mullingar  historysThe visit of Prince Charles and his wife,Camilla,to Ireland last week was a moving and historic occasion. It was good that the couple who will one day be King and Queen of Britain were able to come to this country,see some of our most beautiful landscapes and cultural venues and be greeted so warmly.

It was good to see the Prince and Gerry Adams shake hands. It was very good that the Prince was able to visit the place where his beloved “honorary grandfather” felt so much at home and where he died. The murder of Lord Mountbatten,two teenagers and a woman of 86 was a shameful,cowardly crime which made one feel ashamed to be Irish. The visit of Charles in a week in which one could feel very proud to be Irish was a healing event as we all move slowly out of what the Northern Irish singer,Neil Hannon called “thirty years of night.”

During the many,many summers he spent in Ireland,Lord Mountbatten passed through Mullingar on his way to and from Co Sligo. There was no bypass then,so all Sligo bound travellers had to come through Mullingar. On occassions,Mountbatten would stop off in Mullingar to buy sweets or icecream for his grandchildren. There are still people in Mullingar who remember him.

Lord Mountbatten had served in the Royal Navy for almost half a century. During World War Two he was Commander in Chief of all Allied Forces in South-East Asia. Many Irishmen served under his commnand and these included Westmeath men. Men from this county may also have served under Mountbatten’s command during his period as Commander-in Chief of Royal Naval Forces in the Mediterranean in the early 1950s.

During the Royal visit last week Charles and Camilla were accompanied by Timothy Knatchbull,Lord Mountbatten’s grandson. He was badly injured in the bomb explosion and his twin brother,Nicholas was killed. Timothy is a direct descendent through his father,the film producer John Brabourne,of Grace O Malley,the “pirate queen of Mayo.”

Some of Prince Charles’s ancestors travelled through Westmeath in the 19th century on board the Royal Train. His Great-Grandfather,King George V, visited Ireland in 1895 and 1896. He received an Address of Recognition from Mullingar Town Commisssion and other civic bodies at the Railway Station in 1895. The following year,George and his wife,Mary watched Westmeath beat Meath to become All Ireland Polo Champions in the Phoenix Park.!!

In 1850, another of Charles’s ancestors,the Duke of Cambridge,visited Mullingar and spent the day inspecting troops in the Barracks. It should also be noted that one of Charles’s numerous German cousins,the Duke of Mecklenberg, lived near Mullingar at Cullion for a number of years in the 1960s.

In 1915 King George V presented the Victoria Cross to Captain Boyd-Rochford of Middleton Park in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. In 1922 the King met Charles Howard-Bury of Belvedere to learn about the successful reconnaissance of Mount Everest led by Howard-Bury. George also met Lawrence of Arabia-the World War One hero . Lawrence was the son of Sir Thomas Chapman from Delvin.

Charles’s maternal grandfather,King George VI,also met Westmeath people during his reign. In 1945,for example,he presented a posthumous award for bravery to the parents of Anthony Tottenham from Tudenham,Mullingar,who had been killed in action serving with the RAF. In 1943,Cecil Boyd-Rochford from Middleton Park,Castletown-Geoghegan,became Trainer at the Royal Stables near Sandringham,Norfolk. Boyd-Rochford held that post for 25 years.
Charles’s grandmother,Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother,was a close friend of Elizabeth Longford-mother of Thomas Pakenham of Tullynally Castle,Castlepollard.

And finally,Charles and Camilla have met such famous Mullingar people as Niall Horan,Ailish Tynan and Cian Brennan-Gavin in recent years.!



1: For 121 years,Mullingar was a British military garrison town. The British War Office leased the site for the barracks from the Landlords of Mullingar. The first British Army Regiment to be stationed here were the Gordon Highlanders in 1819. The last Regiment here was the Sussex Regiment in January 1922.

2 : Winston Churchill visited Mullingar as a small child. In 1878,when he was 4,his grandfather,the Duke of Marlborough,was Viceroy of Ireland. For a couple of months he lived at Knockdrin Castle. Winston’s father,Randolph Churchill,was Secretary to the Viceroy. He brought his wife and son over to Ireland with him. So,for a few months in the autumn and winter of 1878,the future British Prime Minister lived in Westmeath just outside Mullingar!

3: Another British Prime Minister to visit Mullingar was Clement Attlee. The Labour Premier visited the Cathedral while on holiday in Ireland in the summer of 1948. He met workmen putting the final touches to the Boris Anrep mosaic depicting St Patrick.Mr Attlee was apparently very impressed by the Cathedral.

4:  In 1895,the future King George V ,Grandfather of the present Queen, passed through Mullingar on the Royal Train while on a visit to Ireland. An Address of Welcome was read out and local dignitaries were presented to him at the Railway Station.
5: From 1801 to 1918,Mullingar was represented in the British Parliament. Among those you used the House of Commons as a platform in which to raise issues of concern to Mullingar were Hugh Morgan Tuite-first elected in 1826 as a supporter of emancipation for Catholics; Montagu Chapman,a great uncle of Lawrence of Arabia; James Tuite-noted Antiquarian and Larry Ginnell-known as “the Member for Ireland”. In the historic General Election of 1918,Alice Ginnell was election agent for Sinn Fein-the first female Election Agent in Britain or Ireland.

6: A number of British literary figures visited Mullingar in the 19th and 20th centuries. William Wordsworth and Walter Scott were brought on picnics to Lough Owel by the Irish novelist,Maria Edgeworth in the 1820s,while visiting her. A century later the novelist Evelyn Waugh ( author of Brideshead Revisited) visited Mullingar while staying in Westmeath as the guest of Edward and Christina Pakenham of Tullynally Castle.Another visitor,in the 1940s was the British poet Sir John Betjeman. He wrote poems in praise of Lough Ennell and Belvedere.

7: The Leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales,Cardinal Basil Hume paid a visit to the Cathedral while he was in Ireland in September 1986

8: Over the years a number of British Chain Stores have operated in Mullingar. These have included ; Liptons,Woolworths,Marks and Spencer and Tesco The earliest of these stores was Liptons,which was located on Oliver Plunkett Street (formerly Greville Street) from the early 1900s until the 1980s. Woolworths was a much loved part of the Mullingar shopping experience (on Oliver Plunkett St ) from 1953 until 1984.

9 :From the founding of Mullingar in the 1180s until the Reformation,the Parish of Mullingar was linked to an Augustinian Priory on the Welsh/English Border called Llanthony. This priory was founded in the eleventh century by the Norman De Lacy family,who subsequently became Lords of Meath following the Anglo Norman conquest of Ireland in the 1170s. The ruling Norman Baron in Mullingar,William Petit,entered an agreement under which the tithes of the Parish of Mullingar were improprieted to Llanthony Priory in the Black Valley,Monmouthshire. The Prior of Llanthony was actually the Parish Priest of Mullingar. He appointed a rector to administer the Parish This arrangement lasted from the founding of Mullingar Parish around 1205 until the Reformation in the 1530s led to the disssolution of Llanthony Priory.

10: Welsh people were among the early Anglo-Norman settlers in the Midlands. Some of these Welshmen obtained land just north west of Mullingar in an area that still carries their name-Walshestown,the town of the Welshmen.

11: The first grant of a fair to the town of Mullingar was given by King John of England in 1207. Later grants for the holding of fairs were made by monarchs such as Henry the Third and Elizabeth the First. As far as is known,however,no serving British monarch ever visited the town-the nearest any one of them got to here was King John,who was in Rathwire in 1210.Edward Bruce,the brother of King Robert Bruce of Scotland,who was crowned King of Ireland in 1216 with the support of some Irish Chiefs,spent Christmas of 1315 in Ballymore about 20 km south west of Mullingar.

12: Belvedere House has a number of historic connections with Britain. Robert Rochford-the so called “wicked earl of Belvedere”,who had Belvedere built as a hunting lodge around 1740,was a godson of the British King,George the Second. Charles Brinsley Marley,owner of Belvedere from 1850 to 1912,donated his immensely valuable and significant art collection to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Brinsley Marley also gave a very generous donation to Fitzwilliam College to set up the gallery. He was a brother in law of one of the premier British aristocrats-the Duke of Rutland,and agreat uncle of the noted Society beauty of the 1920s and 1930s,Lady Diana Cooper..
Belvedere was inherited by a cousin of Brinsley Marley,Charles Howard Bury. He was born in London and educated in Britain. He served in the British Army for many years and was a member of the House of Commons from 1922 to 1931.Howard Bury was a noted explorer and made world headlines in 1921 when he led the first Reconnaisance of Mount Everest. During the Second World War,he served as a Commissioner of the British Red Cross.
The last private owner of Belveder was Rex Beaumont from Yorkshire. Born in 1914,Rex was an actor. Before the War ,he worked at Stratford on Avon and in London . During the War he served with the R A F. After the war he was involved with the Red Cross helping Holocaust survivors at Bergen Belsen. It was through the Red Cross that he met Charles Howard Bury and he came to live with him at Belvedere . Rex was a flamboyant and colourful character and was very generous to local charities and helped fund schools and churches. After the death of Howard Bury in 1963,Rex inherited Belveder and he continued to live there until failing health and financial problems forced him to leave in 1980. He was able to return to the house shortly before hus death in 1988.

Rex Beaumont was just one of thousands of British people who have made their home in Mullingar over the centuries. Likewise,thousands of people from Mullingar have made new lives for themselves across Britain . The ties which bind Mullingar and Britain run deep and are varied. This article has just touched on some of them
I would like to dedicate this blog to the memory of my father,Roy Ilingworth ( 1921-2005), who was born in London,raised there and in Cavan,and first came to Mullingar as a member of the Irish Army in 1941. He liked this town and stayed on when his army service ended in 1946-an Englishman in Mullingar.

Ruth Illingworth


One hundred years ago,on April 25th,1915,one of the most disastrous military campaigns of the 20th century began. Seeking to put Ottoman Turkey out of the First World War,Britain and France landed an invasion force on the Gallipoli Peninsula in South Western Turkey. Over the next eight months more than 100,000 British,Australian,Turkish,New Zealander,Canadian,Indian ,French and Irish soldiers would lose their lives. In Australia and New Zealand April 25th is marked as ANZAC Day-commemmorating the day in which the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps put their nations on the map with what was seen as their blood sacrifice. Many of the Anzac troops were of Irish origin and as many as 7.000 were Irish born.

The British soldiers who landed at Gallipoli in 1915 included thousands of men serving with the historic Irish Regiments;the Royal Dublin Fusiliers,the Munster Fusiliers and the Inniskilling Fusiliers. Irishmen also served in the Royal Navy at Gallipoli and Irish doctors and nurses helped to care for the wounded at hospitals in Egypt and Greece. Gallipoli was as much an Irish tragedy as an Australian one. Up to 4,000 Irish died there. Until recently their service was almost completely forgotten.

Among the thousands of British soldiers who landed at Gallipoli were men from Westmeath. Those who died there included the 5th Earl of Longford,owner of Tullynally Castle,and Private Austin Kelly from Clonmellon. Those who survived the hell of Suvla Bay and Sedd-el Bar, where men from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers,the Munster Fusiliers and the Inniskilling Fusiliers disembarked,included Sgt Dan Gilroy from Patrick St,Mullingar,Sgt Michael Dunne from Barrack St ,Mullingar and Private Daniel Flood ,also from Mullingar.

Sgt Gilroy was an “old warrior”,as the papers described him,with over 30 years of military service behind him. He was 57 and should not have still been on active service. But when the war started he left his job with the post office to return to the Army. He landed in Gallipoli on August5th at Lemnos Bay.Within a very short time 12 of his men were dead and another 50 wounded. The survivors battled through an area known as “Shrapnal Alley “and on to what was known as Chocolate Hill.

Among those killed when they battled the Turks on this hill was Nicholas Smyth from Piercefield-one of some 10 officers and 250 men killed as he and his men battled hand to hand with the enemy. With all the officers dead or wounded it was left to Sgt Gilroy and Sgt Alec Little from Carrick,Mullingar to hold the position,which they did,despite Gilroy being seriously wounded in the leg by a Turkish bayonet . The local papers in Mullingar reported Gilroy’s death-much to his amusement. “I am as good as ten dead men yet”,he told reporters when,following hospital treatment for his wounds,he came home on leave.

Private Daniel Flood was not even 18 when he went to Gallipoli in the summer of 1915. One of the thousands who volunteered for military service at the start of the war,Flood arrived at Suvla in August attached to a machine gun section. His unit endured heavy shell and machine gun fire as they landed and his Colonel was among the many casualties. A few days later he was involved in an attack against the Turks using the machine guns.

The following day he was wounded twice by shrapnel.After treatment in a dresing station he was moved by hospital ship to Malta and then to England. While the ship was heading for Malta,one of the wounded men,Private Barry from Mullingar,died from his wounds and was buried at sea.. Private Flood told reporters at home that he respected the Turks as tough but humane fighters. Aged only 17 when he was at Gallipoli.he would be killed in Palestine two years later,aged 19.

Sgt Michael Dunne from Barrack Street also saw action at Gallipoli,serving with the Inniskilling Fusiliers. He survived hand to hand combat with the Turks as well as heavy shell and machine gun fire. He was recommended for the D.C.M (Distinguished Conduct Medal ) for his courage under fire. He suffered injuries but survived and was able to give the Westmeath papers an interview from his hospital bed. Sadly,Sergeant Dunne was killed the following year at the Battle of the Somme. His brother was killed on the Western Front in 1915.

Private Austin Kelly from Clonmellon,a past pupil of Wilsons’ Hospital School was just 18 when he went ashore at Suvla Bay in August 1915. A week later he was one of hundreds of men killed in the British attempt to capture the heights of Kiriche Tepe. Short of water and of ammunition desperate men battled through intense summer heat to scale the heights. Machine gun fire and grenades rained down on them and Private Kelly was one of the very many who did not survive the assault. Another fatality was the Earl Of Longford who was ,like Sgt Gilroy overage for frontline military service but put himself in danger because he believed it to be his duty. Lord Longford was last seen walking along the sand dunes leading towards the Turkish positions. His family was informed that he was “missing”. A year later he was officially declared to be dead. although it took his widow a long time to accept that he was dead.

A fortnight after the Gallipoli campaign began the passenger liner the Lusitania” was torpedoed off the coast of Co Cork. Among the almost 1200 fatalities was Anne Doyle from Mullingar. She had been working in America and was returning to Ireland. Her father worked in a coach building firm in Harbour Street. Two years later her brother would be killled on the Western front.

The First World War inflicted terrible sorrow on many many families in Mullingar District. One hundred years after the horrors of Gallipoli and the Lusitania we should remember all those from our town who lost their lives. May they all rest in peace

By Ruth Illingworth