ByRoute 16.2 Co. Roscommon & Co. Mayo
Termonbarry (Co. Roscommon / East)
Termonbarry / Tarmonbarry (Tearmann Bearaigh - ”Berach’s sanctuary”) (pop. 500) is an important place for water-borne traffic on the River Shannon, here bifurcated by Cloondaragh Island, with white water rapids, a weir, a rather intimidating C19th lock, a lifting bridge, a marina and riverbank mooring facilities.
Termonbarry has long been best known for its road bridge (described by Lewis in 1837 as “two bridges connected by a raised causeway across the intervening island, that on the Roscommon side having seven arches, and that on the Leinster side four, the whole forming a straight passage, 126 yards in length and of imposing appearance“, but evidently since modified), and nowadays also features a hideous Marian grotto /shrine topped with a heron.
Termonbarry takes its name from a vanished monastery founded in the 6th AD by a disciple of Saint Kevin of Glendalough variously called Saint Berach / Beraig / Barrechius / Barrachias/ Beri / Barry, Abbot of Cluain Coipthe, whose Feast Day is recorded as 15th February. Although he famously possessed a little bell called clog beraigh, the saint reportedly had no boat, and used a large boulder to cross the River Shannon.
Made up of numerous townlands, the boggy rural district is officially in County Roscommon, even though part of the main village lies in County Longford on the east side of the bridge, and the toponym has long been applied to both banks of the River Shannon.
Termonbarry village has a rural Garda station, landscaped riverside paths, a pretty bandstand and a range of pubs, eateries and accommodation options.
Keenan’s Hotel, Bar & Restaurant is a pleasant hostelry.
The Purple Onion Restaurant, Bar & Art Gallery is renowned for good steaks and often exhibits interesting work by local artists.
Termonarry village is
Lewis (1837) mentions “remains of an old church in Killybeg, with other ecclesiastical ruins in the churchyard“.
The church of the Sacred Heart (RC) in the townland of Whitehall is a pretty edifice. A large rock adjacent to the church is said to be the boulder used by Saint Barry to cross the river Shannon.
The townland of Killbarry is the location of a Holy Well dedicated to Saint Bearach / Barry, complete with episcopal statue.
The Scramogue Ambush
Scramogue / Scramoge townland was the scene of a notorious incident during the War of Independence.
On 23rd March 1921, 14 IRA volunteers (including some ex-British Army soldiers who had survived WWI) took up positions in a farmhouse at a sharp bend on the Longford–Strokestown road and waited all day for a lorry carrying a nine-man military and RIC patrol; just as it finally appeared, two civilians came up the road in a pony and trap and had to be frantically waved out of the way.
The IRA opened fire from very close range, killing the driver and halting the lorry in its tracks. Several of the soldiers and policemen were hit and they scrambled for cover behind a wall along the road. The lorry was equipped with a Hotchkiss machine gun but its gunner got off only one burst before being badly wounded and the gun put out of action. The commander of the patrol, Captain Roger Greenville Peeke, was hit in the lorry but tried to run to safety, only to be hit again 400 yards down the road and killed. The other officer with the party, Lieutenant Tennant, was also killed by a shotgun blast. After the death of the two officers, the surviving British, several of whom were wounded, surrendered. An RASC driver and an RIC man (Constable Edward Leslie) died of their wounds.
Just as the firing was dying-down, a Black & Tan patrol approached the ambush site but turned back after coming under fire. The first lorry turned out to contain two men in civilian clothes, Black & Tans (Constable Buchanan and Constable Evans) who had been placed under arrest by the soldiers and were made prisoners by the IRA. The ambush party, after taking the British arms, including the Hotchkiss gun, and burning the lorry, made their escape over the hill of Slieve Bawn.
The IRA leaders –Pat Madden, Luke Duffy and Frank Simons– decided to kill the two Black & Tans, despite their offering to show the IRA how to use the captured machine gun. The IRA officer’s reasoning was that if the prisoners identified the IRA men who had taken part in the ambush, the Volunteers would be at risk of being executed if captured. The two were taken to remote locations and shot over the next two days.
The British Army garrison in Roscommon town mounted a sweep directly after the ambush with eight lorries an one Whippet Tank. Of the IRA men, Pat Mullooly and Brian Nagle, both from the North Roscommon Brigade, were arrested as they tried to get away from the scene of the ambush, and were badly beaten by their captors on the road to Roscommon, while “Cushy” Hughes was picked up when he was drawing his soldier’s pension in the town. The next day, Pat Mullooly’s brother Michael was shot dead in his home by the RIC.
Western view from Slieve Bawn (Photo by Archaeomoonwalker)
Slieve Bawn / Sliabh Bán / Bána (“White Mountain”) (262m / 860 ft), the third-highest point in County Roscommon, derives its name from the fact that the sandstone and conglomerate rocks which form the mountain are paler in colour than the grey limestone of the surrounding plains. It offers a forest walk of c.20 km with viewing points and and panoramic vistas from the summit, where work on foundations for the erection of a Jubilee Holy Year cross in 1950 uncovered skeletal remains, indicating that a passage grave once sat atop the hill. Other archaeological / historical remains include the remnants of a medieval church.
Bunnageddy Equestrian Centre is an AIRE-approved facility opened in 2008 by owners James and Breda O’Malley and Margaret Moore. During the summer months, treks are led on Sliabh Bán mountain.
Strokestown (Co. Roscommon / East)
Strokestown (Béal na mBuillí) (pop. 800), historically aka Bellanamullia and Bellanamully. is one of the relatively few planned estate towns in County Roscommon, with well laid out streets lined with attractive late Georgian and Victorian houses.
The landlords wished to create the widest main street in Europe, and the result can still lay claim to being the second widest street in Ireland (after Dublin’s Upper O’Connell St at 49m).
Until the late C20th, when it was abbreviated to fit on road signs, the Irish toponym was Béal Atha na mBuillí - “the mouth of the ford of the strokes”, referring either to blows struck during one or more ancient clan battles at the mouth of the Bumlin River, which flows through Strokestown Park demesne, or possibly to the use of agricultural instruments.
Strokestown Park House, Famine Museum & Gardens
Strokestown Park estate was the property from about 1671 of the Anglo-Irish Mahon family (headed from 1800 to 1845 by three Barons Hartland), until the last member to live on the premises, Mrs Olive Hales Pakenham-Mahon, died in 1982.
Strokestown Park House, a splendid C18th Palladian mansion, retains all of its original furnishings and is open to the public, albeit only by informative and fun guided tours. Of particular interest are the magnificent Library and Ireland’s last remaining galleried kitchen.
Major Denis Mahon, the patriarch of the family, was so unpopular as a landlord during the Great Famine that whilst returning from a meeting of the Roscommon Relief Committee on 2nd November 1847 he was shot by several local men motivated by the eviction of starving tenant farmers from the estate lands and a (false) rumour that the Major had chartered unseaworthy ships to transport emigrants to America. The murder, allegedly encouraged by the local priest, was widely seen as part of a Catholic plot to kill Protestants, and made national and international headlines, but did not halt the evictions: over 11,000 tenants were eventually removed from the Mahon estate during this period to make way for improved farming methods.
The National Irish Famine Museum, located in the stable yards of Strokestown Park, uses the contemporary estate papers, regarded as the best extant private archive on the Great Famine, to explain the history of that tragic era in Ireland’s past and to draw parallels with the occurrence of famine throughout the world today.
Strokestown Park Gardens have been fully restored and provide great insight into horticultural practices and garden architecture from the 1740s to the 1960s. They include a six-acre walled garden boasting the longest herbaceous border in the British Isles, and a Georgian fruit and vegetable garden containing the oldest restored peach house and vinery in Ireland. Exceptional views of the estate can be enjoyed from two splendid tripartite Venetian windows in the Georgian Gazebo house.
Strokestown Park also has a Crafts & Book shop, a Garden shop and a Restaurant.
St John’s church (CoI), an imposing Gothic Revival edifice built in 1820, set within a graveyard containing various stone grave markers (earliest 1766) and mausolea, is said to stand on the site of an earlier structure erected about 1680, which in turn replaced a medieval chapel, the ruins of which are still visible in Bumlin cemetery. St Juhn’s church nowadays houses the County Roscommon Heritage & Genealogy Centre.
The church of the Immaculate Conception (RC), an externally austere edifice with a spacious interior featuring a splendid colonnaded nave and a beautiful rose window over the altar, dates from 1863, and was enlarged in 1960. It replaced a smaller structure erected on the same site in 1794 by Fr. James Kelly who leased the site from Maurice Mahon MP, later the first Lord Hartland, to replace the old thatched chapel in the adjoining townland of Kildallogue.
Strokestown Courthouse, constructed c.1830 and blown up in 1923 during the Civil War, was subsequently rebuilt, but is now disused.
The Percy French Hotel, opened in 1934, has long been a regular stopping place for travellers, and has a highly rated restaurant.
Anthony Beirne’s is a great traditional family-run pub & grocery store, said by locals to serve the best pint of Guinness in Ireland. Like the other four good pubs in Strokestown, it tends to fill up during with both locals and visios
The Strokestown International Poetry Festival, held on the first weekend of every May for over 15 years, is a convivial opportunity for poets in English, Irish and Scots Gaelic to win various prestigious awards.
The Strokestown Agricultural Show, which has taken place annually for some 145 years on the second weekend in September, includes horse competitions such as dressage, arts and craft competitions, handwriting competitions, and more.
The Féile Frank McGann is a traditional music festival held in Strokestown every October in memory of a locally-born bodhrán player (1923-2002) renowned throughout Ireland and once described as “the Florence Nightingale of musicians”, who was particularly committed to nurturing the development of young performers.
Clooneyquin House was the birthplace of William Percy French (1854-1920), songwriter, poet, entertainer and painter, who often spoke with great affection of his ancestral home. The last member of the family to live here was Percy’s nephew Harry, generally known as Major French. He sold the property in the late 1950s to a hotelier, who died suddenly, and the estate then passed shamefully through the hands of the Land Commission to a salvage merchant who stripped the building, which was finally demolished in 1964 by Roscommon County Council, to their eternal disgrace. All that remains to be seen is the site of the original doorway, where a commemorative plaque has been placed in grudging tribute to one of County Roscommon’s most famous sons. A photo of the semi-derelict house can be viewed here.