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Ireland Gazeteer

County Armagh in 1833

ARMAGH, an inland county in the north of Ireland, in the province of Ulster. It is bounded on the N. by Lough Neagh, on the E. by the county of Down, on the S. by the county of Louth, and on the W. by the counties of Monaghan and Tyrone. The greatest length, which is from north to south, is nearly 32 English miles; the breadth, from east to west, is about 20 miles.

The area is estimated, by Dr. Beaufort, at 454 square miles, or 290,786 acres; but he observes that this is very much under the full number of acres, from fractions having been rejected in the calculation; other estimates give 458 square miles, and 293,919 acres.

It is subdivided into eight baronies, divisions nearly corresponding to the hundreds of English counties. The county was erected by the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, in 1584.

The surface is hilly, but, except in the south and west parts of the county, which are more rugged, the hills do not rise to any great height; the soil is generally fertile, except in the mountainous district just noticed, though even there the land is cultivated to a considerable extent, and is thickly peopled.

The principal mountains are Sliebh Gullen (1,900 feet); Sliebh Girkin, or the Newry Mountains (1,340 feet); the Fathom Mountains, lying along the Newry river (820 feet); and the Foughall or Faughell Mountains (822 feet), a little to the north-east of Jonesborough. These may all be considered as forming one group in the south-east part of the county. They are a continuation of the Mourne Mountains of the county of Down. Granite is their principal constituent.

To the N. of this mountainous district a considerable tract extends from the county of Down on the one side, to that of Monaghan on the other, in which greywacke and greywacke-slate are the prevalent rocks; while red sandstone predominates in that part which lies along the margin of Lough Neagh. Sienite is traced in the neighbourhood of Newry; and mica-slate composes the sides of the narrow valley between Sliebh Gullen and Sliebh Girkin. Limestone skirts the Blackwater and Callenwater.

The Callen, the chief river in the county, rises in the barony of Fews, and flows N. into the Blackwater; but its course cannot be estimated at more than twenty-six or twenty-seven miles. There are some small loughs or lakes, as Lough Clay in the west, from which a small stream flows into the Callen ; Lough Ross, and the loughs of St. Patrick and St. Peter, on the border towards the county of Monaghan. The river Bann with the Newry Canal forms the eastern boundary of the county, separating it from that of Down, and affording water-carriage from Lough Neagh to the Bay of Carlingford; the Blackwater on the N.W. separates it from the county of Tyrone.

In 1788 the medium temperature in the neighbourhood of the city of Armagh, distant about thirty-two English miles from the Irish Sea, and elevated about fifty-eight feet above the coast, was ascertained (by means of a well sunk sixty feet to the bottom of a gravelly hill) to be 47.5 degrees of Fahrenheit. (Trans. of Royal Irish Acad. 1788.) But we are informed that it is 49.5 degrees at the observatory.

In the neighbourhood of the chief town, numerous inclosures and cultivated fields indicate an abundant population, and in this vicinity there are a few orchards.

In the northern part of the county, towards Lough Neagh, there are very extensive bogs, the soil of which is very black and deep: but the increase of population has led to the cultivation of some parts of these, as well as of the greatest part of the mountainous districts.

The principal landed proprietors are Lords Charlemont, Gosford, and Caledon ; Mr. Brownlow, Mr. Cope, and others. A large portion of the soil belongs to the church and to college establishments and corporations, which have not the power of granting freehold leases for lives; the common tenure on other properties is a lease for twenty-one years and one life.

To such an extent has subletting been carried, that the country has been described as resembling in some parts a disjointed village, and general poverty has been the usual result. If a father had a family the land was divided among his sons, and part of it went frequently as a portion to the daughters.

The linen trade, carried on as it is by the individual weaver, is considered to have promoted this division of land. There seems, however, to be a disposition at present to check this system, and to consolidate the small holdings into larger farms.

In the hands of such occupiers we cannot expect superior husbandry. The description given of the state of tillage in the flat parts of the county of Antrim will, in a great degree, apply to the neighbouring county of Armagh. The rotation of crops, if so irregular a succession deserves that name, is similar in each; the joint contribution of animals to form a team for the plough, and the 'con-acres' of the dry cotter, as described in the account of Antrim, are found in this county also. The joint team for the plough is indeed rather more respectable, consisting usually of two horses, one belonging to the driver, the other to him who holds the plough.

Oats are the chief kind of grain raised. Wheat and barley are not so extensively grown. The cultivation of wheat, which was introduced into Ulster at a comparatively recent epoch, has increased materially: and Belfast, the great outlet of its produce, now exports corn of excellent quality to England: the consumption of wheaten bread among the peasantry is also much greater than formerly.

Potatoes and flax are also among the chief articles of agricultural produce; but the potatoes are very inferior in quality to those grown in the south of Ireland.

Grazing is little attended to in any part of the north of Ireland. The little farmers or cotters keep cows, but they are badly managed and hardly treated: patches of the artificial grasses are sown; and part of the grass (which, in Ulster, is commonly confined to the banks of rivers) also serves the cows for food, but the want of fodder in winter materially diminishes the quantity of milk. Few beasts are fattened, the crowded population leaving little land for pasture.

There are no extensive dairy farms; but as the little farmers keep cows, a considerable quantity of butter is sold for exportation. The breed of cattle is small and stunted.

Sheep are not much attended to, and their wool is not produced in greater quantity than the domestic purposes of the grower require.

The horses are inferior in size and appearance: the linen merchants, who travel about to different markets, use a small, hardy, and sure-footed native breed of hacks.

Goats and pigs are reared, the latter in great numbers.

Although agriculture has been improving since the time of Mr. Wakefield's publication (to which we are indebted for many of the foregoing particulars), yet it is still very inferior to that of England. The fields are ill-inclosed and ill-drained, and not kept clear of weeds; the farming in many cases is slovenly, though there are instances to the contrary.

Linen is the staple manufacture, and the county has consequently been affected by the decline of that business. The mode of manufacture by small farmers has been already described. It does not appear that the cotton manufacture has gained any footing; but a mixed fabric of cotton and flax, called 'Unions,' has been partially substituted for that of linen. The demand for linen is not so active as it has been, and yet all that the weavers bring to market is sold.

The introduction into England and Scotland of machinery for spinning flax has been felt in Ireland, where it has reduced the wages of spinners, which were always low. They cannot now earn more than eighteen pence per week. Spinning machinery has been introduced to a certain extent into this county.

The condition of the weavers has been materially affected by these causes. At one time they could earn 2 shillings per day, and, by working extra hours, 2 shillings 6 pence; now their earnings do not average more than 1 shilling a day (which is about the pay of a field labourer), but it does not appear that there are many of them out of employ.

The depression of the linen trade has led some to go to Manchester and the neighbourhood: others give more time to their little farms; and the introduction of steam communication with England has given them a new and better market for their produce. The condition therefore of the peasantry has rather improved than otherwise.

Their food, except the increased consumption of wheaten bread, still consists of potatoes, milk, bread, and butter, and occasionally pork. The clothing of the females is better than it used to be, though they still go without shoes or stockings. The habitations of the peasantry are also improved.

The moral character of the females is correct: and the peasants show a disposition to provide for the wants of their aged parents. Mendicants here, as in Ireland generally, are numerous, and, as a body, very immoral.

The mineral productions of this county are inconsiderable. Marble is quarried near Armagh; and at Keady, about eight miles from that city, a lead mine was once worked.

The chief roads are those from Dublin to the city of Armagh, one through Newry, and the other through Castle Blayney ; the continuation of these to Coleraine; and the roads from Armagh to Belfast, Monaghan, and Londonderry.

The population in 1821 was 197,427, and in 1831 220,651. It was estimated by Dr. Beaufort, in 1790, at 120,000.

The only towns of any importance are Armagh (population 9,189). and Lurgan (population 2,842).

The others are all small, as the following list, with their population in 1831, will show:—Tanderagee, 1,559; Rich-hill, 937; Newtown Hamilton, 1,050; Keady, 896; Charlemont, 517; Market-hill, 1,043; Blackwater, 528; Loughgall, 325; and Portadown, 1,591.

Part of the more important town of Newry (population 13,134) is in Armagh; the greater part is in the county of Down.

It appears that though the population of the country is dense, it is not much collected in towns and villages.

The number of pupils at schools in the county . in 1821, was 12,407, viz., 8,529 boys, 3,878 girls; in 1824 it was about 13,700, viz., about 7,900 boys, 5,200 girls; of about 600 the sex was not stated.

Three members are returned to the imperial parliament from this county: two for the county itself, and one for the city of Armagh. Newry returns a member.

It is difficult, from the variation of authorities, to state the number of parishes in the county. In the population return for 1821, twenty-three parishes, as used for civil purposes, are given as wholly or partly in this county; but these, from the consolidation of parishes into unions and the erection of perpetual curacies, must not be regarded as coincident with the existing ecclesiastical divisions.

It is not very easy to ascertain the state of religious parties in the county. In 1812 Mr. Wakefield estimated the proportion of Catholics to Protestants as three to one, the Catholics occupying all the mountainous parts, and being mixed with Protestants in the more level. He observes that the influence of the priests was small; and the bigotry of their flocks not so great as in the south of Ireland.

In the year 1824, according to the reports of the commissioners of education in Ireland, the proportion of Catholic scholars to those of Protestants of all classes, was 53 to 81 by the returns of the Protestant clergy, or 52 to 78 by those of the Catholic clergy: but the different rank in life of the Catholics and Protestants renders this an unfit criterion of the relative population.

The proportion of the pupils of the Established Church to Presbyterians was at the same time about 47 to 29, according to the returns of the Protestant clergy, or 44 to 30, according to those of the Catholics. This, as the parties are on a more equal footing in their rank in society, affords a better criterion; but Mr. Wakefield, in 1812, thought that of the Protestants in this country (county?) a very small proportion belonged to the Established Church. But we have reason to believe that in this opinion Mr. Wakefield was mistaken.

Among the antiquities of the county may be mentioned the cairn on the top of Sliebh Gullen, said to form the roof a cavern of artificial construction ; and that called the vicar’s cairn, about five miles south-east of the city of Armagh on a lofty hill, which is thought to be excavated.