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!
Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in Aug/Sept 2015 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
Prior to the construction of the new motorway, a discovery of immense significance was made by archaeologists in April 2007 in the townland of Kilbegly in the parish of Moore, two and a half miles east of Ballinasloe.
What they unearthed were the exceptionally wellpreserved remains of the lower structure of a horizontal mill, dating from between the mid-seventh and the late eighth centuries. The site was about 300 yards southwest of Kilbegly churchyard which contains the ruins of a medical church and is surrounded by a large, circular earth and stone bank, probably contemporaneous with the mill.
This type of corn mill was a Roman invention introduced into Ireland some 1,400 years ago, most likely from France or Spain. Nancy Edwards in The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland writes: “The horizontal mill mechanism was housed in a two-storey wheelhouse which was usually constructed of wood. In the lower wheelhouse was the horizontal millwheel with its slightly dished wooden paddles. The water supply, which was usually diverted from a nearby stream, was conducted along a millrace which could be closed off with sluice gates when the mill was not in use. The water was then channelled along a wooden flume or chute and was directed onto the millwheel paddles with sufficient force to allow the wheel to turn.’’
‘’The turning of the wheel also turned the shaft attached to it which projected through the ceiling into the upper storey where the millstones were housed. The top of the shaft was attached to the upper millstone, which therefore turned when the millwheel turned, while the lower millstone remained stationary. The grain was ground by dropping it into a central hole in the upper millstone, possibly from a hopper, and the flour collected on the floor round the millstones.”
Jerry O’ Sullivan, archaeologist with the National Roads Authority, has been quoted as saying that Kilbegly is one of only a handful of excavated mill sites in Ireland at present and is thought to be one of the best kept in Europe. He believes it to be virtually unique because the parts were in such an excellent state of preservation.
After the mill was abandoned it quickly became immersed in peat. This prevented the timber from being colonised by insects and fungi, thus arresting the normal decay process that would otherwise have destroyed the mill timbers within a few years. Post-and-wattle millraces, a millpond, the near complete remains of the lower floor, a flume and a large tailrace have all survived.
Mr O’ Sullivan is convinced that the people who built and operated the mill were very sophisticated i their approach to generating water power. They had an excellent understanding of basic engineering that is reflected in their use of the terrain, the natural hydrology, and their skill with timber-built structures.
For example, the mill was certainly built by professional millwrights who could cut, shape and join large timbers to create a robust structure capable of withstanding all the pressures of a dynamic mechanical and hydraulic environment.
The main surviving element of the mill is the under croft or basement level. This had to support the mill house overhead (this did not survive) and also withstand the pressure of water passing through it and the rotation of a heavy millwheel on its axle.
Historically, Kilbegly was on a very ancient route into Connacht and was part of the dispersed estate of Clonmacnoise. The mill, mainly used to process barley, was very likely worked by employees of the monastery.
In 2008 the mill timbers, which required constant watering during excavation once exposed to the air, were sent to York Archaeological Trust where they were scientifically conserved. They were returned to Ireland in 2012 and are currently in storage at the National Museum where they will be curated by the State until they can be put on display in a suitable public venue.
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;
Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in Apr/May 2015 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
A ruined coach-house in Birchgrove is locally the only identifiable memento of a man who was the nineteenth-century counterpart of Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary in as much as he introduced and operated a cut-price, no-frills transport system in the Ireland of this day.
That man was Carlo Bianconi, born in Northern Italy in 1786, small in physical stature but great in business acumen. His family was well-to-do and Carlo was intended for the priesthood. At the age of 16, however, he abandoned formal education and became apprenticed to Andrea Faroni, a dealer in prints.
In 1802, Bianconi and his master arrived in Dublin where they set up shop selling cheap religious images and topical prints. Eventually Faroni returned to Italy, leaving Bianconi behind to travel about the country peddling his wares.
Deciding that the life of an itinerant salesman was not for him, in 1806 he opened for business in Carrick-on-Suir as a carver and gilder, later moving to Waterford and finally establishing himself in Clonmel, which was to remain his home and the hub of his transport empire for over half a century. Having tried his hand at the bullion trade, the buying of gold to pay the armies engaged in the last phases of the struggle against Napoleon, in July 1815 Bianconi launched the enterprise that would make his name and fortune.
Tramping the roads of Ireland, he had noticed that the country lacked an inexpensive and reliable passenger service linking rural towns, since most of the public transport that existed was Dublin oriented. The times were auspicious for the venture he had in mind: highway robbery, the bane of the eighteenth-century travellers, had at least been stamped out; a new carriage tax threw many side-cars on the market; and the ending of the Napoleonic wars made available a great number of first-rate, ex-army horses at cheap prices.
The initial route he operated was between Clonmel and Cahir with a one-horse, two-wheeled car. Business prospered, and by 1825 his cars were covering over 1,000 miles of roads each day, linking the principal towns of south Leinster and east Munster. By 1831, his cars were running to Ballinasloe, calling daily on weekdays at Gill’s (now Hayden’s) Hotel on Dunlo Street. Horses were changed in the Mail Coach Yard at the back of Main Street, accessed through Iver’s Lane beside John Wood’s.
Bianconi’s two-wheelers were known as ‘’Massey Dawsons’’, but the vehicle most associated with his name was the long car of ‘’Finn McCool’’, colloquially referred to as a ‘’Bian’’. This was basically a four-wheeled, elongated side-car drawn by a team of four horses. Passengers sat back-to-back on horsehair cushions facing the hedgerows. Since the cars were open to the elements, a lengthy journey in the cold and rain cannot have been a pleasant experience, though in wet weather a car was never allowed to go more than two stages without changing the cushions, and passengers were also able to protect themselves to some extent with heavy waterproof aprons which could be drawn up to the chin.
Although Bianconi was in time to operate some coaches on his routes, his open cars remained the main basis of his business, and he eventually had 100 vehicles travelling 3,800 miles a day calling at 120 towns, and 140 stations for changing horses.
Bianconi took great care of his horses but never overpaid his drivers, who received no more than the basic rate irrespective of length of service. He knew, of course, that they supplemented their income with tips from passengers and by charging fees for luggage which they pocketed themselves.
The advent of the railways did not, as might be thought, immediately sound the death knell of his business, for he turned the railways to his advantage by restructuring his route system to operate at right angles to the stations served by the trains. He thus complemented the railways by carrying passengers to and from those stations.
Nine years before Carlo Bianconi’s death in 1875, he decided to break up his coaching business and sell it on favourable terms to his agents and employees.
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.
Written by Conor Finnerty (Originally Published in Dec '14 - Jan '15 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
Ada English: Patriot And Psychiatrist
by Dr. Brendan Kelly.
Published by Irish Academic Press.
It has lately been remarked that among the beneficial effects of the present decade of centenary commemorations is the incentive it gives historians to produce biographies of some of the minor players in the events that led to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. Ada English was one such player, and in Dr. Brendan Kelly she has found a biographer whose present work is scholarly and meticulously referenced yet eminently readable.
Born in Caherciveen, County Kerry, in 1875, English grew up in Mullingar where she attended the Loreto Convent Secondary School. A 1903 graduate of the Catholic University School of Medicine, Dublin, she was appointed the following year to the post of second assistant medical officer in Ballinasloe Lunatic Asylum, as the Mental Hospital was then known. Having development advanced nationalist view, she was instrumental in setting up a branch of Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin in the town in 1910. Later she joined both Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan, and may have acted as a medical officer to the Volunteers during 1916 Rising in County Galway.
Arrested in 1921, she was sentenced to a term of imprisonment in Galway Jail for possession of criminating documents. Following her release, she was elected unopposed to the Second Dáil where she spoke eloquently and forcefully against the adoption of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It would seem that she played at least a peripheral role in the ranks of the Irregulars during the fighting in Dublin when the Four Courts were attacked by the Free State Army at the start of the Civil War. She was not, however, among the over 400 Republican women later interned for militant opposition to the Government. Thereafter her political involvement was marginal or non-existent.
English is credited with introducing occupational therapy in the Mental Hospital, and soon came to be regarded as a doctor with enlightened views on the treatment of psychiatric illness. In the late 1930s she is said to have promoted Cardiazol therapy for schizophrenia whereby patients were subjected to chemically-induced convulsions. This method was quickly superseded by electroconvulsive therapy. Eventually appointed resident medical superintendent in June 1941, she retired in August of the following year and died in 1944.
Any potential biographer of Ada English would be confronted with formidable difficulties. She never wrote her memoirs nor, as far as if known, kept a diary. Her personal papers have disappeared. Contemporaries who would have known her well are no longer with us. Like so many of her generation, she was revolutionary rather than a politician, and never attained public office through a popular vote. Her brief term as a T.D. ended in electoral defeat after just twelve months. Consequently she didn’t have to undergo the constant scrutiny that people who make a career in the hurly-burly of parliamentary life are forced to endure. Given these circumstances, it is understandable that the Ada English who emerges from these pages remains, unfortunately, a shadowy figure. All too often the writer is obliged to resort to conjecture or to rely on uncorroborated assertions whose veracity cannot be tested. The result is that significant events in the subject’s life, as well as aspects of her character, are frequently shrouded in obscurity. One episode, not related by Dr. Kelly, will suffice to illustrate this point.
Facilitated by the absence of a statutory police force, combined with a dearth of responsible leadership at local level, the anti-Treaty I.R.A. conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against members of the Protestant community in Ballinasloe during May and June of 1922, in the course of which many were hounded from their homes and businesses, some never to return. Political figures on both sides of the Treaty debate roundly condemned this outbreak of criminality, yet English, who at the time was a sitting T.D. hoping to retain her seat in the Pact Election, remained tight-lipped about what was happening, and never subsequently repudiated the sectarian thuggery, of her associates. It would be futile to speculate on the reasons for her silence, a silence that, on the face of it, reflects little credit on a woman described in this biography as a persona of “human and compassionate spirit”.
The author has fleshed out his narrative with fascinating short biographies of four of Ada English’s coevals, all female medical doctors, whose careers and preoccupations ran parallel in many ways to those of his main subject.
Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in Oct/Nov 2014 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
In 1760 a Catholic Committee was formed to lobby for the relaxation of the Penal Laws that had been a source of grievance amongst Irish Catholics since the beginning of the century. After three decades, however, the Committee’s efforts had met with only modest success, and in 1792 it was decided to summon a Catholic Convention for December of that year in the hope that a heavy weight deputation would be appointed to directly petition King George III and the British Parliament to grant full emancipation.
A difficulty in the way of convening a truly representative gathering was that the Catholic gentry of Galway and Mayo were standing aloof, and so the Committee was decided to send two of the most active members, Theobald Wolfe Tone, father of Irish republicanism, and his friend, Thomas Braughall, on a mission to persuade the Connacht aristocracy to fall into line. Braughall was a 63-year-old prosperous Dublin merchant, well-educated and something of an intellectual, at whose house in Eccles Street Tone was a frequent dinner guest.
Then, as now, important and influential people congregated in Ballinasloe during the October Fair Week, and this was to be the destination of the two friends who set from Dublin in a post chaise (a light carriage used for private hire) at 8 o’clock on the evening of Friday 5th of October 1792, Tone having taken the precaution of loading and packing his pistols in anticipation of trouble. He hadn’t long to wait, for near the Phoenix Park Gate they were held up by three highway men who backed off when Tone decided to face them down, which he successfully did without having to fire a shot.
A further adventure was in store for the travellers. The roads were in dreadful condition after weeks of torrential rain, and their chaise broke down in Kinnegad at 3 o’clock in the morning. Tone’s clothes and person got thoroughly bedaubed with grease and mud when he was obliged to act as a human jack while a wheel was being changed.
Following a four-hour rest, they resumed their journey and arrived in Ballinasloe late on Saturday. Accommodation was at a premium because of the fair, and it was only with great difficulty that they secured lodgings. Tone was in a foul mood after the trip and found nothing to his taste: the food was bad, the wine poisonous, and his bed “execrable”. He passed an uncomfortable night in a poky room without a window or a fireplace, and to add to his torments someone upstairs continued to play the bagpipes throughout the hours of darkness, a drunken party in an adjoining room never left off singing, while a couple of stentorian snorers outside his door contributed to their general cacophony.
Sunday’s breakfast consisted of fried steak smothered in onions, which produced a predictable and audible effect on Tone’s digestive system. The parish priest, Fr. Larkin, drew his ire by failing to arrange for anyone to meet himself and Braughall. Eventually they made contact with two men who promised to set up a meeting with some Mayo people after 12 o’clock Mass. Shortly an invitation arrived to dine with the Catholic gentry, whose after-dinner horsey conversation Tone was to find insufferably boring.
Moreover, he entertained grave misgivings about the effectiveness of both his own and his companion’s oratorical performance on the occasion. Nevertheless, their hearers were swayed by the arguments of the two Dubliners and agreed to nominate Sir Thomas French ad Christopher Bellew as delegates to the Convention.
Much to Tone’s displeasure, more steak and onions was served for breakfast on the Monday morning. He went out to see the fair and declared it to be “the greatest cattle fair in Europe except for one in Hungary” and “was glad to have seen it as a matter of curiosity, but on the whole disappointed, as every man will be who expects extravagantly”. About 70,000 sheep had been sold, though “it was thin fair for cattle, but with smart prices”.
Next day he was presented with the bill for the use of his room – food and drinks were extra – which came to one guinea. Tone reckoned he had been ripped off, but for the want of transport they had to stay put until the morrow, hoping to get seats in the mail coach due at noon on Wednesday. To while away the time they took a walk around the town, Tone acting as a crutch to Braughall who was lame. Luckily the coach arrived empty. Greatly relieved, they occupied their places and set off. After an uneventful journey they reached Dublin at 9 o’clock the following morning.
Their mission had been a success, tough Tone was scarcely cheered by the result. One of his biographers has described his dyspeptic comments as reflecting “the narrowness of his eastern, urbanised experience”. Incidentally, a plaque on a house at the end of the Main Street, opposite the Bank of Ireland, inaccurately gives the date of his sojourn as 1796. It’s unclear how this building, identified as Cuff’s hotel, came to be associated with Tone’s visit since he never specified any inn or hotel in his diary, apart from his landlady as Miss Colohan.
Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in Aug/Sept 2014 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
Unquestionably the most important archaeological excavation ever carried out in this parish was that undertaken at the Mackney ringfort in 2006 prior to the construction of the N6 motorway.
Ringforts are the most common field monuments in Ireland, there being an estimated 45,000 examples extant. The term, however, is misleading, since they never had a military function. Many were simple animal enclosures, while others were defended farmsteads or the dwelling-places of the professional classes and the aristocracy. Mostly built between 500 A.D and 1100, in some instances they continued to be occupied up to the end of the middle ages and even beyond.
A ringfort was constructed by digging a circular ditch and forming an internal bank from the excavated soil. On the bank a stockade was set to repel intruders. A section to serve as an entrance was left undug, usually on the south-east circumference and protected by a gate or gate-house. If the ringfort was intended for habitation, one or two large, timber-frame, round or rectangular huts would be built within the enclosure. The roofs were thatched and the walls were of wattle-and-daub (wicker-work plastered with a mixture of mud and cow-dung). Smoke from a central hearth escaped through a hole in the roof.
Ringforts offered a measure of protection at a time when lightning raids for cattle and slaves were commonplace and souterrains were part of their defensive armoury. These were built by digging a trench, lining the walls with a dry-stone revetment and roofing the structure with stone slabs. Basically places of refuges, they may also have been used to store food. Colloquially referred to as fairy forts, ringforts used to be regarded with a great deal of superstitious awe. Initially they were probably respected as the abodes of the ancestors, who in time became conflated with the “good people”. These beliefs have in part accounted for the fact that so many ringforts survived to the present day.
Unconsecrated burial grounds, known as “killeens” and by various other names, mostly used in the post-medieval period to inter still-born infants and unbaptised children, are often located in ringforts and in fact this is the case of more than half the “killeens” in Co. Galway. Popular superstition would certainly have guaranteed the bodies against disturbance at these sites.
Challenging the conventional perception of Ireland in the early middle ages as an island of saints and scholars, ringforts serve to remind us that slavery persisted for longer here than in any other European country. It only went into decline in the twelfth century after the Anglo-Norman invasion, an event the Church interpreted as an act of divine retribution on the Irish for continuing to enslave their fellow-humans.
Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in June/July 2014 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
In the old Creagh Cemetery, adjacent to the Athlone Road, are the austere remains of an ecclesiastical building. This unprepossessing ruin was once a church that in its time served the religious needs of the local Church of Ireland community up to the early decades of the nineteenth century. Built on the site of a medieval place of worship, it was a humble predecessor of one of Ballinasloe’s architectural gems: St. John’s Church.
Occupying as it does the crest of Church Hill, St. John’s dominates the surrounding countryside and invariably figures in every silhouette of the Ballinasloe skyline. It’s not, though, the only imposing structure to have been located here. Formerly known as Knockadoon (fort hill), Church Hill was conjecturally the site of a motte and bailey. This seems a reasonable supposition, because in the thirteenth century the area around Ballinasloe was held by the Anglo-Normans under Sir Richard de Rupella, who would likely have favoured such a construction at this location.
The motte and bailey was a type of fortification dear to the hearts of those mail-coated warriors. Its purpose was twofold: to house a garrison and overawe the conquered territory. Erected in a commanding position, the motte consisted in an earthen mound surmounted by a wooden tower serving as a look-out post. The structure was linked to an enclosure (the bailey) surrounded by a bank topped by a palisade of pointed stakes and containing buildings for the accommodation of soldiers. These primitive castles had the dual advantage of being both quickly and inexpensively constructed.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the original church on the site was built to plans drawn up by John Hampton, a Ballinasloe-born architect with offices in Main Street. Described as having a Doric portico, it was destroyed by fire in the early 1840s. Its spire was salvaged from the ruins and re-erected as an obelisk in the grounds of Garbally House.
Soon after the conflagration a new church featuring the Gothic Revival style of the mid-nineteenth century was built to replace the old St. John’s. Designed by Joseph Welland, a Cork architect who was responsible for the plans of over a 100 churches in the course of his career, this building had north and south transepts as well as lancet windows. According to a contemporary account, it opened for worship in the autumn of 1844. A battlemented turret incorporating a four-faced clock was added in 1879, the cost being borne by Lord Clancarty.
.The building was gutted in a major fire in 1899. It was said that the clock continued to chime until its works melted in the heat. An exquisite stone pulpit carved by James Beegan, a local sculptor, was badly damaged, as was a memorial to the Third Earl of Clancarty. The church, however, was repaired and later expended.
An interior wall of St. John’s displays a framed roll of honour listing 48 parishioners who fought in the First World War, 9 of whom were among the fallen. In the church grounds there is the tomb of the Earls of Clancarty. A portrait of the controversial Archdeacon Charles Trench, who was the first rector in the old St. John’s, hangs in the vestibule. The present incumbent is the Rev. George Flynn who has in addition the pastoral care of several neighbouring parishes.
Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in April/May 2014 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Some older readers will recall visible reminders of Ballinasloe’s involvement in the First World War: the British Legion Clubhouse on the Fair Green, disabled veterans selling poppies on the streets on Armistice Day. Many townsmen had enlisted for active service in the various theatres of war and at least a hundred paid with their lives.
The fact that there is no local war memorial speaks volumes for the subsequent development of public attitudes to both the fallen and the survivors of the conflict. Put bluntly, they came to be regarded in some quarters as traitors and indeed during the War of Independence ex-servicemen were targeted for assassination in certain parts of the country. How did this situation come about and what substance if any is there in the charge of treason that had been levelled against them? In this centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War it seems appropriate for us to ask those questions. To be a traitor is to betray one’s country by going over to the enemy, a deliberate act of perfidy. In 1914 the overwhelming majority in Nationalist Ireland had no quarrel with the neighbouring island. Rather, their opponents were the Ulster Unionists who were blocking the implementation of the Home Rule Bill and were supported in their intransigence by a threatened mutiny of army officers. Civil war between North and South seemed imminent and was only averted by the pistol shots in Sarajevo that ignited the European conflagration. Home rule was suspended for the duration of the war and John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, in an attempt at national reconciliation, offered the services of the Irish Volunteers to the Allied cause. Some from the ranks dutifully answered the call to arms, while a small minority broke away to form what would eventually become known as the Irish Republican Army. In a blatant exploitation of the rampant sectarianism of the time, British propaganda aimed at Nationalist Ireland represented Germany as a Protestant country whose brutal soldiery had perpetrated unspeakable atrocities in Catholic Belgium involving priests and nuns as well as other members of the civilian population. Army recruiting posters featured the traditional accoutrements of stage-Irish: wolfhounds, shawl-clad colleens, round towers, ruined abbeys, harps and shamrocks. Potential recruits were assured that the war would be a short one, with everyone home in time to celebrate Christmas with their families. Though farmers had been told that a German victory would entail the confiscation of their holdings, members of the agricultural community were decidedly unenthusiastic about flocking to the colours. Wartime prices for produce were at a record high, all available labour was required to work the land and a son returning from the front minus an arm or leg would be of little use about the farm. In the towns and cities recruits were forthcoming from all classes but mostly from the underprivileged section of the community where a tradition of military service existed. Joining up was a socially acceptable thing to do, as well as being financially attractive, especially to married men whose wives and children were paid a Separation allowance enabling them to live in frugal comfort. Popular attitudes to the war were to change in the course of time. Hostilities seemed to drag on interminably, casualty figures continued to mount, the Easter Rising intervened and an abortive attempt was made to introduce conscription in the final year of the struggle. Initially, though, it is true to say that the great mass of the Nationalist Ireland was solidly behind the war effort. The shift in public opinion that culminated in the 1918 electoral victory of Sinn Féin brought forward the notion that there was something shameful if not downright criminal in having at any time in the past served in the British Armed forces, an idea that was reinforced when the I.R.A. found itself in conflict with these same forces during the War of Independence. Thus, veterans returning home found themselves stigmatized or worse for having done what their own clergymen and political leaders had urged them to do a few short years before. In the circumstances it’s hardly surprising that half the demobbed Irish soldiers chose to remain abroad. Happily in recent decades Irish society has shown a greater readiness to embrace the totality of our past, an evolution largely to the credit of Presidents Robinson and McAleese. The men from Ballinasloe who laid down their lives in the Great War may not have all been saints or heroes, but they fought on the side that historians tell us could lay claim to the greater measure of right and we have no reason to disown them. The least we can do is to pay them the tribute of our understanding.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie
In Flanders fields, in Flanders fields.