Wednesday, 5 September 2018

(344) Balfe of South Park House

The Balfes are said to be an Anglo-Norman family, but first came to prominence in the late 18th century, when Walter Balfe (c.1740-1804) was settled at Heathfield near Castlerea in Co. Roscommon. As Catholics, the Balfes were effectively debarred from many of the professions by the penal laws at this time, and it is not clear how the family accumulated the wealth to rise into the gentry. Moreover, Walter sired no less than ten sons (as well as two daughters), and those who survived to maturity seem to have been provided for, either with land or by being established in an accessible profession or business. About the time that Walter Balfe died in 1804 his eldest son, Michael Balfe (c.1766-1839), bought the South Park (or Southpark) estate adjoining Heathfield, and Heathfield seems to have become the seat of the third son, Nicholas Balfe (d. 1830). John Balfe (d. c.1842), the second son, was settled at Lissadorn near Elphin. Several of the younger sons also acquired minor gentry properties in Roscommon later in life: Edmund Balfe (d. c.1845), who was a solicitor in Dublin, acquired Rockfield; Christopher Balfe (c.1786-1852), who was a flour miller, acquired Curraghmore and James Balfe (c.1791-1840) acquired Runnymede.

Some further mystery attends the family's principal seat of South Park, which is said to have been built in the 1770s by Gen. James Gisborne, an Englishman who pursued a military career in Ireland and became an MP in the Irish Parliament. However, its appearance in photographs suggests it was rebuilt or at least refronted after Michael Balfe bought it in about 1804. The first building would thus have had an unusually short life. Balfe's South Park was also unusually large for a gentry house in the remoter north-west of Ireland, with seven bays and three storeys. Even if the interior decoration was as severely plain as the exterior, a house on this scale would not have come cheap, and one wonders where the money came from. Part of the answer may have been from the merciless exploitation of their tenantry, as in the mid 19th century the family were one of a number identified in letters to the press as notorious landlords, even though this was behaviour more typically attributed to absentee English landowners.

Michael Balfe was married twice. His first wife produced one daughter, who married a Dublin solicitor, but his second wife produced four sons and three daughters. The eldest son, Michael Balfe (1808-38) died without issue the year before his father, and South Park thus passed to the second son, Nicholas Balfe (c.1810-56), and when he also died without issue, was handed on to the third brother, Patrick Joseph Balfe (1817-86), who seems to have lived at Heathfield in his elder brother's lifetime. This was the first generation of the family to benefit from Catholic Emancipation, and several members of the family became closely aligned with Daniel O'Connell, the Irish nationalist politician known as 'The Liberator'; indeed, Michael's daughter Kate married Daniel's son, Morgan O'Connell in 1840, and the wedding festivities were held at South Park. The O'Connells were thereafter frequent visitors to South Park.

Patrick Joseph Balfe (1817-86) had three sons, the youngest of whom, Patrick Joseph Balfe (b. 1857), was the first member of the family whom we know to have emigrated in search of a better life. He had a brief spell in the US Army in 1886-87 and is said to have subsequently established a printing business. His departure is the first sign in the family that the old order in Ireland was collapsing, as the Agricultural Depression, land reform measures, and civil unrest undermined the economic order and sapped the confidence of the landowning class. These pressures were not at first apparent in the career of Patrick's eldest son, Maj. Michael Joseph Balfe (1850-1928), who inherited in 1886. He was an officer in the Roscommon militia and for 25 years Master of the Roscommon Staghounds. Not content with running one hunt, he was also a leading figure in the Roscommon Harriers, and at times the packs of both hunts were kennelled on his estate. He was reckoned an uncommonly good judge of horses, and during the Boer War was commissioned by the British Army to buy horses in Ireland on their behalf for the war effort.  Until the beginning of the 20th century, the estate ran apparently in much the same way as it had done for a century. However, in 1906 most of the estate was sold to the tenants through the Land Commission, and in 1911 he closed up South Park and moved to England. It is said that he feared nationalist reprisals for his activities in the militia and as an agent for the British army. In 1918 the contents of South Park were sold and the house was abandoned. With a ghastly inevitability, the house was burned by nationalist vigilantes on 5 May 1920, and - perhaps because the house was already empty - the destruction of the house did not merit more than a paragraph in the local paper. Major Balfe's sons all emigrated to America or South Africa, and although the eldest son, Michael Edward Joseph Balfe (1887-1919) returned to Ireland, he settled in Co. Cork and did not survive his father. His widow and son lived in a converted coastguard lookout station called Ballinluska House at Myrtleville (Co. Cork), but the son later sold this and moved to Whickham (Co. Durham).

South Park House, Co. Roscommon

South Park House: the front of the house built c.1773 for General Gisborne. Image: Stan Hudgins.

A three storey, seven bay house, said to have been built in about 1773 for Gen. James Gisborne, who came from a Derbyshire family but made a military and political career in Ireland, sitting as an MP in the Irish parliament from 1763 until his death. However, the photograph above suggests a later date of construction is more probable, as the lack of architraves to the windows and the form of the tripartite doorcase and segmental fanlight above it is more typical of c.1800, and it may therefore have been built for Michael Balfe (d. 1839) after he bought the property in about 1804. The five central bays of the front were slightly recessed, and the angles of the outer bays were defined by quoins. The house was occupied by the Balfe family until 1911, when Major Balfe, fearing that his militia commission and his role in supplying horses for military use in the Boer War would make him a target for Irish nationalists despite his Catholic religion, abandoned the house. The contents were sold in 1918 and the house was duly burned down by the republicans in 1920.

Descent: Gen. James Gisborne MP (d. 1778); sold c.1785 to Mr. Corr; ... sold before 1805 to Michael Balfe (d. 1839); to son, Nicholas Balfe (d. 1856); to brother, Patrick Joseph Balfe (1819-86); to son, Maj. Michael Joseph Balfe (1850-1928); burned 1920.

Balfe family of South Park House

Balfe, Walter (c.1740-1804). Son of Michael Balfe and his wife (a Foster of Mount Foster (Co. Galway)), born about 1740. He married 1st, Jane, daughter of Nicholas French of Ashpark (Co. Roscommon), and 2nd, about May/June 1769, her sister Eleanor, and had issue:
(1) Michael Balfe (c.1766-1839) (q.v.);
(2) John Balfe, of Lissadorn (Co. Roscommon); married [forename unknown], daughter of Thomas Smith of Fort Castle (Co. Offaly) and had issue two sons and one daughter; died before 1842;
(3) Nicholas Balfe (d. 1830); died unmarried at Heathfield (Co. Roscommon), 1830;
(4) Patrick Balfe (c.1769-1852), of Dublin; died unmarried; will proved in the PCC, 28 December 1852;
(5) Edmund Balfe (d. c.1845), attorney, of Marlborough St., Dublin and Rockfield; married, 26 September 1804 at St Andrew, Dublin, Elizabeth, youngest daughter of John Dolphin of Turoe (Galway) and had issue one son and two daughters; died in Dublin in 1844 or 1845; his will was proved in 1845;
(6) Walter Balfe (b. c.1777?); an officer in the infantry (Ensign, 1795; Lt., 1795; Capt., 1804); died unmarried, probably before 1823;
(7) George Balfe; died unmarried;
(8) Richard Balfe; died unmarried;
(9) Christopher Balfe (c.1786-1852); flour miller at Ballymoe (Galway); elected to Political Union of Ireland, 1831; lived at Curraghmore (Co. Roscommon); married, 30 March 1834, Frances (k/a Fanny) (c.1800-78), third daughter of Thomas O'Connor of New Garden (Co. Galway), and had issue one son; died aged 66, 23 March 1852;
(10) Catherine Balfe; married, 14 April 1805 at Portpatrick (Wigtowns), John Irwin of Emla (alias Emlaroryboy) (Co. Roscommon), and had issue;
(11) Anne Balfe (c.1790-1844); married 1st, John Taaffe of Annahill (Co. Mayo) and 2nd, 7 January 1830, as his second wife, James Darby Scully (1779-1853) of Rock Abbey Pavilion (Co. Tipperary), son of Jeremiah Darby Scully, but had no issue; died 1844;
(12) James Balfe (c.1791-1840), of Runnymede (later Runnamoat) (Co. Roscommon), born about 1791; JP for Co. Roscommon (from 1829); one of the stewards of the committee for building a new RC church in Roscommon, 1835; married Mary Anne, younger daughter of Edward Martyn of Tulira Castle (Co. Galway), and had issue four daughters; died 5 December 1840; will proved 30 January 1841 and a further grant of administration made 10 August 1863;
(13) Jane Balfe (fl. 1807).
He lived at Heathfield (Co. Roscommon).
He died in 1804; his will was proved in Dublin that year. His first wife died before 1769. His widow was living in 1807.

Balfe, Michael (c.1766-1839). Eldest son of Walter Balfe of Heathfield (Co. Roscommon) and his first wife Jane, daughter of Nicholas French of Frenchpark (Co. Roscommon), born about 1766. He married 1st, Sally, sixth daughter of John Dolphin of Turoe (Co. Galway) and 2nd, 10 July 1806 at St Andrew, Dublin, Alice (d. 1834), daughter of Thomas Smith of Fort Castle, Philipstown (Co. Offaly) and widow of Christopher Taaffe, and had issue:
(1.1) Maria Balfe; married, 16 May 1832 at St Mary's RC Church, Dublin, Jeremiah John Murphy QC (c.1804-78), a Master in Chancery in Ireland, and had issue one daughter;
(2.1) Michael Balfe (1808-38), baptised at Castlerea, 4 January 1809; married 1st, 9 May 1832 at St Andrew, Dublin, Sarah (d. 1833), daughter of Thomas Redington of Rye Hill (Galway) and 2nd, 1 August 1835 at St Andrew, Dublin, Catherine (d. 1861), eldest daughter of Bernard Mullins JP of Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin and Ballyeigan (Co. Offaly), but had no issue; died in Dublin, 2 January 1838;
(2.2) Nicholas Balfe (c.1810-56), born about 1810; elected to Political Union of Ireland, 1831; married, 16 November 1832 at St Nicholas Without, Dublin, Jane alias Joanna, daughter of Andrew Ennis of Roebuck (Co. Dublin) but had no issue; died at Southpark, 15 June 1856;
(2.3) Anne Balfe (c.1812-51), born about 1812; married, 23 November 1840 at Castlerea, Patrick Breen JP (d. 1889) of Castlebridge House (Co. Wexford) and had issue at least one daughter; died 18 February 1851;
(2.4) Sarah Balfe (1816-71), baptised at Castlerea, 6 August 1816; married, 2 March 1840 at Castlerea, Thomas Blake (d. 1865) of Glenloe Abbey (Co. Galway); died 25 December 1871;
(2.5) Patrick Joseph Balfe (1817-86) (q.v.);
(2.6) Catherine (k/a Kate) Mary Balfe (1819-91), baptised at Castlerea, 12 March 1819; married, 23 July 1840 at Castlerea, Morgan O'Connell (1804-85), the colourful period of whose life was then behind him, and who served as MP for Co. Meath 1832-40 and Assistant Registrar of Deeds for Ireland, 1840-68; he was the second son of Daniel O'Connell QC MP ("The Liberator") of Dennynane Abbey (Co. Kerry); they had no issue; she died 17 February 1891;
(2.7) James Joseph Balfe (c.1823-72), born about 1823; secretary to Roscommon Grand Jury; lived at Acres House (Co. Roscommon); married, 18 April 1859 at Oran Catholic Church, Arabella Matilda Mary, daughter of Charles Hawkes of Brierfield (Co. Roscommon) and had issue two sons and five daughters; died aged 49, 21 July 1872;
He purchased South Park House before 1805. After his death it passed in turn to his sons Nicholas (d. 1856) and Patrick (d. 1886).
He died at 12 Merrion St., Dublin, May 1839. His first wife died before 1806. His second wife died in August 1834.

Balfe, Patrick Joseph (1817-86). Third son of Michael Balfe (c.1766-1839) and his second wife Alicia, daughter of Thomas Smith of Fort Castle, Philipstown (Co. Offaly) and widow of C. Taaffe, baptised at Castlerea, 20 September 1817. JP for Co. Roscommon; High Sheriff of Co. Roscommon, 1858; an officer in the Roscommon Militia (Capt., 1855). He married, 5 November 1845, Anna Mary (c.1832-84), second daughter of William MacDermott of Springfield (Co. Galway), and had issue:
(1) Annie Mary Balfe (d. 1894); married, 14 June 1869 at Castlerea, Charles Edward Hawkes JP (c.1848-98) of Brierfield (Co. Roscommon), son of Charles E. Hawkins, and had issue; died 7 March 1894;
(2) Maj. Michael Joseph Balfe (1850-1928) (q.v.);
(3) Katie Mary Saviour Balfe (c.1852-84); married, 26 February 1875 at St Andrew RC Church, Dublin, as his second wife, Cornelius Alexander Keogh (d. 1884?), son of Cornelius Alexander Keogh DL JP of Oakport (Co. Roscommon) and Geevagh (Co. Sligo) and had issue two sons and three daughters; died 10 August 1884;
(4) Alice Mary Maud Balfe (c.1853-1931); a nun of the Holy Child Convent, St. Leonards on Sea (Sussex); died Jan-Mar 1931;
(5) Nicholas Dominick Joseph Balfe (1854-1935) of Rook Wood, Rathfarnham (Co. Dublin), born 5 August 1854; an officer in the Connaught Rangers (Capt.); married, April 1894, Margaret, daughter of Sir Patrick Hackett, and had issue four daughters; died September 1935;
(6) Patrick Joseph Balfe (b. 1857), born 1 June and baptised at Castlerea, 11 June 1857; emigrated to America before 1886; an officer in US Army, 1886-87; developed a large printing business in America; married and had issue; his date of death is unknown;
(7) Mary Josephine Ignatius Balfe (1862-1927), born 31 July 1862; a nun of the Holy Child Convent, St. Leonards on Sea (Mother Mary Ignatius); died 25 January 1927.
He inherited Heathfield House from his father in 1839 and South Park House from his elder brother in 1856.
He died 9 December 1886. His wife died 5 September 1884.

Balfe, Maj. Michael Joseph (1850-1928). Eldest son of Patrick Joseph Balfe (1819-86) and his wife Anna Mary, second daughter of William MacDermott of Springfield (Co. Galway), born 10 June and baptised at Boyounagh (Galway), 14 June 1850. JP and DL for Co. Roscommon. High Sheriff of Co. Roscommon, 1875 and 1890. An officer in the Roscommon Militia, later the 5th Battn., Connaught Rangers (Lt., 1872; Capt., 1875; Maj., 1886; retired 1887). In 1881 he was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law, Charles Hawkes, and received serious but not fatal injuries. Master of the Roscommon Staghounds for 25 years and for a time also of the Mid-Roscommon Harriers. During the Boer War he had a commission to buy horses for the British Army; in the First World War he lived in England. He married, 29 July 1885 at St Andrew RC Church, Dublin, Kathleen (k/a Kitty) (1851-1934), fourth daughter of John O'Connell MP DL ("The Young Liberator"), and had issue:
(1) Alice Elizabeth Mary Angela Balfe (1886-1938), born 2 October 1886; died unmarried at Queenstown, Cape Province (South Africa), 1 January 1938 and was buried in South Africa;
(2) Michael Edward Joseph Balfe (1887-1919) (q.v.);
(3) Maurice O'Connell Francis Balfe (1888-1975), born 2 December 1888; educated at St Augustine's College, Ramsgate (Kent); emigrated to South Africa, 1902; an officer with the Transvaal Mounted Police (South Africa) and later a gold mine worker; married, 31 August 1924 at Brakpan, Transvaal, Cornelia Sophia (b. 1904), daughter of Andries John Stephen Horn of Witpoort, Brakpan, and had issue one son and three daughters; died 1975;
(4) James Morgan Balfe (1889-1967), born 8 October 1889; emigrated to New York (USA) in 1920 and became a naturalised American citizen, 1925; married, 18 October 1925, Ellen Jane (1889-1973), daughter of James Reilly of Mullaghland, Kells (Co. Meath), and had issue one son; died 16 September 1967;
(5) Kathleen Mary Balfe (1891-1935), born 13 December 1891; a keen horsewoman during her family's years in Co. Roscommon; accompanied her parents to England during the First World War; died unmarried, 14 December 1935 and was buried with her parents.
He inherited South Park from his father in 1886, but sold much of the estate to the tenants in 1906. He vacated South Park in 1911; the contents of the house were sold in 1918, and the abandoned house was burned in 1920.
He died 16 June 1928 and was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, Blackrock (Co. Dublin). His widow died 20 November 1934 and was buried with her husband; her will was proved 26 August 1935 (estate £89).

Balfe, Michael Edward Joseph (1887-1919). Eldest son of Maj. Michael Joseph Balfe (1850-1928) and his wife Kathleen, fourth daughter of John O'Connell DL, born 13 October 1887 at South Park and baptised at Castlerea, 17 October 1887. Joined the Civil Service as a temporary boy clerk, 1904, went to South Africa in 1908, but returned to Ireland to farm. He married, 27 June 1911 at St Finbarr RC Church, Cork, Harriette Mary (1892-1969), only daughter of Richard John Galwey of Ardsallagh (Co. Cork), merchant, and had issue:
(1) Edward Richard Gallwey Balfe (1912-2001), born in Cork, 26 June 1912; educated at Presentation College, Bray; lived at Ballinluska House, Myrtlefield (Co. Cork) and later at Whickham (Northbld/Co. Durham); died 20 January 2001; will proved 2 February 2001;
(2) Dr. James Maurice Balfe (1915-95), born in Cork, 28 January 1915; educated at Presentation College, Bray and Royal College of Surgeons (LRCP; LRCSI); medical practitioner; lived at Hinckley (Leics); married, 25 July 1944, Grace Elizabeth (1916-2004), nurse, daughter of Florence O'Sullivan of Barnaderg, Tuam (Galway), and had issue four sons; died Apr-Jun 1995;
(3) Mariquita Cecilia Balfe (1913-85), born at Cork, 26 October 1913, of 'Ballinluska', Two Mile House, Naas (Co. Kildare); died unmarried, 10 June 1985; will proved 7 August 1985.
He seems to have purchased or rented Ballinluska House, a former coastguard look-out station on the coast of Co. Cork.
He died in the lifetime of his father, 30 May 1919 and was buried at Castlerea. His widow died 1 April 1969.


Burke's Irish Family Records, 1976, pp. 54-56; Roscommon Messenger, 31 March 1906, 6 April 1918 and 8 May 1920.

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known to survive.

Coat of arms

None was recorded or used at the time, but in 1931 a descendant of Walter Balfe obtained a grant of arms for all Walter's descendants.

Notes about missing information and help wanted with this entry

As so often with Irish families, especially Catholic ones, the relative weakness of the surviving early sources for Ireland means that there are many gaps in the basic genealogical information. If anyone knows more, from family papers or sources I have not discovered, I should be most grateful for additional information.

I would also be most grateful for any additional photographs of South Park House, or further light on its date of construction.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 5 September 2018 and updated 1 May 2021.


  1. Sir, according to BLG 1875 the father of Michael Balfe (who married a daughter of the Mount Foster Fosters) was Thomas Balfe; several editions of Walford's County Families state 'this family is descended from Thomas Balfe, Esq., who fought under King James II at the Battle of the Boyne'- given the dates involved it's not unlikely these two mentions refer to the same individual; he could have been a soldier in 1690, given his grandson was born c. 1740.

  2. Hi Nicholas, can you please tell me what was your source for the South Park 5 May 1920 burned date? Do you know if it was burnt again in 1921? per
    Thanks, Andrew

    1. Andrew, There was a press report to this effect in the Western Daily Press on Friday 7 May 1920 (p.8), which reads: "INCENDIARISM IN ROSCOMMON. Two uninhabited mansions in County Roscommon were burned to the ground on Tuesday night. On© was South Park House, near Castlerea, formerly the residence of Major M. J. Balfe, and the other Runnamount House, the property of Major Chichester Constable. Incendiarism is suspected with the object the former case of preventing military being located in the house." Since the account says 'burned to the ground' I do not see that there would have been any need for a further incident the following year. Nick Kingsley

    2. Thanks Nick, that's very helpful. I'll follow up with the other sites on their 1921 date. The other house mentioned was also very useful, although I assume 'Runnamount' should read 'Runnamoat'

  3. Hi Nick,

    At his death Walter was married to Eleanor/Elenor Ffrench, she was certainly the mother of his younger daughter Jane, see &

    The earliest reference to them as a couple is an inscription on a chalice dating from 1793 - I suspect though they were married by the time of this 1785 deed -

    The Nicholas and Jane mentioned in the deed may be the same couple as are commemorated in Oran graveyard -


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Just spotted in the IGRS Early Marriage Index that Walter Balfe married Eleanor Ffrench in June 1769. Maybe he'd married her older sister first?

    3. Many thanks for this correction, which I have incorporated above. My reading of the 1785 document suggests that Walter and Eleanor had not then married but in every other respect I agree with your analysis.

  4. Hi Nick,
    There's a digital image of the Limerick Chronicle dated 12th June 1769 at

    Under the marriage notices there's this piece "Mr. Walter Balfe, of Kilmurry to Miss Elinor French, Daughter of Nicholas French of Ashpark, Esq; both in the county of Roscommon". As far as I am aware Nicholas never lived at Ffrench Lawn as per Burke, that was his son Christopher's residence. Christopher's son Nicholas married one of Daniel O'Connell's daughters.

    The other children of Nicholas included Patrick who married Sally Mapother in 1769 and Edmund who was Catholic biship of Elphin from 1787 until his death in 1801.


    PS Skeffington Gibbon wrote of Robert Irwin that "the elder son, John Irwin, made a Gretna Green marriage with the daughter of a neighbouring grazier of the name of Balfe - he was underage at the time". He goes on to elaborate that John was a forger and a robber (and worse).

  5. PPS The will of Patrick Balfe who died in 1852 aged 83 is useful. The full will can be downloaded from It confirms that it was his sister Jane who married John Taaffe and had a daughter Ellen.

    1. Thanks for these further additions and corrections, which I have incorporated above.


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.