Just An Ordinary House?
By Conor Magrath, Aughrim N.S. (Roscommon Historical & Archaeological Society Journal Vol. 3 Page 56: 1990)
A study of how a house at Mantua, Castlerea, in the heart of the Irish countryside is touched by and touches history.
The two-storey house, known as "The Barracks" in Mantua, was built about 1780 by Colonel Dowell, an English Protestant landlord, who lived in nearby Mantua House. At that time tenant farmers were being downtrodden by the landlords and had begun to fight back. Dowell had a notorious reputation and was almost certainly afraid of reprisals for his own cruel deeds, as he built the Barracks for the R.LC. (Royal Irish Constabulary) in order to have protection close at hand.
The building is of rough limestone. Originally there were three large rooms upstairs and three similar rooms downstairs, one of which led to a small dark cell. This cell was known as 'The Black Hole' and that is exactly what it was. The floor of this room was two feet lower than the other ground floor rooms, including the room from which it was entered. The only doorway was very low, (the door frame can still be seen) and it is said that any prisoner giving trouble would have his head knocked off the door by his R.LC. captors, as he was being shoved into the cell. The only light was through a small barred window.
There is a well at the front of the house, where all the locals once drew their drinking water. Folklore has it that this well is 80 - 90 feet deep and is stone-lined to its full depth. The truth is that it is only 19 feet deep (measured recently) but is indeed lined with stone.
The R.I.C. stayed in Mantua until 1913 and then a Miss Gertrude Sharkey bought the house from the owners at the time, the Bowen family. She used the Barracks as her home and married a Mr. O'Grady in 1918. A shop was started in one of the downstairs rooms to provide groceries, etc. for the locals. The O'Grady family often held fund-raising dances for Republican Sinn Fein in the house and were involved with various Republican politicians of the time.
Countless Markievicz stayed in the Barracks while canvassing for the 1926 General Election.
Count Plunkett, father of the patriot, Joseph Mary Plunkett, executed at Kilmainham Jail, stood in the 1926 elections in the Roscommon Constituency and gave an election speech at the Barracks well during that successful campaign.
Among people born in the house was a Mr. Wodell, who later became a Commissioner for the Irish Land Commission.
The O'Grady's son, Kevin, inherited the property and he and his wife, Grace O'Malley, continued shopkeeping and added a Post Office. They left in 1985 when they retired.
The property was sold to the present owners, Eamonn and Angelina Magrath in 1988, having been derelict for about three years. It was renovated and extended in 1989 and is now a Private Nursing Home for old folks.
The wall which bounds the house is the boundary between North and South Roscommon. It is also the boundary between Mantua and Ballinagare parishes.