The Ford of the Apples
Ballyhooly Bridge has been an important crossing point (a ford) on the River Blackwater since the beginning of recorded history. The name Ballyhooly is derived from the Irish – Beal Áth h’Úbhla – “the ford of the apples” and according to local tradition the sides of the valley here were once covered with orchards. The ancient manuscript, the Book of Lismore, contains a passage about the Town of Lismore’s founder St. Carthage. The story relates how Carthage, while crossing the river at Ballyhooly, picked an apple from the water as it floated past. Later that day he offered the apple to the deformed daughter of a local chieftain and upon accepting it the girl’s withered arm was immediately restored.
In 1587, Ballyhooly Castle was described in a report to Queen Elizabeth I of England;
“The castle being strongly built upon the Broadwater … in height four stories, double-vaulted and covered with thatch… On the entry to the castle there is a door of iron, double chained and strong for defence”
The castle was built in 1314 by William, son of the “Great” Lord Roche, who in 1300 had become the first Baron of Fermoy. The Norman Roches dominated this area in medieval times. Their strongholds at Ballyhooly, Castlesaffron, Cregg Castle, Glanworth Castle and Castletownroche commanded strategic positions along the Blackwater and its tributaries.
In 1645, during the Confederate War, the castle was occupied by Irish Royalists. It was later recaptured by the Parliamentarian army of Oliver Cromwell, along with all the castles in the Blackwater Valley. In the absence of her husband, Ellen Lady Roche bravely commanded the defence of the family’s principal stronghold at nearby Castletownroche. After a siege, the Cromwellians eventually took the castle and Lady Ellen was hanged in Cork in 1652. The Roche lands were confiscated after the war and divided up among Cromwell’s troops.
Two Ancient Churchyards
Two old churchyards are situated on either side of Ballyhooly Castle. Half way down the hill to the East of the Castle is a gate into an ancient graveyard. Among the graves is a ruined medieval parish church, which was abandoned in 1694. There had been a church on this spot since 1291.
Through a gate immediately to the west of the castle you will find the Church of Ireland (Anglican) parish church which occupies a beautiful spot overlooking the river. Lady Listowel laid the foundation stone in 1880. This stone was taken from the disused protestant church at Bridgetown and brought by horse and cart to Ballyhooly.
Convamore and the Earls of Listowel
Beside the gate to the Church of Ireland there once stood the entrance to Convamore, the County Cork estate of the wealthy Hare family, Earls of Listowel. William Hare MP bought the Convamore estate around the year 1800. Through a clever combination of business and politics he later gained the titles Viscount Ennismore and Earl of Listowel.
The enormous mansion stood within an impressive demesne. The grounds contained a tennis court and a golf course and there were twenty-five full-time employees: cooks, chambermaids, nannies, nurses, butlers, gardeners, ghillies, and gamekeepers. The family held estates of 30,000 acres in Cork and Kerry. William, the third and last Earl to live here was a Lord-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and a veteran of the Crimean War. The magnificent blue cedar, which still stands at Convamore, was planted in 1885 by Edward, Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII of England.
The Troubles: The War of Independence in Ballyhooly
Little now remains of Convamore which was burnt by the IRA during troubled times in March 1921. The IRA’s claim that Lord Listowel was “an aggressively anti-Irish person” was the cause of great distress to the elderly Earl as he was popular in Ballyhooly and had lived there for 60 years. In retaliation, British soldiers blew up the Castle Tavern pub, situated at the crossroads, south of the River Blackwater.