The translation of the word Ballynacargy means ‘town of the rock’. In comparison to other towns in the area it is considered of modern date, as no accounts of it were found in old records. Local historians believe that it probably dates from the destruction of Kilbixy. (Annals of Westmeath).
The present village was established mid 18th century by the Malone family, who were landlords in the area at the time, in the expectation of a linen industry which never materialised. Later in the century, Government funding became available for the building of canals through Ireland. Again, it is believed that the Malones’ exerted their considerable influence and the canal and harbour in Ballynacargy were established.
After the completion of the canal, an application was lodged to local government to establish a brewery this was rejected. Nonetheless, Ballynacargy flourished, not as an industrial centre, but rather as a market village, which served the rural community that surrounded it. Right through the famine until the early 1930’s, the canal provided a means of transport for goods and people to Dublin and back.
The development of the railways provided a faster and more efficient mode of transport and signalled the demise of the canal and the village. Since the mid – 1970’s restoration of the canal by local volunteers has given new hope and momentum to the development of this market village.
There are three county houses of note in Ballynacargy; Mearescourt House, Rathcastle House and Willowfield House.
The 1994 Westmeath County Development plan lists O’Connell’s and O’Reilly’s shop fronts as protected.
Naomh Biseach founded this church in the 6th century and she gave her name to the thriving town of Kilbixy, that was once in existence in this area. Lord Sunderlin built this present church in 1798. In the 1960’s the ceiling of the original church collapsed and it was considered beyond the means of the parishioners to restore the elaborate ceiling. The result is that the building has been divided into two parts, one part forms the present open courtyard and the remainder was reroofed to form the church. Beside the church are the unique ruins of one of the few leper hospitals in Ireland. The ruined walls of this hospital are four feet thick with two large window openings – a structure similar to the keep of a Norman castle.
Beside the church, is a Mausoleum built at the same time, with a vault underneath the floor where four of the Malone family are buried, including Lord Sunderlin and his brother, the celebrated literary expert “Shakespeare” Malone.
Kilbixy Church, Mausoleum and churchyard are well worth a visit and are very well maintained (permission is required from the local church official). It continues to be a place of worship for the Church of Ireland and both the church grounds and graveyard are in pristine condition.
The Malones, one of the ancient families of Ireland, moved to Baronstown from Athlone, in 1673 and built a mansion there adjacent to Kilbixy church. The early mansion was demolished by fire but the family rebuilt it and continued to live in the house until the early 1930’s when it was formally handed over to the Land Commission. The Land Commission demolished the last Baronstown House in 1937 leaving only the water tower and an icehouse.
Geoffrey de Constantin founded this important monastery in 1192 and granted a charter of lands, Churches and liberties.
Tristernagh derived from the Irish word Tristearnagh, ‘ a briary place’ and is situated in the old parish of Kilbixy about three miles from Ballynacargy. It lies about a mile and a quarter from Kilbixy and to the south of Lough Iron. Although in ruins there is an enormous amount of documented history and description of Tristernagh. Historians have found it difficult to date the foundation of Tristernagh Abbey. Earliest documents suggest that Simon Bishop of Meath granted a charter licensing the building, which suggests that the Abbey could have been built sometime between 1190 – 1210. In 1200 Sir Geoffrey Constantine granted to the Canon of Tristernagh, diverse liberties and privileges which among other things included diverse gifts of land, a water mill in Kilbixy and another at Balrothery and two fisheries.
The last Prior at Tristernagh was Edmund Nugent, Bishop of Kilmore, who became Prior in 1530. Nugent and five canons were promised a pension from the crown – the five canons received the living of the Churches of Ratheaspagh, Kilbixy, Tristernagh, Sonnagh, Kilmacnevan and Imper.
In 1567 Captain Piers a distinguished soldier and great favourite of the Queen Elisabeths captured Shane O’ Neill. Piers received an award of one thousand marks for the part he had taken in the assassination. In 1583 Piers was granted a life pension on account of his wounds and retired to Tristernagh. He died in 1603, and the Tristernagh property descended intact until it was in the hands of John Piers.
Tristernagh Abbey and Kilbixy Castle had a strong political influence on the colonisation process ‘they were like two spearheads on a vexed frontier’. All canons were of Norman Stock and therefore had strong Norman influence on the area. The Petit, Delamars, Tuites, Laceys, Nugents and /Flemings were among the chief benefactors of the priory and were the prominent families in the early days of settlement.
Tristernagh Abbey is in the ownership of the Franciscan Friars and there are no plans for its restoration in the near future.
Templecross Church and Graveyard
Sir Henry Piers in 1682 describes – “a small and well-built chapel now in good repair where hangeth a small bell” in his Chronological Description of Westmeath. He also describes a small artefact, “Corpnou”, which is on display in the National Museum in Dublin. It is listed as “Corp Naomh “, Bellshrine, Templecross, Co. Westmeath. It was the pedestal of the cross, which was believed to have been lost in Lough Iron and later was found in the chapel yard at Templecross. It is believed it was dated from the 8th or 9th century.
Today the remains of the chapel stand in the middle of a graveyard. The ancient alter is in very good repair, the stone Ogee windows are very fine and this chapel has the potential to be restored.
In recent years many people attend the grave of Rev. John Cantwell, Parish Priest in Ballynacargy who died in 1884 was buried in Templecross graveyard as it is widely believed that Fr. Cantwell has supernatural powers and people still come to be cured there.
This is a very scenic spot providing a beautiful panoramic view of Westmeath and Longford. There is a tradition that St. Patrick visited here with two rocks marking “St. Patrick’s Chair”. There is a tradition in the area whereby local people walked to Laragh Hill on St. Patrick’s Day – this tradition has been revived during the Jubilee year.
A Timeline of “The History of St.Brigid’s N.S” which is situated in the School classroom.