By Mark Ruddy
There is a a little-known connection between North Mayo and the crown jewels worn by King Charles III and Queen Camilla at the recent coronation.
With the exception of the oldest piece in the collection, a coronation spoon dating from the second half of the 12th century, all medieval crown jewels were sold or melted down prior to the coronation of Charles II in 1661. As a result new jewels had to be commissioned by the jewel house in the Tower of London, who engaged Robert Vyner as he had been sworn in as royal goldsmith in September 1660.
King Charles II paid the debt for the crown jewels worn last by giving 95,000 acres to the royal goldsmith in 1661. On completion of the new crown jewels, their productions were gathered and an aggregate bill submitted to the king.
In 1661 the bill for new regalia came to the staggering sum of £12,184 7s. 6d. The English crown coffers were empty following years of civil war, therefore, In order to pay Vyner, Charles II first took possession of an area of land on the outer fringes of his control, the lands of ‘the half Barony of Irrus’, the modern-day Barony of Erris, in north-west Mayo. Immediately, these lands were granted to Vyner.
Sir James Shaen of Kilmore, Co Roscommon, and surveyor general of Ireland, immediately purchased this vast estate of Erris from Vyner, who had little interest in the far reaches of North Mayo. James paid little attention to his new property, and when he died in 1695, he left it to his son, Sir Arthur Shaen.
Arthur was to show greater interest in his new acquisition, and seemed determined to turn Erris into an English colony. forcefully evicting many native inhabitants on the Mullet peninsula to make way for the settlers he introduced onto his estate, granting them favourable leases in perpetuity.
Shaen further implemented significant infrastructural works, including the construction of a two-chamber iron furnace at Clooneen, north of Belmullet (extant), and the cutting of a canal c1715, at Belmullet, known thereafter as ‘Shaen’s Cut’ (running diagonally from Bundoola to Broadhaven, near present-day Tallagh House.
Shaen, like Carter in later years, had seen the importance of this juncture between land and sea and proposed building a settlement here. The canal functioned first as a ditch to drain the marsh then present between the bays, it was large enough for small boats to pass through from one bay to the other. However, little further development occurred, and by 1752 the canal was impassable.
In 1695 the Shaen estate of approximately 95,000 acres was inherited by the Bingham and Carter families through marriage with Arthur’s two daughters and heiresses.
The names Bingham and Carter were to dominate land ownership in the Erris region, and indeed much of Mayo, over the following 200 years.
In 1955, following the refusal of the Land Commission to purchase the estate, Martin McIntyre organised the people of Belmullet to finally buy the freehold of the town from a Mr Carter, a resident of London. Buying back the land forcefully taken to pay for Charles III’s crown jewels.