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Ballybit, County Carlow

Bob Murphy (gardener, 1909-2002) in his greenhouse at Ballybit near Rathvilly, County Carlow. Photo: James Fennell.

Ballybit is a townland just south of Rathvilly, County Carlow, located on high ground with an excellent westerly view, running into Lisnavagh by the old Gate Lodge wall, and then, I think, on down to Ballykilduff by the Ballybit Nursary. The name ‘Ballybit’ is mentioned in the Calendar of Ormond Deeds (1328). The townland’s Irish name Baile Bheit suggests it belonged to a family called Bett or Bette, although I have also seen it spelled as Ballyvett in a document from 1618.

It is divided into two parts, Ballybit Big and Ballybit Small, aka Baile Bheit Mó(648 acres, including the Lodge Field and the Old Fox Covert at Lisnavagh, as well as, I think (again!), Knocknegan) and Baile Bheit Beag (119 acres), the latter part running east between the northern run of the Lodge Field and the outskirts of Rathvilly. The border between Ballybit and Ballyoliver is marked by a stream that runs west into the Slaney; the tiny bridge that carries the N81 across this stream was blown up in the Troubles of 1919-1923. Please correct me if you feel I am off-kilter here.

A roughly circular enclosure (max. diam. c. 22m) in Ballybit Big was identified by a faint cropmark on Google Earth in  2018.

Our earliest record in the PRONI-indexed Lisnavagh Archives comes from 16 May 1741 with a lease from Viscount Allen to John Drought of Ballybitt [sic]. The next is a conveyance, dated 5 March 1744/45, from Viscountess Allen to Thomas Bunbury ‘of the lands of Ballybitt and Tucomin, Co. Carlow.’

The Lisnavagh Archives includes a ‘map and survey of the lands of Ballybitt and Tucomin containing 448 acres one perch, by Terence Lyons, August 9th 1746 …’, with the comment ‘Who I take to be a very bad surveyor and knows nothing of the matter, J.B.’ A map was made at this time by William Maple (connected to Lady Allan and General G Caulfield) but I am unsure where this map is now.

In 1773, Thomas Bunbury settled the lands of Ballybit (along with ‘the whole lands of Tobinstown, the lands of Lisnavagh …the tythes and glebes of Graney and the one sixth of Mortarstown’ on his son, William Bunbury, following the latter’s marriage to Katherine Kane. The Lisnavagh Archives refer to a missing deed, dated 12 January 1775, relating to Ballybitt executed by William, pursuant to his father’s will.

In 1796, Thomas Bunbury (son of the above William) advertised 463 acres of Ballybit (‘part of the estate’) to let, alongside 680 acres of Tobinstown. The Lisnavagh Archives refer to missing leases on parts of Ballybitt [sic], dated 28 September 1801, from Thomas Bunbury to Patrick Leary; to Mark Kehoe; to Thomas Elliott; to Timothy Gorman; to George and William Giltrap; to Francis Bryan and to Patrick Lowry.

The above named George Giltrap was targeted in the wake of the 1798 Rebellion when his daughter, trying to avoid rape, was fatally wounded. George’s twenty-year-old son was killed in a similar attack. Clothes, a saddle and bridle were also stolen, for which he sought £3-17 compensation after the rising. The Giltraps principal home is thought to have been at Paulville, opposite where the farm machinery sales take place in the 2020s. However, the Ballybit home referred to here may have been what is now the shell of a house in a field just east of Patsy Lawlor and Bunny Lane. The Giltraps also had another house near Patsy which I think was the family home of Caroline Gitrap, who married John Jones and settled at Redwells, by Holdentsown, County Wicklow.

What is this curious half-ring in the wood by the Lodge Field near Ballybit Lodge? The work of 20th century diggers, or is it something of considerably greater antiquity?

In 1807, £13 5 shillings and ten pence was granted to Benjamin Bunbury, Thomas Elliott and John Donohue to repair 55 perches between Tobinstown bridge and William McKenna’s house on the ‘lands of Ballybit.’ (Grand Jury presentments, Spring Assizes 1807). It is notable that when Betty Scott was born in 1923, her midwife was Mrs McKenna (Frances?) of Ballybit.

Missing from the Lisnavagh Archives, but mentioned, is a lease dated 7 May 1815 from Thomas Bunbury on part of the lands of Ballybitt to William Hopkins for 3 lives at a rent of £117.17s.10d. The archives (7/11A) also include a draft surrender, dated 30 Nov. 1824, from William Hopkins to Thomas Bunbury of the lease of 7 May 1815 of part of Ballybitt, and refer to a (missing) lease, dated 1 Dec. 1824, from Thomas Bunbury to Abraham Hopkins of Ballybitt. Also of relevance is a (missing) counterpart lease, dated 15 Aug. 1857, from Colonel Kane Bunbury to William Hopkins of Ballybitt. (For more on Hopkins, see here.)

The land across the road from where Betty Scott’s house was farmed by the late Tom and Richard Bolger but, as of 2022, I think it is all now set.


The Ballybit Pot


The Ballybit Pot.

In November 1861, the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland reported on the discovery of a perfectly preserved reddish Bronze Age sepulchral urn on the Ballybit estate of Colonel Kane Bunbury. The 5-inch high Ballybit Urn was located under a granite boulder, weighing nearly 2 tons, approximately 4 inches under the surface. A microscopic examination of the interior found traces of ash encrusted on the bottom of the urn suggesting it was connected to a cremation.

The urn was found by Thomas Eddy, known as ‘the Cornish Miner’, who had been employed by the builder Joseph F. Lynch to cleave stones at Ballybit. Mr Lynch presented the urn to Colonel Bunbury who in turn presented it to his estate manager, James Smyth, who, as it happens, was quite possibly the Colonel’s illegitimate son.

When James Smyth died, he bequeathed the vessel to Carlow auctioneer Robert Bell who in turn gifted it to his brother-in-law Mr. Hobson who took it to New York. After his death, Mrs. Hobson brought it back to Ireland where the Rathvilly schoolmaster Edward O’Toole alerted the Irish-language poet Liam S. Gógan (1891–1979) of its existence. At this time, Mr. Gógan was assistant keeper of antiquities in the National Museum of Ireland. According to Mr. O’Toole, ‘ he immediately waited on Mr. Bell’ and that ‘gentleman very kindly presented it to the National Museum [on 24th July 1928] where it now is known as the Ballybit Pot.’ The Ballybit Pot is now at the Carlow County Museum.


On Tuesday, 19th ult. (reported the Carlow Sentinel), while Thomas Eddy, known in this country as “the Cornish Miner,” was engaged by Mr. Joseph F. Lynch, builder, cleaving stones at Ballybit, on the estate of Colonel Bunbury, he discovered, under a granite boulder, weighing nearly two tons, a Cinerary Urn, in a state of perfect preservation, about four feet from the surface. It resembles in shape the frustrum of a cone; accurate in its proportion. It stands on a flat stern, or base, two inches in width, presenting the appearance of an elegantly-formed bowl, with three projecting ribs upon the extreme surface. It is covered with curvineal and vertical scorings, displaying as a whole, a curious and elaborate specimen of ancient Celtic pottery older, if not cotemporaneous with the earliest discovered remains of Etruscan Art. It has no flange, like those discovered in 1853 at Ballon Hill, —engravings of which may be seen on reference to the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. It stands six inches in height,; its circumference at the top is 15 inches, but we have no evidence to show, when discovered, that its contents indicated the result of a process of cremation, although when the interior was examined with a microscope, it appears that some fine ashes were encrusted on the bottom of the Urn. It was formed of the best brick clay, moulded by the hand, and then properly baked; and it is now as sound and fresh in its appearance (without a flaw) as it was when it left the hands of the ancient Celtic potter—possibly two thousand years ago. 

It is intended by Mr. Lynch to present it to the landlord, Colonel Bunbury. In the neighbourhood of Ballybit—and on the same estate may be seen a Cromlech, of hexagonal form, rudely carved at the top. It was noticed, together with the Cromlech at Browne’s Hill, some sixty years since, by the celebrated Captain Grose, in the Antiquities, and is worthy of a visit. We cannot avoid stating that the students of primaeval antiquity should be thankful to such men as Eddy, for the careful preservation of such ancient remains of Celtic Art, as they tend to throw a light on the domestic history of the ancient inhabitants Ireland.’

(The Dublin Builder, 1 December 1861)

The late Betty Scott of Ballybit. Photo: James Fennell.

NB: Andy Verney also found a granite mortar (without its pestle) in Monavoth.


Carroll of Ballybit


The Rochdale Observer (10 Sept 1870) tells the story of a Major Carroll of Ballybet [sic] who lived with ‘his widowed daughter in a pretty cottage near Knocknagan.’


Bunny Lane


As of May 2021, I counted eight houses between the Gate Lodge “farm” (Carson?) and the turn off to Bunny Lane by Patsy Lawlor. All bar one are located on the east side of the road, including the bungalows where Betty Scott and Bob Murphy once lived. On what we call Bunny Lane itself there are almost twenty houses now, the bulk of them in a burst that runs from Patsy Lawlor’s past John Jones’ and the Ballybit Nursery (run by Joe Gahan)  to the O’Gorman’s farmstead at Knocknagan.

I think Tom Bolger built the first house on Bunny Lane; the Walsh’s later built a house to its left, but have since moved on to run Walsh’s Filling Station & Centra at Seskin Road, Leighlinbridge. Again, I may be confused here but I think these houses at the west end of Bunny Lane include the homes of the late Jim Haberlan and the late Margaret Walsh, sister of Lizzie Doyle. The O’Gorman family have, I think, three houses as well as multiple sheds. Then there is the Sykes family home, and the farmhouse of the late Lizzie Doyle, and also her sister’s house, plus a ruin near the junction with the main road. On the main road, between Woodview Cottage and the Burgess’s farm at Tobinstown, there are another six houses along on the south side of the main road, including the sinking ruin of Old Mrs Doyle’s house and the Mernagh’s 21st century bungalow, as well as Oldfort on the north side of the same road.