A Selected History of Balla
The monastery of Balla was founded by St. Mochua also known as St. Cronan. St. Cronan Mochua established the See of Balla, subsequently merged into that of Tuam.
Cronan lived in the period 596-637 and is said to have died on 30 March, 637, but his acts are more or less of a legendary character. It appears he was educated at Bangor, in Co. Down, under St. Comgall, and founded a monastery at Gael, among the Feara Rois of Louth and Monaghan. He then moved to Fore and Tehilly.
Passing through Hy Many, he journeyed to Connacht in 616, and founded the church and Abbey of Balla, of which he was first abbot-bishop. Numerous miracles are recorded of St. Cronan Mochua, and are minutely described in his Irish life. His feast is celebrated on 30 March. The church was burned in 780 and again in 1179 and nothing remains of it now.
Balla Round Tower
Balla round tower is situated in a cemetery just near the centre of the village.
There is an offset of large flat rocks at the base of the tower approx. 20 to 25 cm wide and approx. 6 cm high. The circumference at the base of the tower (at the top of the offset) is approx 16.5 m, giving an external diameter of about 5 ¼ m. From ground level to the level top of the tower is approximately 10 m.
There are two doorways in this shortened tower. The lower, four-stone arched doorway facing north appears to be a late medieval insertion. The upper, and possibly original doorway is a puzzle. It is placed higher than almost any other round tower, almost 8 meters above the present ground level. It is a narrow lintelled opening. The lower jamb stones have an incised moulding, common to a 12th century Romanesque style. These mouldings are not present anywhere else around the doorway, and the stonework is noticeably different from this point upwards. It is possible that the tower was rebuilt and the doorway stones lost and a window that might have been higher on the tower used in the reconstruction. The lower doorway allows a view to the inside of the tower. Two rows of projecting floor supports can be seen, as well as what appears to be damaged grave slabs on the floor of the interior of the tower. Past the arched lower doorway inside is a lintel with faint incised carving, resembling the upper doorway partial moulding in
miniature. Curious indeed!
There is one tiny arched window on the south side of the tower, perfectly carved using four stones. This window is about halfway between what would have been the first and second floors of the tower.
This is a beautiful, evenly coursed but shortened tower made of red and light brown sandstone. The area immediately around the tower is interesting in that a ring of large grave slabs (relatively recent) surround the tower in a sort of stony collar. Near the cemetery wall by the rear gate entrance is the top half of what appears to be a very old cross, depicting the crucified Christ. The dressed edges of this cross echo the dressed stone seen in very old church doorways and window openings.
Other Items of Interest:
Through the gate from the churchyard can be seen an old ruin. In this ruin is a complex of what appears to be a tiny old church along with two holy wells.
Balla Railway Station
Balla railway station was an important block post between Claremorris and Castlebar. Although the station closed to passengers in 1963, it controlled the junction at Manulla for the Ballina branch which was a few miles to the west. The Balla signal cabin worked the points at the junction, and loop and sidings at Balla station itself. Around 1988/89, Manulla Jnc station was reopened and once again passengers transferred to the branch there, rather than at Claremorris when Balla was in use. Balla became redundant and its loop and sidings were removed. Today, Balla Station is derelict, but the station building and cabin survive intact. The goods shed however was demolished.