The Lacken "Gazebo"

The Lacken “Gazebo” is one of the most curious landmarks to be found in this part of county Mayo, and one of the most conspicuous. Forming a double arch of rough stones, the structure stands on the summit of Lacken Hill, at the rear of Castle Lacken. Now the origin of the structure seems to be a mystery, but it is likely that it was erected in the latter part of the eighteenth century possibly by the landlord of the place, either Sir Roger or Sir John Palmer, and may have “Masonic” connections.


One local tradition maintains that the construction was erected to commemorate the memory of Moira Browne, wife of the “unpopular” Sir John Browne, resident of Palmerstown House and the feared land agent for the Palmers in 1798. While Sir John Browne will always be remembered in the dinnseanchas - ‘the lore of the place’, as a cruel and heartless man, his wife Moira is recalled in a totally different light. So beloved was this woman that she is still spoken of fondly by the local people, over two hundred years after her death. Rev. Thomas Walshe in his Ecclesiastical History of Ireland referenced her in the following manner:


“Near this abbey (Rathfran), is Palmerstown House, formerly the residence of Mary Browne, who, is said to have died in the odour of sanctity”.  According to local lore “On the day she died strange bells were heard ringing in the air. It is thought they were the bells of Heaven. When she died, all around the house was dotted over with bright lights. All the people who saw those lights said it was angels that came down to accompany her to Heaven.”


Another local tradition which claims that the structure was built during the time of the Great Famine - An Gorta Mór as a means of alleviating distress amongst the poor is apocryphal. Firstly, the claim is hardly convincing since the amount of labour required would not be sufficient to relieve more than a few poor souls; secondly, John O’Donovan makes reference to the structure in 1838, nine years before the ravages of famine reached their zenith in 1847, or ‘Black 47’, as this terrible year is known in the vernacular.


In the shadow of the Gazebo sits Castle Lacken, the ruins of which show that it was at one time a building of considerable and formidable size. The seat of the Palmer family from about the sixteenth century, it is told that the present building was erected on the site of an ancient castle of the MacEgans. The castle does not feature in any major historical event, except that is for the Rebellion of 1798, when following the landing of French General Humbert’s troops at Kilcummin, Mathew Tone, brother of the celebrated Irish patriot and United Irishman, Theobald Wolfe Tone, from the elevated height of the Franco-Irish camp across the strand at Carrowtrasna, trained a cannon on the castle.



It is told in the local folklore that sometime about the middle of nineteenth century, one of the aforementioned Palmers desecrated the old Catholic church at Lacken by smashing every window, save one, and as a result he was cursed by the priest. In the immediate aftermath of this incident, the unfortunate individual was suddenly struck by an overpowering itch which manifested itself so severely that he is reputed to have torn the very flesh from his body in an effort to assuage his torment. But his efforts were in vain and he died in agony a short time afterwards. According to the lore, to this day his ghost haunts the environs of the castle ruins.


‘Back in the day,’ the region around the Gazebo was known as a place where the illicit ‘stilling’ of poteen (Irish Moonshine) was commonplace and as a result frequently visited by the excise officers. There once existed a doggerel ballad which may have originated in the area and which told the story of a zealous excise officer who promised a large sum of money to a young local lad if he would point out a ‘private still.’ The simple (!) youth took the money and he and the officer set off to find the private still. The chorus concluded:


“He drove me round the town and the country all around,

But it took him all his time to drive around Paddy.”


The story ended when the young fellow pointed out his brother who was a soldier in the Connacht Rangers:


“Theres my brother, Johnny, sure he never could learn the drill,

He’s in the sojers now for years, and he’s a private still.”


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