Kilfian > History

The Sir Alexander Fleming Connection

One of
Kilfian's claims to fame is its association with Sir Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin.

Alexander married Sarah Marion McElroy from Kilfian.

The remains of Lady Sarah's Homestead lie opposite Burkes Public Bar, sign posted at the entrance to Rathoma Road.

A monument to Sir Alexander and Lady Fleming (picture above) was unveiled by their son Dr Robert Fleming in August 2001. The monument includes a bronze bust of the couple sculptured by Rory Breslin and Tim Morris of Foxford, Co Mayo.

Sarah McElroy was born in Kilfian on 28th May 1881, and after leaving school she and her twin sister, Elizabeth, went to Australia and trained as nurses. Sarah returned to spend some time nursing in Dublin, before moving to London, where she distinguished herself in the nursing profession and established her own Nursing Home. It was here that she became acquainted with the young Scottish doctor, Alexander Fleming.

The couple was married in the Church of Saint Charles Burroneo, Ogle Street, London, on 23rd December 1915.

Dr. Fleming was serving in France as an Officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps at the time. Alexander Fleming had seen so much loss of limb and life, resulting from bacterial infection during the war, that he was driven by a desire to find a cure. During his many years of painstaking research, often without support from the world of science Lady Sarah was his most ardent supporter. Sarah predeceased her husband, passing away on 28th October 1949. She is buried in Hellingdon Cemetery, London. He died in 1955, and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, London.

Dr Robert Fleming spoke of his visits to Kilfian in the 1930's, at the unveiling of the memorial to his parents. He had a clear recollection of the farm workers 'gaffing' salmon in the local river. He also recalled Lacken Strand and a fishing trip on a boat out to sea with a local family from Ballina.

"I know my father was happy on these visits, as it was a similar environment to his childhood on the Scottish farm"

Dr. Robert Fleming wrote in a commemorative booklet launched on the occasion.

                  Kilfian Parish

Kilfian is a small rural parish in North Mayo. It is situated between Ballina, Crossmolina, Ballycastle and Killala. The name Kilfian is said to be derived from a sixth century local saint called Aodhan..

Kincon village is the focal point of the parish where you will find the Chapel, Shop and a newly erected Monument to honour Sir Alexander Fleming (world-renowned discoverer of penicillin) and his Kilfian born wife Lady Sarah (nee McElroy).

The three primary schools in the parish are situated in Mount Palmer, Ratheskin and Annaghmore. There are two burial grounds in Kilfian. The cemetery currently used is in Seechaun where there is also an old cemetery. There is also an old Church and cemetery in Rathrea. The sporting centre of Kilfian is located at Ratheskin where the Kilfian G.A.A. club has its grounds and clubhouse. There is also an old handball alley close by. For outdoor enthusiasts there are two rivers, the Glen River and the Owenmore/Palmerstown River which provide beautiful scenery and the opportunity for local anglers to test their skill

              Rathroe Castle

The Castle in Rathroe is a Norman Tower House and is a monument of skilled stone masonry.

It is believed to have been built by the Barretts sometime around the 14th Century.


It was occupied by the Bourkes in 1630 and became vacant around 1690 however details of its history are scant. 
There are two similar buildings close by, one to the north in Ballinglen, Ballycastle and another to the south in Deelcastle, Ardagh

St. Brigid's Well

St. Brigid's Well is located along the roadside at Ratheskin.

It is said that St. Brigid visited this locality and baptised many people at the Well.

The statue of St. Brigid was erected in 1932 and the alcove built in 1990.

The traditional station is still done by local people and Mass is celebrated there annually.



           Church of The Sacred Heart

The Church of the Sacred Heart, Kilfian, was built in the mid 1840's around the time of the famine. The Parish Priest at the time was Fr. John Jordan.  

In 1889 the roof was repaired and new doors and windows fitted by Fr. Michael J. Clarke.

In 1928 a new sanctuary was added by  Fr. James Davis P.P.  

In 1985 it was newly plastered and stained glass windows were fitted by Fr. Patrick Guckian P.P.

This is where the McElroy family came to worship and their family seat as well as some statues donated by Kitty are still in the Church