John Eyre, also known as Lord Eyre, was co-opted as mayor of Galway in 1749. The Mayor of Galway that year had been James Disney, but he died while in office, leaving Eyre free to take up the position.
During his first year as mayor, the Shambles Barracks was erected to accommodate ten companies of troops. St Patrick’s School, at Lombard Street, now occupies the site of the barracks.
Lord Eyre was the grandson of Colonel John Eyre, who had served as mayor in 1704, 1705 and 1706. Lord Eyre was born in 1720. He was admitted to Trinity College, Dublin in 1738. Similar to his grandfather, he also became a colonel in the army. In 1746, John married Eleanor, daughter of James Staunton and they had two children, John and Mary. John was born in June 1747, but died a month later. Mary survived childhood and married Francis Caulfield, the younger son of James, Viscount of Charlemont.
Lord Eyre’s second term as mayor came in a similar manner to his first. In 1750, the mayor, Francis Annesley, died while holding the office and, again, Eyre was called upon to complete the term. Eyre served as mayor again in 1764, but this time he was elected. Lord Eyre was made Baron on 16 July 1768.
In 1775, Lord Eyre’s daughter, Mary, along with her husband, Francis, her infant daughter, and their coachman were lost during a violent storm at sea while on a return journey from London. The couple’s other two children, who had not travelled with the parents, were cared for by their grandfather. He died on 30 September 1781 and the peerage became extinct. His estates passed on to his nephew, Giles Eyre. The following is a 1770s description of a day in the life of Lord Eyre of Eyrecourt:
‘…dividing the day to give the afternoon much the largest share of it.. During which from an early dinner to the hour of rest he never left his chair nor did the claret ever quit the table. His lordship was not very curious. He had no books and not one of the windows of his castle was made to open, but luckily he had no liking for fresh air. For sport he would organise a cockfight in the hall. From supper till morning he would drink rum shrub to keep down the claret.’
Another prominent member of this family was Robert Hedges Eyre, who acquired a substantial property portfolio from his grandfather, Edward Eyre (who had been mayor in 1712). Eventually, in 1787, Robert’s son, Edward Hedges Eyre acquired all of the Eyre property. However, he was not in a strong financial position to look after the properties and, in 1790, he fled for France to avoid his creditors. He returned to London in 1803, where he was arrested and imprisoned and he died there the following year.
His brother Robert Hedges Eyre of Macroom Castle inherited the property, which had fallen into a state of neglect over the course of the eighteenth century. However, in 1813 he received a ‘decisive boost’ to his finances with the discovery of a cache of legal documents relating to his ancestor Edward Eyre. He had already started to carry out works around the town and, in 1811, Eyre had Forthill Cemetery enclosed by a wall. He also developed the land surrounding the quays and, in 1831, he provided much of the property for the development of the new Commercial Dock, which was to be operated by Galway Harbour Commissioners. He leased lands for the Galway Gasworks close to Victoria Place.
Robert Hedges Eyre died childless in 1840 and his grandnephew, the Rev. Robert Hedges Maunsell Eyre inherited the property. The power of the Eyre family was diminishing in Galway by the nineteenth century. In fact, as early as 1811, a warrant had been issued for the recovery of lands from another member of the family, Edward Eyre of Lindville, County Tipperary. The following is an extraction of the order issued at that time:
‘Among the lands in question are the Abbey Gate House in Abbey Gate Street another House near the same in said Street, the House called Rutledges House in said Street, a House called Leery’s House, a House called Andrew Blake’s House in Market Street and a Back House near the same in said Street the market House in Market Street and a Cellar past of same in the said Street with a back house and appurtenances to same a House called Alderman Wall’s House in Shop Street the Dock now or late in the Possession of Patrick King and Eyre’s Walk … and also … premises called (in Nuns island) Feeneys Marsh and McDonough’s Plott as also Kirwans Parks also the premises called White Strand and also Patrick Pierces 3 cabbins situate in the West Liberties. The Salmon Fishery now or late in the possession of Richard Hickman and the premises called Rushes Holding. Horse Island also a house and Garden now or late in the possession of Charles Trulock also a House and Garden now or late in the possession of John Kirwan also the Weir called the Eell Weir as also a House and Stable and long Stable Plott at the Green. 2 houses near the Same in said Street., a Garden at the Green now or late in the Possession of Widow Slennan. a House and Garden and 2 Cabbins and Garden Boherbeg .the premises called Bullenbrooks Parks and Sally Garden. 5 Cabbins at Suckeen.’
The Eyre family had branched out to live in other counties. Some had also emigrated to far off lands. Before setting out to cross the Australian continent in 1860, Robert O’Hara Burke, of St Clerans, near Craughwell studied the expeditions of earlier explorers. Among them was one of Australia’s greatest explorers, Edward John Eyre. He was a magistrate by profession, with a profound interest in exploring and adventure. Eyre, in a series of forced marches, tried to open up communications between south and west Australia. He financed most of the scheme himself and, in June 1840, he left Adelaide with a small expeditionary force under his command. He first headed northwest into the desert and then westwards for a short time, but the lack of water and the extreme heat defeated them. They were forced to turn south for the coast at Fowler’s Bay. From there, he set out again in February 1841, for the thousand-mile journey around the Great Australian Bight. He was accompanied by his foreman Baxter and three Aborigines. They took nine horses, a pony and six sheep with them for the journey. All the animals died or had to be killed. Two of the Aborigines killed Baxter in a dispute and then made off, leaving Eyre and Wylie, the other Aborigine, alone in the wilderness. Eventually, in July 1841, after a remarkable feat of endurance, they reached Albany in Western Australia. It is interesting that he bore the name, Edward John Eyre, the names of the brothers who arrived in Galway with the Cromwellians some 200 years earlier.
The Remaining Eyre property in Galway was sold under the Encumbered Estates Court in 1852. Thus, the family’s 200 year-old association with the town of Galway ended.
In 1963, the American President, John F. Kennedy, addressed the people of Galway at Eyre Square. After his assassination, the square was renovated and renamed in his honour, but this name never really stuck with Galwegians and thus it is still called Eyre Square.
Other areas around Galway city also carried the name Eyre. If you pass through the Spanish Arch, you reach Long Walk. This was formally known as Eyre’s Long Walk. This road in turn leads to a small dock, now known as the Mud Dock, but it was once known as Eyre’s Dock. There is also Eyre Street. Regardless of the years and the ancestry of this family, the name Eyre will always be associated with the old City of the Tribes.
Events of note:
The Old Galway Society will host a lecture by Sean Ashe, titled, ‘The Connaught Ranger and the Galway Girls’ in the Convent of Mercy, Newtownsmith at 8.30pm on Thursday, 8 November.
The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society lecture, ‘Connemara – Early Monastic Heritage’, by Rev Anthony Previté will take place at the Harbour Hotel at 8pm on Monday 12 November. All are welcome to attend both lectures.
On Saturday 10 November at 3pm, a plaque will be unveiled at Galway County Council Offices, Barrack Street, Loughrea to the sacrifice and dedication of the Furey brothers. All are invited.
Flowers will be planted in memory of Celia Griffin and all other children in the Celia Griffin Memorial Park at Grattan Beach on Friday, 9 November at 1.30pm.