Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Slieve Bloom Mountains, Ballyboy or Baile Buí, meaning the town of the Yellow Ford, is a picturesque village of rich historical significance. Like many villages in Ireland, the modest present-day facade of Ballyboy belies a history that has seen the rise and subsequent fall of an early Christian monastery, a site visited by many historical figures in the early years, including Hugh O’Neill, the Normans and even Oliver Cromwell.
St. Brigid’s Convent & St. Mary’s Church
St. Brigid founded a convent in our village in or around the year 500 A.D. The people of the village maintain that it was the very first convent she built in Ireland. The Convent was situated on the mound still known as Abbey Rath (later becoming the site of the Norman Motte and Bailey) The convent continued until 1539. Around the same time as St. Brigid built her convent, it is said that the first church in the village, St. Mary’s Church was also built. Mass would have been celebrated in Saint Brigid’s Convent or at St Mary’s church.
From 1650, when Cromwell’s army marched to the village from Cadamstown and destroyed St. Mary’s Church, until 1704, there was no church in the parish. The old church had a round tower that came almost to the centre of the present-day road. There was also a tunnel from the church to the fort at Abbey Rath. The tunnel was 400 metres long.
During Cromwell’s attack, the precious Pieta was bravely hidden by two McRedmond women from Knockhill. When they saw Cromwell and his men approaching from Cadamstown, they rushed to the church, took the Pieta from its place just inside the door and hid it outside in a heap of rubbish. Everybody fled to the woods and caves before Cromwell and his men reached the village, in case they would be killed. In the dead of night, for Cromwell’s army was still in Ballyboy, a party of men took the statue and carried it a short way across the Silver River and over the fields to Ballybracken, also known as Ridgemount. Here they buried it 6 feet deep in the bog below Derryhoy, where it lay hidden for over 60 years. Ridgemount is the area where the Faithful Fields are now situated. These men promised not to tell anyone where the Pieta was buried. Just before the last of the men died, he told people where it was located. When it was found, the Pieta was brought to the Church of the Nativity BVM in Kilcormac, where it still remains today.
The Pieta as it presently stands in the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kilcormac.
During Penal Times Catholics were forbidden to practise their religion and resorted to celebrating mass in secluded places. There is still a corner field in Ballinacarrig called ‘The Mass Pit’. According to Rev. A Cogan’s “The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern”, a priest was arrested in his vestments for saying mass near the Motte in Ballyboy.
St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy
St. Mary’s Church Ballyboy
Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was taken over by the Church of Ireland between the dates 1709 and 1715 when there was renewed persecution of Catholics. The present church was built in 1815 with a loan of £900. Several years later, it was repaired with a grant of £279. In 1874, a very bad thunderstorm hit Ballyboy and the tower of the church was struck by lightning. It is said that the flash ripped a body that had been buried a few days before out of its grave. Two years after Griffith’s Valuation, the women of Ballyboy got together and subscribed a sum of money to purchase a chalice for the Church. This chalice is still in use in Kilcormac and on its base is inscribed ‘Pray for the Matrons of Ballyboy, 1856’.
Seán Lambe, Aran Kelly, Andrea Feighery, Kyle Jennings, Harry Bracken, Rory Grennan
The Normans in Ballyboy
In 1175, the Normans arrived in Ballyboy and built a Motte and Bailey in the village on Abbey Rath, on the banks of the Silver River. The Castle was initially built as a secure garrison for the Anglo-Norman army as they advanced through this region using the routeways in Fir Cheall. Once the region of Fir Cheall had been secured by the Anglo-Normans, the castle acted as a focus for settlement which grew up around and under the protection of the earth and timber castle. At the base of the mound are the remains of old walls, said by some to be the ruins of St. Brigid’s Convent.
Towards the end of the 14th century, the O’Malley’s took possession of the Anglo-Norman castle. The lands and castle of Ballyboy remained in the hands of the O’Malley’s until the Irish War of 1641-53. After this war the lands and castle of Ballyboy were confiscated by the Commonwealth government and granted to Sir William Petty. During the Williamite Wars in Ireland of 1688-91, the village and castle of Ballyboy became a garrison for Williamite soldiers. In 1690 the Jacobite forces attacked and burnt the town and the Williamite forces took refuge in the castle located on the ‘Mount’ in the centre of the village.
The earth and timber Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Grace Guinan
The Norman Castle in Ballyboy by Anna Doolan
The archaeological remains of the earth and timber castle consist of a large D-shaped bailey that lies to the southwest of the low motte and survives today as a well-defined curving field boundary. The poorly preserved remains of a wall belonging to a stone structure can be seen standing on the summit of the motte. This wall may belong to the stone castle depicted standing on the summit of the motte on the 1654 Down Survey map.
In the post-medieval period, the castle was in ruins and the stone from it was probably reused in the construction of the present houses in the village. During this time, a stone wall was constructed along the base of the motte on the southern side. The church and castle with its associated settlement can be seen depicted on the 1654 Down Survey map of Ballyboy Barony. The Church of Ireland ruins are located on the site of the medieval church.
This photograph shows the motte or mound of the Anglo-Norman earth and timber castle. A later post-medieval wall cuts across the base of the motte which is visible on the left side of the photo.
The footings of the stone structure can be seen on the top of the motte.
Grace Guinan, Luke Guinan, Anna Doolan, Aaron Coady
Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy
Our school, Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy is named after St. Brigid.The site of our present-day school was originally a hat and glove factory. During Penal Times, it was against the law for Catholic children to be educated, so a hedge school was set up to secretly educate local children. For a short period during the early 1700’s, the ruins of the old church in Ballyboy was used as a hedge school also.
The site of the Hedge School in Ballyboy
When Penal Laws ended in 1782 it was no longer illegal to have hedge schools so there was a school built in the village. There is little known about the school other than it had a thatched roof.
In 1820 a new school with a thatched roof was built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife. It is said that the school was also aided by an annual donation of £6 from the Marquess of Lansdowne. This school had a Protestant Schoolmaster and provided Catholic and Protestant children with an education. In 1832, the school was taken over by the Board of Education. The roof was slated and a Catholic Schoolmaster appointed. Griffith’s Valuation tells us that there was a dwelling house where the master would have lived. There was no piped water and the ditch was used as a toilet.
The Schoolhouse in Ballyboy, built by Lord Lansdowne’s wife
Ballyboy Schoolhouse 1820-1962 by MJ Hynes
The school was originally very close to the road but in 1960 it was knocked and a new one, seen below, built further back. This new school design was typical of the time being a large one storey building with tall windows. All the children were taught in two rooms. There was a small solid fuel stove in each classroom for heat, and the children would fetch turf from the shed which is now our boiler house.
Ballyboy School in the late 1960’s with the central chimney used to heat both classrooms. This central chimney is no longer present in our current school.
The school has been extended twice since it was built, in 1996 and in 2004. We now have a big playing pitch outside where we can play. We have a safe environment, and we are building a set down area so our parents can drop us off safely to school. For a such a small village we have a lot of history.
The First extension in 1996
Scoil Bhríde Ballyboy September 2022
Back in Time….the steps in our school wall that once led to the Hatter’s Factory
The old water pump outside our school. This pump would have been used as a source of water on the night of the fire in the hall.
Daniel Lambe, MJ Hynes, Theo Kilmartin, Sean Russell, Bryan Feighery, Aaron Grimes McDermott
Dan and Molly’s
Dan and Molly’s pub was built in the 1800’s. It has been a pub for over 150 years. Originally the Redmond’s owned the pub, then the Molloy’s, the Petits, the Lynch’s and then the Ryan’s. The Ryan’s moved into the building in 1863 and Jack Ryan passed it down to his daughter Molly, who married Dan Boland. The pub then became known as Dan and Molly’s. Dan and Molly’s daughter Catriona now runs the pub alongside her husband Fergal. Dan and Molly’s still has the thatched roof because there was a preservation order put on the building in the 1970’s which does not allow it to be removed. Dan and Molly’s is the only straw thatched pub left in Offaly. The pub is used for music sessions, set dancing, card games, music lessons and general community events. The lessons are run by Ballyboy CCÉ. The family have a keen interest in the arts as the music has been passed down through four generations – namely Jack Ryan, his daughter Molly, grand-daughters Catriona and Stella and now the great grand-children John, Anna, Daniel, Séan and Katie. On April 12th, 2011, the pub went on fire, when a spark from the chimney ignited the straw on the thatched roof. This was a devastating evening for the family and for the community. It took many units of the fire brigade to bring the fire under control. Luckily the roof was restored to its original condition soon after.
Dan & Molly’s Ballyboy by Anna McDonald
Anna McDonald, Fiadhna Leamy, AJ Bracken, Daniel Heffernan, Cára Guinan, Mark Dolan
Ballyboy Hall was built in 1954 by the Young Farmers Association. It was built by voluntary labour mostly in the evenings, after the work of the day was done. In 1690, more than 250 years before this, King William of Orange had spent a night in the hotel which had stood on this very site. (The new hall was built on the site of the old hotel.) In 1967, there was a fire in the hall during a Whist Drive. The calamity happened because an oil heater caught fire. Local people who were there, said that it was an awful tragedy and many people got very badly burnt. On the night, water was pumped from the village pump, located outside the school to treat the injured. Luckily nobody died in the fire. The hall has remained derelict for many years until recently, when several locals came together and formed a group called Ballyboy Community Development Group. The group are fundraising to build a new community hall on the same site as the old one. They plan to develop a green space and recreational area in the village including landscaped area with seating, lighting and amenity car parking area.
Ballyboy Hall by Cian Brunswick
Cian Brunswick, Adam Coady, Lochlann Fletcher, Alice Molloy, Sophie McGarry, Michael Clavin
Great work from the children of 5th and 6th class at Ballyboy School. This is our first blog from a school. Many of our blogs are used by schools and we look forward to more contributions from your area. Congratulations to Ballyboy, all the children who wrote and illustrated. A special thanks to the staff and in particular to their teacher Ms Michelle Egan, and also to Ms G. Clendennen.
Offaly History welcomes contributions by way of articles on all aspects of the history of County Offaly