From Nagnatha to Sligo, a personal journey

Celebrating 100 Years of Sligo Chamber

On this Week in 1953

From Nagnatha to Sligo, a personal journey

Sgt Michael Ryan 1922

In 1995 Sligo celebrated its 750th Birthday.  This celebrated year came about due to the fact that in the year 1245, Maurice Fitzgerald, the second Lord of Offaly and outgoing Lord Justice of Ireland in the service of King Henry III, built Sligo Castle, thus consolidating the identity of Sligo as a town.

778 years later on Monday the 16th of January 2023, Sligo Chamber of Commerce convened a meeting at Lyons Café in Quay Street to commemorate the start of their Centenary Year.

One hundred years to the hour on the Monday, the minutes of the First Meeting of Sligo Chamber from January 1923 were read in the very room where the inaugural meeting of the Incorporated Chamber of Commerce took place.   What occurred to me as I listened to the minutes what was the very space that we occupied, at that moment in time, that upper room, overlooking Quay Street would have been within the confines of the original Sligo Castle complex.

The invasion and subjugation of Ireland in 1169 had come about in no small part due to an incident on the now Sligo Leitrim border some years previously.  One Summer’s night in 1152 under the cover of darkness, the then King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot Mac Morrough) spirited away Derval the wife of Tighearnan Mor Ua Ruairc (Tiernan O’Rourke), King of Breifne.  They crossed the River Bonet between Dromahair and Lough Gill thus making good their escape. For these transgressions of coveting and stealing another man’s wife, Diarmait is deposed by Ruaidri Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Connor), the High King of Ireland.

In the hope of regaining his kingdom, Diarmait seeks the help of Stephen of Blois, King of England and his friend, the Second Earl of Pembroke (Richard de Clare aka Strongbow).  In 1169, Anglo Norman mercenaries land on the east coast of Ireland, they like it so much they decide to stay.

After Sligo Castle is completed in the late 1240s, Maurice Fitzgerald builds Sligo Abbey in 1252 and gives it to the Dominican Holy Order.  Sligo Abbey remains as the oldest surviving structure in Sligo Town to this day.

Sligo Abbey

In 1257, Maurice Fitzgerald meets Gofraidh O Domhnaill (Godfrey O’Donnell) face to face in single combat during the battle of Creadran Cille (Rosses Point, Sligo).  Ultimately the forces of the O’Donnells of Tir Chonaill were victorious and drive the Normans out of Sligo.  Maurice died of his injuries from the battle at Youghal Monastery wearing the habit of the Franciscans on the 20th of May 1257 aged 63 years.

After the battle of Creadran Cille, while still incapacitated by his wounds, Godfrey O’Donnell was summoned by the Chieftain Brian O’Neill to give hostages in token of submission.  Instead, he gives battle to the O’Neills whom he defeats, taking many prisoners of war and cattle.   However, O’Donnell succumbs to his wounds after the battle outside where the town of Letterkenny is today.

Of course, the history of Sligo goes back further than 1245. Carrowmore (“the great quarter”) is part of an ancient ritual landscape situated on the Coolera Peninsula.  This Megalithic burial ground was built in the fourth millennium BC (over 6,000 years ago) during the Neolithic period (New Stone Age), thus predating the Great Pyramid of Giza by some 1,400 years.

Claudius Ptolemy

The first documented mention of “Sligo” is in the Second Century by Claudius Ptolemy, (a Roman citizen of Greco Egyptian extraction), a Cartographer, Astronomer and Polymath residing in the Great Library of Alexandria who quite literally puts Sligo on his maps referring to it as Nagnatha.  Though he never visits Nagnatha (Sligo), he compiles his data, first by reading the historical accounts of the now defunct Phoenician Civilisation and then of the Greek and Roman traders who made landfall at Nagnatha possibly to trade for silver and lead that had been mined from coastal Ballisodare.

My family saga from a Sligo context commenced much later.

My grandfather Michael Ryan was born on the 20th of June 1900 in the townland of Ballywilliam, New Ross, Co. Wexford. At the age of 21, he witnessed the latter stages of the War of Independence, but the worst  was yet to come with the onset of the Civil War on the 28th of June 1922.  Earlier that year, on the 22nd of February, the Civic Guards had been established and for a time they co-existed alongside the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.), the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Irish Republican Police.

Michael joined the Civic Guards on the 10th of April 1922, his registration number was 762.  He received his training at the newly established Garda College in the Phoenix Park (the precursor to Templemore) while living in digs at 68, Caledon Road, Dublin 3.  The 12th of October 1922 sees the arrival of twenty-five guards to be stationed in the towns of Sligo, Ballymote and Manorhamilton.   In Sligo town, the R.I.C. barracks (on what is now lower Pearse Road) had been burned out earlier that year on the 1st of July by departing anti-treaty forces.  The initial Civic Guard Station was established in the former R.I.C. barracks on Wine Street (where Rogers & Lyons Shoe Shop once was).  On the 26th of October, Michael Ryan arrives in Wine Street, Sligo and five days later at the age of 22 is promoted to Sergeant on the 1st of November 1922.   After the formation of the Irish Free State on the 8th of August 1923, (some seven months after the founding of the Sligo Chamber of Commerce), the Civic Guards become the Garda Siochana.

Sligo Civic Guards 1922

Around 1932, Sergeant Michael Ryan started to court Ms. Catherine (Kitsy) Murphy from Markievicz Road with the tacit approval of her parents, Jack Murphy and Ann Murphy (nee Costello).  They get married on the 8th of August 1934. They have four sons, John (Johnie) Ryan (my father); my uncles, Maurice, Michael and Peter Ryan.  The family grew up through the pre and post war years at No. 1, the Lungy (also known as Cathedral View at that time).  Michael died suddenly on Sunday the 22nd of March, on this week in 1953. He was only 52.  We missed each other by ten years.

Researched and written by John Ryan

Supported by the Sligo Chamber Centenary Committee:

  • Conor McCarthy, President, Sligo Chamber
  • Catherine Maguire – Admin & Photographic Research
  • Geraldine Courtenay – Creative Direction
  • Aidan Doyle – Review & Publication

The next Article in the series commemorating The Centenary of Sligo Chamber and entitled “Personalities Who Shaped the Early Years – H.C. Lyons” will be released on the 27th of March 2023.

#Sligo Chamber Centenary