Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in Jun/Jul 2015 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
Tracing their origins to the village of La Tranche on the west coast of France north of La Rochelle, the Trenches of Ga rba l ly dominated so many aspects of life in Ballinasloe for over 200 years that a proper understanding of the history of the town is impossible without a knowledge of the family who helped to make it what it is today.
Frederick de la Tranche, a Huguenot (French Protestant) who fled to England to escape religious persecution, settled in Northumberland in 1574. His son James became an Anglican minister and was appointed to a rectory in Co. Meath where he arrived in 1605 and managed to find time from his parochial duties to carry on a lucrative business financing mortgages on land in Co. Cavan. After the Cromwellian Settlement in 1656, Frederick Trench, who was married to his first cousin, a daughter of James, bought Garbally from a Colonel Carey Dillon who had been granted the lands of a dispossessed family called Tully. At some unspecified date the Trench family went to live in Tully’s Castle, a 16’s century tower house whose site is marked by an obelisk. Subsequently a more commodious residence was built nearby which was to remain their home for over a hundred years.
During of the remainder of the 17th century the family made further purchases of land both in the neighbourhood of Garbally Demesne and elsewhere, so that by the early 1700s they had become owners of practically all the land on which the future town of Ballinasloe would be built.
Ballinasloe in the 17th century was a hamlet located in what is now Bridge Street with 36 people recorded as living there in 1656. However, in the course of the following century it gradually assumed the form we are familiar with today, acquiring a population of over 1800 by 1791. The Trenches controlled building from the start, and the result was the wide, straight streets which now exist. It’s a very much what geographers call an estate town, radically different in its layout from settlements of medieval origin such as Athenry and Loughrea.
While the October Fair had existed long before the Trenches arrived on the scene, it was during the 18th century that it developed into a commercial event of international importance. Since they owned the land on which the fair was held, and had secured charters enabling them to collect tolls on all sales of livestock, the family saw it as being in their interest to encourage and regulate its growth. Moreover, they promoted the establishment of local industries and offered renewable leases to those who undertook to build houses of good quality in the town.
In 1732, Richard Trench married the only daughter of David Power of Coorheen House, Loughrea. Power, who was a descendant of the old Norman family of Le Poer, is remembered in folklore as the sheriff who arrested Dr.Ambrose Madden, Catholic Bishop of Clonfert. Ironically, Coorheen-thought not the original house- is today the residence of the Most Rev. John Kirby, a successor of Dr.Madden. The charms of Power’s daughter Frances had been celebrated in music and Gaelic verse by the eminent harpist and composer Turlough O’Carolan, no doubt after he had been appropriately wined and dined at Coorhen. I make bold to translate the lyrics as follows:
I’d like to speak of a joyous lass
Of her lovely features and noble fame.
In Loughrea town by the placid lake
I bless the day that we chanced to meet.
She’s a spirited lass who’s wild yet gifted,
She’s Ireland’s darling, the jewel in its crown.
So raise up your tankards-
A toast to the lady!
To Fanny, the daughter of David!
See her now like a swan by the take
Where many a lad has drowned for her love;