Courtesy of Killala, for one historical moment Mayo was in “The Republic of Connacht.” In 1798 Irish Rebels, in a bid to overthrow the occupying British forces, sought the assistance of French General Humbert and his army. Killala’s pivotal role began with the his arrival in August of that year to help fight in the rebellion. Humbert's army, together with the Irish Rebels’ began well and had a spectacular success against the British in Castlebar, despite their being vastly outnumbered. This battle, known as the “Castlebar Races” fuelled a dream that would later in the year be crushed, despite valiant attempts at independence from the British Crown. As the Rebellion moved eastwards, ambitions for a “Republic of Connacht” slipped away forever.
This event took hold of the imagination of the Irish and in 1898, Irish Revolutionary Maud Gonne MacBride unveiled the ‘Maid of Erin’ monument in nearby Ballina to commemorate the centennial of the rebellion of 1798. Inscribed on the monument are the words:
“Well they fought for poor old Ireland
And full bitter was their fate
Oh! What glorious pride and sorrow
Fill the name of ninety eight.”
Today, Killala is a quiet, unspoilt fishing village which attracts fewer rebels and more enthusiasts of nature, water-based activities and fishing. Harbour fishing is at the centre of life in the village along with onshore, offshore and river fishing for which people travel far and wide to partake. Among the numerous sandy bathing spots is Blue Flag Ross Beach.
One of Mayo’s best examples of the renowned round towers stands defiantly in the centre of town, a reminder of the prominence and power of Ireland’s Christian past and of their attendant struggles. At the heart of many villages and towns in Ireland can be seen the scars and relics of distant battles, lost and won over religious and political freedom.
By the time the monks built the round tower in the 12th century, Killala was already established as an important ecclesiastical centre. St. Patrick had built a church in the town in the mid-fifth century and appointed his disciple St. Muredach Bishop of Killala.
True to the complexities of Irish religious history, by the mid-17th century, a Church of Ireland cathedral was built on the ruins of a Catholic cathedral and the grounds of the graveyard houses a 1000-year old Souterrain, which is sadly no longer accessible, but whose passages and chambers lie under foot as one peruses the graves.
Within easy reach of Killala are plenty of other sites of historical and archaeological interest including 15th Century Franciscan Friary; Rosserk Abbey; 13th Century Dominican Priory; Rathfran Abbey; Moyne Abbey; Meelick Castle; Humbert’s Rock and one of the oldest enclosed farms in the world, Céide Fields.