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Volunteer's Gate Lawrencetown.jpg

The Volunteer's Gate

Lawrencetown, County Galway

Although built at the end of the eighteenth century, the Volunteer’s Gate, six miles from Brackloon on the outskirts of the village of Lawrencetown, is still known locally as ‘The New Gate’. The classically-designed monumental gate with its two flanking gate lodges was built by the wealthy Walter Lawrence, not only as an elaborate entrance to his newly-built mansion named Bellevue but as a celebration of the achievements of the Irish Volunteer movement. It simultaneously announced to visitors the taste and refinement of its patron while making a political statement.

The Irish Volunteers were established first in 1778 as a part-time military force to protect Ireland in the event of a French Invasion and to help maintain law and order while many of the regular army were involved in the American War of Independence. Many Protestant Irish landowners at this time supported greater legislative independence of the Irish Parliament under the Crown, giving Ireland freedom to attend to much of its own affairs. The presence of so many armed Volunteers in the country at that time applied pressure on the English government to acquiesce and, for a brief period from 1782 until 1800, the Irish Parliament in Dublin would have legislative freedom from England under a new Constitution. Celebrating the part played by the Irish Volunteers in that cause, Lawrence had inscribed in Latin above his gate’s central arch the words; ‘Liberty after a long servitude was won on the 16th April 1782 by the armed sons of Hibernia, who with heroic fortitude regained their ancient laws and established their ancient independence.’

Lawrence regarded himself as a patriot in his passionate support of the Volunteer movement and an Irish parliament free to determine its own laws. After a time spent with the locally-raised Eyrecourt Buffs, he and a neighbouring landowner named Robert Arcedeckne Burke established an infantry corps in 1782 drawn from their tenantry and known as the Bellevue Volunteers. Initially said to comprise of eighty men, two years later they were assessed at twenty two. Dressed in scarlet coats with mulberry facings trimmed with silver, white waistcoats and breeches, Lawrence assumed the position of colonel, Burke that of lieutenant-colonel and Lawrence’s son Peter that of major.

The attachment Colonel Lawrence felt to the Volunteers could also be seen in a large oil painting he had the artist John Ryan paint and which hung at high level in Bellevue’s Constantine Hall. Entitled ‘General de Burgh inspecting the Bellevue or Lawrencetown Volunteers at Birr, 20 September 1784’, the picture was part historical and part allegorical. We know that work was undertaken on the painting sometime after 1791, as Lawrence’s second wife, Catherine, whom he married in that year, appears therein as the figure of Ireland and that it was completed in 1796 as Ryan both signed and dated his work. Colonel Lawrence must have looked upon it with some poignancy, however, as his son and heir, Peter who appeared alongside Lawrence and General de Burgh in the painting, died of a fever at the age of twenty-eight in 1790. The Colonel himself would die at the age of sixty-seven in October 1796, the same year in which his Volunteer painting was completed.

Colonel Lawrence was a cultivated man and improving landlord who, in his time, made a significant impression on his local landscape. His new mansion, lavishly-decorated with paintings and murals by Ryan, marbles, statuary and artwork collected during his travels in Italy, sat in the midst of his demesne. There he added significantly to the tree plantation begun by his uncle. He established plant nurseries, erected architectural monuments and described himself in 1790 as ‘unremittingly engaged in building a new town for linen-manufacturers’. To facilitate it's development, he laid out housing plots, a bleaching green, repaired an old mill and established a school and chapel. The town's principal street he named 'Peter Street', the name of his eldest son and the uncle from whom he derived part of his fortune.


Four years after his death, Lawrence's beloved Irish Parliament was abolished by the Act of Union. His village of Lawrencetown still survives but the original name of its street has long been forgotten in local memory. Most of his trees were felled and sold in the last decades of the nineteenth century. His mansion with its flaking painting was demolished in the early twentieth, its artwork and contents sold and his estate divided up into smallholdings. The narrow winding avenue that once led from his Volunteer’s Gate was made a public road and in 1961 the Local Authority proposed demolishing the structure to facilitate traffic. The gate and its lodges were eventually saved and, through the initiative of interested local people, were sensitively restored in the early years of the twenty-first century. Today the Volunteer’s Gate is the only physical reminder in the landscape of Colonel Lawrence’s patriotic attachment to the Irish Volunteers and Ireland's legislative freedom.

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