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Séamas “Tailliúr” Durkin

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- The Year of The French.  Seamas was a tailor and he was also my great great grandfather.

He was known as “Tailliúr” Durkin. Swinford was a town with a sizeable English-speaking community while the vast majority of the rural people and the poorer inhabitants of the town spoke Irish. (Gaelic)  

The name by which he was known gives us a clue to this; whereas  “Seamas” and “Tailliúr”  are Gaelic terms, the syntax is English-based.

“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-seasoned blue coats who led the way.  Finally at Ballinamuck on the eastern side of the Shannon, the march came to an end. Humbert had managed to cross the river at Ballintra some miles further north andf was now marching southeastwards, hoping to find allies in the midlands before the encircling Crown troops caught up with him.

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-guarded and their pursuers were hot on their heels. Very few managed to make it b back to their homes and avoid being reported to the authorities even if they did.
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, (1904-1986) remembered his grandmother, Nellie, very clearly. He said that she was a ‘feisty lady’ who lived until she was 110.  From her, he learned about her father and the terrible times he lived through. Other descendants of the “Tailliúr” notably John Durkin of Cloonacanana, had accounts to pass on as well. He was able to point out to me the remains of his forebear’s little dwelling in the clachan beneath the old historic fort of Lisconnel and the location of his small garden which was known afterwards as “Culan an Taillura.” ( The Tailor’s Rear Garden.)

The remains of the Tailliúr’s little clachan hut and the outlines of his ‘culann’ are still visible today; mute reminders of  harsher times.