The Gateway Hotel on Main Street, Swinford, Co. Mayo occupies three of the original townhouses that were constructed in 1795. The house in particular that concerns this story is the central one.
Seamas Durkin plied his trade in this building in 1798-
He was known as “Tailliúr” Durkin. Swinford was a town with a sizeable English-
The name by which he was known gives us a clue to this; whereas “Seamas” and “Tailliúr”
are Gaelic terms, the syntax is English-
“Tailliúr” was also a member of the secret society known as “United Irishmen. “ The goal of those people was the overthrow of English rule in Ireland and the establishment of a republic.
When word reached Swinford that a French Revolutionary army had landed at Killala and had defeated the English at Castlebar, a group of United Irishmen decided to join the invaders. Tailliúr hid his loom, shut his shop and set off along with Paddy Brennan, Seamas “Dubh” Horkan of Rathscanlan and other United men.
They spent a few hours in Swinford where Humbert and his officers dined at Hagan’s
Hotel in the Square and the soldiers turned in a field where the Vocational school
was to be built many years later. They were soon on the march again with the native
Irish who had flocked to the French flag following them. As the forced march progressed,
the numbers swelled as the French passed through each town and village.
Humbert and his little army had disembarked at Killala in North Mayo but the original intention had been to land in Donegal and join up with the United Irishmen there. Humbert changed plans because of the danger that his ships would be intercepted by the English navy at sea. As he hurried through Swinford and other places along the way, he was hoping to make it to the midlands, where he felt the United Irishmen would rally to his side. He wasn’t to know that the rebellion there had already been put down ruthlessly.
He had nowhere to go and no help to be called upon but he did not know this and neither did Tailliúr and his comrades as they struggled to keep up with the battle-
At Ballinamuck, he ran out of luck and proved he had also run out of ideas. After a half hour of token resistance, the French surrendered thus leaving their erstwhile native allies to their fate. The Irish who had blindly followed him knew they could expect no mercy from the English as they were considered to be guilty of High Treason for joining the invaders. They were literally left to fight for their lives. And so they did.
For more than four hours they stood shoulder to shoulder on the ridge of Shanmullagh and broke charge after charge from the seasoned English cavalry troops who attacked them. In the end, their ranks were broken and thy were driven from the field of battle. The survivors were cut down without mercy. Durkin managed to escape from the massacre and reached the sanctuary of a large, disused sandpit. He hid amongst the rubble there and managed to remain there undiscovered until nightfall and the hunt was suspended.
His luck was to hold as he decided to flee eastwards, away from the Shannon and the
route homewards. He knew he had little hope of getting back to Swinford as the river
crossings were going to be well-
Durkin was lucky to meet up with a sympathetic farmer who gave him a new identity as a ‘spailpin’ or journeyman labourer on his lands. After several months of farm work, he took up his old trade of tailoring and worked at this for a number of years until he felt it was safe to return to Swinford again.
He did return and decided to go back to his old trade but friends managed to persuade him to leave the town and drop out of public view. Swinford had a large number of inhabitants who were loyal Crown subjects and he ran the risk of being reported to the authorities while he remained there.
He went to live in a ‘clachan’ settlment in Cloonacanana, a townland several miles north of Swinford and lived there quietly until his death in the 1820s. While there, he married a local girl and they had two daughters, Winnie and Nellie.
Nellie was my great grandmother.
In 1852 she married Martin Henry who lived in a neighbouring clachan in Ballydrum.
Martin rn a brickmaking business and it had been passed on to him by his father who
started it in 1825.
(His son, Patrick Martin, was to continue in business until the 1920s, when improved building materials, including cement, had come on the market and lessened the demand for bricks.)
My father, John Edward, (1904-
The remains of the Tailliúr’s little clachan hut and the outlines of his ‘culann’ are still visible today; mute reminders of harsher times.