The Parish of Ballycroy is situated between Mulranny to the south and Bangor Erris to the North almost surrounded by the Nephin Beg and Achill Mountains- its coastline facing westwards towards Blacksod Bay . It is officially in the Barony of Erris with which it has much historical association but nevertheless much of its trading and social life has been in the other direction southwards with the towns of Newport, Westport and Castlebar. It is an entity in itself owing to its unique geographical position and its very own particular history - having very ancient links with Erris and in later times administrative and economic ties in the other direction.
Ballycroy is quite an ancient parish as will be shown by many remains of prehistoric habitations found there and which are described in another part of this article . Legend has it that the earliest inhabitants were part of a Belgic Tribe known as Damnonii and who, according to Bardic scholars, were the builders of the royal mansion of Cruachan in Roscomman. One of its decendants was Ferdia, famous for his final and fatal combat with Cuchuilann at Ardee. There were others as the poem says: The three great lamps of which Connaught boasts Were born in Iorras Damnan - land of fame The royal poet Eochaidh from the Roy The Hero Freoch and Ferdia, son of Daman.
The tribes who became Kings of Ireland and later, though conquered in other parts, continued to rule in Erris up until the time of Saint Patrick, when they were succeeded by a Milesian family known as Fiachra O Caithniadh as recorded in the Annals. Chief names remaining from that period are O Moynaghan (Monaghan), Mc Fhionain (Gannon) O Maolphabhaill (Lavelle) O Lachtain (Loftus), and their variations.
With the Norman conquest Erris passed into the hands of De Burgo to Jordan de Exeter and thence to the Butler family of the Earl of Ormond. " From the rolls we learn that John Butler, who died leaving his son. Henry, held the manor at Ballycroy from Jordan de Exeter by Knight service." - Knox. Later on it passed on to the Barrett family who had extensive lands in Erris and remained so until the seventeenth century . During the reign of James I (early 17th century) , a considerable portion was purchased by a Dermot Cormack, a lawyer, from Abbeyfeale, Limerick , and whose descendants are still in Erris. Having taken the Jacobite side in the war, much of their lands were forfeited and granted to Sir John Shaen of London , whose son , Sir Arthur Shaen , having no male heir ,divided the property between his daughters who married John Bingham and Henry Carter, whose descendants to this day have substantial properties in the area.
After the rebellions in Ulster in the 17th century many families had their lands confiscated and so were expelled to this part of Mayo and so began the Northern influence on the social history of Ballycroy - from now on the Erris factor declined. These colonists were led by O'Donnell and included families such as the McSweeneys, O'Clerys, O'Gallagher, Conways, McManamins. O'Friels, Mc Gintys, O'Cathains, Cafferkeys , Campbells, Murrays , O'Boyles, Maguires , Corrigans , Mc Gowans etc. In 1838 their descendants spoke a northern dialect of Irish and were known to their neighbours as Ultaigh or Ulstermen. They reckoned their arrival in Ballycroy by the number of generations which had elapsed as in the following recorded extracts in the year 1838 from which the first named in each case.
(1) Richard O'Donnell, son of Niall Begg, son of Niall Garbh, son of Hugh Mor, son of Manus (killed at Benburb battle) son of Rory , who led the migration to Ballycroy on or about the year 1654.
(2) John Cleary (who was alive 1842 , son of John , son of Patrick, son of Cosnamhach (Cosney), son of Cairbre , son of Diarmad , son of Peregine - the first in Ballycroy , son of Lughaidh, son of Maccon, son of Peregine, who lived in the year 1546 . They were kindred to the Four Masters who were one of the first to record Irish History and were also historians to the O'Donnells in Ulster. Peregrine brought historic books with him to Ballycroy but unfortunately many of them were mislaid or lost , the only ones remaining being Book of Pedignees, Book of Invasions, Life of Red Hugh O'Donnell, Amhran Colmcill , Triallain Timcheall na Fodhia. The present Cleary family of Ballycroy are descendents and one of them was a Mrs Conway who lived at Doona Castle.
(3) Manus (Mary) McSweeney, son of Edmond, son of Mary, son of Eamonn, son of Niall Dubh, son of Lochlann who was the first to arrive in Ballycroy.
The O'Donnell Chieftains had much influence in the development of Ballycroy. The leases given by them to their tenants were generally for three lives to a group of villagers who, due to circumstances, had to sub-divide their lands into smaller plots for their families. Of an original, say twenty tenants, there would be at least they had become freehold.
There was but one road through Ballycroy to Doona Ferry but on the instructions of O'Donnell and his agent. Glendenning, the road mileage was considerably increased. They moved their seat of power to Newport, but through their agents and other landlords there was much improvement in the area. I now quote from Knight - 1831-"This colony of Ulstermen, at whatever time they settled in this country, still retain the ancient dialect of language used in the North; intermarry almost exclusively with one another, a hardy, low-sized dark featured race, bold, daring, and intrepid in danger, not good tempered but hospitable to an extreme. A stranger seldom enters their country without having the usual salute of " You are welcome", given him, be he known or not. They are considered generally intelligent and having that degree of cleverness and acuteness, particularly in bargaining, said to be peculiar to their Northern origin. They are the material of great people if properly managed."
Nearly all the above-mentioned surnames and in some cases Christian names as well from the majority of families today in this parish. Here are some observations made by P.Knight, who helped survey and map the Erris area in the beginning of the last century.
In summer large amounts of cattle were put on the distant mountains where temporary huts, called bowleys, were erected for Summer residence. Buttermaking was strictly for home consumption and he quotes as follows;" A woman in Ballycroy, who would sell a crock of butter twenty tears ago, would be considered as being degraded for life. "
Boats were plentiful and much use was made of the shallow coastline by farmers in their transport of turf and seaweed, the latter being used as a manure and for kelp burning and often times brought ashore in large heaps guided by a man using a long pole or wattle. As most of the rock is composed of Mica Slate and Quartz, limestone for burning into lime, was brought on the return journeys from Newport / Westport.
The people were generally healthy and instances of long lives were many. He quotes;" A fellow in Ballycroy thinks nothing of carrying a ten-gallon keg of whiskey - weighing about 150 lbs. Crossing the hills to Newport; a distance of over twenty miles, selling it, returning home that evening without the slightest appearance of fatigue."
The road from Bangor was commenced in 1822 but only three miles completed or partially gravelled. A new road was suggested to run from Blenkeragh - to Shranamonagh and from there through Aughness North to meet the estuary of Bangor River at Goulamore where the Muighin River enters the sea. Maybe this is the road marked on O.S. maps - but never completed - known locally as Bothar na Mine. A road from Lettera to Shradaggan. Maimarata and with a branch to Newport via the old track on the hills and another leading to Keenagh was also suggested as was one from the fishery at Aughness to Coraic Bridge via Logduff.
Inis Aghoo in Tallagh was considered ideal as a trading port and that a road should lead there from Tallagh to facilitate road transport was also suggested.
Tree planting was a great necessity - especially on the mountains and was strongly recommended, especially in the places being planted at the present time. One wonders how different the parish today would be had some or all of the above - mentioned improvements had been carried out at that time.
(I am grateful to all who have given help with this short account of Ballycroy and to Mons. E Mac Hale for permission to use excerpts from his book. "History Of The diocese Of Killala". It is obvious that the records given here are not a complete picture of past events in Ballycroy as I have not the ability, nor the time, nor resources for such an undertaking. However, I hope that it will make interesting reading and stimulate a further interest in local history. I have tried, as far as possible, to avoid mistakes, either by omission or statement and am conscious of the dangers of having errors printed. If the latter be the case. I would welcome constructive criticism or correction which would be to everybody's benefit).
written by Martin Costello, NT