Ballygar (Co. Galway / Northeast)
Ballygar (Béal Átha Ghártha) (pop. 850), historically aka Beallagarr, is an attractive little town situated by the River Suck, which forms the border between counties Galway and Roscommon.
Ballygar’s long main street and square are well kept, winning the community a number of Bord Failte Tidy Town awards. (Photo – www.mylocalnews.ie)
Ballygar was recorded as a farm as far back as 1585. One of the Chieftains and Landowners summoned by the Lord Deputy, Sir John Perrot, to Galway City on 6th August that year to accept the terms of the Surrender & Regrant scheme whereby they were to hold their lands from the Crown at a nominal rent was Francis Shane, gent, of Ballygar, possibly the proprietor of Ballygar Castle at the time.
The Earl of St Albans was the beneficial owner of the “land of Bealagara” in 1641; he was dispossessed of this land and Ballygar Castle, subsequently granted to the Earl of Clanricarde. During the 1640s a garrison was stationed in Ballygar Castle, which seems to have disappeared in the early C18th.
Aghrane Castle, a C16th Tower House, was reclaimed under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick 1691 by Col. Charles O’Kelly, a Jacobite who retired there to write his memoirs of the Williamite War. The family became Protestant c.1740.
In 1820 landlord Denis Henry Kelly, owner of 13,500 acres (55 km2) of the surrounding countryside, established a toll market near the main entrance to Aghrane Castle / Castle Kelly, and as this grew, so did the demand for shops and dwellings. The town was planned in an orderly fashion, and Denis visited every house once a month; if the premises were clean and tidy he issued the tenant with a cleanliness ticket, and at the end of the year the tenant with the most tickets received a guinea, with half that amount for the runner up. All the tenants who had received tickets were invited to have dinner in the castle. Another innovation, introduced in 1835, was the Reproductive Loan Fund, run on much the same lines as a Credit Union.
The Great Famine undoubtedly took its toll on Ballygar, bringing the rapid development of the town to a halt, but the 1850s saw further growth, with the construction of the new Parochial School, a six-storey stone market house, the impressive Courthouse, a 93-foot stone tower in Killeroran Graveyard, and the magnificent Grand Bridge spanning the river flowing through the Castle Kelly estate.
However, the entire 12,000-acre (49 km2) Kelly estate was sold by the courts under the Encumbered Estates Act in 1863, complete with Castle and town, for £105,000. Denis Kelly retired to Arathy Grange, a small estate he owned near Athleague. He died in 1877 and is buried in the old church in Killeroran.
The new landlord, Christopher Neville Bagott, lived between Castle Kelly and London. In 1874 he married a young society beauty called Alice Verner, from whom he soon became estranged, banishing her and their young son from his homes in 1876. He died the following year, leaving his entire estate to his brother John, but Mrs Bagott contested the will, and a much-publicised trial at the Probate Court in Dublin lasted for a month, ending in favour of the widow and child. The Court administered the estate until the young heir came of age.
The Land Commission purchased the entire estate in 1903, and later the Forestry Commission acquired the 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) surrounding Castle Kelly, demolishing the edifice in 1919.
Killeroran old church (CoI), designed in the Early English style by Joseph Welland, was built in 1856 as a chapel of ease for Roscommon parish church, and is now in ruins, surrounded by an atmospheric graveyard.
St Mary’s church (RC), built in 1857 to replace “a thatched hovel scarcely fit for the meanest dwelling“, serves the modern parish of Ballygar, combining the former parishes of Killeroran and Athleague.
In 2003 the village hosted Afghanistan’s Special Olympics team competing in that year’s World Summer Games.
Ballygar Carnival, held annually since 1945, is a festival for all ages,with funfair, street entertainment, fancy dress, country fair, dancing, pig races and sports tournaments.
Aghrane Woods has forest walks and picnic sites.
Hollygrove Lake is a 50-acre (200,000 m2) lake located between Ballygar and Athleague, upstream of Rookwood Bridge on the River Suck system. It is within half a kilometre of the main River Suck. The lake is shallow, typically 5 feet (1.5 m) deep with two deeper channels. It is primarily stocked with tench and pike.
Ballinamore Bridge spans the Shiven River, a tributary of the River Suck.
Castle ffrench was named for a Tower House erected by the ffrench family on their acquisition of the former O’Kelly estate known as Clogher in 1636. The Mayor of Galway City, Sir Charles ffrench (d.1784) built the elegant Georgian country house in 1779 to celebrate his Baronetcy; his widow Rose (née Dillon) was made Baroness ffrench in 1798, in recognition of the services of their son Sir Thomas ffrench, who could not then be ennobled due to his Roman Catholicism but nonetheless inherited the title in 1805. The family continued in residence until the 7th Baron, Peter Martin Joseph ffrench, sold the property in 1983. Run until 2005 as a luxurious B&B, the house is currently for sale.
Ballinamore Bridge is north of Ahascragh on ByRoute 13.
Newbridge (An Droichead Nua / Gort an Iomaire / Cruffan) derives its English name from the village’s iconic bridge over the Shiven River.
Glenamaddy // Kilkerrin (Co. Galway / North)
Glenamaddy (Gleann na Madadh -“valley of the dogs”; alternatively Gleann na Maighe Duibhí – “valley of the black plain”) (pop. 460) is the most important town in the northeastern corner of County Galway.
The Glenamaddy Turlough
The Glenamaddy Turlough, from which the town takes its name, is said to be shaped like a dog in winter and present a field of black mud in summer.
Amongst the thousands of waterfowl that come here each winter for food and shelter are Golden Plover, Greenland White-fronted goose, Wigeon, Curlew, Lapwing and Whooper swans.
Located in the area occupied by the medieval kingdom of Uí Díarmata, ruled by the O Concannon dynasty, Glenamaddy town did not develop until the 1820s when a church was built and regular markets began; shops and pubs sprang up around the square and on the four roads leading into it. Hugely popular well into the C20th, these markets provided small cottage industries with the main outlet for their wares, as large crowds gathered in the town for sales of cattle, pigs, sheep, animal feeds and household supplies, all carefully weighed at the weigh-house.
Glenamaddy became the musical capital of Connacht during the 1960s when the Showband craze swept Ireland. The Esker Ballroom was once one of the most popular dance venues in the country. The Sound of Music was opened by Jim “Pete” Keaveney, despite Church opposition.
St Patrick’s church (RC), serving the ancient parish of Boyounagh,was designed in the Gothic style by Thomas Hamilton of Galway, and was inaugurated in 1904 to replace an older church (1820), of which the local graveyard is the only reminder. It features several beautiful stained glass windows by Harry Clarke (1924) and Earley Studios (1952).
St Bridget’s Hall, erected in 1909, has long played an important role in the social and cultural life of the district. Now the Town Hall Theatre, it houses a library, museum and heritage centre.
The Jeremiah Mee Memorial on the wall outside Phelan’s pub honours the RIC policeman who resigned from the force as part of the 1920 Listowel Mutiny in County Kerry in protest against Black & Tan brutality; his role remains controversial (see e.g. here).
Glenamaddy Drama Festival has been held every March since 1960. Glenamaddy also hosts a Horse Show in June and a Summer Festival in August.
Glenamaddy was immortalised in Big Tom‘s 1981 hit country song Four Country Roads.
Boyounagh, a hamlet west of Glenamaddy, was the location of a monastic community founded in the late C5th, reputedly by Saint Patrick himself. The Annals of the Four Masters record the 1137 burning of the abbey church by men from Meath and Breffni.
Boyounagh’s medieval church, converted for Anglican worship in the C16th, is now barely identifiable among the stones of the old burial ground, which may also include parts of the destroyed abbey. The oldest legible gravemarker dates from 1834. The most prominent grave, marked by a Celtic Cross bearing an inscription in Irish, is that of well-known former landlord Martin McDonnell (d.1872).
Lisnageeragh and Loch Lurgeen are the names of two local raised bogs, forming part of what has been called the most important concentration of relatively intact raised bog sites in the country, of particular ecological value and interest due to the presence of a small system of turloughs (seasonally disappearing lakes).
Ballinastack is the location of a turlough, a megalithic tomb known as Cloch Dhairmuid, though to date from 3000 BC, and a killeen / unbaptised children’s burial ground that was in use within living memory.
Kilkerrin (Cill Choirín), a tiny village south of Glenamaddy, is close to several interesting Ringforts, including two univallate examples at Lisacarra and a spectacular multivallate structure at Lehurrick.
Kiltullagh Lake, popular with coarse anglers fishing for pike, has a crannóg, a model of which can be seen in Glenamaddy Town Hall.
Kiltullagh church, nowadays reduced to low grass topped mounds of earth and stone with some wall facing visible intermittently, is encircled by an early ecclesiastical enclosure, used until quite recently as a burial ground. This was the site of an important Franciscan Friary that existed from 1441 to 1595.