Crookstown & Ballitore (Co. Kildare / East)
Crookstown (An Baile Gallda – “Town of the Foreigner”) is another Kildare equestrian-oriented community. The village, located in the Griese River Valley, has a small hotel and a good restaurant.
The Little Theatre (left), originally a Roman Catholic chapel (built c. 1820?) and later a school, now doubles as Crookstown’s community centre. (Photo by Sarah777)
The church of Ss Mary & Laurence (RC), begun in 1860 and first completed in 1867, has undergone major alterations and was reconsecrated in 2004.
Crookstown Corn Mill houses a Historical & Heritage Centre with unusual and interesting displays of industrial archaeology. The mill, which has three millstones and a drying kiln, was built in 1840 and was most profitable during the years of the Great Famine, when very little emigration or starvation occurred in the vicinity. The last miller, Paddy Fleming held dancing classes in the upper floors of the grain store and had a hornpipe named after him.
Ballitore (Baíle Togher – “Town of the Marsh”) (pop. 300) dates from the late C17th, when John Bancroft and Abel Strettel from Yorkshire established watermills on the River Giese to produce wool and flour, transforming the valley into rich fertile farmlands, and developed the town as the first planned and permanent Quaker settlement in Ireland.
In 1748 an English traveller wrote ‘ Our eyes were charmed with the sweetest bottom where, through lofty trees, we beheld a variety of pleasant dwellings. Through a road that looked like a fine terrace walk, we turn to this lovely vale, where Nature assisted by Art gave us the utmost contentment. It is a colony of Quakers, called by the name of Ballytore.’
In 1726 Abraham Shackleton, ancestor of the renowned Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, opened a small boarding school; unusually for the times, it was non-denominational, and attracted pupils from all over Ireland and as far afield as Norway and Jamaica. Some rose to great heights, and gratefully acknowledged the start in life the school had given them; these included the parliamentarian Edmund Burke, the republican leader Napper Tandy and Cardinal Paul Cullen. The school lasted until 1837, and the family prospered.
Ballitore School (Image – www.thebanfordhaughtons.co.uk)
Abraham Shakleton’s family home in Ballitore, known as The Retreat, now houses the Avonmore Creamery offices.
In 1791 Abraham’s daughter Mary married William Leadbeater, teacher and former pupil at the school; their painstakingly restored residence and garden on the corner of the village square is signposted as the Leadbeater House.
Mary Leadbeater’s Annals of Ballitore describe the events and characters of the village during her lifetime. Her accounts of the horrors of the 1798 Rebellion, when Ballitore was pillaged and burned by both troops and insurgents, represent one of the few independent descriptions of events in Ireland at that time. The Quakers refused to take part in the fighting and cared for the wounded on both sides before rebuilding and restoring the village.
The Quaker Meeting House
The Meeting House, built with local stone c.1705, was restored in 1979 and, while still used by The Society of Friends as a house of prayer, has served as Ballitore’s library since then, incorporating an interesting Museum containing a selection of artefacts and memorabilia of a mainly local nature. (Image – www.thebanfordhaughtons.co.uk)
Items of Quaker interest include a mid-C19th wedding dress and bonnet. In the entrance hall are the door and lintel stone from the original Shackleton home at Harden in Yorkshire, built in 1660, and a ledger dated 1807-1810 for the Shackleton mills at Lucan (Co. Dublin).
Amongst the Ballitore manuscripts on display are Shackleton letters, notebooks containing water colours by Mary Shackleton and the July 1809 issue of the Ballitore Magazine.
The Shaker Store sells hand-made furniture and wooden toys in a family establishment with dogs and rabbits in the garden and light refreshments in the store.
A Quaker burial ground is preserved in a field on the edge of the valley.
There is a pleasant riverside walk nearby and a possibility of trout fishing.
River Griese (Photo by IrishFlyFisher)
Mullaghmast (Mullach Maisten – named, according to the Middle Irish poetry collection known as the Metrical Dindshenchas, for Dáire Derg’s wife Maistiu, killed by the sorcery of the malicious fairy Gris) was clearly an important site in prehistoric and early Christian times.
Although commonly referred to as a ráth / Ring Fort, it is in fact a complex of earthworks, barrows, raths and an early Christian Standing Stone decorated with a triskele (now in the NMI).
On New Year’s Day 1577, Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord Deputy Sir Philip Sidney called a Peace Conference here, gathering together the chieftains of the midland clans in one place. Food and drink were plentiful, and everyone was having a good time as the sun set and night fell, whereupon English soldiers commanded by Francis Cosby assisted the O’Dempsey clan in massacring all their traditional enemies, including the chiefs of the Seven Septs of Leix – O’More, O’Lalor, O’Kelly, O’Doran, O’Dowing, McEvoy and Devoy – and the chiefs of the O’Dunne, O’Molloy, and O’Connor clans. In a matter of minutes, 40 men were killed, and only two escaped. Sidney quickly dispatched his troops to burn the dead chieftains’ homes and villages, rape and murder their women and leave their children orphaned. He wrote to the Queen to inform her that the midlands were now secure.
A History of the Queen’s County, compiled from the papers of the late V. Rev. John Canon O’Hanlon (1914) contains this account: “In the year 1705, there was an old gentleman of the name of Cullen, in the County Kildare, who often discoursed with one Dwyer and one Dowling, actually living at Mullaghmast when this horrid murder was committed, which was about the sixteenth year (recté, nineteenth) of Queen Elizabeth’s reign; and the account he gives of it is, that those who were chiefly concerned in this horrid murder were the Deavils, the Grehams, the Cosbys, the Piggotts, the Bowens, the Hartpoles, the Hovendons, the Dempsys, and the FitzGeralds. The last five of these were, at that time, Roman Catholics, by whom the poor people murdered at Mullaghmast were chiefly invited there, in pretence that said people should enter into an alliance offensive and defensive with them. “But their reception was to put them all to death, except one O’More, who was the only person that escaped. Notwithstanding what is said that one O’More only had escaped the massacre, yet the common tradition of the country is, that many more had escaped through the means of one Henry Lalor, who, remarking that none of those returned who had entered the fort before him, desired his companions to make off as fast as they could, in case they did not see him come back. Said Lalor, as he was entering the fort, saw the carcasses of his slaughtered companions; then drew his sword, and fought his way back to those that survived, along with whom he made his escape to Dysart, his family’s ancestral home.”
An interesting article by Turtle Bunbury about the background to the massacre is available here.
On 1st October 1843, Daniel O’ Connell addressed a Monster Meeting on the rath calling for Repeal of the Act Of Union 1800. An account of the event can be read here.
The Mullaghmast Long Stone is another Standing Stone in the vicinity; 1.8m in height, it was moved from its original location and now stands in a roadside niche on the crest of a hill commanding lovely views.
Crookstown & Ballitore are near Grange Con (Co. Wicklow) on ByRoute 5 and Burtown House on ByRoute 7.