Ballyriggin Wood, perched on a rocky outcrop eastward of Kilfinane town, is a familiar landmark in the local landscape. It is an amenity that has been much used and much loved by successive generations of local families. Sadly, time is running out on this little plantation which is situated within 2km of the town. Many of the Scots Pine trees have fallen in recent times and each passing storm takes a further toll.
A Coillte report on Ballyriggin Wood, compiled in 2000, estimated the age of the trees to be 160 +/- years at that time. The report placed the time of planting in the mid to late 1830’s. (See Kilfinane Coshlea Historical Journal 2002, pp 38-39) https://www.ouririshheritage.org/content/archive/place/kilfinane-coshlea-historical-society/topics-kilfinane-coshlea-historical-society/kilfinane-coshlea-historical-journals
Findings from the research, carried out in 2018, on the estate papers of Castle Oliver support this assessment. In the late eighteenth century, following two centuries of massive deforestation, owners of Irish landed estates began to invest in reforestation. Trees were not only a long term investment and a source of wealth; they were necessary for construction, provided shelter belts, helped delineate and secure boundaries and, most importantly, added to the aesthetics of a landed estate.
In the late 1700s the skilled nurseryman, Richard Hartland, was brought to Mitchelstown from England by the Earl of Kingston and given charge of the twelve acre nursery on his estate. From the year 1827 to 1842 both the Kingston estate and the neighbouring Castle Oliver landed estate, to which Ballyriggin belonged, were managed by the agent, Daniel Barrington. Barrington actually provided Richard Hartland’s son, William, with land in Kilfinane for a nursery.
A major tree planting scheme was carried out on the Castle Oliver estate in the early 1830s. In the year 1831 over 20,000 young trees, made up of various combinations of hawthorn quicks, beech, Scots pine, spruce and larch saplings, were distributed to tenants along with strict planting instructions. Most of this planting was aimed at marking out and securing boundaries between tenants’ holdings and estates. But there was also a scheme to enhance the landscape. The Greenwood and Ballyriggin Wood were part of this initiative. Caretakers were appointed to safeguard such plantations and Samuel Sherwood was paid a salary of ten shillings a year to look after Ballyriggin Wood.
The hill on which the trees were planted was traditionally known as Palatine Hill. This is a reference to the Palatine families who were settled in the townland of Ballyriggin in the mid 1700s. Originally the Palatines were brought to England by Queen Anne. They suffered religious persecution in their Rhenish Palatinate homeland in Germany when it was invaded and devastated by the French. 8000 of them came to England, half of those went to America and most of those who remained were brought to Ireland by Irish landlords. The largest settlement of Palatines in Ireland was on the Southwell Estate in Rathkeale. When that estate became congested Silver Oliver agreed to settle twenty-seven families on the Castle Oliver estate and they were settled in 3 different townlands, Ballyorgan, Glenosheen and Ballyriggin. The Palatines were progressive and productive farmers and were models of self-sufficiency. They introduced many new husbandry practices and skills in the fields, in the garden, in the haggard and in the orchard. In 1911 fifty percent of the households in Ballyriggin bore Palatine names- Fizelle, Schummacher and three Steepe households. Today there are three residents in Ballyriggin- just one of whom is of Palatine descent.