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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Ballon, Co. Carlow

Ballon (Balanna) derives its name from the Ui Balláin, a tribe of the Fotharta.


Parish of Ballon and Rathoe

Church of SS. Peter and Paul, Ballon.
A drawing by John Duffy
Ballon Hill, the predominant physical feature of the are, was used extensively in Pagan times as a place of burial. In June 1853, Mr J Richardson Smith, brother-in-law to Mr. Lecky of Ballykealy House, conducted a dig on the hill. He discovered a unique collection of vessels.
The original rectangular church was built in stages from 1714 to 1731 during Penal Times and was thatched; it consisted of the present two side-aisles. The walls in the present church are built with granite from Ballon Hill.  This stone is very hard and has a green tint. Now cruciform, the church's long aisle was built by Rev. John Kehoe P.P., in the 1870's.  He also roofed the church with slates.  A bust of Fr. Kehoe is placed in the main aisle.
In October 1901 the New High Alter was consecrated by Bishop Patrick Foley in memory of Fr. P.F. Nolan P.P.  Atop the four gables are four granite crosses, each one a different style.  Internal refurbishment took place 1977-1978, further renovations in 1996-1997.
There is a plaque in the northern transept to Fr. James Conran P.P. 1802-1825. He was Vicar Capitular of the Diocese when Dr. Doyle was appointed Bishop in 1819.
The noted historian, William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838-1903) was a connection of the Leckys, Ballykealy House, Ballon. Ballykealy House served as Novitiate for the Patrician Brothers from 1958 to 1984.
In 1953, Cardinal Francis Spellman, Archbishop of New York, visited Ballon while in the area en route to Kildavin.
Source: The Churches of Kildare & Leighlin 2000A.D

The Parish of Ballon

P. L. O’Madden writes:

Source: Ballon and Rathoe Vol. 1 By Peadar Mac Suibhne 1980. p.12 -14.

The County of Carlow is named from the town. The old Irish name, Ceatharloch is explained quadruple lake; and the tradition is that the Bearbha river in ancient times formed four Lakes at the place where now stands the historic town of Carlow, but all traces of these lakes have long since disappeared. The old English form of the name, Cetherlagh, eventually developed into the form as it is written now. Carlow. The ancient name of Forth was Fotharta-Fea. The origin of this name is thus accounted for in Irish historical records:

Art, son of Conn na gcead Cath (of the hundred battles) succeeded to the throne of Erinn A.D. 165, and immediately on his accession he banished from Munster his uncle, Eochaidh Fionn Fothart, who was implicated in the slaying of the hundred-battle Conn. Eochaidh sought refuge in Leinster, and the King of that province bestowed upon him and his sons certain territories, the inhabitants of which came to be known afterwards as Fotharta from the name of their ancestor, Eochaidh Fionn Fothart. Of these districts there were originally seven; these two have retained the name tc this day, the baronies of Forth in Carlow and Wexford. In medieval and modern times Fotharta-Fea came to be known as Fortharta Ua Nuallain from the name of the ancient princely family of Ua Nuallain.

The last of the chiefs of Clann-Ua Nuállain died towards the close of the seventeenth century as recorded by the learned author of Ogygia. On some of the old maps of Carlow the barony of Forth is called Fearann Ua Nuallain, i.e. O’Nolan’s Country. On the final ruin of Irish social institutions and of the ancient Irish families in the wars of the seventeenth century and particularly after Cromwell’s sanguinary campaign (1649-1652) this old Irish family shared in the common ruin that befell Gael and Sean-Gall. In the universal proscription of the Irish Nation and Transplantation to Connacht, the old estated Irish families of Carlow were set down in the county of Galway and there their descendants are to this day. The transplanted families of the O’Nolans are found in the barony of Dunmore in. that county.

The name in its English form O’Nolan or O’Nowlan is still well represented, not only in the county of its origin and Leinster generally, but in the other provinces of Ireland also. Colonel Nolan, M.P. for Galway County of Ballindemy, Tuam was a descendant of the transplanted O’Nolans of Carlow.

The successor of the great bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, the immortal J.K.L. was a distinguished scion of this ancient Carlow family, Dr. Daniel Nolan. At the present day the name is well represented in the various professions and in commercial circles; in the centres of higher learning and especially in the ranks of the clergy, regular and secular both in Ireland at home, and in the greater Catholic Ireland beyond the seas.

That illustrious Carlow man, Cardinal Moran writes:

“From the period of the Anglo-Norman invasion to the days of Henry VIII, Carlow, in a military point of view, was perhaps the most important county in Ireland. Through its rich plains lay the main road, which connected the English settlements of Munster with the seat of colonial government in Dublin. The bridge at Leighlin in the centre of the county; it was the only passage across the river Bearbha enabling the Norman colony around the capital to communicate with Kilkenny and southwest Munster; even Wexford in those times could not be approached through any other route, so formidable were the fastnesses of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, and so warlike the ancient Irish clans, Ua Broin and Ua Tuathail that inhabited them. From the days of Edward III to that of Henry VIII, Mac Murchadha the powerful dynast of Leinster, received a yearly tribute of eighty marks from the royal exchequer of England, a stipend levied by him for permission to the English colonists to pass in peace across the Bearbha on their journey to the southern settlements”.

It is owing to this state of affairs that so few religious houses were established in the county by the early AngloNormans. It was, however, particularly rich in religious foundations of an earlier age, as the numerous ruins of those centres of religion and learning in Ireland’s golden age scattered broadcast over the ancient countries forming the present county of Carlow, amply testify.

The modern parish of Ballon contains within its boundaries the following ancient parochial denominations: Aghade, Ballon, Kellistown, Gilbertstown, Grangefort and Temple Peter. In all these ancient parishes can still be seen the ruined sanctuaries of Fotharta Ua Nuallain: the hereditary church-yards where the past generations await the Resurrection: and the holy wells of the early Irish saints, who evangelised the pagan Irish people of Fotharta-Fea.

Retrospect: Ballon Parish A Century Ago

P. L. O’Madden continues:

The Ordnance Survey books for the years 1830-1840 afford a fairly comprehensive view of the Ireland of pre-famine years. A brief survey of the conditions under which the Irish people of that day lived, as illustrated in our own parish of Ballon, should be of great interest to the people of today. The “clearances” began soon after 1829. By the Emancipation Act, won for Ireland by the genius of the Liberator, Ireland secured her Catholic rights after a struggle of nigh eighty years (1750-1829). At the same time the small holders in the Irish landlord’s view, lost their commercial value, having lost the franchise. The result was a pitiless campaign of eviction from 1830 onwards to the famine years: and then the campaign of eviction and extermination was carried ‘on with renewed ferocity and accelerated momentum down almost to our own time.

Thanks to the strenuous campaign of the Nationalists of 1875 to 1890, the great Irish Land Act of 1881 gave to the Irish farmer his charter of comparative liberty, that of free sale, fair rents and the most valuable concession of all, that of fixity of tenure. Since 1880 a new Ireland has arisen and is still in the making. A retrospective glance at the pre-famine Irish life is instructive and helps us to realise how much we owe to the patriotism, endurance and self sacrificing labours of the Irish clergy and their people in the long struggle for Irish rights. The village of Ballon in 1839 contained three or four good houses: the remainder consisted of wretched cabins. This was the common lot of the Irish poor under the Ascendancy regime 1700-1870.

The first ray of hope for the poor Irish cottier and labourer came in 1885, when the neat cottage and plot of the Irish labourer of today began to displace the wretched mud-walled cabins wherein the Cromwellian Ascendancy had driven them for shelter. The cultivation of the soil, that is agriculture in the proper sense of the word, was pretty general up to the Great Famine of Victorian days. The ruthless eviction and clearances (1850-1870) and the turning of the ancient patrimony of the Gael into cattle ranches and sheep walks, left the people no resource but to fly; hence as the result of starvation, extermination and emigration, the dream of Lord Carlisle was realised: an Ireland, “the fruitful mother of flocks and herds.” Excellent crops of wheat, barley and oats were raised in all the old parochial districts, now included in Ballon parish. The poor having only their potato patch to depend on, were decimated in the famine years. Statesmen discussed the laws of political economy while the people perished.

The ancient monastic estate of the Grange of Forth since 1669, the Ponsonby estate, was the most highly cultivated district in pre-famine years. The very names of the townlands here: Fearann an Phlúir and Banog an Phlúir are redolent of plenty and bespeak a land rich in corn. Since 1870 and especially since 1881 the conditions of the Irish farmer in regard to the holding of land have been revolutionised. A century ago he was a mere serf, a tenant at will or at most the holder of a lease for 21 years, and in rare circumstances 31 years. Rents varied from 20/- up to 50/- per acre and in addition county cess came to 2/- per acre. Where the townland was held by middlemen, at an average rental of 20/- per acre, the latter by the simple process of doubling that sum charged 40/- per acre, the standard rent over a great part of Ballon parish. Thanks to the patriotism and self-sacrifice of the Irish people the land of Ireland after centuries of confiscation, once again is in the possession of the Irish race. The Irish farmer of our day is rooted in the soil, and there is little reason for murmuring at a little passing depression. The numerous townlands containing the Irish word “rath” as part of the name, show that these ancient lands of Carlow were in historic times, thickly populated: “The rath remains after each in his turn And the Kings asleep in the ground.”

Popular imagination has peopled them with a new race the “daoine maithe” or fairies of Irish legend. One good result has followed at all events, from this: the ancient rath was thus saved in most instances from the destruction that has overtaken so many monuments of not alone pre-historic, but historic times, in Ireland. We are now making something of a fetish of the fairies. Fairy lore is to be studiously inculcated in school and college. Houses for the homeless poor of Ireland, one should think, would be more in keeping with the spirit and traditions of Catholic Ireland.

Source: Ballon and Rathoe Vol. 1 By Peadar Mac Suibhne 1980. p.15 -17.


Paroiste Ballain:

This parish is in the north of the barony of Forth and is in the centre of modern Co. Carlow. It is about eight miles long and six miles broad. It has two churches, Ballon and Rathoe. Its schools are modern and up to date. The population of the parish is almost 2000. It includes seven ancient or civil parishes — Ballon, Aghade, Kellistown, Grangeforth, Fenagh (detached), Gilbertstown or Bendenstown and Templepeter. Each of these old parishes is rich in history. O Curry derives Ballon from Ballán, a well or a spring. There are two blessed wells in the townland of Ballon: one is Tobar Bride and the other Tobar na Crioch. Both wells are near each other on Ballon Hill. O Donovan suggests that the name of Ballon may be derived from a tribe or clan called Ui Ballein. Ballon is three and a half miles from Tullow and is on the road from Bunclody to Carlow. The parish is watered by the river Burren, which flows almost through the centre of it and by the Slaney, which forms a part of its eastern boundary. There are two remarkable eminences in the parish, Ballon Hill, 450 feet above sea level and Kellistown towards the west, 332 feet.

Source: Ballon and Rathoe Vol. 1 By Peadar Mac Suibhne 1980. p.14.

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