Famous People of Balla in Co. Mayo

P W Nally (1855 - 1891)

The great Fenian leader was born at Rockstown House near Balla on the 17th March 1855. He was the eldest son of a prosperous farmer and was a brilliant athlete.

At the time the control of athletic events was in the hands of the aristocracy and he along with Maurice Davin wanted to set up a National Athletic Council. In 1879 he organised the National Athletic Sports of Mayo on his father’s lands with Charles Stewart Parnell as patron.

He had become a member of the IRB. prior to this and on Dr. Mark Ryan’s departure to London in 1878, Nally became chief organiser for Connaught. It was after a Supreme Council meeting of the IRB in 1879 that Nally met Cusack and the idea of founding the GAA was conceived. Nally was also secretary of the Land League for a short while and was involved with Michael Davitt, James Daly, John W. Walshe and John O Kane in organising the famous meeting in Irishtown.

Together with Michael Cusack he was one of the founders of the GAA in 1884 and one of the stands in Croke Park, Dublin is named after him. In 1877, he along with James Daly was responsible for the erection of a monument to the French soldiers who died in 1798 at Frenchill near Belcarra. Nally was arrested in 1883 for the part he played in the Crossmolina Conspiracy and sentenced to 10 years penal servitude he was interned in Downpatrick where he fell into ill health.

He was transferred to Mountjoy Jail in Dublin where the inhuman conditions and unsuitable diet led to a further deterioration of his health. He was due to be released on 18th November 1891, but he died under suspicious circumstances some time prior to this.

His funeral took place to Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and his coffin was draped with the same flag that had earlier draped the remains of Parnell. A monument to his memory was erected with the aid of public subscription and was unveiled in 1900 by Dr. Ryan.

By Brian Hoban

William Maxwell (1792-1850)

William Hamilton Maxwell was Church of Ireland rector at Balla from 1819to 1844. The son of a moderately prosperous merchant, he was born in Newry, Co.Down on 30th June 1792 and was educated by Dr. Henderson at his academy in Newry and at Trinity College in Dublin.

He graduated in 1812 with a BA and although he wanted to join the army and take part in the Napoleonic Wars, a rich aunt threatened to disinherit him unless he pursued a career in law or in the church. The Bishop of Ferns subsequently ordained him on 25th July 1813 and he became curate at a parish near Newry where he served for six years. He became popular and hardworking and was appointed chaplain of the local Masonic lodge in 1815.

In 1817 he married Mary Dobbin, daughter of an M.P. for Armagh. His aunt died and his expected inheritance went instead to a remote cousin but due to his wife’s family connections he was saved from financial ruin. However in 1819 following a prank during which he swam in a local lake and rode home naked and as a result of this disgrace it was impossible for him to remain on as curate in the locality.

His Rector, Rev. John Davis, appointed him a Cannon in Balla in the Tuam diocese. During his stay at Balla he took no interest in his parochial duties but enjoyed the shooting and fishing which the area afforded.

While in Balla he wrote some 14 novels including the famous "Wild Sports of the West" Which was published in 1832. During this time Castlebar was a thriving town of around 6,000 inhabitants and he struck up a number of friendships with some of the military stationed there especially the officers of the 10th Hussars.

His life came to a sad end however. Continually in debt due to his extravagant lifestyle, he was relieved of his duties as a pastor due to negligence. His marriage came to an end and he emigrated to Scotland. His writings here were of a more sombre note and included "Wanderings in the Highlands and Islands" (1844).

Nearly penniless and a chronic alcoholic he died on 29th December 1850 at Husselburgh, near Edinburgh at the age of 58. Despite his sad end he was highly regarded as an author and received outstanding obituaries in the London Press in early 1851.

By Brian Hoban