Religion and Folklore in Ireland



While the vast majority of peasants in the west of Ireland were nominally Catholic, they often did not practice Catholicism in the traditional way. Especially in the West where priest were few, most people did not attend mass or confession regularly. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, many people expressed their devotion through religious customs outside the Church.

The belief in fairies, leprechauns, pookas, and banshees was common. Pilgrimages to holy wells were frequent. Fairies were generally considered malevolent, although they sometimes performed beneficial functions. The leprechauns (little corp body) was small mischievous male spirit. A pooka was actually a faire who generally took the form of a dark horse with yellow eyes and a long wild mane. The Banshees (bean sidhe woman of the fairies) warned of approaching death with unearthly wails.

In the 1861 census, which was the first to ask about religion, 89% of the population was Catholic.

The Church became more of a presence in western Ireland in the mid to latter part of the 1800s. The relaxation of the Penal Laws enabled the Church to build new churches and establish schools. Starting in the mid to late 1800s, priests and nuns controlled the education of most of the Catholic population. The priests condemned traditional wakes, fairy believes, crossroads dancing, and other ancient practices, and encouraged devotions such as the Way of the Cross, novenas, the veneration of the Sacred Heart, parish altar societies, sodalities, confraternities, and temperance associations.

Until Catholic emancipation the predominately Catholic population paid tithes to support the clergy of the Church of Ireland (Protestant).

Many people in Ireland lived far from the parish church. A practice sprang up whereby the priest went to local villages to say mass and hear confessions. It was a day-long event with a gathering in the evening for tea, singing, story telling, music, step dancing. Called, The Stations, this practice went on at least until the 1880s and later is some areas.

Secret Masses During the Penal Days

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Penal Laws were established in Ireland in the late 1600s by the Protestant government in order to disenfranchise the native majority who were at least nominally Roman Catholic. There is a lot of information on the Internet about the Penal Laws which were in effect until the late 1700s. So I will not go into detail about that aspect of Irish history.

Among other things, Mass was forbidden during the Penal days. However, Masses were held in secret in old quarries, abandoned buildings, etc. Notice the man on the left who is looking away from the Mass. He is keeping an eye out for the authorities.

Mass on the mountain in penal days (Christmas Morning)
Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Patterns and/or Stations

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck



A pattern (patern) was a religious festival held near some holy place (mountain, well, or lake) in honor of a local patron saint. The name pattern apparently comes from "patron".

In 1812 a pattern of about 20,000 persons to Crough Patrick was described as follows:

The great season is about the latter end of September. At that time there are seen for several days, the great roads leading to it, crowded: day and night they proceed, with anxious looks and hasty steps. There is at this time a pattern, or sort of fair, held at its foot, chiefly for food and drink; at which, after the performance, the pilgrims indulge in every excess and debauchery.

'There is a well in the neighborhood; to go round which several times, either barefooted or on the knees, is part of the stations. In this well there are two trouts, which are called holy, held in the highest venerationi and are literally consulted as oracles. In this way they are invoked ; and if they appear, it is an omen of prosperity, if not, the consulter goes away disappointed.

(The Evangelical Magazine, Volume 20, 1812)

In 1835 the Dublin Penny Press described a pattern tas follows:
THE PATTERN OF THE LOUGH. "Old times are changed, eld manners gone." - Scott. "The patthern," as it is pronounced by the peasantry, is the remnant of an ancient and religious custom which is now very much on the decline, or nearly extinct. At least, it is so changed and deformed from its original design, as scarcely to retain any marks of what it once was intended for. In the early ages of Christianity in Ireland, it signified a festival or holiday, instituted in honor of the patron saint of the parish or district, and hence called a pattern or patron saint's day. Formerly the people assembled at sun-rise, at a certain place, and performed certain kind of prayers, called stations, which occupied some time, and consisted of certain forms of prayer, recited on the knees, and in companies - one person giving out, and all the rest responding; and this is repeated at several places, fourteen being the usual number. The pattern was usually held in the vicinity of a holy well, near a chapel, on a hill side, where grew a lonely tree, or such other place, consecrated by custom from times long past uway: but now the good intention and the prayers are all forgotten and "divarshin and dhrinkin" are the only ostensible motives for which old and young assemble. Tents are pitched around the scite, as in a fair, for the sale of whiskey, and all the pipers and fiddlers, for miles around, are collected and courting, dancing, drinking, and fighting prevail until the close of the day. This custom, I have said, is on the decline through Ireland; and, during a few years back, several patterns, in different places, have ceased altogether.

(The Dublin Penny Journal, Volumes 3-4, 1835)

William Makepeace Thackery wrote about the pattern to Croagh Patrick, a holy mountain in Mayo, in 1833. He did not climb the mountain himself but a friend described the event to him. The first station was a heap of stones around which each pilgrim walked seven times while praying and "casting a stone on the heap each time". The second station at the top of the mountain was an altar shaped from a heap of rocks. The pilgrims arrived at this station on their knees. Surrounding the area were venders selling: "great coarse damp-looking bannocks of bread" pigs feet, confectionaries, ginger beer, tea, and legs of mutton.

In A Journey Throughout Ireland, During the Spring, Summer, and Autumn of 1834 Henry David Inglis described the event thus:

The ascent to the spot where the pattern was to be held was picturesque in the extreme. Far up the winding way, for miles before us, and for miles behind too, groups were seen moving up the mountain side, the women, with their red petticoats, easily distinguishable: some were on foot, some few on horseback, and some rode double. About half-way up we overtook a party of lads and lasses, beguiling the toil of the ascent by the help of a piper, who marched before, and whose stirring strains every now and then prompted an advance in jig-time up the steep mountain-path. Some few we met coming away, -sober people, who had performed their station at the holy well, and had no desire to be partakers in the sort of amusement that generally follows.

Going to Mass

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Not dated

The Priests

The priests were frequently from the farming or merchant classes. It was a distinction to have a priest in the family. Many families made sacrifices so their son could get the necessary schooling and clothing to enter the ecclesiastical college. The priest was the best educated person with whom most peasant Irish had any real contact. Many of his parishioners sought the priest's advise on legal and other matters.

Several priest in the Ballinrobe area were politically active in the 1880s. See Peter Conway and John O'Malley below.

Magazine collection of Maggie Land Blanck, 2012, Bay View Magazine, April 1901

A Wayward Daughter Brought to the Priest

The Graphic 1880, collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic May 19, 1888, collection of Maggie Land Blanck

This picture actually represents a boycott issue in County Kerry. The young woman kneeling with her head bowed (who most of the congregation is looking at) was Norah Fitzmaurice. Her father had been been boycotted because he had agreed to pay a reduced rent on a farm from which his brother had been evicted. Fitzmaurice had been protected by a police escort. Having sent the escort away he was traveling with his daughter, Norah, when they were approached by two men who shot Fitzmaurice dead. The sole witness was Norah who testified against the men at the trial. She was subsequently intimidated and boycotted.

See Land Issues

Notice the parishioners are leaving while the priest is still saying the Mass. It would seem that the boycotting was more important then attending mass.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Illustrated London News November 26, 1881



The priest in the top hat is clearly involved in assisting his parishioners in interpreting the actions of the new court. Notice his attire as compared to his parishioners.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

June 11, 1860 Graphic

St. Patrick, St Bridget and St. Columba

St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Ledgend says that St Patrick was seized by pirates as a young boy. He was sold into slavery to an Irish chieftain. He escaped and returned to the mainland were he became a bishop. Eventually he returned to Ireland and converted the Irish to Christianity. It is said that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. His feast day in March 17. St. Patrick

Other important saints in Ireland are St. Bridget and St. Columba. Bridget may be a Christianization of a Irish pagan goddess.

St. Bridget

St. Columba

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Alternative Believes

Quality images of fairies, banshees, and leprechauns are hard to come by. Most of them are very corny and trite.

A leprechaun of Ireland, with his pot of gold.
Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

BLACK IRISH by Paula R. W. Langevin '93

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck


Irish Wonders Popular Tales as told by the People by D. R. McAnally, Jr. Illustrated by H. R. Heaton, 1888

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Illustrated London News, March 19, 1853

While these may look like children, notice at least two are smoking pipes and there is a bottle, presumably of liqueur, under the foot of one of the leprechauns.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck


In the public domain, 2012

The Fairy's Funeral by John Anster Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald was born in England in in 1819 of Irish ancestry.

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck


Irish Wonders Popular Tales as told by the People by D. R. McAnally, Jr. Illustrated by H. R. Heaton, 1888

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

1923/5 Print, Sir William Orpen (1878-1931), Fairy Ring

Fairy lore in Ireland is manifold. Fairies were said to love music, singing, dancing and general frolicking. Humans were strongly discouraged from building over a fairly circle, spying on fairies when the combed their hair, and eating fairly food.

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Friendly Banshee

The Banshee is a female spirit who sings of an impending death "giving notice to the family she attends that one of its members is soon to be called to the spirit world".

"The Banshee is really a disembodied soul, that of one who, in life, was strongly attached to the family, or who had good reason to hate all its members. Thus in different instances, the Banshee's song may be inspired by different motives. When the Banshee loves those whom she calls, the song is a low, soft chant, giving notice, indeed, of the close proximity of the angel of death, but with tenderness of tone that reassures the one destined to die and comforts the survivors; rather a welcome than a warning......."

Irish Wonders Popular Tales as told by the People by D. R. McAnally, Jr. Illustrated by H. R. Heaton, 1888

Tradition was that the banshee only sang for certain ancient Irish families and not all the Irish can hear the Banshee.
"The MacCarthys, Magraths, O'Neils, O'Reily, O'Sullivans, O'Readons, O'Flahertys, and almost all other old families of Ireland have Banshees, though many representatives of these names are in abject poverty"
The Banshee usually sings alone. The honor of being warned by more than one Banshee is very great and very rare.

The "friendly Banshee" is young and beautiful with long flowing hair.

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"The Hateful Banshee" is someone who was grievously wronged in life and in deaths seeks revenge on the wrong doer. She emits shrill cries and wails. She is an old hag with "angry, distorted features; maledictions are written in every line of her wrinkled face, and her outstretched arms call down curses on the doomed member of the hated race." The Banshee does not follow Irishmen to a foreign country. But she will notify the folks who remain in Ireland of the death of their loved one across the seas.

(Irish Wonders Popular Tales as told by the People by D. R. McAnally, Jr. Illustrated by H. R. Heaton, 1888)

In the public domain, 2012

THE WAKE by John Anster Fitzgerald

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Pooka is a shape shifter described in Irish Wonders as a wild black horse with "eyes of fire, breathing blue flames with a smell of sulfur".

The pooka likes to roam at night causing mischief. If a human manages to get on the pooka's back it will take him (or her) for a wild ride. The only man who was able to ride the Pooka was the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru.

(Irish Wonders Popular Tales as told by the People by D. R. McAnally, Jr. Illustrated by H. R. Heaton, 1888)

The Western Highlands, Connemara- Pilgrims to the Holy Well, Galway.

There was a holy well in Mochara in Shrule near where the Langan/Byrnes lived.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

HOLY WELL - Printed by F Goodall, February 1847 (based on the death of the artist William Collins, RA, at age 59 reported on the reverse side of the image) publication unknown.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, October 18, 1879


Goucane Barra Holy Well is located in County Cork.

St. Finbarr's Catholic Oratory Church, Gougane Barra, Co. Cork

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck, 2012, The Wonderful Britain 1928


Glencolumbkille is in Co. Donegal, on the peninsula formed by Donegal Bay and Loughros Beg Bay, and on the road from Killbegs. It is a scattered village in a valley. Here there are various memorials to St. Colomb, among them a well, which is almost hidden by a great pile of stones, each stone brought hither by one of the "faithful".

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck, 2012, The Wonderful Britain 1928


The well of the Wethers Well at Ardfert, Co. Kerry, on the railway from Listowel to Traleee. The well is decorated with votive offerings.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

UN SORCIER IRLANDAIS, apres le croquis d'un voyaguer [AN IRISH SORCIER, after the sketch of a voyaguer] — L'UNIVERS ILLUSTRE

Not dated

"Half-christened Irish

"In some corners of Connaught, the people leave the right arms of their infants male unchristened (as the terme it) to the end that at any time afterwards, they might give a more deadly and ungracious blow when they strike; which things doe not only show how palpably they are carried away by traditions obscurities, but do also intimate how full their hearts be of inveterate revenge. Ibid."

'Southey's Commonplace Book', published 1851. The Ibid refers to Southey's source for the piece,'A Prospect of the most famous Parts of the World', 1646.

Kindly sent by John Doherty, May 2010


The idea that supernatural powers were ever present to do good or to do harm was a very real concept to the Irish peasant. Among these believes was the notion that the fairies were prone to kidnapping male children. In an effort to fool the fairies boys were often dresses in petticoats. See Children on the People page

St John's Bon Fires

The feast of St John, June 23, occurs at the summer solstice.

On St. John's Eve, many people in rural Ireland made bonfires in accordance with ancient customs. There was frequently singing and dancing. Coals from the fires were carried around the boundaries of gardens, to ward off evil. People jumped through the bon fire for good luck and the cattle were let through the dying embers for the same purpose.

Thomas Flanagan in The Year of the French a book about the 1798 Irish rebellion described the ancient festival of St John's Eve.

"Soon it would be Saint John's Eve. Wood for the bonfire had already been piled high upon Steeple Hill, and when the night came there would be bonfires on every hill from there to Downpatrick Head. There would be dancing and games in the open air, and young men would try their bravery leaping through the flames. There would even be young girls leaping through, for it was helpful in the search of a husband to leap through a Saint John's Eve fire, the fires of midsummer. The sun was at its highest then, and the fires spoke to it, calling it down upon the crops. It was the turning point of the year, and the air was vibrant with spirits."
The Saint John's bon fire is common in other countries. We were in Oros, Brazil for a wedding on the feast of St John in 2009 and a bon fire was a featured part of the ceremony. An important aspect of that bon fire was also good luck for the crops, in this case for the corn crop. Corn was roasted in the ashes of the St John's bon fire. However, they did not know the Irish custom of jumping though the fire.

They still have bon fires in the townland of Mochara in Shrule Parish near the border between Co. Mayo and Co. Galway. See Photos of Mochara

St John's bon fire Oros Brazil, 2009
Oros, Brazil June 2009

The Mission of 1854

Most of the information in this section is taken from an article in The Bridge circa 1970 written by Timothy Gunnigan from the manuscript notes of the late Monsignor Gunnigan P. P. Ballinrobe and sent to me by John Doherty in October 2005.

A mission was led by two Italian priests, Father Rinolfi and Father Vilas, who preached in the Ballinrobe area from July 2 to July 16 1854.

Father Rinolfi gave missions all over the west of Ireland until 1857. He was a member of the Rosminians (After Father Rosmini) Institute of Charity which was founded 1830ish. They were a group of Italian priests who studied at the Irish College in Rome, learned English, and were joined by some Irish and Englishmen priests, notably Fathers Furlong and Hutton. Their mission in Ireland was to bring religion to the peasant who was at least nominally Catholic but had either never practiced Catholicism or had fallen away from the church from lassitude or because they had been wooed away by the Protestant "soupers" (Protestant missionaries who gave out free soup in an effort to convert the local Catholic population).

A few days into the mission, on the night of July 6, someone broke into the parish church and stole the sacred vessels including the ciborium, which contained the Sacrament. Such a sacrilege was horrifying to the local Catholic population.

In response Fr. Rinolfi preached a sermon on the Magdalen finding the empty tomb of Christ. After the address of Fr. Rinolfi, the Rev. Fr. Hardiman (the parish priest) addressed the crowd in Irish.

On the following Sunday

"they commenced the solemn devotion of the Forty Hours and they celebrated in the grandest possible manner. 15,000 people took part in the procession. They came from far and near to make public reparation to J. Christ on the vary spot where His Divine Majesty had been so sacrilegiously insulted a few days before."

A collection was made to enable the afflicted to replace the sacred vessels and to restore the beauty of God's house; and the people contributed on the spot the handsome sum of £ 60."

Fr. Rinolfi preached in the open from a platform and after him Fr. Hardiman in Irish; for hundreds of people understood Irish and some indeed nothing but Irish."

"15 or 16 clergymen were present everyday and some days even a larger number engaged in hearing confessions - mostly in the open air"

One day Archbishop John MacHale of Tuam confirmed over 1,000 postulates, addressing them in both English and Irish.

The next day he confirmed another 500.

On Sunday the 16th the mission ended with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament from the church to the new convent in Ballinrobe with 12,000 to 13,000 in attendance.

Questions: I find the size of the crowds more than impressive; in fact quite unbelievable. Where did they come from? The population of Ballinrobe in 1841 was only 1,722 and it was the biggest town around. The total population of Mayo in 1851 was 274,499. This means that about 18% of the total population of the county attended the mission. What did they eat? Where did they sleep between July 6 and 16? July is a lean month. The potatoes are almost gone from the previous year and have not come in for the new crop. Did this huge number of people go back and forth to their homes each day? What was the sanitation situation? How could the speakers make themselves heard to a crowd of that size? In 1880 the town of Ballinrobe was "completely overrun" when 1,000 soldiers, newsmen and others were in town for the Boycott affair. How could it have accommodated a crowd of 15,000 in 1854 even if they all slept out of doors?

Nothing is said about the second Italian priest, Father Vilas, except that he left early to open a mission in Roundstone.

On Monday after the 8 o'clock mass in the church, Fr Hardiman (the Parish priest), Fr. Moylette and a "large concourse of people" which included a band accompanied Father Rinolfi to the Neale and "some even as far a Cong'. (Perhaps people going home?) Fr. Moylette went as far as Roundstone where another 150 Catholics were "reconciled to the Church". The Archbishop showed up in Roundstone later in the week and confirmed another 300 people.

There is reference to 15 or 16 clergymen, however, only ten are named. In addition to the two Italian priests, Archbishop MacHale, Fr Hardiman and Fr. Moylette there were: Fr Coyne of Tuam, Fathers Gibbons, King and Moore of Connemara, and Fr. Mc Manus (no place given)

Archbishop John Mac Hale (1791-1881)

John MacHale was born in 1791 in Tubbernavine Co. Mayo and died in Tuam in 1881.

He entered the Irish seminary at Maynooth at age 16. He was ordained at the age of 24.

He was made the Archbishop of Tuam in 1834.

Although he purported to be for education for the Irish Catholic peasant child he wanted it on his own terms and rejected the National Schools as an option because he regarded it as an agent of Anglicization. He found his own schools with boys being taught by brothers and monks and girls being taught by nuns. Since money was limited this did not provide the best educational opportunities for the Irish peasant.

He personally made donations to the convent schools. In 1868 he donated 25 pounds to the Presentation Convent in Tuam for clothing for the poor children attending that school. He also donated 200 pounds to the Sisters of Mercy in Ballinrobe towards the erection of a "poor school" on the convent grounds. He also gave the Sisters of Mercy in Ballinrobe a "magnificent gold chalice". (Morning Star and Catholic messenger, November 22, 1868, New Orleans, La.)

Among other things MacHale translated the Iliad into Irish.

See John MacHale

Obituary of Archbishop Mac Hale of Tuam November 12, 1881 The Illustrated London News

"The Most Rev. John MacHale, D.D. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, died at St Jarlath's on the 7th inst,. In his ninetieth year, the fifty-sixth year of his episcopacy and the sixty-seventh year of his priesthood. He was born at Tubbernavine, county Mayo, and, after receiving the rudiments of education at a school in Castlebar, was sent to Maynooth College, where he was ordained and became Lecturer and Professor of Dogmatic Theology. During his residence the he published, under the signature of "Hierophilus" a series of controversial letters, which gained considerable reputation. In 1826 he was nominated Coadjutor Bishop of Killala, with the title of Bishop of Moronia, in partibus infedelium; and in 1834 succeeded Dr. Kelly in the archiepiscopal See of Tuam. This distinguished prelate of a past generation, popularly known as "the Archbishop of the West" and designated by O'Connell as "the Lion of the fold of Judah" took for many years a very prominent part in Irish national politics, and was, besides, esteemed as a preacher, not only in Ireland and England but also in Italy. His sermons delivered in Rome in 1832 were translated into Italian by the Abate de Lucca, Apostolic Nucio at Vienna. A finished Irish scholar, Dr. MacHale translated into Irish a great portion of Moore's "Irish Melodies;" and Celtic scholars speak with high commendation of this effort to preserve for the Irish-speaking people the sentiment and poetic feeling of the original. In 1861 he produced a volume comprising six books of the Iliad, with a corresponding Irish translation in heroic metre, and subsequently issued the Pentateuch in English and Irish translations. Of late years, Bishop M'Evilly, elected Coadjutor with right of succession, relieved his Grace of the onerous duties of his high office."

John Morris (1796 - 1850)

Ballinrobe Roman Catholic PP (Parish Priest) (1833 - 1850)

1839: County of Mayo - Ballinrobe John Morris R. C. - Province of Connaught list of schools in existence prior to receiving aid from the commission of education - subscriptions no of children 82 males 85 females. (House of Commons Papers, Volume 41 By Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons)

1844: Bengal Catholic Herald - John Morris PP Ballinrobe sent a letter to the Deptford Mission in re Conscience Money

In pursuance of your direction, I have handed the sums, as prescribed by you, to the legitimate owners, l? 1s to Mr. L. Prendergast; 7s. to W. Hennelly; 7s. to J. Burke, publican; for which they return you their most grateful acknowledgment. What can tend more to proclaim the sanctity of our holy religion, and the divinity of the institution of the sacrament of Penance, than those edifying instances of restitution? Believe me to be, rev. dear Sir, faithfully and truly yours, John Morris, P.P. Ballinrobe, Jan., 1844.

1846: Places of Worship - Roman Catholic Chapel Castlebar Road, Rev. John Morris, Abbey street, parish priest, Rev. James O'Malley, Abbey street, and Rev. John Gibbons, Market street curates

1847: At a gathering in Ballinrobe in the winter of 1846/47 Irish speaking local laborers held a meeting with the Reverent John Morris as chair. Morris spoke in Irish at the meeting.

1848: Testified in the workhouse scandal of 1848. See Famine

1850: Death of John Morris

"We understand this gifted orator and excellent Clergyman, for some five years Administrator of Kilmena, in the deanery of Westport, has been promoted by his Grace the Archbishop of Tuam to the pastorship of Ballinrobe, vacant by the death of the late Rev. John Morris, P.P. Mayo Telegraph.

1850: Death of John Morris - no probate

1851: Catholic Registry - Rev John Morris PP Ballinrobe

John Morris the parish priest of Ballinrobe was "deprived" by bishop Mc Hale for political reasons.

Thomas (Tom) Hardiman

Ballinrobe Roman Catholic PP (Parish Priest) (served 1850 - 1875)

1851: March 1,
Order of Mercy was founded at Ballinrobe. The foundation came from Westport, where there is a very flourishing convent of that Order. The Sisters, five in number, including the Mother Superioress of the Westport Convent, arrived about half-past twelve o'clock, accompanied by Rev. Thomas Hardiman, P.P., Ballinrobe; Rev. Thomas O'Dowd, and Rev. L. Rs. Although the day was most unfavourable, still the concourse of pious and enthusiastic expectants who had assembled to welcome the Sisters of Mercy was very great. The Sisters of Mercy, on their arrival in town, paid their first visit to the church, which was very neatly fitted up for the occasion. Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament was given by the Rev. Mr. Hardiman, who afterwards made a short address to the congregation from the altar, congratulating them on the auspicious advent of the Sisters of Mercy to the town of Ballinrobe. He also, in the name of his parishioners, tendered those pious virgins a most cordial welcome, and promised them every co-operation in their glorious undertaking.

The Tablet

1852: April 17 the Tablet


We beg, once more, to call the attention of the Catholics of Dublin to the important mission which the Rev: Thomas Hardiman, P. P. of Ballinrobe, is engaged in at present.

The Rev. gentleman arrived in town yesterday morning from Liverpool, where he had been during the last fortnight laudably endeavoring, not only to forward the very arduous business he has on hands, namely, the erection of a convent at Ballinrobe for the Sisters of Mercy, whom he has brought there to assist him, but, moreover, he has been labouring hard to dispel the mist of English prejudice, and to let in the light upon the dark abominations of the system of so-called "proselytism,*" carried on in the west of Ireland.

Mr. Hardiman, during the few days he spent in Liverpool, has zealously exerted himself to perform at least a small portion of this most necessary task; and we believe he intends to resume his labours there again soon after Easter. In the meantime, he shall personally wait upon those respected parties to whom he had written before he left for England.

It is scarcely necessary for us to add any recommendation of our own. The merits of the case he advocates, namely, the erection of the literary and industrial schools, which, in the hands of the Sisters of Mercy, may serve as a medium for saving the poor children of his wretched locality from proselytism and belly perversion are, we feel satisfied, quite sufficient to enlist the never-failing charity of the citizens of Dublin. We shall merely say, in reference to this matter, that it would be strange, nay, it would be disgraceful, if, while the mountebanks and apostles of error and lies every other day find such a following even in Catholic Dublin, that a poor Priest, who comes to solicit support for the cause of truth and oppressed innocence, should appeel in vain. But there is no fear of this. The kind reception which the Rev. Mr. Hardiman has met already, both here and in Liverpool, is the best warrant of his future success."

*An attempt to convert a person from one religion to another.

1854: The Rev. Hardiman a "zealous" priest addressed the crowd at a mission in Irish and "heard the confessions of those who were not able to make their confessions in English". In Turmakeady and Partree "Few people in the parish were able to understand English." (Missions in Ireland , 1855)

1852, 1866, 1869 & 1874: Thomas Hardiman parish priest Ballinrobe and the workhouse chaplain (The Irish Catholic Directory) - John Barett was curate in Ballinrobe in 1874

1866: October 27, 1866 Ballinrobe Chronicle from Ballinrobe, Page 1

"Also a letter inclosing the following letter received by them from the Rev. T. Hardiman, P.P. , Ballinrobe, and requiring an explanation from the Relieving Officer. "Ballinrobe. October 23rd , ----- I think it my duty to call intention to tho following case. After nine o 'clock on yesterday evening, I received a pressing notice from the Poor House, signed by the acting-master, Mr May, informing me that a poor woman, named Catherine Carr, had been just admitted to the Workhouse Hospital, and that being in an extremely weak state she required tho attention of a priest. I hurried to the scene, and I saw at once: that the case had been ---- understated in the billet, for I found the woman pulseless and quite unconscious. On making enquiries as to how it came to pass that a person to all appearance in a dying state was taken to the Workhouse, instead of getting, as the law allows, relief and medical attendance outside. I ascertained, to my surprise, that this poor creature had been carried in that condition from some place in the parish of Mayo or Koslen, a distance of nine or ten miles at least. Surely, notwithstanding the rigid exclusiveness with which the out-door relief is withheld from thu poor in this Union, a case like this should be exceptional, and there ought to bo some authority somewhere to stand between persons belonging to this helpless class and such treatment. I know not who is to blame. I state the case with its merits, or rather its demerits ------. "THOMAS HANDIMAN , P.P ., 44 Ballinrobe

Hynes the Relieving Officer, having been questioned, said that it was the woman's own wish to be brought into the Workhouse, he had offered her out-door relief which she refused, and when he told her he would bring the doctor on the following day, she cried at the idea of being left there, and prayed to be sent to the Workhouse, we then consulted the parish priest of Mayo, who also advised him to have her removed to the Workhouse. He considered she was able to be removed, when he had the covered spring vehicle to put her in. He had plenty, of Workhouse clothing that kept her warm, and a friend of her own in the van with her. He also got some wine and gave it to her. She was not in a house of her own. The Chairman said Hynes was a very proper man, and the best Relieving Officer they ever had. In answer to one of the Guardians, Mr. May said she was recovering in hospital, but not able to come before the Board. The Relieving Officer was ordered to furnish a reply and explanation in writing on Thursday next. The Relieving Officer's books were produced and ruled. The Sanitary Officers were next questioned as to the state of their respective districts. J. Hynes submitted the following repot "The Guardians of tho Ballinrobe Union. "-----, I beg to submit for your consideration the following report in reference to the sanitary condition of the district over which you have kindly appointed me. The ---- district, taken as a whole, is (thank God) free from contagious sickness. This blessing in, under kind providence, attributable to your directions, faithfully, I hope, carried out by me. All the houses from ---- to ----- (if I except a very few) have been whitewashed. Dangerous pools have been filled up, and nuisance of dangerous character entirely removed. The ---- district now presents a cheering appearance. For all this I claim but little praise, as I found in every case the Clergy and Gentry more than co-opernting with my exertions. I must alao bear testimony to the kind and willing services of the constabulary who never failed to impress on tho people the necessity of complying with the law. In conclusion, I beg to say that the people themselves felt delighted that the Guardians had commenced to exercise so ------------- the honour to be, Gentlemen, your obedient servant , "JOHN HYNES

1874: November 14, 1874 Fr. Hardiman who had been the Parish Priest of Ballinrobe for twenty four years was buried.


Probate, Hardiman (Reverend) Thomas 7 December, effects £800 of Reverend Thomas Haridman late of Ballinrobe, county of Mayo, P. P. deceased 10 November 1874 Dublin was proved at Ballina on the oath of the Reverend Jeremiah Mac Evil[?} of Aughagower county Mayo P. P. the Executor

THE GOODS OF THE Rev. THOMAS HARDIMAN , LATE OF BALLINROBE , IN THE COUNTY OF MAYO , P.P., DECEASED. ---- Rev JEREMIAH MacEVTLLY, P.P., the Executor of the deceased, hereby informs all Persons having claims on the Assets of deceased, that he will attend at Mr Volkenberg's Hotel Ballinrobe on Tuesday, the 30th inst., to discharge any claims that may be found to be due and all Claimants are requested to attend.
The Sisters of Mercy left Ballinrobe in 2008.

Rev. James Ronayne (c 1831-) - served as Ballinrobe Parish Preist 1875 to 1903

Ballinrobe Roman Catholic PP (Parish Priest) (1850 - 1903)

1877 The Reverent James Canon Ronayne was the Parish Priest in Ballinrobe and a trustee of the deed of June 12, 1877 for the maintenance of the Christian Brothers School in Ballinrobe. (British Ruling Cases from Courts of Great Britain)

1880 The Very Rev. Canon Ronayne, P. P. Ballirnobe was part of an ecclesiastical commission at Knock to report on the alleged apparitions and miracles said to be occurring there.

1880: A Land League meeting was scheduled for Ballinrobe in the spring of 1880. It had to be moved to another parish because the Parish priest in Ballinrobe was hostile to the agitation.

1886: Very Rev. J. Canon RONAYNE , P.P.

1887: WALSH Maria, £420 The will of Marie Walsh late of The Cottage Ballinrobe County Mayo widow, who died 24 April 1887 was proved at Ballina by the Very Reverend James (Canon) Ronayne P. P. and Fergus Kilkelly Merchant both of Ballinrobe

1891: Jas Ronayne Ballinrobe

1900: Ballinrobe, Very Rev. Dean Ronayne, chaplain of the workhouse (The Catholic Directory, Almanac and Clergy List, Volume 15)

Maamtrasna Murders 1882:

"On his arrival, Casey was brought to the house of Fr Ronayne, P.P. where he was closeted with six priests for two hours."

April 1886:
"Again the solemn week which closes the holy season of Lent has come round, and the beautiful ceremonies with which the Church celebrates the sacred mysteries were carried out in this town with the usual solemnity and devotion under the presidency of our revered and zealous pastor, Very Rev. Canon Ronayne. Our ------ Church, with it's rich furnishing and glowing windows, never looked to more advantage. The "Altar of the Sepulcher" the special care of the good Sisters of Mercy, being particularly elegant and tasteful in design and execution. On Wednesday and Thursday morning the Priests of the parish and neighborhood were engaged in the confession preparing the faithful for their approach to the "Holy Table". On Holy Thursday the ceremonies commenced about 9 o'clock. High priest celebrant, Very Rev. Canon James Ronayne, P.P.; deacon aud subdeacon, Rev. P. Caulfield , P.P., and Rev . James Butler, C.C.; master of ceremonies , Rev. P. E. Kilkenny, C.C. The sermon of the day was delivered in a learned and eloquent manner by the Rev. Patrick Gleeson, C.C, --been. When High Mass was concluded the procession was formed and the Blessed Sacrament was borne to the "Altar of Repose" the choir singing the ------- On Good Friday the ceremonies commenced at the same hour. High priest celebrant, Rev James Stephens, C - .; deacon aud sub-deacon, Rev. R . Prendergast, P.P., and Rev. P. Caulfield, P.P.; master of ceremonies, Rev. P. E. Kilkeuuy, C.C. The Rev. J. P. M'Girr, CC, C---r, was the preacher , and his discourse on the "Passion" was marked throughout by deep feeling, power aud flueucy, moving many of his hearers to tears; after which the Blessed Sacrament was borne back in procession from the "Altar of Repose" the choir singing the solemn ------ .
Other local priests were also in attendance.


RECEPTION OF A NUN. On the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, the ceremony of the Reception of a nun took place in tho beautiful Chapel of the Content of Mercy, Ballinrobe. Mass commenced at 9.30. The ceremony was performed b y tbe Very Rev Dean Ronayne, P P , assisted by Rev P Molloy, CC. The young lady who on this occasion had the happiness of receiving that white veil was Miss Anne Raflery, now known in religion as Sister Mary of Mercy. The gentle young sister having received the felicitations of the community, the ceremony was concluded by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, given by Very Rev Dean Ronayne, P P. .... (List of clergy who attended)...... The ceremony was private, but the immediate friends of the new sister who were present and the clergy were hospitably entertained to ------ ---- by the ---- Mother Superior and community.
1896: Parish priest of Ballinrobe, Dean of Tuam.

1899: GALWAY The Times Apologies

With reference to the statement made in our issue of October 17, that the proposed meeting of the United Irish League at Ballinrobe had been proclaimed, and that is was stated that such proclamation was issued at the instance of the parish priest of the town, we are requested by the Very Reverend Dean Roynayne, parish priest, Ballinrobe, to deny that proclamation was issued at his instance."

1901 Census: Main Street, Ballinrobe, Ronayne James, 70, Male, Head of Family, Roman Catholic, clergyman, read and write, Irish English speaker, Rafferty Mary 60 Female Servant Roman Catholic Church, cannot read, Irish English speaker, Rooney Norah 15 Female Servant Roman Catholic, read and write, English speaker.

1903: Probate of the will of the Rev. Patrick Caufield -

Statutory Notice to Creditors. In the Goods of The Very Rev. PATRICK CAULFIELD Late of Roundfort, Hollymount, In the County of Mayo, Parish Priest, Deceased. "NOTICE is hereby given, pursuant to the Statute 22nd and 23rd Vic , cap. 35, that all persons claiming to be Creditors of or having any claims or demands against tbe assets of the above named deceased, who died on 22nd day of September, 1896, at Lisdoonvarna, in the County of Clare are hereby required, on or before the 30th day of November, 1896, to furnish the particulars of such claims (in writing) to the undersigned Solicitor for the Very Rev. James Ronayne (Dean of Tuam), and Very Rev. Patrick Canon ----, P.P., Executors of said deceased, to whom Probate of the will of said deceased wits granted forth of tho District Registry of Ballina of the Probate and Matrimonial Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, on the 22nd day of October, 1896, and in default thereof the said Executors will proceed to distribute the assets of said deceased, having regard only to such claims and demands of which particulars shall have been given as above. Dated this 24th day of October, 1896. MALACHY J. KELLY , Solicitor for said Executors, 70 Middle Abbey-st., Dublin, and Castlebar. Notice of Charitable Bequests In the Goods of Very Eev. PATRICK CAULFIELD , Late of Roundfort , Hollymount , In the County of Mayo , Parish Priest , Deceased. NOTICE is hereby given, pursuant to the 11 30 and 31 Vic, cap. 54 , sec. 19 , that Very Reverend Patrick Caulfield, late of Roundfort , in the County of Mayo , who died at Lisdoonvarna, in the County of Clare, on the 22nd day of September, 1896, by his will, dated 2nd day of July, 1884 , bequeathed to the Superioress of the Convent of Mercy, Westport , for the time being, £100, on condition that a monthly Mass for all time be secured by her for the repose of his own soul and the souls of all his benefactors in the Parish of Westport. In case the said Superioress should decline to accept said obligation, he empowered his Executors to give the said £100 to any religious community willing to undertake it. In case they should fail to find any such community, he then authorized them to dispose of said £100 in such, manner as would seem to them best towards realizing the object he had in view- viz., the relief of his own soul and the souls of his deceased benefactors. To the Superioress of the Westport Convent, for the time being, the sum of £100 for the relief of the sick poor visited b y the Sisters of the Community, To the Superior of the A-hill Monastery, for the time being, the sum of £50 to be disposed of by him, in such charities amongst the people of Achill as may meet with the approval of the Brothers. The sum of £50 in equal shares to the Clergy of whathever Deanery he may die in for Masses for the good of his poor soul. And the said testator appointed the Very Rev. James Ronayne, P.P. (Dean of Tuam) of Ballinrobe, and the Very Rev. Patrick Canon F---ey, P.P., Aughagower, both in the County Mayo, to be Executors of the said Will, to whom Probate thereof was granted forth of the District Registry at Ballma of the Probate and Matrimonial Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, on the 22nd day of October, 1896. MALACHY J. KELLY, Solicitor for said Executors "
1903: Death of James Ronayne
Probate Ronayne, (The Very Reverend) James 15 January 1904 probate the will of the Very Reverend James Ronanye late of Ballinrobe County Mayo and Dean of Tuam who died 24 September 1903 granted at Ballina the Reverend Richard Prendergast P.P. effects &#;877
More on James Ronayne

Father Ronayne was not a Nationalist. He was of "conservative tendencies, and was opposed "to the utmost the lawlessness that prevails around him". Protestent who know him spoke of him in the "highest terms". (The Roman Catholic church and the plan of campaign in Ireland 1886-1888) Emmet Larkin

Cardinal Gibbons visited Ballinrobe where he was a frequent guest of the parish priest. "

In the years 1875 to 1903 the pastor was James Canon Ronayne who was known to have an aversion to tobacco. It was said that at times Gibbons smoked in his bedroom to avoid inconvenience to his host, and that on one occasion a parishioner called to see the cardinal, and meeting Ronayne at the door, he inquired if His Eminence was within; where upon the pastor was said to have replied, "Yes, don't you smell him?".

(The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons: Archbishop of Baltimore, 1834-1921, Volume 2)

James Ronayne had a brother Thomas who was also a priest and was the P. P. at Mount Bellew for many years. Thomas Ronayen died in April 1909.

James (Canon) Stephens (1842 - 1911)

James Stephens was the Parish Pries in Ballinrobe from 1904 until his death in 1911.

1896: James Stephens, P.P., Crossboyne - Delegate to the Irish Race Convention Dublin

1898: Architect WRENN, JAMES PURCELL, Building: CO. MAYO, CROSSBOYNE, CHURCH OF ST STEPHEN (RC), Date: 1898, Nature: Addition chancel, side chapels and sacristy. For Very Rev. James Stephens. Contractor: Stanners, Ballinrobe. Refs: Letter-book of J.P. Wrenn, 1898-1903, ff. 1-19 &c., in IAA, James Purcell Wrenn collection, Acc. 2009/20, on loan from Mrs Dympna Carton and Mrs Oonagh Maguire.

1900: Crossboyne and Tagheen (Hollymount) Rev. James Stephens P. P.

1901: Drummin West (Crossboyne, Mayo) Stephens James 59 Male Head of Family Catholic Church, clergyman, Ronayno Margaret 49 Female Servant Catholic Church Guilfoyle John 22 Male Servant Catholic Church Sige Kate 16 Female Servant Catholic Church, all could read and write, all Irish?English speakers

1904: Irish News New Zealand Tablet 10 March 1904 - Galway, His grace the Most Rev. Dr. ealy, Archbishop of Tuam has appointed Very Rev. James Stephens P.P. V. F. Ballinrobe, Canon of the Cathedral of Tuam.

1904: Rev. James Stephens P. P. Ballinrobe Parish of Tuam

1905: The priests of the deanery of Ballinrobe met on March 23, the very Rev. Canon Stephens presiding, to protest the instructions to teach Irish as an "extra subject" 1905: Ballinrobe, Rev. Jas Stephens, P. P., Revs Martin Healy, M Hannon, curates (The Official Catholic Directory )

Ballinrobe Roman Catholic parish priest of Ballinrobe in 1908 when he testified before the Board Commission of Congestion in Ireland

In 1910 Cannon Stephens wrote letters to John Redmond.

17 February 1911 the Very Reverend James Canon Stephens P. P. was executer of the probate of King, Patrick, farmer, late of Ballinrobe Count, Mayo, who died December 26, 1910 at Ballina. Effects £1,032

1911: Stephens James 69 Male Head of Family Roman Catholic. P. P. and chancellor, born Mayo , Ronayne Margaret 55 Female Servant Roman Catholic, born Galway, both read and write both English Irish speakers

1911: Death of James Stephens Mayo, 12 July 1911

Will: Stephens (The Very Reverend) James 31 July Probate of Will of the Very Reverend James Stephens late of Saint Mary's Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo P. P. who died 12 July 1911 at 96 Lower Leeson Street Dublin grated at Ballina to the Reverend John Stephens R. C. c. Effects £200

Edward A. D'Alton

Ballinrobe Roman Catholic parish priest of Ballinrobe from 1911 to 1941.

Peter Conway (1814-1872)

Ballinrobe Roman Catholic Curate (a member of the clergy engaged as assistant to the parish priest.)

Father Conway was the "minister" to both Ballinrobe and Partry for a number of years. He was responsible, after long negotiations with a local landlord, Colonel Knox, in obtaining permission to build St. Mary's Catholic church on Main Street in Ballinrobe. Construction of the church stated in 1853.

Peter Conway was born c. 1814, place unknown but most likely near Westport or Ballinrobe. He went to Maynooth College in 1835 and was ordained in 1841. During the famine years he was in Partry where he became friendly with George Henry Moore who was a local landlord and lived at Moorehall. Conway and Moore built a monastery at Tourmakeady.

Father Peter Conway came to Ballinrobe as a curate in 1847 when he was 28 years old. He had already overseen the building of three churches at: Partry (where he was from 1843-1847), Ballinfad and Carna (He had been curate at Roundstone in Connamarra).

Less than a year after his arrival in Ballinrobe he negotiated the lease of the land for the site of the present St Mary's church.

Conway was a committed church builder who later built churches in Claran and Headford. All the churches he built were dedicated to St Mary.

When Conway set about to build the church in Ballinrobe there was already a church on Partry road that dated from 1828 to 1848. Why was a new church necessary in Ballinrobe? Some have suggested that Conway though the Catholic Church should be in the center of town for greater physiological impact. One wonders why something was not done with another church structure that already existed, namely to rebuild the old Augustine Chapel on Abbey Street.

The fact that he built a church in every parish he was connected to regardless of need seems a little obsessive. With indications of his concern for education, why did he not turn his energies to schools instead of churches?

The records for the parish start with the with the arrival of Father Conway. The records appear to have been poorly kept in the first few years. There is a four-year break in the records from 1856 and 1860.

Father Conway made several notations in the margins and end pages of the parish record between 1848 and 1854. Among the notations in the parish register is a list of famine victims. The one page entry is very hard to read and the left margin, which includes the names of the townlands, is torn so only the end of the names of the two hamlets can be read. The entry reads,

Registry , a list of those who
died since the famine
started in Ballinrobe
taken by me at me the
stations of confession 1848.

--loimermine Village
Bridget Flanely
W. MacCia
Patt Conwey
James Conduday
Mary Conduday
James Walsh
Bridget Walsh
David Walsh
Wm Henely
Catherine Henely
Catherine Hession

--ern and Thane (?) Park
James Walsh
Mary Walsh
Thomas Walsh, junior
Bridget Nally
William Meghan
Mary Meghan
John Murphy
Patt (cant read)
Thomas Do (this stands for ditto)
Cath Mac Hugh, poor
James Horan
Mary Gibbons
Teachy Malloy
Margaret Do
Owen Sweeney
Mary Do
James Henley
Margaret Do."

Although this entry was not signed, I assume that "me" was Father Conway

Another notation in the records was entered in 1849. It reads

"Left home for England and France today, the 4th of October 1849 not having settled my accounts the (can't read) Morris* being in my debt"
This entry was not signed. However, based on the date I assume that it was made by Father Conway. *John Morris was the parish priest in 1849.

An entry in 1850 reads,

"The Rev. W Hardiman entered Ballinrobe Sunday the 13th of October the feast of the dedication of the Church of Ireland 1850".
Based on the date, I assume that Father Conway made the entry.

An entry in 1854 signed Conway reads,

"Regreted (sic) very much being under the harmful of necessity of disobeying the orders of the Revd Hardiman who directed me a few day since not to baptize unle--- the font I could not do so in the present instance as had no key- no candle- no basin-sent a messenger over the town for the girl who keeps the key of the sacristy font. Conway

The Bridge article puts forth the idea that Father Conway was a great friend of Archbishop John McHale and that the idea of building the new churches was most likely McHale's. Rumor had it that in parishes where McHale could not control the parish priest he sent in young curates to push his own agenda.

Conway was concerned with uplifting Catholics socially and in giving them self-confidence. There are indications that he regarded himself as the people's social leader. He liked the idea of being on an equal footing with the Protestants and sought to emulate their life styles. Among other things Father Conway had his own monogrammed silver. He maintained his own residence, as did Father Hardiman, the parish priest.

Father Conway considered himself a political activist. Among other things, he wrote letters to local papers protesting the treatment of tenants who were evicted by Lord Lucan.

The foundation stone for St. Mary's Catholic Church in Ballinrobe was laid by Archbishop John Mc Hale in May 1849 in the middle of the worst years of the famine. Was this perhaps an effort to give employment to the local population?

"a reference in 1849 says that £ 25 a week in all was paid to workmen at the church and favorable comparison is made with the money available on the famine relief work"

Clearly the community was not up to such a project when there were so many hardships facing the local population due to the famine and its after effects.

The actual building of the church took 15 years. There are indications that there were several changes in plans: "The present church is built partly on the lands obtained by the 1848 lease and partly on the land not obtained until 1853".

The church was dedicated on Pentecost Sunday 24th May 1863.

Father Conway had left the parish five years before and gone to be the parish priest in Headford where he proceeded to build a parish church which was dedicated in June 1863 just a short while after the Ballinrobe church.

The Ballinrobe church as dedicated in 1863 did not contain the transepts and the spire and was smaller than the current size.

The stone of the older part of the church is smooth and the additions are rough cut.

Much of the above information was taken from an article written by James Kierans in The Bridge, circa 1977. Copies of pages 1 through 47 were emailed to me by John Doherty in October 2005.

Peter Conway's Accusations against the Ballinrobe Workhouse, 1849 January 24, 1849

While curate in Ballinrobe Peter Conway swore several charges of murder and misconduct against Mr. Murphy, the master of the Ballinrobe workhouse.

One case was of a seven year old pauper child who was "seized suddenly, on the 31 of May last, with bronchitis and was taken to hospital, and died same night". In his defense Murphy "met this imputation in the most practical and unanswerable manner- he produced the murdered boy in question "in rude health'".

Next Conway took up the case of Martin Casey. Casey had spent a few days in the workhouse and then apparently tired to escape with a new shirt that belonged to the Poor Union. His attempt to scale the walls of the workhouse was thwarted by some fellow inmates and he was put in the refractory cell, which he called the black hole. He then claimed that someone threw a rock in the widow and hit him on the head. Casey somehow made his getaway from the workhouse and found Patrick Conway. Conway led

"an infuriated mob against the workhouse, are-in-arm with one Martin Casey, a pauper, who was covered with blood, said to be welling from wounds inflicted on him in the cells of the Ballinrobe workhouse from which he had just escaped.

The military were turned out, the riot quelled; Martin Casey caught and examined by a medical man"

Casey was apparently an Irish speaker as the investigator, Dr. Dempster, needed an interpreter to question the him.

Dempster concluded that Casey was lying because among other things there was no way a rock could have been thrown into the refractory window and stated further

"I saw that there was no blood on the shirt collar of Casey, not any on his coat when he was brought into my office; and being suspicious of the case altogether I thought he was not injured at all, and having heard him say it was in the black-hole he got the blow from the stone confirmed me that I was correct. I had his head examined in presence of Mr. Maytyn, by a medical officer of the army who came into my office, who washed of the blood, and there was not even an abrasion of the skin-no wound- nor cut or mark even- the man's face had been smeared with blood for effect before the mob."
The conclusion of the case was that without Conway's interference "They should not have thought of accusing the master".

The English press stated that Conway made this accusations in opposition to the New Poor Law whose agent, Murphy, did his duty

"so firmly, so intelligently, so honestly and so humanely that he secured to himself the enmity of all who were oppose to the success of the New Poor Law, and amongst them, the Rev. P. Conway"
Conway made other accusations against Murphy to the point that Murphy was thrown into prison, tried and eventually "triumphantly acquitted".

If the events reported in the English press are correct, why did Conway take on these cases? The situation with Casey is almost farcical. Was Conway duped? Did he take on other cases that had actual merit and only these (which could be easily ridiculed) received press coverage? How bad was the Ballinrobe workhouse? Was this an attempt to reform the workhouse? Was this a personal vendetta against Murphy?

Information from Palmer's Full Text Online sent to me courtesy of John Dohery, January 2006.

See Famine

for more details. Disruption of the Mass by Military Officers and Conway's Response, October 5, 1852

While still the Curate of Ballinrobe, Peter Conway had a confrontation in church and later in the press with officers from the local military barracks.

Some of the servicemen stationed in Ballinrobe were Roman Catholic. When they attended mass they were accompanied by a superior officer who was not Roman Catholic. There were several instances when officers rounded up their troops in the middle of mass and made them leave the church causing disruption to the service.

Conway viewed this as harassment.

However, part of the issue appears to have been that Conway sometimes spoke in Irish which the English officers did not understand. The officers suspected that Conway may have been using Irish to expound on issues of a political nature (Priests were not allowed to preach politics from the pulpit.).

Conway wrote a letter to the Tuam Herald complaining of the situation and stating that in the future some restrictions would be placed on the officer who accompanied the men to mass. Some posturing occurred on both sides and then the matter appears to have settled down.

As part of testimony taken from one of the officers in The Calvary Barracks the following statement was made,

(Mr. Conway) announced to the congregation that if there should be any dying calls during the ensuing week from the poor house or the town, the people should call early in the day, as he would be among the country portion of the flock getting their offerings"
Does this mean he was going to make monetary collection from the local peasants?

Information from Palmer's Full Text Online sent to me courtesy of John Dohery, January 2006.

Trial of Father Peter Conway on five counts connected with the parliamentary elections of 1857, 22 February 1858

In the 1857 Parliamentary election in Mayo there were three candidates for two positions: Colonel Higgins of Glencorrib, George Henry Moore of Ballinrobe and Captain Palmer.

Moore was already a member of the parliament and was the most popular candidate with the people.

Higgins had also already served in parliament. However, both clergy and laity of Mayo accused him of betraying his pledge to the people.

Captain Palmer was new to politics and although his father had a bad reputation during the famine he was not unpopular.

Moore and Palmer won.

Higgins lodged an objection based on intimidation and interference from the clergy. A parliamentary committee found in favor of Higgins.

George Moore was forced to give up his seat. It took eleven years before Moore could regain his seat. This was a severe blow to the peasants of County Mayo.

Peter Conway was one of the clergy accused of intimidating his flock. He was accused on five counts of events relating to the election :

  1. Intimidating his parishioners in the chapel by bringing a curse from God on those who would vote for Colonel Higgins
  2. Inciting the crowd to riot
  3. Abduction of voters
  4. Assault on Colonel Higgins where Conway was among the assailants
  5. Intimidation of Mister Burke of Ower

Testimony on three of the charges was covered in the article.

  1. Intimidation of voters

    On Palm Sunday 1857 Conway told the congregation that it was necessary to keep the peace and be "careful" of Captain Higgins (who was then high Sheriff) as the keeper of the law. He then referred to the fact that some Roman Catholic landlords kept their Catholic tenants from mass that day. This was a serious matter and he hoped the curse of God did not fall on them for "acting so". He spoke of "voters who were locked up like slaves and prevented from attending mass". The discrepancy was, did he state that he hoped "the curse of God would not fall upon the men who kept the people away from mass" or that he hoped that the curse of God would fall on those who voted for Colonel Higgins.

  2. Inciting to Riot

    After the service Conway spoke to the crowds in a lane where he begged them not to break the peace because to so would only strengthen "the hands of the enemy". Witnesses said that Conway told the crowd that they could show their displeasure by shouting but advised them not to throw stones or "commit a breach of the peace". Conway apparently spoke in English and Irish.

  3. Assault on Colonel Higgins

    A mob met Colonel Higgins carriage near Cong. Witnesses for Conway testified that he said "Stop, be easy boys" and "Boys be quite and peaceable". Witnesses against stated that he said "At them, boys".

No real mentions was made in the article about the abduction of voters. It sounds like the landlords who would not permit their tenants from going to mass were more the abductors than Conway.

Mr. Burke is mentioned several times but there is not enough real information to determine what the story was in connection to the intimidation of Mr. Burke. It sound like Burke pointed a pistol at Conway not the other way round.

By the time the case came to trial "A comparatively thin attendance" showed that the "interest in the result of this famous case" was dying out.

There was much conflict of testimony and in the end the jury could not agree on anything as so were dismissed.

Information from Palmer's Full Text Online sent to me courtesy of John Dohery, January 2006.

Patrick Conway was tried in Dublin in March 1858. The trial was covered in part by the Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, New York. He was described as "a young man, of most mild and gentlemanly look and demeanor." 34 counts were brought, 20 of which charged Conway with intimidation and violence. Conway pleaded "Not guilty" to all counts. Conway was said to have used "strong language" against the candidate Higgins - saying he was a "consummate scoundrel" and that any man who voted for him would be cursed by God. It was testified that Conway knelt with uncovered head and addressed the people in the Irish language. A witness who was said to have understood Conway's words claimed he said, "My curse as a priest - the curse of God - the curse of the Church and the people be upon you if you vote for Col. Higgins." It was stated that he repeated the curse more than once. Further it was stated that Conway "rode in amongst the voters very furiously" and called the witness "ill names".

Peter Conway, Parish Priest Headford, Co. Galway

Headford is located south of Shrule between Ballinrobe and Galway city.

The following information on Peter Conway is from Headford, County Galway 1775-1901, by Gerardine Candon (2003).

By 1861 (when he applied to the Commission of Education for aid to build a local school) Fr. Conway was the parish priest in Headford, County Galway.

A new Catholic church was build in Headford on land donated by the St George family (the leading landlords in the area) The foundation stone was lain on June 7, 1863. There was an imposing opening ceremony attended by Archbishop McHale and other dignitaries and crowds of people from, Taum, Galway town and Ballinrobe. Mc Hale spoke in Irish. "A sumptuous dinner was laid on for Fr Conway's guests."

"The role of hero is reserved for Fr Conway. His journey to America to raise money for the church turns out to be his opportunity to save his fellow passengers lives from mortal danger"
About his personal character she quotes Henry Coulter:
"[He] well known to be an active, zealous, and benevolent man. His charity is unbounded, but his best friends are of the opinion that his zeal sometimes outruns his discretion. His strong feeling and fervid imagination have led him to make statements as t the extent of distress in Headford, which he undoubtedly believes to be accurate, but which persons equally well informed and equally truthful regard as exaggerated. (Henry Coulter)"
Peter Conway, Last Will and Testament

On October 23 1865 Peter Conway who was then the parish priest at Claran, Headford wrote his last will and testament. I find it a very interesting document for a number of reasons not the least to which is the disparity between his "effects" and those of his parishioners.

The bulk of his estate were left to the Arch-bishop, John Mc Hale of Tuam and his nephew, the Reverent Thomas Mc Hale, D. D., Irish College, Paris for the purpose of building a convent school in Headford "to educate the poor children".

The "effects" to be left for the building of the convent were: a house in Claran, furniture, crops, fifty-one sheep, six head of cattle, one horse, and three young horses, three pigs, a house in Ballinrobe (with an income of £10 per annum) a house in Partry Ballinrobe (with an income of £5 per annum).

Out of this estate the nuns were to take £50 for a memorial to

"commemorate the life and reign of one of the greatest of priests, and the most zealous and humble of Bishops, namely John McHale, which monument is to be erected on the ground of the Ballinrobe church".
In addition he left the following objects to the sons of his "valued friend, George Henry Moore": his watch, his gun and his gold cross.

He left his silver plate to Richard St George of Headford Castle who he respected and esteemed dearly. In the event that St George did not want the silver plate he had the option of taking two of the young horses. In which case the plate would be given to Conway's sister, Mrs. Regan of Ballinrobe and the third young horse was to be given to the Arch Bishop of Tuam for his personal use.

Mrs. Regan may have sincerely hoped that St George did not take the silver plate option as otherwise she got nothing but prayers and blessings as Conway designated:

"To all my brothers and sisters, and other relatives, I leave my blessing and pray they may work out their salvation and an honest industrious livelihood by the sweat of their brows with perseverance, energy, and industry, never forgetting their duties to God, and their oppressed country, namely Ireland."
Mrs. William Murray, Galway was remembered with a mantel clock. Conway's landlord, John Brown, was remembered with a "copy of the lives of the saints and the red heifer". His housekeeper, Mrs. Ansboro, got blessings, his servant, Mary Gibbons fared better with £10. The clerk, Tom Walsh, got some used clothes that he was to share with Conway's labourer, G. H. Moore.

Peter Conway died June 22, 1872 age 58 of an illness he may have contracted while visiting the sick.

Conway (Reverend) Peter - probate effects under £1,000 15 August (with one Codicil) of the Reverend Peter Conway late of Headford County, Galway P.P.* deceased who died 22 June 1872 at same place proved at Taum of the oath of the Reverend Thomas M'Hale of the Irish College Paris D. D. on of the Executors

*Parish Priest

Some Thoughts and Questions

While he was called an activist priest, from today's vantage point is very hard to understand some of his actions.

When so many were dying of hunger and suffering from extreme poverty, why was one of his major aims to keep building churches? Ballinrobe already had a church when he arrived and proposed building another.

While so many Roman Catholic children were illiterate with little or no chance of social advancement, he would rather see them remain so than be taught by Protestant Mission Schools and/or the National Schools, because the Catholic Church could not support their own schools.

When tenants were evicted by Lord Lucan at least 80 families went to Conway seeking aid in finding shelter. He told them to return to their houses and "endeavour to shelter themselves and bear patiently with their cruel treatment".

While he did leave money in his will for a school for the "poor children" what was the purpose of giving watches, horses, and silver-plate to those who certainly did not need it?

Along the same lines, if Mc Hale was indeed a man worthy to be remembered by his deeds might the £50 been better spent on the education of the "poor children" that on a piece of stone?

The poor labour and other servants who most likely could have used some cash, got only used clothes and blessings.

His siblings, who may have made their own sacrifices so that Peter could go to school to become a priest, were told to work out their salvation by the sweat of their brow.

Even more to the point, what was a curate (the assistant to the parish priest) in a desperately poor part of the world doing with silverplate? How did he come by the money for three houses and a gentleman's allotment of livestock?

The will of Peter Conway was in The Bridge, December 1772. A copy of which were emailed to me by John Doherty in December 2005. The thoughts are mine.

At the Ballinrobe fair in 1801 calves sold for £3 to £7 pounds, milk cows for £10 to £15 and sheep for £3. Assuming prices were more of less the same in Conway's day he had at least £211 in sheep and cows. On the other hand a man's average wages were eight pence a day.

Father John O'Malley

See, Boycott

St Mary's Church, Ballinrobe, The Church Dedication Banquet

The Bridge same issue (Editor)

Extracted from the Taum Herald, Saturday 30 May 1863

Mass was celebrated in the morning and Archbishop Mc Hale gave an hour long sermon.

In the evening there was a banquet at Valkenburg's Hotel attended by Archbishop Mc Hale, (the Archbishop of Tuam), Rev. Durcan (the Bishop of Achonry), the Rev. Thomas Hardimann (the Ballinrobe parish priest) the Rev. P Conway (parish priest of Headford and former curate of Ballinrobe who instigated the building of the church), the Rev James Mc Gee (no place given), Rev. P Lavalle (parish priest of Partry), Rev. James O'Rourke (parish priest Ross), Rev. D Leyden (parish curate, Mr. Geoffrey Martyn J. P (the only lay person mentioned. He gave £10 in 1849 and another £10 in 1859). There were numerous toasts throughout the evening:

  1. To the Pope, Pius IX
  2. To Archbishop McHale

    In reply McHale called for the restoration of the unity of priests and people saying,

    "We are suffering from the mis-government of the country, and the apathy of its people, rather than from the sterility of its soil."
    He finished by congratulating the member of the parish on their new church,
    "wherein they would henceforth have the consolation of worshipping God; and whenever threatened with the anger of the Almighty, whey could, by offering up the all atoning sacrifice of The Mass, and by imploring His pity and protection avert the stroke of his wrath from their heads. Like the electric rods, that tender the lightning harmless, these temples will be the safe conductors that will carry away the anger of God and the vengeance of heaven"

    There was, in response, loud and prolonged cheering.
  3. To Bishop of Achonry
  4. Rev. James McGee (who celebrated the dedication Mass)
  5. To the people "no tongue could propose the speedy mitigation of their sufferings"
  6. Rev. P Lavalle (the parish priest at Partry) who also toasted the people "They should want no mitigation of their sufferings and wrongs-they should insist upon their freedom and their independence.....We are slaves but we want to be free, and we will be free" This was greeted with prolonged cheering.
  7. By the Archbishop to Rev Hardiman (the parish priest of Ballinrobe)
  8. By the Rev. James O'Rourke (parish priest Ross)
  9. By Rev. Hardiman to Rev Conway. Rev. Conway made a speech
  10. By Mr. Geoffrey Martyn J. P. to the people (the only lay person mentioned)
  11. The steward of the banquet was toasted as were several others
  12. The Rev. D Leyden (parish curate) was also asked to speak

There is a list of subscribers from both 1849 and 1859. Only one "Walshe" Thomas contributed, £ 1 in 1859. James "Faghragher" contributed £ 1 in 1859, but no "Farraghers". There were contributions from William Burke, Abby Street, £ 2, Richard Burke £ 1, and Mrs Joan Burke £ 1.10 all in 1859. There were no contributions from any of the other Walsh/Langan related names: no other Walshes, no Feeney, no Feerick, no Flanagan, no Goggin, no Keaffe, no Hughs, no Lagan, no Lardner (who were stone masons who worked on the church), no Malley, (one O'Malley the Rev. James C.C. 1849), no Mea (Meah, or May), no Murphy, no Meehand, and no Morahan

Maynooth College, date unknown
Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Officially called the Roman Catholic College of St Patrick, Maynooth College was founded in 1795 as the penal code was relaxing in Ireland. It is located about 12 miles outside Dublin. It's main purpose was the education of Roman Catholic priests who previously had to go to the continent for training. The school accepted only students studying for the priesthood until the 1960s. Most of the priests who served in Ballinrobe and West Mayo trained at Maynooth.

Interior Maynooth Chapel, date unknown
Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Father Patrick Lavelle (1825-1886)

Born Westport 1825 - Died Cong, County Mayo Nov 17, 1886. Cong Parish Priest and radical cleric who fought for the rights of the local peasants.


Courtesy of Ivor Hamrock, Castlebar Library, December 2008 - Mayo County Library, Local History Collection

Convent of Mercy, Ballinrobe

1854: At Ballinrobe, the same contractor, Mr. Egan, has undertaken to complete the Convent of Mercy for £2,000. The M. Rev. Dr. McHale advanced 4500 towards it. The building is already covered in and glazed. (The Metropolitan: A Monthly Magazine, Devoted to Religion ..., Volume 2 By Martin Joseph Kerney)

On February 20, 1852 Miss Anne Mary Waldron entered the Convent of Mercy, Ballinrobe (Mother M. Patricia Joseph Waldron: Founder and Superior of the Philadelphia Sisters of Mercy, 1861-1916) February 15, 1907, Sister Gertrude of the Convent of Mercy in Ballinrobe died at age 91. She had come to Ballinrobe "over half a century" before when the convent was founded.

December 27, 1910 Sister Alphonsus, died at the Convent of Mercy Ballinrobe at a "very advanced age". She was a niece of the "Most Rev. Dr. McHale".

Sister Mary Gertrude Mulloy of the Convent of Mercy in Ballinrobe died April 16, 1910. She was the sister of two priests.

The Holy Childhood Report for Ireland from January 1865 to January 1866 and January 1866 to January 1867 listed the Convent of Mercy in Ballinrobe, as well as in Tuam, Castlebar, and Westport.

Christian Brothers, Ballinrobe


There is also a community of Christian Brothers, who have a school here. Their building had so much glass in front, with so many geraniums in flower, a perfect blaze of them behind the glass, that it looked like a conservatory."

(The Letters of "Norah" on Her Tour Through Ireland)

1883 Tuam:
The great majority of children of school going age depend on National schools for their education, the girls altogether. At Tuam and Ballinrobe the Christian Brothers conduct boys' schools and there is a classical school recently opened in Claremorris; boys of the age for infants go to the Convent National schools in these towns. There are Protestant schools in Tuam, Ballinrobe, and Claremorris.

(Annual Report of the Commissioners ..., Volume 50 By Ireland. National Education Bd, 1883)

Then, under the inspiration of the same apostolic zeal, arose, for the Christian Brothers, the monastic schools of Tuam, Ballinrobe, and Westport.

Thus a generous provision was made for the more advanced instruction of boys. But that of the girls was not neglected. The Sisters of Mercy, whose foundress Dr. Mac Hale had personally known and deeply respected, were called to Tuam, Westport, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Claremorris, Clifden, and Rushcen. Moreover, the Presentation Nuns had a convent and school of their own in Tuam.

During the calamitous years which elapsed from 1840 to 1854, when Archbishop Mac Hale celebrated a memorable provincial synod in Tuam, none of the manifold misfortunes that befell, in such rapid succession, the populations of Connaught, and none of the superhuman labors and overwhelming cares which the Archbishop had to face, could either check or dampen his zeal for Catholic education. The schools of his diocese, and the training of the young, continued to be the very soul of his life.

(John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam: His Life, Times and Correspondence By Bernard O'Reilly)

Ballinrobe, Christian Brothers Schools J Valkenburg Esq, Main Street, Ballinrobe (Annual General Report of the Department, Volumes 1-2 By Ireland. Dept. of agriculture and technical instruction, 1900-1901)

There are various orders of Christian Brothers in the diocese; at Tuam, Westport, Ballinrobe, Letterfrack, and Castlebar. All those men are engaged in teaching. They make their living by it, and the education they give is a religious one before everything else. Is the condition of the country a credit to them and to their masters, the archbishop and his priests? There is a Presentation Convent of Nuns at Tuam. There are convents of the Sisters of Mercy at Tuam, Westport, Newport, Ballyhaunis, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Clarcmorris, Clifden, and Rusheen, and they are all engaged in teaching, drawing endowments from the National Board, and, in many cases, from the Agricultural and Technical Instruction Department, and even from the Congested Districts Board.

(Priests and people in Ireland By Michael John Fitzgerald McCarthy)

Birth, Marriage, and Death


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