Near Carnacon, in South Mayo, sits a ruin called Towerhill. It was a fine “Big House” built by Isidore Blake at the end of the 18th Century.
The house is said to have been built an old burial ground and church dedicated to St. Patrick. The demesne totals 340 acres. In 1838 it was described as a “splendid ornamental ground” and “the beautiful seat of Major Blake, situated in a noble demesne. The house stands on an eminence commanding fine views of the surrounding country and the adjacent mountains of Partree.”
Isidore Blake, who built the house, was eventually succeeded by his son, major Maurice Blake. Then Isidore’s grandson, Valentine eventually took over.
The Time of Valentine
Under Valentine’s ownership, the estate was described as well-timbered with gigantic trees, hundreds of years old. The property had “immense stretches of charming woodlands devoted to sheep, cattle, meadows and cultivation. The entrance and up-to-date farmyard indicate farming on a big scale and it is evidently a place that requires considerable labour and outlay. The mansion is a huge solid structure of local limestone, of some architectural beauty. It contains many fine apartments, antique furniture and portraits in oils of various members of the family adorn the walls.”
Unfortunately, Valentine died leaving no heirs. The land and house were sold to local landowners, via the Land Commission. The roof was removed and Towerhill emptied of its valuables.
Today, the ivy-covered building shell, naked of its roof, is hidden in a forest. It’s very neglected and unloved. It is rarely visited. It isn’t popular like the neighbouring Moore Hall estate. However, it is home to a colony of Lesser Horseshoe Bats, which affords it some protection from being demolished.
Local Emma Hughes often goes for a walk through the estate and provided the photos. “Blake’s house in Towerhill is very overgrown and neglected. However, its protected due to the lesser horseshoe bat living there. The bridge in photos was part of their road to the grand gates. Inside the house you can still see the fire place. There’s a picture of a large window and inside front door, back and side views of house and picture of it in its prime. The tree that still stands beside the house is a yew tree, where Capt Blake is said to have buried his dogs.”
On the Barry’s Guided Tours website, there are some fascinating comments about the house. There are also some threads of the descendants of the family connecting with each other. Jump onto that website here if you are one of them… Some of the comments appear below.
-I grew up at the top of the road down into the house. My family, the O’Malleys, have been farming some of the land for over 60 years. I remember playing around the ruins of the big house as a child, as my mother did before me. I love reading about its history.
-I grew up about 5 miles from there in Ballinaglea and on my visits home to Ireland have taken my family there many times. I remember two of the ladies living in that house. They would always be at mass in Carnacon and when any child got out of line at mass, they would get tapped on the head with their umbrella. I got their message more than once! I also was in the gatehouse leading in there to visit a friend of my mother’s who occupied it in later years for a while. Her ghost stories were endless.
– I have a letter dated January 1865 requesting my grandfather, Jimmy Dunne, to go to the Blakes in Tower Hill to ride out and train horses for them. He spent a number of years at Tower Hill and then went to Marlborough Heath, outside Portlaoise, with the family before going on to train horses as an independent trainer on the Curragh.
-I did an MA in 2011/2012. In the subject matter that I researched, I came across details of a battle to select a candidate for the Irish Home Rule Party to replace an MP, John Deasy, who was forced to resign. The preferred choice of the locals at the Convention in Castlebar was Edmund Blake of Towerhill. However John Dillon, the then Party Leader, had other ideas. He wanted a London Doctor and friend of his, Robert Ambrose, a native of Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, selected. He achieved his aim after aborting the first Convention in Castlebar and re-fixing it for Westport the following Sunday, where he swung the Convention to his way of thinking, by what appeared to be a whole lot of skulldruggery.
-It’s so lovely to read about our local history. I live beside this house and as a family that owns some of this property, we have memories as children walking up to this house and admiring our history. Sadly, today this house is just a sad sight. The beautiful stonework has been stolen and it’s just stripped of its beauty. To think houses like these are just closed off to the public to admire and left as a forgotten story is a disgrace.
-If you access online the National Archives Census Of Ireland 1901 and browse Census 1901 > Mayo > Burriscarra and Towerhill Demesne, you can see the actual Census form returned from Towerhill House in the handwriting of the head of the household. The number of rooms, windows, outbuildings, etc, are available on the original Census form. It is also interesting to compare the more than 13 rooms in Towerhill House with the average of the other houses in the townland. A lot of them are one room shacks. All that exploitation, wealth and privilege was gone in the space of 20 years in the early 20th Century.
-Is there any way, I wonder, of getting the walkway up to this beautiful house reopened. As I walk up there everyday, it’s impossible for the public to get up there in comfort to admire the building. There was also a beautiful bridge, but all the stone pillars were sadly stolen as well. Why people do such horrible things I’ll never know.
-There is an old tree remaining from the estate to the right-hand rear side of the house. It is a large Holm Oak or hybrid and holds its leaves all year round. It would be nice to have this house at least tidied up a bit, with consideration to the Horseshoe Bats that have taken residence.
-As far as I know, the reason for the removal of the roofs of so many estate houses and other properties was due to the fact that if a house had no roof, the owner did not have to pay taxes on it. So I’m guessing the new owners who bought it, mentioned here, removed it for that reason.
-Forestry have let the road grow over and access to the house is near impossible. It should be cleaned up and some work done on the house itself, as it’s full of so much history. I’ve done a lot of research about the estate and the Blake family.
-My uncle Jimmy worked in Towerhill House for Captain Blake, as did other members of his family. He gave us a walk-through tour in 2014. So interesting. He is now in his 90s. I wonder how many people are left who worked there? An effort should be made to capture this history, before it dies out.
-My mother worked as a parlour maid in the house when she was sixteen and her sister Mary was the cook until she got married. This was in the years 1943/44.
-I can inform everyone the road up to Towerhill has been opened up, I’m very happy to say but sadly I’ve heard the news that now “The Big House” is meant to be for sale. I just hope that our piece of local History is not destroyed. As one of the landowners, I loved reading about the fact that the Mayo colours were created in our homeland and plus the fact that we own that land makes it very special to us. I have had the pleasure of meeting some relations of the Blakes and I hope that Towerhill House will be preserved, so more of their bloodline can visit and see where their ancestors lived. It’s such a beautiful old house hidden away deep in a forest covered with ivy and its habitants, a rare bat, with a once beautiful bridge over a running river which has long had its stonework stolen, as well as the house having been battered for its stone work and its stables down the avenue still stand, along with a once filled orchard and its high walls. You would never know it even existed, unless you were aware of the history like us locals and landowners. It’s just so annoying that this house had its beauty robbed from it.
-It would be great to see the old bridge restored. I do think that it should be like Moorehall, where people can go in and see this once great mansion instead of being afraid they will be done for trespassing.
-If you’re facing the front of the house and go to the right hand side of it (outside) you’ll notice a big bolted down metal/concrete cap on the ground. Well, underneath that there is a tunnel that goes in two directions. I happened to meet the lovely lady who lives in the house at the turnoff to Towerhill. I asked her about it and she told me that nobody actually knows where exactly it goes. There is a gate house to the house very close to Caranacon village at the start of where the old road to the house is. I have a theory it may lead to that? I guess the only way to find out is to go down into it and walk it! I put a GoPro camera down into it with a powerful LED light and it seems to be very intact, however it has a lot of huge spiders! So I’m going to see if I can acquire some sort of a jumpsuit first!
-You can generally visit the site, but you should first ask the neighbours out of courtesy. There is a cottage at the top of the lane down to the ruin and you should knock on their door and just ask them if you can go down. If you don’t know where the house is, simply look for Carnacon on Google Maps, and you’ll see a conifer plantation immediately to the east of the village.
For further reading, see here!
Read about haunted Irish ruins here.