St Theresa's Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Ballinrobe (now Creagh House)

Aerial image of Creagh House and the chalet wards at top of image

In 1924, the Creagh Estate, originally owned by the Knox Family, the local landlords was handed over to County Mayo Board of Health to be used as a Sanatorium for Tuberculosis B. patients.

Patients accommodated

Until 1954 approximately forty or fifty patients at a time were accommodated there under the supervision of Dr. James Gibson Thornton, Castlebar, who held clinics in the principal towns of the county through which patients were admitted. In the early days hope of a cure for this dreaded scourge was minimal; it was considered ‘coughin in and coffin out’.

Who were the patients?

March and October were the worst months for T.B. deaths. There were a few weeks in these periods when there were up to twelve bodies in the morgue – once the Colonel Knox’s coach house. Most of the patients were immigrant workers from Achill, Mulranny and North Mayo, who had contracted T.B. in the harsh conditions of the Scottish tatty [potatoes] fields, the tillage lands of Lincoln and Cambridgeshire, the coalmines of Wales, and in the grim housing conditions available to people in indoor services during World War II.

Creagh Estate

Creagh estate was built by Colonel Knox in 1875 and was a beautiful manor house to the right of a castle lately occupied by his predecessor. The grounds had beautiful trees, shrubs and green pastures and a haven for patients. The spacious bedrooms on the top storey were converted into wards and, if they were not too ill the patients savoured gracious living in the magnificent dining and drawing rooms downstairs.

Dr Thornton’s Farm Management

Dr Thornton, who was an advanced thinker with regard to farm management, made sure that they had only the best in the way of milk, eggs, vegetables and fruit; meat and bread being the only two items purchased outside. He used to tell farm workers, one of them was Michael Kelly, a nephew of Gardener Mike Partlin, that he got his best ideas when he could sleep at night. Michael, now a landscape designer in St. John’s Wood, London, at the residence of the Chairman of Monopolies Commission, Mr. Sydney Lipworth, remembers Dr. Thornton’s many innovations including easily removable fencing for the rotation of crops, and the careful monitoring of twenty-eight milk cows whose yield was weighted each morning and noted in special records so that calves could be bred from the best animals.

Patient Care

Patients who were in reasonable health were encouraged to walk around the grounds and some of them loved to help with light farm chores in the meadows and tillage fields. Many became so attached to Creagh that they dreaded the monthly clinic, which was held on Sunday, in case Dr. Thornton would tell them they were well enough to go home; an understandable reluctance since home was often in an isolated village with few comforts and scanty food. They knew they would miss the routine of a walk after breakfast, a rest after lunch, four o’clock tea, another walk, and then supper followed by music or a singsong before lights went out at nine o’clock.

Memories of Workers

Martin Walsh, Cloonkeary had memories of those days when he worked as an Assistant Gardener to Mike Partlin from July 6th 1948 until December 13th 1952. He was a young boy when the disastrous fire of 1939 destroyed the main building where patients were housed.

Fire Disaster in 1939

As there was then no adequate Fire Brigade in County Mayo, permission had to be sought from the County Manager to bring in the Galway Brigade. This meant a delay of several hours in which, despite heroic efforts by Mike Partlin, Tom Toole, Tom Partlin, Richard Mellett and Barney Joyce, the fire gradually engulfed the wide staircase and raged through the bedrooms minutes after all the patients had been rescued.

Martin O’Connor Sister Wallace, nurses Cotter and Gibbons together with wards-maids and domestic staff saw patients set up comfortably and safely on the lawn until they could be taken by ambulances to the hospitals in Castlebar.

Locals Terrified of catching TB

People from the locality who gathered to help during the fire were so terrified of catching T.B. even by going near the patients, that it look double courage to face this hazard as well as the smoke and flames, but they took the risk and no lives were lost.

Mass Servers

Patsy Shaughnessy, took no risks when as young Mass-server when he refused a mouth-watering breakfast of bacon, egg and sausage one Christmas morning. He waited outside until the priest has finished his in the hope of getting a reward for his good deed. The half-crown coin the priest gave him was riches to a schoolboy!

New Building and Segregation

After the fire the Sanatorium was out of operation for two years until the new chalets with verandas were built. These housed twenty two men and twenty two women in each unit. Men and women were segregated even when close to death, as they lay in their beds or just sat in the sunshine; segregation was the rule of the time.

During the War Years

Great efforts were made by the Sanatorium directors to make the place self-supporting during the war years. They decided to put sheep, which would be fattened for slaughter, into the garden, but the sheep ate plants which caused many of them to die. It was then decided to put in goats to eat the poisonous plants, but the goats being adventurous animals, got out climbed on to the verandas or any climbable place and proceeded to denude shrubs around the nurses’ home (the remaining part of Creagh House).

Whether they were retained for their milk which was considered good for T.B. patients is not clear, but the garden was made sufficiently goat proof to hem them in so in time all of Mike Partlin’s lovingly tended plants plus the peach and pear trees disappeared.

Sheep Research Station developed in 1959

In 1959, Creagh with three hundred and fifty acres was sold to An Foras Taluntais (The Agricultural Institute) by Mayo County Council and served as a Research Station for the next thirty years. The nurses’ home was turned into an assembly hall for committee meetings, field days, lectures, etc.

Offices, kitchen and dining room facilities were also provided. The land was restocked with sheep and cattle and west of Ireland farmers benefitted from the knowledge gleaned through testing and experimentation with breeding stock.

Reclamation of Land

In the late sixty’s after Dr. John Mulqueen was appointed Director an important job of reclamation was carried out on the cutaway bog bordering the Castlebar road. Now the heather and scrub are replaced by lush green grass and the damage done through removing bog mud for fertilisation is completely repaired.

The Forest and Deer

Much of the forest still remains and the deer, when sated with the sweet green grass in the parkland, like to take their noonday siesta under the trees to the rear of Creagh House which is now in private ownership.

Further info:

Dr Noel Brown’s work on the eradication of TB see:

Comments about this page

  • We had a relative there who died in 1936. Were patients buried in any particular place or released to their families?

    Based on the information I have, patients were released to their families who arranged their burial.

    There is no grave-yard attached to Creagh as far as I know.


    By Peggy A Calhoun (26/03/2021)

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