Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in Feb/Mar 2015 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
As you walk from Main Street across the bridge towards River Street you may notice on the left-hand parapet a crow’s foot sapper’s mark surmounting a blue-painted metal stud. It tells you that you are entering the parish of Creagh. Once upon a time, before the 1898 Local Government Reform Act, it also indicated the Galway- Roscommon border that ran down the centre steam of the Suck.
Creagh parish is thought to date back to the 1152 Synod of Kells. It’s not known when precisely it was amalgamated with Kilclooney to form the united parish of Ballinasloe, but the general belief is that this occurred in the early part of the eighteenth century. Extending east as far as Cranberry Lough in Castlepark, Creagh consists of thirty-seven townlands, four of which are separated from the rest, being surrounded by the parish of Moore, and comprising of Culliaghbeg, Coolderry, Cloonbrack and Gortnasharvoge. (The latter name is intriguing, meaning ‘’the field of the sour-faced woman’’).
The parish covers an area of 8,867 acres, making it 1,578 acres larger than Kilclooney. It’s possible that the town might have been called Creagh, because it grew from humble beginnings in River Street, which boasts the oldest inhabited buildings in Ballinasloe, including those stone-fronted houses dating from the early 1700’s opposite Joe Murray’s.
As St. Paul said of Tarsus, Creagh is ‘’no mean city’’, for it has bred notable sportsmen in the persons of ‘’Black’’ Jack Donnellan and Séan Meade, to mention just two, while back in the nineteenth century John O’Connor Power from Ballygill went on to become a celebrated orator and parliamentarian. Creagh’s fame has apparently spread abroad if the following is anything to go by: the late English-born author Robert Russ, who achieved popular literary renown with his series of seafaring novels written under the pen-name of Patrick O’Brien, fraudulently claimed the parish as his birthplace. Seemingly he reckoned Creagh was a good place to say you come from.
Declan Kelly’s latest publication is subtitled “A personal and historical reflection on Creagh National School and District”. It is, though, much more than that. What we have here is an exhaustive history of the school in its three successive locations, a list of enrolments from 1871 to 1911, pen pictures of the principal teachers, plus the reminiscences of several past pupils. Painstakingly researched, the volume is profusely illustrated and carefully annotated, complete with a bibliography; features not always found in books of this sort.
If we revert to the pre-1898 county boundary, Creagh National School is reputed to be the largest primary school in Roscommon, and in this publication it can be truthfully said that full justice has been done to the institution’s long history and its formative influence on so many generations of pupils. The text is skilfully interspersed with entertaining digressions during which the writer brings us on hikes across the river to tell us such interesting things as the story of the devastating gunpowder explosion of 1853 in Dunlo Street and to explain the origins of the nomenclature of the town’s lanes.
To say that reading this book makes for an unalloyed pleasure would be an understatement. It’s more like spending a convivial evening in the company of a knowledgeable friend who constantly enthrals you with the breadth and depth of his learning without ever lapsing into tiresome pedantry. No Creagh household should be without a copy.