Ballysadare is a town on the Owenmore River in Co. Sligo. The name was originally Eas-dara the cataract of the oak, from the falls on the Owenmore (Abhainn Mor Great River). It was afterwards called Baile-ease-dara the town of Assdara, which has been shortened to the present name. A Monastery was found by St. Feichin at Ballysadare at this important crossing of the Owenmore River, some time before he died in 664 AD (O’Rorke 1878, 1-4). However, the site was already of some importance and had been visited by both St. Columbkille and St. Columba, so there may already have been a settlement here. This monastic site is in Kilboglashy townland and is now occupied by a stone church (St. Feichin’s Church) with a later Romanesque style carved doorway, two small buildings and a graveyard (RMP 20:109). The monastic site continued in use well into the twelfth century when the Annals of the Four Masters record that in 1158: The Brehon Ua Duileannain, airchinneach of Eas-dara, ollamh of law, and chief of his territory, died.
As was the case with other monastic settlements Ballysadare had a significant lay population and these settlements are now often referred to as monastic towns. The town of Ballysadare would have been situated around St. Feichin’s Abbey to the west of the Owenmore River. Ballysadare was important enough to be mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters 15 times between 1158 and 1602, in 1188, 1199, 1228, 1230, 1235, 1239, 1249, 1261, 1267, 1285, 1360, 1444, 1595 and 1602.
Some time in the thirteenth century the religious community appears to have adopted the rule of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine and built a new priory a short distance to the west in Abbeytown Townland. O’Rorke (1878, 23) suggested that the new Monastery was built at the western end of the town. All that is visible of this foundation above ground is the nave and chancel church with tower. By the fourteenth century the Abbey had come into the possession of the de Berminghams and a deed of Gilbert de Bermingham of 1330 disposed of the lands of Ballysadare Abbey (totem terram del tearmuynd de assdara; O’Rorke 1878, 9). However by 1371 the de Berminghams were driven out of Ballysadare by the O’Haras and O’Dowds. The Monastery is mentioned in the Annals in the year 1444, the year that it’s Abbot Cormac Mac Donough, died of the plague while on pilgrimage to Rome.
In 1360 the Annals of the Four Masters note: A bridge of lime and stone was built by Cathal O’Conor across the river of Eas-dara. Before this O’Rorke (1878, 11) states that there was a tradition of a “bridge of boughs”. O’Rorke refers to foundations of this bridge c. 100 yards below the current bridge at the Eel House within 100m of the waterfall. The Annals of Loch Ke note that in 1586 Donnell O’Conor Sligo built the second bridge at Ballysadare. This may have been in the same location as the current bridge. If so it may have been from this time that the town of Ballysadare began to move from its location at the Abbey.
From the Dublin Government’s suppression of the Monasteries in 1536 monasticism in Ireland came under threat but the Augustinian Abbey at Ballysadare appears to have continued in use until 1588 when it was seized by the Crown and “the site and precinct of Ballysadare spiritual and temporal were leased to Bryan Fitzwilliams for 21 years”. The subsequent Royal Inquisition noted that the Abbey property consisted of a Church partly thatched, dormitory, 2 other ruined buildings, 3 cottages with gardens and a ruined cemetery. Land included 3 quarters of land (each c.120 acres) in the townland of Assdara, 40 acres of arable and pasture, 60 acres of stony mountain, the rectory and vicarage of Ballysadare (called Templemore[this refers to St. Feichin’s Church]) and 3 parts of the tithes in the lands called the Termon lands (O’Rorke 1878, 16).
By 1605 the lands had come into the hands of John Crofton and an inquisition of 1607 noted 3 houses within the precinct of the Glebe of the Great church of Assdara (St. Feichin’s Church), were occupied by the McGilleboy’s (O’Rorke 1878, 15).
In October and November 1641 the Sheriff of Sligo, Andrew Crean, called meetings of the landowners of the County at Ballysadare to deal with the Northern rebellion (O’Dowd, 1991, 117). The following year Ballysadare, which was filled with refugees from Co. Leitrim, was attacked and destroyed during a raid by Sir Fredrick Hamilton O’Rourke (1878). If the town had not already moved to its current location, it was rebuilt to the south on the eastern and western sides of the Owenmore River following the raid. The town had certainly moved by the time William Petty produced his map in 1654 indicating the presence of the town on both sides of the later bridge over the Owenmore River.
Layout of the site
The exact layout of either abbey or the old town of Ballysadare is not known. However, the evidence suggests that much of the activity associated with the Abbeys and town would have been situated in the area between St. Feichin’s Abbey and the Augustinian Abbey.
The archaeological testing carried out in 2004 (04E1468-9) uncovered deposits of shells and animal bone in the area to the west and north-west of St. Feichin’s Church as well as a stone building foundation directly west of the church. I personally collected fragments of a rotary quern to the west of the pathway near St. Feichin’s church. Test excavation carried out in 1999 in fields to the south also uncovered midden material (99E0245) and midden material was uncovered during the widening of the access road to St. Feichin’s Church in the early 1970s (see RMP file 020-109 held in RMP archives, Dublin). This midden material represents the refuse of settlement activity associated with St. Feichin’s Abbey and probably the old town of Ballysadare. Oblique aerial photography of the area also indicates a series of linear features which may be associated with the settlement. This suggests that this activity centred in the fields to the west of the pathway, in the area between the two monasteries.
O’Dowd, M. 1991 Early Modern Sligo 1568-1688.
O’Rorke, T. 1878. History, antiquities, and present state of the parishes of Ballysadare and Kilvarnet, in the county of Sligo; with notices of the 0’Haras, the Coopers, the Percevals, and other local families.
Wiggins, K 2004. Kilboglashy, Ballysadare, Co. Sligo Site SL020-10902 (graveyard) Excavation Report.
Wiggins, K 2004. Kilboglashy, Ballysadare, Co. Sligo Site SL020-10907 (middens) Excavation Report.
Wiggins, K 2004. Kilboglashy, Ballysadare, Co. Sligo Site SL020-10906 (enclosure) Excavation Report.