Galway recently celebrated the 300th anniversary of Eyre Square becoming a public park. On 12 May 1712, the Mayor of Galway, Edward Eyre, presented the open ground in front of his house to the corporation. The following is a brief account of the Eyres and some prominent members of this family.
Eyre is a surname of great antiquity in England. It is derived from the old French word for heir and was written ‘le Eir’ and ‘leEyer’. Legend has it that the first Eyre arrived in England with William the Conqueror and that he saved the life of the future king at the Battle of Hastings.
After freeing Prince William from a situation in which he could not breathe, William named his rescuer Eyre. Although mainly associated with Ireland after the Cromwellian invasion, there were, however, English officials of that name in the country during the sixteenth century. A number are listed in the ‘Irish Fiants of the Tudor Sovereigns’.
However, according to MacLysaght, one of the first of this family to arrive in Ireland was a Colonel John Eyre. Along with his younger brother, Edward, he arrived in Dublin as part of the invasion force under Oliver Cromwell in 1649. They were both officers in the Cromwellian army and were in the company of Lieutenant General Edmund Ludlow, under whom they saw much of their service during the Parliamentarian War of 1641-51.
The arrival of the Cromwellian forces in Galway is well documented. It was a terrible period, not just in Galway’s history, but also in the history of Ireland. On 8 July 1651, Sir Charles Coote, Lord President of Connacht and commander of the Cromwellian forces, arrived at the gates of Galway City. He demanded its immediate surrender.
The city authorities refused and the people of Galway braced themselves for the consequences of their decision. Outside the city walls, the Cromwellians were busy preparing for a strong siege. Coote had a substantial force under his command, consisting of 2,000 cavalry and 5,000 infantry. After a nine-month siege, the city surrendered and became the last town in England and Scotland or Ireland to fall to the Parliamentarian Armies.
Among the Cromwellians who had arrived in Galway was the aforementioned Colonel John Eyre. Following the siege, the Eyre family gained control of much property throughout the city and county. John Eyre obtained extensive grants of land also. He built Eyrecourt castle and village, which is named after him. Another area named after this family is Eyreville, also in County Galway.
The Eyres became one of the most influential Cromwellian families to settle in County Galway. Five of them held the office of sheriff between 1675 and 1809. Many others held the office of mayor.
The first member of this family to hold the mayoral office was Colonel John Eyre, who was elected Mayor of Galway in 1661. John Eyre was born in 1623, the son of Giles Eyre of Brickworth, Wiltshire, who, in 1640, sat with three of his sons in the Council of Oliver Cromwell. John Eyre’s mother was Jane. She was the daughter of Ambrose Snelgrove of Redlynch in Wiltshire.
In 1657, John Eyre was a member of the commission for settling the land and housing issues in counties Galway and Mayo for the Commonwealth. This was part of the Cromwellian Land Confiscations, when the Irish and, indeed, many of the Anglo Irish lost their property to the new settlers.
While serving on this commission, Eyre acquired land formally owned by the O’Maddens near Ballinasloe, which became the basis for the Eyrecourt estate. Eyre also disposed families such as O’Kelly, Horan, and Burke in southeast Galway. John was also the ancestor of the Eyreville families. He served two terms as Recorder for the corporation and, along with his brother, Edward, he served as a member of parliament in 1661.
In 1662, he married Mary, daughter of Philip Bygoe, who was High-Sheriff of King’s County. In 1681, John Eyre served as High-Sheriff of County Galway. He died on 22 April 1685 and was survived by two sons, John and Samuel. Both his sons entered the military service and both also served as Mayors of Galway, John in 1704, 1705 and 1706, and Samuel Eyre in 1712 and 1713.
His brother, Edward, was elected mayor in 1663. Edward was born in 1626, the sixth son of Giles Eyre. As mentioned already, Edward arrived in Ireland during the Cromwellian war and was also attached to the military. He was the Recorder for Galway in 1661 and 1662.
Over time, Edward Eyre also obtained a considerable amount of property, formally owned by the now dispossessed ancient families of the town. He alsoacquired leasesonproperties in Woodquay, Suckeen, Eyre Street, Forthill and Victoria Place. He also served as Mayor of the Staple and, in 1670, he obtained a number of other leases, among them the area now knownasEyre Square. He acquired this property on a ninety-nine lease at a yearly rent of £3.
Among the properties he acquired was the former home of Robert Martin Fitz-Jasper, which was located close to Eyre Square. It was situated approximately on the site of the present day Great Southern Hotel. It was here that Eyre set up his home in Galway.
Following the Restoration of Charles II, Robert Martin was issued with a King’s warrant, granting him re-ownership of the house. However, when Martin approached Eyre with the warrant, Eyre laughed in Martin’s face, telling him he placed no value on the King’s Order and would not vacate the property. Eyre was obviously a good politician, as Martin’s bid to have his property restored failed even before the Irish Lord Justices. Eyre was, in fact, praised for his integrity and in being a loyal servant of the King.
Edward Eyre married a lady named Jane and had three sons and two daughters, the first of whom was also named Edward. He was born in Galway in 1663 and became mayor in 1710 and 1711. Edward (Senior) was an alderman in 1771 and served on the town council in 1774. He continued to play an active role in corporation affairs, serving up to the time of his death in 1683.
Edward was the ancestor of the Hedges-Eyre family of Macroom Castle, County Cork. He was buried in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Churchyard and his memorial describes him as:‘…a thorough honest Englishman which plain character be-speakes him eminently possessed of all good and virtuous qualities. He lived greatly beloved by all who knew him, and died much lamented’.
One of his descendents, William Hedges Eyre, bequeathed an annual sum out of the Galway salmon fishery to charity.
Richard Hedges Eyre of Macroom Castle married Frances Browne, the daughter of the Second Viscount Kenmare. In 1777, their daughter Helena married the Very Reverend George Maunsell, Dean of Leighlin. Their second son Robert Hedges Eyre Maunsell married his cousin Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Maunsell of Plassey in County Limerick. It was possibly through this branch of the family that Fort Eyre in Shantalla and Maunsell Road takes their names.
Events of note: More Eyre family connections to follow.The St Bridget’s Terrace Residents Association are organising a Christmas party for 14 December 2012 in the Western Hotel, Prospect Hill. It is part of the 100 years anniversary celebrations. Tickets are available from Brian Kennedy.
An Taisce lecture on ‘Turloughs: vanishing lakes or vanishing fields’ by Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington will take place in The Ardilaun Hotel tonight, Wednesday 17 October, at 8pm. All are welcome.