Ballyconneely/Baileconaola (Civil parish of Ballindoon)
Ballyconneely is located on the western seaboard of Ireland. It is situated in the Slyne Head peninsula, on the extreme west of Connemara. The area is bordered to the west and the north by the Atlantic Ocean- giving the area many beaches and dunes. Its border on the east incorporates the Roundstone Bog complex. Its population based on the 2006 census, was 768 people and 744 houses (Central Statistical Office. Population of the parish in circa 1837 was 4,943 (Lewis 1837).
The parish area includes three District Electoral Divisions (D.E.D.s), Bunowen, the only rural DED in Ireland that its population increased during the Great Famine and Dunloughan and Errislannon. The total area is 6,472Hectares (15,985 acres). Its main industry today is tourism but historically there has been a wealth of development dating from the first settlers at Doonloughan 3,000 BC. The parish has a history of social activity dating back to the holy well pilgrimages of the 7/11th century and some have continued to this day, for example the pilgrimage to St. Caillins holy well which started in the 7/11th century.
Some important events in the parish were the Alcock and Brown landing and the setting up of the Marconi Wireless Station. The majority of the area has been designated a Special Area of Conservation because of its unique landscape. Ballyconneely is classified rural, it qualifies because it comprises people, land and other resources, situated in the open country side, a small settlement, situated over 50 miles from the immediate economic influence of a major urban centre ( in this case Galway). It also qualifies as rural on all the criteria set by the Irish Government and the European Union (E.U.). The parish incorporates over thirty town land (not all inhabited). Ballyconneely has a long development history, a look in brief at the pioneers of the past:
• First settlers (farmers) arrived in Doonloughan 3,000 BC (Gibbons, 1990).
Grace O’Malley (1530/1603) and the O’Flaherties developed forts at Bunowen (Chambers, 1983).
• Connemara Pony evolved from Stallions that swam ashore after a ship wreck of Ballinaleama in the region of 1820/30 and bred with the local ponies. The stallions were found on the beach at Ballinaleama by one of Robert Coneys direct ancestors.
• Richard Geoghegan reclaimed land from the sea in the region of 250 acres at. Ballyconneely village in 1758. (The stone to mark the event was written in Latin) (O’Flaherty).
• Bunowen Castle = Originally the site of an O’Flaherty castle and occupied by the Geoghegans. Their descendant John Augustus O’Neill built a new castle residence at the foot of the Hill of Doon which he was unable to complete. Bought by the Blakes of Towerhill in 1852 and used as a summer residence. It is now a ruin.
• A licence to hold a market and fair at Bunowen 15/2/1610 and market/fair at Ballinaboy (O’Flaherty)
• Slyne Head Lighthouse built in 1836
• Doohulla fishery, first in Ireland or Great Britain to be scientifically developed in1854 (Robinson 1990)
• Development of Kelp (burnt seaweed) was harvested from about 1860 until the early 20th century. The Borax Company had a base at Bunowen pier where the Kelp was stored, before being shipped to Scotland. Price £4/5 a ton reaching £7 in 1869 for one year only (O’Malley, 1905).
• Thomas Corless was exporting oysters from Ardagh oyster fishery to the London market 1900’s (Robinson, 1990).
• Grant aided sheds for salting mackerel were built at Doonloughan pier.
Mackerel was exported early 1900s (Cullen 1972).
• Marconi Wireless Telegraphy established 1907 at Derrygimla brought 150 fulltime and 140 seasonal jobs, harvesting the Peat (Turf) for the boilers (Robinson 1990). 18 ‘kils’ (half barrels) and 6 barrels of stout delivered each week to the Club Bar at Marconi station (Gibbons 1990).
•The Playboy of the Western World is based on a true story from within the Parish. Available on RTE Archives in Galway City.
• The ‘Loch Fadda Monster’ is also based in the Parish. See history on Google.
• The majority of farmers became owners of their land in 1917.
• One of the first co-operatives in the new state at the ‘Longhouse’ Doohulla Bridge 1920’s.
• First programme for economic expansion brought the first seaweed factory, in Connemara, to Bunowen in the late 1950’s. Seaweed was converted into meal and exported to Sweden and other parts, 15 fulltime workers and numerous part-time supplied the seaweed.
• The first community project –Ballyconneely Hall was built in 1957/58, a major social development in that depressed economic period. To raise funds the first Marquee dances 1957 with people coming from over 100 miles to attend. The building of the hall was organised by the local curate, majority of the labour was provided free. It made the headlines (Radio Eireann) at the time with community groups coming from far and near to see ‘how it was done’. The Archdiocese of Tuam was registered as full owners.
• The development of Connemara Golf Club (CGC) in 1973; today 22 fulltime and 8 part time workers. This brought new development – holiday homes, 450 approx. tourist/holiday homes in the parish today.
• New Caravan Park at Keeraunmore.
• In the 1970s a fish factory was built at Bunowen Pier. It is now a smoked salmon business.
• Fish farms at Errislannon and Beacauneen Lake.
• Ballyconneely Hall has been redeveloped. Now one of the most modern centres in Galway incorporates play school and Crèche. The hall is now leased for 35 years from the Archdiocese –rent free.
Here is a Breakdown of Some of the Census Data for the Parish in 2006
Under 10 years of age 95 = 12.3%, 15 to 19 years of age 41= 5.3%, 20 years to 29 years 70 = 9%. Total in the 15 to the 29 age group is 111 in the whole parish, a big number in that age group attend third level college and are here only on weekends. The number now living alone is 94 = 12.2% (C.S.O.). National school numbers, 2008 stands at 69 and in 1998 – 99 pupils (school records).
Fishing – A tradition in the parish of seasonal fishing, is now almost at an end. In the past farmers fished the summer months for crab, lobster, and salmon in small wooden boats. On November the 1st 2006 at 1300 hours the driftnet fishing ban came into effect (Greene, 2006). A complete cessation of salmon driftnet fishing, at the stroke of a pen, the part time salmon fishermen, were no more, gone was the additional income that topped up the farming income (Drift Net Ban, 2006). New safety regulations created one more additional expense in the commercial fishing sector. The new regulation in brief means that the small wooden boats, that are used for fishing, in the inner bays, will need the same equipment, as the big boats fishing the open seas (The regulation does not apply to pleasure boats?).
The designation of the Slyne Head peninsula Ballyconneely and the Slieve Bloom region in Laois as the two pilot areas in Ireland selected for the European Union
(EU) Environmental sensitive areas (ESA) program in 1987. Its objective was to enhance the country side, and improve the incomes of farmers. The European habitat directive came into force in Ireland in 1997, under the directive the majority of the land in Ballyconneely was designated a Special Area of Conservation (Irish Wildlife Trust, 2001). The designation created problems for farming and development. The difficulty for the farming was/is that the area contains priority habitats and species, sand dunes, bogs and turloughs. Under the old and present Galway county development plans, the parish was/is designated as high amenity for planning development purposes; this meant that it is/was difficult to get planning permission.
Numbers engaged in farming and farming type – The main types of farming in the area are dry stock, sheep and Connemara ponies – no tillage or dairy farmers. It would appear that there is a sharp decline in the number of farmers in the area (Central statistical office (CSO). The herd numbers of a substantial amount of deceased farmers are not being renewed. In 1989, 189 herd numbers with 2262 cattle. In 1999, 159 herd owners and 1882 cattle and in 2008, 120 herd owners and 1263 cattle (Department of Agriculture). That is a 36% drop in herd owners and a 44% drop in cattle numbers between 1989 and 2008. It is clear from the extracts from census 2006 that all people with herd numbers are not classifying themselves as farmers, for example people receiving farm assist, retired, on health benefit and some with off farm income. Farming pluriactivity is active in the parish, there are statistics available dating back in excess of a hundred years. Here is a brief look back: People from this area and along the western seaboard travelled to Scotland for seasonal farm work in the 1870s (Moffit, 2008) and Kelp in the 1890s (O’Malley 1901). It is easy to get data locally; ‘my grandfather walked to Westport to get the boat to Scotland for the ‘totty (potato) season’ is a story that is told in houses locally. Similar data can be found in the Western Isles – the kelp industry 1800s and ‘a good fish girls (group of 3) could gut 20,000 a day’ (Charnley, 1992). In the new Irish state the Board of Works schemes provided short-term work in the winter for six to eight weeks. The ‘Beet’ in the 1950s is another example when farmers went to England for seasonal work in the sugar beet factories. It is not unusual to hear about men like ‘Pat’ from Clifden when he got his first weeks pay packet: ‘Sir you have given me too much money, it would take me five or six weeks to earn this much at home’ (Conroy fellow worker). Today farmers are involved in the pluriactivity culture but it is difficult to get a break down on income. A calculation of fifty years ago is much easier. In 1958: lowland lamb £2.50 to £3 or two lambs for a week’s wage, filly foal pony £30 (Connacht Tribune 1958) or five weeks wages, yearling cattle £7/9, cow £20/25, pig £9/11 and £200/300 from the sea, lobster, crab, ribbon weed, carageen moss, salted fish, and winkles. Supplying of peat (£5 tractor load), to the town of Clifden and locally, was a big additional income (almost expired 2008). Average farm income £300 about the same as an unskilled worker (Local farmer 2008). All farm income was net, as seaweed and farm yard manure was attained for (monetary) free. A substantial number of families were supplemented by family members working in England receiving from £2 to £5 weekly. Produce was generated on the farm, milk, butter, bread, vegetables, and some meat for at least ten months of the year (john A Joyce 2008). All the produce was organic on the farms in that era. Today nationally only 1% of organic production (Sergent TD 2008) (Locally 0%) (Organic Salmon locally). Some of the farmers with very low income would qualify for a reduced rate of assistance, more commonly referred to as farmer’s dole, and that could go as low as two shillings a week in some cases.
*No unemployment assistance for family members living in the household (at that time).
An initial glance at the census reports would suggest that the population of Ballyconneely is holding up well for a small rural area in west Connemara, at a time when all other similar areas in the region are facing a decline. A closer assessment will tell a somewhat different account when the age categories are analysed. The population in 1986 was 800 people and in 2006 was 768; a drop of just 4% for twenty years but when it is calculated from 1981 there is a 9% drop. In 1986 the population under-14 was 199 (24% of total population) and 1996, 158 and the 2006 census under-14 was 144 that is a 27.6% drop in twenty years in the under fourteen age category. There are only 30 children under-four listed in the 2006 census. The over 65s in 1986 were 155 (19.3%) and in 2006, 130 (CSO); one of the reasons for the decline in the over 65s is, a high percentage of that age group is settling in Clifden.
The population of Galway County was 172,018 in 1981 and 231,670 in 2006, an increase of 25.74%. The main increase in the population is in the commuting area in the region of a 25 miles zone from the city centre. Since the Industrial Revolution, with machinery replacing man, the drift from the land continues. The number of workers employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Galway dropped from 25,207 in 1971 to 16,023 in 1981 (CSO). If the same trends applied in Ballyconneely it would mean a drop of 36%.
*The population of the parish in circa.1837 was 4,943 (Lewis, 1837)
It is difficult to give an accurate account of migration trends, a sizeable number from the area are living in Galway city and with a number commuting from the area to work each day and some people here that were born outside the country. There is a large number of Polish, but they are usually here during the summer months only, and are not included in the 2006 census. Numbers by place of birth 2006 census excluding Ireland, U.K. 81, Other E.U. ,13, Rest of World, 27, Poland, 2. (Possible reason that U.K. number is so high is returning emigrant families.)
Incidences of farm diversification
Farm diversification is a subject that is now widely discussed mainly because of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reforms. Under the reforms there is very little opportunity for additional economic development in mainstream agriculture for increasing farm incomes. The reality is that farm diversification is not something new, it was active in this area for decades, in the past new development came from within the farm production system. The parish is comprised of small seaboard farms which are not able to generate a viable income in their own right today, despite the payment of a grant support system. In the past, especially during the 1940s/50s the vast majority of farmers used the farm market system to generate extra income. ‘In the region of thirty horse and carts made their way to Clifden laden with home created produce including potatoes, mangles, and turnips which were bought by bigger farmers to feed cattle, pigs, and poultry(local farmer). That enterprise/diversification slowly came to an end when grain was brought in from farmers in east Galway and beyond (Today not one cumulative acre of farm produce in the whole area). A new diversification slowly came on stream in the 1970s and really took off in the 1980s; farm tourism. In the 1970s only a hand full of farm cottages to rent and just a few farmhouse bed and breakfasts operating. The 1980s changed all that with farmers and others developing the services. The farm ‘spade’ was replaced with the building ‘trowel’ as farmers embraced the new tourist trade. The breeding of Connemara ponies is another development in diversification. The new mart owners in Clifden (1990) initiated promoting Connemara ponies. Sales in May, August and a five day sale in October bring the pony buyers to Clifden from all over Ireland and abroad, and with prices ranging from two to ten thousand euro for the better quality mares, it brings additional money to small farms.
The area is classified as high amenity, with an abundance of beaches and mountain scenery and unspoilt beauty. It is a haven for the perceived millionaires who arrive in their droves during the holiday season. In the present climate with so many holiday homes and their owners wanting to keep it – ‘the way it is’. Industrial or any development is difficult to attain.
Local services/ Infrastructure
The main infrastructure in the parish is roads, electricity, telephone and mains water supply. A brief look back: the first main road was built through the area in the 1820s by Nimmo (Robinson 1990). The rest of the roads (Boreens’-except for two) were built in the 1800s, some of which can be clearly identified by their names for example, Bothar na Mine (Meal Road) Aillebrack was built during the famine (the workers were given a quart saucepan of meal for a day’s work). Electricity was introduced in the late 1950s. This was installed to service the new seaweed factory at Bunowen. Anyone that lived along the service line was given the option of a supply. The route covered about one third of the area. The phone service was introduced in the United Kingdom in early 1912 (Telegraph introduced 1870) and a few years later in this area (Royal Mail); just the post office initially, some private phones installed in 1950s, seven telephones in the parish by 1960s. (local research, 2008).
Mains water supply was put in place in the late 1920s (water pumped to the tanks by a windmill) with just one house attached to the service and three water pumps (taps) fitted for public use; one in the village, another at Mannin cross and another half a mile from the village on the Bunowen road. The 1980s saw the final roads in the parish surfaced with tar and chips, but were in general the same width as before (narrow). Only two new roads built, both to service the bogs at Ballyconneely and Derrygimla. Electricity service extended to every house in the area 1980s/90s (replacing the gas service for lights) except for one household that generates its own power from a windmill. Telephone service is now of a high standard. A Radio link between Clifden and Galway currently gives an efficient service. All households have now a telephone line or mobile phone and households are on the internet (CSO). The 1980/90s brought the mains water supply to the majority of houses, group water schemes in Aillebrack, Calla/Dolan and Derrygimla supplied the service. The Polrevagh and Errislannon districts have provided a (do it yourself) service from two local lakes.
The services in general are provided from within the parish and from Clifden Town. Garda/Fire Brigade/Lifeboat: Garda/ Fire Brigade are old services, with the Lifeboat relatively new (1990s) are all based in Clifden.
Food stores, Public houses, Hotels: In the 1980s, five shops in the area and one travelling shop, today; two in the village. One public house and two hotels.
Bus Eireann provides a twice weekly service through the village to Galway (Bus Eireann). Currently there are four daily bus services from Clifden to Galway. Train service Galway and Westport (50 miles). Air transport from Galway airport, cars in the parish number more than houses occupied, only 19% of houses without a car (CSO).
National and play schools located in the parish including a crèche. A 2nd level education service four miles and 3rd level 50/60 miles away. Health service: Hospital in Clifden (mainly respite) with a limited x-ray service, three medical doctors in the town and another in Roundstone which is situated less than five miles from part of Ballyconneely. Support for the elderly: A Daycare centre, retirement nursing home, centre for disabled in Clifden provides an essential support for the senior citizens. Meals on wheels are available four days of the week and a coffee morning each Friday in the village (transport provided).
Naomh Feichin Gaelic Football Club (Ballyconneely, Cleggan, and Clifden) caters for the football and Connemara rugby also covers the area. There are two gyms and swimming pool in the town. Connemara Golf Course is based in the parish.
Community hall provides Bingo, Set dancing, and music tutoring on a weekly basis and there is now only one church (Roman Catholic) open, and a survey carried out in the early 2000s discovered that fewer than 46% attend weekend services and the perception is that its less today.
Local Voluntary Groups
The area has a voluntary group history dating back to 1957 when the first hall committee was assembled. ‘The chairman was the local curate and in that era you were there to assist/agree with his decisions’ (committee member 1957). The 1970s brought the first community council and credit union; both failed within a year. The community council was revived in 1983, one of the most vocal and active in Connemara for years with a regular attendance at meetings in the region twelve to fifteen people. Its membership and activity declined in the late 1990s and folded in 2003/4 (Ballyconneely Development Plan 1997/9) (BDP). The Irish Country Women’s Association (ICA) is the longest established group in the area, was founded in 1977 and has continued to this day. It has an active membership of twenty (BDP). Ballyconneely Connemara Pony Show: set up by community council in 1986. It is now one of the biggest Connemara Pony shows in Galway. Two day event was organised in 2007/8. Ponies come from all over Connacht.
Ballconneely Primary Health Care was set up in 1992 (BDC).The first primary health care project in rural Ireland was in partnership with Forum, it led to the formation of the North West Connemara carers group, the Day Care centre in Clifden, and the X-ray unit at Clifden hospital (BDP) all of them are still active today. Errismore race committee set up in the 1870s (come and gone several times, active in 2008). Fishermen’s groups only assemble when there is a perceived problem for example Salmon Drift Net Ban in 2006. No community games at this time (not enough volunteers). Ballyconneely Parish Association established 2006 to develop and manage community centre (the hall), play school and crèche. The project is now complete (cost in region 500,000 euro).
Unusual happenings that have survived the changing cultures and centuries
There are many tales that have survived the changing times in the parish. Some of these relating to events from centuries past; here are some examples
The Connemara Pony: The current Connemara Pony in Ballyconneely initially evolved from the ‘crossing’ of local ponies/horses with an Arab Stallion. This occurred, as a result of a shipwreck at Ballinaleama (near Slyne Head) in approximately 1820. The ship came to her grief on a stormy night while attempting to navigate the ‘Sounds’ near Slyne Head. The following morning brought ‘windfall’ on to the sandy beach, just under Saint Caillin’s Well at Keraunmore. But it also brought two Arab Ponies who had swam ashore.
This was at a time in Ireland when shipwrecks were a common occurrence and people continually ‘scoured’ the beaches of ‘windfall’. It was also the law at that time that all ‘windfall’ was deemed the property of the state (UK, King) and a state agent was on hand in each locality to ensure its collection. The ‘Mallachy’ (Meillas’) from Keeraunmore had claimed the ponies when the government agent arrived (also a local man). They done a deal, with the agent agreeing to let the ‘Mallachy’ retain one stallion and the agent officially declaring that only one pony survived the shipwreck (an Irish solution).
Thanks to the late Mark O’Malley (Jim) Aillebrack a direct descendant of the ‘Meillas’ for giving me this account
The eviction of the Darcy Brothers: During the 1800s evictions were common place in Ireland and Ballyconneely was no exception.
The Darcy Brothers lived at Keeraunmore and were issued with a summons to vacate their abode. The order was delivered by the landlords agent; when he arrived the brothers accosted him and brought him to a nearby cliff- tied and gagged him and were about to throw him to his doom, when a local man intervened, ‘if you carry out this act you will both hang; why not make him eat the summons’. This they agreed to, and forced the landlord’s agent to eat the paper summons (have you ever tried eating paper)?
Thanks to the late Mark O’Malley (Jim) Aillebrack for this tale.
The barricading of Ballyconneely Church: Sometimes when there is a high profile public occurrence, one would expect to find quantitative accounts pretty readily available. However in the case of the Ballyconneely Church barricade which occurred just 120 years ago approximately, there is no documented evidence to hand at this stage.
Ballyconneely was just a slightly different place in the 1880s,it had its own Police Barracks, which operated in the centre of the village, the building is still there to-day. The local Catholic Church at the time is also the current one, which replaced the earlier one at Mannin Road Junction. The local curate of the day had no house of his own and stayed in a local business house as a lodger. A local girl also worked in the business and also resided there. Based on research it was believed that an incident occurred which led to open conflict between the local curate and the owner of the business, who also resided on the business premises. It eventually led to the intervention of the Bishop who sided with the businessman, who incidentally had also a close association with a prominent political dynasty. The Bishop transferred the curate to one of the poorest parishes in the diocese at that time; this was perceived as his punishment.
The local church congregation had meetings and took the opposite view to the bishop. They also issued the bishop with an ultimatum, cancel the transfer of the curate or if not the new curate would not be allowed to enter the church. The bishop apparently refused and the parishioners took action; they built up the doors with ‘stone and mortar’ and put a 24 hour guard on it, with three people on duty at all times, to ensure that the new curate did not gain access to the church. Amazingly the standoff continued for at least six weeks, despite the local police station being only 100 metres away. It appears that the police had no involvement with the dispute.
The dismissed curate returned, some believe at the behest of the bishop, and asked the people to let the new curate in- ‘the longer you are progressing this dispute the harder the church is treating me’ he is reputed to have said. The parishioners still refused to remove the barricades but the curate removed the stone and mortar with his bare hands and in a rage with bleeding hands proceeded to curse aloud in relation to the event. Which had serious implications for some residents for years into the future.(based on the comments of families that were present).
During all this period there was no service in the church; for example Martin Flaherty from Bunowen was over six weeks old before he was baptised. There was a song written about the event; my mother had part of it, Martin Conneely has also part of it, one man now deceased had all of it but would not give it to me.
The Miracle at Saint Caillins Well: When the resident monks were banished from Fenagh (Co Leitrim) by the new Irish landlord they dispersed west and set up monasteries but with the exception that they were for solitary use. It is believed by many that that this event occurred in the seventh century but based on research it is more likely the 11th century. One of the high profile monks was named Saint Caillin, who came to Ballyconneely. Initially settling up at Daily Hill but he finally moved to Keeraunmore where he had a holy well; a pilgrimage to the well, is still celebrated annually on his feast day. He also built a chapel on one of the nearby islands – Chapel Island but according to John Conneely (Pete) Dunloughan, this building was never roofed.
His feast day was and still is celebrated by local residents in the surrounding areas, especially by fishermen as he is known as the patron saint of fishermen.
There are many cures attributed to the saint, but what brought Saint Caillin to the broader public attention was the curing of a cripple in the 1800s. Jonna Melia was a cripple from birth and lived with his mother at Aillebrack. (near where Josie O’Malley lives today) He was better known as Jonna ‘Sticks’ because he continuously used crutches to get around. Although the vast majority of local residents made the pilgrimage to the holy well annually, Jonna was unable to do so, because of his disability. However he did attempt it once and this is what led to the miracle. He got as far as the wall at the entrance and was unable to get over it and cried out – (in gaelic)
‘A Caillin, A Caillin, son of the King of Leinster. I am on my crutches and unable to get over the wall – please help me’ (Tom Mc Hugh Truska)
This is when he was cured and went in over the wall without the crutches and made the station. He left his crutches at the well which was an ancient practice, to leave something personal behind you.
He went home and celebrated but locals were telling him how foolish he was, to have left his hand crafted crutches behind, as they had a good monetary value. Over a week later he returned to the well for the crutches, when he crossed the boundary wall on the way back his previous disability returned immediately.
He made several trips to the well in the following years but to no avail. He even left his crutches at the well and they remained there for many years, in fact until they had rotted away.
Research by: John O’Malley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ballyconneely Community Centre
Contact – Tom McWilliams at the Post Office 095-23538
Bingo and Lotto every Tuesday night at 8.30, also a range of social activity for local and visitor alike- ideal for children’s parties/Parties etc at a nominal charge.
- Post Office
- McWilliams – Supermarket/Coffee Shop
- Keoghs – Supermarket/Pub/Restaurant
- McDermotts – Fishing/Boat/Mini Bus Trips 087-7912389/09523795
- Mass- 10 a.m. on Sundays
- Bingo- Tuesday Nights 8.30
- Also Fish Factory at Bunowen Pier
Things to do:
- For Surfing – Dunloughan.
- For Sailing – Bunowen and Dunloughan Piers.
- Lake Fishing- Numerous lakes but all with small numbers of fish due to acidity of the soil- the ultimate challenge for the fisherman.
- Sea Fishing – Guide available locally.
- Pony Trekking
- Golf – Connemara Golf Club.
- Tours by Mini Bus.
- For Children – Playground & safe beaches
- Ballyconneely Pony Show 3rd Sunday of July.
- Errismore Races see website for dates.