History of Ballynahinch Castle

Ballynahinch i.e. Baile na hlnse, means ‘household of the Island’, and refers to the O’Flaherty Castle built on an island amidst the lake.

Ballynahinch Castle has been intertwined in the history of Connemara and its people for centuries, from the recorded battle between the O’Flahertys and O’Malleys, in 1384, to the visit by all the Lord Mayors and Mayors of Ireland to celebrate the quincentennial year of Galway city receiving its charter.

The O’Flahertys

The land of Lar Connaught stretched from the castle at Bunowen and the plain of Murrisk in Mayo over to Moycullen on the banks of Lough Corrib. This was the land of the O’Flaherty Clan, lords of Connaught and masters of Ballynahinch. It was into this family that the most famous resident of Ballynahinch married; this was Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen of Connaught, who married Donal O’Flaherty or Dónal-an-Chogaidh (Donal of the battles).

This was about the year of 1546 when Grace was sixteen. The marriage united two of the most powerful families in the country and bonded the lands of Murrisk and lar Connaught.

Ballynahinch was just one of the many castles the O’Flahertys held. The others were at Aughnanure, Doon, Moycullen, Bunowen and Renvyle. Donal at this time was tanist or heir apparent to Donal Crone, ruler of all Connaught. Grace gave birth to four children and, on the death of Donal, she took over as head of her family – some said she was a better "man" than her dead husband.

Her life as a pirate is well-known, as is her famous meeting with Queen Elizabeth I in September 1593. These two formidable ladies met on equal terms as monarch to monarch. They spoke in Latin, and of the only Gaelic woman ever to appear in court it was written: "In the wild grandeur of her mien erect and high Before the English Queen she dauntless stood." The mystery of where her last resting place is has never been solved but it is generally thought to be Clare Island in Clew Bay. She died in 1603 – the same year as Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1584 the Queen appointed Murrough-ne-Doe O’Flaherty as head of the clan against the wishes of the vast majority of the O’Flahertys, thus causing a split in the clan. In this same year Murrough-ne-Doe captured the fortress of Ballynahinch, but Grace’s sons, Owen and Murrough, recaptured it later in 1584. Murrough, son of Grace, retained possession of the castlewell into the seventeenth century. In 1590 Robert Martin bought their estate at Ross outside Galway.

The Martins

The Martins trace their ancestry back to the Crusader, Sir Oliver Martin, who received his armorial bearings from Richard the Lion-Heart. He came to Ireland with Strongbow during the Norman invasion in 1169, and settled for a while in Limerick. The family established themselves as one of the Fourteen Tribes of Galway.

The Martins were the first of the tribes to venture outside the safety of the walled city of Galway. The O’Flahertys still kept a jealous eye on the Martins after they had sold Ballynahinch to Robert, and in later years they were to kill a great-great-grandson of Robert, who lived at Dangan on the (then) outskirts of Galway. It was in that house that Richard Martin, “Humanity Dick”, was born in 1754.

The present house at Ballynahinch was built by Richard’s father as an inn. The house was extensively renovated about 1813 and Humanity Dick moved there permanently. This move thereby made Ballynahinch the principal seat of the Martin family.

Richard Martin was indeed a most colourful man in the mould of his good friend the Prince Regent, later King George IV. His lifestyle was opulent and he was well known for his lavish parties – which later contributed to his money troubles. He was also known for his duelling skills which earned him his second nickname, “Hair-Trigger Dick”. He was the leading exponent of duelling in Galway, and prior to each encounter he would display an old wound to his opponent with the comment –
“Let this be your target, Sir”.
His opponents were never on target, but he was. Ballynahinch Castle was host to many famous people during the early part of the nineteenth century. Maria Edgeworth, author of “Castle Rackrent”, was one such visitor in 1834.

As M.P. for the area, Richard introduced the “Cruelty to Animals Act” to the House of Commons in 1822. As a result of the bill being passed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed, and it is for this reason that Richard Martin is most fondly remembered as “Humanity Dick”. It was at this time, under pressure from creditors, that he left Ireland, never to return for he died in Boulogne, France, in 1834.

Asked on his death bed why he was so kind to animals and so ruthless to humans, his last words are reputed to have been –
“Did you ever see an ox with a pistol?”.

Then he died, and thus passed on the king of Connemara, the master of Ballynahinch, and the man who owned the longest driveway in the world – “Forty one miles from Galway to his front door at the Castle”.

After the Great Famine, the Martins' huge estate was sold up through the Encumbered Estates Court. The purchasers, the London Law Life Assurance Company of London, later sold it to Richard Berridge. It was the Berridge family who restored and enlarged the castle to its present day structure. The lakes of Upper and Lower Ballynahinch, Derryclare, and Lough Inagh were all part of the estate. This continued up to the mid-fifties when a vast part of the lands were sold during the ownership of Mr. Noel Huggard.


After the Berridge family, the castle passed into the hands of His Highness the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanager, better known as Ranjitsinhji, or Ranji Prince of Cricketers.

Ranji had come to know Ballynahinch through its famous fisheries and in 1924 he purchased the property from the Berridge family. He had fallen in love with the beautiful and rugged scenery of Connemara, and wished to own part of it. It was Ranji who was responsible for most of the landscaping of the gardens and woods, plus the erection of the fishing piers and huts along the river.

He was a fabulously wealthy man, having property in England, and, of course, his many palaces in India. He is best known as a world-class cricketer and is regarded as second only to the legendary W.G. Grace, of whom Ranji was a team-mate. He still holds many cricket records, and has two mentions in The Guinness Book of Records, which have yet to be broken.

But it was Ballynahinch which granted him most pleasure in his latter years. He arrived every summer, around June. In Galway before coming to Ballynahinch he would buy five motorcars, two limousines and three smaller cars, and when leaving for India in October, he would give the cars to the locals as gifts – and this was done each and every year!

Each year on Ranji’s birthday a party was held for all the staff who worked for him. The party was held in the billiard room (the present day bar). He served the guests himself, and had a truck outside the door to take home the by now well-intoxicated staff. He had his own train carriage from Galway to Clifden, stopping off at Ballynahinch station (the Galway-Clifden line closed down in 1936). The locals and his many Indian servants seemed to co-exist happily, and two of his nieces went to school at nearby Kylemore Abbey.

Due to a shooting accident in Scotland, Ranji lost his right eye, and this injury ended any hopes of his carrying on his cricketing. He had a glass eye and, in one of his palaces in India, one can see five spare glass eyes on display.

When word got back to Ballynahinch that he had died of an asthmatic attack, the locals did not believe it as the date was April 1st, 1932... April Fools Day! This time it was no joke, but the truth.

In September 1983 one of the most famous gillies ever to work in Ballynahinch passed away. His name was Frank Cummins. The day before he died he still remembered fondly the pair of ruby cufflinks that Ranji had given him over fifty years prior. The kindly Indian Prince still lives fondly in the memories of those locals old enough to remember the Prince of Cricketers.

20th Century

After the death of Ranji, the castle passed into the hands of his nephew Dulipsinhji who sold it to the McCormack family from Dublin. It was in 1946 when the Tourist Board took possession that the many years of private ownership came to an end. This takeover gave a new lease of life to the old house, for it was insured that Ballynahinch Castle did not go the way of so many other stately houses, either being burned to the ground or stripped of its materials.

For the first time the world famous fisheries were open to the public, and they took advantage of it.

Ballynahinch Castle and Fishery were sold in 1957 to an American businessman, Mr. Edward Ball. Mr. Ball in turn sold turn sold shares in the castle to many friends and business associates. In 1978, when Mr. Ball was 89 and no longer travelling overseas, he resigned as president of the corporation and nominated Raymond Mason for that post.

Under his direction the castle has undergone extensive renovation, and all-round standards have been improved. In 1981 the former President of America, Mr. Gerard Ford, and his wife Betty were guests of the Masons at Ballynahinch, as was former British Prime Minister James Callaghan.

"We had the most wonderful stay at Ballynahinch and only wish we had planned our trip to allow ourselves a longer stay! The building and the grounds were beautiful, the staff were incredibly friendly, and the atmosphere relaxing. It's clear the castle holds an important place in the local culture. Don't change a thing - it was marvellous!"

Lily Moss, England