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A look at Ballina in the 1840s

BALLINA, a sea-port, market, and post town, and the head of a union, in the parish of Kilmoremoy,
barony of Tyrawley, county of Mayo, and province of Connaught, I7 1/4 miles (N. N. E.) from Castlebar, and
125 miles (W. N. W.) from Dublin ; containing 5313 inhabitants. This town, originally called Belleek, or the
“Ford of the Flags,”‘ owes its origin to O’Hara, Lord Tyrawley, who built the first street, of which some houses are still remaining, and is indebted for the commencement of its commercial importance to the establishment of a cotton-factory here, in 1729, by that nobleman, who also obtained for the inhabitants the privilege of a weekly market and a fair. During the disturbances of 1798 the town was attacked by the French under General Humbert, who, having landed on the 22nd of August in Kilcummin bay, and made themselves masters of that village, sent forward on the day following a detachment to assault this place. This detachment, on its approach to the town, affecting to retreat from a reconnoitering party that had been sent out by the garrison, led it into an ambuscade, where the Rev. G. Fortescue, nephew of Lord Clermont and rector of the parish, who had volunteered his services, was shot by a party of the French that had concealed themselves under a bridge. On the 24 th, the main body of Humbert’s forces advanced to the town, of which they took possession on the evening of the 24th, when the garrison, under Colonel Sir T. Chapman and Major Keir of the Carbineers, retreated to Foxford, a village about eight miles distant.

The town is beautifully situated on the river Moy, by which it is separated from the county of Sligo, and
on the mail-coach road from Sligo to Castlebar ; it consists of several streets, and contains 1012 houses, most of which are regular and well built. The river, over which are two stone bridges, is navigable from the sea, about six miles distant, for vessels not drawing more than 11 feet of water, to within a mile and a half of the town. Barracks have been erected, and have lately undergone considerable repair. Races are held at Mount Falcon, generally in May, on a fine course. Within the last 20 years great improvements have taken place in the town , many new houses have been built, and are inhabited by merchants and others engaged in trade and commerce. A line of road leading to Kilala, and continued to Foxford and Swinford, with the intention of completing it to Longford, has been constructed by aid of £8000 from government, and shortens the distance between Ballina and Dublin at least 10 miles. A line of road along the bank of the river, leading to the quay at Ardnaree, has also been made, at an expense of £1500, one-half of which was paid by the merchants of this placee and the other by the county of Sligo; and another line of road on the Ballina side of the river, intended to communicate with the quay at Belleek, has been formed at an expense of £700 raised by subscription, towards which Messrs. Armstrong and West largely contributed. A bridge communicating with the lower part of the town, at a short distance from the old bridge, was erected in 1837, at an estimated expense of £1200, defrayed by subscription, towards which the Earl of
Arran, proprietor of a large portion of the town, contributed £100; it is called Arran Bridge. Other improvements are also in progress and in contemplation; the grand juries of the counties of Mayo and Sligo lately presented £3000 towards the erection of a handsome bridge on the site of the present old bridge, which is inconveniently narrow. A ship-canal was formerly commenced by government, under the superintendence of Mr. Nimmo, for bringing vessels up to the town, instead of landing their cargoes at the present quay ; but after £1000 had been expended, the works were discontinued, and they have been since falling into decay. A communication by canal to Lough Conn, and thence to Galway, was projected by Mr. Bald, the late county surveyor, which would open an abundant source of industry and wealth to the inhabitants of these mountain districts, at present inaccessible from want of roads, and would greatly increase the commercial interests of the town. The environs are pleasingly diversified; and near the town are numerous gentlemen’s seats.

A very extensive tobacco and snuff manufactory was established in 1801, by Mr. Malley, who first persevered in opening the navigation of the river Moy, and thus gave a powerful impulse to the commercial prosperity of the town : the manufacture continued to flourish, and in 1809 the duties paid to government amounted to £8000. In 1834, Mr. J. Brennan, a merchant from Belfast, introduced the provision trade, which was previously unknown in this neighbourhood, and erected spacious premises adjoining the river, and commodious stores 350 feet long and 140 feet wide, with complete apparatus adapted to a peculiar method of curing. In this concern 10,000 pigs are annually killed, and after being cured are sent to London ; other firms also carry on an extensive provision trade. There are two large ale and porter breweries, and two large oatmeal and flour mills. The weaving of linen is carried on to a small extent by weavers who work in their own houses. This is the principal port in the county : the exports consist chiefly of corn and provisions, and the imports of cotton and woollen goods, iron, coal, sugar, &c. Even in 1829 there were 119 vessels, of the aggregate burthen of 11,097 tons, employed in the exportation of grain, to the extent, in the course of that year, of 10,831 tons of oats, 130 tons of wheat, 106 tons of barley, and 30 tons of meal ; and during the same period, 66 vessels, of the aggregate burthen of 5479 tons, were employed in the importation of British and foreign goods. In 1 835 the exports amounted to £70,568, and the imports to £13,532: at present the trade of the port is still more extensive. The fishery is carried on with success; at the falls of the river are salmon- weirs, which have been rebuilt by Messrs. Little at an expense of £1500, and in which great quantities of fish are taken to be shipped for Dublin and Liverpool. Farther down the river, near the quay, are placed drafting- nets, in which numbers are also taken; the whole fishery is rented at £1500 per annum. The market is on Monday; and fairs are held on the 12th of May and the 12th of August: commodious shambles have been erected in Mill-street for the use of the market. The Provincial Bank and the National Bank have each established a branch here. In the excise arrangements. Ballina is within the district of Foxford and it is a chief station of the constabulary police. Courts of petty-sessions are held every Tuesday, and a quarter-session in July every year: the court-house, a neat plain building, was erected at an expense of £1000, paid by the county. There are places of worship for Baptists and Wesleyan Methodists, and a dispensary. The workhouse, on a site of eight acres purchased for £640, was completed in 1842, at an expense of £9400, and is constructed to contain 1200 paupers. On the eastern bank of the river are the remains of an abbey, founded by St. Olcan or Bolcan, a disciple of St. Patrick ; they have a large ancient doorway of beautiful design.

Extract from: Lewis – A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland
Photo from: The Lawrence Collection

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