Ballinagard House and the Dignan Family

As part of my retired life, I spend a lot of my time on research which turns into a wild goose chase, I run into a brick wall and cannot get any further, but I hope this particular recent subject will not.  I am already fond of this family and I do not properly know them yet.

This line of research concerns the Dignan family of Ballinagard House, which is  situated two kilometres south of Roscommon town on the Athleague or Galway road.  It was a large house of 12 rooms and was owned at the time ie the turn of the 20th Century by Charles Coleman Dignan, the Under Sheriff of Roscommon.  The Under Sheriff as far as I know is or was a court official, normally a solicitor, who carried out the wishes of the courts.  For example he might organize bailiffs to enter a property to seize goods etc, or he might be responsible for the serving of summonses.

Charles Coleman Dignan had lived in Roscommon all his life, born in 1858 and marrying his wife, a local woman, Angelina Victoria in early 1886.  He was 28, she was 21.  During their marriage Angelina had 10 pregnancies, one a still birth,  the other eight surviving well into adulthood.  They were:-

Maud M born in 1886

Joseph Patrick born in 1888.

Eveleen Victoria born in1891.

Alfred Charles born in 1892.

Albert Guy born in 1894.

Mabel B. born in1897.

Cecil Joseph born in 1899.

Hilda Angelina born in 1902.

Ethel W. born in 1906.

Ballinagard House was a fine stone built house with a slated roof, it had six outhouses consisting of a stable, a harness room. a coach house, a cowshed, a dairy and a hen house.  They had one live-in sevant, but there must have been others who lived in a cluster of dwellings round the big house like the King’s and the Igoe’s who classed themselves as agricultural labourers and Edward Flanagan who classed himself as a groom/domestic servant in the 1911 census.

The Dignan family, all practising Catholics, were doing well for themselves and were stalwarts of polite Roscommon society and it can be seen that like the majority of people in Ireland at this time, although born and bred in the country, in this case Roscommon, they would have considered themselves happy to be part of Queen Victoria’s Empire.  Look at the names they gave their children, except for Joseph Patrick, the rest of the names could be from anywhere in England.  Ireland to them was as much part of England as Lancashire or Warwickshire.

All the children as far as I know did their basic education at Roscommon National School before being finished off at a convent or Grammer School and this is where I come in.  Joseph Patrick, when he was 14 years and 10 months old, was sent to St. Bede’s College in Manchester for two further years of education, 1903-1905, Alfred Charles attended 1906-1909 and Albert Guy 1908-191911.   St. Bede’s was the school I went to 1957-1963.  We have all something in common, we have all knelt in the same little chapel, built in 1895, at the school, doing penance for our sins,  we have all walked its long dark corridors and we have all had the rudiments of Latin, Greek, Mathematics and English Literature chisled onto our brains, never to be forgotten.

Joseph Patrick left St. Bede’s in the summer of 1905 after presumably boarding at the school for two years, he became a clerk in the Bank of Ireland, where he was probably posted to some far flung branch.  He certainly was not working in Roscommon at the time of the Census in 1911.  At the moment I do not know where he spent the years 1905-1914, but in September 1914 he enlisted as a Private soldier in the 19th (Service) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, which suggests to me that he was back working in Manchester at that time.  He put down his occupation as clerk, not bank clerk, which would have given him extra Kudos, but just plain clerk.  He might have had relations in the town whom he lived and worked with and who he might have lived with while at St. Bede’s.  All these questions I hope to answer shortly; I do seem to remember my mother speaking of a business family in North Manchester called Dignan, who were big in the Church and in Commerce.

Anyway after seven months training as a private soldier, without going overseas, he applied for and received his commission, as a 2nd Lieutenant in his local regiment, the Connaught Rangers, on 22 May 1915, in fact in the 4th battalion, which normally had a home at King House, the barracks in Boyle, Co Roscommon, where I was yesterday.  Myself and Joseph Patrick Dignan have a lot in common.

The sad part of this story is that from the 4th Battalion, which was a reserve Battalion suppling troops to the 1st, 5th and 6th Battalions of the Connaught Rangers in the field. he was attached to the 8th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who were stationed at Finner Camp in South Donegal.  In February 1916 they were posted to France, to the Loos sector where they had their first taste of the trenches at the end of that relentless and hopelessly inefficient Battle of Loos that had started the previous September.  From there they were  moved south to take part in the latter stages of the Somme offensive where they succeeded in capturing the heavily defended village of Ginchy in September 1916 before being moved up to the southern end of Ypres to Wyschaete where Joseph Patrick sadly met his end on 16th October aged 28, taking part in a night patrol.  He is buried in Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery.

His two younger brothers, Alfred Charles and Albert Guy, were both commissioned and served with the South Irish Horse, a cavalry regiment, after enlisting in 1914.  Their young brother, Cecil Joseph, was stopped from going to St. Bede’s, like his brothers, because of the war but he once he became 18 in 1917 and he too was commissioned into the South Irish Horse in 1918.  The South Irish Horse had been turned into an infantry regiment in 1917 because of the need for foot soldiers and became the 7th (South Irish Horse) Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, which was virtually wiped out on 21st March 1918 on that first day of the German Spring Offensive.  The South Irish Horse were stationed at Poziere, a few miles out of Albert on the Bapaume road as the Germans threw everything they had at the British army in a last ditch attempt at breaking the four year stalemate tjhat was the Western Front and  ending the war.  Despite early successes the Germans were halted and gradually forced back.  Lt. Albert Guy Dignan was 23  on that first day, his body was never found and he is remembered on the Poziere Memorial in the Poziere British Cemetery.

Charles Coleman Dignan, the Lieutenant Recruiting Officer for the town and district of Roscommon paid a heavy price for his duties to King and Country with the loss of his two sons.

If anybody reads this blog and can add to this story in any way please contact me through the comments section of the blog or e-mail me on  In the months to come I hope to have a fuller version of this family’s story.

Thank you for reading this post and to Joseph Patrick and Albert Guy Rest in Peace.  They will never be forgotten.

Finally I would like to thank Oliver Fallon, Chairman and Chief Researcher of the Connaught Rangers for some of the military facts in this blog.

7 Responses to Ballinagard House and the Dignan Family

  1. Fiona Roche says:

    I am Hilda’s grandaughter – my father, Charlie, passed away 4 weeks’ ago today on April 14th aged 84

  2. David Roche says:

    My name is David Roche, Also grandson of Hylda,and proud great grandson of Charles Coleman, my father was very much interested in his family , and had great knowledge of all of them , I will be meeting one of his cousins, Joe Brennan, son of one of the sisters , on saturday night, we have lots of information on the dignans and the last descendant bearing the Dignan name now lives in Surrey!!
    Please do not hesitate to further any questions I would be delighted to research ,
    Did you know we descend from King Pippin 978ad!!??

  3. Hilary Roche says:

    Hilary Roche here again!
    In addition to the comments sent by email to you a number of years ago – I am the eldest grandchild of Hylda (correct spelling of name). She died on 24th May 1977. She had 2 children, Charles Aloysius (Charlie), who died sadly last year as mentioned above. Her daughter Hazel was 80 in June this year (2012) and is in great health. Hylda had 11 grandchildren in all, 7 in my (Charlie’s) family and 4 in Hazel’s family.

  4. Tim Bell says:

    Joseph is commemorated on the Co-Op Wholesale Soc Memorial and he is included on the Roll for CWS HQ in the Manchester Book of Honour. I hadn’t known about the Bank of Ireland employment before seeing your post. Suspect he worked for Co-Op Bank.
    Also see here with vatious sources which include his photo.

    Also noting that all 3 boys died serving in WWI or 2.


  5. Tim Bell says:

    Hi Paul,
    I’ve seen reference to Joseph being shot in the head as cause of death. I’m seeking to corroborate data, so your source would be really helpful please. In addition, any data on Co-Op connections or 19th Manchesters would be appreciated.

  6. PaulMalpas says:

    It is over 4 years since I wrote this piece and I have since updated it in January 2012 in an article in the New Ranger Magazine and in that article I state that Joseph was shot in the head. Did you read that piece? I cannot now remember the source but presumably it came from the Manchester’s War Diary.
    If you want to know about the 19th Manchester’s and the rest of the Manchester Pals, a good place to start is Michael Stedman’s book Manchester Pals published by Leo Cooper.
    If you want more information or would like a copy of my updated article e-mail me on

  7. Fíona Duignan says:

    Joseph was in Tuam, county Galway, in 1911. His landlady misspelt his surname as Deignan, which is why he’s not immediately obvious.

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