The enigmatic ruins in the townland of Marblehill barely hint at the past importance of this once vast estate. In the present day the house and adjacent stable block are little more than ivy-clad shells, however, less than a century ago the residence housed one of the most influential families in Galway – the Burkes.
The house itself was built in the 1770’s and subsequently enlarged in line with the family’s rising prosperity in the 19th century. In 1802 it was in the hands of Sir Thomas Burke. An account by an anonymous visitor to the house recalls the splendid hospitality extended to him by the proprietor and his Lady wife. He recounted the luxurious and substantial breakfast he received, how he was persuaded to delay his departure and his ready inclusion on a visit to the nearby Dalystown demesne, seat of Denis Bowes Daly (Sliabh Aughty Ramble: Madden, 2010).
In 1824 Sir John Burke was recorded as the resident proprietor. In 1837 Lewis described Marble Hill as being ‘finely situated in a demesne extensively wooded, commanding several interesting views, and distinguished by its great variety of surface’. By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in 1856, when Sir Thomas Burke was proprietor, the estate buildings were valued at £55. By the 1870’s Sir Thomas was recorded as the owner of over 29,000 acres in the county. In 1906 the estate was held by Sir Henry G. Burke and was again valued at £55.
According to local history, the latter Sir Henry Burke at certain times of the year would march out of church on a Sunday, throw up his arms and announce to all and sundry “I’m bringing in my turf tomorrow” or “I’m bringing in my corn tomorrow”. In this way he reminded his tenants of their obligations and summoned them to put all else aside and bring in his harvests. Those who did not comply faced eviction.
Marblehill house was burned on the night of 13th June 1921, but despite its ruinous state it is still an imposing feature in the Ballinakill landscape today.
(reprint of article for Marblehill House, Galway, Ireland)