A market and post town, and the cynosure of much the larger part of the western province of Ireland partly in the parish of Creagh, barony of Moycarnon co. Roscommon, but chiefly in the parish of Kilclooney, barony of Clonmacnoon, co. Galway, Connaught. It stands on both banks of the river Suck, 9 miles north-north-west of Eyre-court, 12½ south-west of Athlone, 32½ east by north of Galway, and 72½ west by south of Dublin.
The Suck and its Bridge.]—The Suck, not only at the town, but over a long way above, and down to the Shannon below, separates the county of Roscommon from that of Galway; and, like the Inny, the Brosna, and the other upper affluents of the Shannon, as well as the Shannon itself, which sleep and stagnate athwart vast expanses of morass and low flat grounds, it overflows and defoliates large areas of land along its banks. Yet, while slow and sedgy in the immediate vicinity, it purls and almost trots and becomes mirthful while passing the town, and is overlooked by such swells and tumulations of ground as very sensibly relieve the general monotony of its aspect. A tourist of 1839, therefore, displays more wit than accuracy, when, speaking of the stream in connection with the town, he says, “It is very like its elder brother, the Shannon, the same slow, dark-flowing stream, gliding like a black snake through callows, moors, and red bogs. Was it not very poetical in a Roscommon bard to call the punch-drinking squires dwelling on the banks of this sedgy stream ‘the sons of Suck?’” The passage across the river at the town is a series of bridges and causeways, carried from island to island, and from stream to stream, and extending upwards of 500 yards. The arches amount aggregately to 16; but they are of very different dimensions, they stand at very irregular intervals, and, in several instances, they are single. The chief bridge, or that over the principal water-way, consists of 4 arches, respectively about 16, 16, 14, and 12 feet in span; and this, jointly with the other parts of the passage, is very old, and anciently formed a key-post of communication between the main body of Connaught and the east.
The Roscommon Section.]—The remains of a castle, which was one of the strongholds of the province in the time of Elizabeth, stand at the eastern end of the passage across the river, close to the margin of the stream, on a flat part of the Roscommon main shore. The walls which survive were probably the outer defences of an enclosure which contained the keep; they form a square of about 90 yards, with round towers at the angles; and they were protected on the land-side, by a fosse, which still affords a channel for a constantly running offshoot of the adjoining stream. A neat and moderately-sized house is constructed on the line of the wall which faces the road; and its offices and gardens lie within the ancient enclosures. “The place,” says Mr. Weld, “goes by the name of Ivy-castle. A bridge across the fosse with two small arches, leading up to the gateway into the back offices, affords a pretty little subject to the pencil; and the old walls and towers extending along the river side, covered at top with ivy, and at their base nearly washed by the clear eddying current, have a very pleasing effect: the height of the walls and towers, however, is inconsiderable.” The Roscommon section of the town has the appearance of an extended village; and consists of 9 or 10 tolerably good houses, 6 or 7 thatched cabins, and a large mill and malt houses on one of the islands, and of about 40 or 50 cabins and small houses, scattered along the road toward Athlone. At its extremity, on the north side of the road, and on low ground which is often overflown by the adjoining river, stands the district Lunatic Asylum for the 5 counties of Connaught. It was originally built to accommodate 152 patients; it has acquired additional accommodation, without building, for 98,—and with building, for 16; and it has at present 140 single cells. Of 265 patients who were inmates on 1st Jan., 1841, 47 were discharged in the course of the year cured or relieved, 3 were discharged incurable, and 34 died; and of 262 who were inmates on 1st Jan., 1842, 6 males and 33 females were employed at trades, 54 males and 27 females were employed at other works, and 120 of both sexes were unemployed, 20 from want of work, and 100 from want of ability. Throughout 1841, the outlay on works and land amounted to £66 10s. 8d.; the produce from works and land, to £232 6s. 7½d.; the total expenditure, including salaries, to £3,733 17s. 7d.; and the average cost of each patient, to £13 16s. 8¾d. An area of 14 Irish acres of land is attached, and employs many of the patients. The asylum is kept in excellent order, and conducted on such judicious principles, and with such predominant kindness, that little more than moral restraint is ever required. But the official reports uniformly bewail the lowness and humidity of the site; and that published in 1842 says, “There is not near sufficient room in this valuable asylum for the lunatic poor of so large a district, especially since the demands for admission of patients confined in the county gaols under the late act of parliament. It is expected that the Poor Houses will give some relief in this respect; but nothing short of a large addition, or what would be better, another asylum being erected in the north part of the district, about Ballina, will answer the purpose of providing fully for the demands for admittance.”
The Galway Section.]—The Galway section of the town is so very much the larger and more beautiful, and so exclusively the seat of business, that it looks as if scarcely deigning to acknowledge the other section as a suburb. Its principal street commences in a short rapid curve at the end of the series of bridges; it proceeds a considerable distance westward, with quite an urban aspect; and it then forks into the two lines of streets which lead toward respectively Westport and Galway. The Westport line bends slightly to the right; continues, for a short space, to possess the same appearance as the main street, and then runs along the north side of the fair green in a single row or series of houses so pretending as to seem a string of villas. The street towards Galway branches off at nearly a right angle; proceeds almost a furlong in straight and well-edificed alignment, its houses partly disposed in shops and dwelling tenements, and partly consisting of genteel private residences; it then deflects at nearly a right angle, and runs along the south side of the fair green in a single line of neat, clean, white-washed cottages ; and it finally bends a little to the left, and proceeds far along the highway, with the high enclosure wall of Garbally demesne on the right, and a chain of smiling, happy, and flower-scented cottages on the left. Between the earlier part of this street and the river, lies the poorer and less cleanly district, —a segregation of lanes, and houses, and cabins, aggregately repulsive, yet greatly less haggard than what constitutes the whole of many a third or second rate town in Ireland, and unfolding itself at the south-east corner round the basin of the canal. Between the same part of the street toward Galway, and the east side of the fair green, extends a comparatively broad gravel bank, gradual in ascent from the street, rapid in declivity toward the green, —neatly and regularly edificed over all the eastern face, and crowned about the middle of its summit-line with the elegant spire-surmounted parish-church. The principal streets are all wide, airy, clean, and replete with pretension; and even the most secluded alleys are free from all the gross and squalid features which offend decorum or excite disgust. The tasteful, liberal, and benign spirit of the noble proprietor, the Earl of Clancarty, has everywhere worked such reform, and impressed such decorations, and asserted such ascendancy, that the entire aspect of the town concurs with common fame in proclaiming him the assiduous and costly promoter of its well-known attractions. “One perceives at a glance,” says Mr. Inglis, “that it is not left to chance,—that there is a fostering hand over it,—that some one who is able to serve it feels an interest in it,—in short, that there is a resident and public-spirited proprietor. Lord Clancarty is the owner of Ballinasloe; and every kind of improvement finds encouragement at his hands. No stimulus to improvement is more effectual than the practice of Lord Clancarty, in granting leases for ever on condition of good houses being built. “His lordship’s own demesne screens all the west side of the fair green, and extends to a considerable distance along both the road to Galway and the road to Westport; and being liberally open to the perambulations of the townspeople and strangers, it forms in itself a series of high additional attractions. See GARBALLY. Though a very great aggregate of flat dreary bog lies within a circle described by a radius of 5 miles from the centre of the town, the existence of hardly a patch of it would be suspected by a stranger who alights on the streets from a close carriage, and looks abroad on what appears to be a brilliant expanse of gently undulated, and richly wooded country. Mackney, the villa of the Hon. Archdeacon Trench, and the villas or mansions of Fortwilliam, Lancaster, Park, Suckville, Ardcarne, Mount Equity, Kellysgrove, Birchgrove, and Tulleigh, all aid the master decorations of Garbally in flinging wood and embellishment athwart the environs.
Public Buildings.]—The remarkably handsome and unique church, with its singularly beautiful octangular spire, springing from scrolls, and shooting far aloft from the crown of the gravel ridge, is a striking object itself, and forms a remarkable feature in the landscape for many miles round. The military barrack for infantry is a small and unattractive mass of masonry. The district bridewell was a miserable apology for a place of confinement, and long an ugly blot upon the town; but it has just been replaced by a more suitable erection. Places of worship and schools, and statistics connected with them, will be noticed in the articles KILCLOONY and CREAGH: which see. The hotels are large, commodious, and good. A workhouse for the Ballinasloe Poor-law union, was contracted for on Oct. 1st, 1839,—to be completed on June 19th, 1841,—to cost £7,600 for building and completion, and £1,882 0s. l0d. for fittings and contingencies,—to contain accommodation for 1,000 persons,—and to occupy a site of 5 acres, 3 roods, 3 perches, procured for £117 9s. 2d. of compensation to occupying tenant, and £10 13s. 9d. of annual rent.
Poor-law Union.]—The Ballinasloe Poor-law union ranks as the 45th, and was declared on June 6th, 1839. It comprehends portions of the counties of Roscommon and Galway, amounting to 126,944 acres, and containing, in 1831, a pop. of 97,581. Its electoral divisions, with their respective pop., in 1831, are, in co. Roscommon, Creagh, 4,209; Moore, 2,983; and Taughmaconnel, 1,714;—and in co. Galway, Ballinasloe, 7,123; Kilgerril, 3,718; Ahascragh, 3,719; Killeronan, 8,027; Killian, 5,401; Ballinakill, 5,002; Moylough, 5,870; Killasolan, 4,306; Ballymacward, 4,996; Kilconnel, 5,836; Killaan, 2,362; Aughrim, 5,087; Kiltormer, 3,706; Abbeygormacan, 2,233; Killimer, 6,029; Kilquane, 3,755; Eyrecourt, 5,213; Clonfert, 5,915; and Cloontooskert, 4,002. The number of ex-officio, and of elected guardians, is respectively 12 and 36; and of the latter, 3 are returned by each of the divisions of Ballinasloe and Killimer, 2 by each of the divisions of Creagh, Killeronan, Killian, Ballinakill, Moylough, Killasolan, Ballymacward, Aughrim, Eyrecourt, and Clonfert, and 1 by each of the other divisions. The total number of tenements valued, is 15,666; and of these, 9,559 were valued under £5, 1,058 at £5 and under £6, 923 at £6 and under £7, 631 at £7 and under £8, 519 at £8 and under £9, 370 at £9 and under £10, 529 at £10 and under £12, 297 at £12 and under £14, 123 at £14 and under £15, 119 at £15 and under £16, 171 at £16 and under £18, 157 at £18 and under £20, 247 at £20 and under £25, 159 at £25 and under £30, 198 at .£30 and under £40, 118 at £40 and under £50, and 488 at £50 and upwards. The total nett annual value of the property rated is £155,496 19s.; the total number of persons rated is 16,018, and of the latter, 2,097 are rated for a valuation not exceeding £1,—2,504, not exceeding £2,—2,050, not exceeding £3,—1,634, not exceeding £4,—and 1,490, not exceeding £5. The date of the first admission of paupers was Jan. 1st, 1842, the total expenditure from that date till Feb. 6th, 1843, was £3,927 18s.; and the total amount of previous expenditure was £1,344 2s. 9d. The dispensary districts of the union are Ballinasloe, Aughrim, Ahascragh, Ballygar, Eyrecourt, Killaan, and Killian. In 1839-40, the Ballinasloe dispensary received £160, expended £151 8s. 4d., made 5,855 dispensations of medicine to 2,209 patients, and had a district of 20,516 acres, with 8,687 inhabitants. But this dispensary, after existing for many years, is reported, in 1841, to have been discontinued, while Lord Clancarty, with his usual liberality, paid a surgeon for attending the sick among his tenantry and the population of the town and suburbs. In 1839-40, a fever hospital in the town, the only one in the union, had 79 patients, but, after having existed for 12 years, it was discontinued from want of subscriptions. Yet, both the hospital and the dispensary were certain to be immediately established if funds should be raised off the union on the principle of the poor-rate, so as to oblige all proprietors and occupiers to contribute. In 1842, the Ballinasloe Loan Fund had a capital of £1,432, circulated £11,672 in 3,462 loans, cleared a nett profit of £130 18s. 11d., and expended for charitable purposes, £120.
Trade and Statistics.]—In consequence of its being the forking-point of the great roads to Westport and to Galway, of its possessing the western terminus of the Grand canal, of its commanding the great projected improvements on the river Suck, and of its being the seat of singularly extensive and important fairs, Ballinasloe is both a very stirring thoroughfare, and the scene of a large aggregate of traffic. Even its general retail trade, as the depot for an expansive circumjacent agricultural district, is of considerable amount; and its corn business, otherwise of some importance, has markedly increased since the opening of the extended cut of the canal. In 1836, branch-offices of the National Bank, the Bank of Ireland, and the Agricultural and Commercial Bank were established. In 1838, the public conveyances—additional to the passage-boats on the Grand canal, which, in 1836, conveyed from the town 4,596 passengers—were a car to Athlone, a mail-car to Roscrea, a coach to Dublin, a mail-coach to Westport, a coach and a car to Galway, and a coach to Tuam in communication with the canal-boats, and a coach and a mail-coach in transit between Galway and Dublin. The extension-line of the Grand canal from the Shannon to the town was opened for traffic in 1828, is 16 miles in length, and drains nearly 12,000 acres of bog. In the improvements detailed by the Commissioners for the Shannon and its tributaries, are included plans for lowering the water of the Shannon, which will enhance the value of much low land along the river’s bank, and will confer marked benefit on the town. See SUCK. During 10 years, preceding 1836, the quantity of grain sold in the market was 6,435 tons of wheat, 2,756 of barley, and 21,226 of oats; and in the last of these years, it was 780 tons of wheat, 48 of barley, and 2,502 of oats. For a series of years, the quantity of wool brought to the market—chiefly at a great wool fair established in 1757 by an ancestor of Lord Clancarty, and held in the month of July—was from 560 to 720 tons, yet this is said to have been exceeded fourfold or fivefold by the quantity sold under the market’s influence, but without being brought to the town for sale. The establishment of factors in Dublin and other great towns, however, has, for years past, drawn the wool to other quarters. A fair well-known to fame as “the great fair of Ballinasloe,” is held from the 5th till the 9th of October, and not only exercises a powerful influence over the adjacent and midland counties, but affects dealings for cattle even in the metropolis itself. Horses are exposed on a part of the fair green, black or horned cattle are exposed athwart the green’s broad expanse, and sheep are exposed in a spacious park within the enclosures of Garbally demesne. “Dealers in various commodities, and tradesmen of different callings from the metropolis also bring their goods and productions to the fair; and shops and warehouses in the town are ceded to them for the occasion, the prices paid being usually very high. Lodgings, both in private houses and at the inns, are in great demand, and must be generally bespoken in advance, whilst the charges are greatly augmented beyond the ordinary current rates at other periods.” The average number of sheep and black cattle brought in for sale, is computed to be respectively 90,000 and 12,000; and the greatest number of sheep sold in any year between 1790 and 1840, was 86,374, in the year 1828; and of black cattle, was 11,163, in the year 1840. Area of the Roscommon section of the town, 9 acres, of the Galway section, 131 acres. Pop. of the whole, in 1831, 4,615, in 1841, 4,934. Houses 619. Pop. of the Roscommon section, in 1831, 475; in 1841, 305. Houses 48. Pop. of the Galway section, in 1831, 4,140; in 1841, 4,629. Houses 571.
[Source: Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, adapted to the new Poor Law, Franchise, Municipal and Ecclesiastical Arrangements, and compiled with a special reference to the lines of Railroad and Canal Communication, as existing in 1844-45, illustrated by a series of maps, and other plates; and presenting the results, in detail, of the census of 1841, compared with that of 1831, Vol. I, Dublin, London, and Edinburgh (A. Fullarton & Co.), 1846, pp. 136ff.]