Ballinrobe and its Environs in the Pre-Famine Half Centure

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Part 4 of 5 parts

By Patrick F. Wallace

Ballinrobe Town

Ballinrobe in the first quarter of the 19th century was apparently, a small neat town consisting of several streets pleasantly situated on a considerable eminence [26]. About 1818 it appeared to have been recently increased by new buildings, the door-cases of which, according to J.C. Curwen were "particularly handsome" because of the proximity of suitable limestone [27]. 

In 1837 Ballinrobe was seen to consist of one principal street "from which two others diverge" and nearly all of its houses were well built and slated, and Lewis’s account admits that several were of "handsome appearance". The second edition of the Lewis work didn't note any change while Sleaters' Directory of 1846, found it to be "a neat market town" [30]. 

The best account, however, of Ballinrobe as it appeared before the Famine is that set out in the Parliamentary Gazetteer, publish 1845 which in a rather poetic and longwinded fashion held that it "consists of an airy, well-edificed and partly straight street, along the line of a thoroughfare between Cong and Hollymount"; that this was an interesting street which contained a few good houses, but, and this seems more honest and accurate than any of the preceding accounts, that it was lined chiefly with two rows of cabins along the road between Kilmaine and Westport. The less important streets were "almost everywhere meanly edificed". 

The part of the town on the right bank of the River Robe "consists almost solely of a short continuation of the rows of cabins along the road to Westport and of large tenements ...” The Gazetteer was forced to admit, however, that the "town wears a prominently urban aspect" and looked larger and more pretentious than it really was when viewed from a mile or two outside the town.  This was so, both because of the height of a fair proportion of the town's private houses, the advantageous position of the public buildings, and the flatness of the surrounding countryside.

The conclusion of this writer of 1845 was that though Ballinrobe was "altogether inferior to Ballinasloe, Westport and, Ballina," it markedly excelled "the majority of Connacht towns in regularity, cleanliness and amount of apparent comfort [31].

Population Figures & Housing

It is interesting to compare the population figures for Ballinrobe with the number of houses in the town, and note how closely, as one would expect, the two statistics reflect one another. Pigot estimated Ballinrobe to contain 1,000 inhabitants in 1824. In fact, there must have been twice as many souls in the town at the time, for the 1831 census lists 2,604 as the population of the town.

Despite the rapid population explosion which Ireland was undergoing at this time, in no place did the population double itself, let alone approach trebling itself in those seven years.  There were 441 houses in the town in 1831.  In 1841, when the population had risen 2,678, the total number of inhabited houses in the town was 488. There were 535 houses in the town altogether, but of this number 41 were uninhabited and 6 were in the process of erection.

By 1851 the population had slumped to 2,161, which was not only due to the Famine, but also to the business and commercial recession which Ballinrobe underwent in this decade, and to which we shall revert shortly. This population slump was also reflected in the decline in the number of houses evident in the 1851 Census and we can see the decline in the size of the town itself. Now there was a total of 354 houses in the town, of which only 327 were inhabited, while 27 were uninhabited and, perhaps more typically a “sign' of the times” no house was building.

Church Building

In 1818 Curwen observed that "a large Catholic chapel is now erecting, but some difficulty has occurred in procuring funds for it's completion” [32].  Lewis says the Church was erected in 1815, which accounts, while seeming to contradict Curwen who had first knowledge of the matter, can perhaps be dismissed as it is likely that Lewis confused this date with the year in which Ballinrobe's Protestant church was repaired.       

Lewis mention is noteworthy, however, because he tells how Lord Tyrawly gave £50 and an acre of ground toward this church and because he depicts the new church as being "a large slated building with a lofty square tower"[33]. Both Pigot and Slater thought this edifice to be tolerably well and substantially built [34].  Less flattering was the Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1845 which claimed that the Catholic chapel "draws attention only from its capaciousness” [35].


 It is interesting to recall that Fr. Michael Green was Parish Priest in 1824, while Fr. John Morris occupied the same office in 1846 being assisted by Frs. James O'Malley and James Gibbons, his curates. [36] The Protestant church in Ballinrobe was considered by Pigot and Slater to be a plain, neat edifice "with little else to recommend it to public notice” [37]. Lewis was of a similar opinion, and tells us that it underwent y repair in 1815, while the Gazette of 1845 conceded that it has a "tolerably good appearance" [38].

Rev. John Burgh, Dean of Cloyne was Rector in 1824, and had Robert Porter as his curate while James Anderson was Rector and vicar in 1846. [39]


Lewis' Directory of 1837 says, that there was a place of worship for Baptists in Ballinrobe, and it is probably this September Parliamentary Gazetteer alludes to when it recalls how "ten or twelve year (i.e. ca. 1832) a meeting-home was erected at the expense of J. Flynn of Ballymacgibbon as a place of worship for Evangelical Protestant dissenters, and how it had "a more dwelling house aspect” [40].

Charter School

Ballinrobe had a charter-school for forty boys at least as early as 1800.  McParlan tells how the young generally availed of the “common ” schools, where "they pay l/- to 1/6 and sometimes more per quarter".

 The charter-school was apparently built "near the banks of Lough-Shy", a place probably in the near vicinity of the town [41].

Other Schools

By 1837, two schools in the town were aided by donations from C.N. Knox, and between them they afforded instructions to about two hundred children [42].  These were probably the school academics listed by Slater in 1846, and respectively conducted by Jennings and Rooney, and which as late as 1845 at least, were endowed by Knox [43].  We know that at least one of the schools in the town was operated in part of the upper storey of the Market-House, at the time of the outbreak of the Great Famine. [44]

These, presumably, were the "common schools", mentioned by McParlan in 1802.  A ‘Sunday School’ for the instruction of young protestants, likely the Baptists, was also established in the town by the middle of the half-century [45].

From this it would appear that the children of the town and parish were well catered for in the realm of schooling during the fifty years with which we are concerned; especially when the lack of educational facilities elsewhere in the Ireland of the day is considered.  Indeed, the picture may have even been better, for we cannot know whether or not there were hedge-schools in the area or whether or not they are included-in the above numbers (which is unlikely as such amenities would almost certainly have been unknown to the compilers of the English language and "establishment" sources upon which we are forced to depend.


This page was added by Averil Staunton on 03/08/2013.
Comments about this page

Re churches ...

I believe a Kirk [Church of Scotland] was located on the Creagh Road at some time, in the vicinity of where 3 stone built houses now stand, on the right hand side of the street on approach out to Creagh; [maybe this Kirk was to serve some of the military stationed nearby].

Reply: This is very interesting Bernard. Were there any burials close-by? 

I will take some photos over the next week and upload them. Perhaps you will check if I have taken the correct houses?

By bernard joyce
On 06/08/2013

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