Ballybeg Priory and a Family Connection

Ballybeg Priory, County Cork
Ballybeg Priory, County Cork
Buttevant, County Cork
Buttevant, County Cork

I don’t know a lot about where my family come from.

If I look back to my grandparents generation, I know that my paternal grandfather was Welsh, my paternal grandmother was from North London, as was my maternal grandfather.

I spent 3 years living in Muswell Hill, London which was my families old stomping ground. My mother grew up just round the corner, my father in Wood Green, and my maternal grandfather was a policeman around Hornsey and Crouch End.

My maternal grandmother was Irish, and moved to London when she was young.

Churchyard of St. Mary's, Buttevant
Churchyard of St. Mary’s, Buttevant

She was born in Buttevant, County Cork in 1916 and spent much of her young life in the area, including the towns of Mallow and Doneraile

Growing up, I had always romanticised Ireland, having listened to tales of walking miles to school, generations old farm houses and donkey rides as a child growing up in the ordinary suburban town of Hamilton, NZ.

In 2014, I was lucky to travel to County Cork, Ireland with my mother and sister to see where my grandmother came from, and I was taken with the ruinous remains of many a castle and religious institution.

Ballybeg Priory
Ballybeg Priory

Ballybeg Priory was just down the road from Buttevant and I was thrilled with the idea that I had ancestors that had known this place, and it had possibly been a part of their lives.

And now I give you the history of Ballybeg Priory.


Dovecote, Ballybeg Priory
Dovecote, Ballybeg Priory

Ballybeg Priory is a ruined 13th Century priory close to the town of Buttevant in County Cork, Ireland.

It is situated on the N20, approximately 7 miles from Mallow, and 29 miles from the city of Cork.

Originally a large complex with a church 166 feet in length, (approximately half the length of Lichfield Cathedral) the remaining structure stands isolated in farmland, and remains evocative.

Foundation and Structure

Ballybeg Priory was founded in 1229 by Philip de Barry, whose ancestors had assisted in the Norman conquest of England.

Remaining large Gothic arch, Ballybeg
Remaining large Gothic arch in the church at Ballybeg

By 1270, the Priory had been enlarged by his grandson David de Barry.

It was dedicated to St. Thomas Beckett and was run by the religious order of the Augustinians.

The priory itself was made up of a church which featured cloisters on the south side. The church itself had a belfry which separated the Nave from the Choir, and a tower was added to it in the 15th century.

The priory was protected by a large gatehouse, and remains of a fish pond have been discovered. It also has one of the best preserved Dovecots in Ireland.

Dissolution and Demise

Dovecot at Ballybeg Priory

Even being in Ireland didn’t mean that the priory at Ballybeg could escape the destruction of Henry VIII’s reformation, and it was dissolved in 1541.

During the investigation into dissolving the priory, it was discovered that it owned 80 acres of land, and also 120 acres of the township of Ballybeg

The last recorded titular Prior of Ballybeg was John Baptist Sleyne Bishop of Cork and Cloyne who died in 1712.

Ballybeg Priory
Ballybeg Priory

“To-day, oxen and asses rest and ruminate under the shadow of the church of the Austins of Ballybeg, the stone coffins of the monks their watering troughs, and the tombs where rest the bones of abbots their byres”.

My visit to Ballybeg will stay with me always, haunting, desolate and crumbling – you can only imagine how it might have been.

I believe the miserable maudlin weather on the day I visited only added to it’s mournful ambiance.

Through the door at Ballybeg

To view more photos of my visit to Ballybeg Priory, please visit my flickr

Wikipedia – Ballybeg Priory
Abandoned Ireland – Ballybeg Priory

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