Tigh an Phríosúin aka Prison House is a beautiful stone-faced, three bay house – two stories high. Located to the north of the town of Balla, Prison House is open for Public Viewing every year for heritage week.
The townland of Prison North comprises 340 acres, 3 roods and 26 perches. Originally Prison North, West and East went collectively under the name of Prison townland (also appears variously as ‘Prizon’, ‘Prisone’ and ‘Preeson’). Prison was originally known as Trineloghan/ Trineleghane, and Triskine/ Trilkine [DS1654].
The prison ruins on the townland are said to have been the county jail in Elizabethan times (before Bingham moved it to Castlebar). Tradition has it that Tiobóid na Long (Toby Burke, son of Gráinne Mhaoil) was governor of the prison for a time. (Antiquities in Balla and Manulla parishes from Irish Tourist Association Survey, 1945). The lands of Prison were successively in the possession of the Bourke family (Viscounts of Mayo); the Browne family of Westport House (Viscounts of Sligo); then the Nolan; Trench; and Domville families.
In 1833 Sir Compton Domville, of Santry House, Co Dublin, purchased this land from the Trenches of Moyvannon Castle, Co. Roscommon. With that, the tenancy of Thomas Ormsby Esq. who had, since 1764, enjoyed a long lease there @ £1/6 per Irish acre [FB1843] , came to an end. Ormsby remained in the area.
The Mayo Constitution: 25th April, 1833
TO BE LET The Farm of Prizon, near Balla
Containing about 210 acres, from the first of May next, to tenant from year to year for grazing only. This land is of superior quality fit to fatten the best description of stock. The herd on the premises will shew the lands. Apply, if by letter, post paid to J. E. STRICKLAND, Esq. Loughlynn House, Frenchpark.
Domville’s agent, J.E. Strickland was also agent of Robert Caddell of Harbourstown (who owned land in counties Sligo and Roscommon). As a result, the Barretts of Finnor (Croghan, Co Roscommon) were in a good position to express an interest in this farm lease and the sizeable property, that was Prison House.
From May 1st 1834, Prison North was let at a yearly rent of £312.The 1837 Tithe Books show Michael Barrett (presumably there since May 1834) was a tenant-at-will in Prison North (meaning he could be evicted anytime by his landlord, Sir Compton Domville). Before 1834, the Finnor Barretts had no presence in the area.
So who was this Michael Barrett of Prison House? No Barrett appears in church records in the area (Balla, Drum & Manulla) until Jan 1840. The Michael Barrett who took up the tenancy in 1834 must have been from Finnor. He must have been Michael Barrett (who married to Honor Beirne), brother of John Barrett (1790-1844) of Finnor House. (Note: their last child, Tadhg, was baptised back in Croghan, 7 June 1835). (John's own son Michael Barrett Esq. was too young - age 17- to have taken up the tenancy).
By 1840, John Barrett's son, Martin Barrett, age 26, was married to Mary Browne, sister of the Canon Martin Browne of Balla (1799-1872). Martin Browne, who later became the Venerable Archdeacon of Tuam & P.P. Castlebar was a lifetime activist for Tenant Rights. No record of their marriage in Balla, so she may have come from Ballyhean. At this time, the Baptismal stipend paid to the priest was usually 2/6; Martin Barrett was the only one in the parish to afford a stipend of £1 10s per baptism. (Save for 1846, during the Great Famine, when it reduced, by half, to 15 shillings). Martin Barrett & Mary Browne had 3 children:
John Barrett (1841–1919) aka Rev. Fr. John Barrett C.C. Headford
Mary Barrett aka Sr. Agnes (1843–1870)
Celia Barrett (b.1846).
Mary Browne must have died circa 1846-48 and Martin remarried in 1849. He had an additional 4 children with 2nd wife, Mary Doud:
Matthew Barrett (b. 1850)
Kate Barrett (1852–1881)
Martin Barrett (b.1854)
Anne Barrett (b.1857)
The Griffith’s House book (dated 22/4/1841) confirms Martin Barrett as lessor of Prizon House (rated @ £6 10s p.a.). He finally got his lease in 1853 and made significant upgrades to the property after that. Prison House was recorded as a first class house, i.e. stone-built with a slated roof, with 10 rooms. The farmyard had seven outhouses including four cow-houses, a dairy, a barn and a shed.
Freeman’s Journal 08.12.1853: Martin Barrett of Balla, Co Mayo donated £1 towards the funds for the new chapel at Drumlion, Co. Roscommon (St Michael’s Church) that his brother, Rev. Matt J Barrett, was campaigning to establish.
At the time of Griffith’s Valuation taken in Manulla parish, between 1856 and 1857, Martin Barrett was still recorded as the lessor of the house, with 313 grazing acres (270 acres 3 roods and 9 perches at Prison + 43 acres in Rush Hill, adjoining) [GV]. He was also sub-letting a herd’s house to Patrick McHugh (down by 1862).
During the Great Famine, Martin Barrett was on the Balla Relief Committee (Freeman’s Journal 05 July 1849). Such was the poverty there, Martin Barrett was the only lay gentleman in the Castlebar area who could afford to subscribe to O’Connell’s Repeal Association (tenant rights) in 1850.
On 30 Jan 1855, a great public meeting was held in Castlebar in support of the “Three F’s” - fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. Martin Barrett of Prison and his brother, John Barrett of Lisnolan were among the signatories (clergy, gentry & principal landholders) calling for attendance at this monster meeting in Castlebar:
GREAT PUBLIC MEETING IN CASTLEBAR
FOR TENANT RIGHTS & RELIGIOUS EQUALITY
... “to take into consideration and adopt the best means of promoting the cause of TENANT RIGHT in the Country, and as the Catholics of this Empire labour under the most insulting religious inequality, to take active steps to have all the restrictions which impede the free and conscientious exercise of our Holy Faith at home and abroad, in the Army, Navy and the Public Institutions of the country, fully and entirely removed”.
Such was the turnout at the County Courthouse (that could only accommodate 25% of the crowd in attendance) that the meeting was adjourned to the open air. Martin’s brother-in-law Rev. M. Browne PP Balla, an experienced speaker on such issues, proposed both motions. He was a powerful speaker. “England is wealthy and powerful, but her wealth, which should have made her generous, rendered her insolent, and her power, which she should have wielded with mercy and kindness, was frequently exercised to oppress Ireland. Notwithstanding all her natural advantages, Ireland is the poorest country on the face of the earth. Instead of kind and protecting rulers they had experienced wanton and oppressive tyranny. (Hear hear)”.
He referred to the destruction and misery endured in Kilrush (where 20,000 had been evicted) and stated that in Mayo he had witnessed scenes that would put those atrocities in the shade. Before the famine there were 1,700 families in my parish of Balla – there were now but 700 – so that in 5 years, he had lost over 5,000 people. [The full account of this meeting spanned the first 3 pages of "The Nation" 3 Feb 1855].
On the 2nd of November 1857, Martin Barrett of ‘Prizon, Balla’ died at home, after a short illness, age 43. OBITUARY “Martin Barrett was a representative man, being a member of the county boards and a strong member of the Catholic Party in his day. For many years he was an indulgent and considerate agent of Sir Compton Domville” . His estate, valued at under £3000 (a large sum at that date) was granted to his wife Mary Barrett (nee Dowd). Mary’s residence in 1881 was Ballyheane, Castlebar.
Soon after that, the lease was taken over by Martin’s nephew (son of Moira Barrett, Carrowreagh House, Clarmorris) William McLoughlin and wife, Mary.
The Freeman’s Journal dated 27 January 1860, reveals an “In Chancery” Cause Petition on the late Martin Barrett’s estate by in the matter of John Barrett “a minor” (then age 19) by Rev. Matthew James Barrett, his nearest friend, Petitioner; and William & Mary McLoughlin, Prizon House, Respondants. (John’s solicitor was Valentine Dillon, brother of John Blake Dillon, Ballaghaderreen). This advertisement sought applications from all those claiming to be creditors or next-of-kin of the late Martin Barrett. It looks like the McLoughlins lost their residency as a result.
In 1861 William McLoughlin was replaced by Michael Barrett Esq. of Finnor (brother of Rev. Matt Barrett and uncle of young John). After 1862, a labourer lived in the house as caretaker. By the early 1880s, Prison house then passed to Martin’s firstborn Rev. Fr. John Barrett.
Rev. John Canon Barrett PP VF Headford, was a well-known and highly respected priest. He was 16 years old when his father died. His uncle, Rev Matthew James Barrett, PP Breedogue, acted on John’s behalf, in respect to his claim on his father’s estate. In 1901, John appears to have sold the time that remained on the 1853 lease at Prison North, to John McEllen of Balla (Merchant) with the agreement of the trustees of Sir Compton Meade Domville ‘a person of unsound mind’. The house was then occupied by ‘caretaker’ Thomas & Ellen Connolly and family.
In 1902, Rev. John Barrett was elected Vicar-Capitular of the arch-diocese of Tuam on the death of Rev Dr McEvilly. The Right Rev. John Dean Barrett P.P. V.G. Headford, Co. Galway died on 8 Nov 1919, age 78. Mr John Barrett of Kirwee & Chirstchurch spoke proudly of his ‘cousin’ – a nephew of Archdeacon Browne PP Aglish, Ballyheane and Breaffy – well-loved in Castlebar for his saintly gentle ways, for his refinement and dignity. [New Zealand Tablet, Volume XXXI, Issue 8, 19 February 1903, Page 19]
By 1901 there was no Barrett at all in Prison North nor in the wider Balla area. Prison House remained in the hands of the Domville’s until 1920 when the Irish Land Comission took over the property. In 1931 the house and lands were sold to Ellen McDonnell Connolly (widow of Thomas Connolly).
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