Stories and traditions from the historic ruins in Ballinagar. Specially Contributed by John Malone

030176 Ballinagar RC Church

‘At Ballinagar a large and handsome R.C. chapel was in the course of erection in the ancient English style of architecture’.

Samuel Lewis in 1837 remarks that ‘at Ballinagar a large and handsome R.C. chapel was in the course of erection in the ancient English style of architecture’. This church replaced an earlier thatched building on the same site which probably dated back to the latter half of the 18th century on the relaxing of penal laws. When the present day church was reopened after being burnt in 2004, the wooden tabernacle of the original church was gifted by the Hackett family to the church and is now kept in the sacristy.
Lewis also remarks that near Ballinagar are the ruins of a church. There is local tradition that there was a church on Hackett’s lane on the Geashill road in Ballyduff south. There was a church in Clonmore called Balleen Lawn church and there also was a reference by Dr Comerford in his history of Kildare and Leighlin to a church graveyard in Clonadd which is between Ballinagar and Daingean.

OH 54027 (3) Ballinagar
Ballinagar in the mid 1970s

Before the present day graveyard was opened most people in the area were buried in Raheen and Annaharvey. There was a strong local tradition of a church in Annaharvey. Dr Comerford writes about Annaharvey: ‘An ancient and very extensive burial ground surrounded by a fosse. No marks of a church having existed here unless such can be inferred from the large quantity of stones scattered about. Immediately adjoining the graveyard is a large artificial mound apparently sepulchral.’
Local tradition states that the church there was burnt by Cromwell the same day as he burnt Ballyfin and Castlebrack. The local people got word Cromwell was coming and collapsed the church so hiding the chalice and other artefacts. These are still supposed to be buried there. Another story is that a few men led by Tommy Dunne went to find the chalice but the search was abandoned when one of the team prophesied that they would find the chalice but one of them would not live to see it taken out of the ground.
There was also a bullaun stone in the graveyard which now seems to be lost which had a cure for warts which Joyce refers to ‘where poor urchins from the area came to have their warts cured’.
There is also local tradition that there is a tunnel from Annaharvey graveyard to Geashill castle.

000189 Ballinagar 1980 Mass rock
Mass said at the massrock in the 1960s

Fr Kennedy in history of the Killeigh Parish says ‘before emancipation we know that the parish priest lived in Annaharvey at a house owned by Mr Choiseul and in which place the parish priest altar is still pointed out. He also stated ‘as far as Killeigh was concerned the monks had been and for long had continued to be in charge of the Parish and for the purpose in order to overcome distance and difficulty of travelling set up substations. At these substations people would live one of them becoming superior, but all being subject to the Abbot of Killeigh. This arrangement of substations or branches accounts for the existence of Urney, Temple Tyrine, Ballykane, Geashill, Annaharvey, Fenter and Killurin.
This passage refers to the time of the monastery in Killeigh. Interestingly, there is a strong local tradition of a monastery in Clonmore. This is also referred to by Dr Comerford. Could this monastery have been a substation of Killeigh Monastery? There is a field in Cappyroe known as THE MONK’S MOUNDS. Annaharvey also was used for purposes other than religious in past times, an article in the Belfast Whig in 1920 reports that detectives in Tullamore were shocked to find guns, ammunition and grenades in a tomb at Annaharvey.
Dr Comerford also writes that a few perches from the new church in Ballinagar is a mass rock. This mass rock is on the bank of a stream between Ballinagar and Ballycue. A few yards further on is an old quarry which locals say was used in relief works in famine times. This rock was used by people to celebrate mass in Penal times when practising the catholic faith was outlawed.
This story I came across is in the school folklore collection and comes from Geashill school.
In Mr Buckley’s field near Ballycue there is a mass rock. One night Mr Buckley was going to service in Geashill and when he was going his wife told him she would leave a light in the yard so he would see it when he would be coming home. When he was coming home he went on a short cut across the fields. When he was near the mass rock he saw a light as he thought but when he came to it he saw a crowd of people standing up and a man in the middle with his hands raised up. When Mr Buckley saw this he became afraid so he went in and brought out his two sons and when they saw it they became afraid too. Then his wife and daughter came out they saw it too. When Mrs Buckley looked around she saw the light was gone out in her own house. When she looked at the mass rock again there was no one there. Then they went into their own house and they had to light the light in there.
Folklore says that there is a chalice and other artefacts buried under the rock but it is also supposed to be a certain hard death for anyone who tries to move it. This mass rock is also mentioned in the collection from Daingean school.
Another story from the schools’ collection goes ‘In Ballinagar churchyard in Killeigh Parish there is a headstone under which a priest is buried and in this headstone is a hole where a lot of water gathers. Put the wart nine times in the water and leave nine pins in the hole and after nine days the wart will disappear.’
This is the tomb of Fr James Dowling who died in 1825.
Toberleheen is on the Ballinagar Tullamore road via Cappincur. Most scholars say that its name means the well of the little grey man but locals know the well as the hapenny well. In this townsland there is four holy wells named St. John’s well, children’s well, scurvy well and Lady’s well. These wells are now nearly lost but are marked in the national monuments and are shown on ordnance survey maps of the 1800s.
A pattern day was held here on the 15th of august each year and was stopped when a man was killed in a faction fight. This fight seemingly broke out during a football match that got out of hand and some local constables had to be called.
The church put a stop to a lot of the pattern days at holy wells because of what they called ‘riotous and drunken behaviour’.
Another tradition found in other holy well sites talk about burials. In penal times as Catholics could not use churches and prayers were not allowed to be said in graveyards. The body was brought to the site of a holy well, prayers said and then brought to the graveyard to be buried. I mention this because of a footbridge marked in early ordnance survey maps at Toberleheen across the Tullamore River unto Annaharvey. In any case a lot of tradition associated with the wells and pattern days is long lost. If anyone who reads this has any more information to add please do.
Old schools in Ballinagar

000108 Ballinagar 1988 Confirmation Group
Confirmation group at Ballinagar in the late 1980s

In Ballinagar at the moment there is a modern state of the art school opened in June 2013. In Griffith’s ordnance survey map there is the ruins of a school noted in Ballycue on the Geashill road about half a mile from Ballinagar village. In the report known as the schools’ return book for 1824, Fr Dowling reports on the schools of the parish. It gives the teacher’s name, number of pupils, and religion.
Ballinagar. Michael Ford, A Catholic, about 40 years of age. Educated where he is.
Average attendance, summer 1824 males 35 females 16 Protestants 3 Catholics 48.
Knockballyboy mistress Eliza Dempsey a catholic educated where she is average attendance summer 1824 males 11 females 13 catholics 24.
Annaharvey Robert Fox a catholic educated in the neighbourhood average attendance summer 1824 males 30 females 27 Protestants 15 Catholics 42. There are also schools nearby in Dalgan and Newtown.
It is interesting to note that all teachers mentioned were educated locally so these schools were there for a good while before.
This Fr Dowling’s description of the schools ‘some of these schools are of old standing more of them lately set up by me and some by the people with my approbations, for the convenience of small children, open at all seasons of the year. All the school houses in my parish are hedge schools except two, which were built under my inspection with good materials lime and stone, a good roof but covered with straw at the expense of the parishioners. All the rest are clay walls commonly called mud walls covered with straw also at the expense of those near it. I cannot tell what the cost of building them maybe it can’t be much. The rates of payments are different in this parish and higher in other parts and parishes of this neighbourhood for a beginner to spell and read 1 ½ d per week for writing and figures 2d per week.
Fr Dowling makes another interesting statement ‘always understood and know by experience that the Protestants and Catholics frequented the same schools both with Protestants and Catholics masters and mistresses without ever thinking of one converting the other, and got their education such as it was, in the greatest harmony and brotherly love until the late Robert Digby erected his 9 schools and new doctrines to convert at least this parish and put down both Protestants and Catholics”.
This leads me on to another story from the schools’ folklore collection also from Geashill school. This story probably related to an earlier school..

OH 48870 (6) Geashill NS,c1869
Geashill School of 1862

The present Geashill national school was built in 1862 by Lord Digby. Trench was the name of his agent and he generally dealt with all the business. He decided that this school would be now sectarian and the parish priest Fr Dowling was denied the right of admission to give religious instruction. Fr Dowling advised the parents not to send their children to school with the result they went to Raheen and Ballinagar schools which is 2 miles away either side of the village. After 2 years Fr Dowling came to Ballinagar church one Sunday and during his sermon told the people that he had won a victory and that the agent had agreed to have the school a Catholic one and that the priest could go in whenever he wished to give religious instruction. He told the children to meet him in Geashill village at Flanagan’s corner at 10 o clock the following morning. One hundred children met him and they all marched to school with him and so ended the dispute’.
Finally, Ballinagar had two halls where meetings were held one was beside the new school on the Cappincur road now long gone the other is the present day community centre which at one time was the national school. This building was in danger of being another ruin until a local committee got together to rebuild it.

000150 Meelaghans School Group copy 1910
Meelaghans school group of 1915

This is a poem by Edward Egan from the Meelaghans entitled The meeting at Ballinagar referring to a meeting sometime in 1899 for the local elections of 1899 and published in the King’s County Chronicle of 23 march 1899.

We had meetings all over the land
Comic and curious to see
But the monster at Ballinagar
Was the funniest one that could be
All the pledges were put on parade
The language was very select
And the rivals were rivals indeed
In etiquette love, and respect.
It was plain that some orators there
were not very long after lunch
For their “bon mots” were brilliant and rare,
As those in the pages of Punch.
The “gods” were not nodding down there,
But rampant, and ready to fling
A bolt from the blue at the boys,
Who had nothing but bunkum to bring.
Resolutions were brought ready-made
Sufficient to fill up a hearse
But let them sleep on, undisturbed
By the jingle of frivolous verse.
The Geashill gosoons were delighted,
And are singing for more of the war,
Some say that all wrongs will be righted
By the meeting at Ballinagar.11. Ballinagar Roads map 3
What will patriots do now in Birr,
They are beaten, no doubt very far,
And Banagher, too, is well bang’d
By the meeting at Ballinagar.

Killeigh parish website
Schools’ folklore collection
The long ridge: towards a history of the Killeigh parish by John Kearney.