Ballynahinch Castle has been interwined 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 and some from overseas, to celebrate the Quincentennial year of Galway City receiving its charter.
Ballynahinch i.e. Baile na hlnse, means ‘household of the Island’, and refers to the O’Flaherty Castle built on an Island in the lake. This small castle was built in around 1546 by Donal O’Flaherty, husband of the famous pirate queen Grace O’Malley (Grainneuaile), who later took over the O’Flaherty clan after Donal’s death.
In 1590, Robert Martin bought the O’Flaherty’s estate at Ballynahinch. The Martins were one of the 14 notable merchant tribe families of Galway, who dominated the political, commercial and social life of Galway City. The Martins were the first to leave Galway City and set up home outside the walled city.
In 1756, the present day Ballynahinch Castle was built by the Martin family, with greater renovations made to the caste in 1813. It was from this point that Richard Martin, also famously known as ‘Humanity Dick’, moved to Ballynahinch and it became the principle residence of the Martin Family who were members of the British Parliament at the time. The name ‘Humanity Dick’ came from his actions as an MP, where in 1822, he founded the RSPCA and introduced the “Cruelty of Animals Act” to the House of Commons.
After the famine period, the castle was sold from the Martin family to the London Law Life Assurance Company and then later Richard Berridge to form part of their lavish portfolios.
During the 19th & early 20th century, the castle played hosted to many notable figures in history, such as Daniel O’Connell, the famous Irish political leader. Furthermore, in 1924 Prince Ranjitsinhji Maharajah of Nawanager (better known as Ranjitsinhji or Ranji Prince of Cricketers) stayed at the castle as a guest of the Berridge family who then owned the estate. He fell in love with the area and the castle so much that he decided to buy the castle and return every year until his death in 1933.
Ranji developed over 72 stone piers along the riverbank which are still in use today. He also invested heavily in improvements to the castle and estate. Following his untimely death, the property was sold to Mr Fredrick C. McCormack who held it until his own death in 1946.
In 1949, Ballynahinch was purchased by the Irish Tourism Board and for the first time, the world famous fisheries were open to the public. During this time, Ballynahinch Castle played host to Eamon de Valera, where his signature is the first to be seen in the old visitors’ book.
The castle was later sold in 1952 to private ownership, where it has remain until this day. The Castle is now used as a luxury hotel with much of the castle features of old still in existence.