Ballinrobe - The Farm, Bawn, Caheredmond, Saleen, Ballynakillew, Cloonark, Cappacurry, Cloonacastle, Balliniteeaun, Lavally, Cavan, Knocknacroagha (Clover Hill), Rathnaguppaun.

(Letters of Rev. Fr. Peter Conway) (Petition of the Tenants)

There is an area of Ballinrobe parish which is known as “the Farm“.

One frequently hears discussions about its exact boundaries.  How did it get this name “the farm” since it comprises several “townlands” or “villages”; Rathnaguppaun, Cloverhill’ (Knocknacroagha) Cappacurry Lavally, Ballinteeaun etc.

I would ask the reader to note that when I use the word “village” I mean a group of houses and that I keep the term “townland” for the area of land in an area or place such as Ballinteeaun.

The story is that Lord Lucan of Castlebar, who was the landlord, cleared all or nearly all this area of tenants in the evictions which occurred in the Famine years. This was the same Lord Lucan who was connected as a senior officer in the debacle of Balaclava — “into the valley of death“. This was the occasion when the famous charge of the Light Brigade occurred, when soldiers were sent headlong upon a murderous battery of Russian guns during the Crimean war (26th Sept. 1854). This is the event celebrated by Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”.  He was a Bingham descended from Sir Richard Bingham’s brother; George Sir Richard being the gentleman who in Elizabeth I’s time, first got possession of Cloonacastle from the Burke’s. Incidentally Lucan’s neighbour at Newbrook, Lord Clanmorris was also a Bingham.

We tend to identify “Black 47” with the famine.  However, it is well to remember that the Famine was not just a one-year event. The distress, deaths, fevers and all other horrors continued and even got worse in 1848, ’49 & ’50. It is only in 1853 that one sees records of the Poor Law Guardians closing down some of their extra, temporary, workhouses.  At any rate it seems that it was late in 1847 or early in 48 that the landlords realised the massive nature of the problem, and that most of their tenants were hopelessly unable to pay their rents.

Lord Lucan

Lord Lucan, however reacted differently as did his agent Mr. Ormsby. In June 1848 in a letter to the papers Rev. Peter Conway C.C. Ballinrobe describes the evictions at Lavally.  His letter is headed “Extermination in Mayo” and it is clear from that letter that the evictions had already been in progress for some time. We know from a speech of Fr. Conway’s at a meeting in Abbey St. in 1850, that the clearance of the Farm was complete by that date, and that Lucan was looking for some Englishman to take over the property as a single tenant. He didn’t succeed until 1856, when the Scotsman James Simpson (or Simson), took a 25 year lease of approximately 2500 acres at the rent of £2,200 per year. He proceeded to introduce his modern farming methods, for which the Scots at that time seem to have had somewhat of a reputation.


The area in question may be roughly described as follows. Consider the area between the Convent Road to Gallows Hill or Carramore and the Claremorris Road to Cloonacastle as a triangle, with the base of the triangle an imaginary line from Cloonacastle House to Flannery’s of Carramore.  Now `decapitate’ your triangle by means of Cullew boreen, which used to be passable as far as the Convent Road, and we have a rough idea of the area in question, except that we have to add to it the townland of Cavan and the area of land between the Roslara Road and the Hollymount Road which is Ballynakillew.

The following is a more detailed list of areas cleared and afterwards farmed by Simpson:-

TownlandNumber of people left in 1857
Ballynakillew0ne tenant
CloonarkNo tenant
Cloonacastle (land at. house)10 tenants left at Roslara
Cappacurry3 tenants
Lavally2 tenants
Bawn 3 tenants left
Caheredmond 2 tenants left
Knocknacroagha (Clover Hill)5 tenants left
Rathnaguppaun 1 tenant left
Saleen  None

According to the Griffith valuation Simpson was farming 2460 acres and 21 perches.

Place names

Before passing on let me identify a few of these place names which I know some younger people, even from the area do not know. The remains of walls of houses in Cloonark village can be found by walking in the grass covered boreen beside the late Tom Varley’s house at Cloonacastle and following it to the river. Here one will find the remains of Cloonark Bridge, which was only made redundant when the present Ballinrobe – Hollymount Road was completed. Here too Foxhill Bridge first built in the early 1800’s(1800-20). Previously, to get to Hollymount one crossed Cloonark Bridge and shortly afterwards bore sharp left on a road, which joined the Hollymount Rd about the “White Gates” and passed fairly close to Clooncormack House to the west of it.

Bawn, is an area around the Convent Road end of what is known as the “Old Road”.

Caheredmond is to the right of the Hollymount Road between Cullew and the hill at Gibbons of Lavally.

Saleen was a small village of houses – about six, situated in the garden and field behind Mr. McEvilly’s house  – formerly Heneghan’s.

Two areas in particular were unaffected by the Lucan Evictions: Drumhill and Cloonerneen. Part of the townland of Cloonacastle which is now called Roslara, was also untouched, approximately 160 acres. Some other areas were only half-cleared. Part of Lavally, 29 acres, on the north-west side of the Hollymount Road was left to two tenants.  About 42 acres were left to three tenants at Bawn, and 2 tenants; both named Sheridan, retained 69 acres in Caheredmond. One tenant held about 14 acres in Ballinakillew. All these exceptions I take from Griffith’s Valuationof 1857 and, as of now, I do not know whether there were further clearances during Simpson’s time.

How many?

How many people were effected by the savage evictions in the Farm in the years of the Famine? Fr. Conway, at a tenant right meeting in Abbey Street in 1850 gives the number as “1170 persons”. This I take to mean, men, women and children. As to the number of families or houses or holdings affected I estimate that there must have been at least 120, maybe up to 150.[1]

Fr. Lavelle

A famous local character of those times was the noted P.P. of Partry Fr. P. Lavelle, later PP, of Cong (where he died).  He wrote a book about the late 1860’s called “The Irish Landlord since the Revolution”. He mentions the Lucan clearances of  “The Farm” and says that 200 families were evicted. One supposes that this figure is not absolutely accurate and has been `rounded’ up rather than down, but it does show that a higher rather than the lower estimate given above is more likely to be correct. Fr. Lavelle would have access to the direct information from his friend and kindred spirit, Fr. Peter Conway. Fr. Lavelle in the same book also refers to massive evictions and clearances on the Lucan estates near Castlebar, which bears out something Mr. John Langan of Ballinteeaun once said to me  “Lucan filled the Workhouses in Castlebar, Ballinrobe and Swinford”. Fr. Lavelle also indicates that the dispossessed tenants from the Farm “crowded into” Ballinrobe town.

Transfers from Electoral areas

Another interesting thing emerges from the book. Lucan used his influence at the time to have “The Farm” area transferred from Ballinrobe electoral area to that of Hollymount. The point of this was that the Poor Law Rate was levied on a Divisional basis. It was higher in divisions where there were more paupers. So to avoid higher rates in the Ballinrobe area, caused by all the people he had evicted and who had gone into Ballinrobe, he got his property changed to the Hollymount division. So that area still remains in the Hollymount area even for the purposes of Garda administration. The Hollymount Gardaí are still responsible for most of this area and for the school attendance in Cregduff School.

Cavan & Lavally Evictions

The largest of villages to be evicted was Cavan where according to Fr. Conway’s letter 34 tenants were evicted “during the year”.  At the end of his letter he gives the names of these and `how many they had’ in each family. He lists tenants also from other villages and the numbers in the families. Incidentally, he names the sixteen tenants recently evicted (May 1848) in Lavally and names the whole family in each case, except those whom he lists as having got compensation. He said that eighty families had come to him in the week previous to this (May 26th, 1848) looking for his help to get some dwelling or shelter.  A letter from one Darby Ronane of Cavan is particularly pathetic, recording the eviction and burning of his house while he was in Ballinrobe looking for “relief” and when he returned he found his two sick children lying by a wall in a “dying state“.

Knocknacroagha or Cloverhill

The next largest of the villages cleared was in the townland of Knocknacroagha or Cloverhill. There were about 20 houses in this village running in a north east direction from the Convent Road in a portion of land acquired by the Flannery family from the McDonnell Farm of Cloverhill in the 1950’s.


Coming a close third was the village of Lavally where nearly 20 houses were cleared. This village is marked on the map as being on both sides of the present Hollymount Road at Padraig Gibbons house, but running almost directly north and south across the road which is due North East/South West at this point. Most of the village lay across the slight rise of the ground mid-way between the “Old Road” and the main Road at Gibbons and continuing down to behind where Mr. Sean Langan Ballinteeaun is now building a house. His mother formerly Miss Gibbons once told me that there is a tradition in the Gibbons family, that when they came to live there in the early decades of this century -under the Congested Districts Board resettlement of the area — that they were returning to almost the same place from which their ancestors had been evicted. Portion of this village is marked in a direct line across the present main road from the major portion at Gibbons. This, seems to me to suggest that when this main road was built, presumably in the early 1 800’s, it was simply driven through the row of houses which was the village of Lavally.

Ballynakillew & Other Villages

Ballynakillew village, with ten or twelve houses, was situated between the Roslara and Hollymount roads on Michael Walshe’s land.

Cloverhill, Cloonark, Saleen and Rathnaguppaune

There was a village of about 8 houses near Gallows’ Fort on Paddy O’Malley’s farm in Cloverhill. At Cloonark, there were at least 6 and at Saleen a similar number. A village of about 4 houses called Rathnaguppaune is marked in the fields across the road from Sean O’Toole’s house and running on to a field belonging to Paddy O’Brien.


Another village of about five houses appears beyond Cregduff just opposite the old unused boreen which leads or led to Cregduff village. Question: By the way am I mistaken in my map-reading when I believe that Cregduff School is actually situated in Rathnaguppaune?

Besides these larger groups of houses or villages there was a number of isolated houses on the 1836 survey map which were presumably also cleared.

1848 – 50s

It seems from Fr. Conway’s letter that a great deal of the evictions took place in the spring or early summer of 1848.  But there is some evidence that some evictions at least, took place as early as Spring 1847.

Mrs. Mary Flannelly of Knocknakillew tells me that her grandmother, born Bridget Ruane, in the village of Ballinteeaun, on the second of February 1847, was only a few weeks old when her widowed mother was evicted. The lady was later Mrs. Bridget Cunningham of Bridge Street who died in 1947.

Certainly Lord Lucan was questioned sharply by a Lord Brougham in the House of Lords, early in 1847, about evictions at Gallows Hill, but he gave a flat denial. From the same source one gathers that there had been a protest meeting in Ballinrobe attended by some clergy in reference to these evictions.

At any rate the “Farm” evictions were complete when Fr. P. Conway spoke at the Tenant Right meeting in 1850 in Abbey Street.

The Plight of The People

What happened to the poor people who suffered these savage evictions?

It is now, at this remove in time almost impossible to guess. Their fate was hardly given any particular notice at the time when death and starvation and all their attendant horrors were the order of the day. In Fr. Peter Conway’s letter describing the eviction of Luke Moran, the blacksmith, I would like to note two points. Fr. Conway interceded with the agent to allow this tenant to tumble down his own house, but Mr. Ormsby refused, saying “the officials should do it“.  I have discussed this point with Mr. T. P. O’Neill, of Galway University. In his opinion, the request of the tenant to tumble down his own house was a last desperate attempt to hold on to some shelter for his family. The official bailiffs would do a thorough job, to make it impossible for the tenant to linger about his old home. It evokes a pathetic picture of the desperate straits to which these poor people were reduced.

The second interesting point from Fr. Conway’s letter was his attempt to get some sort of assurance from the agent, or from the Poor

Law Officials, that the evicted tenant would get lodgings, (in the workhouse presumably’) or some relief from the various schemes then in being. This appeal was ignored. Much of Fr. Conway’s letter is concerned’ with the question of relief. He suggests that the officials were not doing their job and not coming to the relief of people like Luke Moran. To understand Fr. Conway’s letter, and other references from him at various times – including his speech in Valkenburg’s Hotel in 1863 at a banquet after the consecration of the Church – one must look to the working of some of the Poor Law Relief Act of 1847.  In this act there was a clause called the Gregory Clause which stated that no one was entitled to relief under the Act, who had more than one quarter acre of land[2].

The operation of this particular provision caused untold hardship, misery and bitterness. Some people tried to surrender all their land to the landlords except for their houses and a quarter of an acre, in order to qualify for relief; but the landlords refused to accept surrender, unless everything was surrendered; and the family was, in Fr. Conway’s words, “thrown on the world without any kind of shelter“.

Relief – Panic!

Fr. Conway has harsh things to say about the officials in Charge of the Relief schemes but it would be well to examine the scene. There were in that summer of 1848 more than 50,000 people in receipt of Poor Law Outdoor Relief in the Ballinrobe Union Area. Even the mere administration of relief for such vast numbers must have caused colossal problems, and there was one occasion in that summer when the sheer numbers of people clamouring for relief unnerved the officials of the Poor Law and they panicked badly. We know of this incident from a report of a meeting held in Ballinrobe in July 1848. The object of this meeting addressed by Geoffrey Martin of Curraghmore, William Burke Cloonee, Fr. Conway, Fr. Waldron P.P. The Neale, and others, was to protest against something which happened in the town some days previously. Apparently what happened was that a very large number: of people came to the Poor Law Officials and relieving officers demanding relief.

These gentlemen panicked and called out the military, both cavalry and infantry, and in the words of the speakers at the protest meeting, imposed virtual martial law on the town for most of the day. All normal business and activity was suspended “to the great alarm of the inhabitants and the suspension of business for several hours”.  The resolutions at this meeting were directed at the Poor Law Officials, whom they accused not merely of this show of force, but of drunkenness and ill-usage of inmates of the Workhouse who were alleged murder of a person or persons among the inmates.


But to return to the people evicted from the “Farm”. Some of them would have sought refuge with relatives, one would suppose, but this was a tricky business. In those days people were not free to take in people in that way without the permission of their landlord. Possibly some of the other landlords in the Ballinrobe area were more sympathetic than Lucan. Certainly Fr. Conway at the meeting in Abbey Street in 1850 has words of praise for Knox, the landlord of the town, while he was lambasting the other landlords of the area for their evictions, particularly Lucan.  Another interesting light on Knox’s record in this matter is a little snippet from a paper in September 1848. It gives a rather fulsome description of the arrival of Knox’s agent A.C. Lambert at his “romantic residence” Cranmore House (It was probably only recently built.  It was certainly not built when the 1838 Ordnance Survey was made.  Lambert is referred to as their “kind and benevolent agent“. He was met at Roundfort by great crowds and escorted all the way to Cranmore. The “Ballinrobe Band” were in attendance. Obviously he was not an evicting agent and the intention was to keep him so. This item I found in the Tuam Herald and I strongly suspect that it was from Fr. Conway’s pen. He may have been also the organiser of the enthusiastic welcome for the agent Lambert.

Strange Optimism

This too may be a good place to have a look at the general picture around Ballinrobe at the time of the evictions. In the previous year, Black ’47, conditions were terrible and the numbers of deaths from starvation and famine fever was frightening. But in 1848, about the time of the last of the evictions, things had improved and people thought the worst was over – as had happened in earlier famine years like 1832. Little did they realise what was in store for them. But there seems to have been an air of optimism. Fr. Conway negotiated the lease of a site for the new church in May of that year, and in July at the meeting in the town already referred to, Geoffrey Martin of Curraghmore had great hopes of the potato crop. Certainly there was distress for the new potato crop was not yet harvested and colossal number, about 50,000 persons, were in receipt of outdoor relief from the Poor Law Guardians. (The area covered by these figures was all South Mayo including Claremorris area). But the numbers in the Workhouse and other buildings used by the Guardians were. not very large – about eight hundred, and the number of deaths per week recorded by the Guardians was as low as one and not more than seven per week and was as nothing compared to what was to come. Significantly enough there was a sudden huge influx of people into the workhouse or workhouses in late August and early September of that year.

This is not the usual time of year that one expects to find an influx into workhouses. When one studies the records of the last century, one fact emerges about the workhouses.  Numbers steadily increase from late spring on to late summer when there is usually a sudden dramatic drop in numbers. At first sight one might be surprised that the onset of winter was not the factor that increased the numbers; but no, it was the availability of food. The potato governed the situation.

When potatoes were plentiful at the end of the year one normally sees a fall off in the numbers in the workhouses and in late spring when the potato became scarce, one sees a sharp and dramatic increase, until the potato harvest comes again. I must stress that the general statement refers to later, less abnormal, years. But in 1848 the reverse occurred and the reason is well known. The great hopes of men like Geoffrey Martin for a bountiful potato crop were sadly not realised and the numbers housed by the Ballinrobe Guardians suddenly doubled from about 800 to 1600 and continued to increase throughout the winter. It was not until August the following year that any appreciable falling off occurred in the numbers. By then they had dropped from a March figure of over 2000 to 1400 in August.


The high hopes of Fr. Conway, building his new church, and Geoffrey Martin, looking forward to a good crop of potatoes, were cruelly dashed in that harvest-time of 1848. But worse was still to come. In many ways the following years were worse than `infamous ‘1847’. It was not until about 1853 that the numbers in the workhouse reverted to less than a thousand and the sort of normal pattern of 3 figure weekly returns of inmates begins and continues for the rest of the century.

But the spring of 1849, just a year after the Lucan evictions deserves special notice, because of the appalling cholera epidemic which occurred at that time. It seems to have begun, around Ballinrobe, in the last days of 1848 and between then and the first of August the Guardians recorded one thousand deaths on their premises, workhouses, Auxiliary workhouses, Fever Hospitals and Fever Sheds. In one week at the end of April 1849 they recorded 136 deaths. But what about deaths among the ordinary population of the area who were not in the workhouse and whose deaths are not recorded? The figures must have been horrifying.

It was not, as I have suggested, until 1853 that anything like normality returned to the area and significantly enough it was in this year that the second lease for the full church site was obtained.

The Simpson Era

What of the land which had been cleared of tenants in 1848?

We know from the Tenant Right Speech of Fr. Conway in 1850 that Lord Lucan was looking for someone, from England he hoped, to take over the area as one unit, but it was not until 1856 that he succeeded, and Mr. James Simpson or Simson came on the scene.

Six years later we have an account by a gentleman called Henry Coulter, writing for Saunder’s News Letters an account of Simpson’s operation. He tells us that Simpson paid £2,200 per year to Lucan for “the Farm” and that his lease was for 25 years (i.e. up to 1881). He seems to have been against the idea of using the land exclusively for cattle grazing and had 1350 acres under tillage; oats, barley and turnips. He had in 1862, 230 acres under turnips half of which were eaten on the ground by sheep. He rotated his crops, starting with oats, followed by turnips, then wheat or barley, and then grass seeds. Scotsmen at the time seem to have been the masters of tillage farming and modern methods. The rotation system is now `old hat’, but was probably revolutionary in his time. He kept 1,300 bullocks and heifers and 200 stores. He sent cattle weekly to Smithfield market in Dublin.

Simpson had two separate establishments, apparently one at Gallows Hill where the McDonnell farmhouse used to be and approximately where the Brennan family have their modern house. The other was at Cloonacastle. He himself lived at Cloonacastle according to tradition. He was certainly there in 1862, but the Griffith Valuation of 1857 seems to indicate that he was living at Gallows Hill.

At both places, Cloonacastle and Gallows Hill he had according to Coulter in 1862, a steam engine to drive a saw mill, a bone-grinding mill, a threshing and winnowing machine. He must have been one of the most advanced and modern farmers of his time, certainly in Connaught.

He had fourteen pairs of ploughing horses and ploughmen who were paid seven shillings a week. The married ploughman was paid eight shillings a week plus a cottage and garden and the `keep’ of a cow including a cock of hay.  At harvest time he took on up to 300 extra workmen, who were paid in 1862, one and sixpence per day (or 7½ new pence).  Traditionally Connaught was never a tillage area and what traditional skills in tillage have come down to us in this area probably owe a lot to Simpson. He seems to have had a scientific approach to farming and one story is told of his bringing over from England or Scotland a very large roller, with spikes attached, for all the world like huge circular athletes’ running shoes. This he used to `liven’ up the heavier soils on his farm.

About Simpson’s personal life I can find little information. He seems to have been unmarried. In the papers of the time he is occasionally mentioned in connection with a cricket club in Ballinrobe and also in connection with an Agricultural Show. It appears he returned to England or Scotland, probably in 1881, when his twenty five year lease was up in the midst of the Land War. It was not an encouraging time for a stranger like Simpson to renew his lease.

A local account states that Simpson had a major law-case with Lord Lucan when he terminated his lease of `the Farms’. He lost the case eventually and was financially broken by it. He claimed compensation for all the improvements he had effected on the property during his tenancy and he did indeed cause many drains to be made and various other measures which improved the land. Lucan denied his claim; the claim was upheld in various courts inferior and superior as Lucan appealed the case, but finally Lucan won out in an appeal to The House of Lords, of which of course he was a member.

After Simpson

Before Simpson took over “The Farm” in 1856 there had been a period of about six years or more, when Lord Lucan had the property in his own hands. He attempted to run the place with the help of a few herds who had houses around the area. So too, after Simpson’s twenty-five year lease expired in 1881, there seems to have intervened a few years before the Egan, Daly, McDonnell triumvirate took over. Another twenty five year lease! This lease began, I believe in 1884. These three, people farmed three separate sections of the parcel of land formerly held as one farm by Simpson. One notable thing about this period which ended in 1909, was that the first Ballinrobe race-course` that we know, was set up on the portion in the possession of Egan, who lived at Cloonacastle House.  His portion stretched roughly from Cloonacastle to the road which turns in through “the Farm” from the Ballinrobe-Hollymount Road, beyond Lavally at Ballinteeaun, and which ended at a junction beyond Parkers farm.

The Race Course

The race-course covered most of this area and Mr. Jack Langan and others have shown me two locations where at different times there was a `Grand Stand’; one at Sheeaun Hill almost directly opposite Mr. Michael O’Brien’s house to the north east and the other location, somewhat to the south east on the division between the Langan and Parker farms – (These locations are marked G.S. on a map).

Footnote:’ Later on of course there was a race course on the Neale Road, about, where Mr. Bernard Daly’s house now stands, and it came to its present home at Rathcarreen about 1921.

The Congested districts Board bought over the property, known as ‘The Farm’ from Lucan in 1907 although the Daly Egan McDonnell lease had still two years to run. Some arrangement was come to; Egan and McDonnell were allotted two rather large farms and the remainder was divided up into 30 to 40 acre lots.  Houses were built and small farmers were resettled on this land over the next decade or so. The McDonnell farm of Knocknacroagha or Cloverhill was divided up by the Land Commission in the 1950’s; and so emerged the present picture of the area.

For more information on townlands click on:

[1] This figure is based on an examination of the 1836 ordnance survey maps which show the groups of houses or villages at that time, and dividing Fr. Conway’s total by such a figure gives a not unlikely average size of household.

[2] The clause was called the “Gregory clause” because it was the brain-child in Parliament of Sir William Gregory of Coole – the same family as Lady Gregory who was in later times associated with the founding of the Abbey Theatre.

For more information on townlands click on Mayo Co. Library link above
Cregduff Nation School 2013
Averil Staunton

Comments about this page

  • Lovely to see the school I went to from 1962 to 1969.

    We were taught by Johnny Gibbons and his Mother. 

    By Cyril Walsh (29/10/2016)
  • I really enjoyed reading the History on Ballinrobe as I am so familiar with the area; I grew up just a few miles away from there, and I never knew the history that went on there in the 1800’s.

    Best Regards , Margaret Landerkin

    By Margaret Landerkin (25/01/2015)

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