It had hitherto escaped me that in north Co Galway, there is a hamlet, or at least a townland, called “Washington”.
The place seems to be better known by its original name, Garrafrauns. But in support of its Washingtonian aspirations, it also has a White House, albeit only a pub of that title. Furthermore, like the best Washingtons, it was even once the subject of a burning.
The year was 1958, not 1814. And in this case, British troops were not implicated. According to the Tuam Herald, the blaze started accidentally in a chimney, before the wind caught and spread it. Despite the efforts of a “bucket brigade”, formed by neighbours returning from Sunday Mass, the premises was gutted.
On the plus side, the calamity (which was only temporary, since the pub rose from the ashes and is still in business today) was a chance for the Herald to tell readers how the name came about.
Like the building itself, it was the work of one “Andrew Mullarkey, the well-known nationalist from Irishtown, Co Mayo”. Mullarkey had already rebranded his native village, previously “Drymills”, in honour of its role in 1879 as the “cradle of the Land League”.
So a few years later, in 1886, when he secured a licence for the pub at Garrafrauns, “he went up on the roof of the premises and christened it ‘The White House’ with a bottle of brandy!”
From then on, continued the Herald: “Mr Mullarkey insisted that his letters and goods be addressed to ‘The White House, Washington’, and even the firm of Arthur Guinness and Co. could not refuse”
Whatever about Guinness, it’s not clear if any other authorities ever recognised this new Washington. Local newspapers tended to hedge the issue, retaining the old name while referring – for example – to the “Washington branch of the United Irish League” (another Mullarkey cause), located there.
As for the placename database Logaimn, that has the townland listed as “Garravhruan” (from the Irish garbh ruadhán, implying a rough and reddish place) as far back as 1617 and remaining so, stubbornly if with variant spellings, to the present day.
But then I only learned of the attempted rebrand through quoting the same Logainm here last week. In what I called “an ambiguous handwritten note”, the site’s archive suggests that Mayo’s Irishtown was given its modern name by “a bankrupt shopkeeper named Mullarkey”.
I thought this ambiguous because of the implication that his supposed bankruptcy had something to do with the renaming. Thanks to new information from an expert on the subject, however, the question appears to be irrelevant.
“It falls to me as the great-grandson of the said ‘Mullarkey’” writes Thomas Kilgarriff BL, “to inform Mr McNally and the readers that Andrew Mullarkey was never bankrupt.”
He adds: “In fact, the said Andrew Mullarkey was a successful businessman who established emporiums of commerce in Drymills/Irishtown, Co Mayo, and Garrafrauns/Washington, Co Galway, which he bequeathed to his wife Mariah Griffith who thereafter demised them to his son James and daughter Katherine, my grandmother.”
Among other things, Mr Kilgarriff’s letter implies a slightly later date for the Co Galway renaming than the rooftop baptism of 1886 reported by the Tuam Herald:
“Because of the Parnell split, in which [Mullarkey] sided with Parnell,” Kilgarriff continues, “the PP in Dunmore [...] relived his two sons of their Mass serving duties and Andrew’s vehement Anglophobia at that time resulted in his renaming Garrafrauns Co Galway to Washington in honour of George Washington . . .”
The Tuam Herald’s report of the 1958 fire, by the way, also credits Mullarkey with the name Irishtown, and notes his prominent role “in bringing Michael Davitt to the great Land League meeting there”.
But famously, Davitt never attended that meeting, because he missed the train to Claremorris. Still, the league took off anyway. As did the new name for Drymills. A report in the Connacht Telegraph some years later confirmed that the postal authorities had bowed to local wishes. It would be Irishtown from then on.
As for Washington, that never seems to have gained the same currency. It’s not just me that hadn’t heard of it. Until now, The Irish Times archive has been in the dark too.
The political tensions that inspired both names have long since subsided. If the area is a front line of any struggle nowadays, it’s the ancient feud between the footballers of Galway and Mayo.
Writing about that rivalry elsewhere in these pages a while ago, Keith Duggan mentioned a contested footbridge over the Dalgan river near Irishtown, on which the colours of both counties had been painted in summers past. But there was no room for a Washington in this local rivalry.
The bridge, he noted, was on the road to “Garrafrauns”.