The history of Turin Castle...

238 was a most auspicious year in the long and turbulent history of County Mayo. For we are told in the Annals of the Four Masters that foreigners erected castles in Conmacnaine Cuile (Kilmaine) and Muinter Murchadha (Robeen).

The foreigners were Anglo-Normans, led by Richard de Burgo, son of William de Burgo, one of the most powerful Lords in England, having previously received, in 1228, the Overlordship of the whole of Connacht from the English King, Henry II, making Richard the “red Earl“ the most powerful man in Ireland.

The de Burgo dynasty survived and flourished until Elizabethan times, when the two hereditary titles of upper and lower Mac William (from William de Burgo, known as the conqueror) were finally abolished. During this time, the de Burgos had become completely integrated into Gaelic society, adopting Gaelic customs, laws and language, becoming “Hiberniores Hibernis ipis” (more Irish than the Irish themselves). However, this was the beginning of the end of the old Gaelic order in Ireland and opened the way for the final conquest and plantation of Ireland.

The origins of Turin Castle and neighbouring castles are, sadly, mostly lost in the mists of time. According to the chronicler O’Donovan, “In the parish of Kilmaine, there are several square castles said to have been built by the Burkes (de Burgos). There is one in Turin, one in Cregduff, one in Elistron and one in Killernan.” Turin would appear to derive from the old Irish meaning ‘small bleaching field’. This may suggest that Turin Castle was involved in the very lucrative trade of sheep farming; there was a growing market for hides, meat and wool in continental Europe.

By the mid 16th century, Kilmaine politically and economically was the most important barony in the county. In 1574 there were 41 castles in an area of just 10 miles long by eight broad, by far the highest concentration of castles in Connacht, an indication that agriculture was on an industrial scale. The producers were the owners of the estates, who would have enjoyed the protection of the upper and lower Mac William and, in turn, the Mac Williams would profit from the duty imposed, which would probably directly affect the commodity market price in Galway.

Keeping the lines of communication open was essential, hence the need for a line of castles protecting the trade route from Lough Corrib to Galway. Apart from this liberal studding of castles in Kilmaine, another possible indication of the profitability and importance of this trade was the presence of a large mercenary army loyal to the Mac Williams.

In the division of Connacht 1570-1574, one Walter Mac Remon is listed as being resident of Turin Castle. The Mac Remons were a cadet branch of the clann Seonin, who were one of the Chief de Burgo clans of Ireland.

Following the death of the Mac William, Sir Richard Bourke, in September of 1586, the de Burgo clans and the Mac Donnells, along with the O’Malleys and the Joys (Joyces), rose up against the English oppressors in an attempt to reinstate the Mac Williamship and other lordships, which the English had abolished. One of the signatories to a document presented to the council of Connaught was Walter Mac Jonyn (Seonin) of Towrin (Turin). This document attested that the principal reason for the rebellion was the abolition of the Mac Williamship and other titles.

In 1589, the de Burgo clans, along with the O’ Flaherties, Joys and Clandonnel, rose up against the English oppressors and plundered the baronies of Clare, Kilmaine and Clanmorris.

Sir Murrough O’Flaherty stayed with a few men at Keltyprichnane in Kilmaine and sent the rest under his son, Teige, to plunder the baronies of Clare and Dunmore, where they burned 16 towns and gathered 3000 head of cattle and horses. The "rebel forces" gathered at the Carre in Kilmainham and engaged the English. Edward Bermingham of Milltown Castle and former Sherrif of Mayo joined the battle after being attacked by Teig O’Flaherty. He described the battle in a letter written from Athlone on 31st March:-

"The soldiers, not neglecting their time, went against them; there was a volley of shot on both sides. They came to the push of the pike with great courage, when the said Teig O’ Flaherty was slain with eight of his company. They were then disordered and I, with six horsemen of mine and eight footmen, being beside our battle as a wing ready to charge upon the breach, did charge,

When I struck their Guidion (standard bearer) under his morion (helmet) with my staff and ran him through in the face of battle, I followed another and had him down, and so did my horseman kill five more at that charge. We had not six score of ground to deal with them when they recovered a main bog. Three of my horsemen and eight footmen did kill of them in the bog sixteen.

Her majesty's attorney in that province(Mr Comerford), understanding of their disordering, issued forth when he met of them and did slay sixteen. Diverse others in the fight did kill of them, so that I account there is slain of them eighty and upwards. The attorney and I brought the head of Teige O’Flaherty to Sir Richard yester night, who was wonderful glad, for this Teige was the stoutest man in the province and could do most."

According to a letter written by Comerford at Turin Castle dated 29th March, Comerford rode two miles to the battle field and sallied forth on the fugitives with six shot, seven footmen and four horsemen, killing twenty-four.

Following the subjugation and pacification of the Gaelic lords and subsequent plantation of Mayo, many of the castles were abandoned by their new English owners, preferring the comfort of manor houses, in some cases, incorporating the existing building or cannibalising materials from it. From records we know that Turin had been abandoned for at least two hundred and fifty years, up until its restoration in 1997.