History of Headford

How Headford got its name

The name Headford was a 17th century translation by the English of an abbreviated form of the ancient Irish name but this translation was incorrect. The fi rst Anglo-Normans to arrive here in the 13th century made a better attempt at it and they have given us the very earliest rendering of the old Irish name for the place.

The lands in this place were granted in 1238 A.D by Richard De Burgo to an under-lord called Walter De Riddlesford who started to build a castle here. Walter died two years later and his wife shortly afterwards leaving two infant daughters. The crown then took custody of their possessions and ordered an inquiry into their property. In the report of their inquiry the commissioners gave the name of the estate as 'Admekin'. Later reports of the 13th Century refer to it as 'Achmakin', 'Athmakyn', and 'Admaken'. All of these were attempts at Anglicising the Irish name 'Ath Mhic Chinn which means the ford of some man named 'Mac Chinn (or Mac Fhinn).

In later centuries the Irish very often dropped the' Mh' from 'Mhac' and 'Mhic'. This would give us Ath Ic Chinn which sounded as Ath Cinn and therefore English documents of the 16th and 17th Centuries refer to Headford as 'Aghkene 'Aghkyne' and 'Akin'. At the end of the 17th century the St George family made an attempt to establish a Protestant village here and built the Protestant church. The new settlers then translated Ath Cinn as Headford which was far from being correct. Therefore it is only from the eighteenth century that the name Headford exists.

Frances O'Reilly gratefully acknowledges assistance from Mary O'Connor and Margie McNamara on putting together this article.

Headford through time

1238

The lands of Headford were granted in 1238 by Richard De Burgo to an under lord called Walter De Riddlesford (Baron of Leinster) who commenced to build a castle here. Walter died two years later and his wife died shortly afterwards leaving two daughters. The Crown took custody of their possessions.

1283

The girls were called Christiana and Emelina. Christiana had married Robert De Mariscis and Emelina married Hugh De Lacy (Earl of Ulster). Emelina inherited Corofin and Christiana inherited Headford Castle plus at least 15,000 acres. Christiana’s daughter went to England and in 1283 the lands of Headford were exchanged for the same amount of land in England.

1283

1283 Adam Gaynnard was allowed the lands of Headford and the family were tenants for a number of years.

1350

Gaynnards were succeeded by a McWalter and later De Burgo in 1350.

1641

In the late 16th or early 17th Century Edmund Skerritt owned Headford Castle and Estate but was expelled by Cromwell in 1641 and the Estate was transferred to Hatley St. George.

1674

Church of St. John the Baptist

Sir Oliver St. George built the protestant church. It was known as the white church and was opened in 1674 and was a place of worship for nearly 300 years.

The Rectory on the Shrule Road was built in the 19th Century.

1715

Lord St. George of Headford.

His forebears replaced the Catholic Edmund Skerritt. St. George built himself a Manor House in the Elizabethan style where he resided occasionally as he had been appointed Governor of Galway City and Vice Admiral of Connacht.

1702

Stone dated 1702 beside the castle ruins

"No entrance to the manor except through an old ivied castle, which forms a sort of barbican or outwork.” (C. Ottways Tour of Connacht. 1839)

1749

Lt. General Richard St. George of Carrick on Shannon owned the Castle later and left it to his natural daughter Mary St. George. Mary married Capt. James Mansergh of Macrony Castle, Kilworth, Co. Cork in 1749.

1797

Their son Col. Richard Mansergh of Headford assumed the name St. George in order to inherit the Castle and lands. He married Anne Stepney of Durrow. His portrait, in which he is depicted in 1794 mourning over the tomb of his wife Ann, was painted by Hugh Douglas Hamilton and acquired by the National Gallery, Dublin. A portrait of his wife, Ann Stepney was painted by the famous artist George Romney and is in the Heckscher Museum in Huntington, Long Island, New York. Col. Richard Mansergh St. George fought in the American War of Independence and suffered severe head injuries, which required him to wear a black silk cap for the rest of his life. He suffered from dark brooding moods and also became increasingly obsessed and even paranoid about the spirit of insubordination and rebellion. In 1797 he went to Cork with an armed escort determined to nip rebellion in the bud issuing dire and improvident threats even against his own tenants, having burned down one house a supposed place of assembly. As an act of bravado he let it be known that he was staying without a guard over night with his agent Joseph Uniacke.

They were both attacked and killed in Carey’s Lodge Araglin. St. George was buried in Athlone.

The Col. and his wife had two sons:

  • Mr. Richard James Mansergh St. George 1789-1857 Married Elizabeth Sophia Shaw in l812. No children.
  • Col. Stepney St. George 1791-1847. Married Fanny L’Estrange in 1833 and they had seven children.

1840

The St. George’s were staunchly Protestant and did not look kindly on the building of Catholic Churches on the estate. Thatched Chapels were accepted for there was one at the corner opposite the Grand Gates. This was the original Corner Chapel but when the present one was built about 1840, it was away from the demesne entrance. Mr. St.George gave the site free, as well as a large donation towards the building.

Capt. Stepney St. George was Chairman of the Relief Committee during the famine and wrote several letters to the Relief Commission Office at Dublin Castle requesting boilers for soup making and other help. He had given up his office and stores to set up soup kitchens but the four boilers they had were not sufficient. Stepney died during the famine –a fever victim?

1841

Census of population - Pre famine population of Headford - 1,647

1847

Regarding the St. Georges dealings with the tenants there are conflicting reports. Their response during the famine was quite good, setting up and heading, with generous subscriptions the local famine relief fund. We also have evidence that few of the St. George tenants at the time had to seek refuge at the local workhouse in Tuam.

1851

Census of population - Post famine population of Headford - 1,195 (a drop of 452 or 25%.)

The number of inhabited houses for this same period fell from 236 to 181.

1855

Against this we have the following from May l855 "Fifteen houses were levelled on the property of Mr. St. George on Thursday last and the greater number of these poor people had paid, and the remainder were willing to pay all arrears. Amongst the evicted, a poor child in fever was thrown upon the dunghill in bitter cold”. (Local people say the evictions were in Keernaun and were carried out by an Agent – Mr. Hunt).

1857

Richard James St. George (l838 – l891). Eldest son of Stepney inherited the castle and lands. Richard married Mary Agatha Henely. Who later became Mary A. Trudon.

1860

Fr. Conway who built the present church in Headford approached Mr. St. George about getting a site for a church and school in Headford.

1863

A lease of land dated the l3th May l863 for a term of 900 years was granted to Fr. P. Conway and Most Rev. John McHale for building a chapel and schoolhouse. The great walls that enclosed the Market Place were handed over for stones for the new church.

1870

Mr. Richard M. St. George was listed as being the owner of seven and a half thousand acres. Owning large tracts of land in Headford, Caherlistrane, Deerpark, Racepark, Gortnamona, Horsevalley, Caltra, Skeaghbeg, Balllycolgan, Crossursa, Donaghpatrick and Bohercoill.

"The extravagances of the owner of Headford Castle considerably crippled his resources and caused the compulsory surrender of many thousand of the estates most fertile acres”.

1874

The Estate was put up for sale through the Landed Estates Court.

1876

The property was for sale in 38 lots to facilitate buyers. The purchasers were other landlords, business people Assurance companies and some of the better off tenants. The Castle, town and some of the lots were not sold.

1891

Mary A St. George (Henely) became the registered owner of the Castle and lands.

1892

The Castle and some of the lands were purchased by Martin McDonnell a Merchant from Dunmore.

1895

Martin McDonnell purchased houses in the town and lands at Gortnamona for £5,000.

1906

Headford Castle burned down

1920

Killursa Co-operative Farming Society Ltd. purchased houses and some land from the vendor Frank McDonnell Barrister at law of Dublin, James McDonnell of Tuam Merchant and Stephen J McDonagh of St. Mary's Road Dunmore Trustees. The Co-operative Society later sold the houses back to the tenants.

1921

The Land Commission was involved in the division of land from 1921.