Placenames and folklore from the townlands of Ballinagar district and the 1550 Survey of Offaly. By John Malone

An often-overlooked heritage is that of our townlands, even the few unassuming townlands that surround Ballinagar village are a treasure trove of folklore and history. These places were once full of ‘rambling houses’ where locals gathered to play cards or enjoy music and stories. There were stile-ways through the countryside, used when crossing fields was more common than using roads.

Work by John O’ Donovan in the 1840s and later P.W. Joyce, and more recently Thomas Lee along with a survey in conducted by the English in 1550 give some understanding of the townland names and how they have developed over the years.

From the map with the edition of the 1550 Survey of Offaly edited by Edmund Curtis in 1930 based on the 1563 map in the British Library and that in TCD.

Tuath  Eishill

Today these townlands are in the parish of Killeigh and the Barony of Geashill, this area roughly corresponds to the ancient Tuath Eishill . The area is first mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters , where they say a battle was fought between Hermon and Heber at the brink of the Bri Daimh and this was called the battle of Geishill.

The Killeigh parish is an amalgamation of smaller parishes which were substations of the famous monastery at Killeigh founded by St. Senchal the elder.  It was a noted centre of learning and had a long and turbulent history, including being sacked by the Danes in 840.

The first mention of a ruling tribe is that of O’ Hamirgin or Bergin whose battle cry was ‘Bergin ,Geahill and the sky over it’. They were a sub-sect of the O’Connors who ruled the area and had forts in Geashill, Killeigh, Daingean and Croghan. Their chiefs were buried in Killeigh. The O’Connors were a warlike clan and resisted the various invaders well into the 1600s.

An item associated with them is the Geashill Cauldron which is now housed in the National museum. It was said that it was banged as they entered battle. One such occasion was in 1406 when Calvagh O’ Connor struck the cauldron with a stone it produced such a noise that it struck a sudden fear and panic into the hearts of the plunderers.

Townlands in the barony of Geashill and close to Ballinagar

With the coming of the Normans a castle was built in Geashill and the land was eventually held by the Fitzgeralds who as most Anglo-Norman families became more ‘Irish than the Irish themselves’. The family produced many rebels including Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a leader of the United Irishmen. In a letter to the Irish Press Tommy Dunne recounts a story about Lord Edward –“Is the record or the memory still kept of Dempsey the faithful yeoman who kept sentry on Leixlip bridge in ‘98. Lord Edward then on his keeping approached him disguised as a farmer driving his sheep to the city market and inquired whether there was pasturage abouts “No my lord there is not” answered the faithful yeoman, showing that he knew Lord Edward but would not betray him for the £1000 pound that was on his head.

In my early days there used to be a pilgrimage to the grave of the faithful yeoman, is it forgotten”.

The last in the Fitzgerald line in the Geashill area was Lettice who famously held Geashill castle in spite of a siege by the O’Dempseys. Through her marriage to Robert Digby, the area passed into the hands of the Digby family, who were the landlords until the breakup of the estate in the early 1900s.

The O’ Connors were involved in many uprisings through the years and after Silken Thomas Fitzgerald’s failed uprising, the 1550 survey was conducted to find the extent of Brian O’ Connor’s land. Although the survey was flawed on many fronts such as the names were written ‘clumsy English phonetics’ from what they heard from the native Irish speakers , it still provides a good base to start the journey through the townlands. Some Irish words are still recognisable such as glais [stream] curragh [ moor] bohir [road] loch [lake] and eanach [marsh].

Ballinagar before the road widening, about 1960

Ballyduff South

Ballyduff south is described in 1550 asBallindowe. From fyrcloghe alonge the diche to curraghbaitte then alonge to clonardebriske then to glaishbiallacroe & so to glynnegartaghe & then to fyrcloghe.

Some of the names of the townland through the years were Ballydoughe, Balleindo with water mill and Ballyduffon a Digby map of 1797.

John O’ Donovan interpreted the name as Baile ui Dhuibh Theas or O’ Duffs townland. Folklore says there was once a church here. Older people still refer to the townland as High Ballyduff. There was also a famous bush growing on the hill which when seen by men on the run during the War of Independence knew they were in a safe area. Tommy Dunne had an interesting story concerning the battle of Aughrim.

And who Tom asks has not heard of the dog of Aughrim who guarded his master’s bones on the battlefield from July to October until he was shot by English soldiers who were passing that way.

Then there is one other story not generally known of Terence O’Dunne’s horse who when his rider fell mortally wounded galloped home to Clonaslee. Terence O’ Dunne was himself carried by the O’ Gormans to Killeigh where he died and was buried in the Abbey burial ground. Tom says he has learned that St. Ruth’s bush has disappeared from the Battlefield. In his father’s time a portion of it was brought to Ballinagar.

The Hackett family for years looked after the wooden tabernacle of the early church in Ballinagar and in 2006 Larry and George Hackett presented it to the new church. Larry was a famous thatcher whose work was admired far and wide.                                                                                                                                 In 1984 part of a wooden trackway or Togher was discovered in the bog during Bord na Móna work.

Ballyduff south lost many families through the clearances on the Geashill estate. The most famous of the emigrant ships was the Erin go Bragh. Another was the Chatsworth which brought 451 passengers to Queensland, ‘a large proportion were from the King’s county with the most of those being from the celebrated Barony of Geashill.’

A drainage scheme undertaken on the townland by William Steuart Trench helped win prizes for Lord Digby in exhibitions in England.

The survey of Offaly in 1550 from Hermathena 1930

 Ballycue

The Townland was described as Ballykee from Glaishebiallacroke alonge the streame to Dyrrensheishe then alonge the streame to Biallecromlyne , so alonge a streame to Biallagare, thence alonge the streame to Breakanballyndowaghe, then alonge a diche to Glayshebiallecroke.

Some names through the yearsareBallynmakkue[1558]Ballickhugh [1612]B.Crine [1685]and in 1830Ballycue.

Both John O Donovan and P.W. Joyce translated the name as Baile Mic Aodha MacKay’s or McHughs place or townland. McHughs still live in the area and in the 1901 census spelt their surname McCue.The population in 1841 was 152.

Ballycue contains an old townland named Bluebell which local lore says was once a village and the Clash bridge which was blown up during the war of independence, on the Geashill road. It borders the Tullamore river and the Killeigh road. This area along with Ballymooney and Ballyknockan was thought by some including O’ Donovan for a time to be the site of the battle between Herman and Heber and that the Bri Daimh was the Tullamore river.                                                                                                           The area had once numerous mounds of gravel deposits which were said to be dug away during famine relief works. Ballycue has also one of the few remaining thatched cottages. There is also supposed to be a graveyard called the burial hill where children who died before they were baptised were buried.

The 1838 ordnance survey map shows the ruins of a school in Ballycue near Ballinagar village This was probably the school mentioned in the bluebook survey of 1824 where the principal was Michael Ford.

The various schools in Ballinagar have been extremely lucky with the standard of schoolteachers they have had over the years. A former principal David O’ Shanahan reflects on a predecessor of his ‘old master Phelan’, in an article written in 1950 lamenting the old schoolhouse, which is now the community centre, going to ruins.

The spirit of old master Phelan stands once more by the now rickety, worm bored old rostrum, as with raised hand and pointed finger he shouts out the orders of the day, admonishing, rebuking , instructing , and for all his supposedly outmoded teaching methods , producing great scholars just the same .Look at the local remnants of his pupils that still survive the hand of time .

No less a distinguished scholar than professor P— himself from U.C.G. came all the way from the city of the tribes to spend a weekend with Tommy —- the local chronicler and local historian, who has chapter rhyme and verse for all noteworthy events in the parish since God knows when.

Or take good humoured jolly J —- the yank, who got his first great chance in America because of his familiar sharp knowledge of the simple rule of proportion .

Not forgetting Mike —- the local Gobawn Saor, whose knowledge of figures and mensuration enabled his gifted hands to plan and build for half the parish around .

The professor mentioned was an T’Athir Fhinn a folklore collector who visited Tommy Dunne in 1945. Another legendary Ballinagar school principal Michael Cunningham was a pupil of his in U.C.G.

Where the Curtis edition of the Survey was published. In the 1990s Offaly History bought the last copies when the Printing House in Trinity was closing after more than 200 years. Copies are now scarce but is probably on JSTOR
A short version of the text of the 1550 survey will be found in the new edition of the state papers for 1547-53 edited by Colm Lennnon (as above)

To be continued and with thanks to John Malone. This month’s blog reach will be 10,000. Last year was 103,000. Like and share.

Offaly History: pictures and captions

PS Are you joining us on Zoom this Tuesday 26 Jan at 7.30 p.m. Email us at info@offalyhistory.com for the link to James Scully’s lecture on Stories and Glories from the graveyards of Offaly.

Available to buy online from http://www.offalyhistory. You can join John O’Donovan on his field survey of Offaly.

The Vikings in Offaly. By John Dolan

Our traditional view of the Vikings in Ireland was established by our early primary and secondary schooling. We were aware that the Vikings commenced raiding in 795 AD by their raid on Rathlin Island. Eventually they settled in a few areas around our coastline. However, most of the country was within reach of Viking raiding parties. One of the primary bases from which Viking raids emerged was from the city of Limerick. Limerick provided a springboard for raids up the Shannon, affecting areas on either side of the river.

These raids were on church monasteries resulted in the slaughter of monks and workers in the monasteries. It also appears that the Vikings knew exactly where these monasteries were located and regularly their arrival coincided when particular religious events were underway.  From other evidence they were after people, cattle and very occasionally the gold and silver in the monasteries.  People were regularly taken to be sold at slaves. The largest such raid was carried out at Howth in the year 821 AD where over 600 females were taken away by ship for slavery. In later times Dublin became the largest Viking slave centre in Western Europe; Kiev in Ukraine was their largest slave centre in the East.

Les pirates normands au IXe siècle by Évariste-Vital Luminais (1894), Musée Anne de Beaujeu, Moulin

Les pirates normands au IXe siècle by Évariste-Vital Luminais (1894), Musée Anne de Beaujeu, Moulin

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The Maynooth Local Studies Series, recent issues, the Offaly volumes and the entire series listed here. Sources for Offaly History and Society, number 10.

The current issue of Irish Historical Studies (no. 165, May 2020) has a featured review of five issues from the Maynooth Local Studies series published in 2019. That brought the number issued to 144. We attach the list to 144 for your convenience and we bring to your attention the latest batch of four. Raymond Gillespie is the quiet man behind the series and who has acted as general editor since its inception in 1995. The reviewer in IHS, Maura Cronin, reminds of his characterising local history as being ‘primarily about people in places over time’. Place is described as the bedrock of local history, but it must be seen in the context of the actions of people and the pivotal role of historical research  is looking for the forces of disruption and of cohesion. What brought people together and what drove them apart.

The four new issues of 2020

Four new volumes have been published in the Maynooth Studies in Local History series (general editor Professor Raymond Gillespie). The volumes by Denis Casey, Emma Lyons, Brendan Scott and Jonathan Wright and can be ordered via Offaly History Centre.

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The Story of Bog Butter. By John Dolan

Bog butters are large white or yellow waxy deposits regularly discovered within the peat bogs of Ireland and Scotland. They represent an extraordinary survival of prehistoric and later agricultural products, comprising the largest deposits of fat found anywhere in nature. Often found in wooden containers or wrapped in animal bladders, they are considered to have been buried intentionally by past farming communities. While previous analysis has determined that Irish bog butters derive from dairy fat, their precise characterisation could not be achieved due to chemical compositional alterations during burial in subsequent years. They generally produce a distinctive, pungent and offensive smell.

The largest Irish example weighed 23kg (50lbs) from a find in the Galtee Mountains in 1826.  Bog Butter is primarily held in the National Museum with some held by local museums.

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The rediscovery of Bloomville, County Offaly. Christopher Fettes

Bloomville, Cloneygowan, County Offaly

On June 15th 1991, I climbed a locked gate marked Bloomville, just as the rain stopped and the sun came out.  There were some lovely beeches, but no sign of a house. I then spotted two ancient chestnuts, and it was only then that I could see the house in the distance.

It was a case of love at first sight, with everything sparkling in the sunshine, and I wondered why the agent’s advertisement had not included a photograph.  Only when I approached the house could I understand the reason.  The traditional roses (still flourishing 29 years later) looked pretty, but, close up, the house looked very neglected.

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5 Researching Irish history – using historic maps: exploring Geashill village, County Offaly since the 1830s

 

Researching Irish family history can be challenging due to the lack of written records. Owing to variation in the legislative union of Ireland, Scotland and Wales with England, registration of births, deaths and marriages was different in each country and comparatively late in Ireland. In Ireland, state registration of non-Catholic marriages began in 1845, but the registration of all births, marriages and deaths did not begin until 1864.   Additionally, Church records are often incomplete and those that exist are rarely found before 1800, particularly in rural areas.

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Thomas Dunne of Ballinagar, Offaly: ‘A Sterling Irishman’. By John Malone

 

47 Ballinagar Village, Co. Offaly - 1950's maybe!!
Ballinagar village early 1960s

In December 1968 Thomas [Tommy] Dunne received the tribute of a soldier’s burial from surviving I.R.A comrades in Offaly and the army in Annaharvey graveyard, near Tullamore.

Thomas Dunne grew up in Ballinagar (between Daingean and Tullamore) along with his siblings Mary, Richard, Margaret and James in the late 1800s. Their father was Tommy and their mother was Anne Brien from nearby Clonmore. Tommy was in his time a leading member of the local Fenian movement and came to Ballinagar from Rathfeston during the time Trench was the land agent for Lord Digby. The family tradition was that Tommy was about 27 at the time and by all accounts was a fine strapping young man. A family of Dunne’s owned the farm at the time, they were relatives of Tommy’s, but because they were all females and because of the impossible situation of that time, they were about to throw up the farm. Trench had someone in mind for the farm but Tommy took it over. One day Trench arrived on the farm and spent a while staring and trying to unsettle the young Dunne. Then Trench spoke “I see you have come Dunne.”  “Yes” was the firm reply. Trench then said “On account your family has been here for so long I will let you stay, but instead of the rent being 7 shillings and sixpence an acre it will now be 30 shillings an acre.” This left it nearly impossible to farm but he managed. This incident took place shortly after the infamous evictions on the Geashill estate, where it was reported that the evicted tenants of Geashill filled the streets of Tullamore. A lot of these tenants went on a ship called Erin go bragh to Australia which was charted by a Fr Dunne from Daingean who raised funds for this purpose. He was possibly a relation of the Ballinagar Dunnes.

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No 2, Sources for Offaly History & Society: some of the older printed books – Sir Charles Coote, General view of the agriculture and manufactures of the King’s County with observations on the means of their improvement. Dublin, 1801.

IMG_8438~photo
John Foster’s copy of Coote’s, King’s County Survey. Offaly Archives is collecting all the rare books on the county for the county collection. Foster was the last Speaker in the old Irish Parliament and strongly opposed the Union. He was a vice-president of the [Royal] Dublin Society until the 1820s and was ennobled as Lord Oriel. He and his father were great improvers even when it was not economic for them to do, or prudent. Foster was a great bibliophile which may have been a comfort to him in his cash-straitened latter years.

This week as a substitute for our  cancelled lectures during Covid we list some of the older books on Offaly History and some of which are still of use and must be consulted. The list is by no means complete and does not cover archaeology or geology. By older we mean studies mostly published before 1920 and many being diocesan histories. One book that is essential to look at is the Dublin Society survey of the county in 1801. This is the first book published about County Offaly/King’s County and deserves a read before moving on.  John O’Donovan when preparing the ordnance survey memoirs in the 1830s had occasion to use Coote, among other books, and considered Coote a blockhead and worse. Yet, there are some nuggets for those who are patient. Coote was trying to promote for the Dublin Society (later Royal Dublin Society) agricultural education. The farming societies were not started until the 1840s and wilted in the Famine years. It was the 1900s before countrywide education in agricultural methods began with Horace Plunkett, agricultural cooperation and the Department of Agricultural and Technical Instruction.

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The IRA attack on Clara Barracks on 2 June 1920: the opening salvo in the War of Independence in Offaly. Michael Byrne

 

 

1 19200605 TKI Clara barracks war of indep
 Reporting the outcome of the Clara barracks attack of 2 June 1920

‘While some counties have done much in the matter of publicizing their part in the fight for freedom, very little has been heard of the part played by Offaly in that great struggle, and yet it was within the borders of this historic county that some of the bravest and most daring deeds were done. It is not right, he said, that these should be allowed to pass into complete oblivion, and it is hoped the writing of this story of the Clara R.I.C. barrack attack will encourage others into penning the complete story of Offaly’s fight during that critical period of Irish history.’ These were the words of P. O’M. in 1960, basing his account on that published in the local press on 5 June 1920. (P O’M was brought to our attention as Paddy O’Meara who wrote a number of good articles on Clara history and was a local news correspondent.) The witness statement of Séan O’Neill, a manager in P.J. White’s Clara shop (Bureau of Military History) supports the press reports of the time. So to do the recollections of Harold Goodbody (forthcoming). IRA man and county councillor Sean Robbins of Clara was critical as was Fergus O’Bracken, writing to vindicate the role of his father, overall IRA commandant Peadar Bracken, in the episode.

 

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Poems and ballads of Edward (the Poet) Egan: a window on the social and political history of Tullamore in the 1890s

4 Egan-Cottage-pic-to-add
A view of the Egan Cottage, Meelaghans, Tullamore, County Offaly, birthplace of Edward Egan. This view of c. 1905–15 is reproduced from William M. Egan (ed.), Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878. Major Howard Egan’s diary etc. Utah, 1917. Reprinted c.1995. The home of Howard Egan, now famous in American Mormon history 

A new book comprising a selection of fifty of the poems and ballads of Edward Egan of the Meelaghans, Tullamore has just been published by Offaly History. The book was edited by Michael Byrne, Anne O’Rourke and Tim O’Rourke and is a fitting tribute to a man who died 80 years ago and in his time was revered throughout the midlands for his timely poetic commentaries on the social and political scene in his native county and his appreciation of all that was beautiful within a day’s walk of his home place.

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