The Ballybacka Connection
Change is the essence of life and indeed the winds of change have blown very forcibly through Ballybacka and its environs in the past. The changes are most obvious in the householders and in the life-styles of the people. The ownership of the homes and land has
evolved in a dramatic fashion as the years unfolded.
When Henry Walsh came here from Lydican around 1890 he took over the run-down Troundsell estate. This old house, with its adjacent yard, was owned by a Scottish man prior to this and was in much need of repair. Henry bought 150 acres of land in Ballybacka and some land in Tobarnaveen also. He married Margaret Greaney from Barnadearg and they had 7 children. The eldest son, Fr. John, who is now retired from duties in England, was educated at St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam and All Hallows College, Dublin. Walter stayed at home to farm the land and married Agnes Greaney of Stonleigh, Craughwell. Martin attended St. Jarlaths College, Tuam and U.C.G. and qualified as a medical doctor. The fourth son, Paddy, married Dorothy Browne of Athenry and lived in the house in Tobarnaveen which his uncle Martin had bought. The three daughters were Nora Walshe of Belclare, Peggy Moran of Monivea and Sr. Cecilia Walshe.
The house in Tobarnaveen was owned by Captain Lambert prior to this and Dick Scott, his wood-ranger, lived there. Mike Clancy, Lambert’s coachman lived there next and when he moved to Castle Ellen, Martin Walshe bought the house in 1938. While Carnaun School was being repaired in 1940, this house was used as the temporary school. Tim and Babs O’Regan and Evelyn Monaghan taught there. Paddy Walshe sold this house to Willie Burke in 1951 and moved to Craig Abbey.
There was an open spring well in Walshe’s lawn field in Ballybacka to which the people of Cahertymore had a right of way. The stile at the road led along a narrow sand path to the well which had steps down to the water. Many people used this well and some, notably Mrs. Patch Rabbitt, could carry 3 cans of water, one in each hand and one on her head, which she secured using a towel, Even all those years ago, the Rabbitts were faster!
Another native of Barnaderg, Suzie Mitchell and her husband Stanley McHugh of Dunmore, came to this area around 1950, bought a plot of land from Tom Fahy of Cahertymore and started a thriving grocery business. The name McHughs became synonymous with the travelling shop, the selling of eggs and butter, the tea chests, the chat and the credit! Suzie was often seen spinning eggs to see if they were boiled, especially if they were brought in after a threshing. When the McHugh family moved to Dunboyne in 1971, the premises were taken over by Michael Lafferty of Crusheen and his wife Eileen. They run a public house alongside the grocery business.
Now there are three more new homes built on Fahy’s land: Conn and Teresa O’Donnell live next to Lafferty’s, Martin and Rita Burke moved here from Dublin with their family and Tom Long literally moved across the road to live here with his wife Nonie.
The home of Mary Burke’s family originally bore the name Martin. Mary Martin’s other brother Hughie grew up here. Hughie died at an early age and Mary married Tom Burke of Peterswell. They lived here and had three sons, John, R.I.P.. Brendan, Willie and daughters
Mary, Sadie, Bridie, Margaret and Kitty.
At the start of the century, there was a small shop at the bend of the road. This was owned by a woman called Peggy Lally. It was later to become the home of the Butler family. Pat Butler was a was a carpenter and was reputed to be gifted in many ways including water-divining. Sarah Butler married John Williams of Claregalway and thus began the Williams family of Carnaun.
The Coffeys of Ballybacka came from Roundfield, Monivea. Mike Coffey married Brigid Morrissey who with her sister Jude owned eight acres of land at Ballybacka. They were herdswomen for Captain Lambert. Jude married Martin Coen, father of Thomas Coen of Carnaun. When Lambert’s land was divided, Mike Coffey bought 150 acres of it. He had three sons and six daughters. One son, Pat, died when he was young, Martin who was born in 1884 grew up to inherit Mikes place at Ballybacka and Tom got 100 acres of land at Roundfield. The daughters were Ellen Caulfield, Cregmore, Nora Gardner, Cussane, Bridgid Walshe, Lackagh, Mary Glynn, Athenry, Julia O’Grady, Moate and Maggie Finnegan, Kilmacduagh. Martin Coffey married Catherine Long of Killeeneen. Catherine lived with her uncle Pat Higgins near where Michael Long’s house is in Cussane today.
There is a story told of a favour which Martin Coffey did for Freaney the gunsmith of Galway who was on his way to Monivea. Freaney sold guns to the old I.R.A. and the Black and Tans wanted him. He hid in Coffey’s loft and emerged dressed as a woman, driven to Monivea by Martin Coffey. They met the Tans and got by unrecognised.
Martin and Catherine Coffey had 3 sons: Paddy, Michael and Thomas and 6 daughters: Delia, Mary-Kate, Maggie, Nell, Tess and Agnes. Paddy married Nora Fox of Carnmore and Michael married Minnie Glynn of Knockbrack and they stayed in Ballybacka to farm the land and raise their families there. Ballybacka also claims Fr. John Glynn as their own. He was son of Mary Glynn (nee Coffey) and was given to his grandparents, as a baby, to be looked after for one month. However, he stayed for 13 years and attended Carnaun School. From there, he went to St. Jarlath’s and studied for the priesthood in Rome. His parish work in places such as Coolarne and Crossboyne, Co. Mayo gained him many friends.
The Coens of Cahertymore came originally from Carheenlea. William Coen married Mary Burke of Lackagh and they had 3 sons and a daughter. Martin inherited the place at Cahertymore, married Bridget Rabbitt of Carnaun and they had 3 sons and a daughter. History repeated itself when Mattie married another Mary Burke from Cregmore – this Mary is from Cregmore however.
The townland of Cahertymore is north of this road!
Ballybacka is south of the road!
Another family which had its origins in Lackagh is the Rabbitt family. Patch Rabbitt first came to live in the Sean t-Sráid, between where Paddy and Leo Coffey’s houses are today. He married a Morrissey girl from Deerpark and moved across the road to live in Cahertymore. He had two sons and a daughter, Bridget, who married Tom Gill of Carnaun. One son, Jim, went to England and the other son, William, stayed at home and married Bridget Gill of Carnaun. They had four sons Paddy, Tommy, Tim and Willie and four daughters Nonie, Mary, Delia and Ellie. Two sons Tim and Willie remained in Cahertymore to farm and raise families. Willie married Bridgid Raftery of Claregalway, and Tim married Mary O’Brien of Claregalway. Mary O’Brien’s sister, Nonie O’Hara lives in the next house while her daughter Angela and husband Maurice Condon and family live nearby.
A Gill family once lived in the garden between Willie Rabbitt’s house and Laffey’s. John Gill who lived there rented 11 acres of land but when he married Mary Hession, he went to live in her home in Castle Ellen. The Walshe family of Peakroe owned that land and Tom Walshe built the house there. He lived there with his wife Maggie Hession of Rathfee and their three children. Later they left the area but their grandson P. J. Laffey returned to live there a few years ago.
This area is fortunate to have two new families move here in the last few years – the Courtney family with their strong Galway, Claddagh connections and the McMahon family of Bullaun – Limerick origins.
To say that lifestyles have changed is an understatement. Firstly, the women, through necessity in the past, were multi-talented. In their own humble ways, they were: Entrepreneurs (rearing batches of chickens, ducks, goslings and turkeys from their own clutches of eggs while the rearing of sows and litters of bonhams was often their task also): Industrialists (making bread, butter, puddings, knitwear, clothes, patchwork quilts and sheets in their own homes): Salespersons: selling their own produce such as eggs and butter) Economists (handling and budgeting the money which was a scarce commodity): Cooks: Launderers (handwashing all the clothes with only the use of a wash-board): Farm Labourers: Paramedics (making their own cough mixtures and poultices etc.) Entertainers (catering for neighbours, house parties, overseas holiday makers and of course the Stations. So, the hand that rocked the cradle then may not have ruled the world but kept its own corner of it very well!
The farmer’s lifestyles changed too! Much of the farm work was manual or using animal power. Originally, quite a lot of the Ballybacka land was rocky and mountainous. Many of the earlier generations spent long, labourious days picking stones, reclaiming the ground and building stone walls on the land. The resulting land was most suitable for sheep rearing, which was not an easy task then. The sheep had to be washed 8 – to 10 days before shearing. This meant walking the sheep to the river at Graig Abbey and queuing on the road on arrival there. The horse cart was brought along to carry any sheep that collapsed en-route. The shearing itself was a big event – involving a “meitheal” – five men shearing with hand-shears and one tying the fleeces of wool. The sheering of a flock was complete on one day aided by the consumption of a barrel of porter and several pipes of tobacco.
The threshing of the corn involved a meitheal of about twelve men and the threshing machine. The Coffeys were particularly lucky with grain and straw as much of it was bought for the Kennels in Craughwell. It had to be loaded and brought there by horse and cart.
Another major task was turf-cutting in the bogs about seven miles away. The turf was cut by sleán and this took about a week. When it was dry and out on the road it was transported home by horse and cart at the rate of two loads a day. This was a far cry from the transport of oil now so efficiently carried out by the Rabbitt brothers. Their depot in Galway docks alongside Frank Coffey Windows and Doors Ltd. and Iggy Madden Transport is no small achievement for people from this area.
This area is supposed to get its name from a field near Sean O’Brien’s house. Many years ago, it is said, there was a home there for soldiers who returned injured from war. Such a soldier would be a “bacach” from which the name “Baile Bacach” was derived.
About this record
Written by Pearse Coffey
Published here 05 Feb 2021
Page 208 of the The Carnaun Centenary Book archive.