A short history of Jamestown

Jamestown is the name of a townland in the parish of Kiltoghert, in Co. Leitrim. The village of Jamestown came into its present form from 1621 on, when the walled town was built during the reign of James 1 of England. The older village of Kilshrennan which was situated on the northern side of the present town, then was incorporated with the new town and named Jamestown in honour of the English king, James 1. He had given his Secretary for Connaught, Charles Coote, the task of building a fortified town here, to protect English settlers. A fort was built on the hill on the western side overlooking the town; this was for extra protection. Jamestown was made a town borough and could send two elected members to Parliament.

The town was laid out along a main North/South running street, which was bisected by a narrower East/West street of lesser importance. This more or less is the layout of the town to day. The main national primary route (N4) from Dublin/Sligo, ran through the town until the Bye-Pass was built in 1996.

There was a community in existence here before the walled town was built. The River Shannon was easily fordable at this point (a crossing place) and a community had established itself on the Northern side of the now walled town. Snamuirrdaig and Beal Atha Cill Srenain, were two of the older names of Jamestown. A church and monastic living were in evidence here and gave it the name of Cill Srennan or the Church of Srennan. The Franciscans established a Friary in 1644 the walls of which are still in existence. An important Synod of the Bishops of Ireland was held here in 1650, a plaque was erected on the wall of the ruined church in 1950 to commemorate this great event.

The townlands surrounding the town have signs of older dwelling places with ringforts and a crannog. In County Roscommon, the eastern bank of the River Shannon across from Jamestown, there exists a great earthen wall (2000 years old) known as the Doon of Drumsna,

"It served as a fortification, being strategically placed to protect the capital of ancient Connachta --Rathcroghan, at the only place the Shannon was fordable from Carrick-on-Shannon to Athlone. From research this massive earthworks, must have taken an enormous workforce and great strategic planners. The site at Drumsna is not only of national interest but of international importance because of the insight which it is giving us as a society which had a cohesive ability to construct a site on this scale, which even today would be a major engineering work”. (Buckley, V, Condit, T and McGarry, D. 1990)

Jamestown was besieged during the Rebellion of 1641. The Confederate Army took it in 1649 and forty years later the Williamite Army captured it in 1689. Sarsfield’s army advanced from Athlone and defeated the Williamite Army. They broke down the Northern gate, levelled some of the walls and fortification. The Southern gate had been demolished in an earlier skirmish. The walls continued to decay through neglect and erosion and at this time very little evidence of the walls remain.

Samuel Lewis, while visiting Ireland in 1837, his comment on Jamestown was:

"The chief vestige of its former importance is an ancient gateway through which the mail coach road runs, and which has been castellated by the present proprietor, Francis O Beirne Esq.". Samuel Lewis 1837.

The arch top was removed in 1973 when it was damaged by a truck and became unsafe.

Hugh O’Beirne, Esq. of Jamestown was a middle class Catholic merchant, (d. 1813) who came to live in Jamestown. He built a small private chapel for his family and tenants (1812). The family owned 7,622 acres in Leitrim and 248 in Roscommon. He was instrumental along with Keon of Keonbrook of Leitrim Village and O’Connor of Mountallen, County Roscommon in setting up a Volunteer Militia in 1780, and were involved in the campaign for Catholic Relief, leading up to the Rebellion of 1798.

The Famine years, 1845-60, took its toll of the Irish peasant population and no more so than in Co. Leitrim. The mill at Jamestown was converted into an Auxiliary Workhouse. It accommodated up to 100 people, taking the overflow from the main Workhouse in Carrick-on-Shannon, now St. Patrick's Hospital. A plaque was erected on the site in November 1998 to commemorate those who died in the Famine Years.

The town had its own mill, barracks and fair green. Francis O'Beirne Esq., (d.1854) built the school and the schoolmaster's house, which were located behind the church. Lay Franciscan brothers taught in the school until the national school system came into being circa 1835. This school served the children of the locality up until 1954 when a new school was built half a mile from the town. It closed in 1973 due to fall in numbers attending.

Francis O'Beirne enlarged the chapel in 1843. The church was closed for a number of years from 1857 until 1887 when it was re opened and re-dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

Hugh O’Beirne Esq. of Jamestown House (1866-1916) was a minister in the British foreign office, who along with Lord Kitchener was drowned in 1916 when their ship the H M S Hampshire struck a mine. They were on their way to peace talks in St. Petersburg. He was the last of the O'Beirne family.

The town has a quay and is part of the Shannon Navigation. The quay was used to deliver goods to the town and it surrounds before road transport. It is now a popular stopping place for the holiday cruisers where visitors can enjoy stepping back in time to a place steeped in history.

The town has more or less the same layout since 1627. This area is proud of its past, while it anticipates the challenges to future changes.

Complied by Mary Butler Jamestown House from various sources. March 2004.