Belmullet or Béal an Mhuirthead (Irish for "mouth of the Mullet [Peninsula]") is a coastal Gaeltacht town with a population of around 1,000 on the Mullet Peninsula in the barony of Erris, County Mayo, Ireland. It is the commercial and cultural heart of the barony of Erris, which has a population of almost 10,000.
Béal an Mhuirthead
Belmullet square on Heritage day
|Elevation||5 m (16 ft)|
|Irish Grid Reference|
|As this is a Gaeltacht town, the Irish Béal an Mhuirthead is the only official name. The anglicized spelling Belmullet has no official standing.|
The origin of the name Belmullet is not clear. It may have come from Irish Béal Muileat or Béal an Mhuileat, which has been translated as "mouth of the isthmus". Bernard O'Hara in Mayo: Aspects of its Heritage suggests that "A change from 'L' to 'R', which is quite common in Irish, may have given Béal an Mhuireat which in turn became Béal an Mhuirhead". It has also been suggested that the latter half of the name may refer to the fish or the star shape used in heraldry.
According to Richard Pococke, in about 1715, Sir Arthur Shaen "began building a little town" where Belmullet now stands. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, an admiral chased pirates into Broadhaven Bay, hauled his boats across the isthmus, and caught up with them near the Iniskea Islands. To drain the area and form a passageway from Blacksod Bay into Broadhaven Bay, Shaen had a canal excavated, known thereafter as Shaen's Cut, large enough for small boats to pass through from one bay to the other. However, little development of the town occurred, and by 1752 the canal was choked up and impassable. Belmullet was the scene of Monster meetings of the Land League at the end of the 19th century. In the early 19th century Belmullet consisted of little more than a few thatched buildings.
In 1820, the first post office in Erris opened in the new town of Belmullet. In 1822, a coastguard station was built. William Henry Carter had inherited huge tracts of Shaen's land in Erris when he married Shaen's daughter and began to put plans in place to develop the town. A new road was built which connected Belmullet with Castlebar, which was completed in 1824. In 1825, Carter built a pier large enough to accommodate vessels of 100 tons. Carter's stated objective was to "create a home market for produce that did not previously exist nearer than thirty miles by land," and his aim was to thrust the older village of An Geata Mór (Binghamstown), a village founded by the powerful Bingham family on the Mullet peninsula into a secondary position. By 1826, the Erris Hotel was opened.
In 1829, Alexander Nimmo, an engineer on the Erris roads, wrote the following: "at Belmullet, the advance is quite surprising; the place only commenced four years ago; it now consists of about seventy respectable houses etc... five ships were loaded with grain and kept; iron hoops and coal were imported; spirits, beer and wine. British manufacturers and tea and sugar were sold; the produce of the fisheries were admitted to a market."
By 1831, the population of Belmullet was 585. A Roman Catholic chapel was built in 1832 at the cost of £300. There was a daily postal service between Ballina and Belmullet. In 1833, a courthouse was built also costing £300 which held weekly court sessions, demonstrating that the town was rapidly growing. In the 1830s, a visitor described it as "the youngest town in Ireland and like all young things it is comparatively fresh and fair. The town itself contains a few thatched cabins but consists of small streets of moderately sized slated houses branching from a little square, or market place; the shops looked to be well furnished with not only necessaries but articles conducive to comfort and convenience. Buildings are going on and speculation is progressing'. He also commented that the approach to the town was 'spoiled by deformed, wretched bog huts." Two new roads were built - one to the east went to Ballycastle and one to the south to Newport. The export of meal from the area to England started. The local Protestant Church was built in 1843. In 1845, work began to re-open the canal which had been constructed by Arthur Shaen. Because of the Irish Famine, the canal was not completed until 1851. During the Relief work for the Distress (in the middle of the Great Famine) in 1846 and 1847, the footpaths were formed and flagged.
In the latter half of the 19th century rural unrest was a common occurrence across Mayo. In November 1881, over 100 police officers needed in order to protect two process servers who were serving writs in the town. The police were confronted by an angry crowd throwing rocks and sticks. The police were obliged to charge the crowd and fire buckshot resulting in a large number of injuries. The police made 20 arrests.
A workhouse was erected on the site of the current hospital. The Head of the Treasury, Charles Trevelyan, notoriously decreed that relief was only to be given to workhouse people. Starving people crowded to the workhouse. At one stage at the height of the Famine, 3,000 people were recorded as being in Belmullet workhouse. The area around Belmullet was severely impacted by the Great Irish Famine in the 19th century and in the next 100 years many people emigrated from the area to the United States and to England. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, many proposals were made regarding the development of a railway line in to Belmullet and Erris region. Three routes were surveyed and discussed:
- Route One: Ballina - Ballycastle - Belmullet
- Route Two: Newport - Mulrany - Belmullet
- Route Three: Ballina - Crossmolina - Belmullet
People along these routes lobbied for the railway lines to pass through their district. However the merchants of Belmullet were more skeptical and feared that the introduction of a railway line would adversely affect their trading position, putting Ballina within easy reach of the population. Plans for a railway to Blacksod, which would have served trans-Atlantic shipping, were therefore postponed. Many still pressed the authorities for a rail line, and this movement gained momentum during the latter days of the First World War, when it was proposed that a line would improve lines of communication between both London and Canada, and between London and the United States. However, when the war ended in 1918, the hopes for a railway service to Blacksod ended with it. In the early 1920, the Sligo Steam Navigation Company ran weekly sailings between Belmullet, Sligo and Liverpool.
Belmullet established a monthly cattle fair, and the town began to take trade from An Geatta Mór. The Bingham family fought back, but their village was more or less deserted by the cattle traders by the late 19th century.
Early 20th centuryEdit
John Millington Synge, author of "The Playboy of the Western World" and The Aran Islands, visited Belmullet in 1904, and reported: Belmullet in the evening is noisy and squalid, lonely and crowded at the same time and without appeal to the imagination. So at least one stays for a moment. When one has passed six times up and down hearing a gramophone in one house, a fiddle in the next, then an accordion and a fragment of a traditional lullaby, with many crying babies, pigs and donkeys and noisy girls and young men jostling in the darkness, the effect is not indistinct. All the light comes from doors or windows of shops. Last night was St. John’s Eve and bonfires were lighted all over the country, the largest of all being placed at the Town Square at Belmullet. Today, again, there was a large market in the square, where a number of country people, with their horses and donkeys, stood about bargaining for young pigs, heather brooms, homespun flannels, second hand clothing, blackening brushes, tinker’s goods and many other articles.
Irish War of IndependenceEdit
One of the two R.I.C. Policemen killed in the January 1919 Soloheadbeg ambush - Constable McDonnell - was born in Belmullet. The event triggered the War of Independence. Constable McDonnell was 50 at the time of his death. He left a widow and five children.
On October 26, 1919 a young boy was shot and wounded by a sentry guarding the local wireless station. The boy was driving cows near his home early in the morning, when he was shot in the shoulder. The incident caused great indignation among the local population.
In June 1920, an R.I.C. policeman was killed and three were injured during a riot on the main street of the town. The policemen intervened to arrest a man for causing a disturbance during a fair. The crowd attending the fair resented the intervention and turned on the police officers. The police retreated and took refuge in a house, One of the officers - Constable Doogue - was later discovered on the street with a wound to the head. When the doctor arrived, he was found to be dead.
In late August 1920, the local Coastguard station was attacked. The raiders were interrupted by a police patrol, and shots were exchanged. The raiders escaped but not before the station was destroyed.
During the latter stages of the conflict, a Republican Court was established in the town. In January 1921 Two Ballina Solicitors - PJ Ruttledge and Henry Bourke - were arrested and charged by the British military authorities for participating in the court. Mr. Ruttledge declined to recognize the British court and was subsequently jailed in Castlebar.
A breach of the Anglo Irish Truce occurred in the Town in October 1921. Two Republican Policemen were quelling a row that broke out in the evening after the town's regular fair. The Republican policemen were attacked by six R.I.C. officers. The fighting escalated as more RIC and IRA men joined the affray. Later, shots were exchanged by the two sides.
Second World WarEdit
On 6 August 1940, during the Second World War, Garda William Cullen of Belmullet station received a phone call from coast-watchers at the nearby Annagh Head lookout post. He learned that the Atlantic currents had washed ashore the body of a British soldier. From his army pay-book, Cullen identified 21-year-old Donald Domican of the 5th Battalion, the Welsh Regiment. On the evening of 6 August, Domican’s body was brought to Belmullet hospital. He was buried the following day at the Church of Ireland cemetery in the town. The next day another body of a British soldier was washed up at the same site.
In 1958, Belmullet became the site of a conflict between Erskine Childers, Minister of Lands, and local workmen who refused to construct a fence through an area thought to be occupied by leprechauns. The Government was unable to find other workers to build the fence, so finally relented and "bent" the fence around the disputed hill.
In the early 21st century, improvement in the Irish economy has reversed population decline, and Belmullet has seen some immigration. Despite job losses in the area since the recession started in 2007, as with all over Ireland, Belmullet and the Mullet Peninsula has good natural resources in terms of fishing, tourism and small local industries are present such as Mayo Mats and the Corrib Gas terminal.
Culture and tourismEdit
John Millington Synge's play The Playboy of the Western World was based on his experience of the Belmullet area. Synge also wrote a poem entitled "Danny" about a character who was murdered by a group of local men as he was on his way back into Belmullet from Bangor Erris.
The area is popular for fishing, with both fresh-water and sea-angling off Broadhaven Bay. Watersports are also common, with surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing.
Belmullet is the nearest town to the Carne Golf Links, the last complete design from renowned Irish golf architect Eddie Hackett, frequently listed in the top 100 golf courses in the world.
This area of Erris was the setting for the Ulster Cycle legend of the Táin Bó Flidhais or the Mayo Táin.
In 2007, a new arts centre, Áras Inis Gluaire, opened in the town. Its mission was to become a leading bilingual arts centre in Ireland. As well as serving as the towns library and art gallery, the centre has a state of the art theatre, which has seen many accomplished artists perform in the town, among them being Mick Flannery and Damien Dempsey.
- Féile Iorras - International Arts Festival held in the town for a period of about ten days each July. It was set up in 1996 by Mayo County Council Arts Office to promote understanding and integration between the people of Erris and communities throughout the world. The festival encompasses all forms of folk art from dancing to visual arts to music. All the pubs in Belmullet participate.
- Lá an Logha - 15 August (also known as Ladies Day) each year sees the busiest time of the year in the town. This festival started off as a farmer's market and a day for men to propose to their future wives and go parading around the town with her on this special day.
- Féile na Seachtaine, another arts based festival follows Lá an Logha. The town's annual Heritage Day is held during this time. Many people who have emigrated from Erris return to the area during the month of August.
|Climate data for Belmullet, (1981–2010, extremes 1956–present)|
|Record high °C (°F)||13.9
|Average high °C (°F)||8.9
|Daily mean °C (°F)||6.3
|Average low °C (°F)||3.7
|Record low °C (°F)||−8.1
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||134.0
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm)||23||20||22||18||17||17||20||20||20||23||23||23||246|
|Average snowy days||4.5||4.2||3.1||1.4||0.1||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.9||3.0||17.3|
|Average relative humidity (%)||81.7||79.1||77.5||73.7||73.3||77.2||79.7||79.2||77.9||80.0||82.3||84.3||78.8|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||43.4||65.0||96.1||156.0||189.1||156.0||136.4||136.4||120.0||86.8||48.0||37.2||1,270.4|
|Mean daily sunshine hours||1.4||2.3||3.1||5.2||6.1||5.2||4.4||4.4||4.0||2.8||1.6||1.2||3.5|
|Source: Met Éireann|
Bus Éireann route 446 links Belmullet with Bangor Erris, Crossmolina and Ballina. There is one service a day in each direction, including Sundays. On Friday evenings an extra journey operates from Ballina. Onward bus and rail connections are available at Ballina.
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-  Archived 20 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
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-  Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
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- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 May 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)