Ballymote Heritage Group celebrates another successful Heritage Weekend
The 26th Ballymote Heritage Weekend which took place as is customary over the August holiday weekend from 30th July to 3rd August was a notable success.
As has now become a tradition, the weekend opened on Thursday 30th July with a film screening at the town’s beautifully restored Art Deco Theatre and Cinema. To mark the 100th anniversary of events during World War I the film screened this year was Gallipoli by Australian Director Peter Weir and with a cast including Mel Gibson. The film was very moving as it told the tragic story from the perspective of individuals involved – soldiers drawn from remote parts of Australia. The film was no less effective for indulging less in the sort of explicit blood and guts we have come to expect in more recent war movies. Military conflict was also the subject of two impressive documentaries shown in the Art Deco on the Friday afternoon on the role of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War. Sean Rooney of the Art Deco kindly provided welcome refreshments between the screenings of the two documentaries for which admission was free of charge.
A capacity audience filled the theatre in the Ballymote Teagasc Centre for the opening lecture on the Friday evening by Eamonn Kelly, former Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum. The audience was told of how evidence from examination of bodies preserved in bogs across the country since the Iron Age suggests that they are the mummified remains of kings who were ritually murdered when they were seen to have failed in their leadership roles! The lecture by Professor Rachael Moss of Trinity College Dublin on the Saturday struck a more positive note as she reminded the audience of the national importance of Ballymote Castle and the Book of Ballymote – now in the Royal Irish Academy; the new issue of The Corran Herald includes two articles on the later. Kevin Mulligan’s lecture on the Sunday impressed the audience with the remarkable range of interesting buildings revealed in the course of his work researching and writing The Buildings of South Ulster – Armagh, Cavan, Monaghan published last year and was a tantalising taster for the outing planned for the following day. Dr Padraig Deignan’s lecture on the Monday evening drew attention to a very different time in Sligo history when major political roles were played by leading landowning families, including the Percevals and Ffolliots.
Outings on Saturday, Sunday and Monday were remarkably informative and enjoyable. All who went on the Saturday outing were enormously impressed by the extraordinary collection put together by Ballina Fishmonger and politician the late Jackie Clarke. Equally impressive is work that has been done by Mayo County Council to house the collection in a beautifully restored and adapted Bank building in the centre of the town with a remarkable newly created contemporary style garden. The group received a warm welcome from Susan Kellett at Enniscoe where lunch was followed by a walk in the beautiful garden and Susan’s personal tour of the house. The group was given an equally warm welcome at Lissadell on Sunday by Eddie and Constance Walsh where a tour of the house was followed by a delicious lunch and completed with a wander in the beautifully restored Alpine Gardens in full bloom and the old walled kitchens which are a work in progress.
The weekend excursions ended on a high note with a remarkable tour of Cavan and Monaghan on holiday Monday. Many had expressed particular interest in coming on the trip and numbers surpassed all expectations. When the bus filled up there were only 2 vacant seats. Evidently there was great curiosity to visit two counties on our doorsteps which are not traditional tourist destinations; and the day was not a disappointment. The group was warmly greeted on arrival at the Creighton Hotel in Clones which group guide, architectural historian Kevin Mulliagan, told us had been built as the hostelry for first class passengers when the town was on a railway route. The weather held up while Kevin lead the group on an hour and a half long walking tour of the town which reveals its origins as an important ancient monastic site in the survival of an impressive celtic cross in the Diamond at the town centre, round tower, ‘the wee’ abbey and saint’s tomb. The cemetery around the tower contained fascinating vernacular carved 18th century grave stones peculiar to the area. Kevin’s years of careful study meant that he was able to draw attention to the fascination range of buildings from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries – pointing out detail including the origin stone used and informing us of architects involved with particular buildings. Going through an archway to look at the rear aspect of an unpromising building often reveals that it is a much older and more interesting structures with intact historic features. In the past old buildings were often adapted or altered for new uses and this had resulted in interesting survivals, particularly in areas saved from the demolition and rebuilding characteristic of Celtic Tiger times which were often characterised by free availability of cash without respect for retaining and preserving the fabric of our built heritage – particularly our historic towns. Kevin pointed out how the county library had been unnecessarily moved to a newly built warehouse-like building on the verge of the town while the beautiful and suitable old market house, the most prominent building in the town now remains vacant. The walking tour which was followed by a delicious lunch at the Creighton Hotel. The highlights of the afternoon included a visit to Dartrey Mausoleum which has been miraculously restored from a state of ruin after years of neglect and vandalism. The group was privileged in having as guide local man Noel Carney, Chairman of The Dartrey Heritage Association, who steered the complex restoration project which is a remarkable example of how a building in an apparently hopeless state of neglect and decay can be rescued. A surprise bonus was an opportunity also facilitated by Noel Carney to view Bellamont Forest the house designed in 1731 by Edward Lovett Pearce who was also responsible for the design of the Parliament House in Dublin’s College Green. The house, which is regarded by experts as Ireland’s most perfect mansion in the Palladian style, has been empty for a number of years and has been fortunately bought recently been purchased by a wealthy American businessman who has already commenced work on carrying out necessary conservation and repairs.
All in all a most enjoyable and worthwhile weekend. The Ballymote Heritage Group does not rest on its laurels and thoughts are already being tossed about for next year’s programme. Dr Elizabeth Boyle of Maynooth University has committed delivering a talk on her recent work on the 16th century Book of Ballymote. The Corran Herald 2015/16 published by Ballymote Heritage Group is now for sale in newsagents in Ballymote and throughout the county