Pictured at the Symposium held in All Saints Church Mullingar L-R The Most Revd.John Mc Dowell Archbishopof Armagh and Primate Of All Ireland , The most Rev,Patricia Storey ,Bishop of meath and Kildare ,Professor Katy Hayward, Professor of Political sociology at Queens University , Belfast and Rev.Cannon Alastair Graham Mullingar Union of Parishes

On September 27th 2021 , a symposium was held in All Saints’ Church Mullingar Co Westmeath on the subject of ,”Brexit, Borders And The Greater Good” in Northern Ireland. The symposium was addressed by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh ,Dr John McDowell and by Professor Katy Hayward of Queen’s University Belfast. The event was chaired by the Bishop of Meath and Kildare,Most Rev. Pat Storey.Bishop Storey made history in 2013 when she was consecrated as the first woman bishop in Britain or Ireland.

 Professor Katy Hayward lectures in Political Sociology and is an internationally renowned expert on the subject of Brexit and of political borders.In her talk she described the impact being made on Northern Ireland by the departure of the UK from the EU. She said that Brexit had “raised existential questions with regard to territory,identity and borders.” Northern Ireland was now in “an unhappy limbo” and it was “possible to feel the heat of the past on our heels.” 

She explained the problems arising from the Northern Ireland Protocol contained within the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.The Protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the  EU Single Market for goods-thus avoiding the return of a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. But the Protocol obliges the UK to check goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This has created an Irish Sea Border and created a barrier  within the internal UK single market.

 Prof. Hayward explained how Unionists  oppose the Protocol because they see it as undermining Northern Ireland’s status as a full part of the UK and threatening their British status. There have been violent street protests against the Protocol in Loyalist areas and the DUP Leader,Jeffrey Donaldson,has threatened to pull out of government and bring down the Executive and Assembly if the Protocol is not amended or dropped. Former First Minister,David Trimble has warned that the Protocol  risks undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

(Click on photos to enlarge )


Prof.Hayward noted that “where there is uncertainty,fear grows.”  Unionists are uncertain about the future of Northern Ireland and fearful that Brexit and the Protocol make a united Ireland more likely. There is alack of trust in Northern Ireland now,with Unionists having litle trust in the British or Irish governments or the EU.  Nationalists in the North also believe that Brexit makes a united Ireland more likely. They do not trust the British government Ireland-although they are inclined to trust the Irish government and the EU.  However surveys carried out by Prof Hayward and others do not indicate majority support in the North for Irish unity. Around 52% of voters would vote to remain in the UK and just 37% would support a united Ireland.

 Brexit was largely driven by English nationalism and,according to Prof Hayward,the British government,in “getting Brexit done”,has undermined devolution within the UK. She said that Northern Ireland’s voice was not heard during the negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement and the Province was taken out of the EU against the wishes of a majority of local voters.  For most of the negotiation period there was no Northern Ireland government because of the collapse of the institutions in February 2017. She also noted that some parts of the Good Friday Agreement had never actually been fully implemented.  A Civic Forum,which was supposed to give wider civil society-trade unions,churches,the business community,a voice was not restored when devolution returned and  a cross border civil society forum never set up at all.  

Professor Hayward said that the Good Friday Agreement had made the Border almost irrelevant and invisible,while the Agreement had also made it possible for people to identify as Irish or British or Northern Irish.. Brexit was bringing back the border and  questions of identity. Cross community contacts were becoming  harder and people felt that they had no control over Brexit or what was happening.

Archbishop McDowell talked about his childhood in working class Protestant East Belfast in the Sixties. Before entering Church ministry,he had worked for Short Brothers  aero engineering-one of Northern Ireland’s most famous businesses. His father had worked for the same company. Before his election as Archbishop of Armagh in 2020,he had served as Bishop of Clogher.  During his time in that cross -border diocese,he had written to Boris Johnston to explain the complexities of the Border A visit to one of his parishes necessitated crossing the Border eight times. 

The Archbishop   expressed his concerns about the way in which Northern Ireland had developed into a “Market Society” in which the “dignity of work” seemed to be forgotten about and the number of working poor was on the increase. He criticised the lack of vocational  training and apprenticeships and that the development of a meritocracy was undermining the common good by making the less well educated/skilled felt left behind.

Archbishop McDowell said that Brexit and the Covid crisis had shown up the divisions in Northern Irish society. These divisions were not unique to the North. In a memorable phrase,the Archbishop said that the Brexit vote,the election of Donald Trump and the rise of populist leaders in Brazil,Hungary and elsewhere meant that over the last five years, “The rest of the world began to look like Northern Ireland.”    He suggested that divisions into majorities and minorities would no longer work. “We are all minorities now”.-North and South.

Minorities were not going to go away and some means would have to be found to allow society to hold together-a recognition of common objectives and of “the things we do together.” Political decisions have to take account of minorities.This was not done with Brexit,where the views of the 48% who voted Remain (including voting majorities in two of the four UK Nations) were not taken into account.

The Archbishop talked about the importance of respect in trying to work for the common good of society. Respect for one another   is at the foundation of human society.-“You are other than me-but I will listen to you.”  Northern Ireland suffers from a mentality in which what is seen as good for one side must be bad for the other side. “We are in danger of  no longer being able  to understand and act in the common good. More of our society than we think  depends on holding back on   our individual and group aspirations. and saying that there are some things which can only be good for me if they are good for you also.”

“If we don’t start to think about that we will have a society forever divided into winners and losers. We win a political argument and say “right,that’s it,we know what to do.’.  But in a properly working democracy the people who are not in the majority are not going to go away.  What am I going to do about that? Am I going to say,in the long term we are going to have to occupy the same space,so we’re going to find something we can all gather around.”

Dr McDowell  told the young people in the audience that their vocation “is to be the prophets of this country”-renewing the vision of what it is to belong to a nation,and helping to answer what sort of a nation we want to be.

The presentations by Archbishop McDowell and Professor Hayward were followed by a Q & A session.  Issues raised included the financial support received by Northern Ireland from the British  government;the need to understand the Unionist tradition and the  question of whether the political centre ground in Northern Ireland.

Bishop Storey  expressed her hope that “this occasion  will make an important  contribution to  building the  reconciliation and understanding that is needed.”

Among those in attendance were Minister Robert Troy T.D.Minister Peter Burke T.D,Deputy Sorca Clarke T.D,and Senator Emer Currie. Senator Currie is Fine Gael Spokesperson on Northern Ireland in  the Seanad,and is the daughter of former SDLP and Fine Gael politician Austin Currie..

Canon Alastair Graham,rector of All Saints’ and organiser of the event thanked “the distinguished speakers” and stated that, “In light of developments in the North regarding Brexit,it seemed appropriate  and important that those of us in the midlands of Ireland would be informed of the situation.” 

Ruth Illingworth

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The Carey Bridge situated at the Fair Green area of Mullingar, has been an important Pedestrian crossing over the Royal Canal since 1953.  What we see today is the second much wider pedestrian bridge constructed in 1998, to replace the smaller bridge which stood number yards nearer towards the Greenbridge side.  On either side of the canal, you may still view the impact of the previous bridge on the wall and canal banks.

So let’s look at the history of the Carey Bridge and what led to its construction and indeed it’s naming. 

The Beginnings
After Irish Independence one of the first tasks Mullingar Town Commission aimed to achieve was to create more housing for the town’s inhabitants, with many of our towns inhabitants living in sub-standard accommodation.

The Fairgreen area which for centuries, was also the main location for trade and livestock sales with markets and fairs still very much part of the commerce of the town, was viewed as being a prime location for housing with its large land expanse and central location to the town centre.  

By the late 1920s, twenty houses named Grand Parade, were constructed on the Fair Green outside the main gate of the Army Barracks. Grand Parade was a very fitting name for this housing scheme, with it incorporating the historic nature of the location which held many fine grand military parades over the centuries.

This of course is unlike many housing schemes today, which bear little or no resemblance to the topography or history of the locality. 
The town commission also sought and succeeded in taking charge of  the Married Quarters in the Army Barracks for use as social housing, and in the process, naming them St Finians Terrace and St Laurence’s Terrace respectively. 

An interesting point to note at this juncture, was that only a mere year or two previous, an Irish Army Officer and his young family had lived in a section of these Married Quarters, one of the young boys of that family was Charles J. Haughey, who later became the Leader of Fianna Fail and An Taoiseach. 

As the 1930s and indeed 1940s progressed, more housing schemes also began to spring up in the Fair Green including, Cathedral View, St Brigid’s Terrace and the Green Road.  For sure, the first twenty years of Irish independence witnessed the members of Mullingar Town Commission on an important mission, and that mission was to provide homes for the town’s residents leaving no stone unturned…… literally!!!! 

The increase in housing of course symbiotically witnessed an increase in the population at the Fair Green area of town, not to mention the great mass of people that thronged the area on fair days.  Local residents and their children wishing to attend local schools, the Garda Barracks and church services in the Cathedral of Christ the King, literally on the other side of the Royal Canal, had to walk down into the town centre to access these locations. 

Consequently, it was reported that a very dangerous situation and habit was now becoming the norm amongst the younger population, with it being reported that local school children were using the railway as a short cut to get to school.   A meeting of Mullingar Town Commission in the early 1950s, heard that it was only a matter of time before tragedy struck, especially regarding the newer diesel trains which were much quieter than the steam engines and therefore less likely to be heard by the school children. 

However, from the late 1930s onwards, a long serving member of Mullingar Town Commission, James Carey had began to lobby both his colleagues on Mullingar Town Commission and Westmeath County Council, to alleviate this concerning issue and sought  the construction of a pedestrian bridge across the Royal Canal. 

Commissioner James Carey was a coach builder at Castle Street in the town centre, and had previously proposed the idea of the construction of an airport in the Lynn/Clonmore area of the town, which of course never materialised.

However, on this issue he was not going to give up and he campaigned relentlessly for the next number of years, indeed, so much so, that the proposal became known as the Carey Bridge by locals, long before the local authority and its engineers even had it even planned let alone designed!!

At the June meeting of the Mullingar Town Commission in 1950, the issue of a pedestrian bridge over the Royal Canal was once again raised by James Carey and as to why there was such a delay is in its construction.   In response, it was reported that at the recent County Council meeting that a letter was read from C.I.E. agreeing to give permission to Westmeath County Council to erect a foot-bridge over the Royal Canal, however, there was a caveat included. 

This Caveat as proposed by these leaders of Irish transport was that, before a bridge could be constructed, that it should be agreed that on six months’ notice from C.I.E. that the bridge could be taken down if they (C.I.E.) deemed it necessary!  This latter suggestion by C.I.E. was rejected by those present with Mr L`Estrange stating that “They would not agree to that”.   

The County Manager also informed the meeting that another issue that arose regarding the delay of the construction of the bridge was that Lord Greville still held a lease on a portion of the land adjoining the Royal Canal.  Things were definitely not looking good for the construction of the Carey Bridge with bureaucracy and “red tape” creating obstacles. 

By July, The County Engineer informed the Commissioners that C.I.E. had now granted permission for the erection of the bridge but that what was now holding up its progression was again, permission from Lord Greville, who held a right of way on the land from the Green Road to the banks of the Royal Canal.

  In response, Commissioner James Carey positively informed the meeting, that in view of the manner in which Lord Greville had acted previously when he handed over the Market House and part of Dominick Street, the Fair Green and tolls to the local authority a few years previously, that it was hardly likely that he would now hold up this project any further.  

In March 1951 at a meeting of the Mullingar Town Commission, Mr Jennings stated that all that was needed now for the erection of the Carey Bridge was permission from the County Council for the erection of a bridge at the site, for which the Town Clerk interjected and informed everyone present, that this had been carried out.

The County Manager also informed everyone that he received a letter from the solicitors of Lord Greville who still had an interest regarding land on the Fair Green side of the proposed bridge and that it stated that his Lordship was willing to dispose of his interest in the site in question, Commissioner James Carey had worked his magic on his Lordship!!! 

It now appeared that the Carey Bridge would now become a reality and the dreams of Commissioner James Carey were about to be realised.   The chairman, Mr Shaw proposed that it would be a nice thing if they wrote to James Carey to inform him of the progress and also the hope that he would be asked to perform the opening ceremony.

By 1952, the Carey Bridge as proposed by James Carey began to become a reality with Westmeath County Council agreeing to its construction.  By November of the same year, the Department of Local Government wrote to the County Council approving a tender of £625 from Messrs Tuberwrights Ltd, London, for the supply of a fabricated steelwork bridge to be erected by the Dublin Erection Company at an estimated cost of £800. 

It was further noted by the County Manager, that this approval was subject to the obtaining of a license for the free import of 5.1 tons of fabricated steelwork from the UK, subject to the consent of the Commissioners of Public Works.

In 2021, one can only imagine the amount of loop holes and paperwork needing to be carried out by Westmeath County Council at this initial stage of planning and preparation. This, faced with the fact that the Ireland of the 1950s strictly followed an economic policy of rigid protectionism, especially regarding importation.

It was not until the early 1960s, that An Taoiseach Sean Lemass, along with Civil Servant T.K. Whitaker were to open up the Irish economy and break with the rigid policy of protectionism with the implementation of the First Programme for Economic Expansion.

In January 1953 a reporter in the local media stated that it would be another 6 months before the steel would arrive from the U.K. Sure enough, Six months later in June, word came through to the people of Mullingar that the steel for the new pedestrian bridge over the Royal Canal was due to arrive within days.  However, this excitement by the residents of the Fair Green area of the town was to be short lived when the tragic news of the death of a prominent local representative was announced.

  The very man who for years had campaigned for the construction of the pedestrian bridge over the Royal Canal, so much so in fact, that locals even termed this architectural dream as “The Carey Bridge” long before it was even given any serious consideration, died at the home of his nephew only a short distance away at Grand Parade.

It was recorded that James Carey was 78, and had only retired as a Town Commissioner two years previously after decades of loyal public service to the people of Mullingar.

Poignantly, James Carey, the noted Mullingar public representative, businessman, coach builder, prize winning carpenter, inventor of parts for winnowing machines and hay bogeys but most of all, champion of the residents of the Fair Green area of Mullingar was never to witness his greatest dream become a reality.

However, the oddities of Life have a strange way of making themselves known, and only days after his passing in June 1953, initial ground works began at the site of the proposed Carey Bridge, with the long awaited steel arriving shortly thereafter.  On Saturday, 20 September 1953, it was reported in the local Westmeath Examiner newspaper that the steelwork for the Carey Bridge had been erected with Westmeath County Council in the process of providing a concrete roadway to enable pedestrians to cross it. 

The bridge was described as being 80ft in length, 6ft wide and weighing 13 ½ tons.   Approaching the Carey Bridge, Trees were now planted along the banks of the Royal Canal along with a “lick of paint” following the completion of works.

However, not long after the bridge was opened and much to the annoyance of local officials it appeared that more than pedestrian began to use the Carey Bridge.   At a meeting of the Mullingar Town Commission, Mr J Coleman exclaimed that he had been informed that a local man looking to take a short cut into town, decided to travel over the Carey Bridge in his “Ass n Cart” making several attempts to cross before realising it was a hopeless case and finally giving up!!!

For sure, many of the town’s people of Mullingar fell about laughing as they picturing this calamitous scene at the bridge named in James Carrey’s honour.  To date, it is not clear whether it was the local man or indeed the poor old donkey, who finally decided to reach this sensible conclusion of giving up on attempting to cross the bridge!!!!!!!!!!!

The Carey Bridge served the people of Mullingar for over 40 years before it was decided that due to an increase in population, that a new more modern wider bridge was required at this location.  In September 1997, it was announced that the old steel fabricated Carey Bridge was to be demolished and that tenders were now sought for the construction of a new pedestrian bridge over the Royal Canal.

  Construction of the new Carey Bridge began almost a year later in the Summer of 1998 with Westmeath County Council allocating £52,000 for the work.  This new bridge was to be located a number of meters to the north of the original bridge which was to remain in place until works on the new bridge was complete. 

So it was that in 1999 that a new more modern pedestrian bridge came into operation with the demolition of the old Carey Bridge.  In March 2002, it was decided that the hard work, dedication and foresight of Commissioner James Carey 50 years previously, was to be remembered with the erection of a plaque in his honour on the Fair Green side of the new Carey Bridge.

This fitting tribute witnessed local dignitaries including his descendants in attendance in which all present were to recollect the life and foresight of this great Mullingar man of yesterday.   The Carey Bridge today remains an important conduit for pedestrians from far and wide who visit Mullingar especially school children as they make their way to the local schools.

So the next time you cross this Mullingar landmark, please take the time to remember Commissioner James Carey and his dream of a pedestrian bridge over the Royal Canal,
“The Carey Bridge: The bridge with a name long before it was even planned!”

Article by  Jason McKevitt © Local Historian     2021
(Formerly a resident of Grand Parade, who holds many happy memories growing up in this part of town)


Ernest Alton was a Mullingar born academic and politician who was Professor of Latin at Trinity College from 1921 to 1942 .He served as Provost of the University from 1942 until his death and Senator and TD for Trinity College from 1921 to 1942.

During the Easter Rising he led the defence of the College against possible attack by the rebels,for which he received a bravery award. While Provost, he attended one of the most significant lectures in the history of 20th century science.

Ernest Alton was born at Marlinstown Mullingar on September 21st 1876. His Limerick born father,James Poe Alton was a bank official. His mother was Margarita Keely. The family later moved to Dublin and Ernest attended the High School in Rathgar. He entered Trinity College in 1892 and studied Classics and Philosophy. He was a brilliant scholar and graduated with First Class Honours in 1896.

After a period working in London as a journalist,he returned to Trinity in 1905 after passing the rigorous examination for a Fellowship in the College. He would spend the rest of his career in the university. A tribute to him after his death stated that Alton: “Believed in God and the Church of Ireland and he loved the Classics.”

Alton was a member of the Trinity College Officers Training Corps. The OTC offered military training to boys and men in schools and universities across Britain and Ireland. When the Easter Rising began on April 24th 1916,Alton,who held the rank of Captain, found himself in command of the OTC as the more senior officers were away on Easter vacation.

He organised the defence of the College against a possible attack by the rebels,who had taken control of nearby Westland Row Station and had access to the loopline rail track overlooking the eastern side of the College Park. Alton feared that the Irish Volunteers might try to seize the weapons held in the College armoury.

Leading a group of about fifty OTC members-comprising students,lecturers and servants,he ” managed to keep up communications with the British military at Beggars Bush barracks and the police at Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street “We removed windows which we filled with sandbags.Firing platforms were constructed along the walls..

We organised our guards,ambulance units,cooking etc.” For two days he and his men patrolled the college while running the risk of being hit by sniper fire. from buildings along Nassau Street and Great Brunswick Street. However the rebels did not attack.

On the third day of the Rising the College was relieved by the 5th Battalion of the Leinster Regiment (the Royal Meath’s),who had just left Mullingar Barracks the previous week after a nine month tour of duty there. As the fighting continued outside,the college grounds filled up with soldiers.

One of the chaplains ministering to these soldiers was Father Bernard Farrell from Mullingar,who would later serve in Mesopotamia (now Iraq).before returning to Mullingar to serve as Administrator in the cathedral. He made history during Easter week when he said Mass for the soldiers.It was the first time a Catholic Mass had been held in Trinity since 1689.

Although grateful to the military for saving the college,Alton was not comfortable with their presence."Soldiers invaded the sacred grass plots,horses and mules kicked up the honoured cobbles,and impeteous Tommies brushed aside impatiently the most august of our academic figures."

For his own military service during Easter Week,Alton was awarded the Military Cross (MC),the third highest bravery award in the British Army. and also received a cup from the College.

In May 1921,elections took place to what the British called the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and the Irish regarded as the Second Dail. Alton was one of four Unionists elected to the 128 seat Dail,along with 124 Sinn Feiners.

The Southern House of Commons met just once,with Alton and his three Unionist colleagues the only members to attend. He did not attend the first meetings of the Second Dail. However he did vote for the Treaty in January 1922. He was elected as one of the Trinity College members to the Third Dail in June 1922 and continued to sit as a TD until the abolition of the university seats in 1937.

In 1938,he was elected to the Second Seanad for Trinity and served in the Seanad until 1942. Although he came from a Unionist tradition,he was loyal to the new state and wished to serve his country. He was on friendly terms with leading government figures such as President Douglas Hyde and Taoiseach Eamonn De Valera.

In 1921,Alton was appointed as Professor of Latin at Trinity. He was a major scholar and was regarded as a world authority on the Roman poet Ovid. His scholarship earned him honorary doctorates from the universities of Oxford and Padua and he lectured across Europe.

In May 1942 he was elected Provost of Trinity. .The following year, he attended a series of lectures given at Trinity by the Nobel Prize winning Austrian physicist,Erwin Schrodinger. Professor Schrodinger was then living in Dublin working as Head of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (DIAS).

His lectures at Trinity,in February 1943,entitled “What is Life” would inspire a new generation of scientists to research the structure of the human genome and work out how genetic information might be stored. The result of this was the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953. Schrodinger’s lectures at Trinity are regarded as among the most significant Scientific talks of the 20th century.

In May 1945,on VE Night,as Europe celebrated the end of the war in Europe,there was serious rioting in Dublin between Trinity students and UCD students. Some Trinity students burned the Irish flag and some UCD students responded by burning the British flag.

Professor Alton was deeply angry and embarrassed by the actions of his students. and condemned them. He was anxious to integrate Trinity fully into Irish life and end the perception that it was still a Unionist “West British” institution. He wrote that he “intended to do all in his power to make TCD a truly national college and to prevent any developments of an anti Irish nature.”

His friendship with De Valera and other government ministers helped secure Trinity its first grant from the Irish State in 1947. Alton was noted for his great personal charm,which “conciliated some enemies and won the college new friends.” In early 1952,shortly before his death,Alton was greatly cheered by a visit from De Valera who informed him that “a very substantial increase in the college grant could be expected.”

Ernest Alton died on February 18th 1952,aged 75. His funeral cortege proceeded from Provost’s House across the Trinity Courtyards to the College Chapel for the funeral service.A tribute to him from a colleague noted ” A chapter of college history closes. The man and his college were one”

Professor Alton’s nephew, Bryan Alton was personal doctor to Eamon De Valera for many years. He followed his uncle into politics,serving as a member of the Senate representing Trinity College from 1965 to 1973.One of Ernest Alton’s grandsons,R.J Babington,also had a short political career. He was Unionist M.P for North Down in the Northern Ireland Parliament from 1969 to 1973.


The Island Of Ireland Peace Tower And The Mullingar Connection

The Island Of Ireland Peace Tower And The Mullingar Connection
The recent passing of former TD Paddy Harte in 2018 and the story behind  the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Flanders and it’s center piece the 100ft Irish Round Tower  has a amazing  connection with Mullingar.

Paddy Harte TD from Donegal and Northern Ireland Unionist politician Glen Barr wanted to build a memorial to all the Irish Catholic and Protestant from the Island of Ireland  who lost their lives in World War 1.

Both men envisaged the park as a memorial to the first World War and to the Troubles. They founded the Journey of Reconciliation Trust with that view in mind.

But there was one problem there was no funding for the project  and the  Fine  Gael government that Harte’s party belong to had offered a paltry sum of money that just didn’t cut it. However there  was a change in government in 1997 and Bertie Ahern was the new Taoiseach.
To Harte’s  surprise Bertie Ahern completely backed the project and made funding available to complete it.

In 1998 The organisation were due to buy the stone from a quarry in  Carlow when local  news & media outlets  reported the controversial demolition of a vacant  protected historical building that was used as the “Work House ” during the Great Famine . The section of building that was being demolished was called St Anne’s block and was used as the County Infirmary from 1936 to 1962 .It had lain vacant since 1987.

Upon hearing of the subsequent demolition and of  the good quality stone that was used in the construction of the work house they asked the Midland Health Board could they take the stone to construct the Irish round Tower. The Midland Health Board agreed of course.

The  Stones were prepared and bag for export to Flanders by John Reynolds stonemason from walderstown drumraney
Indeed John Reynolds was the stone mason who  was  charged with building the round Tower . In total 200 tons of Stone was removed from the building in St Mary’s Hospital to build the round Tower.

The westmeath people involved in the construction of the tower were John Reynolds, Val Reynolds, Derek Reynolds, Rory Reynolds, all from Walderstown, along with Bernard Cassells, of Glasson.

The park was built near where the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division fought together at the Battle of Messines Ridge though the actual site where the tower is located was captured by the New Zealanders on June 7th, 1917.

The Battle of Messines involved the British Second Army, under the command of General Sir Herbert Plumer, in an offensive on the Western Front near the village of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium on 7-14 June, 1917.

Soldiers from the 16th (Irish) and the 36th (Ulster) Divisions played an important role in one of the war’s most effective large-scale operations by reclaiming the German occupied Flemish village of Wijtschate. It was believed that the success of the operation on June 7 created the prospect of reconciliation between the two political traditions in Ireland – British unionism and Irish nationalism.

Recently  a group of people went out to visit the tower in Flanders and discovered that there  is a plaque at the tower that the stone used to build the Round Tower came from Mullingar (Work House).

It’s great to see  that the  thousands of people who visit the island of Ireland peace Park every year  know where the stone that built the
Irish Peace Tower came from Mullingar.

We are unsure if it is mentioned at the round Tower that a westmeath man / Irish stone mason and workers from Westmeath  helped build the Irish Tower. If anyone has information let us know.

This truly is Mullingar’s unique gift to the Island of Ireland  Peace Park. Commentators have suggested that a plaque should be placed at the site of the former Workhouse in Mullingar, (St Mary’s Campus, Cluain Lir) to educate people passing by of the monument’s connection to Mullingar.

But there is a deeper twist to this story, An incredible Twist of Fate.

We also know from records that children were born in the workhouse from 1846 to 1921 . (Until the workhouse system was abolished , when Ireland gained independence)

Some of the children who were born there  when  they  reached adulthood they subsequently joined the British Army in WWI and died in Battle  in  Flanders Fields in the Messines  in Belgium..

One young Mullingar man named William White (22)had given his address as the Work House when he joined the Army. . William like many thousands others died not too far from the Island of Ireland Peace Tower.

A truly remarkable story., that the  stones  in the workhouse where a baby boy  William White   was born is now in  Belgium, not far from where he was killed in action in the Theatre of War.

The stones now take the shape of  a round Tower acting as a memorial  built  to honour Irish soldiers like William White who were killed in WWI from the island of Ireland.

By Editor of Mullingar History

Aerial view of the workhouse in Mullingar and section highlighted that was demolished


Historian Ruth Illingworth looks at the historical lineage that makes up Boris Johnson, who once called himself a ” One Man Melting Pot”

One of his great-grandfathers was a Turkish journalist and politician;a great – great grandfather was a Rabbi in Lithuania; His great x3 grandmother was a Circassian slave girl from the Russian Caucasus. His mother was American and he himself was born in the United States;he is descended from a British monarch and two German Princes;his first wife was half Italian and his second wife half-Indian.His American stepfather was of Hungarian parentage.

One of his great x4 grandfathers was Irish and his godmother,Lady Rachel Billington,is a sister of Thomas Pakenham of Tullynally Castle,Castlepollard.. Brought up a Roman Catholic and a convert to Anglicanism,he has Jewish and Muslim ancestry and a Sikh mother-in law. It is not surprising that Britain’s new Prime Minister,Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson,once described himself as ” a one man melting pot.”

The Turkish great-grandfather was Ali Kemak, the grandson of a slave girl brought to Turkey from Circassia. Kemak was a prominent journalist in the Ottoman Turkish Empire in the years before the First World War and was on good terms with Sultan Abdul Hamid. In 1909,the London “Times” newspaper described Kemak as “amongst the leading men of letters in Turkey.”

He served briefly in the Turkish government in 1919 and was one of the Turkish delegates to the Paris Peace Conference in the aftermath of the First World War. He was murdered by a lynch mob in Ankara in November 1922 during the Turkish War of Independence. His Anglo-Swiss wife settled in Britain and one of her grandchildren was Boris’s father Stanley.

On the maternal side of his family,Boris Johnson is a great-grandson of a noted Jewish-American scholar,Elias Avery Lowe,who was a well known paleographer. Born in Lithuania in 1879,Lowe was the son of a leading silk merchant.

He emigrated to America in his teens and married Helen Tracey Porter,a noted translator who was particularly famed for her translations of the works of the great German novelist Thomas Mann.

She also wrote a play called “Abdication” which received its premier at the Gate Theatre in Dublin,produced by Micheal MacLiammoir in 1948. Her grandfather was a Rabbi in. Lithuania.

The Prime Minister’s mother,Charlotte Fawcett Wahl is a noted artist. Born in 1942,she and her siblings were close friends of the Pakenham family. Charlotte is a descendent of the noted British suffragette,Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Her father,Sir James Fawcett,was a distinguished lawyer who helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the UN in 1948 and served on the European Commission for Human Rights from 1962 to 1982.

Boris Johnson also has German ancestry-as seen in his third name-von Pfeiffel. His great x3 grandfather was Prince Paul of Wurrtemburg-a prominent aristocrat in mid-19th century Germany Another German ancestor was Frederick Eugene,Duke of Wurttemburg. A more distant ancestor was King George the Second of Great Britain and Ireland Through this German lineage,the Prime Minister is distantly related to Queen Elizabeth and to the King of Spain..

Johnson is the first Prime Minister of the UK to be a baptised Roman Catholic-although he is was later confirmed as an Anglican (Church of England),and now appears to be a follower of the religion of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. He speaks French,German,Spanish,Italian and Latin. Part of his schooling took place in Brussels when his father was working there as an MEP and an European Commissioner.

A Westmeath St. Patrick Scholar

On St Patrick’s Day , Historian Ruth ILLingworth looks at one of Ireland’s leading Celtic Scholars who was an authority on St. Patrick.and old Middle Irish.

Professor Kathleen Mulchrone from Westmeath was one of the most distinguished Celtic and Irish language scholars of the 20th century. She was an authority on the life of St Patrick and the early writings about our national Saint, as well as being a scholar of Old and Middle Irish.She published numerous books and scholarly essays on Early Christian Ireland and ancient Irish manuscripts such as The Book of Lecan and The Tripartite Life of St Patrick.

Kathleen was born in Kilbeggan on November 22nd 1895,the daughter of an RIC sergeant. The family moved to Fore where Kathleen attended the local National School. She went to Loreto Convent in Mullingar for her secondary schooling where she got an Honours Leaving Cert in 1913 and was awarded a scholarship to UCD She graduated with a BA in 1916 and got an MA in 1918 .

After the First World War she was awarded a Travelling Scholarship which enabled her to go to Germany to study for a Doctorate at Bonn University. Her doctoral supervisor was a noted Swiss born Celtic scholar called Rudolf Thurneyson,who regarded Kathleen as one of his best students. Her Doctoral thesis was a study of writings about the life of St Patrick.

She would later publish this thesis as a book entitled “Bethu Phatraic:The Tripartite Life of St Patrick.” in 1939. This book was praised by the noted Irish Celtic scholar,Osburn Bergin as,”The best of its kind that has appeared for many a year.”

On her return to Ireland from Bonn,Kathleen was employed by Westmeath County Council teaching Irish to students in the Vocational School in Mullingar. The school was then located in the County Buildings in what is now Aras An Mhuilinn.. She worked there from 1925 to 1927,then moved to Dublin where she taught in Rathmines Vocational College from 1928 to 1938.She was a Lecturer in Irish at U.C.D ‪1931-1938‬.

From 1928 to 1938 she worked for the Irish Manuscripts Commission at the Royal Irish Academy. Her work involved compiling a catalogue of the many manuscripts in Irish in the possession of the RIA. She published a large number of studies of these manuscripts in academic journals and books.

Between 1926 and 1970,she authored or co-authored 14 of the 27 fascicles of the catalogue of Irish Manuscripts in the RIA. Her essays in academic journals included “Studies in Early Irish Law” (1936) and “The Book of Lecan” (1938).

In 1938,Kathleen was appointed to a Professorship of Old and Middle Irish and Celtic Philology at NUI Galway.. She often delivered her lectures in Modern Irish..She retired in 1965 and came back to Mullingar where she lived in Patrick Street…

Professor Kathleen Mulchrone died on June 13th 1973,aged 77. She is buried in Ballyglass .


The Capture of General Sean MacEoin In Mullingar 1921

Jason McKevitt B.A. (Hons) H-Dip. F.Ed.
(Local Historian)

Wednesday the 2nd of March 1921, and it’s a bright, cheery spring evening at the Midland Great Western Railway terminus at Broadstone in Dublin. Two young country lads are making their way to catch the Sligo bound 7:30pm Mail Train, one laden with a parcel, both beholden with the emotions of anxiousness, eagerness and relief. However, these young men are not going all the way to Sligo, but after an eventful time in Dublin, are instead eager to reach their own home destination of County Longford, which lies roughly midway between Dublin and Sligo.

Just as both young men settle into their seats, having placed the parcel upon a rack, a group of British soldiers led by an Officer, enter the train carriage and sit across from both men and within touching distance of the parcel. They are full of high spirits and bravado, as they too were going on a journey westwards. At this stage, one of the young men thinks to himself, that these soldiers might come in very handy for future plans that were held deep within his most inner thoughts.

It was with this in mind that he decides to go to the refreshments room and purchase two five-naggin bottles of whiskey which would greatly assist in further engaging with these soldiers. The plan works, and the soldiers, delighted by the friendly offer of whiskey, become best of pals with both young men. The Irish War of Independence is at its height, but on viewing this scene, one would be forgiven for assuming otherwise.

Who are these two young Country lads?

As the train rolled out of Broadstone railway terminus, both young men wryly smile to each other, glad that they were not recognised by their new imperial friends, as they look forward to reaching home turf!! The taller of the two young men, Commandant Sean MacEoin is Officer Commanding the North Longford Flying Column IRA/ Óglaigh na hÉireann, but was more commonly referred to as “The Blacksmith of Ballinalee”. This is due to his civilian occupation as a Blacksmith in a village of that name in Longford. The British authorities view him as a murderer and the notorious leader of the North Longford Flying column of the I.R.A., one of the most successful I.R.A. units on the island of Ireland.

The young man, who accompanies him on the train journey, is I.R.A. flying column volunteer, James Brady from the Edgeworthstown area of Longford, who had travelled to Dublin with MacEoin hoping to secure ammunition for the North Longford IRA. This ammunition was now upon the rack enclosed in a parcel. MacEoin ever the cunning leader sits back and thinks of ways in which these soldiers can become his prisoners, but he has to reach Edgeworthstown, County Longford first, where his flying column will be waiting to greet their commander on his return.

 Death of District Inspector McGrath

Sean MacEoin and his North Longford Flying Column were one of the most active IRA units outside of Munster throughout 1919 and 1920, and absolutely dreaded by the British Forces in Ireland. Engagements by MacEoin and his North Longford flying column with British Forces included, the previous November 1920, when they were engaged at the Battle of Ballinalee. MacEoins troops successfully defeated and forced the retreat of RIC and British Army troops from this small Longford village.

However, British forces, angered by this defeat, now intensified their aim of destroying the North Longford Flying Column and capturing its leader The Blacksmith of Ballinalee, Sean MacEoin. MacEoin however, was not going to make it easy for the RIC and its support troops of the Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans. He ensured that he kept a low profile and made use of safe houses in the area. One of these safe houses was the home of the elderly Martin sisters on the outskirts of Ballinalee; both sisters, who were spinsters, were sympathetic to MacEoin and the cause of an Irish Republic.

It was at the Martin sisters’ cottage that in early January 1921 tragic events were to unfold that would have serious repercussions for MacEoin for the remainder of 1921. The local RIC led by District Inspector Tom McGrath and accompanied by a contingent of the special reserve, Black & Tans, on hearing that MacEoin was in the locality, decided to carry out a raid at the home of the Martin sisters. As the arrived at the door of the cottage, they began to shout out the name of MacEoin who was inside.

 MacEoin not wanting the women of the house to get hurt made a dash for it firing back at D.I. McGraths raiding party, and thus ensuring that the gunfire which was becoming intense was now aimed in his direction. While The Blacksmith of Ballinalee managed to escape his captors, D.I. McGrath lay dead having been hit during the gunfight, MacEoin was now to be wanted more than ever.

The following month in February 1921, MacEoin now on the run and wanted for Murder was the subject of Police Hue and Cry posters which were now scattered all over Ireland. However, for Sean MacEoin, the fight for Irish freedom remained paramount in his thoughts. The 2nd February 1921, was chosen as the date that MacEoin and his men would once again strike fear into the patrolling RIC and Black & Tans. At Clonfin, Co Longford, an ambush was laid in which mines and intense fire power took out the oncoming forces.

The RIC and Black & Tans were astounded be the intensity of the ambush leading to success for MacEoins forces. Indeed, at this ambush, MacEoin was also noted for his chivalry and compassion towards the dying enemy troops and for ordering first aid for the wounded.

MacEoin summoned to Dublin by Cathal Brugha

It was these recent events that saw MacEoin being summoned to Dublin and ordered to attend an important meeting with Cathal Brugha, Minister for Defence in the 1st Dáil Éireann. Brugha was greatly impressed by the leadership shown by MacEoin and his North Longford flying column during the Clonfin ambush and now had a new mission for “The Blacksmith of Ballinalee”. This mission envisaged MacEoin leading a 22 man IRA Active Service Unit to London with the aim of executing the entire British cabinet including Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

Later in the day MacEoin met with his friend and senior Officer, Michael Collins. On hearing the reason why MacEoin had been summoned to Dublin, Collins was astounded as it was the first he had heard of such plan. Collins cancelled Brugha’s order and instead instructed MacEoin not to go to London but to inform the IRA Chief of Staff, General Richard Mulcahy and return to his command of the North Longford IRA at once. It appeared Collins felt that the situation in the heavily garrisoned area of Longford/Westmeath was more pressing at this stage of the ongoing War, than any mission to London.

Sean MacEoin and his comrade, James Brady made their way to Broadstone Railway terminus to take the next train back to Longford. As they proceeded to make their return home, IRA GHQ in Dublin following information received from a source in Mullingar, instructed the IRA Brigade in Mullingar to halt the 7:30pm train and take MacEoin and Brady off before it arrived in Mullingar Railway Station.

MacEoin in later years during an interview with the Irish Defence Forces Bureau of Military History stated that this tip-off initially came from a Republican sympathiser within the RIC in Mullingar, and none other than its senior officer, District Inspector Harrington, who was secretly working for Michael Collins.

Unfortunately, the local Mullingar Brigade was having its own problems at this time. Following a tip-off regarding a major weapons dump at McDonnell’s Bakery in Dominick Street, Mullingar, three lorry loads of Black & Tans raided the premises finding nothing, only one rifle and a detonator from a previous arms dump, thanks to the clever concealment by the Bakery foreman and IRA Brigade Quartermaster, Terry Smyth from Patrick Street.

However, the RIC arrested Smyth and also began rounding up other leading IRA members including Captain Michael McCoy. Consequently, amid all the confusion, the local IRA volunteers were in no position to carryout the order to halt the train.

        Return to the country

It was with this background, that the 7:30pm mail train to Sligo trundled its way westwards towards Mullingar with The Blacksmith of Ballinalee in a carriage full of unlikely companions. The train now began to reduce its speed as the night lights of Mullingar came into view. MacEoin now content that his next stop after Mullingar would be in his beloved County Longford began to settle and take heart that he was now in home territory. But this sense of contentment was not to last long.

Alarmingly, MacEoin noticed that the train was now taking slight detour than normal and instead of drawing alongside its usual platform beside the refreshment’s room; it gently guided itself into a siding where a large contingent of Soldiers and RIC were standing on the platform. As soon as the train came to a halt the now eager Soldiers and Police began peering into the carriages. Suddenly, a deafening roar echoed around Mullingar Railway station, “All Civilians out on the Platform”.

MacEoin and Brady, knowing that these police and soldiers outside were looking for them, now tried subdue their presence by heartily re-engaging with their military travelling companions. This plan almost worked as their new friend, the young Army officer, poked his head out the carriage window and shouted to his military and RIC colleagues on the platform “all right in here”.

However, an RIC Constable on seeing the two civilians in the carriage instructed them that they must get off. Indeed, such was the intensity and vigour of the RICs need to halt the train and extricate the passengers they were looking for, that the local Westmeath Examiner newspaper reported three days later on Saturday 5th March 1921, that on Wednesday night, the Military was stationed fully armed at the Green Bridge, Scoutail Bridge and indeed at other bridges around Mullingar where the 7:30pm mail train was to pass. A serious situaon was now becoming a matter of life or death for both men, as they exited their carriage.

  Arrest and capture in Mullingar

MacEoin was arrested on the platform on the Left side of the picture

As they now stood upon the platform, they were feeling very thankful that they had taken the advice of Michael Collins and no longer had their revolvers upon their person or indeed the parcel which Brady had placed upon the rack, and now thankfully due to the commotion, remaining unnoticed in the carriage with the their military journeymen.

All the civilian passengers were now placed in rows along the platform and made ready for inspection by the RIC in the hope that they would find Sean MacEoin, the suspected killer of their colleague, D.I. McGrath a number of weeks previously. Policemen paced up and down looking into the faces and asking questions of the passengers including MacEoin and Brady, but the coolness of both men ensured that they did not give anything away that could make them look suspicious.

Suddenly, an old adversary of MacEoin arrived at the platform, Head-Constable Kidd who had previously escorted MacEoin to Sligo jail in 1919. Head Constable Kidd than began to inspect each passenger before arriving at a nervous MacEoin and Brady, he was about to move off when he returned to MacEoin and looked him in the eye again and asked him for his name to which MacEoin replied, “my name is J.J. Smith from Aughnacliffe”.

Head-Constable Kidd however, recognised him straight away and roared “you lie, you are MacEoin”. MacEoin still maintaining his surprise and innocence refuted this accusation. But Head-Constable Kidd was having none of it and summoned his superior officer, the aforementioned, District Inspector Harrington.

D.I. Harrington recognising MacEoin, tried to overrule Head-Constable Kidd, but to no avail. This is MacEoin shouted Kidd, to which Harrington replied “he doesn’t look like the man we want”. Kidd then demanded Constable Dunne be brought forward to help identify MacEoin as he also knew what he looked like, having been previously stationed in Ballinalee.

But while Dunne recognised MacEoin straight away, he informed DI Harrington that “I never saw him before” to which Harrington replied “I thought so”. A furious, Head Constable Kidd now tore at the shirt sleeves of MacEoin and raised his left arm and exposed the white burnt spots and welts of his lower arm, which was the hallmark of a blacksmith,

“Look” he declared, “If this isn’t a blacksmiths arm, then I am a liar, if you do not arrest him I will report you in the morning”. Harrington on hearing this had little option but to agree to the arrest, much to the protestations of the Blacksmith of Ballinalee.

               Escape and recapture

James Brady who accompanied MacEoin on the train journey, when questioned by the RIC gave the name of Richard Bower and luckily for him was not recognised, allowing him to continue on his journey to Edgeworthstown and alert the rest of the column. However, another innocent passenger of the similar name of Edward Brady was initially arrested instead.

This created a bit of humour for MacEoin, especially when Head Constable Kidd informed him that “I now also have your pal Brady”. The soldiers on the platform were now dismissed and returned to the nearby Army Barracks on the Fairgreen as this was now a police matter.

It was well after 9pm at night as two large columns of RIC Police Constables now formed up with their prisoners. The police escort left the railway station and then began to march up the slight hill towards the Green Bridge with the plan to then take an immediate right at the bridge and proceed down Dominick Street on their way towards the RIC Barracks in College Street.

However, MacEoin knowing what possibly lay ahead,   had his own plans and was prepared to die escaping rather than die at the hands of his captors.It was at the top of the Green Bridge that a now handcuffed MacEoin decided that he was going to make a break for his freedom and swung around and lunged at the policemen closest to him in which a number of them fell over each other during the commotion.

many years later , MacEoin points to the place where he tried to gain entry to a safe house in Mullingar while trying to escape.

He ran down towards Dominick’s Street as the Police began to fire shots at him, he looked to his left and noticed two large wooden gates that allowed access to the rear of McDonald’s Bakery yard, which had premises on both sides of Dominick Street (today 2021, Bill Collentine’s yard/The Old Stand Pub yard).

MacEoin knew that if he could only get into the yard behind these gates, he would be in friendly territory as a number of leading members of the Mullingar brigade IRA were employees here, albeit, unknown to MacEoin at the time, some now in custody themselves.

Seeing that the two gates were closed, MacEoin kicked and punched the gates to try and gain access but to no avail, the Police were now beginning to reform and close in on him. MacEoin than ran across the road towards Brophils Hotel (today 2021, Joe Coppola’s) and down along the lane leading into Grove Street.

. But unfortunately, two policemen who were walking over the pedestrian railway bridge at the rear of the station, known locally as the Scoutail Bridge, noticed him and opened fire hitting him in the chest. MacEoin being a very determined person carried on running for other 10 or so steps before crumbling to the ground severely wounded.

As he lay in agony on the ground he was beaten with the butts of rifles by a contingent of Policemen who had now caught up with him. Suddenly the commanding roar of D.I. Harrington ordered everyone to cease their attack and stand clear, MacEoin had just been saved from being killed.

  Captivity in Mullingar RIC Barrack

MacEoin now found himself in the Day-room of Mullingar RIC Barracks having being carried there by two RIC Sergeants under the protection of D.I. Harrington. The local Priest, Rev Fr Kelly was summoned along with the notable Mullingar surgeon, Dr P.J. Keelan, as it was feared that MacEoin was dying.

. On seeing Fr Kelly, MacEoin asked him to convey a message to his flying column and to his Mother informing them of his capture, Fr Kelly knowing that he was being overheard refused point blank to MacEoins request. However, ever the cunning clergyman, on leaving MacEoin, Fr Kelly then paid a visit to Captain Michael McCoy of the Mullingar Brigade IRA and informed him of MacEoins situation.

    Beating by the Black & Tans

Next to visit MacEoin was Dr Keelan who stripped him down to his pants and inspected the wounded area where the bullet had penetrated. He then placed some iodine and lint on it, treating it as best he could under the circumstances. Dr Keelan felt that time was running out for MacEoin as he was bleeding profusely and informed him that he had only hours to live.

 As soon as Dr Keelan left the Police Barracks a mob of RIC Special Reservists more commonly known as the Black & Tans charged through the building and began to beat MacEoin as he lay helpless on the ground in the day-room. Once again, Michael Collins RIC inside man in Mullingar, District Inspector Harrington, saved MacEoins life and ordered the Tans off MacEoin; he then instructed that MacEoin be sent to Mullingar Army Barracks, where ironically he felt MacEoin would be safer.


Mullingar Army Barracks and the move to Dublin

The Guard Room at Columb Barracks Mullingar where MacEoin was held .

The night was now moving into the early hours of the morning as the lorry laden with a seriously wounded Sean MacEoin and his escort of Black & Tans passed through the main gates of the local Army Barracks overlooking Mullingar’s Fair Green. The Lorry travelled towards the Officers Mess and out under the archway to the Military Hospital block at the rear of the Barracks adjacent to the Military Prison.

Two medical orderly’s with a stretcher than carried MacEoin into the hospital block where he was treated as a first response before his inevitable transfer to the King George V Military Hospital in Dublin later on. (Today 2021, St Bricins Military Hospital, Irish Defence Forces/ Óglaigh na hÉireann). He was then moved to S-Block in the Barracks, where a number of local republican prisoners were being held at His Majesty’s Pleasure!!

The British, fearing some sort of rescue attempt by the IRA, moved MacEoin again, this time to the more secure location of a cell in the Barrack Guardroom where he lay for the remaining early hours of the morning on planks with an old army blanket thrown over him. This cell would later become known as “MacEoins Cell” when it was later occupied by the Irish Defence Forces.

The Blacksmith of Ballinalee was now under the watchful eye of the heavily armed sentries of the 1st Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, This was a very wise move by the British, as indeed there was a rescue attempt being put in place, and currently being orchestrated on the eastern edges of Mullingar town, ordered by non-other than Michael Collins, who himself, often stayed in safe-houses in the town.

This cell would later become known as “MacEoins Cell” when it was later occupied by the Irish Defence Forces.

Collins on hearing the news became greatly upset that his close friend was now in the hands of the enemy. As a response, and knowing that it would be only a matter of time before MacEoin was moved to a more secure location in Dublin, before standing trial, Collins ordered at least three ambush parties east of Mullingar.

These sites included the Mullingar to Dublin Road, The Downs and also on the Killucan-Ballivor Road. But the British authorities were taking no chances. At 11am the next morning MacEoin was taken from the Guardroom and brought back to the hospital block for further medical treatment before the next stage of his journey began.

MacEoin was then loaded up into an inconspicuous Red Cross Ambulance instead of an Army ambulance, which would draw attention from IRA observers. It then drove towards the barrack gate with an armed escort of RIC Policemen and an Army officer, who pointed a pistol at MacEoins head informing him that he would shoot him dead if a rescue attempt was made.

The British, obviously becoming aware of the possible ambushes that were now lying in wait on the eastern edges of Mullingar, created a different route plan to get MacEoin to Dublin.

As the ambulance went out the main gate of the barracks and onto the Fairgreen, it immediately took a sharp left and travelled out towards Ballynacargy leaving Mullingar behind and of course possible rescue attempts and ambushes. The Ambulance then reached MacEoins home territory of Co Longford and preceded its course via Trim, Co Meath before finally reaching its destination of the King George V Military Hospital in Dublin.

 Indeed on receiving this information on MacEoins transfer, it was a very frustrated Michael Collins who made the following concluding remark when corresponding later with the Cork No 2 Brigade IRA on the 7th March, by stating “Cork will be fighting alone now”.

Concluding legacy of General Sean MacEoins capture in Mullingar

The capture of the Blacksmith of Ballinalee in Mullingar was to have lasting impact for the remainder of the War of Independence and indeed the truce declared later on the 11th July 1921. Upon his arrival in King George V Military Hospital and his subsequent operation to remove the bullet, MacEoin refused to undergo a general anaesthetic to relieve the pain on the operating table.

His reasoning for this was that he was terrified of being interrogated by the British while he was under its influence and thus providing valuable information. There were more rescue attempts for MacEoin after he was transferred from the military hospital to Mountjoy prison, including an attempt led by Emmet Dalton which almost succeeded.

In May 1921, Sean MacEoin was elected from his prison cell to the 2nd Dail as the T.D. representing Longford/Westmeath. The following month in June, he stood trial for the murder of DI McGrath and was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, his loyal and trusted friend, Michael Collins was to remain committed to his release no matter what.

When talks began between the British and the Irish to bring hostilities to an end and organise a truce. Michael Collins insisted that there would be no truce unless Commandant MacEoin was freed.

Indeed, MacEoin himself when speaking to the Bureau of Military History a number of years later, confirmed this and also provided another aspect of the story around his eventual release. MacEoin explained that the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George was relaxing in his garden with his grandchild when he was approached by officials and informed of the position of Michael Collins regarding a possible truce in Ireland.

The child unaware of the serious nature of the conversation, grew impatient and yelled “Granddad, come on and play”, to which he responded that he could not as he was deciding if a man should live or die. The child is said to have responded “let him live granddaddy!!”

” The British Prime Minister turned to his officials and quietly said let MacEoin live, which led to the Truce and subsequent end of the Irish War of Independence on the 11th July 1921.

Sean MacEoin along with his great friend Michael Collins accepted the founding principles of Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 viewing it with the future possibilities it held for Ireland. Sean MacEoin married the love of his life, Alice Cooney in St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford on the 21st June 1922 and amongst those who attended was his great friend General Michael Collins TD accompanied by Arthur Griffith TD.

 During the subsequent Irish Civil War he sided with the Pro-treaty IRA which after the Civil War was re-organised as the Irish Defence Forces/Óglaigh na hÉireann. In 1929, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and its Chief of Staff. Later, MacEoin resigned from this position to focus on his career as a politician.

He became a leading member of the Fine Gael party serving in several Irish Governments, including as Minister for Defence and Minister for Justice. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Irish Presidency being defeated by Eamon De Valera in 1959.

In 1965 he retired from public life, however, the events of that March night in Mullingar in 1921 were to have a lasting impact on his health. On the 7th of July 1973 at St Bricins Military Hospital, the very hospital where he had previously been held in 1921,

General Sean MacEoin, The Blacksmith of Ballinalee passed away and into the annals of Irish History in 1973. As the crowds gathered at the funeral of General Sean MacEoin in his native Ballinalee, his coffin draped in the National Flag of Ireland slowly moved its way into the graveyard upon a Gun Carriage, of the 4th Field Artillery Regiment, Columb Barracks, Mullingar, poignantly, the very same barracks in which he had beenimprisoned back in March 1921.

Indeed, the Officers, NCO’s and Gunners of this proud Mullingar Regiment formed up as part of a Guard of Honour for their former Chief of Staff. Ballinalee and indeed Longford will always be bound as one when the Blacksmiths story is told. But Mullingar will forever hold a special place in its heart and its history, for the Great Irish Patriot that was “The Blacksmith of Ballinalee” General Sean MacEoin.

Sean macEoin in uniform and Michael Collins in civvies


The westmeath Examiner reported it in their paper in 1921


the Longford Leader , led with the story on their front page as MacEoin was from Ballinalee Co Longford

research of article ,Bibliography ,Primary Source
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1716, File Number S.557. (1955) General Sean MacEoin
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1610, File Number S.2917. (1957) Captain Michael McCoy
Longford Leader Shot trying to escape: elaborate preparations for the arrest of Ballinalee Sinn Feiner, Saturday 5th March 1921, p. 1
Westmeath Examiner, Sensation in Mullingar: Arrests at Railway Station, Saturday 5th March 1921, pg 8.
Secondary Sources
Daly, Leo. (1992). The Eagle has Landed-Well Almost: A Fresh Look at the capture and Wounding of General Sean MacEoin, in the Westmeath Examiner Commemoration Booklet (Mullingar).
General Sean MacEoin: The Blacksmith of Ballinalee Official website, (2021), Accessed 17th January 2021 (
O’Farrell, Padraic. (1993). Sean MacEoin: The Blacksmith of Ballinalee (Mullingar).


Mullingar In 1920



The year 1920 was a dramatic one in the history of Mullingar. The escalating War of Independence increasingly impacted on the town as the year progressed,with shootings, armed raids on trains and the arrests of many local republican activists. The Local Government elections saw gains for Sinn Fein and Labour in the town. Streets were re-named in honour of Irish patriots and the Tri-colour was flown from the County Buildings. Amidst the political turmoil,however, normal life continued, Teachers went on strike for higher pay;local drama groups staged plays in the County Hall, a Choral Society was formed;the Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath denounced “immoral” fashions among women and the Town Commissioners planned to make public baths available for the men and women of Mullingar,


On New Year’s Day,shots were fired at a couple of cars at Clongowney just east of Mullingar, One of the cars belonged to Captain Batton, Director of the Mullingar Motor Company of Castle Street. The other car belonged to Messrs Daly of the Daly Brothers Company in Dominick Street, No-one was injured in the attacks, although Mr Broderick, who was driving the Daly Brothers car had a lucky escape when a bullet lodged in his coat sleeve. The bullets smashed the windows of both cars.

A week later shots were fired at a car belonging to the prominent Mullingar businessman and local councillor,P.J Weymes,as he was being driven along the Dublin Rd. The occupants of the car escaped injury as bullets entered the windows and lodged in the car seats. The attacks on the cars were apparently carried out by local republicans as part of a campaign to stop drivers taking out British car licenses. At a meeting of Mullingar Rural District Council,Cllr Lennon-a Sinn Fein supporter, declared that those refusing to take out motor permits were “making a grand fight for Ireland”.

On January 15th,Mullingar voters had the first opportunity to use the PR system of voting when elections took place to Mullingar Town Commission. Twenty-three candidates ran for the fifteen seats,with the town divided into North and South urban districts. The electorate totalled 1449. All the candidates were male.

Before the election a big meeting was held in the County Hall by Mullingar Trades Council in support of the Labour candidates. The meeting was preceded by a march from the railway station (where the President of the ITGWU and the President of the Railway Workers Union were welcomed to Mullingar) through the town led by three bands. At the meeting,Mr John McKeon,President of the Mullingar Trades Council,declared that while there had been progress in securing the rights of workers in Mullingar,there was “room for greater improvement in workers pay and conditions”

T.J Redmond,the Secretary of the Trades Council, referred to his great-great grandfather,who had been killed in the battle of Vinegar Hill in 1798. Miss Hoyne of the Irish Womens Workers Union also spoke. She was described as “a prepossessing young lady of some 25 summers,who immediately captured the hearts of her audience when she made an eloquent appeal to the women to stand by the men,in the fight for democracy.”


A number of Mullingar men were arrested and tried by military court as the army and police sought to crush the escalating republican campaign. Terence Smyth and Patrick Byrne were arrested at their homes in Patrick Street and were brought to Dublin to be tried at Ship Street barracks. They were accused of possession of ammunition. They refused to recognise the court.

They were convicted and sentenced to terms of one and two years imprisonment with hard labour. Another Mullingar man,Michael McCoy was also arrested. He was tried in Mullingar and sentenced to prison in Mountjoy.
All three men were members of the Mullingar Battalion of the IRA. A raid was also carried out on the bakery and confectionary business owned by the Leonard sisters in Earl (Pearse) street. Nothing incriminating was found but the sisters were leading members of Cumann na mBan. in Westmeath.

The Manager of the Mullingar Motor Company,Lt Delamere,was held up by armed men near the Military Barracks. They searched him for weapons but when they found none,they returned his keys and money to him,tied him up and then let him go unharmed,

At a meeting of Mullingar Town Commission,a rate of 1s/5p in the £ was set for the coming year. An extra 15p in the rate was to be used for the building of up to 200 new houses and an extension to the sewerage system.

In a sermon in the cathedral,Bishop Laurence Gaughran denounced “immodesty and extravagence in women’s dress.” He urged women to adhere to the modesty and purity long associated with Irish womanhood.

At a meeting of Westmeath County Council there was discussion of a proposal from the County Surveyor that the Council should purchase a motor lorry. Some councillors were opposed to the suggestion because it would put the council carters out of work and it was decided not to go ahead with the purchase.

At the monthly meeting of the Asylum Committee,it was stated that there were a total of 976 patients in the asylum as of February 1st. New blankets were required for patients. The contract for supplying tea to the asylum was awarded to Mr John Coleman of Austin Friars Street.

It was reported that a total of £119.00 had been raised in the Parish of Mullingar for The starving children of Europe Appeal and for The Conversion of the Nigerians.


A Mullingar Branch of the Comrades of the Great War Association was set up following a meeting in the County Hall. A total of 200 members were enrolled. The Chairman of the Branch was Mr O McLoughlin from Patrick Street. The Treasurer was Captain Farrell from Harbour Street and the Secretary was Mr T Gaffney from Patrick Street.

The other Committee members were Messrs T Murray,Mill Rd,M Conlon,Springfield Terrace,M Craig,Austin Friars Street,P Callaghan,Trinity Cttgs,C Giff,Austin Friars St and M Connell, Austin Friars St.

The Westmeath War Pensions Committee (Chairman P.W Shaw) was continuing its work in 1920 of caring for the many war veterans in the county. A total of £500 was allocated by the Red Cross for orthopedic treatment for ex-servicemen in Westmeath and the Committee allocated a £28 grant and free passage to Australia for a local ex-soldier who was emigrating.

During the First World War the government had brought in compulsary tillage for farmers to ensure that people were fed during the conflict. With the war now over some farmers wished to stop tillage. The Mullingar Rural District Council was deeply opposed to this.

At a meeting the RDC called on the Department of Agriculture to “compel the graziers of Mullingar District to till the required amount of land under the Tillage Act so that sufficient food for our people will be raised and thereby avoid the threat of starvation which is racing across Europe.

A special Mass was held in the cathedral on St Patrick’s Day at which the sermon was preached in Irish by the President of St Finian’s College,Rev Maurice Weymes. The Choir was conducted by Miss Rosanne Daly of Mt Auburn House and the Mass was followed by a ceili in St Mary’s Hall. The Mullingar Branch of the Gaelic League were among a number of Mullingar amateur drama groups to stage plays in the County Hall and St Mary’s Hall during March. The other groups were the St Mary’s Temperance Club and the Workingmens Club.

A new Education Act was proceeding through the House Of Commons in the spring of 1920 and was causing much concern in Ireland because it seemed to rule out religious schools. The Act was denounced at meetings of Westmeath County Council, Mullingar Rural District Council and Mullingar Town Commission as “godless and anti-Irish” and an attack on Ireland by “a reactionary government.”

The Bishops of Ireland condemned the proposed bill and 1400 people took part in a special novena organised by the bishop in Mullingar cathedral to pray for the failure of the act.


A number of local men imprisoned in Galway and Dublin were freed during April. William Murray and Peter Tormey from Patrick St had been arrested following an incident in which shots were fired at a police patrol on Millmount Rd. When they arrived home in Mullingar they were met by local Volunteers and Sinn Fein members.

They were brought to the County Hall where a meeting of the Railway Workers Union was held in support of Mr Murray-a member of the union. A couple of weeks later,Terence Smyth,Patrick Byrne and Michael McCoy were welcomed by cheering crowds at the station. Three bands headed a massive procession through the town to the County Hall in which local Volunteers marched in military formation. At the Hall a reception was held for the three men. Those in attendance included Cllr Pat Brett and Dr Tony Stanley.

A Special meeting of the Mullingar Comrades of the Great War Association took place in the Parochial Hall to discuss the Irish Ex-Soldiers and Sailors Land Act,which proposed making land available for ex-servicemen to farm. The Mullingar men were determined to get land and looked to the local ranchers and big landowners to give up some of their extensive acres..

At the meeting,Mr Caffrey stated that “whilst Irish soldiers had stood by the Empire in its hour of need,they had never forgotten that they were Irishmen first,last and at all times. They were not going to be denied the benefits which the Land for Soldiers and Sailors Bill promised them.

The ex-servicemen had endured the unimaginable hardships of campaign on all the different war fronts and had fought on behalf of the farmers and protected them. They now wanted some land for themselves. The meeting passed a resolution calling on “the Land Commissioners to at once complete the purchase of lands under the provisions of the Land Act.”

Farmers also came under attack from Rural District Councillor,Mr Lennon-a Sinn Fein supporter. In an extraordinary speech Mr Lennon declared that he “regretted that he belonged to the farming class,amongst whom they would find the most impure and putrid members to be found in any class”. He went on to accuse the farmers of being subsidised by the British government.

At a meeting of the Town Commission a discussion was held on a proposal to supply public baths for the people of Mullingar. One Commissioner declared that “they are badly wanted in Mullingar.” Another Commissioner stated that ” the ladies should be provided for also. They would want a bath as well as the men.” It was suggested that the baths should be located at the Supply.

****. MAY****

On May 31st ,elections were held for the County Council and Rural District Councils. Nationwide these elections were u passed off peacefully, with the Crown forces keeping out of the way.

The newly elected county and district councillors in Mullingar included Mick McCoy and Pat Dooner-both of whom were leading members of the Mullingar IRA. Also elected was Pat Brett,a local shopkeeper who had set up the first Sinn Fein club in town in 1916.

Labour candidates elected included John McKeon of the Mullingar Trades Council. Among those re-elected were P.J Weymes and P.W Shaw. No women ran for election although local Cumann na mBan activists were busy canvassing for the Sinn Fein candidates.

Shortly before the elections,the Mullingar IRA raided the council buildings and,with the help of caretaker Patrick Bailey,they took the rate books from the County Secretary’s Office and hid them under the stage in the County Hall.,where they remained until the new Sinn Fein led council took office.

There was a row at a council meeting at the start of the election campaign when the Mullingar IRA offered to patrol outside the polling stations on election day and keep order. The Secretary of the Council,John T Roche , refused the offer,saying that he was going to use “direct labour” on the day and that he did not want a political party involved in policing the polling. Sinn Fein councillor,William Gillivan accused Mr Roche of having “sworn allegiance to the King”- an accusation denied by the Secretary.

While Mullingar was becoming increasingly radicalised and opposition to the Crown forces was growing,the town remained a British garrison and many local families still had connections to the military. Throughout May advertisements appeared in the local press seeking recruits for ” His Majesty’s Army”.

There were vacancies in the Transport,Signals and Medical Corps of the Army. While the East Yorkshire Regiment were stationed in Mullingar,many local men were serving across the expanding British Empire in places such as Egypt, Iraq and India.


The new council soon began to flex its republican muscles. A resolution was passed at a Rural District Council meeting which called for the County Infirmary (then on the Dublin Rd) to remove two RIC men who were being treated in the hospital. The councillors referred to the police as the “blue coated army of occupation” and stated that the RIC had become a military force.

“They are being treated and made well so that they can go out and shoot people ” one councillor claimed. The Infirmary should refuse to treat members of “the occupation forces.” The British Red Cross symbol on the workhouse ambulance should be painted over.

The job of policing Mullingar was now increasingly being carried out by the Volunteer or Republican police.They were involved in “quelling disturbances and generally seeing to it that good order prevails. In not a few cases they have recovered stolen property.”. Some offenders were ordered out of the town and others were imprisoned in derelict houses or in old jail cells in the County Buildings complex.

On June 29th,the Mullingar IRA carried out a daring operation at the railway station. Having been informed by station employee Michael Horan that an consignment of petrol for an RAF base in Co Galway was coming by rail through Mullingar,the IRA took over the station and took the train into a siding and drained off more than a thousand gallons of the petrol. There was also a raid carried out on the National Bank in Dominick Square in which a number of weapons were seized.

Local IRA members William Murray and Peter Tormey were court-martialled in Dublin for possession of guns following their arrest at a military checkpoint in Mullingar on the Dublin Rd. The two men refused to recognise the court.


The Dail or Republican courts set up by the Dail government began to function in Westmeath in July. The first Sinn Fein Arbitration Court met in the County Buildings on July 3rd. A number of local solicitors were present and the Court was presided over by the prominent Co Tyrone republican lawyer,Kevin O Shiels. Proceedings were disrupted by the military who broke into the meeting and seized documents. However the Court soon met again and increasing numbers of people began to use it.

The Crown court was finding it difficult to function with defendants and lawyers not turning up. The Assizes could only take place on July 8th because “the Courthouse was taken over by the military .Sentries were placed in front of the building and armed soldiers were in position inside.” Local magistrates-Justices of the Peace, as they were known,began to resign their commissions.

Those who resigned included P.J Weymes and P.W Shaw. Many local RIC members also resigned-some because they were being boycotted by their neighbours and others because they refused to carry guns against fellow Irishmen. Many of the police barracks’ in the rural hinterland round Mullingar had by now been burned or abandoned.

At a meeting of the County Council,Cllr Pat Brett proposed that the council should insist,when leasing out the County Hall for a dance that “at least 50% of the dances are Irish.”

It was “time a stop was put to the jazz,two step and other English inspired dances which are included in the programme of dances held in the hall from time to time and are a disgrace to people who call themselves Irish. ” Another councillor declared that “nothing but our own good old Irish dances” should be allowed in the hall

Despite the escalating violence normal life continued in the town. July 1920 saw revival after many years of the Lough Ennell Regatta. The Midland Feis was held in St Mary’s CBS and attracted large crowds. And the summer race meeting at Newbrook Race Course was “a great success.”


Special meetings of the County Council,District Council and Board of Guardians took place in mid-August at which councillors pledged their allegiance to the Dail Government. They also agreed that they would work with the Dail Local Government department,not the British controlled Department based in Dublin Castle.

In further signs of how radical nationalism now controlled Westmeath Council,it was agreed that business should be conducted in Irish where possible and that the Council should work on Irish or Dublin Mean Time,which was 25 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. (Dublin Mean Time had been abolished in 1916 by the British government.)

Westmeath County Councillors also wished to erase history and expunge from the record the fact that the Council had condemned the Easter Rising. The 1916 Minute Book was placed on the table and the offending pages recording the Minutes of the post-Rising meeting and the words of condemnation were torn out and burned. This action was completely illegal and was also pointless,since the condemnation of the Rising had been reported in the local papers.!

Mullingar Town Commission and the Rural District Council were also keen to rename local streets in honour of the the dead patriots of Ireland. Without consulting the local people,they drew up a list of new names. Earl Street became Pearse St and Greville Street became Oliver Plunkett St. Harbour St was re-named after the O Rahilly and Springfield became Republican Glen.

Military Rd was re-named in honour of Thomas Ashe and Barrack St was named after the recently murdered Lord Mayor of Cork,Thomas McCurtain. Castle St became Thomas Clarke St and Blackhall Emmet Street.The Bleachyard/Jail Hill was now to be Thomas McDonagh Avenue and Valley Cottages became Larkin Cottages. Mount St was named Seery Street and Grove St became Thomas Creamer St.

In a sermon preached in the cathedral,Bishop Gaughran prayed that God “through the intercession of Mary would guide the country through the present dark and difficult times.” In the rural hinterland of Mullingar attacks on police barracks continued and a mail train was stopped at the Downs by the IRA and official letters seized. The Mullingar Branch of the Railway Workers Union supported the decision by Dublin railwaymen to refuse to handle munitions or drive trains carrying soldiers.

The County Council was in dire financial straits and was £ 50,000 in the red. There was little or no money for the wage increases sought by council staff such as the Waterworks engineer,James Raleigh (this author’s grandfather) and his colleagues. However,it was decided to go ahead with plans to build a new Vocational School for the town. The school was then based in the Governors House in the Council Buildings and had 180 full and part-time students.


At a meeting of the County Council,councillors were told that the Dail government wished local councils to give work,where possible,to men who had resigned from the RIC “and by this act of loyalty to Ireland they have exposed themselves and their dependents to all manner of hardships “. Councillors agreed to do what they could to help.

A large number of local RIC men had by now left the force. One man who remained with the police in Mullingar,Sergeant Foskin, was passing on valuable information to the IRA-including police codes. A constable who had served in Mullingar,Michael Kelly,was killed in an ambush in Co Clare in September.

A Sinn Fein arbitration court was held in Mullingar on September 20th. It was presided over by local county councillors, Thomas Noonan , N Crosbie and M.J Kennedy and TD,Lorcan Robbins. Mullingar solicitors in attendance included J.J Macken and J.E Wallace.

By now,the local Crown Courts were almost deserted. The only case heard in the Petty Sessions that month involved Thomas “the Bags” McCormack,appearing for the umpteenth time on a charge of being drunk and disorderly.

The altar servers and boy choristers from the cathedral enjoyed an excursion to the shores of Lough Ennell. They visited the grounds of La Mancha house as guests of Mr Thomas Shaw, where they played games and had a picnic. They included K Whelehan, P Shaw,F Shaw,J Jennings,J Carey and P Lynam.

Colonel Charles Howard-Bury of Belvedere House was a long way from his home in September of 1920. The explorer and soldier was in Tibet and India preparing the ground work for a reconnaisance of Mount Everest which the Royal Geographical Society planned to undertake in 1921.

Howard-Bury would lead the reconnaisance. In September of 1920,he visited the Dalai Lama and obtained his permission for the expedition to travel through Tibet. In his diary he described looking northwards ; “In the evening far away the peak of Mount Everest stood up against the setting sun.”


Meetings of the County and Rural District Councils and of the Town Commission were adjourned as a mark of respect to Terence McSwiney,following the death of the Cork Lord Mayor on hunger strike on October 25th.

Earlier in the month many local bodiies , including the councils and the Comrades of the Great War Association had passed resolutions calling for the British authorities to intervene and save McSwiney’s life. The Town Commission passed a resolution condemning the “brutality of the English government.”

The Railway workers Union had decided to refuse to handle trains carrying British soldiers or weaponry. Many workers were dismissed from their jobs as a result of their actions.

The Mullingar railway workers union branch held a meeting to discuss financial support for the sacked workers and also to discuss how Mullingar could be kept fed if the railways closed down as a result of the workers actions and continuing IRA attacks on trains.

It was decided that canal barges and cars could be used to deliver foodstuffs and other essential supplies. People were requested to make their cars or lorries available. Mullingar would become a distribution centre for the surrounding districts with food stored in the town.

The Mullingar Trades council was raising funds to support Catholic workmen expelled from the shipyards and other industries in Belfast. At a meeting of the Council, it was reported that donations received included £18 from the Walshestown area, £10 from the priests of Mullingar and £2/11s from the Railway Workers.

A very substantial donation of £50 was raised at a meeting of the local Protestant community in the Greville Arms,at which the attacks on Catholic workers was strongly condemned

The Mullingar Volunteers were increasingly taking over the task of law enforcement from the RIC. They were reported to have been “very active recently in the suppression of crime of all kinds.” In one case, a man who had tried to rape a girl was imprisoned and given 10 strokes of the birch. Another man was imprisoned after he threatened to burn his mother’s house .

Bishop Gaughran preached a sermon in the cathedral in which he condemned drunkeness.. “If the young people are filled with drink and if the old folk are also full of drink,what is to become of the country?”

A meeting of the Town Commission was told that residents in Springfield were threatening to withhold house rates because the lamps in the area were not being lit. The town lamp – lighter and the Manager of the gas company were blaming each other for the lighting problem.

There was also a problem concerning a lamp in Meeting House Lane,with confusion as to whether the lamp was the property of the Town Commission or of the Methodist Chapel,which was located along the Lane (now Indulgence hair salon).


Despite the escalating war nationwide Mullingar was still considered to be “one of the quietest towns in Ireland”. This changed on the night of November 27th when “an extraordinary and alarming incident caused great sensation and panic in Mullingar.”

A military truck passed through the town and two grenades were thrown from the vehicle as it went down Pearse Street. A 15 year old youth,Joseph McCormack,was taken to hospital suffering from shrapnel wounds and shock. The windows of a number of business premises, including P.W Shaw Ironmongers , Porters Wine Merchants and Canton Casey’s pub were broken.

At a meeting of the County Council, Cllr Thomas Noonan noted that membership of the council “was dwindling as a result of the action of the enemy government”. One councillor (the chairman) was in prison,a second councillor had just been arrested and a third councillor “had a miraculous escape from death by shooting.”

Cllr Noonen praised his arrested colleagues because “they were living in times when every every man who called himself an Irishman was willing to suffer for the sake of his country. To be taken from their houses in the cause of Ireland was a matter of congratulations.”

Arrests of local republicans continued throughout the month. Cllr Pat Brett and Cllr Pat Dooner were among those detained following raids on their homes. Pat Byrne from Patrick Street,who had been released from Mountjoy in March after going on hunger strike was returned to jail. In the House of Commons,the Belfast Nationalist MP,Jo Devlin raised the issue of Byrne’s detention,arguing that it was unlawful.

The Council was actually unable to hold a meeting due to a lack of a quorum. The council chamber was also occupied by the police and the military raided the building and took away minute books and other documents. The tricolour which flew over the building was fired on by Black and Tans,then taken down and dragged along the street behind a military truck.

At a meeting of the Town Commission,a resolution was passed expressing sympathy to the “Lady Mayoress of Cork,Mrs McSwiney” on the death of her “martyred husband.” The Commission also passed a resolution offering condolences to the family of Kevin Barry,executed in Dublin.

The Mullingar Trades Council held a meeting in support of council outdoor staff who were seeking a wage increase. There was criticism of the councillors.

One speaker declared that:” the new councils were composed of revolutionaries , but my experience was that in their dealings with labour ,they were anything but revolutionary.” Thomas Redmond,the Secretary of the Trades Council,stated that “the councils claimed to be out for an Irish Republic,but Labour was out for one better-a Workers Irish Republic.”

The Trades Council was continuing to raise funds for the Belfast Expelled Workers Fund. Among the local donations were 10 shillings from the residents of Dominick Street and 19 shillings from the residents of Lynnbury and Belvedere Terraces.

Money was also being raised for a new Fire Brigade for Mullingar. The Brigade numbered 17 members by the end of November. Subscriptions to the fund included £5 from Colonel Batton of the Mullingar Motor Company; £ 2 from the priests of the parish, and £2 from Richard Mullally,plumber.


Arrests of local IRA members and other republican activists continued as 1920 drew to a close. Christopher Fitzsimons was detained in a raid on his father’s house. Owen Mc Loughlin was also arrested. Both men were members of the Mullingar Brigade. The house of Cllr Pat Brett was raided by police once more.

Members of the County Council arrived for a meeting to find Head Constable Kidd and six other policemen in occupation of the council meeting rooms. It once again proved difficult to get a quorum for the meeting. When the meeting did get underway,the main item for discussion was the demand by council outdoor staff for a wage increase. The council was not in a position to grant such an increase as it was nearly bankrupt.

A club house for the Mullingar Comrades of the Great War Association was opened by Colonel Cooper of Dunboden. The club was located close to the military barracks in Patrick Street. The British Army was still a strong presence in Mullingar and an advertisement in local papers sought magazines and books for the Soldiers’ Home at the Fair Green. The home had opened in 1906 and was designed as an alcohol free recreation centre for the soldiers stationed in the town.

The Mullingar Motor Company was advertising cars for sale at prices ranging between £625 and £800 .The types of car on offer included the Talbot and the Alvis.
The Company was expanding at its premises on Castle Street,with Managing Director, Colonel Batton declaring that the business would be selling products ” which would be among the best in the United Kingdom.”

Other shops and businesses in the town in 1920 included Days Bazaar; Weirs’ Medical Hall; Dave O Callaghan’s cycle shop: the Arcade Ladies Drapery; T L Hutchinson Drapery;Coyne’s Forge and Brophils Hotel.



Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury: The Great Adventurer of Belvedere House


The Majestic Belvedere House and inset Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury

Written and researched By Jason Mckevitt © (Historian) April 2020

The story of Belvedere House with its many myths, legends and infamous characters has been part of the historic and social fabric of the town of Mullingar and its hinterlands for centuries. Indeed, the many owners and residents and close relatives associated with the house have entered the annals of the local history of not only of this County town of Westmeath, but also in that of the nearby villages of Tyrrellspass and Castletown-Geoghegan and most tellingly Rochfortbridge.

One such owner of Belvedere House who became not only a man of note in Westmeath, but who also left an indelible mark in the world of soldiering, politics and that of adventure and mountaineering, is Lieutenant Colonel Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury D.S.O., D.L., J.P. Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury was born on August 15th, 1883 with conflicting reports of his actual place of birth .

Some authors have suggested that he was born in London, while others, state his birth as being at Charleville Castle in Tullamore, Kings County (Co Offaly) . Notwithstanding these conflicting accounts of his actual place of birth, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Howard-Bury will be forever associated with Belvedere House in Mullingar, County Westmeath.

Lt Col Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury was born into an aristocratic family from the Charleville Estate and Castle in Tullamore, Kings County . Charles was the son of Captain Kenneth Howard who was descended from the Dukes of Suffolk and Berkshire in England, and Lady Emily Bury the daughter and heiress of the 3rd Earl of Charleville . Lady Emily’s father had died in 1859 and her uncle Alfred had taken over the family estate until he too died in 1865 .

It was as a result of this, that Lady Emily became Heir of the Charleville estate and married Captain Kenneth Howard. After they were married, it was decided that Kenneth would incorporate the name of his wife within his own and as such the family name became Howard-Bury . This was something quite unusual for the patriarchal Victorian period of nineteenth century United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland.

It was reported that when young Charles was born that his father exclaimed to his sister Lady Winifred Howard that ‘The brat is enormous and ugly and it squalls like hell’ . This no doubt was indicative of the paternal instinct of members of the aristocracy during the Victorian era. Indeed, the rearing of children in the Big House was not one where the mother or father took a lead, but rather one where servants and other employees such as Nurses and Governesses filled the void .

Capt. Kenneth Howard-Bury was a noted botanist and had been a Captain in the Royal Horse Artillery travelling extensively throughout the British Empire including Australia, Canada and India . These latter travels to distant lands no doubt fulfilled Kenneth Howard-Burys love of botany and allowed him to compare and contrast different types of flora on his travels .

Indeed, it has been suggested that both Captain Howard and Lady Emily Bury had met while both were on separate Botanical excursion to North Africa . This love for adventure and all things botanic by the parents of Col Charles Howard-Bury would no doubt influence their son as he grew older.

However, influencing patriarchal figure of Capt. Kenneth Howard-Bury on the life of young Charles was to be short lived. Capt. Bury in 1884 had been appointed as the High Sheriff for Kings County and all appeared to be going very well for the Howard-Burys in Tullamore . But then, tragedy struck the family when Capt. Kenneth Howard-Bury died on the 24 August 1885 at the age of only thirty nine . Both Charles, an only son, along with his sister Marjorie were only very young children and were now left without a father to guide them in life .

This loss for the young Howard-Bury children was soon to be replaced by another patriarchal figure to enter their young lives in the form of their cousin Lord Lansdowne . Lord Lansdowne was the Viceroy of India during this period and as guardian of the young Charles Howard-Bury would influence his later interests in both visiting and exploring this Jewel in the British Imperial Crown, as he grew older . Lord Lansdowne later became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1900-1905, which no doubt further encouraged Charles .

Charles like most of his social equals was educated at home and was later sent to England to attend boarding school and became a boarder in Eton College near London . On completion of his studies, Charles followed the career that was the norm for young landed heirs at that time, and attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as a young Officer Cadet in 1903 .

Charles was Commissioned as an Officer into the Kings Royal Rifles and posted to India in 1904 where his love for adventure was about to begin . Indeed, Michael Parsons writing in the Irish Times in 2012 suggested that Charles Howard-Bury took to Life in the British Raj in India very favourably, with game hunting, climbing and adventure becoming a major part of his time there .

Charles Howard-Bury’s love for adventure was to raise quite a few eyebrows and indeed consternation amongst his superiors, especially Lord Curzon the then Vice-Roy of India . It was reported that in 1905, the young Army Captain had decided to go on an adventure and secretly entered Tibet disguised as a native . Howard-Bury it appears, won the support of the native “Holy Men” when he shot and killed a man eating tiger which had terrorised the area and was reputed to have killed twenty one people . Howard-Burys’s fondness for the natives and yearning for learning languages, saw him being able to speak Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu as well as English and French fluently .

This flair for languages did not go unnoticed by his senior officers and he was recommended for promotion within the Intelligence Service of the Army . Indeed Howard-Bury writes in his diary that ‘he felt so secure with the native’s customs and practices that on having a very severe tooth ache, he decided to avail of the local native dispensary so as to obtain a native remedy to reduce the pain of his tooth ache’ .

This native remedy was so successful in relieving the pain for Howard-Bury that he became an advocate for its promotion. And what was the name of this native remedy many of you may inquire???? Well, its name was ……Cocaine!!!!!!!

In December 1907, tragedy struck Howard-Bury once again, when his only sibling, Marjorie died of Typhus at the family estate in Charleville Castle in Tullamore . This no doubt was to have a profound effect on him and it could be suggested that it furthered his need to get away from the family estate of Charleville Tullamore. However, his travels were to be curtailed once again, when in 1912 his cousin Charles Brinsley-Marley died and left him the Belvedere estate in Mullingar, Co Westmeath .

Charles Howard-Bury now found himself with not only a new estate but also a new found wealth and income and as such decided to resign his Commission from the Army and focus on running the Belvedere Estate . Notwithstanding his new life as a country squire, Howard-Bury began to yearn for adventure and travel, and once more and set about the process of planning for his next adventure.

The yearning for adventure and travel which was to pulsate within the very being of Charles Howard-Bury saw him viewing the Tian Shan Mountains in Central Asia as a location for his next adventure.

This mountainous region of Central Asia lies like a blanket along the bordering nations of Russia, China, India, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan . It was nearing the end of May 1913 when Howard-Bury departed his residence at Belvedere House via London and Berlin on his quest to navigate and explore the peaks of these salubrious Mountains.

It may also be added that Howard-Bury may have been attracted to this region due in part to the Chinese Revolution which had occurred the previous year. This event also witnessed abdication of the Chinese Emperor in 1912 . It is also recorded in Howard-Burys’s diary from his time in the Kuldja Province that ‘the area is suffering from a sense of lawlessness’ with a criminal element operating between the border of Russia and China .

However, crime and revolution did not get in the way of Howard-Burys love for nature and indeed animals. It was while journeying to Kuldja that Howard-Bury noticed some local hunters playing about with a three week old bear cub .


AGU the bear can be seen at the Greville Arms Hotel Mullingar

Howard-Bury records in his diaries that he took ownership of the bear cub and named the bear cub “Agu” which is the Kazak for bear . The bear cub was eventually relocated to Belvedere House in Mullingar and became a familiar sight for visiting guests and friends before ending its days in Dublin Zoo . Today as I write in April 2020, the head of Belvederes most notable bear, Agu, may be seen in the museum section of the Greville Arms Hotel, Mullingar.

Charles Howard-Bury had spent six months travelling the region and as such looked forward to returning home to Belvedere House to rest and plan his next adventure. As the year 1914 came into being so would the next mission for Charles Howard-Bury albeit one out of a sense of duty rather than choice.

The events of August 1914 once again saw Charles Howard-Bury return to the colours with the outbreak of World War 1. He re-joined his old regiment, the Kings Royal Rifles and by 1915 had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel .

The life of a soldier appeared to come natural to Howard-Bury with him seeing action in campaigns such as Arras, The Somme and indeed Ypres . By late 1917, Howard-Bury was once again back in the Ypres region, fighting at the third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known amongst Military Historians as the Battle of Passchendaele .

The character of Howard-Bury and his legacy of daring escapades witnessed him being captured by the German Army and transported to a Prisoner of War camp at Furstenberg in Germany . Military tacticians and instructors, often state that when a soldier is captured by the enemy, that the soldier’s first response is to plan his/her escape as soon as possible while their physical and physiological condition is still in relatively good shape . This idea was not lost on Howard-Bury and after much preparation and planning he managed to escape from Furstenberg, lasting three days on the run before he was once again captured by German soldiers .

Howard-Bury remained a prisoner of war until after the Armistice on the 11th November 1918 and was not released until May 1919 . This determination and bravery of Howard-Bury was recognised by the British Government and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order medal, more commonly known as the D.S.O. which is awarded to Officers of the British and Commonwealth Forces for distinguished services rendered in time of war . Once Howard-Bury had been repatriated after the war he decided to once again, return to the life of the country squire at Belvedere House, Mullingar.

Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury may have been seen as a hero to the British Government but on returning to his home in the Irish midlands in late 1919/20 he saw a landscape which was in a state of flux both socially and politically due to the Irish War of Independence. The old Anglo-Irish elite were now being left in no uncertain terms, that they were no longer welcome with many big houses being burned to the ground by Republican forces .

The burning and destruction of the homes and estates of the landed Anglo-Irish was all too familiar for Howard-Bury, with fourteen big houses having being burned in nearby Kings County/Offaly during this period .

In spite of these occurrences, Howard-Bury was appointed Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for County Westmeath and appointed to the role of High Sheriff for Kings County/Offaly in 1920 . These roles by this stage in Irish history were no doubt seen by some sections of Republican society as being a representation of a foreign Government’s power over their newly proclaimed Republic.

These social and political implications no doubt had an effect on Howard-Bury and could be construed as an influencing factor in the next important decision he was to make and indeed encourage his more adventurous side. As the War of Independence intensified in Ireland during 1920, so too, did Howard-Burys sense of escape and adventure.

Howard-Bury sitting third from left Mount Everest team

Howard-Bury sitting third from left Mount Everest Team

If the early 1920’s was a time of great upheaval in Ireland the remainder of the U.K., especially in that of England saw many former military officers and adventurers focus less on the act of war and more on the cause of exploration and adventure. The Alpine Club and the Royal Geographical Club (R.G.S.) were planning to carry out a reconnaissance of the World’s highest mountain, Mount Everest with a view to reaching its peak at a later date .

Sir Francis Younghusband the President of the R.G.S. needed someone who could not only lead this expedition but also someone who could communicate with the local authorities of the region . Howard-Bury on hearing of these developments, offered his services at his own expense, as expedition leader and also his polymathic skills regarding Asian languages .

Howard-Bury was duly accepted in January 1921 and was dispatched to India to negotiate with local officials and indeed the Dali Lama of Tibet to gain permission for the expedition’s team to access these regions with a view to gaining the best possible access route to Mount Everest . Not long thereafter, Howard-Burys linguistic and negotiation skills paid off and the expedition team was granted permission to access the region .

The expedition team led by Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury finally moved out towards Darjeeling in North India in early 1921 and was in situ by mid-May . Included amongst the members of the expedition were the noted climber, George Leigh-Mallory along with others such as Guy Bullock, Harold Raeburn and Dr A.M. Kellas amongst others . Also included were many Tibetan and Nepalese coolies as Sherpa’s as workers and guides for the western led expedition .

Charles Howard-Bury points out in his book, “Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance, 1921” that the local Indian administration was very supportive of his expedition’s endeavours, and although unable to provide much financial support, supplied an officer from their Geographical department and met much of the costs of the actual survey .

Howard-Bury also states out that the Viceroy of India, Lord Reading and his wife donated 750 Rupees towards the expedition . The Tibetans called Mount Everest, which at its peak reaches 29,000ft, ‘Chomo-Lungma’ meaning ‘Goddess Mother of the Earth’ . Indeed, this Tibetan name was not lost on the expedition members as they recorded new types of flora and fauna as well as surveying the mountain and possible routes to its peak. During the reconnaissance, Howard-Bury as a botanist, was tasked with recording new species of flora and fauna along with his leadership role . One such discovery led to the plant white primula, being renamed after Howard-Bury with the new name of Primula Buryana .

The Reconnaissance expedition had spent several months from late May to late August 1921 exploring both the central and northern routes of Mount Everest to gage which route was the most accessible and safest to reach its peak at a later stage .

It was during the reconnaissance that Howard-Bury provided the beginnings of what was to become the legend of the mysterious “Abominable Snowman” or “Yeti” . Howard-Bury described that on being about 20,000ft above ground, he noticed human like figures crossing an open space several feet below their position . On coming across the tracks in the snow to examine them, the Tibetan coolies exclaimed they were the tracks of the “Methokangmi” translated roughly, as the Abominable Snowman .

However, Howard-Bury in his book, suggests that this may have been more likely the tracks of the grey wolf in soft snow which appear bigger . Notwithstanding this latter statement by Howard-Bury, the western media sensationalised the story with later adventurers and climbers to the Himalayas also proclaiming this myth.

The expedition team also encountered some difficulties including poor hygiene by the coolies who prepared the food leading to stomach problems and equipment issues . The death of Dr A.M. Kellas from dysentery was also a major blow to the team notwithstanding the continued tension between Howard-Bury and Raeburn, with Mallory stating that ‘He found Howard-Bury to be a fine leader but that he did not like him very much’ .

By the autumn of 1921, the expedition had returned to “civilisation” as Howard-Bury referred to it, and the expedition’s efforts had been declared a great success by all . The expedition had according to Howard-Bury succeeded in locating a possible route to the peak of Mount Everest up the North East Ridge .

The Surveyors had also recorded thousands of miles and the geology of the area which as Howard-Bury stated ‘further opened up thousands of miles to human knowledge’ . The reconnaissance had paved the way for the further exploration of Mount Everest and with Mallory making his ill-fated return to reach its peak in 1924 which ended with his death .

When the success of the reconnaissance reached London and indeed the western world, the members of the expedition were feted as celebrities. The original cost of the expedition was estimated at £10,000 but in reality came to the more reasonable cost of £4,000 . Howard-Bury as leader of the expedition along with his team were provided a reception at Buckingham Palace by King, George V .

He was awarded the Founders Medal by the R.G.S. on the 20th of March 1922 and became much sought after by the Conservative Party who due to his celebrity viewed him as a great potential candidate who could win a seat in the forthcoming Westminster elections .

Howard-Bury election poster

Howard-Bury election poster

Later in 1922, Howard-Bury as a Conservative party candidate won a seat for the party representing the Bilston in South Wolverhampton . Having lost his seat in 1924, he went on to run as the Conservative candidate in 1926 for Chelmsford once again winning the seat . However, it was during these years while being involved in British politics that Howard-Bury felt the yearning for his beloved Belvedere House back home in Mullingar and ran unsuccessfully for the Irish Senate in 1925 . By 1931 and with the death of his mother, Lady Emily, Howard-Bury retired from politics and returned to Ireland to focus on his Irish estates at Belvedere and Charleville in County Offaly .


Belvedere House and gardens


On returning to Belvedere, Howard-Bury set about putting things in order around his estate and other properties in his possession around the Mullingar area. Amongst some of these housekeeping duties included letters from the solicitor of a local well known businessman, inquiring if Howard-Bury would sell nearby Bloomfield House to him for the sum of £3,200, this offer was refused with great vigour .

Other mundane issues for the great adventurer to deal with included the provision of a metal pump for the Garda Barracks in Kinnegad for which Howard-Bury happened to be its landlord .

It appears that the unsettled nature of Howard-Bury, once again made itself known, and he began to show little interest in his Irish affairs and looked to travel and adventure once again.

This low interest, may be seen in a letter received by his cousin and fellow trustee of the Lady Belvedere Orphanage in Tyrrellspass, Capt. Arthur Boyd-Rochfort V.C. . Within this letter, Mr Smith, Commissioner with the Charitable Donations and Bequests for Saorstat Eirerann, wrote that he received a complaint from Rev J Levis, Church of Ireland Rector of Tyrrellspass and curate for the Orphanage, stating that ‘Lt Col Howard-Bury seems to have little interest in the running of the orphanage and spends most of his time abroad’ . The fact that Howard-Bury paid very generous subventions towards the running of the orphanage appeared to be discounted by the good Rector.

The arrival of another World War saw Howard-Bury once again leave Ireland, but this time to take up a role with the British Red Cross. It was during this period that he met his dear life companion, Rex Beaumont, who was an actor, poet, fashion designer and now an Officer in the Royal Air Force Reserve .

After the war both Howard-Bury and his companion Rex Beaumont set up home at both Belvedere in Mullingar and at his villa in Hammamet in Tunisia . Such was Howard-Burys’s position amongst the British establishment, that his villa was used by the British Ambassador regarding negotiations in terms of Maltese/Tunisian relations .

Back in Mullingar both men became widely renowned for their lavish parties at both Belvedere and indeed in the local Greville Arms Hotel. During the 1950’s and early 60’s, the local race meetings in Kerry and the Rose of Tralee festival, became the regular haunts for Howard-Bury and his companion Rex . Both men were to be found either cheering on one of their horses or indeed sponsoring a race, with Rex acting as a judge for the beauty pageant . By the early 1960’s, time was beginning to catch up on the now octogenarian and his younger companion.

Notwithstanding his age, Howard-Bury became noted for his anonymous donations to charity and his belief in the working together of all the local Christian churches in Mullingar . This was to be seen through his secret donations for the poor of Mullingar through the local Roman Catholic Priests, Rev Fr Joe Dermody and Rev Fr Finian O’Connor and the local Mullingar Protestant Ministers, Rev Ian McDougall, Church of Ireland and Rev James Black, Mullingar Presbyterian Church .

Charles Howard-Bury took ill in September 1963 and died on the twentieth of the month with his dear companion Rex Beaumont being the chief mourner . The funeral for Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury was held in Mullingar with his internment at the family vault at St Catharine’s Church of Ireland in Tullamore . The legacy of Howard-Bury has not been forgotten by climbers and adventurers alike in the twenty first century.

In 2012, mountain climbers, Dan Clarke, Matt Traver and Mike Royer on reaching the peak of P.T.4766 in Kyrgyzstan named the mountain in honour of Charles Howard-Bury with it being now recorded as Peak Howard-Bury . Howard-Bury left Belvedere to his companion, Rex Beaumont, who due to financial difficulties in 1982 sold it to Westmeath County Council.


Rex Beaumont  at Belvedere

A brief interview with a friend of Rex Beaumont has made for some interesting anecdotes. It is pointed out that Rex carried on the charitable work of his companion to such an extent that it left him in a precarious financial position . This financial position led to Belvedere being sold and indeed Rex Beaumont settling into a remote cottage outside Mullingar town.

It was further suggested that this left Rex feeling quite lonely. It was further explained that a few months before his death, Rex and Westmeath County Council came to an agreement where he would be allowed to move back into Belvedere until he died . Rex Beaumont sadly passed away at Belvedere on the 22nd of October 1988 with his funeral taking place at the Cathedral in Mullingar with burial at Ballyglass cemetery, Mullingar .

In conclusion, the Anglo-Irish landlord system in Ireland has often been viewed by many over the decades as one of oppression, greed and of a class who were alienated from the realities of their native tenants. However, when one takes a closer look of one such Landlord, such as that of Howard-Bury of Belvedere, a more humane and adventurist side appears. Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury was a man like no other and one who not only changed the face of the map but also one who displayed a kindly nature through charitable donations to the local community, albeit very low key. Some people aim to achieve their life’s desire, but for Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury, to reach his life’s desires; he lived many lives within one!!!!!!

By Jason Mckevitt © (Historian) April 2020

Research /  Referencing to  Article etc.
French, Robert, The Lawrence Photograph Collection: 1865-1914, available at ( (7 November 2014). 
High Sheriffs for 1884, Kings County, available in the Irish Times, 24 November 1883. 
Howard-Bury, Charles, Mount Everest: The reconnaissance, 1921, (London, 1922). 
Interview with Ruth Illingworth, 14 December 2014.
M Smith to Capt Arthur Boyd-Rochfort, 1 January 1938, (Westmeath County Library, Howard-Bury Papers, M, 1938).

Obituaries, Liet-Col C.K. Howard-Bury in The Times, Sat, 21 September, 1963.

Obituaries, Westmeath Examiner, Sat, Sept 21, 1963.

Obituary, Rex Beaumont in Westmeath Examiner, Sat, 29 Oct, 1988.

R.A. Rafferty (O.P.W.) to Belvedere solicitor, W.R. Featherstonehaugh, 26 may 1932,(Westmeath County Library, Howard-Bury Papers, N 1932).

Rev J Levis to Capt Arthur Boyd-Rochfort, 1 January 1938, (Westmeath County Library, Howard-Bury Papers, M, 1938).

Standish E. Mason to Charles Howard-Bury, 10 Oct 1932,(Westmeath County Library, Howard-Bury Papers, N 1932)

Daly, Leo, The Parish of Mullingar, (Mullingar, 1984).
Davis, Wade, Into the Silence: Mallory and the Conquest of Everest, (New York, 2012).
Davis, Wade, My Hero: Charles Howard-Bury, available at the Guardian Newspaper online, 23 November 2012, (
(15 Nov 2014).

Dooley, Terence, The Decline of the Big House in Ireland, (Dublin, 2001). 
Dooley, Terence, The Big Houses and Landed Estates of Ireland: A Research Guide, (Dublin, 2007).
Illingworth, Ruth, Westmeath’s Everest Pioneer: Charles Howard-Bury in The Westmeath Examiner Newspaper, Sat, June 17, 2006. 

Keaney, Marian, Charles Howard-Bury: Mountains of Heaven: Travels in the Tien Shan Mountains, (London, 1990).
Keaney, Marian, From Belvedere to Everest, in Westmeath Examiner Newspaper, Sat 9 Nov 1991. 
Keaney, Marian, Wooing the Widows at Belvedere and when Col Bury was asked to succeed Lawrence of Arabia in The Westmeath Examiner, Sat April 25, 1998. 

Keaney, Marian, Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury (1881-1963) available at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ( (15 Nov 2014).
McConville, Seamus, Miscellany in The Kerryman Newspaper, Friday, 03 Sept, 1982. 
Newman, Sharon, From Mullingar to Mount Everest in The Westmeath Examiner, Sat, 31 May 2003. 
O’Brien, Gearoid, Belvedere House Gardens and Park, (Athlone, 2000).

Parsons, Michael An Irishman’s Diary, available in the Irish Times, 17 March 2012. 
Reilly, Ciaran J, ‘The Burning of Country Houses in Co Offaly during the Revolutionary Period, 1920-3’ in Terence Dooley and Christopher Ridgway (eds.), The Irish Country House: Its Past, Present and Future, (Dublin, 2011) 
Reynolds, Adrian P, “The Man Who Walked off the Map”: Lt Col Charles Howard-Bury (1883-1963) (LO 1713, Master’s Thesis, NUI Maynooth, 1997). 

Sharkey, Olive, Belvedere Restored, in the Irish Arts Review, XIX (Autumn, 2002).
The Mountain Named after a Mullingar man, in The Westmeath Examiner, Sat, March 03, 2012.

History Of All Saints Church


All Saints Church Mullingar

All Saints’ Church,Mullingar is one of the most historical places in Mullingar. The present church building is two centuries old but there has been a church on the site always known as All Saints’ for more than 800 years. All Saints’ can be described as being the very soul of Mullingar,with a history stretching back to the very beginnings of the town.

The story of All Saints’ begins with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans to this area in the 1180’s. The lands between Loughs Owel and Ennell were granted to William Petit by his cousin and feudal lord,,Hugh De Lacy. Petit built a castle on the site now occupied by the County Buildings along the banks of the River Brosna. The first chapel in Mullingar was in this castle,with a priest and curate saying Mass daily for the Petit family and their entourage.

As the town of Mullingar began to develop in the shadow of the castle, a church was built around 1202 just a little to the north-east of the castle. This church was the first All Saints’ building. The rector was Father Ralph Petit who was William Petit’s brother. Father Petit would later become Archdeacon of Meath. In 1227,he was appointed as Bishop of Meath-one of two rectors of All Saints’ to have have served as Bishop of Meath to date.

The Parish of Mullingar was created around 1205 and All Saints’ became the parish church. The parish had a curious relationship with an Augustinian Monastery in England called Llanthony,-near Gloucester under which the tithes raised in Mullingar parish went to Llanthony and the Prior of the monastery was the parish priest of Mullingar.

(There was a similar arrangement with the parish of Rathconnell). Llanthony had been founded by the De Lacy family and was close to the place of origin of the Petit family. Since the Prior did not live in Mullingar he appointed a rector to care for the parish. This arrangement continued until the Reformation.

All Saints’ also enjoyed a close relationship with the Augustinian Priory of St Mary,which was founded by Bishop Petit in 1227. The priory was located just to the north-east of All Saints along a site which stretched from the modern day town park across Austin Friars Street as far as Mill Rd.

The congregation of All Saints’ Church comprised the descendents of the immigrants who had settled on the Petit lands,having come to the area from Wales,England,France,Flanders and other places. The native Irish of the area would also have worshipped there.Day after day Mass was said in the Church in the Latin language which was then the liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Protestant Reformation reached Ireland in 1536 when Henry V111 proclaimed himself to be Supreme Head under God of the Church in Ireland. The monasteries-including the Augustinian House in Mullingar,were dissolved and English began to replace Latin as the language of the Mass. In 1559,the Anglican Church was formally established in England,with the creation of the Church of England.

A sister Church-the Church of Ireland was set up in 1560. This was now the State religion and all existing church properties-including All Saints’ became Church of Ireland property. As the Liturgy changed the Roman Catholics withdrew to worship elsewhere and All Saints’ became what it remains -the Anglican Parish Church of Mullingar.

The brutal Civil Wars which swept Britain and Ireland from 1640 to 1653 left All Saints’ in ruins. Many parishioners including the Parish Clerk,were killed during this time.The church was rebuilt in the 1660’s when Ralph Adams of Rathconrath was Rector . The re-building work was financed by Sir James Leigh of Piercefield,High Sheriff of Westmeath,whose coat of arms may be seen over the entrance door.

During the Williamite War of ‪1689-91‬,a double wall was erected around the churchyard to protect the place from possible attack by the Roman Catholic forces loyal to King James II. However,no attack on the town took place.

The 18th century saw the church re-built once more. The congregation seems to have grown during this time. Notices appeared in the newspapers listing Roman Catholics (“Papists” as they were referred to in the language of the time ),who had joined the Church of Ireland and received Communion in All Saints.

A fairly substantial number of local Catholics do appear to have joined the All Saints’ congregation over the years. In 1769,for example,it was reported that about thirty had received Communion at Easter and more were expected to join by Christmas. Those named as having “recanted ” Roman Catholicism included John Nugent,Thomas Downes,John Kennedy and John McCormick.

Among the rectors who served All Saints’ during the Georgian era was the splendidly named Rev Champagne,who was Rector for an incredible 46 years,from 1743 to 1800. He was of French Huguenot origin and was an ancestor of Winston Churchill.

In April 1814,work commenced on the building of the present All Saints Church. An organisation called the Board of First Fruits granted the Select Vestry (the people responsible for running the parish) a loan of £1200 to carry out the work. Money was also provided through a levy on the parish and by a gift of £200 from Kings’ Hospital school. The work was completed after four years ,and a wall to enclose the churchyard was built in 1815.
In 1828,a spire was added . This spire was rebuilt in the 1890’s.


During the early 1820s,the congregation of All Saints’ included the famous Co Tyrone born novelist,William Carleton. Carleton came to Mullingar to work as a teacher and his pupils included the sons and daughters of many of the local Church of Ireland parishioners. Although he did not have a particularly happy time in Mullingar (he was imprisoned for debt for a short time),he loved All Saints Church.

Prominent members of the congregation in the early Victorian era included Doctors Robert Barlow of Annebrook House and the Governor of Mullingar Jail,Mr Fielding. The Select Vestry of the Parish raised large sums of money for poor relief and the many medical men who served on the Vestry risked their own lives to care for the victims of the cholera pandemic of 1832,which killed hundreds in the town.

Rev Francis Hopkins,who was Rector from 1856 to 1864 carried out more building work on the church including the erection of galleries and new windows. After his death,Rev Hopkins was commemorated by the beautiful “Hopkins Window” in the chancel behind the communion table.

By the 1860s,the congregation numbered around 400 and included prominent local citizens such as Edward Gordon,postmaster of Mullingar; Jane Siggins,proprietor and Editor of the Westmeath Guardian newspaper and John Charles Lyons,Chief Magistrate of Mullingar, author, historian and world authority on orchids,whose printing press is on display now in the County Library. The Lyons family pew,installed behind the pulpit ,is known as “The Lyons Den”.

Rev Charles Parsons Reichel,who served as Rector from 1864 to 1875 was one of the most prominent Anglican clergymen of his time. He played a major role in the re-organising of the Church of Ireland to meet the challenges which it faced following disestablishment in 1871 (when the Church of Ireland ceased to be the State Church).He was a brilliant preacher and a distinguished academic. In 1885 he became Bishop of Meath.

While in Mullingar,Dr Reichel raised funds for a new bell for All Saints’. The bell was cast by the firm of J Murphy of Dublin and was described as being,” one of the largest bells of its type in Ireland,it is 15ft in circumference and five feet tall.” It weighed two and a half tons. It peeled out for the first time in October 1870.

In 1878,All Saints’ was visited by the parents and grandparents of Winston Churchill. Winston’s GRANDFATHER, the Duke of Marlborough,was Viceroy of Ireland and Lord Randolph Churchill,Winston’s father,was the Viceroy’s Secretary. For some weeks the Viceregal Court relocated from Dublin to Knockdrin Castle and the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough worshipped in All Saints’ on a couple of occasions,accompanied by Lord Randolph and Lady Sarah Churchill.

As mentioned,one of the 18th century rectors,Rev Champagne was actually an ancestor of Winston.Interestingly,Winston Churchill’s wife,Clementine,was a descendent of William Petit-brother of the first Rector of All Saints.

Rev Francis Swift of Keoltown succeeded Reichel. He was very popular and is commemorated with a beautiful window in the South transcept depicting the Ascension which is known as the “Swift window. ” During his time in Mullingar ,a new organ was installed,which is one of the glories of All Saints.’ It is a two manual pedal instrument with 776 pipes ,ranging from 8 feet to a half inch.

*  * ALL SAINTS SINCE 1900 *  *

Rev Robert Seymour served as Rector of All Saints’ for an incredible 32 years,from 1893 to 1925. He guided the congregation through the dramatic events of the early 20th century-the First World War,the 1916 Rising and War of Independence and the Civil War and Irish independence. Many parishioners served in the First World War and,in 1915,the then Bishop of Meath,visiting the town, described Mullingar as “the most interesting parish in the diocese.”.

Another very long serving rector of All Saints’ was Rev George Berry who arrived from Cork in 1926 and remained till 1958. In 1932 electic light was installed in the church and in the Parochial Hall next door. All Saints was among the first buildings in the town centre to switch from gas to electric lighting.

During the Second World War the Parochial Hall was used by the LDF and LSF for training use. Special Services were held in All Saints’ to honour the Defence Forces during what was known as “Step Together Week”. Church of Ireland members of the Forces attended the Services in uniform and Rev Berry blessed flags and pennants. A number of parishioners served in the British and other Allied Forces during the war.

The decline of the Church of Ireland population in the 20th century led to the amalgamation of parishes and closure of many rural churches. Mullingar Parish grew and expanded as parishes such as Moylisker, Portnashangan
,Rathconnell and Enniscoffey were united with Mullingar.

By the start of the new Millennium ,All Saints Church was part of the largest parish in the Diocese of Meath. Stained glass windows from several closed churches such as Ballymore and Mount Temple are now in All Saints’ . Among these windows is a Sarah Purser work from Moylisker. Also from Moylisker is a window commemorating Lt Cooper from Dunboden House,who was killed while rescuing slaves off the coast of Tanzania in the 1870s.

In 1958,Canon Ian McDougall came to Mullingar from Moate. He carried out major refurbishments on the church in the early 1960s. The Select Vestry members at the time included Colonel Charles Howard-Bury of Belvedere House ,who had led the first reconnaissance of Mount Everest in 1921.

In 1964,All Saints’ National School moved from Harbour Street where it had been located since the 1820s to a new site just behind All Saints’ school. Generations of pupils from the school have been baptised and confirmed in the church and many have also been involved in the Boys Brigade/Girls Association. The Banner of the Brigade is now in the chancel of the Church.

The 1960’s and 1970s saw an enormous improvement in relations between the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities in Ireland following the Vatican Two reforms. This was reflected in All Saints’ when,in October 1972,the Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath ,Dr John McCormack,preached at a special Ecumenical Harvest Festival Service in All Saints’ .

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath ,Dr Robert Bonsal Pike also took part in that historic service. Rev McDougall was a strong ecumenist who worked well with Father Joseph Dermody during the years when Father Jo was Administrator in the cathedral. The choirs of All Saints and the Cathedral sang together in cathedral and church and Ivan Bourke,organist of All Saints’ played the organ in the cathedral when the cathedral organist,Mrs Dore was on holiday.

Canon McDougall (who was the grandfather of actress Niamh Alger),retired in 1984 and was succeeded by Rev Fred Gilmor. During the decade he spent in Mullingar,the parish expanded further following amalgamations with Killucan and Kilbixy parishes.

The parish celebrated the 175th anniversary of the present church building in 1989 and major restoration work was carried out on the organ. All Saints’ Choir also sang in the cathedral at the Mass celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the cathedral in September 1989.

A particularly historic occasion in the long history of All Saints’ Church and Mullingar Parish took place on Advent Sunday, December 1st,1991. On that day Rev Sheila Zietsmann was ordained to the Priesthood in All Saints’.

She was one of the first female priests in the Diocese of Meath. The atmosphere in the packed church on the day was described as being “warm,joyful and enthusiastic.”. Rev Zietsmann worked as a chaplain at Wilsons’ Hospital School for five years before moving to Glendalough Parish in 1996.

The late 1990s saw further refurbishment in All Saints’ Church. A new gallery was put into the church and the western end of the nave turned into a new church hall,with modern seating replacing the older pews in the nave and transepts. The Parochial Hall was sold to the Greville Arms hotel. Rev Pat Carmody was now the Rector and he presided over the major celebrations which took place in 2002 to mark the 800th anniversary of the first All Saints’ Church.

In June 2009,Rev Alastair Graham became Rector of Mullingar Union of Parishes. Special celebrations took place in 2012 to mark the bicentenary of the Rectory,which was built in 1812 just behind the church and school buildings . In 2013,the Fiftieth Anniversary of the relocation of the school to its present site was also marked.

In January 2014,All Saints Church was visited for the first time by the newly consecrated Bishop of Meath and Kildare,Most Reverend Pat Storey,who had made history in September 2013 when she was elected as the first female Anglican Bishop in Ireland and Britain. On September 22nd 2014,history was again made in All Saints’ when Bishop Storey ordained Ruth O Kelly as a Deacon. This was the first ordination by a woman bishop in the Church of Ireland.

Over the last decade All Saints’ has hosted concerts featuring noted Westmeath musicians and singers such as Ailish Tynan,Helen Hassett,Cian Brennan Gavin ,Mullingar Town Band the Lynn Singers and the Midland Youth Orchestra,as well as visiting musicians from across Ireland,Europe and the United States.

The Senior Choir of All Saints’ have sung in both Christ Church and St Patricks’ cathedrals in Dublin and on RTE television.They are the only four part choir in the Diocese of Meath. The church has also hosted noted guest speakers including Father Peter McVerry,Professor Ferdinand Von Prondzynski (a former parishioner) and former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland,Seamus Mallon.

For over eight centuries now,All Saints has been a place of worship week after week. It is one of the most significant buildings in Mullingar and an immensely important part of our spiritual and cultural heritage. It will surely continue to be a part of the life of Mullingar for as long as Mullingar exists.