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Mionloch (Menlo – 921 acres)*

In 1851, the population of the town of Mionloch had fallen from 1,100 to 764 and the number of houses from 220 to 158.

Derives its name from two Irish words (mion-small: lough-loc-a lake) meaning ‘small lake’ so named from the fact that the river Corrib expands there into a small land-locked lake before it begins its meandering course to the sea. Mionloch (Menlo) is situated on the left bank of the Corrib about three miles up river from Galway. It is not a village; rather is it a country town. It has no street of houses. Houses are angled every way and no way.

The townland and village of Mionloch owes its origin to the coming of the Blakes to the area. The castle of Mynlagh (Mionloch) belonged to Thomas Coleman in 1571 and was still in his possession in 1598. In that year the castle seems to have passed into the possession of the Blake family. Thomas Blake, second baronet who died in 1642 was the first to be styled ‘of Mionloch”. The existing castle which was gutted by fire in 1910 is really not the original castle but is a castellated house in the Jacobean style.

The Blakes were kind landlords who overall dealt decently with their tenants. They welcomed them to their parties and soirees and threw their gardens and grounds open to them especially in May when the grounds were at their prettiest. On the Sundays in May they hoisted a flag of welcome on the castle and people thronged there by boat from the City and by foot from all parts of the parish of Castlegar. They were wonderful days. Here, there was music and dancing; athletic sports where athletes competed in weight throwing and foot racing. Porter and sweets, minerals and biscuits were to be had in tents around the grounds. The May Sundays were pleasurable interludes in the lives of the hardworking people of Mionloch. At the turn of the century the ‘Maying’ at Mionloch lost its attraction due principally to the flow of emigration from the Cit y and its hinterland.

The Blake family of Mionloch were generally staunch Catholics but some few of them for political reasons and to save their properties changed their religion and apostatized. Sir John Blake; the 11th Baronet apostatized on the 25th June 1807.

Sir Thomas Blake ‘jumped’ in 1846. In 1860, he erected a school in Mionloch for the purpose of giving a Protestant education to the children of the area. The people of Mionloch, with the exception of two families spurned the attempt to proselytize them. The PP of Castlegar, Fr Geraghty, 1847-1864 approached Sir Thomas Blake about the school only to be rebuffed by him with “These are my tenants and I am going to provide for them” to which Fr Geraghty replied “These are my flock and I am taking care of them”. To counteract the Mionloch “souper’ school , Fr Geraghty built a school in Cúil Each Coolough) in answer to the ‘soup’ school in Mionloch. The Blakes abandoned the Mionloch school in 1863 and handed it over to the government, who gave it to the parish of Castlegar.  Fr Geraghty then closed the school at Cúil Each and opened Mionloch as the school for the area. He then remodeled Cúil Each school and converted it into a chapel-of-ease, the first chapel in Mionloch area.

Sir Thomas Blake died on January 1st 1875. His obituary notice in the Galway Vindicator said of him that he “was a genial kind-hearted man; he lived amongst them and was beloved by them”. There is no question that he was born a Catholic and reared a Catholic until he was twelve or fourteen years of age. For the last six years of his life he had become an invalid and there is no question but that the villagers of Mionloch believed that he was always Catholic and that he died a Catholic. He was waked for four days and four nights in the castle in the grand old Irish style and was visited by every man, woman and child in the village of Mionloch. Sir Valentine Blake indicated to the people that the Protestant minister, the Rev Mr O’Sullivan would officiate at the obsequies. The people would not hear of this arrangement and decided to take possession of the funeral procession. Blows were struck. There was no telling how it might have ended were it not that Sir Valentine, the head of the family, brought matters to a very peaceful conclusion by taking the arm of the worthy PP, the Rev James Commins and walking with him up to the tomb leaving the Protestant Clergymen in the field on the outside of the wall.

Those who had protested against a Protestant funeral were summoned to court because of their conduct and Michael Francis, Collel, Patrick Lawless and Michael Duggan, ‘the four country peasants’ were sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. One of the prosecuting lawyers, a Mr Bird in the course of speech said “it was scarcely conceivable that within two miles of the town of Galway, a village so primitive could continue to exist the inhabitants of which were so rude and uncivilized and stranger still, even unable to speak English” Surely not very complimentary!

One other piece of evidence of the Blakes favouring Protestantism is found in their fight to deny the Catholic tenantry land for a graveyard.

Before 1860, the people of Mionloch buried their dead in the Franciscan cemetery in Galway on the land where the Mercy Convent now stands at Newtownsmith. Where the present cemetery in Mionloch now stands where there had been ‘a lisheen’: a burial ground for children. Some older people were buried there as well. The difficulty was that it was not enclosed and cattle wandered amongst the graves. The tenants asked that an enclosure wall be built to protect the graves. About 1860 they sent a deputation to Sir Thomas Blake to allow them build the wall. When Sir Thomas ignored the request the people decided to challenge him. They asked the parish priest, Fr Geraghty (1847-1864) if he would stand with them while they built a single stone wall to enclose the cemetery. “Whatever way the wind blows” said Fr Geraghty “I will be there with you”. Every man, woman and child from the village was present on cemetery hill the following morning to greet the priest. Before they began work they cheered and cheered defiantly to acquaint the Blake household what their intentions were. When they had the single wall completed they brought a gate from Bushy Park to hang on the pillars at the entrance to the cemetery. It was a Saturday evening and they decided that they would leave the hanging of the gate until Monday morning. When they came on Monday morning the gate was missing and no trace of it has ever since been found. The people accuse the Blakes of taking the gate.

The oldest tomb in the cemetery is a vault over the grave of the Donelan family of Killagh, giving the date of burial as 1822, long before the containing wall was built. Sir John Valentine Blake 1780-1847 married Eliza Donelan, eldest daughter of Joseph Donelan of Killagh (near Spiddal) on 8th August 1803. She died in May 1836. This explains why the Donclan family are buried there where tradition says the vault was the vault where the Blakes were buried. There are some limeston slabs on the ground which are very hard to read. The base of a polished granite cross over Sir Valentine Blake has the inscription “In loving memory of Sir Valentine Blake, 14th Baronet, born 2n December 1836, died the 246h July 1912. Mey he rest in peace”.

Some Protestants are buried in the graveyard. One reads at the base of a limestone cross there “In loving memory of Florence wife of Captain Castle of the Royal Irish Regiment who died July 15th 1899. Thy will be done”. At another grave in the cemetery stands a headstone, with all the details of a person in Mionloch, still hale and hearty (1996) waiting for the call of death to fill in the date.

The Mionloch demesne before the burning of the castle in 1910 was well wooded with noble trees of beech, ash and lime. The avenue from the gate leading to the castle was lined with trees, forming a canopy over the driveway and trees were planted judiciously all over the surrounding fields. Some of that age-group of trees are to be seen majestically guarding the graveyard calling attention to the fact that their sisters in the demesne no longer grace the land. After the death of Sir Valentine Blake in 1912 the Galway Urban Council bought Mionloch wood with the intention of having it as an amenity for the citizens of the City, a place where they could roam and besport themselves on a summer evening. It was assumed that they had bought the land under the trees but alack and alas they had only bought the trees; and caught in this dilemma there was no way out except to sell the trees. At first they sold them to reputable saw-mills where they were prepared for furniture pieces. The branches of the trees were sold as firewood to the local people. Soon when supervision weakened, people dared to cut the trees for firewood to store for the winter. The locals were witnesses to this destruction and during the 1940-44 great war the last of the trees were cut leaving the Mionloch demesne a raped and deserted land.

The above history of Mionloch is from Padraic Ó Laoi, History of Castlegar Parish (~1996), pp. 113-118.

*921 acres (Irish) = 1492 acres (U.S.) or 2.33 sq. miles