Baile an Róba

Location in Ireland

Coordinates: 53°38′00″N 9°14′00″W / 53.63333°N 9.2333°W / 53.63333; -9.2333Coordinates: 53°38′00″N 9°14′00″W / 53.63333°N 9.2333°W / 53.63333; -9.2333
Country Ireland
Province Connacht
County County Mayo
Elevation 45 m (148 ft)
Population (2006)[1]
  Total 3,682
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
  Summer (DST) IST (WEST) (UTC-1)
Irish Grid Reference M188643

Ballinrobe (Irish: Baile an Róba, meaning "town of the (river) Robe") is a town in County Mayo in Ireland. It is located on the River Robe, which empties into Lough Mask two kilometres to the west. The population in the 2011 Census was 3,682.[2]


Early history

Dating back to 1390, Ballinrobe is said to be the oldest town in Mayo. The registry of the Dominican friary of Athenry mentions the monastery de Roba, an Augustinian friary whose restored ruins are one of the landmarks of the town today. The District Courtroom is housed in the old Market House, a marketing centre for local produce established in 1752.

Its development into an important economic centre was due to a Royal Patent granted to the people of Ballinrobe on 6 December 1606 by King James. This allowed the town to hold fairs and markets. Obtaining a market charter was an important step in the economic development of a town and required having a spokesperson who was in the king's favour. The town became the largest and most important in the area.

Market day in Ballinrobe was Monday. Each commodity had its special place in the town. Well into the mid-1900s, turf, hay, potatoes, turnips, and cabbage were sold on Abbey Street; poultry on Glebe Street; calves on Bridge Street; and cloth, flannel, woollen socks, lace, wheat, oats, and barley outside the Market House. There were special livestock fairs held at different times of the year for pigs, cattle, and sheep. Perishable goods such as butter, meat, and bread were sold in the lower part of the Market Hall. The upper floor was used as a meeting hall. In 1698, it was the site of a Commission of Inquiry which among other things, relocated property from Catholic to Protestant landlords. In 1716, the County Assizes (Civil and Criminal Courts) were held in Ballinrobe, most likely in the Market Hall.

Ballinrobe Chronicle was the local newspaper published from 1866–1903.

On 17 May 1919 the first of the republican law courts were set up in Ballinrobe.[4]

The first court under the direct authority of the Dail sat at Ballinrobe, on 17 May 1920 and was reported with some pride in the national press.[5]

Cranmore House was built in 1838 by Alexander Clendining Lambert who was an agent of the Knox family. He leased the land on which the house was built from Colonel Charles Nesbit Knox of Castle Lack, County Mayo. It is now a ruin, having had its roof removed in 1960, and is situated at the corner of Bowgate Street and Main Street.[6]

Moore Hall was the house and estate of George Henry Moore and family, is situated six miles north of Ballinrobe. The Moores were an aristocratic Irish family who built Moore Hall between 1792 and 1795. The ruin of the house is not open to the public due to its poor condition, but, there are forest walks, and fishing on Lough Carra.

Bunadober Mill is located off the Ballinrobe/Clonbur road (L1613 and R345) close to Cairn Daithi and is the site of a rare horizontal mill, also known locally as Moran's Mill. The surrounding area was once titled Bun an dTobar (Bottom of the Spring Wells). The water flowing here arrives by an underground river. When tested with dye, it was established its mother source was the Bulkaun River that runs through part of Ballinrobe town.

This location for a mill probably dates back many centuries however, since 1885 it was operated, amongst others by a William Walsh. Around the 1900s John and Bridget Moran took over. Bridget continued to work the mill when John died in 1916 and when their son John took possession he built a corn drying kiln. In 1980 the mill finally closed and was taken under State protection. There is no public access at present but there are plans afoot to restore the mill to full working order by the Office of Public Works.

This rare surviving example of the horizontal mill in Ireland contained other mill machinery of significance and once powered a wide range of operations, including blacksmithing, stone and wood cutting. The area just past the mill was used in the 1800s and 1900s as a laundry for washing blankets from the two local barracks, the infantry and cavalry as the water was considered pure and clean with few impurities.

Catholic history

In 1704, a new law required the registration of Catholic priests. The Catholic Church was suppressed throughout Ireland. There are no records for any Catholic rites in the area before 1831, however, some priests continued to perform the rites in secret. The name of one of them is known: Fr. Duffy ministered in Ballinrobe from 1696 until 1712. He was captured and deported to Spain, where he died. There appears to have been a number of other priests between 1649 and 1875, who were associated with the Augustine Abbey.

Fr. Conway was appointed the first curate of Ballinrobe in 1847. He was the minister to both Ballinrobe and Partry for a number of years and was responsible for negotiating permission, with a Colonel Knox to construct St. Mary's Catholic Church on Main Street. The church was started under Fr. Conway in 1853. Subsequent curates were Fr. Hardiman and Dean Ronayne. Fr. Hardiman is credited with bringing the Mercy Order of nuns to Ballinrobe in 1851, and Dean Ronayne is credited with bringing the Christian Brothers there in 1876. The local Sisters of Mercy Convent was founded from Westport in 1851. Their mission included the education of children, visitation and care of the sick, and helping the poor.

Saint Mary's Catholic Church contains eight low light windows by Harry Clarke which were commissioned by Monsignor d'Alton in the autumn of 1924. The windows depict scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary, and eight Irish Saints.[7] Ballinrobe has one of the largest collections of Harry Clarke Stained-glass panels in St. Mary's RC Church with the first four inserted in 1924. This was followed by a further 12 panels in 1925 when Harry Clarke visited Ballinrobe to view his work.[8] Fortunately, there are eight of his signed drawings for these windows in existence with copies in Ballinrobe.[9] For the 150th anniversary of St. Mary’s a book give an in-depth description of the panels was published.

This windows form part of the Ballinrobe Heritage Walk which covers 30 historic sites in Ballinrobe. These are marked with bronze ground markers and a free booklet is available in the local library.

The Union Workhouse

In 1839, the Union Workhouse of the Poor Law Union of Ballinrobe was founded. Ballinrobe suffered greatly during the Great Famine of 1845 to 1849. With 2,000 inmates at the height of the famine, the workhouse was so overcrowded that on 23 March 1847, The Mayo Constitution reported:

In Ballinrobe the workhouse is in the most awfully deplorable state, pestilence having attacked paupers, officers, and all. In fact, this building is one horrible charnel house, the unfortunate paupers being nearly all the victims of a fearful fever, the dying and the dead, we might say, huddled together. The master has become the victim of this dread disease; the clerks, a young man whose energies were devoted to the well-being of the union, has been added to the victims; the matron, too, is dead; and the respected, and esteemed physician has fallen before the ravages of pestilence, in his constant attendance on the diseased inmates. This is the position of the Ballinrobe house, every officer swept away, while the number of deaths among the inmates is unknown; and we forgot to add that the Roman Catholic chaplain is also dangerously ill of the same epidemic. Now the Ballinrobe board have complied with the Commissioner's orders, in admitting a houseful of paupers and in striking a new rate, which cannot be collected; while the unfortunate inmates, if they escape the awful epidemic, will survive only to be the subjects of a lingering death by starvation!

Ninety-six people died in just one week in April 1849. The dead were buried in unmarked, shallow graves, located just outside the boundary on the southwest of the ruins. In 1922, during the Irish Civil War, a great deal of the structure was burned, although the main portion remains to this day.

Transatlantic flight by Lituanica II

In 1935, Feliksas Vaitkus landed his plane, Lituanica II, near Ballinrobe. He was the sixth person to make a successful flight over the Atlantic Ocean with a single engine, single seat airplane. Vaitkus fought terrible weather conditions and was helped considerably by hourly broadcasts from an Irish radio station. He learned that Dublin was fogged in, as well as all areas heading east as far as the Baltic Sea. He knew that he could not make it to Kaunas due to his low fuel supply, and being exhausted after a 23-hour struggle fighting the elements, he felt it was best to land somewhere in Ireland. Vaitkus spotted an open field at Ballinrobe and came down, with the airplane suffering extensive damage, but he himself suffered no injuries. Lituanica II was crated for shipment to Lithuania, where it was restored. He went to Kaunas, where he was given a hero’s welcome.[10]

Ballinrobe today

Ballinrobe in 2007

Ballinrobe is a thriving market town. Its recent growth is attributable to a national construction boom and its development as a dormitory town for both Galway and Castlebar. It also has received many immigrants from the new EU member states. The 2006 census showed that more than 25% of the town's residents are from overseas.

There are numerous renovated, historic structures in and around the town. There are more protected buildings in Ballinrobe than any other town in Mayo. Genealogical records for the region (such as Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, and civil documents; and gravestone inscription records) are held at the South Mayo Family Research Centre on Main Street.

Cranmore House from Bowers Walk

There is a beautiful river walk called the Bowers Walk in Ballinrobe. It stretches for three kilometres along the River Robe, and there are plans to extend it. The original walk was constructed around 1735 and has been added to at various times since then.

Ballinrobe Livestock Mart is one of only two marts in County Mayo; it is held every Wednesday. Ballinrobe Musical Society puts on a show annually in the Ballinrobe Community School. The 3rd Mayo Boy Scout group is in Ballinrobe.

Major local employers are McHale Farm Machinery on the Castlebar Road, Jennings Meats on the Neale Road, Cawe Suspended Ceilings on Watson's Lane, Tesco on the Claremorris Road and Cummins SuperValu and Hardware stores on New Street.

The Ballinrobe Agricultural Society hold their show usually at the end of August or early September.[11]

Notable people

Ambrose Birmingham (1864–1905), a professor of anatomy, was born on Bridge Street. In 1903 he produced the first of three intended volumes of his 'Notebook of Anatomy'. This book remains the bible of generations of medical students and was illustrated by his own drawings. The Birmingham medal is awarded by his alma mater University College Dublin as a token of debt owed for his contribution to the continuity of his traditions and dedication to the modernised and thus survival of the medical school.[12]

Charles Boycott (1832–1897) was a British land agent whose ostracism by his community around Ballinrobe gave rise to the term "boycott".

Noël Browne (1915–1997), the first inter-party government's minister for health, lived on Church Lane in his youth. He attended the local Christian Brothers School. Shocked by the absence of ante-natal care for pregnant woman, and the resulting infant mortality rates in Ireland, he proposed free access to health care for mothers and children in a new "mother and child scheme".[13]

Martin "Doc" Carroll (1941–2005) born on High Street, was the lead singer with the Mayo Royal Blues Showband. His version of "Old Man Trouble" stayed at number one for two weeks and became a showband era classic.[14]

James Cuffe (1707–1762) of Elmhall and Ballinrobe, was a landowner in County Mayo. In 1742 he succeeded his father-in-law as a member of parliament for County Mayo in the Irish House of Commons, sitting until 1760.

Peter Ford (born 1962) is a former Mayo footballer and manager of the Galway GAA and Sligo GAA football teams.

Edward Jennings (VC) (1820–1889) was born in Ballinrobe. He was in the Bengal Army during the Indian Mutiny when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.

John King (1865–1938) from Currabee, Ballinrobe was a sailor in the United States Navy and one of only 19 in history to receive the Medal of Honor twice. The USS John King (DDG-3) was named in his honour.

Henry Blosse Lynch (1807–1873), was born at Partry House and grew up on his family's 1,500-acre estate. He became a decorated explorer in Africa and the Middle East and was a navy commander.[15]

Rory O'Neill, a drag queen who performs as "Panti Bliss", is from Ballinrobe.[16] He has performed all over the world, appeared on television, hosted Alternative Miss Ireland, and runs a nightclub in Dublin called Pantibar.[17]

James Joseph O'Shaughnessy was a medical student, born in Ballinrobe. He was awarded the Henry Hutchinson Stewart Scholarship in Physiology in November 1941.[18]


Ballinrobe lies some 48 km north of Galway, on the N84 road which connects Galway to Castlebar. The town is awaiting a bypass. It is linked to Claremorris by the R331.

A bus service running three times a day between Galway and Ballina passes through Ballinrobe and Castlebar.

Ballinrobe railway station was opened on 1 November 1892; it closed to passenger traffic on 1 June 1930; and it finally closed altogether on 1 January 1960.[19] Ballinrobe was a branch line from Claremorris.


See also


  1. Census 2006: Volume 1 - Population Classified by Area Archived 3 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. Actual and percentage change in population 2006 to 2011 by Province County City Urban area Rural area and Electoral division by District, Year and Statistic Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Central Statistics Office. Retrieved: 2011-11-27.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 September 2010. Retrieved 1 April 2014. and For a discussion on the accuracy of pre-famine census returns see JJ Lee "On the accuracy of the pre-famine Irish censuses" in Irish Population, Economy and Society edited by JM Goldstrom and LA Clarkson (1981) p54, and also "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700-1850" by Joel Mokyr and Cormac Ó Gráda in The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Nov., 1984), pp. 473-488.
  4. Macardle, Dorothy (1937) The Irish Republic (3-left book club edition, ed. V. Gollanz), p.362
  5. The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, Diarmuid Ferriter.
  6. The Abandoned Mansions of Ireland 11 : More Portraits of Forgotten Stately Homes:2 By Tarquin Blake
  7. Strangest Genius:The stained glass of Harry Clarke by Costigan and Cullen.
  8. Staunton, Averil (December 2014). Harry Clarke's Liquid Light. Ballinrobe: Ballinrobe Archaeological & Historical Society. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-9926480-2-2.
  9. "The Historical Ballinrobe website of the Ballinrobe Archaeological and Historical Society".
  10. "The Second Transatlantic Flight. Felix Waitkus: Forgotten Hero" by Edward W. Baranauskas
  11. Ballinrobe History
  13. Maverick voices: Conversations with political and cultural rebels by Kurt Jacobsen.
  15. Great Irish People by Seamus Moran
  16. Wedded Bliss: 'Gay side will win and sky won't fall in' Irish Independent, 2014-02-08.
  18. "Ballinrobe station" (PDF). Railscot - Irish Railways. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-10.
  20. Irish Independent, Tuesday 11 December 2012
  22. Golf Ireland December 2012 issue
  23. Golfers Guide to Ireland 2013
  24. http://www.golfers

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