Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

26 November 1998 Edition

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Burghers to go...

By Eoghan MacCormaic

Half way down the main shopping street in Galway, just at the entrance to the town's last surviving open air market - what a sad fate for a town which began its life as a centre of trade - and nestling in beside Saint Nicholas Cathedral's railings you'll find a castle. A small castle. In fact, a Thimble Castle. As castles go, it certainly isn't the oldest castle in the world, coming in at just a little over a hundred years of age.

The proud owner of the castle, one Michael Mullins, aspires to no greatness or grandeur and in fact will happily tell any visitor to his castle that the building began its illustrious life as a waiting room of sorts for the coachmen of the gentry whose station it was in life to wait while their `betters' worshipped in the neighbouring cathedral.

Just over a hundred years ago Michael's great-grandfather bought the building but luckily for him, no title accompanied the purchase. The Mullins, honourable people that they are, remain plain. No Lords or Ladies there.

I was thinking of Michael Mullins this week, and thinking of the long running dispute which he has bravely fought for the past number of years to retain ownership of his premises.

Michael has the misfortune, it has to be said, of inheriting a building on Irish soil which is claimed by an absentee English landlord. Or in this case, landlady. Happily settled in Paris Isobel Davies, daughter of a titled ex-RAF commander, has been trying with the help of a locally-based solicitor, to have Michael Mullins evicted for several years now for non-payment of a lease.

Michael, who until recently carried on the family business serving meat to the citizenry of Galway, retaliated by turning the front window of his premises into a shrine of information on the question of absentee landlords, English lords with Irish `estates' and rents, rack-rent and famine death and of course the Lord Lucan story.

For a few years Thimble Castle was more famous and photographed than the nearby Lynches Castle, Burkes Castle or any other Galway Castle.

In these BSE times, and faced with vegetarians like myself, it's tough being a butcher and Michael has now converted the ground floor of Thimble Castle into a burger bar and for a while, at least, the newsflashes on Lucan, on his court battles or on Famine commemorations have been replaced with flashes on his special opening offers. He is, however, no less determined to defend his inheritance and the family home and he remains a source of discontent against the feudal English system of land theft in Ireland which almost cost him his family home.

A small cheer must have echoed round the walls of Thimble Castle this week when over beyond, the word broke (ironically from the worst culprit of all hereditary title-holders, Elizabeth Windsor) that hereditary Lords were to go and the House of Lords was to be democratised. Not before time, but then, democracy is a new concept for the Brits and it will take time for them to get round it all.

For Michael - and a lot of others - I hope Tony Blair doesn't stop with removing their undemocratic, archaic, anachronistic seats. The real challenge is to remove their `right' to rents, land, wealth, and trespass on the lives of others.

Feudal symbolism is one thing but the persistent benefits of the feudal system in the late 20th century is another. Of course if Blair doesn't take that step there's no reason why Ireland should tolerate for another single day the remnant of a Feudal system planted here by the colonial power.

One immediate step would be to review all those instances of `Irish' titles, and claims to rents and leases by hereditary lords and knights, errant or otherwise. Hope springs eternal. Help might soon be at hand for the rightful owner of Thimble Castle.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1