Abandoned ireland


Ballinrobe Barracks,

County Mayo

Documenting our Heritage

The first army barracks was built in Ballinrobe about the year 1700 on the site of the 14th century Ballinrobe Castle. Located just south of the junction of Bridge Street and High Street, this site is now occupied by the Garda Station / Telecom offices and tower.

Further south, on the opposite side of the River Robe, stood the New Castle, built by the Bourke family, but later acquired and forfeited by Gregory Nolan in the Cromwellian confiscations. In 1655, the New Castle was granted to Sir James Cuff, one of the Cromwellian Commissioners.

Sir James Cuff had two sons, Francis who inherited the Ballinrobe estate, and Gerald, who went on to build Elm Hall near Ballycarra, County Mayo. Gerald's son, another James, however seems to have returned to Ballinrobe and in 1752 recorded a lengthy Latin inscription on a stone slab placed over the main gate of the castle courtyard, which can be loosely translated as:

'Glory to God, the best and greatest favouring the undertaking. This Castle was begun erected and possessed by the elective Chief anciently styled MacWilliam of the family of De Burgh in the County of Mayo. Then after various chances and various ownerships, when ruinous, the late Sir James Cuff, Knight, caused it to be rebuilt as the Dwelling house of the Manor: his grandson, and in order of succession surviving heir, James Cuff, Esquire, took care to have it, which had afresh unhappily become a wreck, as well as the neighbouring market town almost about to perish, and the Demesne land, restored enlarged and ornamented."

James son, another James (1747 - 1821), seems to have added an e to his surname, becoming James Cuffe. He represented Mayo in the Irish House of Commons from 1768 until 1797 and was created Baron Tyrawley on the 7th November 1797. Starting out as a professional soldier, Cuffe had become an Irish barracks official in 1772 and eventually became first commissioner of public works and barrack master general. He conferred the positions of Irish barracks treasurer on his illegitimate first son, another James (1778-1828), and Irish barracks controller on his second son (also illegitimate), Henry.

Ballinrobe Barracks,
Co. Mayo

Baron Tyrawley (1747 - 1821)

In 1821, they sold their Ballinrobe estate to the War Office (where they were in control of the Irish barracks), so that their castle could be used to extend and enlarge the earlier barracks.

All three Cuffes were said to have the morals of goats. When the board of works finances were scrutinized it was discovered that the accounts had remained unsettled for many years and had been run in a manner ‘criminally negligent if not corrupt’.

Baron Tyrawley (Cuffe senior) was suspected of lining his own pockets, to the extent that ‘from a very moderate beginning’ he had acquired landed property of £10,000 (around a billion Euro in today's money). The Cuffes managed to get away with retiring their posts with compensatory pensions of £400 a year. Eventually they were found to be jointly in arrears to the tune of £27,059 (more than two billion Euro in today's money!) which was secured on their estates, by annual installments of £4,000 together with the proceeds from the suspension of their pensions.

Getting back to the barracks, the old barracks (near High Street) was used for infantry and housed 6 officers and 96 non-commissioned officers and men. Tyrawley's castle was converted to a cavalry barracks, and housed 8 officers, 106 non-commissioned officers and privates, with stabling for 84 horses. The two were linked with a new bridge over the River Robe called the Military Bridge. The land between, the Ordnance Ground, was where military exercises and drilling could be practised.

The armed forces remained stationed in Ballinrobe until their withdrawal in 1926.

Map of Ballinrobe (circa 1840)

This article is the copyright of Tarquin Blake, Abandoned Ireland, and may not be reproduced in any form without permission.