Ballinahown  – A Timeline

 

The community of Ballinahown has maintained a meaningful and lasting relationship with the landscape since prehistory. Particular importance may be attributed to the village’s strategic location between three major routeways, the River Shannon, the Slí Mhór and the trackway or togher, known as the Giant’s Road. The village is located just north of Slí Mhór, a nationally important route connecting the east and west of Ireland. The Giant’s Road, in Bloomhill Bog, provides valuable information on the routes pilgrims followed to Clonmacnoise for over seven hundred years. This strategic location is still relevant today as vast numbers of visitors to the ecclesiastical site continue to pass through this area.

 

Post Glacial Period (c. 12,000 BC)

At the end of the Ice Age c. 12,000 BC, the landscape in the Irish Midlands looked very different. The receding glaciers left glacial deposits that resulted in thousands of shallow lakes bounded by eskers and ridges. These glacial lakes eventually provided the perfect conditions for peat formation. Over thousands of years, the former glacial lakes have evolved into raised bogs. The River Shannon and its callows, raised bogs and eskers dominate the landscape of this area creating a wonderful and unique landscape that is home to flora and fauna favouring this area. This landscape has recorded human presence since the earliest times.

 

Mesolithic (8,000 to 4,000 BC)

Ireland became an island around 14,000 BC. Before this, it was connected to southwest Scotland by a land bridge until retreating glaciers resulted in rising sea levels.

 

The first evidence of human occupation in Ireland dates to around 8,000 BC, marking the start of the Mesolithic or ‘Middle Stone Age’ in Ireland. Mesolithic people came to Ireland after the large glaciers that covered the Island during the Ice Age melted. The intriguing mystery of how these people came to Ireland remains unsolved, but it is thought that they travelled across the short sea route between northeast Ireland and south-western Scotland. The first inhabitants of this Island were hunter-gatherer groups that moved from place to place to forage and hunt the natural resources available to them. They lived in temporary camps, often close to rivers, lakes or the sea.

 

Lough Boora

In 1977, some of Ireland’s earliest evidence of human activity was excavated in Lough Boora, 16 km south-southeast of Ballinahown. The campsite comprised several hearths on a gravel ridge at a lake edge. Radiocarbon dating has revealed that the campsite was occupied between 7,000 and 6,500 BC. The site was subsequently sealed by peat and revealed over 8,000 years later during peat exploitation (O’Brien and Sweetman, 1997, 1).

 

Stone tools found at the site included 200 chert microliths, blades and scrapers, which are small stone tools typical of the time. Debris associated with the manufacture of bone tools was also recovered from the site (Ibid.). The range of mammal, fish and bird bones recovered from the site indicates that the people using the campsite exploited the readily available resources. This site also tells us that people have moved through this landscape since the earliest times.

 

 

Neolithic (4,000 to 2,200 BC)

The arrival of the first farmers around 4,000 BC marks the start of the Neolithic or ‘New Stone Age’ period. There was a major shift from the hunter-gatherer cultures of the Mesolithic to the more permanent settlements of the first farmers. The Neolithic saw the domestication of animals such as cows, sheep, and goats and the cultivation of crops. We see archaeological evidence for house structures, and the pollen record indicates forest clearance took place to make way for the cultivation of crops.

 

Artefacts dating to this period include stone tools, including polished stone axes and blades. The archaeological record also includes pottery, which was used for storing and cooking grains.

 

Megalithic stone monuments also made a conspicuous appearance on the Irish landscape. The most famous examples include the passage tombs at Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. Many more impressive monuments, such as portal dolmens (Poulnabron, Co. Clare), wedge tombs, and court tombs, are found across the island of Ireland.

 

Polished Stone Axehead

The discovery of a polished stone axehead and its recording in the National Museum of Ireland’s Finds Database (1984:128) near Ballinahown suggests that humans were present in the area over 5,000 years ago. Found on the surface of a togher (road) in Clonaderg townland, just south of the village, this tool was likely used for felling trees during land clearance for farming expansion. This evidence indicates that early farmers were actively altering the landscape surrounding Ballinahown.

 

Bronze Age (2,500 to 600 BC)

The period from 2,500 BC to 500 BC saw the arrival of metalworking and is known as the Bronze Age. Two artefacts found in Doon, 2 km southeast of Ballinahown, are evidence of human activity in proximity to the village during the Bronze Age.

 

Barbed and tanged flint arrowhead

The earliest artefact is a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead, which tells us that hunters from the early to middle Bronze Ages roamed the immediate landscape around the village. This highly effective hunting tool may have been lost by a hunter exploiting the game in the environs of the village over three and a half thousand years ago.

 

Bronze sword

A Bronze sword, also found in Doon, is later in date and most likely dates to the Late Bronze Age (1,200 to 500 BC). This weapon indicates a period of heightened warfare and uncertainty, belonging to someone who carried it for personal protection.’

 

Clonfinlough Settlement

A number of important Bronze Age sites are recorded in the wider landscape. Two sites are located in Clonfinlough townland, known locally as Clonfanlough, approximately 8 km southwest of Ballinahown.

 

In 1990, a nationally important Late Bronze Age settlement site (Sites and Monuments Record No. OF006-075) at Finlough was excavated approximately 7.5 km west-southwest of Ballinahown. This settlement, which dates back to around 900 BC, consisted of two wooden circular houses, a hut platform, and a working platform enclosed by an oval-shaped ash palisade (wooden fence) (Maloney et al. 1993, 6). At the time of the settlement’s occupation, the site was situated on the shore of a post-glacial lake that eventually became inundated by peat over three thousand years ago. It remained preserved until it was uncovered during Bord na Móna peat cutting in 1990 (Ibid., 1).

 

The archaeological evidence from this settlement site offers a truly unique window into domestic life around 900 BC. The peat, acting as a natural preservative, has safeguarded a treasure trove of artefacts that would have otherwise deteriorated on dryland. Among the recovered items are pottery, saddle querns, rubbing stones, wicker baskets, two amber beads, and two large perforated paddles. The amber beads, in particular, are of significant value and likely part of a necklace (Ibid., 47-51). They provide compelling evidence that the inhabitants of this site were integral to a trade network spanning northern Europe, as amber is known to originate in the Baltic.

 

Clonfinlough Stone

The Clonfinlough Stone (OF006-038) is a large glacial boulder displaying a series of carvings similar to Spanish examples believed to be Bronze Age in date (O’Brien and Sweetman 1997, 17). This National Monument commands a prominent position overlooking the site of the now-drained Finlough, which is the site of the Bronze Age settlement site discussed above. The rock art displayed on the stone is unusual in an Irish context. There are carvings of t-shaped figures, crosses, and possibly footprint representations. It also displays natural weathering, which appears to have been modified with incised lines and motifs. The cruciform figures on the stone suggest a later attempt to Christianise this prominent pagan symbol on the landscape.

 

Standing Stones

Three standing stones, known as the ‘Kings stones’, are located approximately 2 km east of the village in Laughil (OF006-004) and Esker (OF006-026 and OF006-005) townlands. Standing stones are usually Bronze Age in date but some examples were erected as scratching posts or ornamental features. Without excavation, it is impossible to establish whether the three examples, east of Ballinahown, are Bronze Age in date. They were not recorded on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1838), which may indicate that they may be more recent in date.

 

Iron Age (600 BC- AD 400)

The absence of Iron Age activity in the national archaeological record, including Ballinahown and the wider landscape does not imply an uninhabited area during this period, but rather suggests the presence of undisturbed subsurface remains. Two instances of Iron Age activity have been identified in the wider landscape, hinting at the potential for further discoveries.

 

Among the significant discoveries, a wooden lid found during an archaeological survey of Ballaghurt Bog, 3 km southwest of Ballinahown, potentially dates to the Iron Age (Rohan 2009). Equally noteworthy, evidence of Iron Age smelting activity was unearthed during excavations in the New Graveyard at Clonmacnoise in the mid-1990s (O’Brien and Sweetman 1997, 95).

 

Early medieval (AD 400-1100)

An abundance of monuments, located near Ballinahown Village, indicate a strong population presence in the area during the early medieval period.

 

Clonmacnoise

The most well known is the monastic site at Clonmacnoise, which St. Ciaran founded in the mid-sixth sixth century. This internationally significant ecclesiastical site was established at the meeting point of the River Shannon and the Slí Mhór, a nationally important route at the time. It became a prominent centre for religion, learning, and craftsmanship during the early medieval period.

 

The monastic complex includes evidence of thirteen churches, two round towers, three high crosses (two complete and one cross shaft), 600 grave slabs dating from the eight to the twelfth centuries, and a cemetery still used by locals today (Ibid., 89). By the seventh and eighth centuries, Clonmacnoise was one of the most important monastic centres in the country. It served as a hub for learning, cultural exchange and trade. The craftsmanship associated with Clonmacnoise is noteworthy for its contributions to medieval Irish art and architecture. The skilled craftsmen based in Clonmacnoise produced a variety of stone structures and artefacts. Their skill may be seen in the highly decorative stone carvings on the three high crosses and the masonry in the churches, particularly the Romanesque depictions in the Nun’s Chapel. Highly skilled metalwork was also produced at Clonmacnoise, including chalices, reliquaries, and illuminated manuscripts. It has been suggested that the sandstone used for two of the High Crosses in Clonmacnoise may have been quarried locally either from Brockagh, the hill to the northeast of Ballinahown, or from Bloomhill (Feehan 2014, 12).

 

Routeways

During both the early and late medieval periods, Ballinahown occupied a strategic position between two nationally significant routeways and a third regionally important trackway, all of which provided access to the renowned ecclesiastical site at Clonmacnoise, located 9 km to the southwest. The Slí Mhór, recognised as a nationally important routeway during that era, traced the eskers from east to west in Doon, south of the village, before continuing westward along the eskers toward Clonmacnoise. Excavations conducted near Esker Castle as part of the N62 Doon to Ballinahown Re-Alignment scheme in 2011 revealed potential remains of a section of the Slí Mhór, shedding light on the historical importance of the route (Bayley, 2011).

 

 

The Giant’s Road

Possibly the most significant archaeological feature in proximity to Ballinahown is a substantial trackway (WM-035-017/OF006-001(001)), known as The Giant’s Road, which formed part of a major routeway leading south towards Clonmacnoise. This nationally important trackway, located 3 km west, northwest of the village, was in almost continuous use for over seven hundred years and dates from the mid-sixth to the thirteenth century (AD 564 to 1226±9). This impressive trackway is orientated northeast to southwest across Bloomhill Bog from Ballynahownwood townland in Co. Westmeath to Bloomhill, Co. Offaly, for approximately 800m and spans up to 4m in width. The trackway, excavated during the mid-1980s and again in 1992, uncovered up to eight construction phases (Maloney et al. 1995, 62).

 

The earliest construction phase, composed of clay, gravel and stone, was laid down in the sixth century AD. This phase was sealed by peat and replaced with a layer of clay, stones and large timbers that were radiocarbon dated to cal. AD 564 to 775, which was, in turn, inundated by peat. Above this phase, there were three successive phases of construction consisting of clay, stone and gravel, followed by brushwood and finally, a layer of sods. After a further episode of peat growth, a surface of large flagstones was laid, which was also covered by peat that contained a number of thirteenth-century type horseshoes and two leather shoe fragments. The final construction phase consisted of birch roundwoods and oak timbers dendrochronologically dated to AD 1226±9 or later (Ibid.).

 

This trackway was likely part of a route from the north that provided safe passage across the treacherous bog. Once it joined the dryland on Bloomhill, it likely continued southwest across the dryland on Bloomhill and linked with a bog path that crossed the bog to Clonascra. The path, now overgrown, was recorded in the Schools Collections, a collection of folklore compiled by schoolchildren in the 1930s from older members of the community, (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0812, Page 431). From Clonascra, the path joined the Pilgrim’s Road to Clonmacnoise.

 

The Giant’s Road was used for over seven hundred years and is unique in its construction and association with Clonmacnoise. Trackways, also known as toghers, have been recorded in raised bogs throughout the Midlands, but few are as substantial or reused over such a long period as this example in Bloomhill Bog. This example is only paralleled by the multi-phase trackway, which provided access to the early medieval monastic site at Lemanaghan 9.5 km southeast of Ballinahown.

 

 

Ringforts

During the early medieval period, people lived in enclosed or defended farmsteads known as ringforts, which were predominantly occupied between AD 500 and 1000. The physical remains of four ringforts are recorded within 2.5 km southeast of the village. These features are one of the most recorded monument types found in Ireland. They are composed of circular or sub circular earthen banks with an outer fosse (ditch). A wooden palisade would have stood on top of the bank, enclosing livestock and providing protection to its inhabitants.

 

There are two ringforts in Doon Demense, the first of which is a significant example (OF006-02901) that occupies a prominent position at the end of an esker on Cave Hill. At the centre of the ringfort is an impressive multi-chambered souterrain (OF006-02902), which probably gives its name to the hill. It is composed of drystone walled chambers with flat lintelled roofs connected by creepways (O’Brien and Sweetman 1997, 49). Souterrains were used as refuges in times of danger or for storage as the cool atmosphere inside them made them ideal for storing food. The second ringfort (OF006-030) is located to the southeast at the western end of an esker. The remaining two ringforts are found in Laughil (OF006-025) and Esker (OF006-027) townlands east-southeast of the village and northeast of the Doon Demesne ringforts. These two examples are both located in undulating countryside.

 

Bullaun Stones

Three bullaun stones are recorded, approx. 1.2 km east of the village in an area known locally as Fedderrnagh (WM035-009) and northeast of the village in Ballinahown townland (WM035-007 and WM035-007001). Bullaun stones are large boulders with hollowed-out cavities that are thought to have been used as mortars for grinding grain during the early medieval period. They are often found at ecclesiastical sites, where they may have been used for baptisms and blessings.

 

Local folklore records that the depressions in the boulder at Federrnagh were said to have come about when St. Patrick was travelling in the area. His horse reportedly tripped on the stone and left the imprint of his knees on the boulder. The water that gathers in the hollows of one of the bullaun stones to the northeast is said to be a cure for toothaches. St. Patrick’s Well was thought to be in the vicinity of the three bullaun stones. The Schools Collections records that St. Patrick’s horse drank from the well, and the tree beside the well was planted by the Saint himself (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0812, Page 438)

 

Enclosures and Earthworks

Several monuments listed as ‘enclosures’ and ‘earthworks’ are recorded in the Ballinahown area. Enclosures refer to circular features that are too eroded to be positively identified. They are often barely discernible at ground level and may only be visible as crop marks through aerial photography. Such features may date from prehistory to modern times, though many are thought to be the remains of ringforts. One such feature is recorded north of the village (WM035-012) on the southern side of the avenue leading to Ballinahown Court. Two enclosures, which are no longer visible at ground level, are also recorded to the southeast (OF006-003) and south (OF006-028) of Ballinahown in Laughil and Doon Demense, respectively.

 

Two examples of earthworks are recorded in Ballinahown, approximately 0.7 km (WM035-013) and 1.5 km (WM035-008) northeast of the village. Earthworks describe damaged earthen banks, mounds, or ditches that are difficult to classify with certainty. They, too, may date from the prehistoric through to the modern period.

 

Later medieval (AD 1100-1700)

There is little documentary evidence for Ballinahown in the later medieval period. The records indicate the area was controlled by the O’Mooneys of the Doon and the O’Malones at Ballinahown (both later dropped the ‘O’ prefix from their surnames). The Malones sold their estate in the nineteenth century. However, the Mooneys still reside at their ancestral home and can claim their lineage in the area back to Norman times.

 

O’Malones of Ballinahown

The O’Malones castle at Ballinahown has long since been demolished, but it is thought that it was located at Ballinahown Court (Buildings of Ireland, 2006). A castle was first recorded on the 1656 Down Survey map of Kilcleagh Parish, which depicts ‘Ballinehone’ Castle and Bawn (WM035-010). In his book on South Westmeath, Sheehan (1978, 88) suggested that O’Malone founded a castle at the site of Ballinahown Court. The O’Malones are thought to have moved their residence from Kilgarven to Ballinahown by the late seventeenth century (Ó’Háinle, 13). One of the earliest documented O’Malones, known as Bald John, was Abbot of Clonmacnoise. His death is recorded in the Annal of the Four Masters as AD 1127 (Ibid., 85). The earliest documented record of the O’Malone’s, who settled in Ballinahown, relates to an Edmund O’Malone, who lived during the Elizabethan era (1558 to 1603). His son Edmund’s marriage was also documented in 1599 (Ibid.).

 

In 1598, Kilgarven was listed as one of the chief towns of the Barony of Clonlonan, which was possessed by the O’Molaghlins, who are the O’Malones discussed above (Hogan 1878, 104). Kilgarven, located 3 km north-northwest of Ballinahown, was an important population centre during this time. One story from the Schools Collection, claims that there was a church, convent, graveyard and fair green at Kilgarven (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0745, Page 016). The same story recounts the recovery of bones and a stone holy water font from this area. Kilgarven is worth further research as nothing on the site at Kilgarven is recorded on the Record of Monuments and Places.

 

Three generations of the O’Malone family are recorded as living at Ballinahown throughout the seventeenth century. In the Civil Survey of 1640, the O’Malones owned 871 Irish acres in Clonlonan and Brawney baronies (Sheehan 1978, 88). O’Donovan records in his Ordnance Survey letters that the townland of ‘Ballinehone Wood’ along with eight other townlands in the area, were forfeited by the O’Melaghlins in 1641 (1926, 22). Their land holdings increased to 1,790 Irish acres after the Cromwellian plantation (1649-1653).

 

Lewis, writing in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol. 1 (1837, 157), records that Ballynahown was ‘for more than nine centuries the residence of the Malone family, who’s ancient mansion, built on the site of an old castle and now unoccupied, is the principal object of interest. The estate, together with the old family mansion, has at length passed into other hands.’ He also records a constabulary police station in the village.

 

The possible site of another O’Malone castle (WM035-006) is in Kilbillaghan townland at 1.9 km north-northeast of the village. The documentary sources inform us that Robert Dillon of Cannorstown was granted ‘Kilbellaghan, containing a castle, 20 houses, 12 gardens, a mill‘ in 1612 (O’Brien, 2015). In 1619, Edmond Malone and Teige O’Higgan surrendered the castle and mill in Kilbellaghan. In the same year, the King confirmed his grant to Edmond Malone of Kilgarvan, which included a ‘stone castle with 12 messuages, 1 watermill and 3 cartrons, and 2/3 of a cartron in Kilbellaghan and Cromrodd’ (Ibid.). The castle is no longer extant, so the precise location of this medieval castle within the townland of Kilbillaghan is unknown. In 1837, the Ordnance Survey memoranda recorded that ‘no part of a castle is now visible here, but tradition states that there was a castle of the O’Melaghlins. ‘The site of this castle may be located in the ruins of Newbridge House, though no archaeological evidence is now visible.

 

Mooney’s of the Doon

The ruins of two tower houses are visible from the road at Doon Cross, 2.5 km southeast of Ballinahown, in Esker and Lackagh More townlands. Tower Houses are the remains of fortified residences built by affluent Gaelic and Anglo-Norman families during the 15th to early 17th centuries. The two examples discussed here were built by the Mooneys (also documented as O’Mooney), who have been landowners in this area since Norman times. The tower house and bawn, known as Esker Castle (OF006-031001-004), commands a prominent position on an Esker and includes a bawn and the three-storey ruins of the tower house. Interestingly, a Sheela-na-gig is positioned as a corner quoin on the first floor of the tower house. Sheela-na-gigs are stone carvings of naked women displaying their genitalia and were most popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (O’Brien and Sweetman 1997, 126). There are 110 examples found in medieval tower houses, ecclesiastical sites and holy wells in Ireland. Another example may be found in the Nun’s Chapel at Clonmacnoise. These curious carvings are symbols of femininity and were thought to ward off evil.

 

In the medieval period, to the west of Esker Castle, was a roadway or pass known as the ‘Bealagh Leathcoill’ [Pass or road through the half/southern wood] (O’Brien, 2012). The route of this ‘pass’ is now followed by the N62 road connecting Ferbane to Athlone.

 

In 1556, Rory O’Mooney is documented as holding Esker Castle and 10,000 acres of ancestral land. Owen Mooney held it until he was transplanted to Co. Clare by the Cromwellians during the 1650s. The late Roy Mooney stated in a recording made for Irish Life and Lore in 2005 that the family occupied this castle until 1808 (O’Keefe, 2021).

 

Approximately 300m south of Esker Castle is another tower house and bawn (OF006-03201 to 003) in Lackagh More townland. This ruin was recorded as ‘Togher Castle’ on the first edition of OS 6-inch map and incorrectly recorded as ‘Togher Monastery’ on later Ordnance Survey maps.

 

Chalice

In 1647, Ellinor Callanan had a silver chalice made for St. Ciarán’s Chapel in Clonmacnoise. The chalice was used for mass in Ballinahown, though how it came to Ballinahown from Clonmacnoise is not known (Ó’Háinle 1999, 13).

 

 

Modern Period (AD 1700 to the present)

 

18th century

The 2011 excavations on the N62 Doon to Ballinahown Re-Alignment, near Doon Cross, uncovered a post-medieval (AD 1550-1850) iron knife with a bone handle from a pit near Esker Castle (Bayley, 2011).

 

Ballinahown Court was built for Edmond Malone and his wife Ruth in 1746. It is lauded in the architectural inventory of Ireland as ‘the most elegant example of a country house in the south of County Westmeath, certainly of its date, and must have been designed by an architect of some note, perhaps even by Richard Castle (died 1751) as suggested by some sources’ (Buildings of Ireland, 2006). Edmund, who led a distinguished life, was called to both the English (1730) and Irish Bar (1740), and was Member of Parliament (M. P.) for Granard from 1760 to 1766 (Sheehan 1978, 88).

 

19th century

The Mooneys of the Doon built the current country house about 1800, with a Doric portico to the front elevation and return and extensions to the rear. During the nineteenth century, the Mooneys were High Sheriffs of Offaly and involved in local Gaelic sports. A hurley belonging to Francis Enraght-Mooney, captain of the Doon hurling team, dates to 1826, indicating a long-held local association with Gaelic sports (O’Keefe, 2021).

 

The Tithe War, a significant event in Irish history, impacted the locality. Tithes were an unpopular tax collected from the population to support the Church of Ireland clergy in the late seventeenth century. Opposition came to a head after Catholic Emancipation in 1829 (O’Brien 2022, 776). A story in the School’s Collection records how the Bailiffs were driving seized ‘tithe’ cattle near Ballinahown when a group of local men attacked them. One man, named Mick Flynn, was recognised, and hanged at Knockanea for the attack. The event is immortalised in the Ballad of Mick Flynn (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0748, Page 027).

 

The Great Famine

The Great Famine severely affected the local population in the Ballinahown area. Records from the Schools Collections for Ballinahown and Rashina schools document efforts to alleviate famine-related suffering. The parson residing at Corbeg House, near Doon, distributed Indian meal to starving locals during the famine. A large boiler used for preparing Indian meal for relief efforts was still present at Mr John Hennessey’s farmhouse in Corbeg, Ballinahown, in the 1930s (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0810, Page 197)The Mooneys of the Doon also alleviated suffering and set up a soup kitchen, through Birr Union, to feed hungry locals. The large pot, used to cook barley, maize or rice and vegetables, survives at their family home (Kenny 1999, 64). The population of Ballinahown village decreased by 41% between 1841 and 1851 through starvation and emigration (Ibid., 65). This account offers insight into the humanitarian efforts and hardships faced by the local community during the Great Famine.

 

In 1828, Ballinahown Court changed hands when it was purchased by Andrew Ennis, a Dublin mercantile trader (Sheehan 1978, 90). Andrew Ennis’s son, John Ennis, inherited the estate, becoming a County Magistrate and serving as a M.P. for the Borough of Athlone in 1857. John Ennis’s son, also named John, continued the family’s involvement in local government, serving as High Sheriff of Westmeath and elected M.P. for the Borough of Athlone in 1868. The Ennis family was remembered as harsh employers and landlords despite their political involvement (Ibid., 91). The Landed Estates project records Sir John Ennis, director of the Bank of Ireland, with an estate of 8,774 acres in Westmeath, 326 acres in County Dublin and 262 acres in County Roscommon in 1874 (Ibid.). Following the marriage of his daughter, Maria, to Daniel O’Donoghue M.P. in 1858, the estate passed into the ownership of The O’Donoghues of the Glens. It remained the property of The O’Donoghues until 1968 when they sold the house and 500 acres to Mr Vasil Crofts-Green.

 

Many of the buildings recognisable in the village today were constructed during the nineteenth century. The community hall in the heart of the village was originally the parish church, built around 1810. An early example of a parochial house sits at a right angle to the hall and is thought to have been built by Fr. Andrew McKeon around 1826. The former Garda barracks, now a private residence, was built in 1860 as a pair of semi-detached cottages for workers at Ballynahown Court.

In 1858 Cardinal Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster, visited Ballinahown Court during a three-week tour of Ireland, generating significant excitement in the local area (Ó’Háinle 1999, 20).

 

The first schoolhouse in the village was constructed by John Ennis of Ballinahown Court in 1863. Before its establishment, hedge schools were documented in The Schools Collections for Ballinahown in Clonaderg and Rohanstown (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0745, Page 018).

In 1896, the foundation stone of Ballinahown Church was laid (Ó’Háinle, 21). Canon Columb, who kept meticulous records of the money raised and the expenditure required to complete the building, initiated the building of the new church. He engaged architect Mr William Hague to design the church, who was succeeded by his partner Mr Thomas McNamara, after his death (Ibid.). Many local people contributed to the church building funds, the windows and pews dedicated to these contributors are still visible as a link with the community living in the community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

Twentieth Century

During the twentieth century, Ballinahown Village expanded and gained a Community Hall that provided the community with the opportunity to socialise learn and support local interests.

 

In 1901, Doon football club was affiliated with the GAA, affirming a local dedication to the sport and community that continues proudly today (Ryan, M. 1999, 70).

 

In 1902, Ballinahown Church was dedicated to St. Colmcill, almost six years to the day the first stone was laid (Ó’Háinle 1999, 26). Canon Reynolds built the current parochial house, in 1924.

 

The community spirit for which the village is known was evident in 1927 when Canon Columb formed Saint Columcill’s Pipe Band, which continued until 1950 (Rohan, J 1999, 114). The band participated in Ballinahown sports events and travelled widely to Feiseanna throughout the Midlands.

 

In 1930, Mrs. Ellen O’Donoghue transferred ownership of the site of the old church (Ballinahown Community Hall) as well as the parochial house and sixteen and a half acres to the diocese and the parish (Ó’Háinle, 23). The old church was renovated and repurposed into the community hall in 1938, at a cost of £1000. During demolition work associated with the building conversion, a horse’s skull was recovered from a side wall (Ibid.). Folklore records a tradition of placing horse skulls in churches and under dance floors to improve acoustics. Since its conversion, the Hall has remained central to community life in Ballinahown.

 

A Schools Collections story from Bloomhill National School records that a market was held in Ballinahown every Christmas during the 1930s for the sale of Turkeys and occasionally pigs (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0812, Page 468). The tradition of a Christmas Market was revived in recent years and it is once again an essential date in the community’s social calendar.

 

In the 1950s, Bord na Móna provided much-needed employment in the area. The milled peat was later burned to generate electricity for the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) power stations at Shannonbridge and Ferbane, which also provided much needed local employment.

 

In 1959, a Guild of Bantracht na Tuaithe (Irish Country Women’s Association (ICA)) was formed in Ballinahown, and regular meetings were held in the Community Hall. This provided a welcome opportunity for the women in the community to socialise and learn new skills including upholstery, crochet, and dressmaking.

 

In the early 1960s, the Community Hall in Ballinahown hosted many profitable dances and showbands including Irish music legend Joe Dolan. Changes in Licensing Laws soon restricted the number of patrons permitted in the Hall and reduced the profitability of dances, which resulted in the threatened closure of the Hall (Ryan M. 1999, 179). The volunteering spirit of the community prevailed and local groups managed to keep the Hall open and available to the community. Their perseverance has allowed generations of the local community to use this fantastic amenity for the past 60 years.

 

In 1973, Ballinahown Football Club was founded in the Community Hall. The Club now attracts members and players of all ages and is based in the Sports Park in the centre of the Village.

 

In 1982, the National School, built by John Ennis of Ballinahown Court, in 1863, closed, and the present-day St. Colmcille’s National School opened.

 

 

 

References

 

Bayley, D. 2011 2011:511 – Doon Demense and Lackaghmore, Offaly. Available from: https://excavations.ie/report/2011/Offaly/0022818/ [accessed 26 March 2024].

 

Buildings of Ireland 2006 National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Available from: https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/15403514/ballynahown-court-ballynahown-ballynahown-westmeath [accessed 26 March 2024].

 

Herity, M. (ed.) (2011) Ordnance Survey Letters Longford and Westmeath: letters relating to the antiquities of the counties of Longford and Westmeath containing information collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1837. Dublin: Fourmasters Press.

 

Hogan, E (1878) The Description of Ireland and the State therof as it is at present in Anno 1598. Dublin.

 

Kenny, J. (1999) ‘When each field had a family name’ in Lemanaghan Parish Millennium Committee A Pilgrim People. Offaly, pp. 61-65.

 

Lewis, S. (1837) A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol. 1. London, S Lewis & Co.

Maloney, A. et al. (1993) Excavations at Clonfinlough, County Offaly. Irish Archaeological Wetland Unit Transactions: Volume 2. Dublin: University College Dublin.

 

Maloney, A. et al. (1995) Blackwater Survey & Excavations. Artefact Deterioration in Peatlands, Lough More, Co. Mayo. Irish Archaeological Wetland Unit Transactions: Volume 4. Dublin: University College Dublin.

 

National Folklore Collection (henceforth NFC) 0745:016 Tomás Ó Dubhlain (60), Kilgarven, Co. Westmeath. Collector: Eibhlín Ní Dhubhláin, April 1938. Available from: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009116/4988206 [accessed 21 March 2024].

 

NFC 0745:018 Collector: Liam Ó Dubhthaigh (rang a sé). Available from: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009116/4988208 [accessed 21 March 2024].

 

NFC 0810:197 Mr Joseph Doorley, Rashinagh, Co. Offaly. Available from: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/ 5044613/5025801 [accessed 21 March 2024].

 

NFC 0812:431 C. Nic Annraoi, Cloncraff or Bloomhill, Co. Offaly 1937-1938.  Available from: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/ 5044620/5026645 [accessed 21 March 2024].

 

NFC 0812:438 C. Nic Annraoi, Cloncraff or Bloomhill, Co. Offaly 1937-1938. Available from: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/ 5044620/5026652 [accessed 21 March 2024].

 

O’Brien, C. 2012 Historic Environment Viewer (online). Available from: https://heritagedata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer  [accessed 26 March 2024].

 

O’Brien, C. 2015 Historic Environment Viewer (online). Available from: https://heritagedata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer  [accessed 29 March 2024].

 

O’Brien, C. & Sweetman, P.D. (1997) Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly. Dublin: The Stationary Office.

 

O’Brien, S. (ed.) (2022) Westmeath History and Society. Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County. Dublin: Geography Publications.

 

O’Donovan. J (1926) Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the County of Westmeath: collected during the progress of the ordnance survey in 1837. Dublin.

 

O’Flanagan, Rev. M. 1933 Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the King’s County collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Bray: Typescript in 2 volumes.

 

Ó’Háinle, C. (1999) ‘St. Columcille’s Church History, Tradition and Memory’ in Lemanaghan Parish Millennium Committee A Pilgrim People. Offaly, pp. 13-30.

 

O’Keefe, M (2021) The Mooney’s of the Doon, Ballinahown, Co. Offaly. [Podcast]. 16 July 2021. Available at: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0WEjuK46RrAkTiE1mS2H1a?si=Aa7yUcMvQlu-5mZG1EBx4g (Accessed 22 March 2024).

 

Rohan, J. (1999) ‘St. Columcille’s Pipe Band, Ballinahown’ in Lemanaghan Parish Millennium Committee A Pilgrim People. Offaly, pp. 114.

 

Rohan, N. (2009) Draft Report on 2009 Reassessment Field Survey. Blackwater & Boora Group of Bogs: Cos. Offaly, Galway, Westmeath & Roscommon. Unpublished Report.

 

Ryan, M. (1999) ‘History of Doon GAA’ in Lemanaghan Parish Millennium Committee A Pilgrim People. Offaly, pp. 70-72.

 

Ryan, M. (1999) ‘The Parish Hall’ in Lemanaghan Parish Millennium Committee A Pilgrim People. Offaly, pp. 179-180.

 

 

Sheehan, J. 1978 South Westmeath. Farm and Folk. Dublin: Blackwater Press.

 

This information is summarised in the form of a timeline and can be seen in Ballinahown Village. They can also be access at this link – Ballinahown Information Panels