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P. K. Egan. Ballinasloe: A Historical Sketch

Ballinasloe (Ballinasloe Tóstal Council), 1953.
 Transcribed and submitted by Damian Mac Con Uladh



The First InhabitantsSt. Grellan of KilclooneySt. Raoilin of Temple RaoilinDunlo Castle and the O'Connors of ConnachtNorman Occupation in CreaghThe O'Kellys of ClonmacnoonKilclooney and Creagh in the Middle Ages ... ... 4


Reformation and ConfiscationThe Composition of ConnachtThe Cromwellian SettlementThe Restoration ... ... 10


The Place Called BallinasloeThe ChurchLanguage and EducationThe Family of TrenchBeginnings of the Town ... ... 16


The Great Fair of BallinasloeThe Farming Society of IrelandGrowth of the TownIndustries and InstitutionsThe Town CommissionersBallinasloe Union Agricultural SocietyReligion and Education ... ... 23


The Famine of 1847The FeniansFamine in 1879The Land LeagueGaelic Athletic AssociationConradh na Gaeilge ... ... 29


Ballinasloe CastleSt. Michael's ChurchGarbally ParkBattlefield of Aughrim ... ... 35


Per fess wavy azure and argent, a fess wavy counter-changed, in chief between two swords erect proper, pommels and hilts or, a lower triple-towered of the second, from the battlements descending as many chains of the fourth, and in base a horse forcene sable.

The question or adopting: a coat of arms far Ballinasloe was first mooted on November 4th, 1952. Alternative suggestions, including one from the Genealogical Office, were considered by the Urban Council which, at a meeting on December 2nd, 1952, agreed, with a certain proviso, to leave the final arrangement of the design to the Genealogical Office and two others. The resultant arms, granted 26th February, 1953, are intended to represent the religious, political, social and economic aspects of life in the town.

The elements of the design are:—(1) The sword (two for symmetry of St. Michael, Patron of the principal church, representing the religious aspect; (2) on a blue field a tower triple-towered with chains from the battlements, portion of the arms of O'Kelly (i.e., Clann Maicne Eoghain representing the political aspect and. with the fess wavy, the social aspect; (3) a fess wavy, the heraldic indication of the river around which the social unit, the town, grew; (4) a horse forcene (rampant) indicating the Great Fair of Ballinasloe and hence representing the economic aspect.

The shield—upper portion blue, lower portion white (silver)—is divided at the centre by a double wavy band, white (silver) and blue. On the upper portion the triple-towered tower in natural colour has two golden chains descending from its battlements and is flanked by two swords in natural colour with gulden pommels and hilts. On the lower portion is a black horse In the attitude known as forcene or rampant.

Adaptation of this design to it flag or banner is correctly achieved by its application to the flag without modification save the omission of the outline of the shield.

Chapter I Gaelic and Norman Periods

The ford on the river Suck from which Ballinasloe takes its name was always a place of strategic importance. The Shannon has been the great natural barrier to movement into Connacht from the central plain of Ireland and among the few gaps in this barrier were the fords of Athlone and Shannonbridge. Traffic through from there must find its way westward via the series of fords about Ballinasloe and so, when the Slighe Mór—the Great Highway—was laid down in 300 A.D., as tradition relates by Cormac Mac Art, from Tara to Galway Bay, its probable route through these parishes lay by the Culliagh Hills, across the ford of Poolboy, over Dunlo Hill, Garbally and Kilclooney, heading by Kilmalaw in the direction of Athenry. The ford of Ballinasloe was the river-crossing for traffic approaching from Athlone and both Irish king and Norman baron found its fortification a necessary link in the defence of Connacht.

Béal Átha na Sluaigheadh is held to signify "the ford-mouth of the hostings," the name being so pronounced as early as the fifteenth century, but O'Donovan puts forward, and with some reason, another explanation—that it derives from Nadsluaigh, a brother of Cairbre Crom, Chief of Hy Many in the sixth century.


Before the dawn of history there were Celtic and pre-Celtic peoples occupying the area. South Roscommon, including Creagh parish, was known as Delbhna Nuadat and the Delbhna were of Munster origin. In Magh Sen-Chineoil dwelt the people of that name, the Ancient Kin or the Sodhan. There were others too, including the remnants of the Fir Bolgs, the extent of whose occupation is not known.

An invading race appeared in. South Galway about the fourth century and their leader, the first historical figure we meet in this area, was Maine Mór. Progenitor of the families who in later centuries ruled the kingdom of Hy Many, he was traditionally a descendant of the Collas, Princes of the race of Con ced cathach, who had about the end of the second century divided Ireland with Eoghan Mór of Munster [5] by a boundary which ran along the Eiscir Riada and therefore through the present town of Ballinasloe. Traditionally too Maine Mór is said to have come southward from the region of Clogher, but more recent historians give this people a Laginian or Leinster origin and assign to them a home in Connacht at a far earlier period than was hitherto thought.


Maine Mór and the conquest of Hy Many are associated in the life of St Grellan with the introduction of Christianity here. More correctly, perhaps, St Grellan was involved in an expansion of the Uí Maine from South Galway into the territory of the Sen-chineoil or Sodhan long after the death of Maine Mór. The important fact is that Christianity reached the parish of Kilclooney in St. Patrick's lifetime and our patron, Grellan, is assigned a place among "the first order of saints." If he was of Lagin stock as the martyrologies assert he was being sent by St. Patrick to convert the Ui Maine, a people of his own race. In after centuries the descendants of Maine Mór made him peculiarly their own. He was their patron, whose staff they carried into battle down to the sixteenth century. (This very staff, the Bacal Ghrealláin, survived with the family of Cronelly of Ahascragh, coarbs of the saint until about a hundred years ago). For tribute they gave him every firstling pig and lamb and every firstling foal, and they continued to pay this tribute to the Church of Kilclooney probably down to the 12th century when the parochial organisation was introduced.


Not long after St Patrick's time Raoilin, who is designated a saint, although his name does not appear in the martyrologies, built his church at Tuaim Sruthra, now Ashford in Creagh parish, and the foundations of an old church there can still be traced. He was of the Clann Dofa Mac Aonghusa, chieftains of Cineal Dobhtha in central Roscommon, but nothing further is known about him. His church and a quarter of land was given in gift with other churches in Galway and South Roscommon to the Monastery of Clonmacnois by Cairbre Crom, chief of Hy Many in the sixth century, and remained in the hands of the Church until the Reformation.

In the centuries which followed the Church of St. Grellan of Kilclooney did not retain its early pre-eminence as an [6] ecclesiastical centre. Its coarb is not named among the chief coarbs of Hy Many—there were seven of them—in the church organisation which prevailed until the Synod of Kells in 1152, when Kilclooney became the name of the newly erected parish. In these same centuries the descendants of Maine Mór, although the territory expanded first and later contracted due to pressure from the Siol Muireadhaigh, were in continuous occupation of the area about Ballinasloe until the Cromwellian confiscation in the 17th century. Beyond a record of their descent there are few historical details preserved relating to these local families until after the Norman invasion.


The great King Toirdhealbhach O'Connor was alive to the strategic importance of the ford on the Suck. He held a fort there at Dun Leodha on the western bank of the river, which in 1114 became the rendezvous for a great hosting of the Connacht men with the men of Meath and Breifne, to march against Diarmaid who had usurped the Kingdom of Munster. Six years later he built a bridge there with two further bridges on the Shannon approaches of Áth Luain and Áth Croich (Shannonbridge). In 1124 he erected in the same place a castle which would appear to have been of a type later popularised by the Normans in the early years of the conquest and known as a "moat-and-bailey." Such a structure was in good preservation on the site of the present St. Michael's Church about the year 1800 and was described as resembling a truncated cone. As late as 1837 some parts of the outworks still remained within and without the church enclosure.

After the Norman invasion Dun Leodha was still one of the residences of the O'Connor kings and when Conor Moinmoy, son of Rory O'Connor and King of Connacht, was murdered in 1189 the Four Masters, in reciting his good deeds, mention his entertainment of Donnell O'Brien of Thomond for a week at his house at Dunlo, when he gave O'Brien sixty cows out of every cantred in Connacht and ten articles ornamented with gold, hut O'Brien would accept nothing save one goblet, which had once been the property of Dermot O'Brien, his grandfather.


The De Burgo conquest of Connacht did not directly affect [7] these parishes at first, although the ford at Dunlo saw much movement of martial forces in the sporadic warfare that resulted from the invasion. These parishes wore included in Hy Many, one of the five cantreds which were reserved to Felim O'Connor, King of Connacht, when De Burgo proceeded to take possession of his share of the Province in 1235. Even so, the Normans in 1245 built a castle at Suicin as one of a chain of castles designed to encircle the province and overawe the Irish. Suicin was then the name of the present Creagh parish on the eastern side of the river. It gave way to the latter name in the 15th century. Both Suicin and Kilclooney date to the Synod of Kells in 1152 or earlier, Kilclooney taking its name from the old church site of St. Grellan, where there is still the ruin of a pre-Reformation Church. The site of the castle of Suicin is a matter of conjecture. It may have been the place occupied by the castle of Sean na Maighe O'Kelly in Creagh townland in the 16th century, or it could have occupied the site of the present ruin on the bridge over the river.

The Normans did for a while establish themselves in the parish of Creagh. In 1253 Sir Richard de Rupella got a grant of the manor of Suicin which his son, Philip, sold to Sir Theobald Butler in 1282. These Normans derived little profit from the manor Suicin. The O'Kellys, from whom it had been filched, could not be reduced to pay rent to an absentee baron and after 1333, when the young Earl of Ulster was slain and the King's writ ceased to run in Connacht, the Butler interest disappeared.


For two hundred and fifty years, until the composition of Connacht, the O'Kellys held and devised their lands by Irish law and custom. Even then, when the moribund claims of the Butlers were being revived elsewhere (as they were nearby at Aughrim) and allowed by the Crown, nobody challenged the right of Seán na Maighe O'Kelly to the barony of Moycarn, now the half-baronies of Clonmacnoon and Moycarn. This barony represented the patrimony of the Clann Maicne Eoghain, a distinct sept of the O'Kellys, who occupied it continuously from the 13th century. They had a chief of their own, but were tributary to the chief of Hy Many and were the descendants of Domhnall Mór O'Kelly, a former chief of that territory who died in 1224, and his wife, Duvcola the [8] daughter of Domhnall Mór O'Brien, King of Munster. Their ancestor was Eoghan, the third son of Domhnall Mór, hence the title, Clann Maicne Eoghain. Otherwise they were called the Sliocht Siacais and their mansion seats were at Tuaim Sruthra and Áth Nadsluaigh. Tuaim Sruthra is the present Ashford near the ancient foundation of St. Raoilin. Áth Nadsluaigh doubtless is the ford which is now bridged over and which cave the name to the townland of Beál Átha na Sluaigheadh on the eastern bank of the river. When the modern town of Ballinasloe grew up in the eighteenth century it expanded on the western side of the river and the name passed over with it.

By the 16th century these O'Kellys had established three main lines within the parish of Creagh, the O'Kellys of Ballinasloe, the O'Kellys of Beagha and Shane na Moye O'Kelly of the Criaghe, whose descendants became known as Sliocht Sheáin.


The spiritual needs of the people of Kilclooney and Creagh were well provided for between 1152 and the Reformation. There was the parish Church of Kilcloony on the site of St. Grellan's foundation. At the other end of the parish, near the ford of Poolboy, south-east of Ballinasloe, was the church now known as "The Teampoilín," a well-preserved ruin. In Creagh there was a parish church in the old cemetery where the ruins of a Protestant church now stand: another church at St. Raoilin's foundation of Tuaim Sruthra, while there was no doubt a church or chapel attached to the nunnery of Killeen Mulrooney in the northern end of the parish.

The rectories and vicarages of that time corresponded more or less with the office of parish priest or curate, except that the support of each was derived from tithes levied on separate parts of the parish, the tithe being a tenth of certain kinds of farm produce which was paid in kind. The rectorial tithes of part of a parish might also be in effect diverted to the support of a religious community, or to pay for the education of a student for the priesthood by appointment to the rectory of a member of the community or of a student to be ordained. In the parish of Kilclooney there was a vicarage and probably a rectory. In Creagh there was a vicarage which was usually staffed by the monks of Clontuskurt Priory and they had the right of presentation also to that office. They were a house of [9] Augustinian Canons Regular following the rule of Arrouaise, an Order which St. Malachy of Armagh had introduced into Ireland and whose rule, combining die regular life with the care of souls, closely resembled the rules of the old Irish monks. Part of the rectorial tithes of Creagh parish were theirs and this was described in 1443 as "the rectory of Beál Átha na Sluaigheadh as far as Clocnaflothuath." The Church called "The Teampoilín" at Poolboy undoubtedly belonged to them also. Tradition, as well as a tóchar through the bog connecting it with Clontuskert, and the architectural affinities of both ruins make it almost certain that it was directly served by the Priory. Another portion of the tithes of Creagh parish went to the support of the nunnery of Killeen Mulrooney, a convent of Canonesses Regular of the same order and rule, which Like Clonfert and other houses within the Province of Tuam, was subsidiary to the nunnery of Kilcreevanty.

Chapter II A Century of Confiscation


After the passage of some two hundred years the first event to disturb the security of these parishes was the dissolution of the monasteries and the confiscation of their property. The parochial tithes were also granted away to laymen. Clontuskert Priory and the nunnery of Kilcreevanty disappeared in this manner and their property was given to the Earl of Clanrickard in 1570. With it he got the vicarage of Kilclooney and the rectory of Creagh. Donal O'Kelly, on surrendering his title to the Sacristy of Clontuskert, received it back from Henry VIII at least for his lifetime together with a cartron of land in Dunlo. Garbally was church land on which was settled a Tully family who occupied the castle there in the 16th century. They were probably a coarb family and had given priests to the diocese of Clonfert. One of them, Fiacre, whose mother was Evellina O'Kelly, attended the Irish College in Salamanca in 1613. In 1615 Kyvas Tully was Protestant Dean of Clonfert, a "reading minister" who married secondly Katherine, daughter of Sean na Maighe O'Kelly.

In Creagh the glebe land attached to the church went to Malby Brabazon; the land surrounding the church of Saint Raoilin at Tuaim Sruthra—over 700 acres profitable—to the Protestant bishop of Clonfert; the nunnery lands of Killeen Mulrooney—448 acres—to the Protestant dean of Clonmacnois and Anthony Brabazon, and 260 acres of Ardnalog adjoining to the Protestant bishop of Meath.


The Tudor policy of surrender and regrant was given effect in Connacht by means of the Composition completed in 1585. It was intended to make the inhabitants of Connacht amenable by the abolition of Brehon law and custom, by admitting the Irish to English law and getting them to hold their property from the king. Hitherto the O'Kellys had, like the MacWilliam Burkes, maintained themselves by force against the absentees who might now claim by moribund feudal titles of three centuries standing. The operation was begun by the Lord Deputy, Sydney, in 1575 and he had come to an [11] agreement with the O'Kellys in 1576. Among them Seán na Maighe O'Kelly surrendered his lands and his right by Irish law to various rents and services from the inhabitants of Moycarn and Clonmacnoon. They were granted back to him to hold for life, with a remainder in tail male to his son. Rory, and so forth, to hold in capite from the Crown by the service of one knight's fee, the composition rent being £8 17s. l0d. The places where he held land are mentioned by name and included in these parishes Tuaim Sruthra, Creagh, Killeen Mulrooney. Behagh, Dunlo. Garbally, Tulrush, Kilgarriv, Coolderry. Gortnesharvoge and Culliagh. Be it noted that some of these denominations also included the church lands already mentioned.

About this time, too, came the first family of foreign blood to settle in the parish before the time of Cromwell—the Brabazons. They may have settled at the expense of the O'Kellys but there were always the church lands and no one was in a better position to acquire a share of them than Anthony Brabazon. Sir William Brabazon, Vice-Treasurer & General Receiver of Ireland, was the man who took the surrender of the abbeys for the king. His third son, Anthony, Governor of Connacht, married the daughter of Sir Nicholas Malby, a former Governor, and settled in Ballinasloe. The Earl of Clanrickard had held for some time the castle of Ballinasloe with a quarter (120 acres) of land there, but the castle had been taken up by the queen and now became the residence of the Brabazons. Anthony's daughter married Earl Ulick's 3rd son, later Viscount Clanmorris, whose successors held some land at Lisdowney, Kilclooney (which appears to have been, attached to the bishopric of Clonfert), Killeen and Caltraleagh. The Earl held in 1637 a quarter at Farrenfreagh near the present townland of Killeen, which may have been the quarter already mentioned. Altogether the Brabazons held about 700 acres in Kilclooney and 900 in Creagh. Anthony's son, Malby, also married a Burke, daughter of Burke of Tullagherry and their son, Anthony, became a Catholic, fought with the Confederates in 1641, defended Ballinasloe castle against Ireton and was excepted from pardon by a Cromwellian Act of Parliament in 1652. He fled to Spain and died there. The memory of his conversion to Catholicism survives in local tradition and is attributed to the influence of his wife, who was Ellice Dillon of Killynynen in County Westmeath. The family was [12] represented in the parish by the O'Shaughnessys of Birchgrove, who became extinct in the present century.

Only three other families appear as holding land in these parishes about the time of the Composition—MacEgans, McKales and Lawrences. The MacEgans held their lands by reason of their office, that of lawyers and judges under the Brehon law, or they may have been a coarb family occupying church lands. There was an intimate connection between both functions. McKales and Lawrences held but a small quantity of lands each and that in conjunction with the MacEgans. McKale could represent Mac Héil, which is said to be a family of Welsh origin which settled in Tirawley in the 12th century. More likely it represents Mac Céile, the name of a Mayo family, who were erenaghs (an office akin to that of coarb) of Killala and coarbs of St. Caillin at Fenagh, County Leitrim. The Lawrences were a Lancashire family, two brothers of whom came to Ireland with Perrott in 1571. One of these married the daughter of O'Madden of Longford, County Galway, and settled on church lands at Lisreaghan, now Lawrencetown. We find all three families settled in Loughbawn, Knockroe, Curragh and Grange.

Finally, before the Rebellion of 1641 the land of Kilclooney was held as follows: O'Kellys. 847; Brabazons, 688; Tullys, 399; MacEgans. 249; Lord Clanmorris, 225; Bishop of Clonfert. 142; Earl of Clanrickard, 102; McKales, 32. On the Creagh side the distribution was: O'Kellys, 1089; Brabazons, Bishop of Meath. 260. These figures represent acres, but they are plantation measure and take into account only land described as profitable. They do, however, give an idea of the proportion, held by those various people before the Cromwellian settlement, of the parishes of Kilclooney and Creagh, the total statute acreages of which are 7,289 and 8,867 acres, respectively.


The Cromwellian transplantation which forced the Irish gentry and landowners of other parts of Ireland into Connacht, involved the confiscation of the Connacht proprietors to make room for them. Moycarn was to receive Cork, and Wexford inhabitants, Clonmacnoon those of Carlow, Waterford and Limerick. All kinds of modifications, not to speak of corruption, interfered with this scheme, and the result was a motley assortment of planters in the parishes of Kilclooney [13] and Creagh. The Protestant Church was disestablished and church lands confiscated. In Kilclooney all the O'Kelly lands in Caltrahard, Liscappell, Killeene, Carrowlumnagh and Derewillen were taken up, but they got small portions in other parts of the parish. A like fate befell the Brabazon property, but the family retained 230 acres of their 268 acres in Clunsaile. The Tullys lost Garbally but retained Caltraleagh (153 acres) and were given further acreages in Clunsaile and Kilclooney at the expense of the Brabazons and Lord Clanmorris; in Liscappell and Derewillen at the expense of the O'Kellys, so that in the aggregate they lost little except that the better land may have been taken from them. The MacEgans lost all except the 79 acres of Grange and 10 acres in Chaernaclusagh, while Lord Clanmorris, the Earl of Clanrickard, the Bishop of Clonfert, the McKales and the Lawrences forfeited completely. Newcomers were James Prendergast, Theobald Dillon, Dominick Naughton, Bryan Concannon, James Barnwell, Lady Fingal, Walter Taylor, William Spencer, Marcus Laffan, Lawrence Hammon, Thomas Linch and John Butler.

In Creagh the bishops of Clonfert and Meath and the dean of Clonmacnois lost all. The O'Kellys were deprived of Glantane, Fedan, Attyffarry, Creagh (townland) and Culderry, which they had held for centuries, but they managed to retain Ardcarne and some land in Beagha. Malby Brabazon's lands were confiscated, but Sara Brabazon was provided with 326 acres in Tuaim Sruthra and Ellis Brabazon with 319 acres in Creagh and Attyffarry. The new proprietors included William Spencer, Mary Brandon, Mathew Tully, Tibbott Dillon, Donogh Keogh, James Fitzgerald, Evellin and William Lae, William and Hugh Coghlan, Dorothy and Ambrose Kelly (in Ardnaglog), Honoria Naughton, Donogh McKeogh, John Muldoon, James O'Bryan, George Hindes and Redmond Keogh.


This drastic displacement had been completed by 1655, but five years later the Cromwellian regime was over and Charles II was proclaimed king in Dublin. His accession was followed by the Acts of Settlement (1662) and Explanation (1663) and the Court of Claims which lasted until 1667. To a degree these undid the work of Cromwell, but as far as those two parishes were concerned, they merely crowned one [14] injustice by another. The last act in the confiscation was the forfeitures which followed the Williamite War of 1688, but they yielded only 188 acres of land which was bought by Frederick Trench. Under the Act of Settlement and what followed the O'Kellys, the real owners of Kilclooney and Creagh, from the remotest times, were almost wiped out. They were left with 102 acres in Kilclooney and 130 acres in Creagh. The Earl of Clanrickard was restored in full, as he was elsewhere, being one of the 'nominees.' Even the Clanmorris land was restored to him, the second Viscount Clanmorris having died childless in 1642. William Brabazon, the son of that Anthony who defended Ballinasloe Castle against the Cromwellians, was also restored to his estates by name in the Act of Explanation. The Books of Survey and Distribution show him to have got 470 acres in Kilclooney and 579 acres in Creagh, but his actual allotment was much more. The holdings of the others (1641 owners, Cromwellian grantees, purchasers of land and so forth) towards the end of that century may be summarized as follows (in plantation acres, profitable): — Parish of Kilclooney: Brabazon, 470; Spencer, 441; Dillon. 338; Trench, 257; Taylor (with Foster), 243; Foster, 175; Pearse, 157; MacEgan, 151; Kelly, 102; Butler, 80; Daly, 26; Naughton, 19; Newcomen, 8; Coffey, 6. On the Creagh side there were: Spencer, 559; Dillon, 421; Naughton, 418; Bishop of Meath, 346; Foster, 320; Fitzgerald, 300; Pearse. 174; Bellew, 163; Barber, 113; Muldoon, 113; Hinde, 83; Mallone, 40; Coghlan, 38; Naughton, 29; Keogh, 20.

The Brabazons retained the land they had got and kept it intact, even resorting to extreme measures to do so. Their representative, Anthony, in the following generation, conformed to the established church to prevent his property being gaveled under the later penal laws, but he died a Catholic and his family in the parish remained so to the end.

Of the Cromwellian grantees the most notable was William Spencer, a probable Catholic, who forfeited his lands of Kilcolman in County Cork. He was descendant of that Edmund Spencer, son of a London cloth maker, favourite of Queen Elizabeth, enthusiast for the Reform, poet, author of The Faerie Queen, who received from the Crown in 1590 a grant of the castle and manor of Kilcolman with 4,000 acres. William's family were Catholic, but his son, Nathaniel, conformed and supported William of Orange. Prolonged litigation and [15] financial difficulties forced them finally to sell their estates here to Frederick Trench in 1716, and so ended the connection with the district. That sale placed the Trenches in possession of the site of the present town of Ballinasloe.

Chapter III Two Centuries of Change


Until the 17th century Ballinasloe was a denomination or townland, in County Roscommon, now known as Kilgarriv, which included part of the bridge of Ballinasloe and the castle adjoining. This castle may have been built by Tadhg O'Kelly, Chief of Hy Many, at the end of the 14th century. He was ancestor of the O'Kellys of Ballinasloe who were expropriated in the 16th century. The Earl of Clanrickard was in control of the castle when the Irish attempted to burn it in 1572 and it was ordered by the Queen to be taken over from him and put in defence in 1579. The bridge had some time before been built at the Queen's charge. Sir Anthony Brabazon, as Governor of Connacht, took up residence there soon after and, in the reign of James I, a borough of Ballinasloe was established, but there was no considerable township there until the 18th century. The tradition that the town began at the hill of Back is borne out by the seemingly high rent placed on that area in the patent to William Spencer. There were also no doubt houses in Bridge Street on the island in the river as well as houses about the castle on the Roscommon side, but the present town, with its wide straight streets, was deliberately laid down on the site of the Spencer lands of Back, Carrowlumnagh, Caltrahard and Dunlo which had been the property of the O'Kellys and Anthony Brabazon in 1641. No part of the present town is situated on the old townland of Ballinasloe except perhaps Bridge Street. The inquisition in 1607 which defined the County Roscommon, placed the county boundary "through the middle arch of the new bridge in the town of Ballanesloy, including the house or castle of Ballanesloy, and a small island between the house and the middle streame which runneth under the saide bridge," but the people of Bridge Street regard it as traditionally belonging to the parish of Creagh.


Until near the end of the 16th century, the Catholic priests in the diocese of Clonfert held on to their beneficies and churches in spite of the Reform, but by 1615 they had been deprived of them by the established church and, with the exception of short periods about 1641 and before the battle of Aughrim, the Catholic population of these parishes would have had no public place of worship. A tree in the fields in Garbally where Mass was said is still pointed out by the people and there is a tradition that a priest was shot at the altar by a soldier while celebrating Mass at the Well of Tobergrellan. In the Creagh parish Mass was said in a hut at Loughil, where the wife of Anthony Brabazon was said to hear it. There is no record of even the name of a priest of Kilclooney or Creagh during that century. The earliest record of the kind which we have is from the compulsory registration of parish priests under a penal law in 1704. The two priests in Kilclooney and Creagh then were Teige Kelly, who lived at Killeen, and Thady Kelly, who lived in Corhine, at both of which places were O'Kelly families of the old Clonmacnoon stock. Both were at the time fifty years of age and had been ordained at Creggin in the Slieve Aughty Mountains by Bishop Keogh in 1681. The two parishes were then united, the separate registration of the priests being to defeat another penal law forbidding the employment of a curate. The only other priest of that century whose name survives was the Rev. Thomas Kenney, who died on May 7th, 1792. His tombstone lying before the high altar of the old church in Creagh, was erected by his successor, the Rev. Garrett Lorcan.

A "Mass-house" for the parish of Kilclooney was erected near Tobargrellan in 1729 and portion of the ruins still exist in the yard of Mr. Ward's house in Knocknagreena. The old church in Creagh in the lower cemetery where Father Kenney is buried, dates to the same century and was in use until 1824. In it was a stone altar bearing the inscription: "Pray for M. Anthony and Mrs. Catherine Brabazon, who caused this altar to be erected April 2nd, 1756."

The penal laws fell into disuse or were partially relaxed during the second half of that century, but the fear of their resumption lived on and it was not until 1791 that a parish register was kept. [18] [19]


Throughout these centuries the language of the majority was Irish; that of the ascendancy English, while a working knowledge of Irish must have been common to all. Education for Catholics was provided by the so-called hedge-schools and doubtless Protestants ran private schools for their children. Hely Dutton speaks of the Latin schools which gave a good education until the seventeen-sixties, but which, in his time, had almost disappeared. During the first half of the 18th century it was in fear and trembling that the Catholics provided schooling for their families. There was a price on the schoolmaster’s head. The old Irish schools of poetry and law, hereditary in certain families, were swept away in the seventeenth century, and with them more or less disappeared the written Irish tradition, but the oral tradition remained. The MacEgan School of Duniry was wiped out about 1600 but we find their most treasured possession, the Leabhar Breac, as well as the Book of Hy Many in the care of Edmund O'Kelly of Castlepark (Tonelig) in Creagh about 1730, showing that some of the Irish landowners had not yet forgotten their heritage.


The growth of the town is bound up with the story of the Trench (La Tranche) family. Of Huguenot extraction, they reached Ireland via Northumberland, the first to settle being James Trench, who married the daughter of Viscount Montgomery of the Ardes in 1605 and became rector of Clongell in County Meath. Through the purchase of land in County Cavan he acquired some wealth which he bequeathed to his only child, Anne. She married her cousin, Frederick, and after the Cromwellian settlement, he purchased Garbally from Colonel Carey Dillon, who had replaced the Cromwellian grantee by certificate of the Court of Claims. Frederick died in 1669 and his son—Frederick also—made further purchases of lands in Grange, Kilclooney., Liscappel, Loughbown, Derrawillen and elsewhere in Counties Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Westmeath. Father, son and grandson speculated in land at a time when it might be bought for as little as two-and-sixpence per acre, and soon Frederick Trench found himself in possession of a substantial estate. His brother, [18] John, was a Protestant clergyman. Their great opportunity came during the Williamite war. John had been acting as a spy, even crossing to England in 1690 in an open boat to report on the condition of the Jacobites. It was a stroke of fate that the line of retreat from Athlone lay through Ballinasloe and that the battle of Aughrim was fought in sight of the hills of Garbally. Frederick Trench, according to the family tradition, threw open his house as a hospital to the Williamites, and he and John gave active assistance on the day of the battle, pointing out the pass where the Williamites were enabled to attack the left flank of the Irish Army. For his services John was made dean of Raphoe. Such lands as were confiscated as a result of that defeat—about 200 acres—in the parish of Kilclooney were bought by Frederick for seventy pounds at the Chichester House sales in 1703, while for £2,336 he bought the forfeited estate of the Jacobite Judge Martin of Galway, lying about Woodlawn and Kilconnell. This latter was to become the patrimony of the Barons Ashtown, descendants of John Trench, dean of Raphoe.

Frederick Trench died in 1704 to be succeeded by his son, Frederick, who became successively High Sheriff of County Galway, Colonel Commandant of a regiment of military dragoons there and a Knight of the Shire until his death in 1752. His son, Richard, had already since 1734 sat in Parliament for the Borough of Banagher and from 1761 to 1768 was a Knight of the Shire for County Galway. He married in 1732 Francis, only daughter of David Power of Coorheen and by her the Trench family acquired all the Power estates in the Baronies of Leitrim, Dunkellin and Loughrea as well as the Keating estates in Kilkenny, Carlow and Dublin, which she inherited from her mother. The Power alliance was of great consequence to the Trenches, for in addition to the vast increase in. wealth, it brought them ancient titles to Norman and Irish nobility. The father of Francis Power was a descendant of the Norman, Sir Geoffrey Le Poer of Dunisle in County Cork and her mother was descended from a sister of Donough, second Earl of Clancarty, son of Cormac MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, who in turn was a descendant of Dermot Mac Carthy Mór, King of Munster. Donough MacCarthy was outlawed and deprived of his titles at the time of Charles II. On their slender connection with him the Earldom of Clancarty was regranted to the Trench family at the Union. [20] Richard's son, William Trench, followed somewhat the same career as his father. He was Commandant of the Galway regiment of militia, which opposed the French landing at Bantry in 1797 and carried out dreadful reprisals in West Mayo after the failure of the Humbert expedition to Killala in 1798. Sitting in Parliament until 1797, he voted first with the Whigs, but came over to Pitt about 1791. In 1797 he was created Baron Kilconnell of Garbally as a reward for his services. His son, Richard, a graduate of Cambridge and a barrister, became M.P. for County Galway in 1797 and married Harriets Staples, a relative of Castlereagh. He voted against the Union in 1799, but in 1800 he voted for it, influenced, it was said, by Castlereagh. An Earldom was the price paid for this sale of his country's legislative independence.

Thus within two hundred years did the family which began with the humble parson of Clongell reach the highest ranks of the Peerage. This they achieved through easy acquisition of confiscated lands, judicious marriage alliances, indifference to their country's welfare and indeed to some extent by chance. The Cromwellian confiscation gave them their first opportunity. Their adherence to the Williamite cause gained them preferment. Frances Power of Coorheen brought them wealth and a semblance of ancient nobility, while their alliance with Castlereagh and their betrayal at the Union gained them an Earldom.


In the 18th century when almost the whole of Kilclooney parish and a large portion of Creagh were in the hands of the Trench family, the present town was laid down on the townlands of Back, Carrowlumnagh, Caltrahard and Dunlo, the greater part of which is now known as Townparks. According to tradition Main Street became the first built-up area, but during the greater part of the century the town was small on the Galway side and crept out gradually from the river. The old mail coach road forded the river from Bridge Street to St. Michael's Church, the bridge at the point being possibly too narrow for these vehicles. The old Kilconnell road ran through Garbally, crossing (he present broad walk near [21] the garden. The Ahascragh road did not exist. The Cleaghmore road ran from Dunlo Hill past the Garbally gate and the upper end of Mountpleasant and must have followed the Ester to Kilclooney. Much of that esker disappeared later in the building of the railway. That the Trenches controlled building is clear enough from the wide straight streets which now exist.

Great encouragement was given to die linen industry about the middle of the century, and Frederick Trench published the following notice in Pue’s Occurrences in 1747:—'"To be let for three lives from the first day of May next, several plots in the town of Ballinasloe in the County of Galway, with a sufficient number of acres near said town very convenient for parks to said plots: and also for any term not exceeding 35 years the lands of Drumsule within half a mile of said town, containing about 400 acres, and the lands of Cloonlongfield within three miles of said town for any term not exceeding 20 years, very convenient to persons inclined to carry on the linen or woollen manufacture in said town of Ballinasloe, who may want land in the farming way."

At a somewhat later date leases for lives renewable forever were given to those who undertook to build houses of good quality in the town, the happy results of which are still to be seen, but the general unkempt condition of the streets which was a common feature of other towns in the West during that century, was not rectified until after the year eighteen hundred.

Few details have survived of amusements and social life in the town at the time. Shortly before 1742 a new racecourse was established near Ballinasloe, and a County Galway Plate was given by the Sheriff and Justices of the Peace of the county to be run for on Tuesday, October 19th, in that year. It was confined to inhabitants of Galway or any county putting up a like plate. Nine stone was the limit. On Wednesday a purse of £20 was run for, ten stone being the limit and on Thursday a purse of £25 and 12 stone the limit. A guinea was the entrance fee on the two first days, and a moydore on the third "and no scrub admitted"! There were balls and entertainments for the ladies on the three nights. (The moydore of Portugal was worth £1 10s. The casual use of the [22] term is a reminder of the direct intercourse with the Continent at a time when the Catholic gentry of the county commonly sent their sons there to be educated for the priesthood and foreign service).

The hotels were concentrated near the river, showing that it was then the centre of the town. There is mention of Corbett's hotel where Wolfe Tone stayed towards the end of the century and Cuffe's hotel near the bridge at a later date. When Dean Swift passed through the town in the early part of the century he stayed at the Sign of the Cock and Hen. This may have been at Mr. Deane's house in Bridge Street where this sign was displayed until recently.

Chapter IV Nineteenth Century Institutions


There is no patent and no record of the origin of the Great October Fair other than that a century and a half ago it was the common opinion that it grew up as a result of the provision trade at the Port of Galway in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. For this Ballinasloe provided a convenient centre for the purchase and sale of cattle from Leinster and North Connacht. In 1757 Frederick Trench received patents for fairs on 15th May and 13th July, but the October Fair was in existence long before the Trenches purchased the ground on which it was held. They did, however, play a large part in its development in later times.

About the year 1730 a movement towards pasture took shape in Ireland and graziers began to consolidate holdings. Until 1785 pasture predominated as the source of export trade and about the middle of the century threatened to oust corn growing altogether. From 1785 on, however, the value of cereals exported began to be an important item and continued so until the famine. The reasons for increased pasture were frequent wars and disease among cattle on the Continent. England's wheat export was helped by bounties, whereas Irish wheat was hampered by duties. In 1735 pasture land was exempted from tithes. Catholics could not take long leases, therefore pasture with short-period outlays and quick returns suited them.

Farmers were prosperous between 1770 and 1776, but an alarming fall in prices then set in and cattle prices in 1779 had decreased fifty per cent. For twenty years before the Union Ireland's prosperity increased enormously. There was a large increase in tillage at the expense of sheep fanning because mutton could not be salted for the provision trade. The modern livestock trade with England dates from 1785.

There are figures published for the Ballinasloe Fair from 1790, but long before this it was the principal cattle and sheep mart of these islands, a source of great revenue to the Trench family and enjoyed a European reputation. In the years before the Union the number of cattle which changed hands [24] there annually varied from 7,782 in 1790 to 5,100 in 1799 and sheep from 68,095 to 74,175.


As early as 1800 The Farming Society of Ireland was established and held its shows at the October Fair in Ballinasloe and Smithfield Market in Dublin. Its show yard in Ballinasloe was in the premises now occupied by Messrs. Garvey in Main Street and the inscription on a door lintel is still there. Until 1827 it continued to give prizes in the various classes of livestock during the October Fair, and it gives its name to Society Street, where its meetings were field in premises now occupied by the Central Cinema.

The dominant strain of cattle which appeared at Ballinasloe in those days was the long-horn, commonly called "black cattle," divided into the Bakewell or English breed and the old Irish type, the latter being the principal breed up to about 1840. They grew to a great size, but took four or five years to come to perfection. Their hides were of great value, being, when fanned, up to half an inch thick, but they were bad milkers. Lesser breeds were: the old Irish cow of small stature, black or red in colour, long in the back and with moderate sized wide-spreading horns slightly elevated, with a great reputation for milking; secondly, the Kerry cow, and thirdly, the maol, which were dun in colour.

All that and much more is part of the history of Ballinasloe Fair which continued to increase in size until about 1860 or 1870. In 1856 the enormous figure of 20,000 cattle and 99,658 sheep was reached. Afterwards, due to the depression of the late seventies, the increased transport and the establishment of smaller fairs, the Great October Fair became the ghost of its former self. Even so it still remains the greatest fair in Ireland.


In the first half of the nineteenth century the Trench family, now Earls of Clancarty, were at the summit of their power both in wealth and influence. Richard of Union fame became successively Commissioner for the affairs of India, Postmaster General, Master of the Mint and President of the Board of Trade, Ambassador to the Hague (1813-23) and a Plenipotentiary to the Congress of Vienna in 1814. His [25] estates were well managed and grants were given for improvements.

The town of Ballinasloe was growing fast and improving. The population was on the increase. Wakefield, in his survey of 1812, gives a return from the parish priest who had been keeping a register since 1791. Catholic births in that year were 95 but in 1810 had risen to 126. In 1791 the number of Catholic households was 313 and by 1811 there were 401, each household having an average of at least six persons which would give the population figures as 1,878 in 1791 and 2,406 in 1811. To this must be added the Protestant population which was then small. In 1824 the population was 2,843 and by 1831 the town contained 4.615 inhabitants. There were 632 houses, of which 265 had been built in the preceding ten years. Thus the population almost doubled itself in fifty years. Brackernagh was being built in the seven teen-nineties. It was a long low line of thatched houses most of which have since been replaced. As late as 1818 parts of Society Street, Dunlo Street, and St. Michael's Square had not been built up.


During the first half of the nineteenth century the town had made rapid strides towards order and cleanliness under compulsion from the Earl of Clancarty. It was on the whole prosperous and industries were growing. In 1837 there were a flour mill and four oatmeal mills on the river and the corn trade had expanded due to the extension of the Grand Canal to the town in 1828. There were a large coach factory, one for farming implements, two breweries, tanyards, a large bacon-curing establishment and a felt hat manufactory.

Branches of the National Bank, the Bank of Ireland, and the Agricultural and Commercial Bank were established in 1836. During these years also a Loan Fund, begun in 1823, was in existence, having a capital of £1,432. In 1842 it circulated £11,672 in 3,462 loans, clearing a net profit of £130 and expended £120 for charitable purposes.

The limestone quarries were opened in the first quarter of the century and many of the beautiful buildings in the town were built of cut stone from that source. The lunatic asylum for the Province of Connacht, now the Mental Hospital for Counties Galway and Roscommon, was erected in 1833 at a cost of £27,000 and the Union Workhouse in 1841 at a cost of £9,600. Later in the century the Catholic Church of Saint [26] Michael and the Protestant Church of St. John were built of that material. One hundred and fifty stone cutters were employed and the cut stone was exported to England and the United States. In 1865 the O'Connell Statue in Ennis was carved by James Cahill, a pupil of Hogan's, from an eleven and a half ton block from the Ballinasloe quarries. Likewise the Teeling Memorial at Colooney, Co. Sligo; the Manchester Martyrs Memorial at Manchester; Lough Cutra Castle, Gort; Garbally House and Lord Ash town's mansion, Woodlawn; a street of shop fronts in New York; the Ulster Bank, Dame St., Dublin, and many others. This industry flourished until the end of the century, to be revived again in our own time.

A dispensary was in operation in 1824 and continued, but a fever hospital deriving support from voluntary subscription lasted only twelve years.

The Ballinasloe Horticultural Society for the Province of Connacht was founded in 1833 under the patronage of the Earl of Clancarty and held three public shows of fruit, vegetables and flowers in the year.

A market-house built by the Earl was in existence before 1824 and, about 1846 the fine agricultural hall, now known as the Town Hall, was also erected by him.


The Town Commissioners came into being in 1841 and the first meeting was called by order of the Lord Lieutenant at Craig's Hotel on February 22nd of that year. Rear-Admiral William Le Poer Trench was in the chair and the members, included Father Laurence Dillon, P.P.; Rev. Mr. Travers Jones, and representatives of the professional and business interests in the town. Their first responsibility was the public lighting and a gasworks was immediately erected at a cost of £1,421. On March 16th, 1880, Ballinasloe was constituted an Urban Sanitary District and in 1897 the Urban Council was established.


Lewis Topographical Dictionary mentions in 1837 the existence of an agricultural society, formed by the advice and aid of Lord Clancarty, which held its annual meetings in October. Being the first of its kind in Ireland it became the exemplar for the activities of the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland to which it affiliated itself at the establishment of that [27] body in 1841. The Ballinasloe Society had a model farm and a paid agricultural instructor, who went on the farms, gave advice and arranged for grants in aid of improvements. Lord Clancarty had medals struck by William Woodhouse of Dublin which were given as premiums to his tenants for superior farming. One which is extant bears the date 1843. The Ballinasloe Agricultural Society also had a medal struck by the same firm in 1882.


Notable among the various aspects of religious activity during this century was the prolonged struggle that took place between the Catholic authorities and the Trench family concerning religious education in the schools. From about the year 1810 Lord Clancarty had schools in operation throughout his properties for the education of the children of his tenants. They were under Protestant control and the reading of the Bible was included in the programme, while moral compulsion, under veiled threat of eviction, was used to compel the Catholic children to attend. There was no doubt a genuine anxiety on the Earl's part to provide education, but it is also clear from the evidence given before the Devon Commission, the speeches of Richard Lalor Shiel, and from other sources that Protestant indoctrination was an underlying motive. He was aided in his efforts by the Kildare Place Society, the Church Mission Society, and similar bodies. Catholic schools, the so-called "hedge-schools" supported by the people, had been in existence in the parish at least from the later penal times and were availed of by those who dared the landlord's anger. The struggle became acrimonious at times, especially in the year 1826, but the advent of the National Schools finally brought these efforts to an end.

There were at one time four or five of these estate schools in the parish of Ballinasloe. It was in part due to them, but more particularly to the recurrent famines of the early part of the century which were availed of by various proselytizing agencies, popularly known as "soupers," that a small number of the Catholic poor conformed to Protestantism hut recanted when times of stress were over. In the latter part of the century the Trench family showed vigorous opposition to the introduction of the Sisters of Mercy to the town and tenants whose children attended the Convent Schools were compelled to contribute to the support of the Protestant schools. This [28] opposition extended to the Sisters' visitation of the workhouse but eventually, after a struggle, they were placed in charge of the hospital there.

On the material side the Trench family were to their tenants all that landlords of their time could possibly be, and the town was a model of cleanliness and was in the main, prosperous. The anomaly is caustically referred to by Maxwell, himself a Minister of the Established Church, in a phrase that all seemed welcome in Ballinasloe except pigs and Papists. This mentality persisted through the greater part of the century but in the end a more liberal attitude prevailed.

The population of the parish of Creagh in 1834, numbering 3,162 was almost entirely Catholic, there being only 135 Protestants. The parish of Kilclooney, including the town of Ballinasloe, was about one-sixth Protestant, the total standing at 6,842.

In Creagh the old Catholic church of the penal times was replaced by a new one in 1824, which itself has been replaced in our own time. The old church of Ballinasloe was apparently thought inadequate or had fallen into disrepair about the middle of the century, and the building of the present St. Michael's was begun on the same site to the design of McCarthy, revised by Pugin. It was consecrated on August 25th, 1858, in the presence of Cardinal Wiseman of Westminster, die occasion being made the mast notable event in the Catholic history of the parish during that century. Father Dillon was parish priest of Ballinasloe at the time of laying the foundation stone in 1852, but had passed away before its consecration. After his death Creagh and Kilclooney became a mensal parish.

A church on the pre-Reformation site in Creagh was in Protestant use up to 1870 at least, but must have fallen into decay. However, a large edifice with a Doric portico and obelisk-like spire was built on Knockadoon, now Church Hill, about 1811. The spire was later removed and re-erected on the site of the old Clancarty mansion and Tully's castle in Garbally, where it still stands. The church was replaced by the present Gothic church of St. John which, being totally destroyed by fire in 1899, was soon after enlarged and rebuilt.

Chapter V Nineteenth Century Movements


The famine of 1847, the most catastrophic event of the century was severely felt in the parish of Ballinasloe, but not nearly so much as in surrounding areas. In 1841 there were over ten thousand people in the parish, half of whom lived in the town. By 1861 the population had reduced to 7,205, of whom only 3,296 were in the rural area. Three hundred and two families disappeared in those twenty years, but while the population of the town fell from 5,080 to 3,909, the number of houses there increased by thirty-two. Flight from the land aggravated by the clearances on nearby estates, especially on that of Alan Pollock, who is said to have dispossessed a thousand families, contributed to this slight increase, but the birth rate had reached a low figure during the famine and immediately after, and it never recovered fully.

Minutes of the Union Workhouse in Ballinasloe reveal more clearly than any other source the appalling conditions of the time. It was built to accommodate 400 people, but on June 30th, 1849, there were 4,098 inmates and forty-one had died during the previous week. In addition 4,686 people had received relief in their houses. On July 14th, following it housed 4,075 after a week in which forty-five had died and 4,820 had been relieved in their homes. By the following October the numbers had dropped to 1,821 with few deaths, but the census returns for 1851 show that there were 2,487 inmates in the institution.

The town was less affected by the famine than the countryside. Its industries, such as they were, remained intact. Most of the local landowners remained solvent. There were contracts for supplying the institutions, and Ballinasloe Fair, the largest single source of revenue to the town, continued to expand after a temporary setback.


The famine did more than sweep away the flower of the Irish people by death and emigration; it killed their spirit too for a time. After the failure of Young Ireland in 1848 the [30] first stirrings of revival appeared in the foundation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858. Because of its secret nature there have survived few records of its activities of a local kind. There was, however, a live zone of Fenianism about Ballinasloe and in South Roscommon which seems to have centred around the person of one man. Matt Harris (1825-1890) who had settled in Ballinasloe as a building contractor, was in turn Repealer, Young Irelander, Fenian organiser, Land Leaguer, and a member of Parliament for East Galway in 1885. From 1865 to 1880 he was an active Fenian and the representative of the West of Ireland on the Supreme Council of the IRB. In 1880 with Michael Davitt, he was retired from the Supreme Council, and thereafter his energies were devoted primarily to the land struggle which became a constant and pressing problem in those parts for the following twenty years.

On June 10th, 1877 Dr. Duggan, bishop of the diocese, founded the Ballinasloe Total Abstinence Association in which four hundred men of the parish were enrolled in the first four months of its existence. On the initial committee appeared the name of Matt Harris. Not by accident do we find two such men, each having the interests of the people deeply at heart, thus associated. One sought the uplift of the youth of Ballinasloe on moral and social grounds, the other that they might live better service in the struggle for independence. Neither they nor anyone else could have known that within three years all would be faced with a more vital problem in a catastrophe which, were it not for prompt action at home and generous help from abroad, might well have eclipsed the disaster of 1847.


Three generations of people in Ballinasloe had already suffered the horrors of famine in 1792, 1822 and 1847. A fourth generation was suddenly, almost without warning, to be subjected to a fourth famine in the spring of 1880. In spite of the comparative prosperity of the town for over a century, and the exceptional efforts of the Clancarty landowners to better the condition of their tenants, too great a proportion of the people lived under constant threat of starvation. These efforts did not go far enough. The Trenches were exceptional or "improving" landlords only in relation to their time. The evil of tenancy-at-will was ever present and government was indifferent or inept. [31]

For two years before 1879 seasons had been bad and crops destroyed. Prices of stock had been falling. The sudden growth of the American livestock trade had made cattle unsaleable. At the October fair in 1878 52,000 sheep were sold and 6,000 unsold. The following October only 30,000 were sold and at a loss, 15,000 being unsold. The hopes of the people were pinned on the harvest of 1879 and the spring and summer had given fair promise. During the two previous seasons their little savings and saleable produce were used up and now in October, 1879, the harvest of that year lay ruined, not only potatoes but also wheat and oats, by the worst autumn weather in years. Already the cry of famine had gone abroad and it was known that people would die of hunger in the following spring, first having consumed the very seed which was so vital to the success of another harvest. Those to whom the poor might turn in the first instance shirked their natural duty. The truth was they were, many of them, in dire straits themselves. The Poor Law Guardians of Ballinasloe, composed of the landed interests under the chairmanship of the Earl of Clancarty, on July 16th, 1879, struck a poor rate for Creagh for the year ending September, 1880, of 1s. 11d. in the pound. But this time people were not standing by waiting for a repetition of 1847. Various agencies sprang into action, among them the Dublin Mansion House Relief Committee, and the Duchess of Marlborough Relief Fund, both of which distributed funds received from all over the world. Money poured in from America through the bishop of the diocese. The returns of those two Societies show the extent of the damage in Ballinasloe. The Mansion House Committee reported 1,200 in the parish depending almost entirely on external aid and from January to August 1880, gave £470 in grants. The Marlborough Fund was organised by Unions and Dispensary Districts so that the state of the two parishes cannot be precisely ascertained from their minutes. However, in Ballinasloe and Creagh Dispensary Districts, they distributed 23 tons of meal at a cost of £230, to 808 families comprising 3,218 individuals as well as clothes and blankets to a smaller number. In addition 434 families received each 1½ or 2 cwls. of seed potatoes to sow the crop for the coming year. These figures of relief seem small by comparison with the distress, but they represent a fraction only of the total relief which came also from private sources and from abroad. The Mansion House figures of the destitute in Ballinasloe [32] were the same as those for Loughrea, but it was given in evidence before the Times Commission that £8,000 or £9,000 —a large sum in those days—was distributed in the latter area by a local committee under the chairmanship of the bishop, Dr, Duggan. Something similar which is not recorded must have happened in Ballinasloe, and by the end of 1880 the threat of starvation had been met and overcome.


Almost as a direct consequence of this famine, a movement sprang into being which was to draw to itself all the vigorous fighting elements with a national outlook in the country. Physical force men, parliamentarians, social reformers, and the tenant farmers, whose homes and farms were in jeopardy, all rallied to the Land League standard. There had been some sort of tenants' association since the worthlessness of the Land Act of 1870 had become apparent. In Dublin there was the Central Tenants' Defence Association, but T. P. O'Connor wrote: "there was also a local organisation which subsequently, perhaps, did more than any other to beget the Land League; this was the Tenants' Defence Association of Ballinasloe. The foremost figure of this Association was a man named Matthew Harris." The Land League, however was primarily the brain-child of Michael Davitt, the basis of his New Departure being the idea that there was only one common ground on which Home Rulers and Nationalists of every shade of opinion could unite and that was the question of land. He was ably supported in this by John Devoy, "the greatest Fenian of them all," who, at a meeting of the Supreme Council of the IRB in Paris in January 1879, lent hit influence to prevent an official pronouncement against Fenian support of the New Departure. Davitt launched his movement on April 20th, 1879, at Irishtown, in County Mayo. In that spring, Devoy, already legally exiled from Ireland, secretly visited the West. When we remember that Davitt and Harris were together "pushed" off the Supreme Council of the IRB in 1880, we can visualize the close collusion between these three, and the early connection of the Ballinasloe area with what was to become the greatest upheaval of that century. This was nothing less than a social revolution, the complete transference of ownership of the land of Ireland. Almost a hundred years before Ballinasloe had been the venue for an alliance of a different kind. Wolfe Tone met the gentry of [33 ] Connacht there in October, 1792, and secured their support for the Catholic Committee, which had for its object the repeal of the penal laws.


Towards the end of 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was established and was immediately taken up in East Galway. By 1886 several clubs were affiliated to the Association, but there is no mention of Ballinasloe, probably for the reason that so far the emphasis was on hurling and Ballinasloe was not a hurling area. After the enthusiasm of the first years there was a decline of interest due largely to a division within the movement resulting in a reconstitution in 1888. The re-established Association, although commanding the allegiance of few counties, was strongly manned by members of the IRB. A Galway man became President in 1889 at a convention in which Galway was one of the seven counties represented. By that time Ballinasloe had a football club with J. F. Gibney as captain, and the barony representative on the county committee was Thomas Claffey in 1889 and P. D. Brennan in 1890, both of Ballinasloe. Despite an overall decline in the Association in those years the Galway county branch showed an expansion and was markedly political in tone. Many of the officers were Fenians working hand in hand with the National League, the successor of the Land League. It was inevitable that the Parnell crisis in 1891 should thoroughly disorganize the Association, but the Galway county football championship was played and Ballinasloe competed, meeting Mountbellew at Ahascragh, on May 24th. In 1892 P. D. Brennan became assistant county secretary, but the organisation was little more than nominal and no affiliation fee reached the GAA from the West of Ireland in 1893. Signs of revival appeared in 1894 with some Galway clubs beginning to reorganise, and in 1896, with a county committee meeting at Ballinasloe on May 7th, the machinery of the organisation went into regular motion.


The Gaelic Athletic Association had brought a new spirit into Irish life and thereby paved the way for the language revival and the foundation of the Gaelic League in 1893, but to find the beginning of this movement in Ballinasloe we must cross the threshold of the new century. On September 28th, [34] 1902, at a public meeting in the Temperance Hall convened on the initiative of Rev. T. Joyce, a branch of the Gaelic League was formed with Father Joyce as President. Fathers Kelly, Flynn, Brennan, Saunders and Messrs. Manning, Leamy, Guy and O'Carroll were elected Vice-Presidents and Mr. W. P. Ward, Secretary, At a further meeting in November the title of Craobh Ghrealláin, Beál Átha na Sluaigheadh was adopted for the branch. From the outset a threefold programme was laid down: the spread of the Irish language by every possible means, the fostering of Irish games and the encouragement of Irish music.

The story of Ballinasloe has thus been brought into the range of living memory and to the beginning of a chapter as yet unfinished. A pattern has been woven out of many aspects of life there over a long period of fourteen hundred years. Not all the threads have been taken up—such would have been impossible in so limited a space—but enough to show that in the story of just one town and one parish will be found a cross section of the many movements, vicissitudes and achievements which are the materials of our country's history.

PLACES OF INTEREST In and About Ballinasloe.

BALLINASLOE CASTLE. Commanding the bridge, built probably by Teigh O'Kelly in 14th century. Held by Earl of Clanrickard in 16th century. Taken over and put in defence by Queen Elizabeth in same century and occupied by Anthony Brabazon, Governor of Connacht. Fell to Ireton in Cromwellian wars. Only the curtain walls and one tower remaining. Portion of bridge dates from 16th century. Built by Elizabeth 'at our own charge.'

ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCH. Built 1852-58 on site of Castle of Dunlo to design of McCarthy, revised by Pugin. Much admired. High altar with figure of The Dead Christ by Albert Power. Tabernacle door in gold, silver and enamels by Mia Cranwell. Subject, Christ at Emmaus. Magnificent example of modern Irish metalwork. Stained-glass window and painting of Holy Trinity over chancel arch by Harry Clark.

GARBALLY PARK. Formerly seat of Earls of Clancarty. Now St. Joseph's College, seminary of diocese of Clonfert. Late Georgian mansion (1824). Contains fine ceilings and mantelpieces, some contemporary paintings (Italian School), collection of modern Irish paintings, medieval church vestments, fine library including some rare boots, and MSS. Statue (outdoor) in limestone of St. Joseph and Child Jesus as well as altars in chapel by Albert Power. The Broad Walk, a half-mile long avenue with its terrace, obelisk (dating from 1811) and age-old yew trees is worth a visit.

BATTLEFIELD OF AUGHRIM. (5 miles on Loughrea-Galway road) Aughrim (with Clontarf and Kinsale) one of the three decisive battles of Irish history. Also had European repercussions. Fought on 12th July. 1691, between armies of William of Orange and King James II. England. Forces on either side numbered about 20,000. In three hours' fighting, the Jacobites, after a near victory, were, by the loss of their leader, St. Ruth, and other circumstances, suddenly defeated and forced to retire on Limerick and Galway. Driving into the village of Aughrim one passes first over the ridge where the Williamites were drawn up. Facing one is the ridge of Kilcommedan which the Jacobites held with their left flank on the village of Aughrim. Between is the bog where the battle was joined and the road passes over the causeway towards the castle (in ruins on the right) where the Williamites forced the crossing.

Literature: Hayes-McCoy, The Battle of Aughrim, in Jnl. Galway Arch. and Hist. Society, vol. 20 (1942), p. 1.

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