Ballymore Castle, Lawrencetown

© Donal G. Burke 2019

Much erroneous material has been circulated both in book form and subsequently repeated online regarding the construction date and original ownership of Ballymore Castle in the east of County Galway. The castle itself is a tower house situated on the western plateau of Redmount Hill, on the outskirts of the village of Lawrencetown. To this tower was added a substantial house in the early nineteenth century.

While the castle was built in what had been known as Síl Anmchadha or the barony of Longford, the ancestral territory of the O Maddens, the castle was not built by an O Madden but by a member of the Lawrence family of English Elizabethan origin. No mention was made of a castle or significant residence at Ballymore in a list of the castles of the barony of Longford dated about 1574. A date of 1585 has been attributed as the construction date but this is evidently a confusion with one of the earliest dates in which a Lawrence is given as resident only within the wider barony of Longford. That reference occurs in an inquisition into the ownership of property and dues in the barony of Longford on 30th August 1585. Walter Lawrence was named therein as one of only three alien names counted among the chief men of the barony, described as ‘good and lawfull men, of the County of Galway’.

Although a family history known as the Lawrence Family Album, compiled in the late nineteenth century and now retained in the archives of Galway County Library, asserts the origin of this particular family as a branch of a prominent family of the name in Lancashire, it is clear from research undertaken by and for members of the family about the mid to late nineteenth century and now stored in a manuscript known as Ms. 9945 in the National Library in Dublin, that it was never conclusively proved by genealogical experts at the time. [i]  As late as the early 1860s correspondence contained in the National Library manuscript shows that senior members of the family were uncertain of the origin of the family in England, with Walter Lawrence of Lisreaghan writing in 1862 of how ‘delighted shall I be to connect the Irish branch with “the ould stock” and gladly will I welcome any information’ in that regard. Those same genealogical notes from Ms. 9945 show that the earliest generations of the family in east Galway was not clearly understood by the family or by genealogical researchers with whom the family corresponded at that time. As a result, what was presented as the early origins of the Galway family in the Family Album was confused and misleading and lacking some important surviving early material. Nonetheless, the material presented in the Album in relation to the earliest generations, though not supportable by historical fact, was provided by the family for inclusion in Burke’s Landed Gentry and often repeated without further analysis and has led to a number of misconceptions relating to the family origins and the construction date of the castle.

It was claimed within the Family Album that the first Lawrences to settle in Ireland were two brothers, John and Walter, the latter asserted to have served as Governor of the Gaol and City of Naas. The Album asserts that John, the elder of the two brothers and the progenitor of the Ballymore family, married a daughter of the O Madden chieftain and thus acquired extensive lands there. However, while the claim cannot be discounted, there is no surviving record of any such marriage nor any source material quoted to support the assertion other than family tradition which in some instances in the same album has proven to be unreliable. The State Papers of Ireland for June of 1589 do, however, relate that ‘Donnel O Madden of Longford, William Mostyn and Walter Lawrence’ together contributed a combined sum of nineteen beeves out of a total amount of two hundred and five beeves given by many of the most substantial landholders of Connacht in that year as a free gift to Sir Richard Bingham on his return to Ireland. William Mostyn was one of those few alien individuals mentioned alongside Lawrence’s in the 1585 Inquisition of Longford barony and while this reference does not confirm any marriage alliance between the chieftain Donal of Longford and Walter Lawrence it does suggest that as individuals aligned with the Crown they may have been working in concert about this time.

A castle was not recorded at Ballymore about 1617 in the detailed account of the lands confirmed by patent of the Crown to John Lawrence at that time. Other contemporary accounts from the same time and as part of the same confirmation process for the most part list existing or ruined castles within the barony of Longford if they occurred within a proprietor’s estate. Significant in this contemporary record is the absence of any reference to a castle at Ballymore, either in John Lawrence’s portion of the two quarters of that name or in the lands of the other landowners in Ballymore.[ii] John Lawrence’s lands about 1617 comprised; half quarter of Gortnacurragh, half quarter of Euga, nine sixteenths of Cloone-Ikinan (present day Cloonykeevan, half quarter of Sunnagh, two quarters of Yoghillmore (Oghilmore), one quarter of Billymore, one quarter of Gleannatourke, one quarter of Levally, a third of a quarter of Downmickmenaran, one quarter of Killcoran, Ballycranoilly being one third part of a half quarter, almost a fourth part of the four quarters of Moigh, one and a half quarters of Lisrighan (ie. Lissreaghan or Bellview), over a third part of the four quarters of Ballynetullagh and a third part of a quarter of Corragh. Little contemporary material survives in relation to this John of 1617 but, significantly, a later patent issued in 1677 to his descendant points to John having had a brother Walter of whom little else is known but which may account for the misidentification in the Family Album of two early Lawrence brothers bearing those Christian names.[iii]

A date of 1620 and the initials WL were reported in the Lawrence Family Album as having been incised on a chimneypiece in one of the upper rooms in the castle. (The initials and date, according to the same Album, were in good preservation ‘as late as the year 1844.’) It was assumed by some later commentators without any substantial basis that the 1620 works must have related to later additional work to an existing building. It appears that this assumption was made based on a misinterpretation of the reference in the 1585 Inquisition to a Lawrence having been settled in the barony of Longford in that year. It may be taken from the inquisition that Walter Lawrence was established to some degree in the barony in 1585 but that reference did not identify Lawrence’s residence within the barony and no mention was made to any castle at Ballymore at that time. Rather it is far more likely, given the absence of any reference to a castle there about 1617 in the Patent Rolls of James I, that 1620 is the original construction date, making it one of the later tower houses in the barony and a near contemporary of the somewhat larger Lismore Castle of the O Maddens under construction also about that time.

The initials of the builder WL is in all probability Walter Lawrence but not the original Walter Lawrence who came initially to settle in O Madden’s territory but his grandson (ie. son of that John of 1617). It is far more likely that the original Walter Lawrence of 1585 is the same individual to whom we see only a fleeting reference in the Chancery Bills as Walter Lawrence ‘of Oghellbegg, Co. Galway, gentleman.’ This Walter is given in that reference as involved in a legal dispute with one Martin Nangle of Ardsallagh and George Cusacke of Dromolin and others regarding a debt.[iv] The original documents relating to the Chancery pleadings of this case were almost entirely destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Four Courts with the exception of just this reference and the fact that it was dated ‘after 1589′. The denomination of Oghilbeg in what was then part of the parish of Clonfert lies adjacent to the future Lawrence castle at Ballymore.

Little is known of this Walter Lawrence of Oghilbeg but another fleeting reference in the de Renzy papers may throw some further light on his identity. One John Lawrence was unsuccessfully involved in a dispute in 1613 with a settler named Matthew de Renzy over a small parcel of land about Clonony in King’s County. The parcel in question was located not far from the River Shannon and had previously been in the ownership of a MacCoghlan who had been slain in rebellion and his lands taken by the Crown. This John claimed that his father Walter Lawrence ‘was seased in demesne as of fee, of the sixth part of the plowland of Clonona (ie. Clonony), Kings County.’[v] He stated that his father Walter was slain in the service of the late Queen Elizabeth I about 1595. John Lawrence was aged four years of age at the death of his father and his mother, Aleson Hancock, acted as his guardian until he came of age. He claimed to have thereafter enjoyed peaceful possession of this parcel until de Renzy, who acquired the castle and lands at Clonony about 1613, began to plough Lawrence’s parcel. In August of 1613, after a hearing in the presence of both parties, an assize judgement found in favour of de Renzy and Lawrence was required to pay de Renzy twenty shillings Irish for detaining two of his garrons or plough-horses ‘many days out of his possession.’[vi]

John Lawrence of Ballymore castle is known from other sources to have had dealings in King’s County regarding property other than at Clonony. The question arises as to whether in fact this John with an extensive estate about Ballymore in 1617 is the son of that Walter killed in 1595 and Alson Handcock. Certainly records survive among the Chancery Pleadings dated about the early 1620s involving one John Lawrence which refer to earlier land transactions involving his father Walter and various O Maddens.[vii] It is clear that Walter, son of John of 1617, inherited the family estate from his father. This would coincide with the fact that Aleson Handcock’s grandson was one Walter Lawrence for she appears to have married again after the death of her husband Walter in 1595. She appears as the widow of the King’s County landowner Hugh O Dallaghan of Lisclooney (near Clonony) in the latter’s will of 1638.[viii] In that will O Dallagahan refers to his wife Aleson Handcock and his ‘grandson’ (ie. Aleson’s grandson) as Walter Laurence.

It should also be noted that not only was the initial date of construction misattributed but it is also likely that the modern name of the castle may be based on a misinterpretation of the original Irish placename. The overwhelming majority of seventeenth and eighteenth century (and into the early nineteenth century) references to the denomination now known as Ballymore refer to it as Billimore, Billemore or Billymore. This would suggest a derivation from the Irish noun ‘bile’, a sacred tree or in this case ‘bile mór’, a large sacred tree. The earliest known reference to the denomination now known as Ballymore occurs in the Episcopal Rental of the Diocese of Clonfert dated 1407 wherein it was given as ‘Iochailmore et Bilemore’, lending further credence to the view that the modern castle and townland name may have been misconstrued.

On the basis of the castle having been constructed in 1620, it is possible then that the Lawrences may only have enjoyed about thirty-five years ownership thereof before they were displaced in the 1650s. The Lawrence estate was confiscated in part by the Cromwellian authorities and the family were allocated lands nearby about the townland of Lisreaghan where they would come to re-settle. Sir Thomas Newcomen acquired the former Lawrence lands and castle about Ballymore and on the restoration of the monarchy under the Acts of Settlement in 1677 Newcomen, in addition to other lands in the county, was confirmed in possession of ‘the town and lands of Billamore and Moate 2 quarters’ ‘to use of himself and his wife for her life and remainder to the use of Nicholas Cusack and his heirs’.[ix]

Ballymore was reputed in the Lawrence Family Album to have been leased back to the Lawrences by Sir Thomas Newcomen, with Lawrence said to have remained at Ballymore castle until Lawrence’s death in 1675. However, it is unlikely that the Lawrences remained as tenants for any length of time if at all, given that Ballymore was the temporary residence in the mid to late 1660s of the Cromwellian John Eyre, founder of the Eyre family of Eyrecourt. While John Eyre was given in 1670 as ‘of Killenehy’, the original name of the townland wherein he would construct his mansion known as ‘Eyrecourt Castle,’ John Eyre initially based himself at Clonfert in the 1650s but was described as ‘of Bellimore, County Galway’ in 1665 and again in 1667 and 1668.[x]

The ownership of Ballymore castle, according to the Lawrence Family Album, remained with Newcomen’s heir Nicholas Cusack of Cushinstown, County Meath, following the former’s death. Cusack was stepson of Sir Thomas Newcomen, being the son of Newcomen’s wife’s by a previous marriage. The Album relates that in or about 1720 John Eyre of Eyrecourt purchased the castle and lands of Ballymore from Cusack’s representatives and in 1824 John Eyre’s descendant Giles Eyre sold the castle and lands to Thomas Seymour.

The Seymour family association with Ballymore dated from at least the earliest years of the eighteenth century, first as tenants and later as proprietors and continued in their name into the early twentieth century. Judgement Rolls from the Court of Queen’s Bench record Charles Willington of Ballymoney, King’s County suing Charles Seymour of Ballymore, County Galway, Gent. dated February 1701-2 and in 1703 the same Charles Willington was suing Charles Seymour and Adam Seymour, both of Ballymore, County Galway. (NLI, Dublin, Ms. 3268, Seymour of King’s Co., Co. Galway by H. Seymour Guinness. Genealogical Notes with Pedigree Table relating to the Seymour family.) In a court case about 1725 involving the grandsons of Charles Seymour, they would claim that their grandfather (stated in the same case to have left the Kingdom of Ireland in 1722) held ‘the farm of Billamore’ by virtue of a lease for lives from Colonel John Eyre. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of 1837 described Ballymore Castle as the residence of Thomas Seymour, Esq., ‘a fortified structure erected in 1620 and modernised at a considerable expense in 1815.’ The modernisation appears to refer to a large house added to the tower.

The Seymours purchased the castle and associated land from the Eyre family of Eyrecourt about 1824 at a time when the Eyres were experiencing severe financial difficulty. The Seymours remained at the castle until the early 1900s when it was inherited by a relative named Mrs. Hale. The castle was occupied for a period by a number of different tenants about the early and mid-twentieth century including one Douglas Belassie, a former British army corporal who, after various different careers, including that of an air pilot, posed as an ex-army Major and became for a brief period about 1948 tenant and caretaker of the castle. He was taken by the local population as ‘a man of substance and high moral standard’ until he ran up excessive debts with local merchants and a police investigation revealed that he was wanted in England for incurring large debts there while a bankrupt.  He was arrested in England and he served a term at Maidstone prison and on his release was taken to Ireland where in April 1950 he was sentenced at Ballinasloe District Court to six months hard labour for the theft of silver plate from the castle which he had later sold to Dublin jewellers.[xi]

In the late 1950s the castle and surrounding farm was advertised for sale and purchased by one Joseph Naughton who came to reside and farm the land attached thereabout.


[i] Galway County Council Archives, Galway, Lawrence Family Album, Lawrence of Lawrencetown, GSO1/1; National Library of Ireland, Dublin, Ms. 9945, Genealogical and other notes on the family of Lawrence of Lawrencetown, Co. Galway.

[ii] The other landowners being Thomas O Kelly of Clontuskert and also Teig McWilliam O Kelly and Conor oge O Kelly of Lismanny, the latter two holding their 3 cartrons of Ballymore jointly.

[iii] National Library of Ireland, Dublin, Ms. 9945, Genealogical and other notes on the family of Lawrence of Lawrencetown, Co. Galway. Regarding lands in Lismany and Culliny and Lisereaghan confirmed to John Lawrence, gent., by patent dated 29 August 1677, ‘to him and his heir male remainder to the heirs male of his father Walter, remainder to John one of the brothers of the said Walter and his heirs male, remainder to Edward another brother and his heirs male, remainder to Peter and Joseph other brothers and their heirs male, remainder to Walter uncle of said Walter and heirs male remainder to John’s right heirs.’

[iv] National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, Chancery Bills, E 95, p. 16

[v] MacCuarta, B., S.J., A Settler’s land disputes in a Gaelic Lordship: Matthew de Renzy in Delvin Mac Coghlan, 1613-18, Studia Hibernica, No. 30, Studia Hibernica Editorial Board, Dublin, 1998-9, pp.69-70. The parcel in dispute appears to have comprised ‘the three acres of Aghamullan and Cullipoble and the acre called Aghanadurlogh and the acre of Clonyatin and Athishane’ as ‘parcel of the moiety of Clanona’ or Clonony.

[vi] MacCuarta, B.,  S.J., A Settler’s land disputes in a Gaelic Lordship: Matthew de Renzy in Delvin Mac Coghlan, 1613-18, Studia Hibernica, No. 30, Studia Hibernica Editorial Board, Dublin, 1998-9, pp.69-70. On the 14th July 1613, in the middle of the legal dispute, it was ordered that John Lawrence should leave the stock distrained by him within Kings County and he and de Renzy were both to appear before the next judge of assizes into that county. It may suggest that the estate of this Lawrence was not solely confined to Kings County if he could be in a position to remove the stock to elsewhere and may serve to further suggest this man as John Lawrence of Ballymore.

[vii] National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, Chancery Bills P 71, pp. 13-16, Q 4, pp. 3-5. Records of Chancery Pleadings survive relating to law suits about the early 1620s over lands formerly held in the previous century by one Farriagh son of Downagh O Madden and mention is made therein to Walter Lawrence and to his son John. Farraigh’s lands in the mid sixteenth century extended from Oghilmore and Lissreaghane (located to the north-west of Redmount Hill in east Galway) eastwards to the later village of Eyrecourt and across the Shannon into the parish of Lusmagh. The law suits resulted from a dispute about 1620 between a number of Farriagh’s descendants and record an interest Walter had in lands in Gloster in the parish of Lusmagh that was inherited by his son John. The same wider land dispute saw John Lawrence taking a legal case against Hugh, Owen and Daniel Madden (apparently sons of the deceased rebel Owen balbh O Madden of Lusmagh) regarding lands in Ballinashra and Fiddan in Lusmagh parish which he claimed Farriagh’s sons Cathal carragh, Brasil and Ambrose had previously ‘conveyed or mortgaged’ to his father Walter.

[viii] National Archives of Ireland, Dublin. Betham’s Genealogical Abstracts, Prerogative Wills (Phillip’s Mss.) C. 1681-1699 D. 1550-1694.

[ix] National Library of Ireland, Dublin, Ms. 9945, Genealogical and other notes on the family of Lawrence of Lawrencetown, Co. Galway; Books of Survey and Distribution, Parish of Clonfert, p.193.

[x] NLI, Dublin, Ms. 3268, Seymour of King’s Co., Co. Galway by H. Seymour Guinness. Genealogical Notes with Pedigree Table relating to the Seymour family; Galway County Council Archives, Galway, Lawrence Family Album, Lawrence of Lawrencetown, GSO1/1. John Eyre was described as ‘of Bellimore, County Galway, Esquire’ in a deed involving Redmond Morris of Collrosse, Co. Tipperary dated 10th January 1665 among the family and estate papers of the Eyre family of Eyreville, Co. Galway in the possession of the author.

[xi] Irish Independent, 6 April 1950, p.8.