Eliza McHugh, Glebe Street, Ballinrobe

Local Business Woman and Entrepreneur - Ballinrobe

By Grainne McConnell

Eliza Mc Hugh (nee Higgins) was born on St John’s night - 23rd of June 1881 to a large family of 14 children. The daughter of a farm herd to the estate of Lord Lucan she was raised in the rural village of Cavan, approximately 2 miles east of Ballinrobe town.  Born at a time of post famine recovery in Ireland, Eliza and her siblings were educated which at that time was an immense privilege.

While many of Eliza’s siblings immigrated to the US, she went on to marry James (Jamesy) McHugh and into a public house business in Ballinrobe. Eliza and James had six children, four of whom survived – Vincent, Leo, Jack and Mina.

Times in rural Ireland were tough at the turn of the 20th Century. This, the era of the land wars, the War of Independence saw much turmoil throughout the countryside.  Around this times Eliza’s husband James immigrated to the US (Chicago), where he remained for 30 years leaving Eliza to run a business and raise her four children singlehandedly. With no financial support and her husband absent, Eliza didn’t buckle under the strain.  Eliza showed strength of character both as a mother and as the main bread winner and provider for her family.  She rolled up her sleeves had found she had a remarkable aptitude and ability for business.  

Eliza grew the public house business on Glebe Street Ballinrobe; she purchased the property next door, renovated and expanded the business. An ambitious woman and not content with just running a pub, Eliza purchased a tent and travelled to local fairs, race meetings and agricultural shows providing food and beverages to the paying public.  When oil for domestic use became popular, Eliza seized the opportunity and put an oil lorry on the road delivering oil for domestic use around the south Mayo area.

Eliza’s business spanned two wars –World War 1 and the Irish Civil War. Many stories have been told down through the years recounting tales of encounters with the Black and Tans and of Eliza’s ways of navigating difficult situations through tough times, keeping every side with her.

Not one to suffer fools and on occasion a formidable lady, Eliza McHugh had a remarkable sense of humour.  Her customers were very important to her for whom she had a great fondness and respected.  She was known to write letters, read letters, fill forms on their behalf as well as read from the lexicon to customers interested in but not able to afford education, a mutual satisfaction.

Eliza had a strong faith, she was a staunch catholic.  Never one to miss morning mass, Eliza’s faith no doubt helped her find strength and determination in raising her family and running a business in tough times.  Eliza prayed daily for all the young men from Ballinrobe who went to fight in the First World War. She took immense pride in telling all in earshot how each and every one of them returned home safely.  

Jamesy McHugh (Eliza’s husband) returned to Ballinrobe having spent over three decades working the stock yards in Chicago, his children now adults, his wife a thriving business woman. She was immeasurably proud of her four children and helped each of them get set up in life. 

Photo:Eliza is the lady third from the left (bottom row) dressed in black. Her husband Jamesy is to her left.

Eliza is the lady third from the left (bottom row) dressed in black. Her husband Jamesy is to her left.

Grainne McConnell

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 20/08/2019.
Comments about this page

What a privelige to be the granddaughter (one of Vincent's 3 daughters )of such a remarkable woman and thank you cousin Grainne McConnell for the article!

By Joan (McHugh) Ward
On 27/08/2019