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.

Initial explorations into the street-names of Tullamore. By Michael Byrne Sources Series

The modern official street-names of Tullamore town were adopted by the Tullamore Urban District Council in the early 1900s, replacing earlier street-names which were used in the nineteenth century and often adopted in honour of the town’s principal landlord, Charles William Bury (1764–1835), the first earl of Charleville (second creation). He presided over the fortunes of the town in its most formative phase from 1785 until his death in 1835. These honorific names replaced in some cases other more functional names used in the eighteenth century.

The street-names are generally as follows: first the functional name, e.g. Pound Street, secondly the landlord’s choice of name (post 1785 to c. 1905) such as Charles Street, William Street and Bury Quay. After 1905 the choice of Tullamore Urban District Council, i.e. Columcille Street, Clontarf  Road and Benburb Street, O’Carroll Street, O’Connor Square. The council, at the behest of the Gaelic League, adopted names based on local saints, families and famous Irish battles where the Irish won, or put up a good fight. The only example of a marketing name is that of Main Street (2003) and formerly known as Water Lane.

Some of the nineteenth-century names are still in use, for example, William Street. Whereas, Patrick Street is now seldom called Barrack Street as it was up to the 1960s. Henry Street (1820s) is after Henry Bury, a child of the second early of Charleville, who died in 1830 at a young age. Henry Street is still much used instead of the post-1905 official name of O’Carroll Street. The earliest names were related to the function served such as Market Place from about 1713 for the present O’Connor Square, Pound Street for the present Columcille Street.  These functional names were later replaced by names paying homage or regard to the owner of the town, the Moore family and post 1764, the Bury family.  Even the name of the town was amended to read Tullamoore instead of Tullamore, something that came into common use during the time of Charles Moore, first earl of Charleville (of the first creation of this title) and who died childless in 1764.

The name Tullamore can be documented back to 1571 and there is an earlier reference in a Life of Colmán. The great resource for Irish placenames in now online at logainm/placenames.ie. Here is a copy of the archival record for Tullamore, also called Tullamoore from the 1670s to the 1850s.

So where is the big hill – Hophill or Windmill Hill behind O’Moore Street?

The archival record from placenames.ie for Tullamore

Enter the Gaelic League

The matter of the new names for the streets had come up at town council meetings in December 1904 and again in January 1905 and February of the same year.  It was the Gaelic League (founded as to the Tullamore branch in 1902) who suggested to the council the appropriateness of new names reflecting the local saints, local native families and episodes in Irish history, and to be erected bilingually. On the proposal of John Wrafter and seconded by James Maher the changes were adopted. It was not difficult to see why the choice of names of the landlord or his agent should be disposed of. The good standing of landowners, had diminished during the Land War of the 1880s. Lady Bury had succeeded her uncle as owner of the Charleville estate in 1875, but being a woman and after 1885 a widow she was at a disadvantage. Furthermore she was very much an absentee and left matters to her agent, Ernest Hamilton Browne. Following the pattern set at national level in the 1890s the language, history and traditions of ‘Irish Ireland’ came again to be appreciated as a culturally distinguishing feature that separated the native from the foreigner. In Tullamore the Gaelic League enjoyed a strong period of growth after 1902 and during the tenure as president of local solicitor Henry James Egan, the delicate second son of Henry Egan, the town’s leading nationalist and merchant of the firm of P. & H. Egan Limited. Henry James Egan qualified a solicitor in 1900 and as coroner and county solicitor from 1903 was prominent for his few remaining years. He died in 1907 at the age of 29.

Among the streets and lanes closed before 1900 were: Emmet’s Lane, Willis’s Lane, Flanagan’s Lane, Molloy’s Lane and Sally Grove. The availability of the 1901 and 1911 censuses online makes all this information on families and streets so accessible.

As to the names we will have to come back to review them in more detail. Names such as Bachelors Walk, Chancery Lane and Swaddlin Lane. The latter is accessed between the two Italian restaurants in Patrick Street. The first Methodist church was in this lane until destroyed in the Balloon Fire of 1785. Every street and its name have a detailed history such as this paragraph on Brides Lane formerly Ruddock’s Lane or Swaddling Lane. The early Methodists were often called Swaddlers.

Bride’s Lane                          (Patrick St N.). Swaddling Lane 1821 (FDJ). Ruddock’s Lane  1838, 1890; Brides Lane 1912 (OS). One-storey houses each side (OSN 1885).The home of the first Methodist chapel c. 1762 (Craig, 1907; see Methodist chapel). Ruddock was a property owner with a dwelling house to the front of the street (OHA, 24 Mar. 1786, lease, Bury to William Ruddock). Described as Ruddock’s Lane (RD, 18 Mar. 1833, Ruddock to Wade, 1833/9/73). 38 cabins in 1843–54 (Val.1, Val. 2). 87 inhabitants in 1901 with 27 houses and 27 families (Census). The modern name is derived from the name of the parish, Kilbride. In giving evidence to a housing inquiry in 1910 it was described as a very congested district surrounded by a high wall with no thoroughfare through it (MT, 3.9.1910). It later became known as the Wade estate and was sold in 1912 (TKI 2.11.1912). The name Ruddock’s Lane was still in use in 1918 when twenty-five cottages here were offered for sale of which twenty-four were weekly tenants paying 1s. 4d. per week (TKI 30.3.1918). Clearance order published for demolition of dwellings (MT 21.12.1935). Now it the home to the name provided by the developers – Haviland Court.

Another interesting name is that beside the Bridge Centre known as Distillery Lane.

Distillery Lane: This lane is now greatly changed and was made into a wide street in 1992 as part of the construction of the Bridge Centre. It was known as Parvin’s Lane in 1783 and later Still Yard Lane. It connected Bridge Street with the distillery in use from the 1780s to 1954. In 1995 the lane was greatly widened to facilitate access to the new Bridge Centre. The widening followed on the demolition of the former Hoey & Denning premises in 1992 and was carried on to Water Lane off Patrick Street and after 2000 to Main Street.

The old street names coming down in 2000 courtesy of Michael Hayden

John O’Donovan’s Ordnance Survey Letters of King’s County, 1837 – 1838: Banagher, Clonmacnoise, Fercall, and Durrow. By John Dolan

Ordnance Survey of Ireland 1824 – 1842

John O’Donovan stayed in Banagher from 10-21 January 1834 where he was accompanied by Thomas O’Connor. As mentioned in a previous blog he used his time there to look at two historic sites in particular, in addition to his normal work. He first concentrated on Clonmacnoise, writing his first substantial and detailed letters on 15 January 1838. This followed on from his request that documents be sent from Dublin ahead of his arrival. He had visited Clonmacnoise and had collected a considerable amount of information about the church site and general area.

He first concentrated on the individual monuments on the site as detailed in earlier manuscripts and associated the monument to the relevant family names. His local contact was a man named Patrick Molloy but O’Donovan was sceptical about the accuracy of the information provided by him. In addition, he dealt with the map produced by Sir James Ware dated 1705; on this map Ware had identified 10 churches at Clonmacnoise, see below. For each monument O’Donovan checked the age of each as indicated in the Annals, checked the background of each one and compared that to a report in Petrie’s possession. Continue reading