Known as Menlo Castle or Blake's Castle, this picturesque ruin of a 16th century castle sits on the banks of the River Corrib. The serenity of its surroundings masks its rich folklore and tragic history, which remains shrouded in mystery. Once a home of grandeur and tradition, time has taken over at Menlo Castle, preserving the stone walls as a memoir of its past.
Built in 1569, the castle was home to the Blake family from 1600 to 1910. The Blakes were the richest family in the area with properties in Mayo, Clare and Galway. The family made many refurbishments to the castle over the years, including the addition of a Jacobean mansion to the old tower house in the late 17th century.
The family were well-liked by the villagers of Menlo, many of whom were their tenants. Each year they invited the villagers to the castle grounds for the 'Maying in Menlo' festival, which was a great Galway tradition at the time. The grounds were used for all kinds of sports and athletics, yachting, tennis, rowing, music and dancing. Boats from Woodquay and Long Walk would bring people up the river and sweet sellers sold red and white sugars sticks and sweet-pipes at a halfpenny each. Calls from vendors rang throughout the air as they lured villagers in with their attractive wares, their colourful tents stretched out from the river banks to the village school house. But that wasn't all that echoed through the air; A local midwife to the Blake family used to tell a story that while on a night journey to the castle, she heard faeries dancing to faery music in a nearby faery ring.
On the night of July 26, 1910, everything changed. While Lord Valentine and Lady Blake were in Dublin, a fire broke out on the property. The coachman, James Kirwan, woke to the sound of screaming and opened his bedroom door to a wall of flames. With luck on his side, he managed to escape from his bedroom window on the first floor and climb down to safety. The two servant girls - Anne Browne and Delia Earley - fled to the castle rooftop in an effort to escape the flames and were forced to make a 40 foot drop into bales of hay that had been gathered by onlookers.
Though Anne landed on her feet and was rendered unconscious, later waking in excruciating pain and was rushed to the hospital, Delia died instantly. By the time the fire brigade arrived, it was too late - the castle was engulfed in flames. They tried to get inside to look for Eleanor Blake - the invalid daughter of Lord and Lady Blake - but the heat of the flames drove them back. It's believe that she died in the fire, trapped by the flames. No trace of her body was ever found.
All contents of the castle were destroyed - nothing remains of the paintings, ceilings, tapestries and valuable heirlooms that had once filled this grand castle, adorning every little nook and cranny. After such a tragic end to a prosperous history, the Blake family never tried to rebuild, abandoning their home to the elements. All that remains of the once great castle is the ivy clad walls that can still be seen to this day.
If you want to discover more interesting stories from Galway's past, you'll find loads in our Galway History section HERE.Published on Updated on