Returning to the theme of abandoned mansions, Ballyturin House (sometimes spelt as Ballyturn House) is another of those atmospheric ruins that dot the Irish landscape. It’s all that’s left of a house that once formed part of the estates of the Kirwan family, one of the ‘tribes’ of Galway. It passed around 1845 through marriage to the Bagot family. It’s an out-of-the-way spot about 2-3 miles east of Gort, near the shores of a lake called Lough Cutra.

I’m drawn to it because it was included in Tarquin Blake’s second book about abandoned Irish mansions. There are photos and a better version of its story than my effort here at

It was the scene of an ambush in 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. A tennis party had been held during one May afternoon. There were 5 visitors leaving that early evening – three men and two women. The men included the RIC District Inspector (a Capt. Cecil Blake), a Capt. Fiennes Cornwallis, and Lt. Robert McCreery. They were serving in the 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge’s Own), which was a cavalry unit famous for its part in the Charge of the Light Brigade and whose motto was “Death or Glory”. Cornwallis came from Kent and had been decorated in France. McCreery came from Somerset. One was 31, the other nearly 20. The women were Blake’s wife Eliza or Lily (who was pregnant) and Margaret Gregory, who was married to Robert Gregory and hence the daughter-in-law of Lady Gregory. That’s the famous friend of William Butler Yeats and his constant hostess at Coole. Think of the wild swans poem, or the eulogy for Robert who joined the RAF during WW1 and was shot down (“An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”). He died in 1918, so his wife had been widowed for 3 years at the time of the ambush.

As they were leaving they found one of the gates not open properly. As they got out to open it there was a shout and bullets started to fly. All were killed with the exception of Margaret, who hid behind the car. She was then led back by the IRA ambushers to the Bagots. It’s likely that either or both of the Gregorys or Bagots would have known the attackers, but they stayed quiet for fear of reprisals (presumably).

One of the Bagot daughters rode a horse to Gort and returned with a doctor and a police constable. The outcome was they too were ambushed on their return and an RIC Constable John Kearney joined the fatalities when he later died from his wounds. The whole affair was not an isolated incident in one corner of the country. The day before, for example, there were 10-12 separate incidents of shootings around the country and May 1921 was an especially tempestuous month.

This war of independence started in January 1919 and carried on in the South until a truce in July 1921 followed by *that* treaty signed in December 1921. Suddenly there was an Irish Free State government. The truce wasn’t applied in the North, where fighting continued throughout 1922. By April 1922 the Irish Civil War had begun with the occupation of the Four Courts courthouse in Dublin. That came to a head in June/July 1922, when the building was shelled and the occupants surrendered. Not before tons of valuable Irish historical records went up in the flames. There was a documentary on BBC 4 radio recently that claimed that British Army gunners fired the big guns (despite truce and treaty etc.) with the knowledge and permission of the Free State Government. The British armed forces left Dublin in December 1922. We’re still arguing over it all today.

Lily Blake had been through some torrid and acrimonious divorce proceedings in England, with Cecil named in the proceedings. One interpretation was they were making a fresh start in Ireland. Another version is that he was a brute who liked to brandish his revolver, and they were both verbally arrogant in the extreme towards the locals. They’re buried in the New Cemetery in Galway.

The end of Ballyturin House started during the 1930s. Today, it’s a ruined shell. Even the road that led to the gate lodge and those fateful gates have slipped away in obscurity, disappeared from the landscape. Margaret Gregory remarried and spent more time in Dublin than Galway. She died in Exeter, in 1979.

For a while now I’ve been looking for records of family records in Co. Galway, and especially on my grandmother’s side. She was Church of Ireland and converted to Catholicism when she married my grandfather, who was in the RIC.I knew about the 1901/1911 Census but you need to know where as well as who you’re looking for. But I finally did it.

There’s the form from 1901 when my 46 year-old great-grandfather is living alone. Well almost, there’s also a 15 year-old farm labourer at the same address. He’s listed his religion as C of I and his occupation is land steward, which I guess is someone who collects rents. He wasn’t a local – his place of birth was Co. Meath, over in the east.

Then here’s the record from 1911. He’s now 56 but he has a 27 year-old Wife and three children aged 5, 3 and 2 (my granny is the 2 year-old). There would have been a fourth son born after that. He’s still a land steward, and the religion is given as Protestant Episcopalian (which is still C of I, as far as I know). There’s a young (10 year-old) American girl from Boston also listed as a visitor.

That was March 1911, and less than 8 years later it’s the War of Independence. I don’t know the full story, but I do know that both the older son and daughter ended up living in Boston themselves as emigrants. I guess as the 1920s rolled on there was less and less for them in Galway.The youngest child (unborn in 1911) lived on in the house until he died in the 1980s. He was fond of the drink and mortgaged the house over the years to keep him going. It’s such a familiar story in Ireland (or at least in my family). He’s buried along with his parents in a rocky field which is all that’s left of the Protestant graveyard. The cottage they lived in is a ruin. You wouldn’t even know it was there in the trees if you didn’t know it had existed. There are a couple of stone gateposts to mark it. The last time I was there in 2004 I went inside. There were torn pages from the Old Testament strewn  about on the rotting floorboards, and I gathered one or two for the memory.

My grandmother moved around a bit as the wife of a policeman but eventually settled on the edge of Galway city. I recall that when she died (in November 1985, 27 years ago to the month) there was no mention of her history. I wouldn’t say it was a deliberate act – no “cover up” or anything like that. I think it was just that, to my aunts and uncles, history was a closed box. Maybe it was closed because it held painful things.