The Religious Communities of Ballybay
Ballybay has historically been a home to a variety of religious communities including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Presbyterians and Methodists. As previously noted, one of the first recorded inhabitants of the area is likely to have been a refugee from a dispersed Franciscan house in Monaghan carrying out priestly functions in the area. An influx of Scotch Presbyterians into the Mid-Monaghan region towards the end of the 17th century saw the development of several Presbyterian meeting houses in and around Ballybay. The first of these meeting houses (First Ballybay Meeting House) was constructed at Derryvally, to the west of the town, where a mud structure or butóg providing shelter to the minister only had existed from 1697. A dispute regarding the appointment of a Mr. Morell as minister of the church saw the development of a separate congregation and meeting house at Derryvally. A subsequent dispute arose following the death of Mr. Morell regarding his successor. Consequently, the Second Ballybay meeting house was constructed on the Clones Road and within close proximity of Ballybay town. The First, Second and Derryvally Presbyterian Meeting Houses are still intact today. Ballybay’s Christ Church [Church of Ireland] was constructed in 1798 following the establishment of the parish of Ballybay two years previously. The church was designed by the architect John H. Fullerton, constructed on the lands of Henry Leslie of Ballybay Estate and occupies a prominent position in the town. A sexton’s house [now demolished] and schoolhouse were subsequently constructed in 1821 and 1838 respectively. In 1813 a Catholic chapel was constructed to the rear of a Fr. Mohun’s residence on the Monaghan Road. Townspeople had previously attended mass in Ballintra and Tullycorbet. Architect William Hague was later commissioned to design St. Patrick’s R.C. Church on a prominent site to the north of the Monaghan Road. Construction commenced in 1859 but was not completed until 1865. A parochial house associated with the church was constructed in 1883 and later demolished in 1991. A Methodist meeting hall was opened on Church Street in 1876 and was subsequently renovated in 1915. Renovation works included a new pitch pine ceiling, stained glass windows and repainting. This hall no longer exists. Whilst Pigot’s Directory of 1800 notes ‘the principal inhabitants.....of the town and neighbourhood are Presbyterians of different sects’, Roman Catholics, Protestants and Methodists also formed an important part of Ballybay’s social fabric.
Ballybay and the Great Famine
The famine began in Monaghan when the potato crop was struck by blight in 1845. The development of Ballybay was significantly impacted during this time which saw the town and countryside lose 8% and 30% of its population respectively. In 1846 the Poor Law Commissioners issued instruction for the setting up of Relief Committees in Union Districts. Ballybay was under the Castleblayney Board which concerned itself mainly with Castleblayney town. The Ballybay Committee concentrated its efforts on the provision of food for the destitute. Food provided mainly comprised a vegetable broth cooked in large vats at soup kitchens. One such kitchen was located at Annanesse at the junction of the Cootehill and Shercock roads and still exists today. The Ballybay soup pot had formerly been a steeping vat used in the bleach mills at Creeve and also still survives today. The Leslies and other gentry, the clergy and other inhabitants of Ballybay contributed generously to a relief fund during the famine. The construction of the Market House and drainage and road making on Ballybay Estate were also initiated by the Leslie family as part of a famine relief scheme. Despite these efforts many lives were lost during this period and a graveyard once located to the rear of Shamrock Terrace on Main Street was the final place of rest for the victims of the famine. The effects of the famine continued to effect Ballybay up until the late 1800’s and it was not until long after the great famine that the crops prospered again and the hardship of the famine years was alleviated. However, the cottier and labour classes had been decimated during this time and sections of the countryside were cleared and farms consolidated, with greater emphasis on grazing rather than tillage.