Avena House in Ballisodare, County Sligo is currently for sale and has some literary and dark connections. The three-bay two storey house was built in circa 1840’s. Mc Ternan indicates that this house was formerly owned by Robert Culbertson, a mill owner of Ballysadare. His property was purchased in the Landed Estates Court in the 1860s by Messers. Middleton and Pollexfen and became a regular residence of William Middleton.
William Middleton was described as one of the Merchant Princes of Sligo. Middleton, (1819-1882), a Merchant and Ship-owner, was the son of William Senior and Elizabeth Pollexfen, he succeeded to the extensive family business in 1832 after his father’s untimely death from Cholera.
After his father’s death, his mother’s cousin William Pollexfen, arrived in Sligo from Cornwall to help with the business. The firm of Messrs. Middleton and Pollexfen, ship-owners and flour millers was founded and became one of the most successful commercial ventures in nineteenth-century Sligo. Middleton was also the principal shareholder and active partner in the Sligo Steam Navigation Company, the success of which was also mainly attributable to his enterprise and foresight. He also ventured into property and in 1867 purchased ‘The Rosses’, as it was called, from the Cooper family and significantly improved the resort by the building of seaside lodges and other developments. In 1876 he was credited with the ownership of 1,650 acres in the County and could boast of two residences, Avena, Ballisodare, and Elsinore, a summer retreat at Rosses Point.
The poet William Butler Yeats mother was Susan Pollexfen, her father was William Pollexfen and her uncle, William Middleton. This is how a young Yeats came to spend many summers at both Avena House in Ballisodare and Elsinore House in Rosses Point. Yeats recounted stories of playing with his cousin George at Avena and with his brother Jack at Elsinore hearing stories from the River Pilot of pirates and smugglers.
While staying at Avena House as a young man, Yeats was inspired to write the poem Down by the Sally Gardens. Yeats composed it when he heard an old woman in the village of Ballisodare sing an Irish folk song. Avena House is located adjacent to the Owenmore river and to Ballisodare Falls where Salley rods (willow trees) grew, which was used as a material in thatched roofs.
- Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
- She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
- She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
- But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
- In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
- And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
- She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
- But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.
Ballisodare Falls and Pollexfen Mills in County Sligo
One other tale connected to Avena to recount happened many years later after the Middletons had moved on.
In 1925, a John Corbett lived in Avena House with his wife Mary and family. Corbett had recently retired as a school teacher and received a warm send-off by the local community on his retirement.
On the morning of 31st October, Corbett was observed locking the front gates of the house. On receiving information, Guard Thomas Murray arrived at Avena House and tried to gain entry but found all the doors and windows locked. He eventually gained entry by breaking a kitchen window. At a later inquest, Guard Murray described the horrific scene which greeted him;
“I found the body of Mr Corbett, the deceased throat was cut and the arteries of his wrists both severed. There was an open razor laying at his left hand… On entering the drawing-room I found the body of Mrs Corbett, she was lying on her left side.. the skull was practically destroyed with a gunshot wound. In the hall, I found the weapon used, a double-barrelled shotgun.”
The inquest concluded, the verdict Corbett had murdered his wife and ended his own life. The husband and wife were buried together in the local graveyard of Holy Trinity Church of Ireland.
Yeats was also said to have written of strange happenings at the house in his time there. Life moved on, and Avena House welcomed a new family, the father of the family worked in the Pollexfen Mills. Stories that the house was haunted continued. Avena House passed to new owners, and the Middleton-Pollexfen mills were only demolished in the early noughties to make way for an ill-fated apartment block in the village.
This house is currently for sale and would make a beautiful home and for those with deep pockets perhaps even a Yeatsian tourism opportunity.
List of landed-estates, < http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/ >
Gallagher, Fiona, Streets of Sligo (Sligo, 2008).
McTernan, John C, Sligo: the light of bygone days, Vol.1 Houses of Sligo and associated families (Avena, 2009).
Feehily, Padraic, Down Harmony Hill (Sligo 2016).
National Library of Ireland < http://catalogue.nli.ie/ >
Sligo Library Merchant Princes < http://www.sligolibrary.ie >
Image Avena house <http://www.osmg.ie/property/aveena-house-ballisodare-co.-sligo >
Architecture information, < http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/ >
Poetry information ,< http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/down-by-the-salley-gardens >
Elsinore Image, (Authors own).