Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Camlin House

What have Grainne O’Malley, the famous pirate Queen of Mayo, The St. Laurence Family of Howth, The Great Famine,  and the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church got in common? Amazingly enough, each have a connection to Camlin House in Ballinameen, Co. Roscommon.

These days we talk of six degrees of separation and wonder at isolated incidents in history that form a collective relationship.  Camlin House is such a place.

Elizabeth O’Malley, a direct descendant of Grainne O’Malley, married John Irwin in the winter of 1798. 
Grainne O’Malley was mistress of the seas… and legend has it mistress of her own destiny on land also.

  A formidable lady, she outwitted diplomats, met Queen Elizabeth I and married advantageously; twice.  When her second husband Burke of Mayo became a political liability, she is alleged to have taken residence in one of Burkes castles and declared herself divorced from the ramparts and promptly kept the property!

Whilst sailing on the eastern shore of Ireland Grainne O’Malley took shelter at Howth Harbor.  Having secured her ship she then sought the hospitality of the St. Laurence family.  On reaching the house, St. Laurence refused to greet her or offer her refreshment.  One can only imagine that Grace was slightly peeved and on her way back to her ship, she encountered a young grandson of St. Laurence and promptly lifted the child and brought him to her sanctuary at Clew Bay in Mayo.
 
St Laurence immediately set out to Mayo to negotiate and pay whatever ransom Grainne demanded for the safe return of his grandchild.  At their meeting Grainne  offered up the child immediately but on the condition that no one would be refused hospitality by the St. Laurence family thereafter.  Much relieved; St Laurence agreed and to seal the deal offered a ring to Grainne as a token of the pledge.

When Elizabeth O’Malley married John Irwin, this ring formed part of her dowry and was subsequently remodeled into a broach which ended up in the possession of the extended family in New York.
Elizabeth and John Irwin had eight children and resided at Camlin House. Camlin derives its name from the stream which runs through the townland also named Camlin. The name Camlin means crooked line or stream.

Camlin Townland was the seat of the Irwin family and was a large estate of approximately 15 square miles.  Under the Cromwellian ‘Act of Settlement’, lands were confiscated and given to Cromwellian planters who became landlords in later days.  Initially the lands at Camlin which are within the old principality of Moylurg belonged to the Gaelic Princes McDermots.  The Camlin lands were originally given to Lloyds and sometime in the early 1700’s passed to Irwins on the condition that they would drain, improve and plant the land.

 Camlin house is built of stone and faces north.  Commissioned by Andrew Irwin; a team of men were employed at seven pence per day to construct the family home and plantation of Great Sycamore or Plane Trees along the drive and demesne.

The eldest son of Elizabeth O’Malley and John Irwin married Ms Emily Bolton of Monkstown Castle, Dublin,  and his brother Andrew married Belinda Bolton; sister of Emily.  Mr & Mrs Andrew Irwin resided at Ballymore… another story!
 
John Irwin Junior was 37 and Emily 20 when they married in 1837 and resided at Camlin House.

John Irwin was an acknowledged man of the world.  Hard working, a keen huntsman local socialite.  His pert wife Emily was a noted horsewoman and hostess. They were sociable and apparently lived a happy existence.

Unfortunately in 1842 John Irwin died having caught a chill after hunting and Emily was left with three small children, a large mortgage and to cap it all; Ireland fell into the throes of the Great Hunger.

But Emily had spirit, a tremendous sense of altruism and was a member of the Established (Episcopal) Church. She borrowed money, negotiated with the Bord of Guardians and Poor Relief Trustees to set up a school and gave to and taught all regardless of religious persuasion.  Despite religious opposition and political discord, Emily soldiered on.
 
Having moved proverbial mountains, Emily became ill herself in 1848/49.  The famine fever threatened to take her and Rebecca Irwin, a sister-in-law contacted Reverend John Hall at Emily’s request.  Rev John Hall, worked as a "Students' Missionary" in the west of Ireland between 1849 and 1952 and was based in Camlin. According to records, he did a great work for religion and charity and was never selfish in any respect.  

Apparently, Reverend Hall admired Emily very much and he was much  distressed at her condition,  he pleaded with Emily not to die.  To the great surprise of all present, Emily rallied and when she fully recuperated, she and the Reverend Hall married.

Shortly afterwards, Rev. Hall was invited to the U.S.A. to preach.   He became an ardent citizen of the USA and in 1867 Dr Hall was installed as minister of the Presbyterian Church in the 5th Avenue, New York City, U.S.A. His obituary in the New York Times stated “The triumph of Dr. Hall's life was the gorgeous Fifth Avenue Church building, which so long as it stands will be the most appropriate monument to his labours.” That edifice is probably the largest church of the Presbyterian denomination in the world, and cost not less than a million dollars.”

Rev. John Hall and Emily had three children by her first husband and five of their own to educateThe eldest son of Emily and John Irwin, also named John joined the British Army and at the age of 45 returned to Boyle to refurbish Camlin house.  To his dismay, he found that the house had been taken over by Mr Lloyd of Croghan who owned the mortgage on Camlin. 
Camlin House and its diminished lands were subsequently leased for a time by various people and by 1952 the once great estate had been reduced to 47 Irish acres.  Camlin eventually came into the ownership of Thomas O’Connor a schoolmaster and former lessee of the house and land.  In 2006, Mr O’Connor’s heirs sold Camlin and the remaining lands of 20 acres to Liam Kerins of Boyle.
 
Camlin House was a shell, little remained of its former glory and even less was acknowledged of its colorful history.  Liam Kerins and his sons have rescued the house from certain ruin.  Re-roofed, insulated to present building standards with the old farm walls and driveways under restoration, Camlin awaits the sixth degree of separation……  It remains to be seen, who will take up the challenge.


Camlin house is situated in Ballinameen, Co. Roscommon.  I became interested in the property when, through my work, I visited the property prior to its rescue.  Naturally, I became interested in the family who resided there also.

  

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