Lasting legacy

Donal Burke with the Eyre papers which he purchased.
Donal Burke with the Eyre papers which he purchased. "It was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass in case the papers got separated," he says. Photo: Hany Marzouk.

Lifestyle – New light has been thrown on the Eyre family who first arrived in Galway with Cromwell’s forces in the mid-1600s  and exerted a profound influence on the county until overcome by death and debts three centuries later.  Judy Murphy tells the story.

The Eyre family were linked with Galway for centuries, giving their names to places such as Eyre Square in Galway City and Eyrecourt in East Galway.  Whether people approve of this legacy or see it as a throwback to English imperialism, the Eyres are an integral part of Galway’s history.

Now, a cache of papers about the family, bought by Cllr Donal Burke at auction last year, is throwing fresh light on their relationship with this county since brothers John and Edward Eyre first arrived here with Cromwell’s forces in the mid-1600s.

Donal Burke, a Fianna Fáil councillor and architectural consultant,  from Kilaltanagh, Clonfert, has always been passionate about local history. And when the existence of a cache of historic papers belonging to a ‘junior’ branch of the Eyre family came to light last year, he wante this archive to remain intact and available for local research. So, he bought the collection, consisting of more than 2,000 items.

“I have a huge interest in history, especially the history of east Galway and it was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass in case the papers got separated,” he explains.

The archive has turned out to be a real treasure trove for anybody with an interest in the family and broader history of East Galway.

Until recently, historians had thought that all the papers relating to the Eyre family of Eyrecourt had been destroyed during the Blitz in World War II, as they were in storage in London at the time. The loss meant that much of area’s social history, dating back to the mid-1600s had been obliterated – or so it was thought.

However, when Donal bought the archive belonging to the junior branch of the family, who had lived in Eyreville, Kiltormer, he discovered that it also contained documents relating to the first John Eyre and his family – there was even material relating to John Eyre’s in-laws that pre-dated him.

John and Edward Eyre from Wiltshire in England came to Ireland in 1649, as part of the Cromwellian army that invaded Ireland. John settled in Eyrecourt on land formerly owned by the O’Madden family, while his brother Edward based himself in Galway City. Such an approach allowed the brothers – and their descendants –  to dominate the county.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.