Abandoned ireland


Ballyturin House
County Galway

Documenting our Heritage

The first structure on the Ballyturin estate was a small castle, built by the MacRedmond Burkes. This castle was forfeited to Cromwell and the estate eventually fell into the hands of the Kirwan family, one of the ancient tribes of Galway who had a number of estates across county Galway. Today nothing of this castle survives but a mansion house, two storeys over basement, three bays at the front and four bays at the side was later built on the Ballyturin estate.

An old poem, quoted in the Tuam Herald in January 1907 records Ballyturin:

...Pass through the flowery fields, o'er solid fragrance yield ;

Haste to Ballyturin and Elysium, there you'll find

All the gods reside where lakes the woods divide

With covers well supplied to shelter all the game ;

Silenus on his ass pushed about the sparkling glass,

No landscape can surpass Young Kirwan's demesne...

Ballyturin House,
Co. Galway

One of the Kirwan family, Richard Kirwan, born in 1733, was a successful chemist and scientist, who also gained the reputation of being a wild eccentric.

The Kirwan family were Catholics, so were denied higher education in Ireland under the Penal Laws. Richard Kirwan's mother however, recognised his genius at an early age (when just seven years old, he wrote an abridgement of ancient history) and sent him to France, where he studied under the Jesuits. Later, his brother was killed during a duel and Richard found himself the heir to an estate bringing him an income of more than £4,000 a year - in those days a very considerable sum. After briefly returning to Ireland, he continued his studies in London, where he was awarded the Copley medal for chemistry and made a Fellow of the Royal Society. He eventually returned to Ireland in 1788 and became President of the Irish Academy. He spent most of his time at his town house in Dublin. He always dined alone, with his diet consisting of milk and ham. The ham was cooked on Sunday and reheated every day for the rest of the week. Kirwan enjoyed the very occasional glass of Spanish white wine, which was dangerous according to his eccentric mind; apparently it caused his body temperature to increase from a normal seventy degrees to the scolding temperature of one hundred and fifty degrees. Kirwan had an obsessive hatred of flies; his servants were rewarded for each corpse produced. His butler, a man named Pope slept in the same room as him, and was required to refresh Kirwan during the night by pouring tea into his mouth from a pot, apparently he often, mistakenly, poured tea into Kirwan’s eye.

Richard Kirwan retained his country estates and occasionally patrolled his property accompanied by a pair of huge mastiff dogs, a pair of greyhounds and a pair of Irish wolfhounds. His other pet was an eagle which was often seen perched on his shoulder. Unfortunately the eagle was later mistakenly shot by a friend whilst attempting to land on Kirwan’s shoulder.

At the time of the Union, Kirwan refused a baronetcy. He died in June 1812 at the age of seventy nine. He was buried in Hill Street, Dublin where Mr Pope, his butler, joined him in the same grave a few years later.

Back at Ballyturin, on the 19th April 1824 an advert was placed for the letting of the house:

'TO BE LET; From the first day of May next, for such term and in such divisions as shall be agreed on.

The House, Offices, Garden, Orchard and about 200 Acres of the Lands of Ballyturin. Fattening and Meadow Land within three miles of the Town of Gort, and fourteen of the town of Ennis. The House, Offices, Garden, Orchard, and 62 acres at present held by Henry Lahiff, Esq. About 100 acres held by Captain Lahiff, and the remainder by Bernard Butler, Esq.'

In his 1837 Topographical Dictionary, Lewis records the house as occupied by Mina Howard Esq.

Ballyturin eventually passed into the hands of Edward Henry Kirwan but Edward died young. His grave, which can be found a short distance from Ballyturin House is marked by a monument with the inscription: ‘Here repose in sacred rest the mortal remains of Edward Henry Kirwan, the beloved and only son of Anne Lahiff who departed this life on the 16th of March 1845 aged 25 years'.

Ballyturin was inherited by Edward's sister, Anne Georgina. In 1843, Anne had married John Lloyd Neville Bagot, hence Ballyturin House came into the hands of the Bagot family.

John Lloyd Neville Bagot's third son, John (Jack) Christopher Bagot succeeded to the Ballyturin estate. On the 20th October 1891, he married Anna Catherine Fleming, who had been born in India in 1867.

The 1911 census records the sixteen rooms of Ballyturin house as occupied by: John C Bagot, age 54, Landowner, his wife, Anna C Bagot, age 44. The Bagot's had a house staff of five: Norah Mc Mieghan, age 28, servant; Mary Cadwell, age 27, servant; Mary Anne Turney, age 22, servant; Patrick Connelly, age 27, groom and Patrick Smith, age 28, servant.

On the 15th May 1921, District Inspector Cecil Arthur Maurice Blake, his pregnant wife, Lilly, two army officers and Margaret Gregory, Lady Gregory's daughter-in-law, had been visiting the Bagots, where they enjoyed a tennis match, played on the lawns at Ballyturin House. When they left in the early evening, they stopped their car by the gate, to open it. Suddenly, someone shouted 'Hands up', shots were fired, and the car's windscreen was broken by bullets. The car was quickly surrounded by the IRA and the Blakes and both army officers were shot dead. Of the cars occupants, only Margaret Gregory escaped with her life.

The Bagots, on hearing the shooting ran down to the gate. John Bagot was held at gunpoint while the IRA members searched the bodies of the deceased. He was then handed a note which read:

'Volunteer HQ.

Sir, if there is any reprisals after this ambush, your house will be set on fire as a return.

By Order IRA.'

The IRA members then fled. Police soon arrived and described the scene as a gruesome massacre. The IRA had used shotguns and Lilly Blake's body contained the horrendous wounds from nine shells of lead pellet.

The viciousness of the Ballyturin ambush and the deliberate shooting dead of Mrs Blake was probably in revenge for the hardship dealt out by the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries on the people of south Galway. However, it was said there was also an element of land grabbing - the Bagot’s had previously been pressurised to sell off their land.

The police ignored the IRA note and on the 16 May they attempted to round up the IRA members responsible for the ambush. Nine houses were destroyed or damaged in the vicinity of Ballyturin. A curfew was imposed and all businesses in the area were ordered to close.

John Christopher Bagot died on the 27th April 1935. His wife, Anna lived on until 17th January 1963. She died in London aged 96 and was buried at Gresford Church near Wrexham, North Wales.

Ballyturin House was abandoned and let fall into total ruin.

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