Historical Tour of Ballina in Co. Mayo
The following is a short guide to some of the important historical sights of the town. It is by no means comprehensive but is intended to make the visit to our town more interesting and hopefully encourage the historian to delve a little deeper.
The tour takes approximately one hour.
Ballina was founded in 1723 by Lord Tyrawley but there is no doubt that the settlement on the banks of the Moy existed long before the early 18th century. According to Lewis's Topographical Dictionary 1837, the original name of the town was Belleek or in Irish, Beal Atha an Fheada. The modern day town has a population of 7,000 and is the gateway to the North Mayo Region.
STOP NO. 1 - ST. MUREDACH'S CATHEDRAL
St. Muredach's Cathedral is the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Killala. Work on the Cathedral began in 1827 under the aegis of Reverend John MacHale (1791-1881), Coadjutor Bishop of Killala, following the design of Dominick Madden (d. 1837) of Galway.
The stone was quarried locally and the roof and ceiling were completed before the Great Famine of 1845. The spire was completed in 1855 after designs by the architect James Joseph McCarthy (1817-82). In 1875 the organ had been commissioned.
STOP NO. 2 - AUGUSTINIAN ABBEY
The remains of the Augustinian Abbey, beside the Cathedral, date from the late 14th century. Little remains of the Abbey apart from the beautiful doorway. The monastery was active until its dissolution under Elizabeth I. The Augustinians, however, did not leave and Priors of the Abbey were appointed continuously to 1835 though the Abbey was in ruin and much like it is at present.
STOP NO. 3 - THE MOY RIVER
The River Moy is famous for its salmon. The river which is tidal below the weir has been a focal point of Ballina for centuries. The two bridges on either side of the Cathedral are known locally as the Upper and Lower Bridges. The Upper Bridge was built in 1836 by Thomas Ham and cost £3,000. The Lower Bridge was built around the same time by in all probability William West and cost an estimated £1,200.
STOP NO. 4 - ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCH
St Michael's Church of Ireland was erected in 1738 just fifteen years after the town was founded by Lord Tyrawley. The original Church consisted of a simple nave chancel and tower. The building was altered into a T-shape by Thomas Ham. Both the graveyard and the church contain interesting memorials.
STOP NO. 5 - BALLINA WORKHOUSE
Little of the original workhouse now remains. Most of the original building was demolished in the early 1930s to make way for the present District Hospital. The workhouse was completed just before the Famine and at one point was the fifth largest workhouse in the country.
The population of Ballina at the beginning of the Great Famine has been estimated at about 7,000 and the workhouse which was built to accommodate 1,200 - 1,400 people was vastly overcrowded during the famine years.
STOP NO. 6 - THE DOLMEN (PRIMROSE HILL)
The Dolmen of the Four Maols is located at the back of Ballina's Railway Station. The Dolmen dates from about 2,000 B.C. and is sometimes called locally the 'Table of the Giants'. The Dolmen is said to be the burial place of the four Maols. The four Maols murdered Ceallach, a 7th century Bishop of Connacht and were hung at Ardnaree - the Hill of Executions. Tradition says that their bodies were buried under the Dolmen.
STOP NO. 7 - PEARSE STREET
Older residents of the town still call the street by its original name Knox Street. The Knox's and Knox-Gores were the major landlords in the area during the last century. Pearse Street is the busy commercial centre of Ballina with banks and offices.
STOP NO. 8 - WALSH STREET (off Pearse Street/beside Imperial Hotel)
This street is called after Patrick Walsh who was executed in Walsh Street by English troops on the eve of the French entry into Ballina in August 1798.
STOP NO. 9 - HUMBERT MONUMENT
The Monument was erected in 1898 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the French landing at Killala in 1798. The monument was originally sculptured by a Dublin Craftsman but in recent years it has been beautifully restored locally by G J Ginty & Sons.
The figure on the monument is not Humbert but Mother Ireland. It was moved to its present position in 1987. Maud Gonne unveiled the monument as part of the centenary celebrations in 1897 and it was re-dedicated by her son Sean MacBride in 1987.
STOP NO. 10-11 - BOHERNASUP AND HUMBERT STREET
Standing with your back to the Humbert Monument on your right is Bohernasup and on your left is Humbert Street. The French entered Ballina through these streets in 1798.
STOP NO. 12 - KILMOREMOY CHURCH (Leigue Cemetery)
This pre-Romanesque Church dates from the 9th or 10th century and it would seem that it was built on the ruins of St. Patrick's original church.
STOP NO. 13 - ST. PATRICK'S WELL
The Shrine on the Killala Road is dedicated to St. Patrick. It was here according to tradition that St. Patrick baptised a local Prince Eochaid and first preached on his visit to the area. The Shrine was a place of pilgrimage until recent times. On the opposite side of the road is the rock from which St. Patrick is said to have preached.
STOP NO. 14 - BELLEEK MANOR (Belleek Castle Hotel)
Belleek Manor is now a hotel and is situated in wooded parkland on the outskirts of the town. The Manor House was built by the Knox-Gore family in the 1830s. The impressive cut stone Manor House has been beautifully restored and is a fitting place to relax at the end of an Introductory Historical Tour of our town.