Written by Declan Kelly (Originally Published in Oct/Nov 2015 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
As Ballinasloe Town Hall celebrates its 170th anniversary this year, Declan Kelly reflects on some aspects of the history of this building which has been at various times an Agricultural Hall, a theatre, a schoolhouse and a cinema and which remains at the heart of the local cultural life.
On the 10th May 1844, many of Ballinasloe`s movers and shakers met “for the purpose of adopting such measures as might secure for that town the exhibition of the Royal Agricultural Improvement Society for 1845
The Hon Robert le Poer Trench, Chairman, noted that a pivotal part of that proposal was the erection of suitable accommodation for banqueting. ￡2,000 for the building of this structure would be raised through the sale of ￡5 shares. among the local luminaries present were coach-builder Thomas Cochrane, Joshua Gill (who opened Gill`s, now Hayden`s, Hotel in 1833) and Dr William Colohan. The foundation stone for the new hall was laid by Robert Dillon, third Baron Clonbrock on Monday 30th September 1844.
The hall was formally opened on 30th September 1845 for the annual cattle show and was, said the correspondent for The Nation newspaper, the “most striking feature of any within the enclosure”. The banqueting hall (measuring 111 feet by 45 feet) ran almost the entire length of the building with “light, gracefully constructed galleries for ladies” which were said to be capable of holding up to 200 persons. There were five magnificent chandeliers with 27 burners and 80 gas lights. In addition it had two committee rooms, kitchens at the rear, pantries and a cellar. The grand banquet was held the following evening with 600 guests among whom were the Duke of Leinster, Lord Clanricarde, Lord Castlemaine and the Earl of Devon while the band of the 32nd Regiment provided musical entertainment. Lord Clancarty responded graciously to the praise lavished on him from all sides observing on his own activities that “the landlord who can bring about so happy a change, is not without reward”. Those present were blithely oblivious to the fact that Ireland was on the brink of a national calamity and only three years later Clancarty would sell to the Board of Guardians the area now known as Bullies Acre as a burial ground for victims of the Famine.
By July 1888, Matt Harris MP was raising in the House of Commons the question of the provision of a suitable Town Hall for Ballinasloe and requesting that the Local Government Board assist the inhabitants in securing the Agricultural Hall for this purpose given that the occupying tenant, merchant Junius Horne, was amenable to such a proposal. It would not be until late 1912, however, that work began on converting it to a parochial hall under the watchful eye of parish administrator Fr Timothy Joyce. This renovation re-configured the interior of the hall for public concerts, adding meeting rooms for the Temperance Society. Ballinasloe Town Hall was opened on Monday 15th April 1913 with the bishop of Clonfert Dr Thomas Gilmartin declaring that its purpose was “to promote the temporal welfare and happiness of the social body”.
As it perhaps does still in a way today!