The History of the Queen’s County: Ballyroan

This parish is situated in the north-west border of the barony of Cullenagh, and it contains 9,682 a. 0 r. 1p of land, about 800 of which is under bog, and the rest arable or pasture. A town or village, bearing the same name, appears to have been of some antiquity.(there is a castle and a church called Bausone – in the division of Tovachlov on the old map of Leix, JK&SEAS vol. Iv. New series part ii, p. 345) This denomination is probably intended for Balliroan. The parish is traversed south-south-westward by the old coach-road, leading from Dublin to Cork. Thomas O\’Conor, in a letter dated Carlow, Dec,. 23rd., 1838 describes Ballyroan parish in \’Letters containing Information relative to the Antiquities of the Queen\’s county collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1838.\’ Vol, ii., pp. 250-266.

Near the village is a remarkable moat, which ascends to a considerable height, and which has a terraced passage, winding around its sides to the topmost plateau. A deep trench surrounds the raised enclosure, which is planted over with trees, A castle is thought to have been here, as on the margin of a loose folio vellum Manuscript in T.C.D., (ref. H. 2. 18) there is a note in Irish which states, that Conall, the son of David O\’More, King of Leix, re-erected the castle of Dunmase (i.e. Cainen Mase) after having taken it from the English; and built the castle of Baile atha in roine – supposed (by Mr. O\’Conor in his letter) to be a mistake for an Irish rendering of Ballyroan. On the old Map of Leix and Ophaly (Offaly), Ballyrone is marked, as also Tolouer, now Tullore, and Dromselege, now Drimashellig, a townland in this parish. Coulinleigh and Koulinagh is marked on the old Map of Leix and Ophaly.

We find, that Ballrony was an impropriate rectory, with residence in 1616. Thomas Mapby (idem) was minister and preacher, with books. The church and chancel were kept in repair. The parish and town of Balliroane are represented on Sir William Petty\’s Map of Cullenagh barony. A few houses mark the site of the town; and a considerable stripe of bog is marked. In the next map to Clonkeene or Cloneheen on an enlarged scale is Balliroane parish. Its town is represented by a group of seven detached houses near its celebrated moat. The town-land denominations are, Balliroane, Rahinbroge, Hallinlogh, Cloncullan, Crubin; Ballmone ( ?), Cashell. The arable, meadow, pasture and boglands are shown in the number of acres, roods, and perches, as admeasured by Ambrose Yorke, A.D. 1650. The detached Balligormill of Fossey parish is shown in like manner on this map.(see. General Vallency\’s map of Barony of Cullenagh, vol.ii., no. 67)

In the village, there was a Protestant school, endowed by Alderman Preston with lands in Cappaloughlan. The school was a large slated building erected at a cost of £500. The schoolmaster was a Master of Arts from Trinity College, Dublin, who, with an usher, gave a classical and English education in 1834, 1835, 1836,(during these years the head-master was Mr. Arthur Hutchinson, M.A., of Trinity College Dublin) to about fifty boarders and day scholars. The Protestant day boys, according to the stipulation of the founder, received a gratuitous education; the Roman Catholics paid £1 a quarter for their day schooling. His stipend was £55 per annum.(Lewis Topographical Directory of Ireland, vol. I., p. 163) In subsequent years the school was removed to Rockfield House near the village ; while a Police Barrack and Dispensary have been built on the former site. The Preston foundation of late has been removed to Abbeyleix, where a new school has been provided, under altered regulations.

The Cullenagh Mountains lie within Ballyroan parish, on the eastern border; and these consist of three distinct peaks, distinguished as the Black Mountain, the Middle Mountain, and Slieve Bawn, the former, which is the highest, attaining an altitude of 1,045 feet. Coal appears to exist in this highest mountain, where shafts have been sunk and a level made, at some remote time. Indications of coal are in other parts of this parish, especially near the town of Ballyroan, on the bank of a rivulet. On the slope of the Black Mountain, the Barringtons, who had acquired a large estate in Cullinagh Barony, built a castellated mansion, the remains of which are still to be seen. In it they lived for generations, and through stormy times in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the eighteenth century, it was called by the peasantry, Cullenaghmore House. When young, Sir Jonah Barrington lived in it with his grandfather, Colonel Jonah Barrington. Many amusing local anecdotes are introduced, in \” Personal Recollections and Sketches of his own Times,\” in connexion with this house. The remnant of their large estate was sold to Sir John Parnell, and when the Barringtons left their family mansion, a Mr. Anderson, the Catholic agent of Sir John, lived in it, and fitted up a small chapel in the hamlet of Cullenagh adjoining, for the accommodation of himself and the Catholic tenants. (at the time Cullenagh was within the Catholic district of Ballynakill and served by a priest from that town) Afterwards, Sir John Parnell sold the estate to John Toler, the well-known Lord Norbury; whose descendant holds it in possession.

One of the earliest religious foundations in Leix appears to have been the church, which derived its name from St. Faolan, and which afterwards distinguished the now almost forgotten site, where it had been erected, as Kilwhelan. This townland lies upon an elevated ridge, on the west of the Cullenagh mountains.(these are three in number and called respectively Slieve Dubh or Black mountain, the middle Mountain and the White Mountain). The mound of an old disused burial-ground-in the eighteenth century of considerable height, but now almost level with the surrounding field-may be observed on the spot; while tradition avers, that an ancient church formerly stood there, and gave the locality even greater prominence. The patron saint of this place seems to have flourished at a very early date, and we are informed that he descended from the race of Aengus, son of Nadfraech, King of Munster. It may be inferred, as stated, that this saint was restored to life through St. Attracta\’s merits, and after he had been drowned. By one writer he is designated as St. Foillan, surnamed the Leper; while, in the \”Martyrology of Donegal,\” he is called Faolan the Stammerer, of Rath Erann in Albain, and of Cill Fhaelain,(the old form of Kilwhelan) in Laoighis, in Leinster. On the 20th day of June, his feast occurs in our Calendars. Some doubt seems to remain, however,that he may have been identical with the celebrated St. Foilan, Felan, or Fillan, Abbot in Scotland, and who is venerated on the 9th day of January.

The Earl of Essex\’s army passed near Kilwhelan, after the celebrated engagement at \”The Pass of Plumes,\” and on its march to Ballyroan. The townland of Tullore, in the parish of Ballyroan, and barony of Cullenagh, contains 199 a. 2 r. 28 p. 24 of good arable land. Here there is an old place of interment, held in great veneration by the people from time immemorial, and yet greatly resorted to on the occasion of death. On the old Map of Leix, (JKSEAS, vol. Iv.,, part ii) Tolouir is marked near a church, which appears to have stood there, early in the sixteenth century, and in the former territory of Tovachlov. It seems very probable, that this had been the place alluded to, in that Litany attributed to Engus Ceile De, where he invokes the Seven Bishops of Tulach Labhair, who must have been buried in the cemetery there previous to the ninth-century, and whose memories were even then in benediction. If so, the burial-ground, where it is certain a church formerly arose, must boast a very great antiquity. In summer time, the spot is garnished with fine hawthorns, which are of great beauty while in blossom. The townland of Kilvahan is situated, partly in the parish of Ballyroan, (this portion of the townlands contains 444a 2r 39p.) and partly in the parish of Kilcolmanbane,(80a, 2r. 13p) in the barony of Cullenagh.

The graveyard of Kilvahan occupies an elevated situation, and it is surrounded by a nearly circular fosse, which was formerly entered by an old road leading from the adjoining village of Moneenafullagh, \”the little marshy spot of blood,\” on the direction from Ballyknockan Castle. It is some little distance removed from the former mail-coach road, between Dublin and Cork. At the village already named, the chief brunt of contest at the Pass of Plumes was sustained, and hence the name it afterwards bore.The passage of funeral processions to the cemetery, at present, leads along a headland of the adjacent field to the boreen, where traces of the old road are to be seen. In the month of May fine ancient hawthorn trees are in the richest bloom, on the ditch which fences the moat, and isolated thorn bushes grow among the graves. Of late a wall of enclosure has been built around the cemetery by the Poor Law Guardians. A few head-stones of marble-limestone are seen, and from constant friction of the fleecy flocks that formerly resorted to shelter there, those sepulchral memorials assumed a jet-black lustre, and the inscriptions are most clearly legible.

We have not been able to discover any historic record, which might serve to illustrate the former history of Kilvahan. Mr. Thomas O\’Conor; who visited this place in 1838, was of opinion that Kilvahan probably derived its name from a St. Meathon, thus making it the Kill or Church of St. Meathon. However, this name cannot be found in our Irish Calendars. Formerly, and indeed, to the beginning of the present century, an old ruined church was to be seen, within the burial enclosure of Kilvahan. From a perfect local knowledge of the spot, the writer has not been able to trace a single vestige of those ancient walls, which appear to have been uprooted from their foundations, by the contractor for an erection on behalf of Sir John Parnell, Bart., who had some time before purchased this property from the Barringtons of Cullenagh. The materials were used to build a tuck-mill for the manufacture and dressing of friezes and druggets, on the rivulet in a valley beneath the grave-yard, and at no great distance removed from it. The writer knew an old peasant, who stated, now many years ago, that he had a perfect recollection of the ancient church, as its walls then stood. Happily, at the present day, such a desecration, as that here alluded to, would not be thought of, much less perpetrated, by gentle or simple folk; but the prevalence of like practices, during and before the last century, has contributed to deface, and even utterly to destroy, some of the most interesting vestiges of antiquity. Nor have the features of these objects been preserved for us, by any delineation whatever, either of the pen or pencil.

This living was a rectory and vicarage in the diocese of Leighlin, and in the patronage of the crown; the Protestants amounted to 326, and the Roman Catholics to 3,139. In 1841, the population was 3,689, the houses were 628. The area of Ballyroan town was 56 acres, and, in 1831, it had a population of 714; in 1841 the census makes it of 637, the houses being 119. The population and houses have since greatly fallen away in number. In the Roman Catholic arrangement, Ballyroan is united with Abbeyleix, and Catholic churches are in both towns.

The chief seats here are: Blandsfort, Rockbrook, and Derryfore. In 1831, the parochial population was 3,544 persons.32 In 1834, the tithe composition amounted to £415 7s. 8 1/2 d. The church was a plain edifice, near the moat and surrounded with a graveyard, with a scriptural and a national school attached. There is neither a glebe-house nor a glebe attached.