As if to atone for the sins of his tyrannical father, when the 4th Earl of Lucan succeeded to Castlebar House, no more benevolent landlord could be asked for. A close friend of the Parish Priest, Canon Lyons, Lord Lucan dedicated land for churches, schools and parish buildings. He dedicated the Mall to the people of the town, while Lady Lucan took an active part in promoting native Irish industries.
Best of all, Lord Lucan gifted to the town the old Linen Hall, to be used as a Town Hall, on a thousand-year lease. Renovated as a concert hall, the Earl presented a large, life-size photograph of himself, framed in black oak, to be on permanent display in the new building’s billiard room.
One can only imagine the sense of shock and outrage when, under the cover of darkness, persons unknown gained access to the building and removed the Earl’s photograph. Worse still, the photograph itself was later found, torn to shreds, in a field near the river. But there was no trace of the valuable frame.
Canon Lyons and the Town Hall committee kept the incident a closed secret for a number of weeks in the hope that the miscreants would be tracked down. However, the story was leaked to the Irish Times, so that Fr Lyons had no option but to address the issue at all Masses on the first Sunday of June, 1905.
Denouncing the ‘dastardly outrage’ to his flock, he called for a public meeting of the townspeople, to record the people’s abhorrence of such a foul insult to the town’s respected benefactor.
Needless to say, the subsequent protest meeting attracted a capacity attendance. Urban councillors, the professional classes, merchants and business people, artisans, labourers, shop workers and tenants turned out in force to condemn the outrage and pledge support in finding and punishing the culprits.
Fr Lyons, who presided, said that the fair name of the town had been sullied, adding that the man who could insult and destroy the likeness of such a public benefactor ‘would be capable of assassinating the nobleman himself’.
There were numerous splendid speeches in praise of Lord Lucan, although there may have been an undercurrent that some of those present were less wholehearted than they should have been. This let to some discord when Mr Gillespie, of the United Irish League, opined that had the picture been that of the old Earl there might have been some justification for what had happened, an observation which drew a stern rebuke from the chair. And when Fr Lyons asked for the views of the hitherto silent Gaelic League, their spokesman, John Ryan, said that as a nonsectarian and nonpolitical society, they could not take an active part in the matter but that ‘everyone regretted the occurrence’.
When Mr Moclair, journalist, assured the meeting that the offending pieces in the Dublin papers had not been submitted by him, the Rev Chairman commented that he was safe in saying that it had been sent by a busybody who had come to town recently, who had very little to do except portray the town as disloyal.
A committee was formed with the objective of replacing the picture, and a monetary reward was offered for information that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators.
A copy of the formal resolution of denunciation of the incident was forwarded to Lord Lucan who, in due course, replied that the dastardly act would not alter in the slightest degree the cordial relations that had always existed between the people of the town and himself.