In 960 AD the armies of Mahon, King of Thomond and elder brother of Brian Boru, fought a fierce battle on the banks of the River Inny at Shrule, defeating the army of Ferghal O’Ruairc. The name of Ballymahon is derived from Mahon, it is possible that a settlement on the site of the present town took place at this time.

The first documentary mention of Ballymahon is 1578, when houses and lands were granted to Robert Dillon and his heirs. Later on in the 17th century the Confiscation and Settlement Act of 1650 changed the ownership of properties. The old landed farmers thus forfeited their property to the state. In the Ballymahon area these included the Dillons, many Farrells, also Murtaghs, Fitzgeralds, Barnwells, Foxs and Slators. The said properties were gained by the Molyneuxs, Wentworths (later King Harmans), Richard Pope, Mullinex Graham, Gores and Sandys.

In 1659, Capt Adam Molyneux arrived in Ballymahon. He had constructed a fine stone house in nearby Ballymulvey on the banks of the River Inny. His daughter married the Rev Samuel Shuldham in 1680 and thus began the Molyneux-Shuldham family who became the landlords of Ballymahon up until well into the 20th century. The coming of the new property owners began the construction of the great houses. Newcastle had already existed for perhaps centuries before, as it is recorded that Edward Bruce stayed at “Newcastle” on his way to Granard. Castlecore was built in 1762. Moigh, Ledwithstown and the other houses were erected between the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the 17th century it was planned to move Ballymahon to Ballymulvey, with a new bridge spanning the river at the new location. These plans never materialized and the town remained at its present site. It is recorded in a mid-17th century survey that a large population resided in Castlecore surrounding a fortified castle or towerhouse and many houses lined the road from there through Moigh and into Ballymahon. Another castle or towerhouse stood on high ground beside the River Inny, where the local medical clinic stands today. These castles were mainly Farrell or Dillon strongholds.

Commerce and Industry in Ballymahon began to take on a more business like footing in the 18th century. Flax, corn, wheat and potatoes etc were plentiful due to the fertile growing conditions that prevailed locally. When the Royal Canal was ready in 1817, it marked the beginning of a booming and prosperous period in the town and hinterland. John Shuldham had constructed a flax mill in Ballymulvey; a corn mill was opened in 1839 by Henry Beven-Slator in Ballymahon beside the River Inny and other mills were built within a few kilometers of the town. It was hoped the railway would come through Ballymahon in the mid-19th century to continue boosting exports and growth, but it wasn’t accomplished and the decline began to set in.

The flax mill in Ballymulvey closed in 1870 and subsequently became a woollen mill which in turn closed in 1909. The other mills closed one by one in the early years of the 20th century – all had disappeared by 1920. There followed a somewhat depressed period, but following World War II economic recovery nationally, brought new growth and some mostly small industries back to Ballymahon. Today differs in that most people work in retail in the town; there is one fairly large employer along with a number of those small industries, while others travel to employment in neighbouring towns.

The great Irish Famine of 1845-51 lessened the population of Ireland by over two million. Despite much prosperity in Ballymahon, many people lived in dire poverty and subsisted by working small allotments on which they had to pay rent. When the potato crops failed because of the blight, these people had nothing else. Many died and others were admitted to the workhouse, then called “The Ballymahon Union”, which opened its doors to the destitute in 1852. The workhouse closed as an institution in 1921, but remained on as a residence for some families until they were moved to new housing in the mid-1970s.

Christian religious worship existed from virtually Patrician times. Local tradition maintains a Catholic prayer house or church existed at Shrule from the earliest times. The earliest known Catholic church was constructed adjacent to Shrule Cemetery and later a church was built in Moigh, before a larger one was erected and opened in 1780 on the site of the present St Matthew’s at upper Main Street. This church was demolished in 1902, and the present church constructed and opened for worship in 1906. The Catholic Bishops of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise resided in Ballymahon from 1788 to 1853. In 1895 a native of Ballymahon, born at Main Street, Most Rev Dr Joseph Hoare became Bishop and served until his death in 1927 at the age of 85 years.

Anglicanism and other reformed faiths arrived from the late 16th century onwards. There is no record of a Protestant Church prior to the construction and opening of St Catherine’s Anglican Church of Ireland in 1800. However, it is highly probable that a place of worship existed somewhere in or near Ballymahon prior to the 19th century.

Notable personages from Ballymahon must always include the playwright, novelist and poet, Oliver Goldsmith, who was born at Pallas, near the village of Abbeyshrule in 1728. He was a son of the Rev Charles Goldsmith, who was rector of St Munis’s Church of Ireland in Forgney, about five kilometers east of Ballymahon. He later was posted to Kilkenny West, Co Westmeath, situated between Ballymahon and Athlone. When he died in 1746, his widow Anne moved to Ballymahon where she resided until her death in 1756. During these last ten years of his mother’s life, Oliver would often visit and spend time with her there. He died in London in 1774 and is buried in the Temple Church, near Fleet Street. His best known works include “She Stoops to Conquer”, “The Vicar of Wakefield” and his famous poetry, especially “The Deserted Village”.

John Keegan Casey, better known as Leo was born near Rathconrath, Co Westmeath in 1846. His family moved to Ballymahon where he took up teaching at Gurteen National School for a while at an early age. He became involved with the Fenian uprising and was jailed in Dublin and his health, which was never robust, gave way and he died age 24 years in 1870. His best known poem is “The Rising of the Moon”.

Detailed History kindly compiled by

Philip Murell
of Ballymahon History Group