Leigue Cemetery is the site of the remains of a C9th pre-Romanesque stone church and enclosure, all that is left of the ancient monastic settlement of Cill Mhór na Muaidhe that gave its name to the parish of Kilmoremoy, encompassing much of Ballina town and environs. A large cross-carved stone on the hill is cited as evidence that Saint Patrick performed his first baptisms here. An inscribed monument dominates the Republican plot, while an adjacent cillín containing the bones of unbaptised babies has been marked since 2000 by a sculpture by Gerry Ginty of Ballina.
Gatehouse of Belleek Woods, an “urban forest” amenity on the outskirts of Ballina – 200 acres of woodlands with trees up to 300 years old, explored by six miles of Heritage Trail and natural forest pathways, two of which run along the River Moy.
A medieval settlement on the west bank of the River Moy called Béal Atha an Fheada (”Ford of the Flags”) gave an anglicised form of its name to the Belleek estate, which came into being after troops under Queen Elizabeth I‘s regional governor , the President of Connaught, Having defeated the rebellious Mac Philbins and Mayo Burkes and their Scottish mercenaries at the Battle of Ardnaree on 23rd September 1586, the Governor of Coonnaught Sir Richard Bingham granted their ancestral territories to English adventurers.
Holders of the estate included Charles O’Hara, a British army officer who had distinguished himself during the War of Spanish Succession, been rewarded in 1707 with the title Baron Tyrawley, and held the post of Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, from 1714 to 1721. He died in 1724. His flamboyant son James (1682 – 1774), who had also fought in the Spanish campaign and been made Baron Kilmaine in 1722, was appointed an envoy to Portugal in 1728, Ambassador to Russia in 1743, Governor of Minorca in 1747 and of Gibraltar in 1756 (a post later held by his illegitimate son Charles) and given the rank of field marshal in 1763. He was the father of the actress George Anne Bellamy.
The main Belleek estate passed over several generations through the hands of various aristocratically intermarried members of the Knox family of nearby Rappa Castle, the Gore family (Earls of Arran), the multi-titled Annesleys, the King family (Earls of Kingston) and the Saunders.
Belleek Castle was held in the 1830s by Edward J Howley on a lease originally granted by James O’Hara, 2nd Lord Tyrawley to Vaughan Jones for 999 years in 1739. The Castle was leased to the Pery family in the late 1860s. It is now known as Ballina House.
Belleek Manor/Abbey, built for James Annesley Knox in 1831 in a mixed Gothic / neo-Jacobean style, was the seat of Maj.-Gen William Saunders Knox-Gore by the C20th. He sold it in 1940 to the Beckett family, who resold it to Mayo County Council. It was due to become a sanatorium until purchased by Jersey hotelier Marshall Doran, who restored the mansion beautifully as a luxury hotel.
Belleek Castle Hotel**** is very highly rated for its totally OTT opulent period furnishings, beautiful gardens, superb dining and wedding party facilities (including a Medieval Banquet Hall).
The Marshall Doran Collection is one of the finest collections of arms and armour, fossils and antiques in Ireland. Also on display is the last wolf shot in Connacht.
Guided Tours are available by appointment
The Memorial to Sir Francis Arthur Knox-Gore (1803-1873), 1st Bart, a bizarre riveside monument in Belleeek Wood, is wreathed in local legends; one claims that the mound was built to accommodate the burial of a favourite horse!.
[Ballina Castle, identified by O’Dowda Clan historian Conor Mac Hale as one of 20 medieval strongholds built in the area by the chieftains of the neighbouring barony of Tyreragh, listed in Wikipedia, seems to have stood at / near Belleek. Described as built in 1447 and inhabited by the family until the C17th Cromwellian era, then acquired in the 1650s by Robert Morgan, used by Williamite forces c.1690 and disused thereafter, thereafter, it sounds very like O’Dowda’s Castle at Castletown / Cottlestown in nearby Castleconnor (Co. Sligo); alternatively, there could be some confusion with Ardnaree Castle, remains of which Lewis (1837) mentions as still visible in his timeon the eatern side of the River Moy.]
The Creteboom, a prominent hulk in the River Moy, was a 125 ft ferro-concrete tugboat, one of 12 such vessels built in Sussex specifically to tow barges loaded with iron-ore from northern Spain to Britain during WWI. Belatedly launched in 1919; she was used for several years to tow coal barges in the Baltic, then ‘moth-balled’ on the River Wear, and eventually towed to the River Moy estuary, where she was scuttled in September 1937. However, the Ballina Harbour Commissioners’ plan to use her as a sand-stop in the mouth of the river was legally foiled by the Moy Fishery Co, fearing interference with the run of salmon. Moved in 1974 to her present position near Belleek, she is renowned as a great spot to catch eels. [A sister vessel, The Cretegoff, has been refurbished for use as a lounge at Carlingford Marina in County Louth.]
Ballina (Co. Mayo / North)
Ballina (Béal an Átha – “mouth of the ford”) (pop. 11000), scenically situated at the head of the River Moy Estuary, is the principal service centre in North Mayo, with a wide range of shops, accommodation options, pubs and eateries.
Ballina is the largest town in County Mayo by area, but lags behind Castlebarin terms of population, retail and service sector floor areas etc. The population of the town is growing faster than that of its rival, but the deficit in its commercial sector also continues to grow.
Ballina’s location on the River Moy makes it the Salmon Capital of Ireland, and one of the best fishing spots, the Ridge Pool, is situated in the heart of the town.
Nowadays on the west side of the Mayo / Sligo border, the northern stretch of the River Moy used to be the frontier until the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, so that the older eastern parts of Ballina (Ardnaree, Bunree etc.) were once in County Sligo, and the town is still divided between two old baronies, Tirawley on the west bank and Tireragh on the east.
The Battle of Ardnaree, fought on 23rd September 1586, was a victory for the Crown over an Irish-Scottish force led by the Scots Donnell Gorm MacDonnell of Carey and Alexander Carragh MacDonnell of Glenarm, sons of the deceased James MacDonald, 6th Laird of Dunnyveg, who had been invited into Connacht by the Mac Philbins and Burkes to attack English settlements in northern Connacht. The mercenaries were harassed at Sligo, Coolony and Ballingafad by Crown forces for over two weeks. Camped by the banks of the River Moy at Ardnaree, they were surrounded at night by troops under the command of Sir Richard Bingham, Governor of Connaught, who attacked at daybreak. During the battle 1,000 mercenaries and native soldiers were killed, including the military commanders, together with some 1000 men, women and children in the camp. Richard Bingham went on to hang the leaders of the Burkes, and gave the former lands of the Mac Philbins and Mayo Burkes to English settlers.
Ballina was officially established as a town in 1723 by Lord Tyrawley, the owner of Belleek Manor, who shortly before dying laid out the first street, obtained a patent for fairs and markets and brought a large number of skilled flax workers to the area for linen manufacturing (which did not flourish).Having developed as a small sea port and regional market hub, the settlement became a garrison town with the erection of the Military Barracks in 1740.
In August 1798, two days after the French Invasion forces landed in Killala Bay, General Humbert despatched two parties to reconnoitre the strength of the British garrison at Ballina, one advancing by Barr Na Dearg (The Red Gap), the other by Bothar na Sop (The Road of the Straw), where their way was lit by the locals who burned straw torches and gave them food. In appreciation, the French soldiers cut off the brass buttons from their uniforms and handed them out to the locals.
Meanwhile, before the town garrison under Col. Sir T Chapman and Major Kier of the Carbineers withdrew from Ballina to Foxford, they captured a young United Irishman called Patrick Walshe, and having discovered a French Commission authorising him to recruit for the Irish Republic on his person, hanged him from a public crane. When the French came upon the scene, General Sarrazin first kissed the corpse before ordering his entire troop to file past, saluting with colours lowered. Humbert’s arrival in Ballina on 25th August met no opposition.
The early C19th saw Ballina expand considerably, as described admiringly by Lewis (1837), who remarks on “thevery extensive tobacco and snuff manufactory … established in 1801 by Mr. Malley, who first persevered in opening the navigation of the river Moy, and thus gave a powerful impulse to the commercial prosperity of the town“, the growth of exports, and the construction of roads, “manufactories“, barracks etc. Tbe biggest development was the construction of The Quay c.1836.
The population of Ballina at the beginning of the Great Famine has been estimated at about 7,000. By 1847, the peak of the famine in Ballina, the Workhouse (built to accommodate 1,200 – 1,400 people) was vastly overcrowded. Poor victims were buried without coffins in two pits and many of the corpses were black as a result of the fever.
Like many towns after the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, Ballina changed its street names to replace former landlord families’ surnames with those of revolutionaries, so that e.g. Knox Street becme Pearse Street, Gore Street turned into Edward Street, Arran Street to Tone Street, King Street to O’Rahilly Street and John Street to Casement Street
Ballina was a significant port for the export of livestock to Great Britain until WWII. The year 2000 saw the opening of a large Coca Cola concentrate plant.
St Michael’s church (CoI) at Ardnaree was erected in either 1738 or 1763. The original edifice was altered in the early C19th by Thomas Ham. The church and its grounds both contain interesting memorials.
Ballina Presbyterian church / meeting house on Walshe Street was founded in 1846. The church building, or , is located in . During the Great Famine the premises were the centre of a great relief effort coordinated by Rev Thomas Armstrong. The congregation meets for worship in the upper storey of the building. The ground floor, once a schoolhouse, now comprises a suite of halls. The building to the left of the church was formerly an orphanage.
St Muredach’s Cathedral (RC) on the eastern bank of the River Moy is the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Killala. Work on the Cathedral began in 1827. The stone was quarried locally and the roof and ceiling were completed before 1845. The spire was completed in 1855 and by 1875 the organ had been commissioned. The cathedral was not completed until 1892 and has been renovated recently at a cost of £1.5 million.
The ruined medieval Augustinian friary adjacent to the Cathedral is said to stand on the site of monastery founded by Saint Olcan / Bolcan, an early disciple of Saint Patrick‘s. The few remains visible today date from 1427. The monastery was active until its dissolution under Queen Elizabeth I. However, the Augustinians did not leave Ballina and Priors of the Abbey were appointed continuously to 1835 though the Abbey was in ruins.
The Centenary memorial (locally aka “the Humbert Monument”), erected in May 1898 to commemorate the French landing at Killala, features a statue the Maid of Erin / Mother Irelandwith sword and hound by her side. The “Pikemen of ’98” are represented lower down, while inscriptions in Irish, French and English commemorate the triumph of the Franco/Irish forces over the English garrison in Ballina in 1798. It was unveiled by Maud Gonne, who famously poured water over the head of an IRB speaker during the solemn proceedings. Moved to its current location on Humbert Street in 1987, it was re-dedicated by Maud Gonne’s son, Dr Seán MacBride..
The Ballina Arts Centre occupies the former Newman Institute building on Barrett Street, redeveloped to incorporate a 240-seat auditorium, dance studio, rehearsal space, exhibition gallery and coffee shop/restaurant.
The Jackie Clarke Collection, housed in the handsome former Provincial Bank edifice, is an extraordinary archive of documents of significance to the struggle for Irish independence, from sole surviving copies of publications, rare handbills, posters and proclamations, unpublished manuscripts and political writings, fragile maps, newspapers and editorial cartoons, to books, diaries, photographs, films, and even a boyhood scrapbook compiled over the lifetime of local fishmonger Jackie Clarke (1927-2000), which he bequeathed to the State, on condition they would stay in Ballina.
The River Moy is spanned by two limestone bridges in the town centre. The first, the Armstrong and West, or Lower bridge, was built in 1835. The second, the Hamm or Upper bridge, was built in the following year of 1836 by Thomas Hamm, and was originally due to be named Arran Bridge in honour of the Earl of Arran, described by Lewis (1837) as “proprietor of a large portion of the town, who contributed £100“.
The Salmon Weir Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the River Moy from Barrett St. to Ridge Pool Rd, designed to resemble a fishing rod, was opened in July 2009 and controversially not named after Ballina’s most famous native, President Mary Robinson.
The Quay, constructed in 1826, is now primarily used for pleasure boats.
Ballina has three secondary schools – St Muredach’s College (boys) , St Mary’s / Convent of Mercy (girls) and Moyne College (mixed) – seven primary schools, and a modern facility for children with mild learning disabilities (formerly two “special needs schools”, St Dympna’s and St Nicholas’).
The Newman Institute of Education, located in a new campus on Abbey St, trains Roman Catholic religious knowledge teachers.
The Western People is the local newspaper, carrying on a long tradition encompassing publications such as the Ballina Impartial or Tyrawly Advertiser (1823 – 1835), the Western Star (1835–1837), the Western Gem (1843), the Connaught Watchman (1851 – 1863), the Tyrawly Herald; or Mayo and Sligo Intelligencer (1844–1870) nd others right up to www.MayoToday.ie, one of the first regional news websites in Ireland.
Ballina railway station, a single platform station opened in May 1873, is the terminus of a line linking the town with Manulla Junction on the Dublin / Westport line. Dublin connection trains operate three times daily, and on Friday evenings a train operates direct from Dublin to Ballina!Ballina Freight yard sends Coillte wood pulp and Coca-Cola concentrate to Dublin and Waterford ports.
Primrose Hill is the location of the Dolmen of the Four Maols, locally aka the Table of the Giants, a megalithic tomb thought to date from c2000 BC. Legend has it that Ceallach, a C7th Bishop of Killala / Connacht, wa foully mu by his royal foster brothers,the four Maols, who were hung at Ardnaree – the Hill of Executions – and buried here.
James Stephens Park is the town’s Gaelic Athletic Association grounds. Ballina has several GAA clubs. Soccer is played by Ballina Town and Ballina United. Other sports include Rugby, Athletics, Gymnastics, Basketball and martial arts. Ballina Golf Club has an 18 hole course on the outskirts of the town. A triathlon is held in the town every summer.
The Ice House Hotel****, Spa & Wedding Venue Mayo on The Quay is a restored C19th “Ice Store”, refurbished with 32 luxurious bedrooms and suites, waterside hot tubs, chic design and a standard of food celebrated by leading critics.
Downhill House Hotel***, a multi-award-winningestablishment run by the Moylett family since purchasing the property from the Knox Gores in 1935, is highly rated for its comfort, dining facilities and riverside garden.
The Ballina Salmon Festival is held annually in July / August. The festival includes Heritage Day, where most of the centre of the town is closed to traffic and the streets fill with arts and craft stalls and demonstrations of transport from days gone by.
Prominent Ballina residents have included William Vincent Wallace (1812–1865), a prominent musician and operatic composer who with his sister Elizabeth, an accomplished pianist and soprano, opened the first Australian music school in Sydney in 1836 and went on to have an adventurous life travelling in the South Seas and India and giving concerts in Latin America, touring the USA, and premiering operas in London and Vienna; Edward Whelan (1824 – 1867), one of the Fathers of the Canadian Confederation, and Mrs Mary Robinson (b. 1944, née Burke), the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, (1997-2002).
[Ballina, New South Wales, Australia (pop. 31,ooo) probably derived its name from a Bundjalung word, “bullinah“, meaning “place of many oysters“. One possibility is that the Aboriginal name reminded the predominantly Irish settlers of home.]