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Ireland Gazeteer

Carlow county in 1836

CARLOW, an inland county of the province of Leinster and diocese of Leighlin in Ireland, bounded on the E. and S.E. by the counties of Wicklow and Wexford, which separate it from the Irish Channel; on the S.W. and W. by the county of Kilkenny, and on the N.W. and N. by Queen's County and the county of Kildare.

Its greatest length from N. to S. is 29 English miles: breadth, E. to W., 20 English miles: area, 346 square miles, or 211,440 statute acres; gross population, in 1821, 78,952; in 1832, 81,649.

The county of Carlow (the smallest county, excepting Louth, in Ireland) is in form nearly triangular, the directions of the angles being N.N.E., W.S.W., and S. respectively.

The whole county may be considered as an extension of the great central plain of Ireland, running S. to a point between the Wicklow and Wexford Mountains on the E., and the high grounds known as the ridge of Leinster on the W., and traversed in a direction nearly parallel to its E. side by the Barrow, which after cutting off the barony of Idrone West, changes its course from S. to S.S.E., and constitutes the W. boundary of the county, until it leaves it at its mearing with Kilkenny and Wexford.

The Barrow has been made navigable through its whole course in Carlow, and affords the means of a considerable export trade to Carlow, the assize town, which is situated near this river's entrance into the county.

The great S. road from Dublin to Kilkenny passes through Carlow in a direction nearly parallel to the Barrow, which it crosses at Leighlin Bridge. The roads, which are numerous and mostly in good repair, are kept up by county presentments, and, excepting the above line, have no turnpikes.

A railroad has been projected nearly in the line of the chief S. road which connects Carlow with Dublin and Kilkenny.

At present Carlow derives its chief facilities of transport from the Barrow navigation, which affords a water-carriage S. to Waterford, and N. by the Grand Canal, a branch of which meets it at Athy, to Dublin and the Shannon.

The great plain, of which the county of Carlow may be considered as an extension, consists of limestone, which occurs along the basin of the Barrow and occupies the greater portion of the W. baronies.

On the extreme W. of the county however the coal formation of the Castlecomer district occupies segment near Old Leighlin, while the E. portion of the county is a field of granite, extending from the great granite chain of Wicklow and Wexford.

A tongue of the old red sandstone formation of the Waterford Mountains is intruded between the limestone and granite, and crosses the bed of the Barrow about the point where it becomes the county boundary, striking N. towards Bagenalstown.

In the limestone district the soil is gravelly but warm; it is lighter and more peaty in the granite district. The limestone is dark, close-grained, and well adapted for the purposes of building; and the granite is celebrated for its whiteness, durability, and easy working under the hammer.

From the facility also of splitting this stone with the wedge, lintels of granite are commonly employed in cases where bars of wood are used elsewhere, and a common fence in the county of Carlow is a granite paling, the square lintels resting on their angles in notches on the tops of granite uprights: the weight of the stone keeps it in its place without any further fastening, and its hardness renders it the most lasting of all inclosures.

With the advantages of a good soil and the most uniformly resident proprietary in Ireland (the rental of the proprietary is estimated at £130,080 per annum), Carlow has long held a corresponding position as an agricultural and productive county.

The crops generally raised are potatoes, wheat, barley, and oats, the proportion of each being pretty much in the order in which they are here enumerated. The usual rotation is potatoes succeeded by wheat; that again by oats or barley, with grass-seed and clover, to be kept for meadow and grazing, for a longer or shorter time as may be convenient to the holder.

The system of farming in a great part of Carlow may be said to be good, particularly in the neighbourhood of Carlow, Leighlin Bridge, and Bagenalstown; and a decided improvement has latterly taken place throughout the county, that part of it bordering on Wexford and the lower part of Kilkenny being the most backward.

In the first-named districts turnips and other green crops are freely cultivated, and the practice of ploughing in the second crop of clover is generally pursued. On the whole, the county is a rich one, and the farmers, whether on a large scale or not, are, for their stations, generally comfortable. The land is chiefly held in fee, averaging 15 shillings per acre to proprietors, and 40 shillings per acre to occupiers.

Carlow is divided into six baronies, viz., Rathvilly and Carlow on the N.; Forth, Idrone East, and Idrone West in the centre, and St. Mullins on the S. The chief towns are, in Carlow are Carlow, the assize town of the county; in Rathvilly, Tullow and Hacketstown; in Forth, Clonegal; in Idrone East, Leighlin Bridge, Bagenalstown, and Borris; in Idrone West, Old Leighlin.

None of these are of importance as towns, except Carlow; Leighlin Bridge however is a place of considerable interest to the antiquary, with a population of upwards of 2,000; and Bagenalstown is likely to become one of the most flourishing villages in Ireland.

The only corporate towns in the county are Carlow and Old Leighlin, which formerly returned two members to the Irish parliament. The latter place is now a hamlet of some twenty cabins.

The manufacture of coarse woollens was at one time carried on to some extent in Carlow, but the trade is now altogether gone, and neither linen nor cotton spinning has yet been introduced.

The county is essentially an agricultural one, and its staple is the raising and manufacture of provisions—especially corn, butter, flour, and oatmeal.

The export of butter from Carlow town alone has varied, within the last ten years, from 25,000 to 35,000 firkins, averaging 70 pounds weight of butter each, to which may be added 10,000 firkins more for the remainder of the county, shipped annually by way of Waterford.

On the Barrow navigation there is a fall of rather more than one foot per mile, which gives a great water-power, available for mill sites, at almost every weir; the number of corn-mills along the line is accordingly very great, and, with one or two exceptions, these establishments lie within the limits of this county.

Corn-mills in Ireland are generally large edifices, and many of those in the county of Carlow belong to the first class of such buildings. Along the Carlow bank of the Barrow (with the above exceptions) it is calculated that not less than 200,000 barrels of wheat (producing 350,000 hundredweights of flour, at an average price of 13 shillings.) and 100,000 barrels of oats (producing 100,00 hundredweights of oatmeal, at an average price of 11 shillings.) are annually manufactured; an amount nearly double that effected by the same power ten years ago.

The increase is chiefly owing to the great improvements in milling machinery which have taken place within that time.

The provision trade consists chiefly in bacon for the home market. Large quantities of barley are malted by the resident maltsters and distillers. The value of the landed produce of Carlow has been estimated at £1,038,000 per annum.

The first event of historical interest connected with this county took place A.D. 630, when a synod was held at Old Leighlin to adjust a dispute which had arisen between the Irish ecclesiastics and the see of Rome regarding the fit time of celebrating Easter.

Of this discussion the life St. Munnu, quoted by Ware, furnishes the following characteristic anecdote:—'Laserian, abbot of Leighlin, who presided over 1,500 monks, defended the new (i.e. the Roman) order; while others adhered to the ancient (i.e. the Irish) form. * * * Then St. Munnu (Laserian’s opponent said—"You have three options given you, O Laserian: let two books, one of the old order and another of the new, be cast into the fire, and let us see which of them shall escape from the flames. Or let two monks, one of yours and another of mine, be shut up in the same house, and let the house be set on fire, and we shall see which of them shall escape unhurt. Or let us both go to the sepulchre of a dead monk and raise him up to life, and he will show us which order we ought to observe in the celebration of Easter." To which Laserian answered—" We will not proceed to judgment with you; because we know that if you commanded Mount-Marge to be changed into the While-Field ,and the White-Field to be removed to the place where Mount-Marge now stands, that on account of your infinite labours and great sanctity God would immediately do this for your sake." Afterwards the people returned every one to their own homes.'

The synod ended by decreeing a deputation to Rome, where after diligent inquiry the Irish ecclesiastics became satisfied of the correctness of the Roman computation, and, returning, introduced it universally in Ireland.

The civil history of the county up to the arrival of the English possesses little or no interest. On the arrival of the English this part of the country was known as comprehending the territories of Hy-Drone and Hy-Cavanagh, being the northern portion of the territory of Hy-Kinsellagh, the patrimony of Dermot Mac Murrogh, king of Leinster, the inviter of Strongbow.

Isabel, daughter of Strongbow by Eva, daughter of Dermot, married (1189) William Earl Marshal, one of the invading nobles, who in her right succeeded to the principality of Leinster.

This William, who was Lord Justice of Ireland, granted the first charter to the inhabitants of Catherlagh, as the present county town was then called, about 1208; and King John coming to Ireland in 1216 made the county shire ground.

William Earl Marshal and Pembroke dying in 1219 left five sons and five daughters, and on failure of the male line his immense estates devolved upon the latter, viz., to Maud, who married Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk, Carlow; to Joan, who married Warren Lord Montchesney, Wexford; to Isabella, who married Gilbert Earl of Gloucester, Kilkenny; to Sibilla, who married William Earl Ferrers and Darby, Kildare; and to Eva, who married William de Breos Lord of Brecknock, Leix, part of the present Queen's County; which great partition was made between the co-heiresses at Woodstock on the 3rd May, 31st Henry III.

From Roger Earl of Norfolk the lordship of Carlow passed to the crown, and from Maud his wife the barony of Idrone passed by grant in fee to the family of Carew. The lordship of the county was next granted by Edward I to Thomas de Brotherton, and from him descended through the family of Howard, earls of Norfolk and lords of Carlow, till forfeited by the statute of absentees in the reign of Henry VIII.

These lords palatine are thus described by Sir John Davies: 'These absolute palatines did make barons and knights, did exercise high justice in all points within their territories, erected courts for criminal and civil causes, and for their own revenues, in the same form as the king's courts were established in Dublin; made their own judges, seneschalls, sheriffs, coroners, or eschcators: so that the king’s writ did not run in these counties, but only in the church lands lying within the same, which were called the cross, wherein the king made a sheriff; and so in each of these counties palatinate there were two sheriffs, one of the liberty and one of the cross.'

But these lords residing at a distance gradually slackened the exercise of their privileges, and the descendants of the dispossessed Irish taking advantage of the lax administration of their deputies, and headed by one of the Kavanaghs, a descendant of Dermot Mac Murrogh, began forcibly to repossess themselves of their ancient patrimony, in which attempt they were ultimately so successful that in the 37th Edward III an order issued pro barrio amovendo a Catherlogh usque ad Dublinfor withdrawing the boundary of the pale from Carlow to Dublin—the country S. of Naas having fallen completely into the hands of the Irish.

Richard II, A.D. 1394, and again in 1399, undertook expeditions for the recovery of the revolted counties, but although he forced some of the Irish chieftains to a temporary show of obedience, he was finally obliged to return to England without accomplishing his object.

The whole county, including Carlow town and castle, seems to have remained in the hands of the Kavanaghs and other native chiefs till 1494, when the Fitzgeralds seized the castle, which they held till after the unsuccessful rebellion of Lord Thomas Fitzgerald in 1537.

In this year the resumption of the lordship of Carlow, alluded to above, took place; by which means the crown was afterwards enabled to grant large estates to the family of Butler in this county.

In 1567 Sir Peter Carew, descendant of the last proprietor of Idrone, into which the Kavanaghs had forcibly intruded in the reign of Edward III, exhibited his claim to this barony, and having established it to the satisfaction of the council, entered on possession, and 'dealt in such good order with the Kavanaghs, and so honourably used himself, that they all voluntarily yielded up their lands, and submitted themselves to his devotion.' (Hooker.)

He appears to have been a great benefactor to this part of the country, having divided the barony into manors, and established manor-courts for determining causes according to the English law, keeping a strong force at Leighlin Bridge, where he was celebrated for his splendid hospitality, and overawing while he conciliated his turbulent neighbours.

Sir Peter Carew died 1570, and his son Sir Peter Carew was killed at Glendalogh in a battle with the O'Byrnes of Wicklow in 1580, after which the Kavanaghs once more made head in Carlow, and Donnell Spaniagh (the Spaniard), their leader, joining with Feagh Mac Hugh, chief of the O’Byrnes, commenced a predatory warfare, which lasted from 1590 till 1601, when Sir Oliver Lambart at length reduced both to submission. During this insurrection Kavanagh had upwards of 1,000 men of his own name in the field, and after his submission furnished a small force of his own people against Tyrone, in aid of whose great rebellion he had originally risen in arms.

During the reign of Elizabeth large tracts of the county of Carlow had been granted to the Butlers and Fitzgeralds, and in the succeeding reign their estates were confirmed, as well as considerable possessions to the Earl of Thomond, to the submitted Kavanaghs, and among other grants was that of the entire barony of Idrone, which seems to have escheated, on Sir Peter Carew's death, to the family of Bagnall.

The forfeitures consequent on the different wars up to 1690 did not make any very material change in the distribution of property, the attainted proprietors in this county being few in number.

Dudley Bagnall, Esq., was the chief sufferer, and the distribution of his estates, with those of John Warren, Esq., John Baggot, Esq., and Lord Galmoy, introduced a few new names, still of great respectability, into the county. The total amount of forfeitures in 1688 was 26,303 Irish acres, valued at that time at £7,913, 11 shillings, 6 pence per annum.

In the rebellion of 1798 Carlow was the scene of several engagements. On the 25th May the rebels attacked the town of Carlow, and were repulsed with the loss of 600 men; on the same day a battle was fought at Hacketstown, in which the insurgents, said to have been 13,000 strong, were defeated with considerable loss; and, on the night preceding, Borris House, the residence of Mr. Kavanagh, was attacked by 5,000 of the peasantry, who were repulsed both on this occasion and on the 24th June when they assailed the town of Borris. Leighlin Bridge and Bagenalstown were also attacked with a like success.

The amount of compensation claimed for losses sustained in this rebellion by the county was £24,854, 14 shillings, 7 pence.

The county has, during the earlier part of the present century, enjoyed the advantages of resident landlords and an attached peasantry, but of late years society has been much torn by dissensions both civil and religious.

The chief antiquities of the county are military; cromlechs, near the towns of Carlow and Hacketstown, and the cathedral church at Old Leighlin, being the only pagan and ecclesiastical monuments of interest.

Of the cromlechs that near Carlow is the most remarkable: the covering-stone here weighs nearly 90 tons.

Of the castles those at Carlow, Tullow, and Leighlin Bridge, are the most ancient; the building of all is attributed to De Lacey. At Clonmullin, in the barony of Forth, are some traces of the castle of Donnell Spaniagh Kavanagh; Cloghgrenan, a castle of the Butlers on the right bank of the Barrow, is still standing. Clonmore, another stronghold of the same family, situated near Hacketstown, remains in a state of good preservation; it is a noble pile of 170 feet square, flanked with square towers at the angles.

In 1821 the number of young persons receiving instruction in this county was 7,059; in 1824 there were 166 schools, educating 8,461 scholars, of whom 7,000 were Roman Catholics, and 1,400 were Protestants.

The county expenses are levied by annual grand jury assessments.

The only public institutions for charitable purposes are a lunatic asylum, fever hospital, and infirmary at Carlow, dispensaries at seven other towns throughout the county, and fever hospitals at Tullow and Bagenalstown.

Poverty does not assume the same dreadful form here as in many other counties of Ireland; still it would appear, from the reports on the state of the Irish poor, that although the more distressed classes in Carlow neither emigrate periodically to England, nor willingly betake themselves to open begging, there is a great amount of suffering among the labouring peasantry during the winter months and from June to August annually. Women of loose character are scarcely known in the country parts, and persons of illegitimate birth labour under considerable odium.

In 1831 the population consisted of 41,839 males, and 40,149 females, total 81,988 persons, constituting 14,609 families, of which 8,163 were employed chiefly in agriculture, 2,581 were engaged in trade, manufactures, and handicraft (56 individuals being employed in machine-making), and 3,865 not included in either class. Number of houses inhabited, 13,275; uninhabited, 395; building, 109; total, 13,779; ditto, in 1832, 13,906; ditto, in 1821,13,028.

Carlow county returns two members to the imperial parliament, and supports two newspapers, both published in the county town, which returns one member.

The history and antiquities of the county have lately been illustrated in a work on that subject by Mr. Ryan, which furnishes all the historical facts of importance. For statistical and geographical details see Stat. Survey of the County of Carlow, Parliamentary Papers and Reports; Trans. Geolog. Society, vol. v. This portion however of the present notice is chiefly derived from actual observation.