Urban exploration (often shortened to urbex or UE) is the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial/derelict facilities. I haven’t shot much urbex, probably because of the lack of abandoned industrial facilities where I live. However, it is a genre that does interest me, and many other photographers I know. So what’s the attraction?
Well, it’s probably something to do with the kid inside us all that loves to go exploring and also the adult that wants to know a little more about the history of these particular places.
I don’t know if Ballinafad House, also known as Ballinafad College comes within the remit of urbex. It isn’t urban but it is abandoned, derelict has history and is certainly worth exploring. Perhaps it is rurex – rural exploration! 🙂
The estate is situated about 25 minutes drive from where I live and back in 2012, I explored it for the first and only time. It was originally a large country house boasting 50 bedrooms and 50 bathrooms. At 60,000 square foot and situated on 7 acres of land, you could spend lots of time exploring it. The surrounding countryside is quite scenic and I would imagine the grounds were very pretty in its heyday.
Shortly after parking up at the entrance to the house, I met the present owner. This wasn’t part of my plan! He was very reluctant to let me enter and photograph the house. However, this was his decision and I had to respect that. I put my camera bag and tripod back in the boot of the car and was ready to drive away.
Then for some unknown reason, he turned around and said, “Ah sure go on then, ya have 30 minutes”.
I ended up spending more than 2 hours in the house!
Ballinafad House was built in 1827. In May 1908 it was sold or gifted to the SMA (Society of African Missions) by Lieutenant Colonel Llewellyn Count Blake of Ballinafad and Cloghballymore. In September 1908, the Society of African Missions opened the house as a Secondary school and Minor Seminary to accommodate students preparing for the missionary priesthood. It was named The Sacred Heart College.
Thousands of young men from all over Ireland received their secondary schooling there. Over the course of a 70-year period, between 400 and 500 pupils went on to be ordained to the missionary priesthood in the SMA. A number also went on to other seminaries and were ordained priests. In the mid-1970s, it was sold to Balla Mart and became an agricultural college for a few years.
When I arrived to photograph it in March 2012, it had been abandoned for quite a few years then, but most of the structure was still intact and the interior was reasonably dry. There were a few signs of petty vandalism and much of the paintwork had succumbed to the ravages of time. The floors on two of the upper rooms had fallen away and all of the copper piping in the building had been “liberated”.
An eerie wind, let in through some broken windows blew down some of the long corridors.The place smelled warm and musty. But most of all, it reminded me of the Marie Celeste. It was like, one day all of the occupants just got up and left. Personal items, schoolbooks, and copies were stacked on shelves along with very out of date grocery products. Coats hung behind doors and some beds still had blankets on them.
At the time, I reveled in having this wonderful piece of history and this photographic canvas to myself. It was only later on when I looked back through the images that I shot that I realised it was also a strange and unsettling experience. I don’t get creeped easily but I did hesitate before entering some of the darkened rooms on the upper floor. And the chapel, just make sure it’s a nice bright day when you visit that! I shot about 300 images altogether that day. I posted 3 or 4 online back then and promptly forgot about the rest.
A few days ago in a discussion with a fellow photographer, the topic of urbex came up. He also had shot Ballinafad House, in more recent times. He told me that the building has now fallen into a much worse state of repair. The stairways have totally collapsed and therefore the upper floors are no longer accessible. The property would be quite dangerous to explore now.
After that discussion, I went back through my archives and looked at the images that I shot that day in Ballinafad. I decided to post a few more online. I was glad to have photographed the house before it fell into the condition it is in now. If you’d like to see more, I have a Ballinafad House album containing many more photographs on my Facebook page here. Feel free to browse.
I would caution anyone that may be tempted to go and photograph this old place. As I mentioned, the house has become much more dilapidated and therefore would present a considerable health risk. It must also be noted that this is private property and I did receive permission from the owner to shoot it.
However, if you do ever go “urbexing”, please remember the golden rule – ‘Leave no trace, other than footprints’.
That means not taking any ‘souvenirs’ and definitely no breaking and entering!
Thanks for reading this far and as always, feel free to comment or share.
UPDATE: I have recently been contacted by the owner of this property and while they were very understanding of my visit there, they were keen to point out that the property is currently undergoing renovation and advised not to visit without an appointment.
As I said in this article, the property is in a dilapidated state and I would encourage any readers to observe the owners wishes.