Later today, March 3, we will lay to rest our friend and neighbour and old Castlebar resident, Frances Neely.
Following her funeral service at Christ Church, where she and her family worshipped for generations, her remains will be taken the short distance to the old Protestant graveyard, where she will be buried beside her twin brother, Dan, and her many antecedents.
Frances Neely was a native of Gallows Hill – long before it had been grandiosely renamed as Rathbawn Road – and, like all her siblings, had emigrated to the UK, many of them later relocating to Australia. After a lifetime of working in England, Frances returned to spend her final years in the old town, where she was a highly respected and popular member of the community.
The old Protestant cemetery is an oasis of calm just on the town side of the Travellers’ Friend hotel. Hundreds of pedestrians and motorists pass the location each day scarcely aware of the rich seam of Castlebar history behind the closed white gates and low walls. For it is all which a local churchyard should be – age-old yew trees shading the well-tended headstones, which read like a history of Castlebar’s oldest families and which sometimes offer an intriguing glance of those who might have had little ties to the town but who chose to make Mayo their home.
The Protestant graveyard is over 200 years old. It was opened in 1804 when Lord Lucan donated the ground to the Church of Ireland congregation. Up until then, burials had taken place in the grounds of Christ Church, but, in order to defray the cost of repairing the church after the battle of Humbert’s invasion of 1798, it was decided to sell off the grave spaces to the local gentry, and so all future burials would take place in the newly acquired burial ground at Mountain View.
Among the family plots is that of the Browne family of Breaffy House, headed by Brigadier DA Browne, and which includes a headstone to Sir Anthony Bevir, permanent secretary to the British Cabinet for ten years, and private secretary to Winston Churchill. Sir Anthony was married to Noelle Sidney, daughter of Brigadier Browne, and on his retirement, they took up residence at Melcomb House, Newport, later moving to Achill. Following Sir Anthony’s death, his wife moved to Australia, where she died some years later.
There are headstones to so many old and revered Castlebar families, some long gone – the Becketts and the Symes, the Carsons and the Bennetts, including Dr Edward Brabazon, whose family were wealthy local merchants, and who was grandfather of Westport cycling star Mickey Palmer. And the graveyard is the final home of Karol Polesei, one of the many Czech immigrants who came to Castlebar to manage the then new Western Hats factory in 1939.
And there too is the grave of TCB de Lom, ‘known to all as Caesar’, the last Baron de Lom. The colourful Theodore Cyril Bernard de Lom was a Canadian graduate who worked with the British Civil Service but who came to live in Rosbeg, Westport, after his retirement.
He died at the County Hospital in Castlebar, but his estate became headline news when his estranged wife secured a High Court injunction against his then partner preventing the removal of a number of family heirlooms from Rosbeg.
Among them was a ‘Breeches Bible’, dated 1799, and so called because the translated text of the Book of Genesis spoke of ‘Adam and Eve plucking fig leaves to hide their nakedness, and fashioning them into breeches’.