Walking the stream at Ballinagar and district by John Malone


Ballinagar village is in the townland of Ballinagar. A small stream borders Ballinagar from its neighbouring townlands. For this article I walk along this stream to see what it can tell us about the past.

Picture 1
The stream as it flows through the scrub.

At Ballymooney bridge the stream enters the Tullamore river. The road here is called the Killeigh road. Over the years various road improvements and land reclamation works have changed this area completely. Before the late 1700s the stream entered the Tullamore River nearer to Ballycrumlin. A new road was constructed between Killeigh and Daingean and the Ballycue stream as it was known became a road drain. In 1808 local landowner’s Rev John Webb, Daniel Commins, James Digan and Rich Cleary got grants to work on drains between “the new bridge and where the old stream of Ballycue had been turned into a road drain” They also had to build five gullets or channels for water between Ballinagar and Ballina. William Steuart Trench who managed the Digby estate from 1857 to 1871 saw the potential of the land here and undertook a huge drainage scheme and redesigned the field system around Ballymooney House. He remarks after his drainage scheme that “land in Ballinagar that had previously lain in permanent water, where cattle were in constant danger of drowning were now good areas of pasture .”

Picture 2
The mass rock

Various road improvements have been done on this Killeigh road over the years. One of these according to tradition was a famine works and up a few hundred meters along the stream in an area known as the scrub is the remains of a quarry. Stone was cut here and brought to the road by horse and carts and broken and used to surface the road. Tradition says that the men from Killurin worked here and men from Ballinagar worked over in Killurin. Houses in the area were also built using stone from here. There is a hazel wood here too where people cut saplings for use in thatching. Children from the locality would gather here in the evenings and play.
A few meters from here along the bank of the stream is the mass rock where locals came to mass when it was forbidden by law to do so during penal times. There is supposed to be a chalice buried near the rock but it is considered unlucky to interfere with the rock in any way. Across from the stream here in the townland of Ballycue there was a hedge school.

Picture 3
The old quarry face

A few more meters from the mass rock where the sewage plant is now, is a field known as the Ford field. This field once adjoined the Geashill road which is an ancient route from Daingean to Geashill on to Killeigh. There is a small bridge here and tradition says that this is the crossing that gave Ballinagar its name. According to Tommy Dunne’s 1947 folklore account of the area this crossing was used by people hauling timber with carts.
In 1600 Charles Blount (Lord Mountjoy), came to Ireland to put down the Irish rebellion or Nine Years’ War. He spent time in the Geashill Daingean area. He wrote an account of his time in this area and a few extracts from this give an idea of the landscape and of what the locals were witnessing. When marching to a place where he had heard had plenty of corn “at the entry thereof being a ford with wood on both sides and a bog between the wood on the right side”. Here he was ambushed by rebels but he says his men killed 35 and wounded 74 of them, he goes on “We burned their houses and destroyed their corn.” later he has 8 heads brought to him and “my guide into this country going to see them found his own son’s there.”He also talks of horses being no good to his men in the bogs.

Picture 4
An example of an old stone drainage shore that would have been used in William Steuart Trench’s drainage scheme on the Geashill estate.
Picture 5.

A few years earlier in 1550 a survey was taken of the area to find the extent of the land of the O Connors as it was been taken from them. Some of the locals under oath had to give the place-names. These place-names were given in Irish and written down in “clumsy English phonetics”. The townland of Ballinagar is described thus:-BIALLANECAR
From the more to Barenesrone to Aghebiallanecar thence along the watyr to the watyr of Biallaghmone thence to Bowlenstocken thence to said more.
Biallanecar could be interpreted as Bealac na gcarr or the route of the carts. In these times side carts or carts without wheels were used to transport goods and were particularly suitable for boggy areas. There are a number of other routes locally described in this survey such as Toghernycaple in Cappyroe and Bohir-tobber-lynne in Toberleheen.
At one time it is estimated that about one sixth of Offaly was covered in forest. In the above survey there is a wood mentioned called Dyrinboe part of which was in Ballyknocken near Ballinagar. There is also a mention of Offaly woods in the Annals of the Four Masters where in 1537 the great castle in Trim was to be repaired with 400 to 500 oak trees felled in Offaly. Much of the woodland in Ireland was cleared by the early 1700s. Grants were offered after 1753 for tree planting and in 1831 there is a record of a Michael Cooke of Ballinagar planting 1,850 trees.

Picture 5
One of the gullets or gullys underneath the Killeigh Daingean road. Constructed in the early 1800’s.

Tommy Dunne also says that Ballinagar was a new village. At the time Tommy was giving this account six new houses were about to be built on the Ford field. A few more Board of Health houses were built in the surrounding area. Ballinagar was to get more of these houses but the number was cut when it was discovered that a number of those who applied for houses was under sixteen. There was a local tradition that at one time the village was full of small pubs or shebeens. The building where Coca heat is now was once a carriage stop where people and horses would rest and repairs were done. Post carriages would stop here too .Fairs were held nearby in Daingean, Tullamore and Geashill. Livestock were moved by men called drovers and Ballinagar was probably used as a resting place for livestock going to Dublin until it was time to load them unto railway carriages at Ard. Early business owners in Ballinagar included Cookes, Langtons, Hartes and Scullys. In the early 1800s a new church was built and later a new school and schoolmaster’s house in the grounds of the church. The population of (Ballynagar) in the 1659 census was 16 there was 4 English and 12 Irish, although it is unlikely that this was accurate and as heads of house the likely population was nearer 50. The population of Ballinagar in 1851 was 183 which was probably its highest until modern times. By 1901 the population fell to 82.

030173 Ballinagar Road Act
Moving on from the ford field up along the stream at the back of the modern housing estates there is the coursing field. There was always a strong tradition of owning greyhounds in the area. At one time there were big coursing meetings held in Odlum’s in Ballymooney. There were also horse racing meetings held there. Beside the coursing field is the Bog Lane also known as Mosse’s Road. In 1751 Andrew Mosse was given the contract to build a road from Clane to Ballinagar through the bog. Around 1757 the road building was abandoned when he saw that the road kept sinking and the more material he put in the more it sank. It was to be a turnpike or toll road. It was described as one of the most futile decisions of the Irish parliament. An attempt to revive it in 1819 as a post road failed due to objections.
A few more meters up the stream are the new cemetery and the G.A.A field both opened in the 1990s.Both are the result of great community effort and hard work. Annaharvey and Raheen graveyard’s were used before this and the GAA club depended on the goodwill of local landowners.
Crossing the Daingean road we have a new name that has only been in the area for the past 20 years or so – Cappagh Grove

Across the stream from here is the townland of Knockballyboy. There are sub townland names here that are now nearly forgotten. Knock,Byrnestown, Boston, Drough, and Cill Bhuile . The land around here is boggy and underneath the bog is a blue lac which was used sometimes to make bricks for houses. Rushes were used to make candles.
Up further near the Cappincur road is a field where sports days and the maypole dancing was held. A report from the Leinster Leader in the 1940s has Tommy Dunne applying for a licence to revive the maypole “maypole dancing was part and parcel of life in the Ballinagar area for generations and in recent years had taken a hand in reviving it. He told the justice that there was a nominal charge of sixpence admission. The dances did not make a profit but he took a pleasure in them. The justice granted licences for Thursdays and Sundays .”
Moving on, near Curragh Hill, another new name, there is another old route that went from the Cappincur road through Knockballyboy to Derrygowley. Local tradition says there was once a village down here along the stream between Knockballyboy and Ballinagar, some remains are still there. A piper named Bell came from this area and there is still a field here called Bell’s garden. This area reminds me of another folklore story that one time if a person got into trouble in the Geashill estate, they would be banished to Ballinagar to live on an acre of land.
I finish my walk along the stream at Ballinagar house once owned by Rourke’s and now by Sutherland’s. Sutherland’s once had a shop in Tullamore and provided a lot of employment in the area sowing and harvesting vegetables. An article from 1955 goes “A local farmer’s unusual hobby of recording songs recitations and music on a wire recorder was demonstrated to an appreciative audience in Daingean last week. The recorder is the property of Mr Jack Sutherland Ballinagar who is a noted local musician. Mr Sutherland recorded a number of items rendered by members of his audience and played them back afterwards. His hobby may yet prove a great asset in the collection of local folklore.” The Sutherlands also provided the soccer team with a pitch. The townland of Ballinagar ends here and the neighbouring townlands are Ballycrumlin, Cappanageeragh, and Toberleheen.

OS Offaly townlands index maps (18) part of
Some field names from the Ballinagar townland – pikes field, furlongs, quarry field limekiln, grumleys, crowleys, horsepark, gannons meadow, furry hill, geze bo, pidgeon meadow, football field .Some other interesting field names from the the neighbouring townlands Smullens, cobblers corner,the reesk, coachers croft and Báinneen lan which maybe Balleenlawn an old church in Clonmore , the monks sold milk here according to folklore.