History of Ballynahinch Castle

Ballynahinch Castle is steeped in a wealth of tradition and has been intertwined in the history of Connemara and its people for many centuries.

From the days of the O'Flaherty Chieftains, to Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connemara, to Humanity Dick Martin, founder of the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and to H.R.H. the Maharajah Ranjitsinji, also known as the ‘Ranji’, Prince of Cricketeers.

Grace O'Malley (also called Granuaile) was a famous pirate, seafarer, trader and chieftain in Ireland in the 1500's. She was born in 1530 in County Mayo, Ireland and was the daughter of sea captain Owen O'Malley. As a young child, Grace always knew she wanted to be a sailor but as a female, she was discouraged repeatedly. Extremely upset when her father refused to take her on a sailing trip, legend has it Grace cut off all her hair and dressed in boys clothes to prove to her parents that she could handle the trip and live a seafarer's life. Seeing this, her father and brother laughed aloud and nicknamed her "Grainne Mhaol" meaning "Bald Grace" (which is believed to have led to her nickname "Granuaile.") Eventually, through her persistence, she was allowed to go to sea with her father and his fleet of ships.

As a child, Grace often sailed with her father on trading missions overseas. Once, upon returning from a trip to Spain, their ship was attacked by an English vessel. Grace had been instructed by her father to hide below deck if they ever were attacked, but she did not heed his advise. Instead she climbed up onto the sail rigging. Watching the battle from above, she noticed an English pirate sneaking up on her father, raising a dagger behind his back! The brave Granuaile leapt off of the rigging, through the air and onto the pirate's back.... screaming all the while! The distraction this caused was enough for the O'Malleys to regain control of the ship and defeat the English pirates.In her later years, Grace developed her reputation as a fearless leader through her efforts in battle along side her followers. Legend has it that Grace gave birth to one of her sons while out to sea. The very next day following the birth of the baby, the ship was attacked by Turkish pirates. Though exhausted from giving birth Grace grabbed a gun, went on deck and proceeded to rally her men against the Turks, forcing their retreat.

Grace married two times in her life. Her first husband was Donal O'Flaherty who was the son of the chieftain of the O'Flaherty clan and next in line for the post as chieftain. Grace and Donal married when was about 16 years old. In those times, it was common for families to arrange marriages so the union between Grace and Donal was probably more political than emotional at first. Please go HERE to read more of this excellent story.

Humanity Dick Martin. Richard Martin was one of the outstanding Irishmen of his time. Raised as an English Protestant, he later became a Member of Parliament and aggressively argued for Catholic Emancipation. He was also quite well known during his life as a duelist and for his struggles concerning the rights of animals, and because of this was given the nickname, by King George IV, as "Humanity Dick".

Richard was born in 1754, the son of Robert Martin, a member of an old tribal family of Connemara. His mother died when Richard was only nine years old and his father soon remarried to Mary Lynch, who later gave Richard two brothers. The families' combined wealth allowed Richard to receive an excellent Protestant education. He attended Harrow and Cambridge while studying law and afterwards started a most extensive 'Gentleman's Tour' to round out his knowledge.

With his cousin, James Jordan, Richard traveled all over Europe. They eventually left Bordeaux bound for Jamaica, and later ended up in New England for the start of the American War of Independence. The two young men promptly returned home, and by the end of the 1770's, Richard's education and his families' influence combined to make him a Member of Parliament, a Colonel in the Galway Volunteers, and gained him a wife by the name of Elizabeth Vesey.

Richard's duties kept him away from home quite a bit, but the couple had several children, one of whom is rumored to be the child of a liaison between Elizabeth and the tutor hired to educate Richard's sons, Theobald Wolfe Tone.

It was during this period that Richard began to acquire a reputation and nickname relating to his many duels, as "Trigger Dick", a nickname which was also held by his uncle. In 1783, he dueled with "Fighting" Fitzgerald, a Mayo Landlord, over the man's shooting of a friend's dog. He also apparently made friends with the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, as the two men shared many ideals and both were seen in Parliament quite often.

Richard's wife Elizabeth continued to show her knack for indiscretion, and the two divorced in 1794 after a scandal over her affair with a Mr. Petrie of Paris. Dick remarried in 1797, and had several more children.

By the early 1800's, Richard's estate was quite large and the biggest in Ireland, encompassing over 200,000 acres. His wealth and friendship with the Prince continued to increase his influence in Parliament and elsewhere. Dick was persuaded to vote for the Act of Union in 1800, something he soon bitterly regretted, and was responsible for excising the death penalty for forgery. In 1809, Lord Erskine of Scotland presented a bill in Parliament to prevent cruelty to such animals as horses, pigs, oxen, and sheep. The bill failed however, and later in 1822, Richard was responsible for the passing of the Martin Act, which applied to large domestic animals. It is at this time that Dick acquired the nickname of "Humanity", his friend the Prince of Wales, was now King George IV and gave Dick the nickname. Two years later, Richard created the first animal welfare society - the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, with other like-minded people.

Richard remained a Member of Parliament until his election to Westminster in 1826 was invalidated. The scandal and his ensuing debt forced Richard to flee to Bolounge in France. He died peacefully on the January 6th, 1834. The great family estate, which he helped to create, was lost during the Great Potato famine within 20 years.

Richard Martin's life is largely marked by his efforts to attain human and animal rights. He supported Catholic Emancipation, and is generally considered the founder of the SPCA. It is rather ironic, that his families' great wealth, some of which came out of human injustice, was later lost during the Great Famine.