Skip links

Heritage

#
Balla Loona Doonamoona Castle Monastic Enclosure Clogher Ballintubber Abbey Killawalla Aughagower Boheh Stone Murrisk

The Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail starts near the cross located in the main car park in Balla. This monument is dedicated to PJW Nally (1856-1891), after whom the Nally Stand in Croke Park is named, was born at Rockstown House, near Balla.  He organised two National Athletic events in Balla, inter alia leading to the establishment of the G.A.A. in 1884.

Nally held strong Fenian views and in the late 1870s became a leading organiser of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Connaught. His Fenian activities forced him on the run in 1880. After two years in England he returned but was arrested in 1883 for his involvement in the ‘’Crossmolina conspiracy’’. Nally was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude.  For good conduct, he was due early release from prison. Alas, only 16 days before his release, he died in Mountjoy jail.  The death was recorded as typhoid fever, however it was widely believed that he was a victim of foul play.

As you follow our trail around the corner there are 2 sites of archaeological significance.  Firstly there is Balla round tower, which is 10 metres high, has some uniquely odd features.  There is an opening at the back for which no archaeologist has been able to determine a purpose.  The opening is unique because it is located so low and suggests the Round tower was used as a bell tower, rather than for defensive purposes. Most round towers were built between 875CE and 915CE during a lull in the Viking invasions.

A little further on there is Balla holy well and old rest house. The ‘Blessed Well’ dates back to St. Mochua (Cronan) who founded the first monastic settlement at Balla in the year 616 CE.  The Well of ‘The Blessed Mother of God’, as it described on the slab of the Rest house, drew crowds up to 15,000 at its peak in the 19th century. The Balla Blessed Well pilgrimage lasted from the 15th August to 18th September. Near the Holy Well in Balla, there are the remains of an old Rest House. It was used to house pilgrims throughout the 19th century. The Rest House would also be a refuge for the blind or ill.  In the house, there were once two little pillars, of mason work, on top of which are two small stone crosses with inscriptions on them dated back to 1733.  Both inscriptions are written in English and underneath them are the words ‘Sub tuum presidium fugimus, sancta dei genitrix’, meaning ‘under your protection, we fly, Holy Mother of God’.  In the Stone walls of the Rest House, during spring and summer, there is a plant in bloom known as St Patrick’s Cabbage, which normally blooms in alpine areas.

The Early Ecclesiastical Enclosure at Loona contains the ruins of Loona church as well as a childrens’ burial ground. A water hole was excavated within the area in which the landowner claimed to be a spring well which has since been filled in.

Originally, inside the enclosure was a Holy Well, named ‘Tobar Lughna’, which no longer exists. The children’s burial ground is situated roughly in the middle of the enclosure, though no trace of burials or grave markers is now visible. The only remaining evidence of Loona Church is its south wall, and stone debris nearby, which stands almost 2.5 metres in height.

Doonamona Castle was built originally by the Normans as an Irish Tower House. In the early 15th century, it was occupied by the O’ Kelly’s of Uimaine for a short while before being sold back to the Bourkes.  In 1574, Doonamona was owned by the De Burgo family, better known as the Bourkes.

The castle remained in the control of Bourkes until it was taken over by Bingham who was known at the time as the Black Tyrant of Connaught. Doonamona castle was famous for being the place where the Indenture of Mayo was signed in 1586, after a majority of chieftains submitted to Bingham’s authority. William Bourke who was known as the Blind Abbott and Justin Mc Donnell chief of the Clandonnell Gallowglass were among the first to submit. Bingham later hanged Justin one year later for his part in sheltering Spaniards who were shipwrecked off Ballycroy, on Ireland’s western shore.

The large hole at the top of the remaining wall is due to cannon ball fire by the French to the British around 1798.

Monastic Enclosure or Cashel: The enclosing element is best defined between the west and south west, here it survives as a broad bank of earth and stone, 5-6 metres in width and averaging 1.2 metres high internally and externally. Some later rubble has been dumped on the bank in places.

Between the south west and north west the enclosing element is enclosed by a later field fence but there is still a drop from the site to the outer field level. No clear trace of the enclosing element can be seen elsewhere. The ancient Church of Drum was the seat of the Parish of Drum. It is believed that St. Patrick built the first church here in 440CE  of timber construction.

Over the years a stone church (possibly medieval) was built which fell into disrepair in the 1800s. In 1871 local people decided to build a new church but sadly their wish was never fulfilled, all that remains of the old church is one wall aligned east-west. Around the old church are many gravestones dating back to the 1700s. The construction of a Cashel, The remains of which can still be seen west of the graveyard, further marked the importance of Drum church. Pilgrims would rest overnight in a place of safety. A Druid’s grave or pre Chris- á -tian burial place is to be found in the adjoining field, this is indicated by a large mound of earth. A footprint, believed to be St. Patrick’s, impressed into local stone, may be seen in a field to the rear of the graveyard.

Located in the centre of the cemetery on the hill there is a Cross Slab dating c.900CE. Here we have the broken remains of a cross inscribed slab carved from sandstone. Part of the central bosse, the left hand arm and part of the stem are all that are visible presently.

Every effort has been made to reproduce a typical one bedroomed labourer’s cottage; constructed in 2003 by the local FÁS CE (Community Employment) Scheme, with the help of Leader and DSP, locally raised funds and donations.

Typical features of this type of dwelling include a Cailleach Bed/Hag Bed (a bed in an alcove/recess) and a loft. The loft would have been used as extra bed space but currently houses an excellent display of milk churns.

Local residents have donated many of the articles on display. The site for this Cottage was donated by Mrs. B. Cosgrave. Ajacent to the heritage cottage there is a restored working forge which is open to visitors. Stauntons Forge, Newtown was authentically rebuilt in its original form in 1999 and it reopened in 2001. The Heritage Centre is encircled by a lovely garden which contains a nice variety of vintage farm machinery, a water feature and a picnic area with benches, an ideal place to stop and rest while walking the trail.

St. Patrick founded a church in Ballintubber after he brought Christianity to Ireland c.440CE on the return of his long journey of 40 days and nights on the summit of Croagh Patrick. Ballintubber gets its name from the Irish Baile an Tobair or the Town of the Well. Pilgrims used the well to wash their feet after the journey to Croagh Patrick. Stones were heated and placed in the water to keep it warm. The patron saint of Ireland is said to have baptised converts here over 1500 years ago. It can be said a church has occupied this site for this length of time.

Ballintubber Abbey was founded in 1216 by Cathal Crovdearg O Connor for the Canon Regulars of St. Augustine (The Augustinians) beside the 5th century Monastic site associated with St. Patrick. It became known as ‘’The Abbey that refused to die’’ after surviving much repression after the reformation, and had been burned by Cromwell in 1653. It continued as a place of worship during and beyond penal times, despite having no roof. Tioboid Na Long (son of Grainuaille), first Viscount of Mayo, is buried in the sacristy. Restoration works on the Abbey began in the 1960s.

Sean na Sagart (real name John Maloney) was a legendary priest hunter who frequented the valley in penal times.  He collected a bounty for each priest’s head he collected and tossed into Lough na gCeann, the ‘Lake of Heads’.  His last journey was through Killawalla and he is buried at Ballintubber Abbey where a large tree marks his grave to this day.

Approaching Killawalla from the Ballintubber side not far away from the village there is an Old Mill, which is located on the river Aille. The mill was built in the 19th century by Lord Avonmore and was used for grinding corn or milling flour. The mill was forced to close due to a dispute between Avonmore and another local landlord Lord Lynch Bosse. The dispute was over who owned the land either side of the river. Even building a canal to the mill was not able to supply water to the mill and it consequently became abandoned.

Close to Killawalla there is an ancient Crannog. Crannogs are man-made islands, usually located in marshy areas or small lakes. They could be accessed from surrounding mainland by use of submerged causeways or small boats. They were built for homesteads or used as cattle pens and safe houses.  During the time of the Celts, cattle were the main unit of currency and therefore were very valuable. Cattle were often stolen in cattle raids and crannogs were one method of cattle protection.

A church which now lies in ruin is said to have been erected by St Patrick. Called Teampall na bhFiachal, or ‘the Church of the Teeth’. It gets its name from a line of rocks resembling teeth, visible from the church. The remains of the church reveal that it was built after the arrival of St Patrick. Local legend says however, the church was built on the site of a smaller structure, local folklore also says the bell from the original structure lies under the surrounding bog. The founder of the church is said to be St Senach, the Bishop of Aughagower who lived in the 7th Century CE. Inside the ruined Abbey there is carved head engraved on the window facing the old graveyard across the road. It may be there to keep a watchful eye over the altar, which would have stood below the window.

The round tower was built between 973 and 1013 and it is difficult to estimate how tall the tower once stood. It was damaged by a lightning strike in the mid 1800s. The capstone is supposed to have landed on a nearby hill. Folklore says that a woman found the capstone and carried it in her apron back to the village. The capstone is now in the courtyard next to the statue of St Patrick. The bell is reputedly buried in a nearby bog, and can sometimes be heard ringing.

Located in the village is St Patricks Well, also known as ‘St Patrick’s Vat’ or Dabhac Phadraig. This is said to be where St Patrick baptised the first converts. Under the well there is a drain connecting the well to the Well of the Deacons across the road. Growing inside the wall of the well is an ancient tree and it is said that the soil and rotting wood around the tree have healing properties. However, it was necessary to return the soil to the base of the tree when healing was complete.

On the Wall of St. Patricks Vat is a figure known as a Sheela na Gig (also spelt Sheila Na Gig), this a stone carving depicting a naked woman exposing her genitals, these are generally found on old Churches, there is much debate amongst experts as to their origin and purpose. One theory is that they were medieval 12th century figures associated mainly with Norman churches and Abbeys and because of this representation they were said to be a warning against lust and sinfulness. Another theory is that they were pre – Christian figures associated with fertility and a mother goddess religion and were incorporated somehow into early Christianity.

THE BOHEH STONE AND THE SPECTACLE OF THE ROLLING SUN

On the 18th of April and again on the 24th of August each year a plethora of archaeologists, historians, folklorists and other interested folk gather at the site of the Boheh stone to witness an age-old phenomenon and watch as the setting sun appears to roll down the northern slope of Croagh Patrick some ten kilometers distant.

The Boheh stone, which is intricately carved with both interlinking and single ‘cup and ring’ and spiral motifs, has been in place for thousands of years. It is, in fact, a naturally formed rocky outcrop measuring 4.8m by 5.2m that gives a commanding view of the broad, boggy plain to the west.

Perhaps it was this situation that allowed our Neolithic or so-called New Stone Age ancestors to keep on the watch for unfriendly neighbours and wild animals, either of which might threaten their settlements and agriculture and possibly their families. There would inevitably come one of the aforementioned dates when those in attendance would observe the sun sliding down the slope of the mountain. It is then understandable that in that age of sun worship special significance be attached to the vantage point provided by this rocky platform, and that some kind of ceremony or ritual surrounding the event would be developed.

The widely accepted proposal that the dates of 18th April and 24th August would coincide with the annual planting and harvest of crops sounds appealing, although there are few, if any reliable plants even of modern, early-ripening varieties, that would reach maturity that early in the season in the northwest of Ireland. In the locally produced book ‘Croagh Patrick, archaeology, landscape and people’, Leo Morahan comments ‘This theory connecting the Boheh stone with crop production certainly appears most plausible but more striking still is the pagan triangle formed by the mountain top, the midday sun and this mass of rock which became so decorated.’

The decoration, regarded as some of the finest rock art to be found in Britain and Ireland, is certainly interesting. While the true significance of all those 250 separate circles and spirals has given rise to many hypotheses, what purpose they really served might never be known. Similar rock art can be found throughout much of Europe, where it is often better ornamented and, in a kinder climate, well preserved. Even further afield at Atlit-Yam, a much older and now submerged ancient Canaanite settlement one kilometer off the coast of Israel, more cup and ring carvings have been discovered, proving a link to the Fertile Crescent, the seat of human civilization and giving an indication as to where such carvings originated. Yet even there, where much investment has been made in exploration and research, there remains no conclusive evidence as to how these engravings might be interpreted.

The so-called Rolling Sun seems to have slipped from public view for hundreds or even thousands of years until the late Gerry Bracken, a keen local historian, rediscovered it in 1991 and brought it back into the public eye. When Clifden based archaeologist Michael Gibbons took an interest further carvings were found nearby. This site, he asserts, could yet prove to be much more extensive than is currently known. ‘I’m convinced there remains a lot more to discover around this hugely important site,’ he says, and is quick to commend Mayo County Council for their continued deployment of an archaeological team while other local authorities focus their resources elsewhere.

The Boheh stone is located within an ancient monastic setting, which would appear to be an example of the Christianisation of an older religious site. Indeed, Tom Burnell, in ‘The Anglicized words of Irish Placenames’, translates Boheh as ‘a cozy hut’, no doubt of the type used by monks as a dwelling place.

The Boheh stone is just one of a number of historical and archaeological gems along the

Tóchar Phádraig, the ancient chariot route used by the kings of Connaught as they travelled from the royal seat of Rathcrogan in County Roscommon to Cruachán Aigle (Eagle Mountain), as Croagh Patrick, the site of much pagan ceremony, was then known.

Gibbons sees the landscape of south Mayo as an area potentially rich in further archaeological discoveries, but stresses the need to take care of what we already have. ‘We have a duty of care,’ he says, ‘More management is needed. The climate is already eroding the Boheh stone. It’s becoming degraded. The last thing we need is to have people clambering over it.’

To enjoy the Spectacle of the Rolling Sun or to see Ireland’s finest example of prehistoric rock art, take the N59 Leenaun road south from Westport. After 7km you will see the filling station at Knappagh on your left. About 1km further along the same road, watch out for a sign pointing up a lane to the left, and at the top of the rise you will find the Boheh stone adjacent to farm buildings.

In order to maintain social distancing, should you find others already present at the Boheh stone, remember that the same spectacle can be enjoyed from anywhere up to a mile distant along the same ridge.

Twice a year The Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail organise a walk to the Stone to view the rolling sun phenomenon.

Project Coordinator

Croagh Patrick Heritage trail

Overlooking the beautiful seaside village of Murrisk is the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick. Fondly known locally as ”The Reek” this majestic mountain has been associated with ritual focus for thousands of years and still is today.  Unique in an Irish and European context, there is the physical evidence of both a major later-prehistoric and early-historic ritual, ceremonial and defensive focus. Also, an unbroken pilgrimage tradition stretching back into the depths of recorded history.  The main day of pilgrimage is the last Sunday in July (‘Reek Sunday’). It is believed the earliest Christians arrived in Ireland some 400 years after the birth of Christ.  At this time Ireland was deeply submerged in pagan ritual and tradition.  Before association with St Patrick the Reek (as it is known locally), was called Cruachan Agli, roughly translated as ‘the hill of the eagle’. Archaeology has revealed extensive pre-Christian use on and around the holy mountain. The View of Clew Bay can be seen right along the trail before arriving at the trail end at the base of Croagh Patrick. According to local tradition there are 365 islands in Clew Bay, one for each day of the year, however there are only 117.The islands are a result of glaciation and are known as drumlins, formed over 10,000 years ago when the last Ice Age ended. Some of the islands are occupied, however most are uninhabited. Dorinish Mor was bought by Beatle John Lennon in 1967 and is one of the better known islands.

Located near the village is Murrisk Abbey which was founded by Fr. Hugh O’ Malley in 1457 after receiving the land from the local chieftain (said to be a grandfather to Grainnuaile). Fr. Hugh had sought permission to establish a Friary from Pope Callistus the 3rd for the Canon Regulars of St. Augustine (Augustinians), it was later dedicated to St. Patrick.In 1578 the land was leased to James Garvey, who was a brother to the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Armagh. From then until the 1800s little is known of the friars attached to the friary but it is known they suffered persecution. It is believed some of them relocated to the friary in Ballyhaunis when Murrisk friary ceased to function. One such friar, namely Fr. Myles Prendergast, had to spend many years on the run in the Clifden area. Although the friars were not in residence in the Friary there is evidence to suggest some were sheltered in the area by locals and administered to their flock. A chalice, now in Tuam, has the following inscription: ‘Pray for the souls of Theobald, Lord Viscount Mayo and his wife Maeve ni Cnochoure who had me made for the monastery of Murrisk in the year of our Lord 1635’.

One Fr. Philip Staunton appears to have been the last monk in Murrisk and later died in Ballintubber.