Castlerea (An Caisleán Riabhach, meaning “brindled castle”) is the second largest town in County Roscommon, Republic of Ireland. It is located in the west of the county and, as of 2011, has a population of 3,055. Roughly translated from Irish, Castlerea can mean Brindled Castle (Caisleán Riabhach) or King’s Castle (Caisleán Rí). The town is built on the banks of the River Suck and the River Francis, both of which are tributaries of the River Shannon.
Clonalis House is the Ancestral Home of the O’Conors, Kings of Connacht and at various times, High Kings of Ireland. At the height of O’Conor power, as High Kings of Ireland in the 12th Century AD, Tuam and Dunmore both in Co Galway were their Ecclesiastic and Administrative centres. The O’Conor dynasty produced eleven high kings of Ireland and twenty-four kings of Connacht.
O’Conor Castles from the 14th century AD can be found in Ballintubber, Co Roscommon and in Roscommon town. The former Castle is still owned by the family although they have not resided there since the 17th Century.The introduction of the Penal Laws (laws principally designed to economically disadvantage those not members of the Established Church in the late 17th-18th centuries, devastated the fortunes of the O’Conors who remained fervently Catholic. The O’Conors like many of their co-religionists were driven into peasantry and Denis O’Conor (1674-1750) lived in a bahaun or peasants mud cottage in Kilmactranny Co Sligo for many years. In 1720 the same Denis recovered some 600 acres of land at Ballanagare, Co Roscommon where he built a small residence, the ruins of which are still visible just outside the village. In 1820 the ‘Ballanagare’ O’Conors succeeded to the O’Conor estates at Clonalis when the ‘Clonalis’ branch of the Family became extinct in the male line and with this the Ballanagare O’Conors succeeded to the ‘O’Conor Don’ title. The title applies to the Chieftain of the O’Conors of Connaught and is one of a few titles specifically recognised under Irish Law as the Irish State is a Republic.
Theophilus Sandford, a member of Oliver Cromwell’s army in Ireland, received a large allocation of lands confiscated from the O’Connor family as part of the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652. This package included Castlerea. Castlerea developed under the Sandfords, who established a distillery (at its height producing more than 20,000 of gallons of whiskey annually), a brewery, and a tannery. Sandford’s descendants continued in power through the 19th century. The estate was later acquired by the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board. The Demesne in which it was set survives and is now enjoyed as a public park.
Castlerea Work House
Castlerea Poor Law Union was formally declared on the 14th September 1839 covering an area of 374 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 27 in number, representing its 18 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):
Co. Roscommon: Artagh, Ballinlough, Ballintober, Bellanagar, Castleplunket, Castlerea (3), Frenchpark (2), Killullagh, Loughglinn (2).
Co. Mayo: Ballaghadireen (2), Ballyhaunis (2), Bekan (2), Castlemore.
Co. Galway: Ballymoe, Ballynakill, Glannamodda (2), Kilkerrin (2), Tampultogher.
The Board also included 9 ex-officio Guardians, making a total of 36. The Guardians met each week on Saturday at 11am.
The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 85,895 with divisions ranging in size from Ballymoe (population 2,855) to Castlerea itself (9,113).
The new Castlerea Union workhouse was erected in 1840-2 on a six-acre site half a mile to the south-east of Castlerea. Designed by the Poor Law Commissioners’ architect George Wilkinson, the building was based on one of his standard plans to accommodate 1,000 inmates. Its construction cost £8,485 plus £1,815 for fittings etc. The workhouse was declared fit for the reception of paupers on 6th October 1842. However, because of difficulties in collecting the poor rate needed to operate the workhouse, it did not receive its first admissions until 30th May 1846, and only then after the Poor Law Commissioners had issued the Guardians with a writ of mandamus.
The buildings followed Wilkinson’s typical layout. An entrance and administrative block at the north-east contained a porter’s room and waiting room at the centre with the Guardians’ board room on the first floor above.
The main accommodation block had the Master’s quarters at the centre, with male and female wings to each side. At the rear, a range of single-storey utility rooms such as bakehouse and washhouse connected through to the infirmary and idiots’ wards via a central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall. A mortuary lay at the rear.
Castlerea House & the Sandford Estate
“On 2 July 1649 Theophilus Sandford, at the age of 25, wrote a letter to Colonel Moore offering to raise a company of foot soldiers for the Parliamentarian expedition to Ireland under the leadership of Cromwell. After the Parliamentarian army had suppressed the forces of the Irish Catholic Confederation and the Royalists in Ireland, Cromwell’s Rump parliament made settlements of land to the soldiers in the Army in lieu of money for their services.
Theophilus Sandford received a large allocation of land at Castlerea in County Roscommon. The lands came from those confisacted from O’Connor Don family after Colonel Daniel O’Connor Don surrendered to Commissary-General Reynolds in March 1652. The “good lands” belonging to Hugh Oge O’Conor were awarded to Captain Theophilus Sandford: the town and castle of Castlereagh on the east side of the river, including Imlough, Ballindrumlea, Carrowdowan, Cloonree, and Rathbarnaghwere.”
The above extract is taken from published text on which is accessible on www.sandfordfamily.org.uk. This is a web located archive of the Sandford family. It paints a clear picture of the direct impact of the turbulent political climate prevailing in our neighbouring island and how that disorder impacted on the life of our forebears in Castlerea and it’s environs in the mid 17th century and after.
An important element of the Wilde Symposium in April 2015 included a presentation by Thomas Wills-Sandford, grandson of the last family member who resided as head of the household in Castlerea House. Thomas reaffirmed his awareness of the historical context in which his ancestors came to Castlerea. Indeed he reaffirmed that when he first visited Castlerea three decades ago in 1985 he was pleased to have been received with grace and courtesy by all who met him. Thomas confirmed that his fifth great grandfather Henry Sandford retired to Bath in England where he lived from 1776 to 1796. Henry Sandford was the first resident at No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath. This building now houses a museum, however, Thomas has reiterated that if any person with Castlerea connections introduces themselves to the curator on a visit to No.1 Royal Crescent they will be given a warm welcome.
Thomas has presented a scale model of Castlerea House to the people of Castlerea and this model is now on continuous display in Trinity Arts Centre.
St. Joseph’s Cemetery
All that remains of the former St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is the bell tower. The tower is of architectural significance and further enhances the setting of the graveyard. The Church was built in 1798 and the last Mass there in 1898. This Church building replaced Oldtown Church which was located on the right-hand side of the Williamstown road – at the bottom of the hill in Ballinapark. This building in “Oldtown” had, in turn, replaced the original Church or Oratory in Kilkeevin.
Folklore suggests that a considerable number of tradesmen and labourers abandoned the work on this new building in order to join the French Expeditionary forces in the famous battle of Ballinamuck in Co. Longford.
The Old graveyard contains a collection of stone grave markers from the nineteenth century to the later era. The distinctive mausoleum of Peter Kelly and that dedicated to the remains of the renowned O’ Connor Dons, descendants of the last High Kings of Ireland, add a unique historical dimension to the graveyard.There are Ashlar gate piers with cast-iron gates leading to the original graveyard. This Roman Catholic graveyard at Castlerea contains many fine examples of ornate nineteenth- and twentieth-century grave markers, including several Celtic Revival style high crosses. The carved decorative detailing of these grave markers adds both artistic and technical interest to the site.
War of Independence
On 11 July 1921, Sergeant James King of the Royal Irish Constabulary was shot in Castlerea on St. Patrick Street and died of his wounds shortly afterwards. The Truce of July 1921 was declared later that day, making Sergeant King the last casualty of the Irish War of Independence.
Cindy The Elephant
According to the history books, the story goes that Cindy the elephant became famous whilst parading through the town, before the circus performance. Cindy wandered into Stephen Mannion’s pub on Main Street. Patsy Glynn Snr captured the moment and the photograph appeared in many newspapers and in the Vintner’s magazine with the caption ‘customers come in all shapes and sizes’.
When Cindy died in Athenry in 1972, there was much discussion as to where she would be buried. Castlerea Towns Trust offered a site in the Demesne and Cindy was buried there. It wasn’t until 2014 that Seán Browne decided to mark the grave site and with the help of local businessmen Benny O’Connell and John Keenan and the expertise of stone mason Declan Hawthorne, his dream became a reality. Chris Kane from Williamstown wrote the epitaph. The grave has become quite popular with locals and visitors alike.
If you’d like to visit Cindy’s grave, enter the Demesne through the gate on the Ballindrimley Road and walk along the path until you are opposite the entrance to Cahill’s SuperValu / Mart.
Dr Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland and founder of the Gaelic League, was born in Castlerea on 17 January 1860. Celtic scholar, translator, poet, nationalist and 1st President of Ireland.
Longford House, currently owned and occupied by the Kelly family, is located on the eastern side of Castlerea in the townland of Longford.
The house served as the Church of Ireland Rectory between the years 1845 to 1860. Douglas Hyde’s grandfather, the Venerable John Orson Oldfield, who served as Vicar for the Church of Ireland congregation for 16 years lived there with his family.
One of his daughters namely Elizabeth was married to the Rev. Arthur Hyde and they resided in Kilmactranny, Co. Sligo where Arthur was serving as Church of Ireland Rector.
At Christmas in 1859, Elizabeth was expecting her first child and decided to return home to Castlerea to bathe in the comfort and reassurance of her family home in order to safely deliver her baby. In due course her child Douglas came into this world on 17th of January 1860. Douglas was subsequently baptised into the Christian faith in Holy Trinity Church in nearby Castlerea.
The Rev. Arthur, Elizabeth and infant Douglas returned to Kilmactranny where they lived for the next seven years after which the Hyde family transferred back to Portahard, Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon.
A detailed paper on the life and scholarly works of Douglas Hyde is published by Donnchadh Ó Corráin and is accessible at www.multitext.ucc.ie
Sir William Robert Wills Wilde, MD, FRCSI a noted surgeon and historian and father of Oscar Wilde, was born in Castlerea in 1815.
Born at Kilkeevin, near Castlerea, in County Roscommon, in March 1815. The youngest of the three sons and two daughters of a prominent local medical practitioner, Dr.Thomas Wills Wilde, and his wife, Amelia (nee Fynn of Ballymagibben, Cong, Co. Mayo. He received his initial education at the Elphin Diocesan School in Elphin, County Roscommon. In 1832, Wilde was bound as an apprentice to Abraham Colles, the pre-eminent Irish surgeon of the day, at Dr Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin. He was also taught by the surgeons James Cusack and Sir Philip Crampton and the physician Sir Henry Marsh. Wilde also studied at the private and highly respected school of anatomy, medicine, and surgery in Park Street (later Lincoln Place), Dublin. In 1837, he earned his medical degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In the same year, Wilde embarked on an eight-month-cruise to the Holy Land with a recovering patient, visiting various cities and islands throughout the Mediterranean. Porpoises were flung on board the ship, Crusader, and Wilde dissected them. Taking notes, he eventually composed a two-volume book on the nursing habits of the creatures. Among the places he visited on this tour was Egypt. In a tomb he found the mummified remains of a dwarf and salvaged the torso to bring back to Ireland. He also collected embalmed ibises.Once back in Ireland, Wilde published an article in the Dublin University Magazine suggesting that one of the “Cleopatra’s Needles” be transported to England and eventually in 1878 one of the Needles was transported to London, and in 1880 the other one was brought to New York’s Central Park. In 1873 he was awarded the Cunningham Gold Medal by the Royal Irish Academy.  He was the father of Oscar Wilde.
The Wilde family burial vault is located in Holy Trinity Cemetery which in turn, is located to the left of the main access road to The Demesne. This was also the location of the original Church of Ireland Holy Trinity Church which was established in 1703. The ruin of this building is still is still identifiable on the current edition OS maps.
In 1816 this structure was declared as “inaccessible & ineligible for purpose” and it was decided to establish a new place of worship. This new holy Trinity church was completed at the current location in 1819.
In that year also Dr. Thomas Wilde, father of William, was appointed as the first Church Warden to Holy Trinity Church.
The last Rector to serve the Church of Ireland congregation was the Rev. Robert Desmond Holtby who commenced his ministry in 1967 up to the time of his death in 1975.
Dr. Matthew Young, a Bishop of Clonfert ca. 1798, a natural philosopher, and a mathematician, was a native of Castlerea.
Thomas Finnegan, the retired Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Killala, was born in the village of Cloonfellive near Castlerea.
Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, former TD, and now an MEP, comes from Castlerea.
Aidan Heavey arrived in England from Castlerea in 1993 and became chief executive of Tullow Oil and one of Britain’s most influential Irish businessmen.
John Grenham, author of ‘Tracing Your Irish Ancestors’ and other Irish heritage publications, grew up in Castlerea. He is a columnist and blogger with The Irish Times.
John Waters, columnist for the The Irish Independent and author of ‘Jiving at the Crossroads’, was born and raised on Main Street in Castlerea.
Other notable people from the town include the poet Michael McGovern and the fur trader Andrew McDermot.
Castlerea hosts the Castlerea Celtic, an association football team, and St. Kevin’s, a Gaelic football club.
Education and Industry
Castlerea’s major employers include Supervalu, Harmac Medical Products, Colour Communications Europe, Finola Foods and Lidl. Film production house Round Edge Films is based in Ballingare within Castlerea.
The schools in the town are all located in the same area; they include two primary schools (St. Anne’s Primary School and St. Paul’s Primary School), St. Michael’s Special Needs School (which serves all ages), and Castlerea Community School (for second-level students). Castlerea Community School instructs approximately 500 students; It provides Leaving Certificate Applied classes as well as the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate state examinations. As of 2011, the school also offered Transition Year and two Post-Leaving Certificate courses (Business and Social Care).
Amenities in the town include a nine-hole golf course, an outdoor swimming pool open to the public during summers, a library, a soccer pitch, a children’s playground, a GAA pitch and a large public park. The GAA owns a squash court and a handball court in the town. The Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP) is a social venue for teenagers in the town. St. Patrick’s Church (estd.1896) is the Catholic Church of the town, and is administered by Canon Joe Fitzgerald and Fr. Micheál Donnelly.
The Castlerea railway station opened on 15 November 1860. The railway station connects to Dublin Heuston, Ballina and Westport.
Castlerea is twinned with Newark, New Jersey and Soulac Sur Mer, France.