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CULTURAL HERITAGE Famous People

The people listed below are some of the characters that have become closely identified with Lough Corrib and its hinterland over time. Please do not be insulted if your name has not appeared here....yet!


Read more on these characters in the paragraphs below:


Alexander Nimmo

George MacNamara

Sir William Wilde

General George Blake

Major Poppelton

Humanity Dick (Richard) Martin

Tom Courtney


ALEXANDER NIMMO

Alexander Nimmo, son of a watchmaker, was a Scottish Engineer who supervised the construction of many roads, piers and bridges in the Western District. The Western District extended from Sligo Bay to Galway Bay. It was established in 1822 and was a means of administering public works during a time when there was much poverty and hardship suffered by the natives (Villiers-Tuthill, 2006).

From 1822 to 1831, Alexander Nimmo was the Government-appointed engineer for the district which included counties Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim.

Among his achievements are his surveys for the Bog Commission of Galway and Kerry, he surveyed 66% of the coastline for the Fisheries Board and he oversaw the construction of 243 miles of road in the west. Also, he directed the building of more than 40 piers along the west coast of Ireland (Villiers-Tuthill, 2006).

Nimmo became somewhat of a social commentator on the conditions in the West at the time. He noted the neglect by the Government and by individuals alike towards enterprise and neglect of the West's resources. He also reported on the poverty that he witnessed which drove him to offer logical solutions to the underlying problems. One such recommendation was later adopted and related to a system of relief for the poor by the Local Authority which involved an arbitration court to make decisions on rents between landlord and tenant (Villiers-Tuthill, 2006).

It must be noted that the construction of a road network, as directed by Nimmo, led to the opening up of markets, the establishment of trade export and import and the development of the fishing industry, sail and boat building and curing.

At a time of great hardship (due to crop failure) and poverty in 1822, Nimmo was anxious to bring employment to Connemara and viewed road construction as the best way of giving employment to many people in remote areas. He quickly sought Government approval for extensive road building in several different projects. He was well respected by his superiors and was advised at times to act on his 'own discretion'.

According to evidence presented by Villiers-Tuthill (2006), Nimmo found that the Irish preferred employment to charity and that employment made the people 'industrious, sober and honest'. He also highlighted the unusually high level of powers that landlords there had over their tenants and mentioned the mismanagement of the land as being a big factor in the poverty of the area.

GEORGE MACNAMARA (Born 1690, Co. Clare)

 He was born in 1690 in Co. Clare, acquired land in Cong and was known as a "Robin Hood of the Irish who risked his life and his all on many occasions to ease the burden of the poor and friend of the oppressed peasantry" (ITATGS, 1945) in the 1700's and "whenever an account came of eviction or other ill-treatment he was off immediately to raid and rob the wrongdoer or some other more convenient malefactor - distributing the spoil equitably amongst the deserving" (ITATGS, 1945). He lived in a house built a few yards west of Cong Abbey, the land of which he purchased in 1740, though held in trust by his brother-in-law (a Protestant), since Catholics were not allowed to purchase such land due to the Penal Laws. He is buried in the church of the ruined Abbey of Cong. Read more about this legendary character by going to ‘relevant links’ on this page.

Publications of interest:

Higgins, Patrick (1899). A brief sketch of the romantic life of George MacNamara of Cong Abbey. Ennis: Clare Journal.

GENERAL GEORGE BLAKE (from Cross, Co. Mayo)

GENERAL GEORGE BLAKE participated in the disastrous Battle of Ballinamuck when the French General Humbert landed at Killala in 1798. He disappeared mysteriously according to one source (Irish Tourist Association General and Topographical Survey, 1945). Click here to read more. However, another website seems to indicate that he was executed by the British after the Battle and the inscription on the tombstone reads "Here lies the body of General George Blake Commander-in-Chief of the Irish insurgent battalions that joined the French Expeditionary Army in an effort to liberate Ireland in the year 1798. He was executed by the English on 10th Sept 1798 after the Battle of Ballinamuck. RIP". To see an image of the grave and tombstone at Tubberpatrick Cemetery and extra information, see ‘relevant links’.The NUI Galway database of landed estates refers to a property at Garracloon which was at one time owned by Blake. See ‘relevant links’.

SIR WILLIAM WILDE (1815 - 1876)

Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, was born at Castlerea, Co. Roscommon and became a highly regarded eye and ear surgeon. His connection with Lough Corrib stems from his book entitled 'Wilde's Loch Corrib' which he wrote in 1867. See ‘relevant links’.

In 1865, Wilde built Moytura House, where his son Oscar also spent some of his youth. He refers to the house in his book that it "commands a magnificent prospect to the west, south and east and can be seen from most parts of the middle lake" (Wilde, 1867). The house was named after the battle of Moytura which Wilde believed occurred in close proximity to the abode.

For much greater detail, please see ‘relevant links’.

MAJOR POPPELTON

Major Poppelton, who once was a friend and guardian of Napoleon is buried in an 'imposing' tomb in the burial grounds of the Martins. This burial ground is located approximately a half mile from the Parish Church of Kilannin.

Margaret Martin of Ross was married to Major Thomas William Poppelton who had been an Orderly Officer at Longwood on St. Helena and " had personal charge of Napoleon for almost two years - from 10 December 1815 until 24 July 1817. Poppleton had joined the 53rd Foot regiment of the British army in 1801 and almost immediately saw action against Napoleon. Following the French surrender in Egypt, Poppleton continued with his military career. He took part in Bank's famous desert march to India. He was also involved in some of the most brutal fighting during the Peninsular War."

 (Source: Henry, W., Talking History - Napoleon's Snuff Box, The Galway Independent,  2010.

A very interesting interview with Miss Caldwell (a member of the Martin family of Ross and whose aunt Margaret was married to Major Poppelton) as recorded by a correspondent of The Tuam Herald in 1915 details Poppelton's good relationship with Bonaparte, his ill treatment by Sir Hudson Lowe and of how Bonaparte bestowed his good friend with gifts of a gold snuff box, a lock of hair and the Cross of the Legion of Honour.The article interestingly contains the information that Bonaparte had concealed a letter intended for the Count of Las Casas "sending messages to his adherants in France and his wishes for bringing up the King of Rome". However, this letter was only discovered by an inquisitive gentleman who examined the snuff box after the death of Major Poppelton. The letter was only then sent to the son of the Count after his death and the snuff box remained in the care of the Martin Family. For more information on this interesting article, click here.

The following is an excerpt from an article entitled "Narratives of a visit to St. Helena with minutes of a conversation with Bonaparte at Longwood" (No. 7 of The Investigator, a quarterly report published in London, March 1816, go to ‘relevant links’ for link to internet source) by an officer in the East India Company's Service:

"The story respecting Bonaparte's escape from his boundaries, and the firing of the guard, is an idle tale. The fact is, Napoleon being an expert cavalry rider, and Captain Poppleton (the Captain on guard) only an infantry officer, and little accustomed to riding manoeuvres, the latter had been left far behind by his companion in one of the airings. Bonaparte it seems enjoyed most heartily the triumph of galloping away from his keeper, who could only bear the simple jog-trot of his Rosinante. Bonaparte had really exceeded the length of his chain, made some romantic and chivalric leaps in his progress, and had climbed some dreadful steeps. Capt. P. was highly incensed at his conduct, and made a report to the Admiral. The unlucky civil-doer was not allowed to ride out with the Captain for some time, and he was assured, by a rough message from the Admiral, that if he transgressed in such a way again, the sentinels had orders to level him to the earth."

Humanity Dick (Richard) Martin

Richard Martin was born at Dangan, Galway City in 1754 and was sent to school in Harrow since receiving a Protestant education was more likely to secure him a seat in Parliament to fight for Catholic Emancipation (Robinson, 2006). Other sources claim that he was born at Ballinahinch and then raised at Dangan in the family home which is now a ruin (Galway Advertiser, Feb. 2011). He left Trinity College, Cambridge without completing his degree and he failed to get sufficient votes in the first election that he stood for since his tenants (mostly Catholic) could not vote for him. He bought a seat in the Irish Parliament in 1776 and became involved with the grouping known as the Patriots which were led by the famous orator Henry Grattan (Robinson, 2006).

Richard Martin earned the title 'Humanity Dick Martin' through his incessant work in Parliament for the introduction of laws which forbade cruelty to animals. He was the Chief founder of the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was known to bring offenders against animals out by boat to an island of Ballynahinch where they could repent for their crimes. This was possible since his grandfather 'Nimble Dick' held the right to hold court there. In 1822 he achieved the passing into law of the 'Illtreatment of Cattle Act', later to be called 'Martin's Act'. He also was involved in his friend William Wilberforce's anti-slavery campaign (Robinson, 2006).

In 1777, he married Elizabeth Vesey of Hollymount in Co. Mayo with whom he paid for the building of a theatre in Galway town. Elizabeth went on to have an affair with Wolfe Tone who was paid as a tutor in their home in Dangan (Robinson, 2006). She later eloped with a more senior English man. Money was awarded to Martin who is said to have discarded some of the coins and turned the remainder into horseshoes for his horse.

In 1779 Richard Martin became the Colonel of the Galway Volunteers whose aims were to bring about the removal of the severe sanctions that Britain had placed on Irish trade and for the removal also of an ancient law where no Irish bill could be brought before Parliament without first having been approved by the Lord Lieutenant's Irish Privy Council and the English Privy Council.

Richard Martin, however was encumbered with debt throughout alot of his life even though his seat in Parliament gave him some immunity from arrests. He had lived quite an extravagant life with his wife Elizabeth, but it was through failed projects and deception that much of the money was lost. Much of his riches were wasted on a supposed copper-lead mine along by Lough Corrib whereby the mining company deceived the Martins. Other ventures including a marble quarry at Barnanoraun in the vicinity of the Twelve Pins and another mining venture at High Island also failed (Robinson, 2006).

He remarried in 1796. His second wife was from Cashel, Co. Tipperary, called Harriet Evans with whom he had 3 girls and a boy. Together at Ballynahinch they gave shelter to Catholic exiles who had been driven 'to hell or to Connaught' from the North by Protestants (Robinson, 2006).

He was a noted duellist and was also known as 'Hairtrigger Dick'. He had a coolness when faced with death and had killed his cousin in his early years. He moved to Boulogne, France to live out the final seven years of his life.

Source: Robinson, Tim, (2006). Connemara, Listening to the wind. Penguin Books.

 O'Gorman, Ronnie (17 February, 2011). 'Fighting Fitzgerald' tests Martin's Humanity. The Galway Advertiser Newspaper.

Online Sources:

 Click here to read information on Richard Martin's contribution to the animal rights movement on the National Museum of Animals and Society website.

 Click here to read about the duelling Humanity Dick Martin, as featured in the Galway Advertiser Newspaper (author not mentioned).

 Click here to read Part II of 'Humanity Dick's Last Battle' as featured in the Galway Advertiser Newspaper and written by Ronnie O'Gorman (February, 2011).

 Click here to read an article that featured in The Clare Champion Newspaper on Humanity Dick Martin.

NOTE: Tim Robinson in his work 'Connemara, Listening to the Wind', provides an in-dept insight to the man known as Humanity Dick Martin. The author also chronicles details relating to Humanity Dick's father (Nimble Dick) and of his successors. This book is a very interesting read for anyone who wishes to learn more about superstitions in Connemara, the history of the area and of its natural environment.

Tom Courtney

Tom Courtney, born in 1890 and who lived on Newcastle Road Galway was once so inspired by a talk given by Arthur Griffith that he became involved in Ireland's fight for freedom. According to Tom Kenny's article in the Galway Advertiser (1 November 2012) (click here) he worked in the Post Office in Galway which allowed him to intercept messages being transmitted to the RIC.

He was an oarsman with the Commercial Rowing Club and was Irish Junior Sculls Champion in 1913. Go to the article written by Tom Kenny by clicking on the above link to read about how Courtney came close to death at the hands of the Black and Tans and who at one point ended up playing cards with Black and Tans on a box containing bombs that he was transporting by train to Galway.

To read more, see the newly published book entitled 'Blood for Blood, the Black and Tans War in Galway' by William Henry and published by Mercier Press.