Ballingarry: A Brief History
Ballingarry was originally a walled medieval settlement. In old records, Ballingarry is referred to originally as ‘Garth’, and variations including Gare, Gorth, Garry, Garrystown and Ballingarrie were all used. The De Lacy family is mentioned on record as far back as the early 14th century, and it is likely then that Ballingarry owes its existence to the illustrious Norman family settling there. Ballingarry Castle is still referred to as the De Lacy Castle. The castle is situated on Knight Street, and was home to the family, who are said to have fled Ireland as part of the Flight of the Wild Geese in the 1690s. Knight Street is said to have got its name as it was reportedly once a Knights Templar Priory. Ballingarry, and the castle in particular, are said to have been rebuilt in the 15th century having been previously destroyed in earlier times by ‘Irish foes and English rebels’.
In 1408, King Henry VI is said to have given the bailiffs of Ballingarry (Garth) taxes and customs to repair defences and to wall the town, as unwalled settlements such as this were at the mercy of hostile neighbours. Usually gardens and lands lay outside walled towns, but in Ballingarry the gardens lay inside the walls, giving rise to the Norman and native Gaelic names- La Garthe and Baile an Gharrai (‘Garden Town’ or ‘Town of the Garden’). Ballingarry Castle at the time was a Geraldine stronghold, held by the prominent De Lacy family. In 1569, 40 men were slaughtered at the castle, and it was captured for Queen Elizabeth I. The castle changed ownership several times over the ensuing years, and eventually most of the De Lacy family fled Ballingarry, and many fought very successfully in wars all over Europe, in Spain, Austria, Russia and beyond. Count Peter Von Lacy, who had been born into the De Lacy family in Limerick, fought with particular fame and distinction as a Russian Imperial Commander in the Crimean War.
Around the time of the departure of the De Lacy family from prominence in Ballingarry, the Odell’s rose to become the area’s eminent family. In 1671, Major John Odell became the landlord of Ballingarry and Castletown, after he purchased a long lease of Ballingarry. This was on land chiefly confiscated from the De Lacys. Major Odell served as High Sheriff of Limerick in 1678 and 1679, and he and his family lived in the De Lacy castle before building ‘The Turret’ and moving there in 1683. A cousin of Major Odell’s, William Odell, was a Colonel in the Limerick Militia and served as a member of parliament for Limerick for 26 years, as well as also serving as High Sheriff. The Odell’s were among the first settlers of the Munster Plantation for remained very prominent in Ballingarry for several centuries.
By the 19th century, Ballingarry had a become a booming centre of economy, with a thriving linen and weaving industry present, coupled with a traditional farming heritage. Around the time, Ballingarry was home to some 1700 inhabitants, with those mainly consisting of weavers, boot makers, carpenters, harness makers, smiths, nailers and chainmakers. It is said there was some 1500 linen looms active in the town in the early 19th century. The Famine (1845-1849) decimated the local population, and therefore industry. In the pre Famine days, the hill of Knockfierna was home to over 600 people, many of whom had been victims of eviction and went to live on the hill’s commonland, which was a few minutes walk from the bustling town below. By the 1890s, the population of Ballingarry had fallen to under 700, and residency on Knockfierna had fallen to under 100 people.