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> Villages > Ballyfin > History

History of Ballyfin

Ballyfin in 1794
Ballyfin in 1794

Ballyfin (Baile Fionn in Irish, meaning “Town of Fionn”), according to legend is where leader of the Fianna, Fionn Mac Cumhaill is said to have been raised.

St. John the Baptist Church

Ballyfin Church

The Church of St. John the Baptist was built in 1792 by the Honourable William Pole. The building itself was probably originally simple in plan and structure. It was made from sandstone, with buttressed walls, a timber roof covered in slates, religious gothic style windows and doors and a battlement square tower surrounded by a simple spire.

The Church is situated in a peaceful and tranquil site. The building is surrounded by a graveyard with its memories both sad and joyous. Originally the church was the property of the Coote family of Ballyfin Demesne which is adjacent to the church. Ballyfin church was its own parish until 1949 when it was grouped with Portlaoise Parish, and then in 1958 they were joined with Mountrath until 1980 when they again became part of the Portlaoise group as they remain to the present day.

Ballyfin House

Ballyfin House

In its present form, the main block was constructed between 1821 and 1826, but on the site of an earlier building and at the heart of an 18th century demesne which remains largely as first planned. The estate had been owned by William Wellesley-Pole, a brother of the Duke of Wellington, and it was he and his forebears who laid out the estate, including the magnificent 36-acre man-made lake which lies in front of the house.

In 1812, Wellesley-Pole sold Ballyfin to Sir Charles Coote, premier baronet of Ireland, who soon decided to replace the late 18th- century building with something altogether more splendid. And the house into which he eventually moved really is extraordinarily grand, designed on a palatial scale such as has rarely been seen in this country, but is more commonly found among the princely residences of Italy or Russia.

The main storey of the house contains an entrance hall, which measures some twenty-four feet by twenty-eight. Leading directly off from this is the Grand Saloon, a magnificent apartment, which is divided into three compartments by means of Ionic columns. The central of the three compartments was finished with a rich pendential dome, which is its source of light. The Grand Staircase leads off from one end of this apartment, and this is also decorated with columns. A circular anteroom is entered from the opposite side of the saloon, and this is also covered by a highly finished dome, this time being supported by Corinthian style columns of Scagiola.

From this anteroom you pass into the Library, which has a large central bay. The Library is also compartmented by screens of Scagiola columns. You can also enter into the Billiard Room from the anteroom. The Library lies en suite with the Drawing Room and the Conservatory. The Dining Room and Billiard Room are nowadays combined to form the College Oratory. The Morning Room is noted for its "whispering gallery" sound effect which magnifies voices. It has a coved ceiling supported on parabolic segments with delicate plasterwork corners.

The Drawing Room is now renamed as the Gold Room. It is a striking room, furnished with rich rococo gilt mirrors, whilst the other walls are lined with fabric and decorated with trophies of musical and military instruments. This room was decorated in 1848 by Gillows and Conifod, Oxford St., London. The house has a prolonged facade in the Palladian Order and has a protico mounted on four Ionic columns. The mosaic pavement in the Entrance Hall came from Italy and is a reproduction of the floor in a Ceasar's Palace.

The marble pillars were imported from Italy, and the doors are of solid San Domingo mahogany. The gardens were designed and laid out by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The estate has over 600 acres of park and woodland, with extensive pleasure grounds including a fountain and a lake. The lake was constructed in the mid-18th century, and covers nearly thirty acres.

The "Robin Hood" caves and the tower with its moat are also interesting curiosities. The house and demesne were purchased by the Patrician Brothers in 1928, and it was turned into a college. Extension and alterations were carried out to the existing house but these were carefully designed so as not to detract from what is a fine mansion