locating them in different parts of the complex.
The convent was for the most part self sufficient. The large walled garden provided a plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables. The farm provided milk, butter, bacon, poultry and eggs. The girls contributed to their keep by working in the kitchens, laundry or farm.
There was a doctor on call but a midwife resident in the convent delivered the majority of the babies. Occasionally a difficult birth would require the girl to be brought by ambulance to a Dublin hospital. The babies were baptised in the Convent chapel and reared in the nursery wing until adopted or fostered. Up to the mid 1950s there was no legal adoption in Ireland and therefore many of the babies were adopted by Americans. When adoption became legal in Ireland, a greater number of the babies were adopted by Irish couples. The girls were free to leave the convent once their child was adopted or fostered. Afterwards many of the girls went to England to jobs arranged by the nuns in their hospitals or convents. As time went on and attitudes changed, the need for such homes waned and in 1971 the building was taken over by the Midland Health Board.
Mine is probably a familiar story for these with knowledge of Castlepollard.
In 1951 I was born in the midlands of a single working mother, three days after my birth my Mother and I were transported by a horse drawn wagon to the Orphanage run by the "Convent of the Sacred Heart of Mary and Jesus, Castlepollard, County Westmeath, Ireland, of those days I have no memory.
However I have great memories of Castlepollard when I took a 3 day trip to Ireland in the mid 80s, it was St. Patrick's day weekend so I flew in from Germany where my job had taken me for business, to this day my memories remain fresh as the air on the west coast of Ireland.
I do know for certain I was adopted by an American couple after they received permission from the Irish Department of External Affairs. In those days there were strict rules for the adopting families, one major one was that the Couple MUST be Catholic. My Mom was a Baptist at the time and subsequently took the necessary steps to become a Catholic which she did. I was to be raised a Catholic and educated in Catholicism and to be Baptized into the Church which I was. To this day I remain a Catholic.
My adoptive parents as I mentioned were in the US Army at that time stationed in Turkey at the Joint Military Mission for Turkey in Ankara. We eventually returned to the USA being assigned to Ft. Bragg North Carolina.
After that assignment we went to several Military Forts and in 1963 we settled in a community North of San Francisco. I followed both my parents lead joining the US Army, my Army time in part consisted of going to the Vietnam war as a helicopter flight crew member. While in Vietnam I was fortunate to visit my father where he was stationed near Saigon. He was on his 3rd one year tour.
We eventually returned to the states with Dad retiring in 1978. He hung up his boots and finally he and my Mom settled down to enjoy their life together. Sadly Dad passed in 1983 with Mom passing to the Lord in 2002. Bless their souls.
They never hid from me the fact I was adopted from an Orphanage in Ireland. They passed on to me all the information the Mother Superior passed to them about my birth Mother and her sacrifices in order to give me a life far removed from the norm of a typical Irish Lad with no known father. I remain forever grateful to her, by passing down my story of my lineage to my two sons. I named them Patrick Joseph and Erik Michael.
Patrick Joseph was my birth name, Erik Michael was chosen for the same reasons.
I wish to thank all of you for the development of this web site. It has allowed me to step into and appreciate my "adoption" home in Ireland.
Turbotstown House is situated on the right side of the road as you enter Coole village from Castlepollard. It was designed around 1810 by renowned architect Francis Johnston who also designed the GPO, the chapel in Dublin castle and the Armagh Observatory. It was the home of the Dease family who lived in Coole for over 600 years. The Dease family included famed scholars, soldiers and clergymen. Thomas Dease was a founding member of the Irish College in Paris and later became Bishop of Meath from 1621-1652.
Dr. William Dease was a founding member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin which was founded in 1784. Edmund Fitzlaurence Dease (1856-1934) wrote the “History of The Westmeath Hunt”. He was married to Kate Murray from Cork whose family were involved with Cork Distilleries Company. Their son, Maurice James Dease was educated at Stoneyhurst College in England where he was known as the “Aviary Boy” due to his interest in birds. He fought in the First World War but was killed at Mons while providing cover to allow his comrades to escape to safety. He was 24 years old and was the first person to be awarded (posthumously) the Victoria Cross for bravery in World War 1. His aunt, Teresa, opened a school in Coole in 1905 for young girls to train them in domestic duties. She subsequently closed the school and started a hospital (St. Joseph’s Hospital) on the site for physically handicapped boys in 1916.
St. Joseph’s Hospital
St. Joseph’s Hospital was opened in 1916 on a site given by the Dease family in Coole. It was originally known as “The Cripple’s Home” as it catered for young boys with physical handicaps. The Daughters of Charity, an order of nuns based in London sent four nuns over to run the hospital. Doctors from the neighbouring counties referred boys with Polio, Arthritis, Congenital disorders etc. to the hospital. By the early 1920s there were over 80 patients and medical help was provided by doctors from Navan and Mullingar. The hospital was self sufficient in terms of medical and surgical care, food supplies, laundry, education and the training of patients in various trades such as shoe making, carpentry etc. In 1926, the chapel attached to the hospital was built thanks to the generosity of local man Mr. Hope. At a later stage girls were admitted to the hospital. At its peak, it catered for over 140 patients. It alleviated, with the help of specialised nursing care, the suffering of the young patients and minimised their handicaps. Many of the patients on leaving the hospital were able to lead normal lives by earning their own living thanks to the education they had received or the trades they had learned at St. Josephs. In the 1970s, the number of admissions to the hospital declined due to better healthcare and in 1981, the hospital closed. The buildings have had various uses since including use as an Irish college. Part of the site has now been developed as Coole Clinic.
Myles the Slasher
In the early 1600s, following the Flight of the Earls from Ulster, King James of England decided to plant Ulster. He divided the area into estates of various sizes and gave them to English and Scottish Protestant landowners and some Gaelic landowners who had stayed loyal to him. In 1639, a row broke out between King Charles I and the English parliament. Some Gaelic Irish, taking this opportunity to get their land back attacked the settlers. The rebellion then spread to the rest of the country with many a battle between the Protestant settlers and the dispossessed Gaelic landowners. One such battle took place at Finea on the 5th of August 1646. The English and Scottish forces under General Monroe and numbering over 1000 were approaching Finea from the North. Myles O’Reilly “The Slasher” led a small force of men to Finea to defend the bridge and prevent the foe from crossing. They fought the whole day long and eventually reinforcements arrived and the bridge was saved. Some reports suggest Myles the Slasher was killed in this fight while others suggest he survived, got married and had five children. A famous poem, “Myles the Slasher”, was written by William Collins over 200 years later about this battle. A short extract is quoted below:
But there on the bridge stood O'Reilly
The Slasher, our hope and our pride,
Around him flashed many a sabre,
above him his banner flew wide.
Scant greeting had he for a Scotchman
who came in the garb of a foe,
and full stout was the arm that would brave him.
They knew well the weight of his blow.
Out rode from the ranks of the foemen
the chief of a far Lowland glen,
and proudly commanded O'Reilly
"Surrender the bridge and your men".
But out flashed the sword of "The Slasher"
and this to the foe he did say,
"You must trample the heart of O'Reilly
e'er you cross o'er this bridge of Finea. "
He died as a soldier should ever
his flag floating free in the blast,
with his hand on the grasp of his sabre
- defiant and true to the last.
Would to kind Heaven poor Ireland
had a million strong heroes today
as true and as brave as "The Slasher"
who guarded the Bridge of Finea