Image by Chaosheng Zhang:
Words by Brian Nolan:
Today Menlo Castle’s windows and tall, stark chimneys stand sentinel over fishing boats, river cruisers, kayaks and racing sculls as they speed past, parting its haunting reflection in the Corrib river.
People taking their dogs for a walk, players and athletes playing sports on the University pitches at Daingean are treated to a splendid view of the castle on the opposite river bank.
In July 1907, James Joyce and his young son Giorgio, briefly visited Galway to meet his mother-in-law, Annie Barnacle, Nora’s mother, for the very first time.
They got a great welcome, leading to a three week family visit by the entire Joyce family, a kind of belated honeymoon, in July 1912.
During this visit, Joyce toured Connemara. He visited the Aran Islands, went racing to Ballybrit and attended the Galway Regatta, watching the hotly-competing boats from the slipway at Menlo castle.
For five centuries, Menlo castle was the ancestral home to the Blake family and the major sponsor of the Galway Regatta.
However, by 1912 during Joyce’s return, it was completely in ruins following an accidental fire in 1910.
A Burning Legacy:
Built in 1569 by the powerful Blake family, the castle tragically burned down on 26th July 1910 claiming the lives of three women, including the owner’s daughter, Eleanor Blake.
Valentine Blake never rebuilt the castle. Perhaps his fortunes had changed. Or maybe he could never again contemplate living in the house his daughter had died in.
There was some ‘talk’ about the castle being restored, even mention of turning it into an apartment development, with a penthouse apartment being incorporated into the secured facade.
There was also some laudable mention of a plan to make the castle into a heritage centre along the lines of the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar.
All through the twentieth century the castle has been an iconic landmark for those traversing the river Corrib, though hardly noticed otherwise, nestled in a somewhat hidden site three miles from the city.
Up until the 1980’s one could rent a boat at the Boat Club by the university and row up to the castle ruin, docking at the still extant slipway that James Joyce had stood at while watching the Galway Regatta, which is still held annually.
Image by Chaosheng Zhang:
The Boy in the Arch:
In the 1930s, a photographer named Domhnall Ó Cearbhaill working for the National Folklore Collection, took two black and white photographs at Menlo Castle, one featuring a young boy.
That photo with the boy, was recently colourised by ‘Old Ireland In Colour’.
The photo of the boy is, well, ordinary. The boy is nonplussed by the camera, perhaps impatient, wanting to go play in the castle ruin.
Boy aside, what really caught my eye was the archway under which the boy is standing. It features three fabulous carvings, and judging by its dimensions and decoration, it was probably the front door of the castle.
If you look closely, you can see the buckling of the slates above the arch, testament to the ferocious heat generated by the fire, some twenty years earlier.
My question is where is that arch and carvings now? There is not an arch or a carving in Galway as interesting as this in Galway today, yet this one has completely disappeared!
No trace remains. Was it vandalised, stolen, or sold off unscrupulously by persons unknown? Or was it safely taken down and preserved, perhaps stored away in a private or public collection?
So, the quest is to ask what could have become of this unique, historic Galway doorway?
If it still exists it should really be preserved and celebrated. Wouldn’t that be cool?