Ballinora heritage trail

This is a summary of each point on Ballinora’s heritage trail. For a more personal experience, please read Michael O’Connor’s booklet that accompanies the trail.

Upper Ballinora-Waterfall heritage trail

A good place to start our journey is at the front door of our recently refurbished church.

The church was built in 1821 to replace a church built on a ledge halfway down the steep hill known as “Boithrin an tSeipeil – church road.

The parish extends from the grotto on Curraheen Road through Maglin Bridge to Chetwynd viaduct.


 It has magnificent glass paintings on the windows behind the altar. These were painted in around 1860. 

On the left is the last supper in detail. On the right is the immaculate conception. Directly behind the altar is a painting of the garden called Gethsemane. This is where Jesus’ disciples fell asleep, and Judas betrayed Jesus.

A unique feature is the Stations of the Cross. They’re oil paintings, projecting a dark mood, showing the suffering of Jesus Christ. But in every painting is a little light to keep hope alive. This is until we get to the 15th station. Here, he’s recognised at the breaking of bread, even though he had been explaining everything as he walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Fr. Michael Prior

Another amazing feature is the grave of Fr. Michael Prior who died suddenly in the churchyard in 1847 while the famine raged. He’d been attending an elderly lady who lived in a hut opposite the church. Railings are around his grave to this day. 

Marble table

There’s also the marble table in memory of Rev. Canon McCarthy who was parish priest from 1889 to September 1901. 

It states he had a noble character, distinguished ability, an untiring zeal, and his love of the poor won the admiration of his parishioners. The people of Ballinora and Ballincollig placed this marble table in his honour, above the side door on the left as you walk up the church. That speaks volumes for the people of Ballinora and Ballincollig. 

In 1986 Ballinora became a parish in its own right. In 2010 it was refurbished and dedicated by Bishop John Buckley.

Education in Ballinora was provided by religious and other figures in various locations in the area until 1848. A school was built on the existing site.

Its facilities were primitive. It was a two-story building. Students were upstairs until they got their first holy communion, then they went downstairs until they got their confirmation and did the primary school certificate. 

There was a big open fire downstairs, often used to dry coats in wintertime.  Desks about two feet apart filled the floors of both floors. Each desk had inkwells. 

Records show that the school-age population was far smaller in years gone by, about 75 children attended the school during the 1940s. The school only employed 2 teachers.

The first building was demolished in 1962 and the new school built beside it opened in the same year. 

The new school is being extended to cope with the increasing numbers – over 300 pupils and 16 teachers. 

Notable principles and students

Donal O’Scannail , a former principal, was also President of Ballinora GAA, from 1950 until he died in August 1987. 

Jimmy Long, a former principal, wrote the anthem of Ballinora GAA – “The Boys of Ballinora”

Cornelius Lucey, a former student, was Bishop of Cork and Ross.

A Mass rock is a rock used as an altar in the mid-17th century as a location for Catholic Mass. Catholics were persecuted in the 17th century and would gather at isolated places to attend Holy Mass.

Attending Mass was a dangerous affair due to both Cromwell’s campaign against the Irish and the Penal Law of 1695.

Priests lived in the hills, often eating and sleeping in holes in the ground and were hunted with bloodhounds.

Similar stones, called Mass stones, are found in Scotland. 


The hall has long since been demolished, only concrete posts survive.

The hall was built not long after Ballinora GAA club was founded in 1924. It was a community hall and held Irish dancing, GAA meetings, adult education courses and dramatic productions. The hall cost about €115 euro to build. 

The GAA club had some success winning the junior hurling championship in 1926, the Mid Cork Junior title in 1928 and the County Intermediate title and the Mid Cork Senior title in 1932.

On your way towards Ballymah GAA development grounds, you come across a well with small railings around it on the right-hand side. 

The Earls of Bandon in their “coach and four” would stop and water their horses here, on their way to and from Cork City. This is why it’s known as Tobar an Iarla (Earls’ well).

The railway line is all covered today. It ran under the road, under number 8 bridge, with high embankments on either side. 

The viaduct at Chetwynd spans across the valley. The pillars supported 1,000 tons of cast and wrought iron. It took 20 men 4 hours to fix each span into position with special machines. It is 450 feet long and 90 feet high. 

Work started in 1850, and the first crossing was in late 1851. 

In 1955, the legendary bowl player, Mick Barry, lofted a sixteen-ounce bowl over the viaduct – the only person ever to do it.

Inniskenny graveyard is a pre-Norman site and was first documented in 1152. 

Aerial photography of the graveyard shows an earlier enclosure – probably monastic in origin.  

Two large 17th-century family vaults can be seen. A church was in ruins here by 1615 and a new one built by the Church of Ireland in 1805.

It was rebuilt in 1865 and closed in 1940. Catholics and protestants are buried here, including:

    • Thomas Dooley – President Cork GAA Board, died aged 84 in 1903
    • Private D O’Leary (3/5492) – served in the Royal Munster Fusiliers during the Great War and died in 1920, aged 21

It is close to old abbey railway bridge itself, in fact a holy water font from the Abbey is still present as part of the structure of Old Abbey bridge. It is down very low on the left side of the bridge as you travel from waterfall pub towards Warner’s cross or Bandon. It is carved out in the shape of a heart, small, easy to miss, but remember, some man somewhere in the past walked over to Ballymacadane Abbey in the field beyond, and hauled this big stone with the holy water font carved out in it, and placed it as part of the structure of the bridge, named after the Abbey. We can only say to him now, whoever he was – Fair play to him for such a nice touch.

The first thing that will hit you about the Abbey is the creeping ivy, smothering the remains of what is left of it. Cromwell’s men under Colonel Phair destroyed it in 1650, and ever since it has been battered by the elements. It was built around 1450. It existed as a residence for nuns and for a period also as a holy place for the Franciscan Third Order. Tradition has it that it was built by CORMAC LAIDIR MAC CARTHAIG for his daughter Nora, hence Bailenora – the townland of Nora. Sounds very plausible. Nora wanted to follow the contemplative life, so her father built her Ballymacadane Abbey.

During those 200 years, and for centuries previous, the Celtic psyche was steeped in a tribe mentality. At one stage you had nearly 200 truths or territories in Ireland. All of the lands in each TERRITORY or tuath belonged to all the tribe. Within the tribe you had a leading family, out of which came the CHIEF. The Feudal system of LORD and SERF and dukes etc. which was all over Europe, was not known in Ireland. It was alien to the Irish Psyche as such. When the English finally got dominance in Ireland, they brought with them, the feudal system of Lord and serf. Ireland had developed along the lines of big strong family names that held huge tracts of land and property. The Mac Carthys, O Connors, Desmondss, Barry, O Neills, O Donnells, and many more. The English were there too in the 1500 hundreds, battling for supremacy in Ireland. It is easy to understand how Cormac Laidir mac Carthaig and the rest of the mac Carthy clan could decide to build an Abbey in Ballymacadane. The Mac Carthys had land apparently that stretched from Youghal to parts of today’s Cork City, and practically the whole of Muskerry. But it wasn’t until the Reign of King Henry 8th, that Ireland finally became a crushed people. His Reign began in 1515. Every move he made had only one objective, to destroy everything Irish and make them part of the superior English race. The Introduction of Protestant Reformation ideals justified every kind of execution and slaughter. The destruction of the Monasteries, churches and schools. Poets and historians were to be killed, and all their books destroyed, so that nobody would ever know who their grandparents were. However, the clans and the chiefs held on to their Catholic Faith, as did many others, including the Irish Norman Nobles, the Desmonds, the Fitgeralds, (the Geraldines)

I write this to try and paint a picture of the vicious troubled times Ballymacadane Abbey experienced right here in Ballinora parish, and what plunder and pillage took place before the Abbey was finally destroyed by men, who must have been ferociously full of hatred for the Catholic Pope and what he stood for. The powerful Cannon Ball knocked everything it hit. No building could last, whole cities and towns were destroyed, before Cromwell finally set sail from Youghal for England. In 8 months Cromwell destroyed any Irish resistance, subdued the whole country, and left the Irish at the mercy of the English Parliament. Ballymacadane Abbey was but a small part of his fearful work. I can only shake my head now when I think of all the Holy nuns who lived there, praying and praising God night and day, the same God that Cromwell’s men worshipped, and who believed in some perverted way that they were doing God’s work by trying to exterminate those who believed in the Catholic faith.

It is very hard for us today, to imagine how thoughts and thinking have changed so much, over the centuries. Today’s orthodoxy becomes tomorrows antiquity. Back in 1649, one year before Ballymacadane Abbey was destroyed, on October 2nd, the English Parliament appointed a National thanksgiving day in celebration of the slaughter of Drogheda in Co Louth, by Oliver Cromwell. Throughout the lifetime of Ballymacadane Abbey England tried every scheme, plot and pillage to annihilate the Irish race. Reading and studying the history of Ireland during the 14th 15th and 16th centuries is tear jerking stuff, hard to believe, but when one thinks what Hitler and his believers did to the Jews, one can only sigh a deep sigh, and say, “Man’s inhumanity to man.”

It would be a crying shame if Ballymacadane Abbey was left to go to ruin entirely – if the once Holy Place fell into such a ruin that some bulldozer comes along and levels it to the ground. Ballymacadane Abbey is centre stage in the Heritage of Ballinora. Ruin though it is now, and it need not be so, it still stands for God, for triumph, for endurance, perseverance, and as a people that have prevailed.

This church appears in diocesan records between 1302 and 1591 but was in disuse by 1615, though the parish still existed. The ruins of the church are no longer visible and are completely overgrown. In 1841, prior to the famine, over 8 million people lived in Ireland. By 1849 when the famine had reached its most fearful and appalling stage, the uncoffined dead had to be buried in trenches. Little mounds exist, covered by grass, with no names or age or gender. That was when you had walking skeletons, and hollow eyed children struggling before collapse, dying on the roadside and in the fields and bogs from hunger, disease and malnutrition. How many are in this graveyard? Who knows – and to think, all the while the ships laden with foodstuffs sailed out of Irish ports and harbours. Say a prayer

One has to exercise the imagination here, because the actual Mill (known originally as Greybrook Tuck Mill) – like Perrott’s shovel Mill in Curraheen – is no longer in existence. Tuck mils were used in the woolen industry for centuries to improve the quality of the woven fabric by repeatedly combing it (tucking), producing a warm worsted fabric. This mill and 6 acres was offered to be let or sold by Francis Hennis in 1879. It was once owned by the Dineen family, and in the early part of the 20th century, before the 1916 rising, it washed blankets and clothing mainly for the military barracks in Kinsale, Cobh, Ballincollig and Cork. The Mill employed around 20 men, known locally as “the Mallow lane men “because they came from that street in Cork City. The stream is still there, same stream but different water flowing today. The stream was used for washing and scrubbing, and a huge wheel kept turning and turning until all the clothes were dry

Lower Ballinora-Waterfall heritage trail

These are scattered everywhere all over the parish, and it stands to reason why there should be so many of them. Standing Stones (2800 to 1800 BC) are mysterious. Are they markers along pre-historic track ways, memorials or burial plotsA Fualacht Fia was an ancient cooking pit, and groups of people would assemble to eat the wild boar, cooked in a water hole, made warm by hot stones. Anywhere you had a Fualacht Fia, you had a Ring Fort close by. Where people lived, they ate nearby. A case in point is the Ring fort or fairy fort, or earthen mound across the road from Johnny Billy Murphy’s entrance. It is in Noel Cantillons land. The cooking pit or Fualacht Fia is in the slope of the field in Johnny Billy’s land below Ballynora Cross, across the road from where Pat and Imelda O Connor live. You have to picture the slope of the land, like a theatre or an opera house, descending down to the stage by the stream, where all the cooking took place. Shelter and water were as important back then as they are today. Four Fualacht Fias once existed behind Tobar an Iarla, four more close to Old Abbey bridge, three at the back of Inniskenny graveyard. They are all linked to PRE CELTIC people, the Tuatha de Danann and the Fir Bolg, thousands of years ago, yet they are part of who we are. By knowing they existed, all in our own little parish, all those years ago, with the same streams still running today, and the same hills and valleys still in existence, enhances our status and dignity as human beings, and fills our hearts with awe and wonder.

Timmy Dineen, the last man to shoe a horse in the forge, was returning from Garretstown seaside this particular Sunday, and he happened to say to his wife as he looked at the platform, where dancing prevailed by the riverside, on those long warm summer evenings of long ago.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if a grotto to the mother of God was put there “

Enthusiastic encouragement was given, a simple idea was born, and look at the beauty of it today. What began in the summer of 1959 was blessed and opened by Rev Fr. Cronin in October 1960. But long before it had been a platform for open air dancing, it had been the dwelling place of Timmy Dineen’s grandfather (1858-1918). He lived in a timber house, or maybe it might have been more of a hut than a house, who knows. Today, many people from the parish and beyond come to this holy patch of ground to pray and admire the flowers and shrubs and small low hedges. Tees line the river bank, and mountain ash provide a backdrop of calm and prayerful solitude, Hydrangeas, Montbresias, Trumpet Lilies, Hypericums, Potentillas, Roses of every colour and scent fill the air with innocent delight, as the seasons blend from one to another. Who maintains all this on a daily basis year after year? None other than Timmy Dineen’s two sons. Gerard and Tom. The cross, the forge, the grotto, one could assert belongs to them. The big hope now is, that the next generation will light the candles, as the evening shadows fall, and all those who come to kneel and pray to the Mother of God will see the wonder of creation all around them, and they will give thanks and feel good as they go about their daily lives.

Since 1858, four generations of the Dineen family have worked there. The horse was the source of all power back then, even today we still use the term horse power. Horses had to have their hooves paired and shod with iron shoes. The last man to shoe a horse was Timmy Dineen in the late 1960’s. I knew him. I can still hear the hammer hopping on his anvil, with the rhythm of a master craftsman. His father was known as Master Tom. To me Timmy was Master Tim. Picture Timmy in his leather apron, the red hot iron shoe, being moulded into size around the pointed side to his anvil, the plunge of hot iron into his water tank nearby, the steam rising as it hissed, and all the while the horse stood there in the forge watching, just like me, a boy staring at the wonder of it all. How the horse would present his leg up on the leather apron, while Timmy kept up a talking relationship with the horse as he filed and fitted the shoe and drove the nails into the hoof, gave a quick twist with his pincers to the nails sticking out, a little more filing, job done, no pain whatever to the horse. The same procedure for all four legs. As a boy watching, with mouth open, I thought back then, as I do now, of that amazing understanding between horse and man. In my view, not every blacksmith had that unique rapport with the horse, but Timmy Dineen had it. Shoeing horses was only part of his craft. Putting a band of iron on the wheel of a butt or horse cart, or a fancy trap pulled by a pony was well within his reach. Horseshoes can be seen on the right-hand side of the front door and at the back to this day, and Tom his son has a workshop at the back of the forge.

Alas nothing of the mill remain, but 4 houses, workmen’s houses attached to that mill still remain. They are on the right as you cross over the bridge on your way to Wilton or Cork City. Once upon a time, in the field behind them, across the river from the Grotto, there was a shovel Mill. A stream ran along under the present day forest into a mill pond to turn the big Timber Mill Wheel, that set in motion the factories machines, and again the Dineen family of the forge feature in this Mill story, tragically in this case. The Great Grandfather of Gerard and Tom had a son who frequented the Mill on a regular basis, and in 1859 he got caught in the machinery and died a horrible death. Neighbours came and buried him, but without a coroner’s final legal judgement, he had to be exhumed and buried a second time with an official legal coroner’s judgement of death by accident and misadventure. The mill itself when it had to close down due to the arrival of tractors and mechanical machinery, fell into disuse, and became a hen house for Mr. Reid, who lived in the first house at the bridge. I can still see in my mind’s eye, the Watergate in the S bend of the river about 1 km upstream from the mill, where the river would be diverted to keep the mill pond full at all times to turn the big wheel. The only evidence of a mill being in Curraheen now is to see the name Perrott on manhole covers around Cork City. They were all manufactured in the Mill. It closed in 1898, but the forge still was in full production, and the village pump for fresh water came shortly after, a huge leap forward in economic terms. It was built below the four Mill houses in Pat Donovan’s property, owned now by his son Danny. My own opinion about that parish pump is this. Often I cursed it, because every day, as soon as I arrived in from Scoil Bhailenora, a bucket was put in to my hand, and I was told, “off with you now boy, fill that bucket and bring it home to me, we are running short of water “God Bless my mother, is all I can say now. those were the days before the River Lee Dam was built in Inniscarra. Flush toilets were the privilege of city folk, tap water was not spoken of, the primus and methylated spirits were in huge demand.

My grandmother, Johanna Mary Kelleher was evicted as a child and grew up in Carriganimma. She returned to Ballinora, married and having that entrepreneurial spirit in her decided to open a grocery shop. The big Laurel hedge is still there today. It is on your left as you go west for the Ballincollig bypass, and if it could speak it would tell a fascinating story, involving a glass of water, the old IRA, my grandmother and a very narrow escape.

Back in the time of British Occupation of Our Native Land, when Ballincollig Barracks was full of Crown Forces, when the Black and Tans had full permission to do whatever they liked in relation to the Irish people, a young British soldier was on duty between the forge in Curraheen and Logan’s farm, now owned by the Hobbs family. His duty was to march up and down from the forge to the farm. It was a very very hot July day. The soldier was dressed in full marching uniform, buttoned up to the neck, rifle on his shoulder and full heavy kit on his back. Up and down he had to march. Hours passed. The sweat ran down his forehead, but up and down the road he had to keep walking. Apparently he could be no more than eighteen years of age or thereabouts, maybe from London, Yorkshire, Manchester or Canterbury, and it is possible his parents or grandparents could be from Dublin or Donegal. Johanna Mary took pity on the young man as he was perspiring profusely, almost to the point of faint, as he marched up and down the road, on point duty in the heat. Her soft nature got the better of her, and she put history to one side, placed a glass of cold water into the middle of the Laurel Hedge, waited until he was passing, made a soft hissing sound, to attract his attention as he marched by. Then she waited on her own side of the Laurel Hedge. He marched up and down two more times, stopped opposite the glass of water, quickly put in his hand, grabbed the glass, and drank it down like a man dying of thirst. In those brief few seconds, wasn’t he seen, and it was reported that Johanna Mary had cooperated and assisted the ENEMY. Were it not for the fact that Johanna Mary had ‘’connections’’, the incident itself was regarded as trivial enough and her family background had shown great loyalty to the Land League cause, Johanna Mary would have been in deep trouble with the local Kangaroo court system in session during those dangerous troubled times. The incident itself did not affect her business The shop was old style, with timber counter and small open fire. My mother took it over when Johanna Mary died, and along came the second world war. My mother became known as Maggie the shop. The shop sold everything and anything. You name it, Maggie the shop had it – be it coal, meal for the hens, cigarettes, chocolates and sweets, and during the second world war she had a tea contract from Hosfords in the North Main Street in Cork City. People came from far and near with their coupon books to get some tea that was seriously rationed during war time. Hosford’s never reneged on their contract, and everybody considered themselves very lucky and more than very happy to collect their tea at the shop. In the 1960s Bishopstown expanded, supermarkets arrived with bulk buying and Maggie the shop could no longer compete. She knew the game was over when she found herself buying goods cheaper in DUNNES STORES than she herself could buy them at a wholesale price from her Suppliers. It closed in 1969.