The Land League Cottage, Balla in Co. Mayo

The history of this simple cottage goes back to the Land League Movement in the 1880’s. Tom Brennan was the son of evicted tenants. Soon after the eviction, his parents died leaving Tom orphaned an he was taken into care by Mickey Walshe from Kiltimagh and taught the trade of a cobbler. Despite his new found home and career Tom was still restless and was full of anger over the plight that his parents had suffered.

One night he spotted a blaze on top of Knockspulagadaun. It was signalling the fact that a Land League meeting was being organised in Tom Walshe’s house in Balla. A tar barrell had been brought to the top of the hill and set ablaze by P W Nally, Tom Walshe Tom Reilly and Malachy Heneghan. Tom left his work and returned to Balla to help out in the cause. He was dedicated to the cause and no journey or task was too much for him. His colleagues held him in high regard as he represented all that their cause stood for - he was a fugitive without a home of his own due to the cruelty of the landlords. Shortly after this Tom fell in love and married Winnie Daly and his comrades were determined they would not be homeless. Inspector Pepper arrived in Manulla on the morning of September 13th 1880 to find Tom Brennan and John Barrett taking measurements on the border of the Dunville and Kilmaine estates. On questioning them he was told they were about to build a house. Inspector Pepper returned to Castlebar to consult the regulations, as he felt it would take the men quite some time to get started on the project. No sooner had he left the area Tom Brennan gave the signal and within minutes tradesmen came from all over and commenced building the house.

The Land Leaguers were helped by Cumann na mBan members who fed the hungry workers. These included Fanny Parnell (sister of Charles Stuart), Margaret and Bea Niland and Miss Nally. The house was completed by nightfall and Tom Brennan and his new bride were settled in to their new home.

By a strange coincidence there were 3 men named Earley, Noone and Knight engaged in the building. Pat Earley made the chimney, Willie Noone did the carpentry and Owen Knight was the plasterer. The fact that the house was built by Earley, Noone and Knight added to the to the lore surrounding this great feat of building a house in the course of one day.

By Brian Hoban

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