Ballinasloe Town and Parish 1585-1855By .
The town of Ballinasloe lies athwart the River Suck, which is the boundary of Counties Roscommon and Galway and the dividing line between the parishes of Creagh and Kilclooney, which form the joint parish of Ballinasloe.
The river ford always existed, but the town is of modern origin. Turlough O'Connor built the Castle of Dunlo in the twelfth century on the site of the present church of St. Michael and De Burgo built the Norman castle in the heart of the O'Kelly country in 1245. It still commands the river.
The Composition of Connaught in 1585 reveals the whole barony of Clonmacnoon and the parish of Creagh in the possession of a local magnate named Sean na Maighe O' Kelly, who lived at his castle of Creagh near the railway bridge on the Taughmaconnell road and Killeen near the present Perssepark House. The character of the area had, hitherto, remained Irish in spite of Norman attempts to establish claims there. The seventeenth century however brought a change and we must first view the families who established themselves here during this period.
De Burgo had maintained his castle at Ballinasloe as a strategic outpost on the main road to Leinster. Elizabeth now took it over and built the present bridge or at least the old portion of it. She granted it to Sir Nicholas Malby, Governor of Connaught and by the marriage of his daughter to Anthony Brabazon it passed to that family. They remained in the parish until recent times when their possessions passed by marriage to the O'Shaughnessy's of Birchgrove. We still have the name Beagha Brabazon in Creagh.
The Brabazons were descended from Sir William Brabazon, an Englishman who was appointed Vice-Treasurer and General Receiver of Ireland in 1534. He was Henry VIII's principal agent in the despoliation of the monasteries. Anthony Brabazon was a younger son of his and he married Malby's daughter in 1597. The eldest son was the ancestor of the Earls of Meath. The castle holding included one and a half quarters (180 acres) of land, which Anthony's son Malby Brabazon inherited from his father. He died in 1637 and was buried in Creagh. His son Anthony succeeded him. Lodge's Peerage has the following in reference to the latter:
"Upon the beginning of the commotions in 1641 he forsook his religion and became a Papist, his father and grandfather having been good Protestants; was chosen one of the committee, and a Captain for the regulation and better encouragement of the Connaught forces and was excepted from pardon by Cromwell's act of parliament, passed 12 August 1652."
Strangely enough the memory of this is still preserved in the parish of Creagh where it is said that his conversion was due to the influence of his wife. She was Ellice Dillon of Killynyneen in County Westmeath. The family remained Catholic.
The Country of the Trenches
Another family appeared on the scene at this time - the Trenches. They were French Huguenots, who came here by way of Northumberland. The first to appear in Ireland was James Trench, a Protestant Divine, who married Margaret, daughter of Viscount Montgomery of the Ardes and was presented with the rectory of Clongell in County Meath. The first member of the family to settle in Garbally is said to have been Frederick Trench, who came to Ireland in 1631 and married his first cousin Anne, daughter of James in 1632. His interest in Garbally castle and lands is said to have arisen by purchase, but was confirmed by patent from Charles II. Frederick died in 1669. His son, Frederick, who was born in 1633 succeeded his father at Garbally and added to the estate by purchase in 1678. In the 30th year of Charles II he passed patent for the lands of Derryvoilen, Catraleagh, Kilclooney, Liscappell, etc. The land thus acquired would comprise the whole parish of Kilclooney including the present town of Ballinasloe and a large area in the parish of Clontuskert.
This acquisition of land must have been at the expense of the old Irish owners, the descendants of Sean na Maighe O' Kelly. The Cromwellian confiscation was part responsible. In theory the Settlement set aside the barony of Moycarn (including the parish of Creagh) for Cork and Wexford transplanters and that of Clonmacnoon (the parish of Kilclooney) for those from Carlow, Waterford and Limerick. In actual fact one notable grant was made to William Spencer, grandson of the poet Edmund Spencer and this grant was confirmed by the Acts of Settlement and Explanation in Charles II's time. The patent is still in the hands of the Clanearty estate trustees, as Spencer afterwards sold his interest to the Trenches. It shows that the present town of Ballinasloe did not exist in 1676. The lands involved were Caltrahard quarter, 348 acres profitable land Irish plantation measure; Cartunmay 3 cartrons, 70 acres profitable land like measure; the cartron of Black 23 acres of profit land like measure, all lying in the barony of Clonmacnoon. Also the quarter of Kilgarrow alias Ballinasloe 307 acres profitable land, Irish plantation measure; Tulrush half a quarter, 160 acres profitable land, like measure; the meadowing of the quarter of Drumshrura 92 acres profitable land of like measure, all in the barony of Moycarn in the County Roscommon. They are stated to be lands forfeited by the rebellion of 1641.
The total amount of land involved was 1619 acres and the crown rent was 10 2s. 6d. It is clear that Ballinasloe was then on the Roscommon side of the river, but it seems also that back was a built-up area because the crown rent on the 37 acres statute was 3 2s. 21/2d., whereas the rental of the whole lot was only 10. An interesting point also is that in this patent the interests of the bishop of Clonfert in Drumshrura and those of William Brabazon in the lands he held in 1641 are safeguarded. Tuaimsruthra or Ashford was church property before the Reformation belonging to the Monastery of Clonmacnois and was transferred to the Protestant Bishop of Clonfert. Dudley Persse also had crown grants or leases of Tuaimshrura, but his interest appears to have been acquired by the Trenches.
The net result at the end of the century was that the Trenches had acquired at the expense of the native Irish O'Kelly stock the whole of the parish of Kilclooney and a large part of Creagh. The Brabazons retained a large estate and the O'Kellys remained in possession of the northern, less fertile and wooded portion of Creagh.
We can guess at the population of the parish of Creagh in that century from a census made in 1659. The barony of Moycarn contained 472 people, 469 Irish and 3 English, presumably the members of the Brabazon family then situated in Attyrory. From this a rough estimate of the population of Creagh would be perhaps 150 or less. Unfortunately there is no such census for the Galway side of the river. The principal landowners or 'tituladoes' as they were called included Daniel Kelly at Ardcarne, Owen Kelly at Creagh, Bryan Kelly at Atiferaie, James Fitzgerald at Culleen and Edward Brabazon at Attyrory. The population of Ballinasloe was 36 people and it was in county Roscommon.
The Origin of the Fair
Over a hundred years ago Hely Dutton recorded that it was then generally believed that the Ballinasloe fair grew up as a result of the provision trade at the port of Galway in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. At that time the trans-ocean sailing ships made for the nearest port to replenish their supplies of salted beef and Galway became very prosperous. Ballinasloe provided a convenient centure for the purchase and sale of cattle from Leinster and North Connaught for this trade. The claim made in the Clancarty Memoir that this fair was established by the Trenches by Royal Patent in the early 18th century is not substantiated. No record of such a patent can now be found.
The Church in the Seventeenth Century
What of the church in the parish? The end of the sixteenth century had seen the churches of Clonfert still, in spite of the suppression, in Catholic hands, but in the early years of the seventeenth century the old churches of Creagh, Kilclooney and the Teampolin at Poolboy passed into the hands of the Established church. The parish had before the Reformation been served by the Canons Regular of Clontuskert who held the rectory and vicarage. There was no church at the present Ballinasloe. The lack of a sufficient Protestant population meant that the Church at Kilclooney and the Teampolin fell into ruin. The church in Creagh was kept in repair and used by the Protestants. The Catholics had to retire elsewhere. In Creagh it is the tradition that mass was celebrated in Loughil. As one would expect there are few records of the names of the clergy of the period, which for our purpose ends with the battle of Aughrim in 1691.
The Eighteenth Century
The penal laws which followed (unlike the earlier penal code, which merely forbade the clergy the exercise of their office) now included all the people. The whole Catholic population was crushed by the government party to an extent hitherto unknown. Only by lying low did the few Catholic landowners in the neighbourhood survive. The sixty or seventy years which followed were years of bitter persecution, which only eased off gradually towards 1760. Although the Trench family were the most powerful upholders of the new regime in this area there is little indication that they were harsh in the enforcement of the penal code during the century. On the contrary the presence of a Mass site within view of their mansion seems to suggest that they turned the blind eye to the activities of the Catholic priests. Old Garbally retainers will tell you that there were strict orders from Clancarty that the tree in the mass field marking the old mass site was not to be interfered with. It may be added that up to the eighteenth century when the Charter Schools were established there was no official attempt to make converts to Protestantism. That was a nineteenth century departure. The government minority were content to enjoy the fruits of conquest and establishment and keep the Catholic population in subjection by the enforcement of the penal laws.
We have no records of the church in Ballinasloe during that century. The law compelling the parish priests to register in 1704 provides the names of two priests at the beginning of the century. They were (1) Teige Kelly, parish priest of Kilclooney, who lived at Killeen near Perssepark and was then about fifty years of age, being ordained in 1681 in Creggin or Marblehill by Bishop Teige Keogh; (2) Thady Kelly, who lived in Corhine, also aged fifty and ordained at Creggin by Bishop Keogh in 1681. his sureties for good behaviour are given as Redmond Fallone of Ballynehane, and Thady Naughton of Athlone. These two priests were apparently descendants of Sean na Maighe O' Kelly and lived quietly with their families at the two O'Kelly homes of Killeen and Corheen.
Towards the seventeen-sixties the enforcement of the penal laws was gradually relaxed. A more liberal spirit grew up and Grattan's Parliament recognised the right of the Catholics to live even if they denied them a share in the government of the country. In Kilclooney a Catholic Church had been built at Ardnagreena, probably in 1729. The remains of it are still in Mr. Ward's yard there. This church probably continued in use until about the end of the century when another church was built in Ballinasloe town and on the site of the present St. Michael's. This could not have come about without the permission of the Trenches who owned the property. It was a thatched chapel to which later a slated addition was added making it cruciform. Galleries were put in. This church was certainly in existence in 1818, being shown on the Grand Jury Map of County Galway. The old church in Creagh was in existence before1767 when Anthony and Catherine Brabazon erected the altar there, which was later transformed to a newer church built in 1824 and now also unroofed.
The only other priest of that century whose name survives was the Rev. Thomas Kennedy who died on May 7th 1782. His tombstone lies before the site of the high altar in the old church in Creagh. He was succeeded by the Rev. Garrett Lorcan. Creagh and Kilclooney had become a joint parish at some time during that century with the parish priest residing in Creagh.
The Earls of Clancarty
To return again to the family which made Ballinasloe - at the time of the Battle of Aughrim Frederick Trench had become a substantial landowner, but without political importance. His brother John was a Protestant divine. Their great opportunity came during the Williamite War. John had been acting as a spy, even crossing to England in May 1690 with others in an open boat to give full particulars to King William of the conditions in Ireland. Fate willed it that the line of retreat from Athlone lay through Ballinasloe and the battle of Aughrim was fought in sight of the hills of Garbally. Frederick Trench according to the family tradition threw open his house as a hospital to the Williamites and he and John gave active assistance on the day of the battle, pointing out the pass where the Williamites were enabled to attack the left flank of the Irish army. For his services John was made Dean of Raphoe and is the ancestor of the Barons Ashtown.
Frederick Trench's son, Frederick who succeeded to Garbally on his father's death in 1704 became politically one of the strongest men in County Galway. In 1803 he was High Sheriff of the County; in 1715 Colonel Commandant of one of the regiments fo military dragoons there and in the same year one of the Knights of the Shire for County Galway, which post he held till his death in 1752. His son, Richard, who succeeded him, already since 1734 sat in Parliament for the borough of Banagher and from 1761 to 1768 as a Knight of the Shire for County Galway. He married in 1732 Francis, only daughter of David Powerof Cooreen and by her the Trench family acquired all the Power estates in the baronies of Leitrim, Dunkellin and Loughrea as well as the Keating estates in Kilkenny, Carlow and Dublin, which she inherited from her mother.
The Power alliance was of great consequence to the Trench family, for in addition to the vast increase in wealth, it brought them ancient titles to Norman and Irish nobility. Her father, David Power of Coorheen was a descendant of the Norman Sir Geoffrey Le Poer of Dunisle in the County Cork and their Cromwellian grant in County Galway included some of the territory of the original grant in Kenmoy in the barony of Leitrim to Eustace Le Poer the Munster baron in1301. The great-great-grandmother of Francis Power was the daughter of Cormac McCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, a descendant of Dermot McCarthy Mor, king of Munster and a sister of Donough, second Earl of Clancarty who was outlawed in the time of Charles II. On that slender connection the Earldom of Clancarty was regranted to the Trench family after the Union.
Richard Trench was succeeded by his son William Le Poer Trench in 1770. He sat in Parliament till 1797, being one fo those rewarded for government services after the dissolution of Parliament in that year. He was created Baron Kilconnell of Garbally, was Commandant of the Galway regiment of militia and opposed the French landing at Bantry in 1797. Voting first with the whigs in Parliament he had come over to Pitt about 1791. He had married in 1762 Anne Gardiner, sister of Viscount Mountjoy.
His son, Richard, born in 1767 was educated in Cambridge, called to the bar in 1793 and became MP for County Galway in 1797. He married Henrietta Staples, daughter of John Staples of Lissane in County Tyrone and a relation of the Earl of Castlereagh. He supported the Pitt administration and in 1799 voted against the Union, but in 1800 he voted for it, influenced it was said by Castlereagh and the promise of an earldom. He gained his reward. His father who was also active in the house of Lords was made a Viscount in 1801 and Earl of Clancarty in 1803 and his brother became the last Protestant Archbishop of Tuam.
Thus within two hundred years did the family which began with the humble parson of Clongell reach the highest ranks of the peerage. This they achieved through their easy acquisition of confiscated lands, through judicious marriage alliances and indeed to some extent by chance. The Cromwellian confiscation gave them their first opportunity. Their adherance to the Williamite cause gained them preferment. Francis Power of Coorheen brought them wealth and a semblance of ancient nobility while their alliance with Castlereagh and their betrayal at the union gained them an earldom.
The Growth of the Town
A photograph of Society Street, Ballinasloe; this photograph is part of the Lawrence collection at Galway library.
What of their effect in Ballinasloe during that century? There is no doubt that they laid the beginnings of the prosperous town that now exists. Great encouragement was given to the linen industry in the early part of the century. The following is in Pue's Occurrences in 1747:
"To be let for three lives from the first day of May next, several plots in the town of Ballinasloe in the County fo Galway, with a sufficient number of acres near said town very convenient for parts to said plots: and also for any term not exceeding 35 years the lands of Drumsule within half a mile of said town, containing about 400 acres and the lands of Cloonlongfield within three miles of said town for any term not exceeding twenty years, very convenient to persons inclined to carry on the linen or woollen manufacture in said town of Ballinasloe, who may want land in the farming way."
A photograph of Garbally House, Ballinasloe; this photograph is part of the Lawrence collection at Galway library.
That the Trenches controlled building is clear enough from the straight streets which now exist. During part of the eighteenth century the town was very small on the Galway side and only gradually crept out from the river. The old mail coach road forded the river from River St. to St. Michael's church. The bridge was doubtless too narrow then for these vehicles. The old Garbally Kilconnell road ran through Garbally, crossing the present broad walk near the garden. The Ahascragh road did not exist. The Cleaghmore road ran from Dunlo Hill past the Garbally gates and the top ofMount Pleasant and must have followed the Esker to Kilclooney. Much of that esker disappeared in the building of the railway.
There are very few details of the social life of the town in that century. The hotels were concentrated near the river, showing that was the centre of the town. There is mention of Cuffe's hotel near the bridge and Corbett's hotel where Wolfe Tone stayed towards the end of the century. When Dean Swift passed through the town in the early part of the century he stayed at the Sign of the Cock and Hen. This may have been at Dean's in River St. where a sign displaying tow fighting cocks hung until recently.
Shortly before 1742 a new racecourse was established near Ballinasloe and a County of Galway Plate was given by the Sheriff and Justices of the Peace of the County to be run for on Tuesday 19th October in that year. It was confined to inhabitants of Galway or any county putting up a like plate. Nine stones was the limit. On Wednesday a purse of 20 was run for, ten stone being the limit and on Thursday a purse of 25 and twelve stone the limit. A guinea was the entrance fee on the two first days and a moydore on the third and no scrub admitted! There were balls and entertainments for the ladies on the three nights.
The Development of the Fair
In 1757 Frederick Trench was granted a patent for fairs on the 15th May and 13th July, but no patent exists for the October fair.
It was towards the year 1730 that the movement towards pasture began to take shape in Ireland and graziers began to consolidate holdings. Until 1785 pasture predominated as the source of the export trade and about the middle fo the century threatened to oust corn growing altogether. From 1785 on however the value of cereals exported began to be an important item and continued so until the famine. The reasons for increased pasture were frequent wars and disease among cattle on the continent. England's wheat export was helped by bounties whereas Irish wheat was hampered by duties. In 1735 pasture land was exempted from tithes. Catholics could not take long leases therefore pasture with short period outlay and quick returns suited them.
Farmers were prosperous between 1770 and 1776, but an alarming fall in prices set in and cattle prices by 1779 had decreased fifty per cent. For twenty years before the Union Ireland's prosperity increased enormously. There was a large increase in tillage at the expense of sheep farming because mutton could not be salted for the provision trade. The modern livestock trade with England dates from 1785.
Although there are no figures for the Ballinasloe fair before 1790 it was for long the principal cattle mart of the British Isles and a tremendous source of revenue to the Trench family. During the ten years before the Union the number of cattle which changed hands there varied from 7,782 in 1790 to 5,100 to 1799 and sheep from 68,095 to 74,175.
Language and Education
Up to this time and long after - probably until the famine - the ordinary language of the people was Irish. Education for Catholics was provided by the so called hedge schools and doubtless the Protestants ran private schools for their children. Hely Dutton speaks of the Latin schools which gave a good education up to the seventeen-sixties, but had almost disappeared. For half a century it was in fear and trembling that the Catholics provided schooling for their families. There was a price on the schoolmaster's head. The Old Irish ecclesiastical and lay universities were swept away in the sixteenth century and with them more or less disappeared the written Irish tradition, but the oral tradition clung on. The MacEgan school of Duniry disappeared about 1600 but strangely enough we find their most treasured possession, the Book of Duniry as well as the Book of Hy Many in the care of Edmund O'Kelly of Castlepark (or Tonelig) in Creagh about 1730 showing that some of the Irish landowners had not forgotten their heritage.
The Nineteenth Century
In the nineteenth century the Clancarty family were at the top of the wheel in wealth and influence. Richard of Union fame became successively Commissioner for the affairs of India, Post master General, Master of the Mint and President of the Board of Trade, Ambassador of the Hague (1813-23) and a Plenepotentiary to the Congress of Vienna in 1814. The town of Ballinasloe was growing fast and improving. His estates were well managed and grants were given for improvements. The population was on the increase. Unfortunately the census of 1831 does not survive except in summary, but the baptismal register of St. Michael's goes back to 1820, while the register in St. John's also survives through the lucky fact htat it was not transferred to the public record office where many of the Protestant registers of Ireland were destroyed in the explosion of 1922.
In 1659 Ballinasloe contained thirty six persons, while the two parishes might have a population of 200 or 300. Wakefield in his survey of 1812 gives a return from the parish priest of Ballinasloe who had been keeping a register since 1791. The Catholic births in that year were 95 but in 1810 they were 126. In 1791 the number of Catholic houses were 313 and in 1811 they were 401 and each house had an average of at least six persons, which would give the population figures as 1878 in 1791 and 2406 in 1811. Wakefield says that the Protestant population seemed to be stationery and it is probable that it was very small as they had only a small room for service which is stated in the life of Archbishop Trench to have been too small for him to preach in. The old Church in Creagh was in Protestant use at least up to 1780, but must have fallen into ruin. However a large edifice with a Doric portico and obelisk-like spire was built on Knock-a-doon, now Church-hill somewhere about the beginning of the nineteenth century, which in turn gave place to the present Gothic church of St. John, which was burned, rebuilt and enlarged towards the end of the century.
In 1824 the population was 2843. By 1831 the town contained 4615 inhabitants. There were 632 houses of which 265 were built in the preceeding ten years. Thus the population almost doubled itself in forty years. Brackernagh was built in the seventeen-nineties. It was a long line of thatched houses most of which have since been replaced.
The Ballinasloe Horticultural Society for the Province of Connaught was founded in 1833 under the patronage of Lord Clancarty and held three public shows of fruit, vegetables and flowers in the year. A market house was in existence before 1824 built by the earl and about 1846 the great agricultural hall now known as the town hall was also built by him.
The Farming Society of Ireland
As early as 1800 the Farming Society of Ireland was established and held its shows at Ballinasloe and Smithfield Market in Dublin. Its show yard was in Garvey's premises in Main St. and the inscription on a door lintel is still there. This society continued until 1827 to give prizes in the various classes of livestock during the October Fair. To detail its activities would take too much space, but it is relevant to mention the kind of stock which appeared in Ballinasloe in those days.
The longhorn breed of cattle were the dominant strain. They were commonly called "black cattle" through not necessarily black in colour, and were divided into the Bakewell or English breed and the old Irish type, the latter being the principal breed up to about 1840. They grew to a great size but took four or five years to come to perfection. Their hides were of great value being when tanned up to half an inch thick. They were bad milkers. Lesser breeds were the old Irish cow of small statute, long in the back and with moderate sized wide spreading horns slightly elevated colour principally black or red. They were famous milkers. Secondly there was the Kerry Cow and thirdly the maol which was dun in colour. There were no shorthorns in Ireland in 1827 but between that and 1842 they became Ireland's premier breed.
All that and much more is part of the history of Ballinasloe fair which continued to increase in size until the sixties. The enormous figure of 20,000 cattle and 99,658 sheep was reached in 1856. After this time due to the depression of the late seventies, the increased transport and the establishment of smaller fairs the great October fair became the ghost of its former self. Nevertheless it still remains the most important fair in Ireland.
During the first half of the nineteenth century the town made great strides towards prosperity. The population was on the increase and industries were growing. In 1837 there were a flour mill and three oatmeal mills on the river and the corn trade expanded due to the extension of the Grand Canal to the town in 1828. There were a large coach factory one for farming implements, two breweries, tanyards, a large bacon curing establishment and a felt hat manufactury.
Branches of the National Bank, the Bank of Ireland and the Agricultural and Commerical Bank were established in 1836. During these years also a Loan Fund (begun in 1823) was in existence, having a capital of 1432. In 1842 it circulated 11672 in 3462 loans, clearing a net profit of 130 and expended 120 for charitable purposes.
The limestone quarries were opened in the first quarter of the century and many of the beautiful buildings were built of that material. The Lunatic Asylum for the Province of Connaught was erected in 1843 at a cost of 27,000; the Union Workhouse in 1841 at a cost of 9,600. Later in the century the Catholic Church of St. Michael and the Protestant church of St. John were built from that source. One hundred and fifty stone cutters were employed and the cut stone was exported to England and the United States. In 1865 the O'Connell statue in Ennis was carved by James Cahill a pupil of Hogan's from an eleven and a half ton block from the Ballinasloe quarries. Likewise the General Teeling memorial Colooney, County Sligo, The Manchester Martyrs memorial, Manchester; Lough Cutra Castle, Gort; Garbally house and Lord Ashtown's Mansion, Woodlawn; a street of shop fronts in New York; the Ulster Bank, Dame St., Dublin and many others. This industry flourished until the end of the century to be expanded again in our own time.
A dispensary was in operation in 1824 and continued but a fever hospital deriving support from subscriptions lasted only twelve years.
The Town Commissioners
The Town Commissioners came into being in 1841 and the first meeting was called by order of the Lord Lieutenant at Craig's Hotel on February 22nd of that year. Rear-Admiral William Le Poer Trench was in the chair and the members included Father Lawrence Dillon, P.P., Rev. Mr. Traves Jones and representatives of the professional and business interests in the town. Their first responsibility was the public lighting of the town and a gas works was immediately erected at a cost of 1421. On the 16th March 1880 Ballinasloe was constituted an Urban Sanitary District and in 1897 the Urban Council was established.
The Ballinasloe Union Agricultural Society
Lewis' Topographical Dictionary mentions in 1837 the existence of an Agricultural Society which held its annual meetings in October. It was formed by the advice and aid of Lord Clancarty and was the first of its kind established in Ireland. It affiliated itself to the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland on the formation of that body in 1841. The Ballinasloe Society had a model farm and a paid agricultural instructor, who went on the farms, gave advice and arranged for grants in aid of improvements. It became the exemplar for the activities of the Royal Society. Lord Cloncarty had medals struck by William Woodhouse of Dublin which were given as premiums to his tenants for superior farming. One which is extant bears the date 1845. The Ballinasloe Agricutlural Society also had a medal struck by the same firm in 1882.
Education and Religion
About the beginning of the nineteenth century Lord Clancarty established schools all over his property for the education of the children of his tenants. Throughout the first half of the century they were a bone of contention between him and the Catholic clergy. They were under Protestant control and the reading of the Bible was included in the programme. Moral compulsion under threat of eviction was used to compel the Catholic children to attend. While there was no doubt a genuine anxiety on the Earl's part to provide education, it is also clear from the evidence given before the Devon Commission, the speeches of Richard Lalor Shiel and other sources that Protestant indoctrination was an underlying motive. He was aided in his efforts by the Kildare Place, the Church Mission and other societies and at times, especially in 1826, the struggle came to a head, but the advent of the National Schools brought his efforts to an end. In the parish of Ballinasloe there were at one time four or five of these schools in operation.
In the parish of Creagh the population in 1834 numbering 3162 was almost entirely Catholic. There were only 135 Protestants but the parish of Kilclooney including the town of Ballinasloe was about one sixth Protestant, the total population there standing at 6842. The partial famines which occurred during the early part of the century were taken advantage of by the agents of 'souperism' and some Catholics perverted but recanted when times of stress were over. On the material side the Trench family were to their tenants all that landlords of the time could possibly be and the town was a model of prosperity and cleanliness. The anomaly is caustically referred to by Maxwell (himself a minister of the established church) in the phrase that all seemed welcome in Ballinasloe except pigs and Papists!
In Creagh the old Catholic church of the Penal Times was replaced by a new one in 1824, which itself has been replaced in our own time. The old church of Ballinasloe was insufficient and the building of the present St. Michael's was begun on the same site, to the designs of McCarthy, revised by Pugin. It was consecrated on August 25th 1858 by Cardinal Wiseman of Westminister. Father Dillon was parish priest of Ballinasloe at the laying of the foundation stone in 1852, but had passed away before its consecration. After his death Creagh and Kilclooney, became a mensal parish.
The Famine and After
The famine of 1847, the most catastrophic event of the century had its affect on the parish of Ballinasloe, but not nearly so much as in the surrounding areas. In 1841 there were over ten thousand people in the parish, half of whom lived in the town. By 1861 the population was reduced to 7205 of whom only 3296 were in the rural area. Three hundred and two families disappeared from the countryside in those twenty years, but while the population of the town fell from 5080 to 3909 the number of houses there increased by thirty two. The flight from the land and the clearances in the nearby estates, especially in that of Alan Pollock, who dispossessed a thousand families contributed to this slight increase, but the birth-rate had reached a low figure during the famine and immediately after and it never recovered fully.
The minutes of the Union Workhouse in Ballinasloe reveal more clearly than any other source the appalling havoc wrought by the famine. It was built to accommodate 400 people but for instance on the 30th June 1849 there were 4098 inmates there and forty one had died during the previous week. In addition 4686 people had received relief in their homes. On the 14th of July following it housed 4075 of whom forty five died and 4820 had been relieved in their homes. By the following October the numbers had dropped to 1821 with few deaths, but the census returns for 1851 show that there were then 2487 inmates in the institution.
The town itself, if affected by the famine, recovered quickly. Its industries were intact. The local landowners remained solvent. There were contracts for supplying the institutions. The Ballinasloe fair, the largest single source of revenue to the town continued, if somewhat diminished in size.