Fr. Andrew Conroy
Hanging on the Mall in Castlebar
In 1798 following his support for General Humbert and the French Army Fr. Andrew Conroy was imprisoned and hanged in the Mall, Castlebar.
Fr. Conroy’s early school years were spent in a Hedge School. He was further educated in France, and he returned to serve in Ballina and subsequently appointed Parish Priest of Addergoole (Lahardane).
Poverty and Desolation
When Fr. Conroy settled in a small cottage in Addergoole Lahardane, he found his parishioners living in poor and desolate conditions. He visited the people in damp cabins or hovels and starving, although he also observed that he was surrounded by lush plains and lakes, land which was owned by what he considered “foreigners”. [i]
Fr. Conroy thought it important to provide education for his parishioners so he set up four Hedge Schools one of which stood on the ground where his monument is now standing. Fr. Conroy taught the students himself in these Hedge Schools. One of his students was Archbishop John McHale who later praised him for his love of his people and his desire for their freedom.
1798 – Year of the French – Humbert’s Men welcomed in Lahardane
On the 22nd August 1798 General Humbert and 1050 Frenchmen arrived in Killcummin Bay in Killala, just a few miles away from Lahardane. The Irish flag was seen flying from the Killala Castle Walls inspiring and giving hope to the people who wished to free themselves from oppression and poverty. Many Irishmen carrying pikes (Pikemen) prepared to join the army on its journey to Castlebar.[ii]
Many locals will know that Humbert’s journey to Castlebar (so that he could arrive unaware) was to march through Lahardane and through the “Windy Gap” leading his soldiers down “Staball Hill” (now Thomas St) and into the county town. On arrival in Lahardane they were offered the hospitality of Fr. Conroy in his simple dwelling. He was a fluent french speaker being educated in France so acted as an interpreter for this gathering.
General Hutchinson was informed of the advancing troops and tried to ward them off at Sion Hill as they descended from the Windy Gap but they had to retreat during the battle. It is said that there are still remains of the fallen in the fields at Sion Hill, and also some weapons have been discovered there. The battle that ensued is known as the Races of Castlebar but unfortunately this expedition by the French was not successful.[iii]
When Ballina was recaptured general Trench and his Company went to the house of Fr. Conroy where he had four men visiting him. Two were killed attempting to escape, one wounded and one arrested with Fr. Conroy. Fr. Conroy was tried for treason and attempting to assist the troops by Denis Browne and he was sentenced to execution in Castlebar. His hanging on the Mall in Castlebar on a tree opposite the Imperial Hotel was attended by the public.[iv]
The tree on which Fr. Conroy was hanged stood on the Mall beside the Imperial Hotel, it stood there until 1918 when it was blown down by a storm. At the unveiling of the memorial cross Fr. Harte who assisted the ceremony displayed a wooden cross which was carved from the wood of the tree on which Fr. Conroy was hanged. This was carved by Mr. McCormack in Castlebar.[v]
John McHale and Fr. Andrew Conroy
Unaware of the fact that both would become much loved Mayo Men, the first meeting of Fr. Conroy and the “Lion of the West”, was at the christening of the son of Padraic Mor McHale and Mary Mulkerrin. John McHale was educated by Fr. Conroy and performed as his altar boy. When the French troops marched through Addergoole John McHale watched with his father. He was also there in solidarity with his heartbroken neighbours a few months later when the body of Fr. Andrew Conroy was carried back to the parish following his execution to be buried in Addergoole cemetery.
Memorial Cross Tribute
In August 1937 a Celtic Memorial Cross was erected in honour of Fr. Conroy, in the village of Lahardane under the shadow of Nephin Mountain. The cost of the memorial including some generous donations to the church in Lahardane was contributed by local Michael Timoney. The minister for justice Mr. P.J. Ruttledge and many Mayo Dail representatives were present at the unveiling of the monument. In the present day the Addergoole Titanic Park has been erected near his memorial cross.[vi]
[i] Addergoole, it’s land and it’s people, Tony Donohue, Carrick Press, 2000.
[ii] Dear Old Ballina, Terry Reilly, 1993, Western People Publishing.
[iii] 1798 Mayo Commememoration Leaflet, Bliain Na BhFrancach, A Mayo Gathering, 16th -18th August 2013.
[iv] 1798 Mayo Commememoration Leaflet, Bliain Na BhFrancach, A Mayo Gathering, 16th -18th August 2013.