Ballyheane, Co. Mayo
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Errew Monastery

French Hill

Wells in General

Interesting Facts

Local History

Errew's Souterrains

A Strange Story
Errew Monastery

The site of Errew Monastery was donated by James Hardiman, the foundation stone was laid on the 21st of July, 1840 and a great number of people were present. Dr. McHale, Archbishop of Tuam was the leader of the ceremonies. James Hardiman laid the foundation stone and placed coins of the day under it, the people of Errew helped with the building. They came in crowds and cut through a hill a 100 feet high. Money was collected through out the country. Archbishop contributed 5.00 and Daniel O Connell 1.00. The monastery school was opened in 1842. Brother Bernard McGarry and Brother Paul O Donnell were the first teachers. It had two spacious class -rooms with a good map on the wall. In April 1884, 260 children were attending the monastery school. The Brothers opened other rooms on the second floor. A great decline in the number of children attending occurred after 1884 because of new schools opening in the area. As well as the primary school, Errew monastery also had a classical school. This was a centre of higher education mainly for the training of priests and teachers. At this time Irish was regarded as the language of the poor. The brothers showed their students that Irish was a suitable language for business and study. James Hardiman lectured in the classical school occasionally. Among the students who attended the classical school were Archbishop Gilmartin, Bishop Higgins and Ulick Bourke. During the Famine years 1846-1849 the brothers were very active in feeding the poor, Brother McGarry and Brother O` Donnell collected large sums of money in the United States for the relief of the famine victims. With the money raised the brothers were able to provide a small meal for 400 children daily. There are 22 Brothers buried in the Monastery cemetery. There is a sapper`s mark on the gable of the Monastery. This mark was used to measure land. The monastery closed it school in 1975 and the boys went to local girls national school. A Bench Mark, known as a Sappers mark indicates the level above mean sea level. There is a Sappers mark on the North - west corner of the Monastery, on the front wall of the School, and on Deasy`s bridge. The mark resembles three points on a crow`s foot.

In 1798 General Humbert arrived in Ireland from France with a 1000 soldiers and a good supply of arms. He landed at Killala Bay. He got very little support from the local people and marched southwards to Castlebar where he met the English army under the command of General Lake. The English soldiers threw down their weapons and fled. The incident became known as the "Races of Castlebar" during the Races of Castlebar three French soldiers pursued three fleeing English men in the direction of Belcarra. The fleeing English soldiers decided to take cover under a bridge close to Belcarra. Unaware that their enemies were underneath, the French soldiers crossed the bridge, the English jumped up and shot dead five of the French soldiers. In 1816 a monument was erected in honor of these soldiers. The inscription on the monument says " In grateful remembrance of the gallant French soldiers who died fighting for the freedom of Ireland on the 26th August 1798. They shall be remembered for ever may they rest in peace" Erected in 1876.

Wells in General

Ever since the dawn of time wells have been used for practical and religious purposes. In Celtic times water was a sign of spiritual life, because of this the Druids held various ceremonies deemed special by the Druids. After the time of St.Patrick these wells were given Saints names and Christian ceremonies were held there, to keep tradition alive. Every parish has, a least one holy well, which was a center of pilgrimage at one time or another. The day of the pilgrimage was called "The Pattern Day" some of this festivals became so riotous, that the Clergy had to ban them.

Local Wells. McDonagh's Well This well is situated in a damp field near Joe Thomas's house. Joe Thomas was one of the co-workers on this project The well is surrounded by a low wall built of stone. The water of the well is clear and never rises above the flag stone in the base of the well. It goes down slightly in Summer. It looks like a Baptismal well because of number of small stone steps leading down flag stone at the base of the well. There is also a small tunnel leading from the stone, it is at least three feet long. When a water Diviner came along he divined about the area and he felt pressure on his hand and he said there was a clear spring eleven feet down. This was true. He also said that McDonagh's well was the epicenter of an underground stream, which surfaced at McDonagh's well. Bourke's Well

Bourke's well is situated not far from Mc Donagh's well in a field like a quagmire. It is near a bog. The well is practically hidden by a dense undergrowth of blackthorn trees. There are old stone steps leading down to the water. As it is across from the bog the people who were working there might not have had to bring any water as they just had to pop to the well and get the water. It is very deep, so deep that it has to be covered by heavy stone slabs to protect people from falling in. Boney`s well.

Boney`s well is situated in a field behind Mellets house it is called Boney`s well, because Brother Boneventure discovered it. A reliable source of information told me that Brother Boneventure was passing by the place where the well is situated looking for water for the Altar. At that time there was no well there, but as Brother Boneventure passed by the place the well is now situated, the well is said to have sprung open. Brother Boneventure went to America to raise funds for the Monastery.

A Strange Story.

In Ballyheane a man owned a field which had a well on it. A neighbour of his wanted to use the well. The man who owned the well refused to let his neighbour use it. There was a Court Case about it and the man who owned the field with the well won the case. When he came back from Court the well had stopped functioning in his field and had sprung up on the side of the road. Believe it or not! by Seamus Horan,Paul Davoran, and Joe Thomas

Local History The Famine in Errew.

The Famine in Ireland occurred in Ireland between 1845-1847.Two million people died of hunger and fever while many others emigrated to England and America. A monastery situated on a small hill in the centre of Errew provided food daily for 400 people throughout the Famine. The monks continued the custom of feeding the local people until recent times. Shortly before the famine work began on a building at the rear of the monastery as the old chapel was too small. When the population decreased however, during the great hunger, there was no need for a bigger chapel so it was used as a turf barn. Many houses were left deserted after the famine. This caused the remaining houses in rural areas to be very spread out. The population of Ireland decreased from eight million to half that number. there was a similar decrease in the population in Errew and the surrounding areas. Prior to the famine there were 500 hundred pupils attending Errew Monastery. At present there are only 76 pupils attending the school at Errew. The population of Carra decreased from 3000 to 700 after the Famine. This was above the national average. Many people emigrated to countries such as the U.S.A. Canada, Australia and England, to prove this point Mary Kelly, Marian Quinn, Margaret Kilcoyne fled to the U.S.A. Most of the landlords did not aid their tenants throughout the famine in Ireland, but fortunately for the people, Errew was an exception. James Hardiman the local landlord did all he could to help his tenants. George Moore of Moore Hall was equally kind to his tenants. The ten thousand pounds prize money for the Carona cup was used to help out tenants in difficulty.

Errew National School

Pupils of Errew National School have an ancient archaeological gem close to their school. Members of the Mayo Archaeological have studied the `souterrain` which is situated on a fort of the lands of Michael Hoban at Errew. A 27 ft. passage leads into the outer chamber from the centre of the fort. This circular cavern extends for ten ft. and measures eight or nine feet in height. A second passage, just large enough to accommodate one person crawling on their stomach, leads into a large chamber, the passage extends for 7ft.up into the inner room which measures the same height as the outer structure. Because of the chimney like hole in the inner-part of the souterrain, which is the larger of the two, it is thought it may have been used as dwelling. They have examined the souterrain type caverns in the region but they feel that the one in Errew is an excellent specimen. Locals have known of the existence of Errew chambers for years but is only in recent times that the entrance passage has been re-opened allowing members of the society to carry out their studies. Already they have prepared a map of the souterrain and have the interior photographed. Their investigations have also led to the discovery of several air vents leading out of the chambers to different locations in the fort. Souterrains date from early Christian to medieval times.


A feature often found in ringforts is an underground passage or souterrain (popular known as a cave or a tunnel) they are usually built of stone but can also be tunneled into rock or compact clay or gravel. Souterrains are sometimes found apparently independent of any enclosure and are also found in and are also found in Early Christian ecclesiastical enclosures. They were used as places of refuge and possibly also for storage and can be encountered unexpectedly during ploughing, bulldozing or quarrying. These structures can be unsafe, especially if recently uncovered and should be treated with extreme caution.

Interesting Facts

James Hardiman M.R.I.A. James Hardiman was born in Westport in 1782. His surname was Horgadon but he changed it to Hardiman . James wanted to enter an Order of Priests but he would not be accepted without special permission from the Pope since he had sight only in one eye. There was an eight year delay in getting permission as the Pope was a prisoner of Napoleon. When the permission did arrive James had changed his mind.

Marcella Hall who was born in Errew was his mother's maiden name. In 1818 he bought an estate in the Barony of Carra, Co. Mayo for 1,000. Two years before that his mothers gave him a small farm near Errew. In 1819 he bought an estate in the same district for 800. He then owned about 200 acres from which he received good rent.

In 1833 - 1834 John O Donavan a close friend of James, stayed in Ballyheane. After surveying the Hardiman estate he advised Hardiman to found a school for his tenants. James Hardiman took John O Donavans advice and built a monastery and school for his tenants. The site of Errew monastery was donated by James Hardiman Librarian at University College Galway, together with 10 acres of land free. the foundation stone was laid by Mr. Hardiman on 21st July 1840 and on the same occasion the dedication was performed by the Archbishop.The inscription over the front door is as follows:

"Under the special patronage of his grace the most illustrious Lord John McHale Archbishop of Tuam, the first stone of this monastery was laid by James Hardiman on the 21st of July 1840 A.D."

When the monastery was being built James himself had a house built very close to the monastery. James only stayed in it once, the rest of the time he stayed in the monastery. He gave some very valuable books to the library in Errew. James name is on most of his books. In the course of the years many have disappeared. There are 56 of those books in the Archives. They all deal with religious subjects. James Hardiman died suddenly on the 13th November 1855.

Brother Sylvester: Brother Sylvester was land manager in Errew Monastery. As he was returning from a fair in Belcarrra his horse bolted and he was suddenly thrown off the Side car sustaining fatal injuries.

Patrick Moran : Patrick Moran worked on the Lusitania as a Fireman. On May 7th 1915 the ship was sunk by a German submarine off Kinsale Head. Patrick Moran was among the 761 survivors.

Scolbs : A number of scolbs were found under a bog behind Melletts house. Those scolbs were used by Stone age people to kill animals.

Ulick Bourke: Cannon Ulick Bourke was the author of " The College Irish Grammer" and was educated at Errew Monastery.

ErCa: Fr. Tom Bourke was Chaplain in Errew until 1946, while there he organized a swimming club named ErCa at Lough Carra Bay adjacent to Castle Carra. Fr. Bourke also organized a football club also named ErCa.

Eviction : John Thomas was evicted from his home in Clooncondra between 1870-80. After that he lived in a part of `Errew House`. It was bought back by his son Tom Thomas in the late 1920`s and it is now owned by Tom`s son John Thomas. The evicted John Thomas brought the Church bell for Errew Monastery from Castlebar by ass and cart. The bell is now in Liberia in care of Fr. John Kilcoyne a local priest.

Black James Hardiman : James Hardiman had a son called `Black James Hardiman`. `Black` James often visited the Monastery and had special rooms reserved for him there. He married a lady from Galway and lived in Dublin. When his wife died he left Dublin and it is believed that he had no family and his whereabouts were unknown.

There is the remains of an Ancient church in Cogaula and it is dated back to the time of St.Patrick. Brother Eunan a local Brother tried to restore it but with little success.

Funding of the building of the Monastery: Many people contributed to the fund for the building of Errew Monastery and some of these were Dr.McHale, Fr. Theobald Matthew, Daniel O Connell, George A Moore, of Moorhall, James Hardiman, Sir Samuel O`Malley,Valentine Blake, Marcus Blake and many Bishops in the Tuam Province.

Franciscan Brother`s Cemetery: There is a small Cemetery beside Errew Monastery. There are 22 Brothers buried there. Included are 2 Brothers whose remains were transferred from Partry when the house closed there in 1927 and 3 Brothers whose remains were transferred from Granlahan and re-interned in Errew on February 27th 1981.

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