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The Nallys of Rockstown

Pat or PW Nally was born at Rockstown House, Balla in Co. Mayo.

Like so much of his subsequent career, there is controversy over the exact year of his birth. According to the 1992 edition of the South Mayo Family research Society, the year in question was 1856. Padraig Ó Baoigheall (Paddy O'Boyle) who has recently produced a comprehensive and well-researched work on Pat Nally maintains that he was born in 1855. Paddy's book, which is written in Irish and entitled "Nally as Maigh Eo" (Nally from Mayo) is the first in-depth study of the man's life and career and is to be recommended.

Yet a third source would suggest that the year was 1857; the brass shield on his coffin, we are told, bore the inscription:

P.W. Nally

Died 9th November 1891,

Aged 34 years.


If this was the case and his immediate family and relations would have checked the coffin inscription, then his year of birth would have been 1857. Small wonder that so little is known about the career and aspirations of Patrick William Nally if the year of his birth cannot be agreed upon!
His dates of birth and of baptism at the local Catholic Church are not in contention. He was born on 13 March and baptised on St Patrick's Day. 

The Nallys

His father, William Nally, had married Brigid Dolan, of Loughglynn, Co. Roscommon and they had eight in family, of which Pat was the fourth. This family consisted of 5 boys and 3 girls.

William would have been quite wealthy by the standards of the time.

He owned a fine farm of well over 100 acres of good quality land, ideal for stock raising as is so much of the land in that part of South Mayo. Further to this, he held the right to collect the tolls and customs at the fairs and markets held in Balla and he was also for many years an agent for the local landlord, Sir Robert Lynch-Blosse.

William was the oldest member of the family of Richard and Bridget Nally of Townylough, a townland near Mayo Abbey, a few miles south of Balla. He was one of a family of at least six children.

Two of his brothers, Thomas and John were to become prominent businessmen in Balla, each being hoteliers. Thomas was also a Rate Collector for the town and had a drapery shop as well. John, like William, was employed as an agent for some time Sir Robert Lynch Blosse, the local landlord. Another brother, Nicholas inherited the family farm at Townylough.

It is very hard to assess what is held in local tradition regarding the Nallys of Balla of this period.

William and his businessmen brothers were members of the emerging Catholic middle classes. They were removed from the poverty and destitution that characterised the vast majority of common people. Yet they were not, in social terms or wealth in the same league as the Ascendancy- the Landlord classes and their allies.

People like William, John and Thomas Nally, regardless of their personal qualities, would have been distrusted or at least held in reserve by the majority of locals and certainly not treated as equals by the Ascendancy.

They belonged to neither class bridged the gap between the extremes with considerable unease. This would have been by no means unique to Balla but was evident countrywide. Even as late as the 1960s, when one of the present writers (Eamonn Henry) was a secondary school student at St. Patrick's College in nearby Swinford, the gap between "townies" and country students was immense in terms of attitude and mutual dislike.

Apart from the fact that their relative prosperity and occupations set them apart from the local people, another strong reason existed for the reserve felt towards the Nallys of this period was their association with the local Landlord.

The Landlord

Sir Robert Lynch Blosse may not have been, according to local tradition, the most inhumane of landlords of his era but he certainly struck fear into the hearts of his tenants and those associated with him, such as William and John Nally would have shared in the common opprobrium.

Since very little by way of written material survives to tell us of the circumstances of PW Nally's childhood, we have to rely on local tradition and this has to be assessed and evaluated with some caution.

One elderly person living in Balla gave us some wonderful anecdotes relating not only to the exploits of PW and his brothers and sisters but also to his father and his uncle, John. The storyteller, who asked to remain anonymous, solemnly asserted that the large limestone memorial cross, erected in memory of PW in the centre of Balla should be "burnt down."

When pressed for reasons, the answer was that William and "Johneen" Nally were terribly cruel people who did "great evil" when working for the landlord.

William, it seems, was too conscientious in carrying out his agent's duties; after a storm he would go around inspecting the roofs of the poor people's house.

 " Woe betide the poor devil that had dampness on his chimney breast. William would report this to the landlord and the person in question would be reprimanded or fined for not having the roof in better shape and letting the Sir's property be damaged."

"Johneen" came in for even more criticism. It seems he was not averse to currying favour with the landlord.

" A curse from God struck the Sir's children and one by one they died. After the last one had died the Sir was heartbroken and buried him in great sorrow in the churchyard with a marble cross over the grave. Shortly afterwards, Johneen Nally went to the Sir with the news that someone in the dead of night had come to the grave and stolen the headstone without trace.

The Sir was heartbroken but Johneen Nally swore he would not rest until he had found the guilty person and would see him brought to justice for the evil work he had done. He asked Sir Henry for search warrants to let him search the houses of all his tenants until he would find the one who had the cross.

This he did and caused uproar all over the place, swearing he would not rest until he had the cross back in its place. After some days had passed he appeared back to the Sir with news that he had found the cross, thrown into the water of Prizon Lake and would have it restored to its place.

But the Sir raised his hand and said, ' He, who steals, finds. You are the one who took it, Johneen Nally, or how else would you know where to look?"

With that, our informant told us, the landlord banished "Johneen" not only from his presence but also from Balla. He took back the house that Nally was living in, rent free, and the unfortunate man was forced to go to Dublin where he was said to have opened a hotel and was little heard of again around Balla.

Unfortunately, despite the volubility and colour of the stories we got from this source, cross-checking against other local accounts and historical data showed that some inaccuracies existed; our informant mixed on occasion the figures of John (Scrab) Nally and his uncle John, or "Johneen," Nally.

However, we can take it that PW's uncle, John Nally, was evicted by Sir Henry Lynch Blosse from his rent free house and had to go to Dublin as a result.

Padraig Ó Baoghaill mentions this in his book already referred to, "Nally as Maigh Eo," blaming the incident on an indiscretion by John Nally committed while attending a party at the Landlord's house being held for a visiting group of the landlord's friends, from Bray in Co. Wicklow.

It is probable that events such as those strained greatly any links of friendship or mutual understanding that may have existed between William Nally and his family on the one hand and the Ascendancy represented by the Lynch Blosse family and associates on the other.

Certainly the eviction of his uncle, John, can be taken as having had a profound effect on the outlook of young PW, who would be in his early teens at the time. However, it is most likely that the conversion of William Nally and his relations to a more nationalist way of thinking would have come to pass in any event. Even had there been no direct friction between the Nallys and the landlord it is likely that Pat and his brothers and sisters would have grown up in an anti-establishment environment, which it appears they certainly did.

P W Nally:  Youthful Days

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