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.
Leaving to one side the work of the Ordnance Survey in the 1830s, the work of Petrie at Clonmacnois, and that of Cooke at Birr in 1826 and 1875, the references to and work done or written up on the historical sites of north Offaly in the nineteenth century are hard to come by. Fr Cogan published historical material on the Offaly parishes in the diocese of Meath in his three-volume work, 1862-1870; Thomas Stanley corresponded with the Royal Society of Antiquaries (RSAI) in 1869 in regard to the nine-hole stone or bullaun at the Meelaghans while Stanley Coote contributed an illustration of Ballycowan Castle for the Memorials of the Dead – a published record from the 1880s to the 1930s of selected tombstone inscriptions in Ireland and in County Offaly.
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.
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 .”
Santiago de Compostela became an international pilgrimage destination in the twelfth century, at a time when the doctrine of purgatory was widely promulgated and the idea of indulgences was gaining popularity. The local archbishop, Diego Gelmírez (d.1140), promoted the cult of St James and the shrine in the Cathedral of Santiago became one of the three major pilgrimage destinations of the Christian world. This offered those living on the Atlantic edge of Europe an accessible alternative to Rome and Jerusalem.
There were two separate phases of the Santiago pilgrimage from medieval Ireland. The earlier phase, beginning in the thirteenth century, was a distinctly Anglo-Norman one, with pilgrims drawn from towns on the east and south coast. During the second phase – in the fifteenth century – Gaelic pilgrims from throughout Ireland, including the midlands, displayed a strong interest in going to Santiago. They almost invariably made the pilgrimage in jubilee years, when the feast of St James (25 July) fell on a Sunday and special indulgences could be earned.