MENLO / BLAKE'S CASTLE
If you are looking for a scenic and historic spot to visit in Galway, you might want to check out Menlo Castle, a 16th century ruin that stands on the banks of the River Corrib. Menlo Castle, also known as Blake’s Castle, was once the home of the Blake family, one of the most powerful and wealthy families in Galway. The castle has a fascinating and tragic history, as well as a beautiful setting that offers a glimpse into the past.
The Blake family were one of the fourteen tribes of Galway, a group of merchant families who dominated the political, economic and social life of the city from the 13th to the 19th centuries. The Blakes were originally from England, but settled in Galway in the late 13th century and became involved in trade, farming and politics. They owned extensive lands and properties in Galway, Mayo and Clare counties.
In 1569, Nicholas Blake acquired Menlo Castle, a tower house built by the O’Flahertys, a local Gaelic clan. He renovated and expanded the castle, adding a Jacobean mansion to the old tower house in the late 17th century. The castle became the main residence of the Blakes, who lived there for over 300 years. The Blakes were known for their hospitality and generosity, hosting lavish parties and festivals for their guests and neighbours. One of their most famous traditions was the `Maying in Menlo’, a celebration of spring that involved music, dancing, games and feasting in the castle grounds.
The Blakes were also involved in many historical events and conflicts, such as the Cromwellian invasion, the Williamite wars, the Penal Laws and the Land Wars. They supported various causes and factions, sometimes switching sides or playing both ends against the middle. They managed to survive and prosper through turbulent times, maintaining their status and influence in Galway society.
However, the Blakes’ fortune came to an abrupt end on July 26th, 1910, when a devastating fire broke out in Menlo Castle. The cause of the fire is unknown, but it is believed to have started in the room of Eleanor Blake, an invalid daughter of Sir Valentine and Lady Blake. Eleanor and two maids, Delia Earley and Annie Browne, were trapped in the castle by the flames.
Delia and Annie tried to escape by jumping from the roof, but Delia died on impact while Annie landed on a pile of hay placed by other household staff to break her fall. Severely injured and burnt, Anne was driven on an open truck, slowly into the Galway Infirmary, lying on a door to ease her movement and pain. Local farmers gave her milk to drink to try to cool her down. Thankfully Annie made a remarkable recovery. She lay on a waterbed for five months until she was well enough to leave hospital, and stayed with her friends, the Cloonan family, of Bohermore. After some attempts to get work in Galway she later emigrated to America. Eleanor’s body was never found, despite extensive searches.
The fire consumed the entire castle, destroying all its contents and leaving only the ivy-covered walls standing. The fire was witnessed by many locals, who tried to help but could not save the castle or its occupants. The fire was also seen by W.B. Yeats, who was staying nearby at Coole Park with Lady Gregory. He later wrote a poem about it called `Menlo Castle’, describing it as `a sudden blaze of light’.
The fire marked the end of an era for the Blakes and for Galway. Sir Valentine and Lady Blake moved to England after the tragedy and never returned to Menlo. The castle was abandoned and left to decay, becoming a haunting reminder of a lost past.
Today, Menlo Castle is a popular attraction for visitors who want to explore Galway’s history and nature. The castle is located about 3.5 km north of Galway city centre, on private land owned by a local farmer. It is not signposted or accessible by public transport, so you will need to cycle or drive there. You can park your car near the old gatehouse/arch at Menlo village and walk about 150 meters to a gate that leads to the castle.
Please note: Menlo Castle is currently closed due to ongoing conservation building work (updated May 2022). Please avoid visiting the site until further notice.
The castle is surrounded by trees and fields, creating a peaceful and picturesque setting. You can walk around the castle walls and admire its architecture and details, such as the coat of arms of the Blakes above the entrance door. You can also enjoy stunning views of the River Corrib and its wildlife from the castle grounds. Although the castle is located on private land, the landowner has been kind enough to grant access to visit the castle, therefore we ask that all visitors to the castle respect the castle ruins and the surrounding lands and to leave no trace.
Menlo Castle is a hidden gem of Galway’s history that offers a unique insight into the lives and times of one of its most influential families. It is also a place of beauty and mystery, where you can imagine how it looked before the fire or wonder what happened to Eleanor Blake’s remains. If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience in Galway, you should definitely visit Menlo Castle and discover its secrets for yourself.
Furthermore, if you wish learn what happened at Menlo Castle on the fateful night of its fire, the book ‘Menlo – Memories and Folklore’ by William Henry, contains detailed events provided by the surviving maid, Annie Browne.
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