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QUEEN’S County, an inland county of the province of LEINSTER, bounded on the east by the counties of Kildare and Carlow, on the north by the King’s county, on the west by the same and Tipperary county, and on the south by the counties of Kilkenny and Carlow.
It extends from 52° 46’ to 53° 10’ (N Lat.), and from 6° 56’ to 7° 48’ (W. Lon.) ; and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 396,810 statute acres, of which 335,838 are cultivated land, and 60,972 are unprofitable mountain and bog. The population, in 1821, amounted to 134,275; and in 1831, to 145,851.
The slight notices of Ptolemy respecting the interior of Ireland lead to the inference that this county was inhabited by the Brigantes ; but Whitaker asserts that the Scoti were the first settlers in it. Afterwards it was divided into Leix, which comprehended all that part of the county contained within the river Barrow to the north and east, the Nore to the south, and the Slieve-Bloom mountains to the west ; and Ossory, which included the remainder.
So early as the middle of the third century the latter of these divisions, with parts of the adjoining counties, was ranked as a kingdom, and annexed by Conary, King of Ireland, to his native dominion of Munster, instead of being, as formerly, attached to Leinster.
Subsequent passages of history prove it to have been a district of considerable importance. When Malachy was forming a confederacy of all the native princes against the Danes, the king of Ossory was specially required to conclude a peace with the people of the northern half of the island, in order that all should be at liberty to act against the common enemy; and in the time of Cormac Mac Culinan he had the command of the first division of that monarch’s army in his unjust and unfortunate invasion of Leinster, and fell in the battle of Maghailbe, in which Cormac himself was slain.
His dominions were afterwards disposed of by Flan, King of Ireland. Both Leix and Ossory were visited by St. Patrick in his peregrinations through the island to establish the Christian religion, In the war waged by Roderic O’Conor, King of Ireland, against Dermod Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, which led to the invasion under Strongbow, the king of Ossory was one of the princes who were specially summoned by the former of those potentates.
The district was then subject to the Mac Gillypatricks or Fitzpatricks, who acted with so much vigour against Mac Murrough that, when the English had partially established themselves in the country, Mac Murrough prevailed on them to join him in an invasion of Ossory, which they ravaged, notwithstanding the gallant resistance made by Donald Fitzpatrick, then king. Though defeated, this monarch persevered in his determination not to treat with Mac Murrough, and was again defeated and forced to seek refuge in Tipperary.
He afterwards formed an alliance with Maurice Prendergast, who, upon some offence received from the king of Leinster, had quitted the service of that monarch, and both invaded the neighbouring territory of Leix, which they ravaged with little opposition, until O’More, then dynast of it, was compelled to apply to Mac Murrough, by whom, aided by the English, he was quickly reinstated. Prendergast and Donald subsequently quarrelled, and the former, after skilfully extricating himself from an ambush laid for him by the other, retired with his followers in safety into Wales. Donald, though twice defeated, was not subdued.
The position of his territory on the confines of Munster and Leinster afforded him opportunities of intercepting the communications between Waterford and Dublin, of which he availed himself so effectually, that a league was formed against him by Strongbow (who on Dermod’s death succeeded to the kingdom of Leinster) and O’Brien, King of Limerick. But the appeal to arms was prevented by a treaty, in effecting which Maurice Prendergast, who had returned to Ireland, rendered his old ally good service.
From this time Donald continued faithfully attached to his new friends. His territory was the place of rendezvous for their army when it was preparing to march against Donald O’Brien, King of Limerick, who had now declared against the English; and he proved his adherence still further by guiding the army through the woods till it encamped before Limerick.
At this time the whole of the district now forming the Queen’s county was known by the name of Glenmaliere and Leix : the latter division was made a county palatine ; and on the division of the immense possessions of William, Earl Marshal, between his five daughters, it was allotted to the youngest, who had married William de Braosa, lord of Brecknock. Their daughter Maud married Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, and from this connection the imperial house of Austria, and the royal families of Great Britain, France, Prussia, Denmark, Holland, Sardinia, and Saxony, derive their descent.
Mortimer preferring to reside on his English estates, employed one of the O’Mores to defend and manage his Irish property, who, within twenty years after, became so powerful that he held it as his own, and became one of the most turbulent opponents of the English settlers in that part of the pale.
So fully was his authority recognised as lord of the district, that he was summoned by the English government to oppose Bruce and the Scotch. For two centuries after, the district was the seat of an almost incessant war between the O’Mores and the English, which was carried on without any occurrence of much historical importance on either side.
During the same period the Mac Gillypatricks, or Fitzpatricks, maintained their independence in Ossory, but generally adhered to the English. In the 5th year of Mary, both districts were reduced to shire ground, and incorporated under the name of the Queen’s county, the assize town being named Maryborough, in honour of the Queen.
But this new arrangement did not immediately tranquillize the country. At the close of the reign of Elizabeth, Owen Mac Rory O’More was so powerful that Sir George Carew, president of Munster, accompanied by the Earls of Thomond and Ormonde, was induced to hold a parley with him, to bring him back to his allegiance, in which they were entrapped in an ambush, and the Earl of Ormonde made prisoner, and detained till he paid a ransom of £3000.
The daring insurgent himself was shortly after killed in a skirmish with Lord Mountjoy; and the followers of the O’Mores were driven into the counties of Cork and Kerry, then nearly depopulated. At this juncture many English families, to whom grants of the lands thus forfeited had been made, settled here.
Seven of them, whose founders were most influential in securing the new settlements, acquired the names of the Seven Tribes, The families so called were those of Cosby, Barrington, Hartpole, Bowen, Ruish, Hetherington, and Hovenden or Ovington, of whom the first only has retained its possessions ; that of Barrington, still extant, has alienated its property; all the rest are extinct in the male line.
In the reign of Chas. I., large grants of land were made to Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, now forming the extensive manor of Villiers, which has descended through the female line to the present Duke. In the same reign, and during the unsettled period of the Commonwealth, the families of Pigott, Coote, Prior, Parnell, and Pole settled here : those of Vesey, Dawson, Staples, Burrowes, and Johnson, obtained lands in it after the Revolution.
The county had its full share of the calamities of the civil war in 1641, at the beginning of which the insurgents secured Maryborough, Dunamase and other places of strength. The Earl of Ormonde arriving at Athy from Dublin , detached parties for their relief ; on his retreat the whole of the county submitted to General Preston, but was forced again to submit to the royal arms.
In 1646, Owen Roe O’Nial seized upon several forts in it. In 1650, Cromwell’s forces entered the county and met with much resistance : in the course of the struggle most of its fortresses were dismantled by his generals, Hewson and Reynolds. During the Revolution of 1688, a signal victory was gained by the troops of William at a noted togher or bog-pass near Cappard, where they defeated a much superior number of the Irish. After the termination of the war, the country was so harassed by the ravages of the rapparees that the resident gentlemen applied to King William to have a force of infantry and dragoons quartered in it, and specified the castle of Lea as one of the principal stations for their reception.
The county is partly in the diocese of Killaloe, partly in those of Dublin and Glendalough, partly in that, of Kildare, but chiefly in those of Ossory and Leighlin. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Ballyadams, Cullinagh, Maryborough East, Maryborough West, Portnehinch, Slievemargue, Stradbally, Tinnehinch, and Upper Ossory. It contains the greater part of the borough and market-town of Portarlington ; the disfranchised borough, market, and assize town of Maryborough ; the ancient corporate and market and post-town of Ballinakill ; the market and post-towns of Mountmellick, Mountrath, Stradbally, and Abbeyleix ; the post-towns of Burros-in-Ossory, Rathdowney, Ballybrittas, Clonaslee, and Ballyroan ; and the suburb of the borough of Carlow called Graigue : the largest villages are those of Ballylinan, Castletown, Emo, Newtown and Arles.
It sent eight members to the Irish parliament, two for the county at large, and two for each of the boroughs of Portarlington, Maryborough, and Ballinakill. Since the Union it has been represented by three members, two for the county, and one for Portarlington : the election for the county takes place at Maryborough. The constituency, as registered up to Feb. 1st, 1836, consisted of 405 £50, 270 £20, and 1210 £10, freeholders ; 5 £50, 16 £20, and 97 £10, leaseholders ; 26 £50, and 72 £20, rent-chargers ; and 37 clergymen of £50, in right of their respective incumbencies, 3 of £20, and 2 of £10 ; making a total of 2143 registered voters.
Queen’s county is included in the Home Circuit : the assizes are held at Maryborough ; and general sessions of the peace at Maryborough, Mountmellick, Mountrath, Stradbally, Burros-in-Ossory, and Abbeyleix, twice in the year at each of these places. The county gaol is at Maryborough, and there are bridewells in Burros-in-Ossory, Stradbally, and Abbeyleix.
The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 18 deputy-lieutenants, and 82 other magistrates ; besides whom there are the usual county officers, including four coroners. There are 42 stations of the constabulary police, having a force of a sub-inspector, 9 chief officers, 45 sub-constables, 291 men and 15 horses ; besides which there are three stations of the peace preservation police.
The amount of the Grand Jury presentments, in 1835, was £21,575. 15. 7., of which £293. 16. 0. was for the roads, bridges &c., of the county at large ; £4124. 16. 0¼. for those of the baronies ; £9835. 15. 0¾. for public buildings, charities, officers’ salaries, and incidents ; £6680. 8. 2. for the police ; and £541. 0. 4. for the repayment of advances made by Government.
The district lunatic asylum for the Queen’s and King’s counties, Westmeath, and Longford, is at Maryborough ; as is also the county infirmary, and there are dispensaries at Abbeyleix, Ballybrittas, Ballymoyler, Ballinakill, Clondonagh, Errill, Mountrath, Mountmellick, Newtown, Coleraine, Portarlington, Rathdowney, Stradbally, Swan, Ballickmoyler, Burros-in-Ossory, and Clonaslee, which are supported by Grand Jury presentments and private subscriptions, in the proportion of one third of the former to two-thirds of the latter. In the military arrangements it is included in the eastern district, and contains one barrack for infantry at Maryborough, constructed for the reception of 61 non-commissioned officers and men.
The surface of the county is generally either flat or gently undulating with small hills, exhibiting a pleasing variety rather than picturesque effect. The inequality is mostly caused by the escars, ridges of which traverse the county in several parts : they are mostly formed of rounded nodules of limestone, calcareous sandstone, and coal shale, the parent rocks of which are found in the county or close to its confines,
The principal of these escars, called the Ridge, rises near Athlone and thence proceeding across the King’s county, enters the Queen’s at Mountmellick and proceeds to Rathleague through the extremity of Maryborough, forming in this county an unbroken line about 6 miles long, varying in height from 12 to 45 feet, being generally broad at the base and narrowing upwards to the width of a few feet ; to the north of Maryborough a road is carried along its summit ; south of the town it is planted.
Near the same place a very copious spring bursts from it, called the Blessed well of Maryborough, and much resorted to by the peasantry, who perform devotional ceremonies, called stations, round it. Beyond Rathleague the escars maintain a south-eastern course, and are broken and interrupted, but they soon resume a regular ridge-like form and divide into two branches, one southwards to the Doon of Clopoke, the other eastwards to Stradbally, again forming an unbroken line of more than 6 miles.
The tract extending from Urlingford, in Kilkenny county, to Dawson’s Grove near Monastereven, on the confines of Kildare, is the most improved of any in Leinster. It is generally well planted, not in isolated patches close to the mansion-houses, but over the whole face of the landscape, so as to give it much the appearance of an English woodland scene.
The Dysart hills, which are situated in this rich tract of country, add much to its variety and beauty; they are wholly composed of limestone, and their direction is north and south between the baronies of Maryborough, Stradbally, and Cullinagh, not forming a continuous elevation, but in most cases standing singly : the rock of Dunamase and the Doon of Clopoke are two of the most striking of them.
To the west the land rises into the lofty range of the Slieve-Bloom mountains, which form a marked line of division between this and the King’s county : their summit is called “the Height of Ireland,” from a popular opinion that it is the most elevated point in the island ; near it is the Pass of Glandine, a narrow defile, impassable for carriages, and forming the only mountain communication between the King’s and Queen’s counties. The northern side of the mountains of this range is very fertile, while the southern, though more exposed to the genial influence of the sun, is nearly barren and mostly covered with heath.
Towards the southern boundary of the county the ground rises into the Slievemarigue hills, which separate it from Kilkenny. The only lake is that of Lough Annagh, called also Lough Duff, on the border of the King’s county, to which one-half of it is considered to belong. The soil, which rests chiefly on a substratum of limestone, varies from a stiff clayey loam, well adapted to the growth of wheat, to a light sand, which, however, produces good barley, turnips and potatoes.
In the Slieve-Bloom mountains the surface inclines to a black, and in some parts, a yellow clay, of unequal depth, covering a mouldering rock or gritty gravel ; its general character is spongy, wet, boggy even where highest, and very rocky. The Dysart hills are fertile to their summits, which, though too steep for the plough, afford rich pasturage for sheep. The soil of the southern barony of Cullinagh is a gravelly silicious clay towards the mountains ; in the central parts it is a rich loam, and in the south, light and sandy : the largest bullocks in the county are fattened on the rich pastures in the low lands.
In the northern barony of Portnehinch the soil is light and unproductive, unless in some favoured spots where a persevering course of judicious cultivation has improved its character. Bogs are frequent in every part, chiefly about Maryborough ; they may all be considered as branches of the great central bog of Allen. The turf from them yields both white and red ashes ; that affording the latter is most esteemed either for manure or fuel. In some places are large tracts of marshy land called callows, which are inundated during winter but in summer afford excellent pasturage.
The land on the banks of the Barrow is alluvial and forms rich and valuable meadows. The average size of farms, particularly in the tillage districts, is not more than from 12 to 14 acres ; some noblemen and landed proprietors hold large tracts of land in their own hands, the superior cultivation of which is very effective as a leading example towards the general improvement of agriculture in the county.
Wheat is now generally grown even in the mountain districts : barley is also extensively cultivated : potatoes and oats form an essential part of the rotation system. Green crops are often seen, particularly turnips, of which the Swedish is most esteemed : rape and vetches are extensively raised ; clover is to be seen everywhere ; flax is planted only in small quantities for domestic consumption.
The implements and carriages employed in rural economy are generally of the most improved description : both bullocks and horses are used in ploughing, generally in pairs : where the soil is very deep and stiff, two pairs of the latter arc sometimes put in the same team, The manures are, lime and limestone gravel, here called corn gravel, procured with little labour or expense, and composts from the farm-yard.
The common fence is of white thorn planted on ditches well constructed but too often subsequently neglected : stone walls are also raised for the same purpose, particularly for the demesnes of the nobility and gentry. All the improved breeds of English cattle have been introduced into the county. The most esteemed dairy cows are a cross between the Durham and native breed, as they are good milkers, of large size and easily fattened. Dairies are numerous and productive ; cheese is made in small quantities; but butter, which is of very good quality, is the chief produce.
Pigs are reared in very great numbers; no farm-house is without them, but the breed is inferior to that in the southern counties ; goats are also kept by all the small farmers and cottiers. The horses are a light, small-boned, active race, good for the saddle but not well fitted for heavy agricultural labour
A great part of the county, particularly the mountainous districts to the north-west, was once covered with timber, in proof of which it may be stated that in the neighbourhood of Lough Annagh, oak, fir and yew trees are found in numbers lying a few feet below the surface, some of the roots adhering to the trunks and others remaining in their original position, the trunks having been burnt off and the charred cinder adhering in all its freshness to both trunk and root : large trunks and roots of trees are also perceptible in the lake, with their timber sound and remarkably tough. In the reign of Elizabeth, Capt. Leigh received the thanks of that queen for having valiantly led the English cavalry from Birr to Athy, through the woods and forests of Oregan. The country has since been entirely cleared of its old woods ; but new plantations have sprung up in most parts.
The farm-houses, like the farms, are generally small ; many have neat gardens and orchards, which, with the hedgerow trees, give them the appearance of much rural comfort. Draining and irrigation are but little attended to.
Geology & Minerals.
The principal portion of the county belongs to the great floetz limestone field, which forms the base of the greater part of the level country of Ireland ; the Slieve-Bloom mountains in the north-west, are of the sandstone formation, and at the Slievemargue in the south-east the coal formation commences. The limestone field abounds with escars, already noticed.
The coal formation commences near Timahoe, and extends east and south-east to the Barrow, and southwards almost to the Nore. It forms the northern extremity of the Kilkenny field, from which it is separated only by a small river, and the coal is in every respect similar in each part : the portion included in the Queen’s county extends about 3 miles by 2. The strata range as in Kilkenny, but the dip being to the west, the pits on this side are deeper.
There are five collieries at work ; namely, Newtown , Wolf Hill, Doonane, Poulakele and Moydebegh ; those of Rushes and Tollerton, though very valuable, are not wrought at present. The pits at Newtown are from 45 to 48 yards deep, all those around Moydebegh are from 61 to 64 yards. The coal at Newtown and Doonane is equal to the best Kilkenny coal, and sells at 20s. per ton at the pits ; that of the other collieries, though somewhat inferior, never sinks below the price of 17s. per ton.
Hence the poor people, even in the immediate vicinity of the pits, cannot afford to use it, and it is entirely purchased by maltsters, brewers, distillers and smiths, by whom it is much sought after, inasmuch as, being almost pure carbon, without any admixture of bitumen, it requires no preliminary preparation even for malting purposes ; it is conveyed to all the surrounding counties chiefly in one-horse carts.
In the summer of 1836, 64 pits were at full work, for unwatering which five steam-engines were employed, but the coal is mostly raised by horses. The works furnished employment to 700 men, and the value of the coal raised is estimated at upwards of £78,000 per ann. Yet, notwithstanding these advantages, the workmen, from their irregular and inconsiderate habits, are miserably poor ; and the district is frequently disturbed by broils and tumults, so that police stations are thickly distributed throughout this portion of the county.
Iron ore shews itself in some parts, and mines were wrought until the failure of the supply of timber for fuel caused them to be relinquished : a branch of the iron-manufacture which had been sucessfully carried on at Mountrath, when timber was plentiful, has been discontinued for the same reason.
Copper and manganese have also been found. Slate quarries have been opened at Roundwood, in Offerlane, and at Cappard. Near Mountmellick are quarries of soft silicious sandstone, which is wrought into chimney-pieces and hearth-stones that are in great demand. Ochre, fullers’ earth, and potters’ clay are met with. Potteries have been long established in the neigh-bourhood of Mountmellick, in which large quantities of tiles, crocks, and garden pots are made.
The other manufactures are confined to cottons, flannels, friezes and stuffs of a coarse durable kind for the clothing of the peasantry. Much broad cloth was woven in Mountmellick for the Dublin market, and a broad stuff called “Durants” was also manufactured there and at Maryborough ; but the trade has long declined.
The same observation is applicable to serges, the use of which has been in a great measure superseded by that of cotton cloth. Cotton factories were erected at Cullinagh, Abbeyleix, and on the Barrow near Athy, but all failed ; the only one at present in the county is at Mountrath. In Mountmellick are an iron- foundry and extensive breweries, a distillery, and tanneries. At Donoughmore is a very extensive starch-manufactory, the produce of which is almost exclusively sent to Dublin. Flour-mills at Mountmellick, Coleraine, Maryborough, Castletown, Rathdowney, Donough more, Abbeyleix and Stradbally, besides several in other parts, are each capable of manufacturing 12,000 barrels of flour annually.
The Nore is the only river of any magnitude that passes through the county : it rises in the Slieve-Bloom mountains and enters Kilkenny near Durrow, receiving in this part of its course the Tonnet with its branch stream the Dolour, the Old Forge river, the Cloncoose with its branches the Cromoge and Corbally, the Trumry, the Colt, and the Erkin or Erkenny. The Barrow, which rises in the same mountain range, and forms the northern and part of the eastern boundary of the county, receives the Blackwater, the Trihogue, and the Owenass or Onas : it is navigable for barges from Athy downwards, and quits the county for that of Carlow at Cloghgrennan.
The Grand Canal enters the county at Clogheen near Monastereven, and is carried along near its eastern boundary for eight miles to Blackford, where it re-enters the county of Kildare, and shortly after communicates with the Barrow at Athy. A branch has been carried from Monastereven by Portarlington to Mountmellick.
The roads are numerous throughout every part of the county : in general they are well laid out and kept in good order. The intended railway from Dublin to Kilkenny is to cross the Barrow from Kildare at Ardree below Athy, and will proceed by Milford, Grange, Shruel, and Graigue to Cloghgrennan, and proceed thence by Leighlin-Bridge to the city of Kilkenny.
Relics of antiquity of every description known in Ireland are to be found here. There is a pillar tower nearly perfect at Timahoe, in a valley near the ruins of a monastic building. On Kyle hill, about two miles from Burros-in-Ossory, is a rude seat of stone, called by the common people the Fairy Chair, which is supposed to have been an ancient judgment-seat of the Brehons.
Near the south-western verge of the county is an ancient Irish fortress, called Baunaghra or “Kay’s Strength,” little known on account of its retired situation on the top of a high hill surrounded by a deep circular fosse with a mound or wall on the summit. The other principal relics are described under the heads of the parishes in which they are situated. Monastic institutions, of a very early date, were numerous, but most of them have so completely fallen into decay, that even their site cannot now be ascertained.
The ruins of Aghaboe, whither the seat of the see of Ossory was removed from its original situation at Saiger, in the King’s county, until its final removal to Kilkenny, still exist in such a state of preservation as to afford some idea of the extent and character of the buildings. The ruins of Aghmacart are also visible, as are traces of those of Killedelig, Killermogh, Mundrehid or Disert-Chuilin, and Teampul-na-Cailliagh-dubh, near Aghaboe.
The churches of Dysartenos and Killabane have been preserved as parish churches. The site of the monastery of Leix is known only by the existence of the town of Abbeyleix : that of Timahoe is conjectured, with much probability, from the round tower there. Rostuirc was near the Slieve-Bloom mountains; Stradbally or Monaubealing stood near the town of Stradbally; Teagh-Schotin and Slatey were in Slievemargue : the sites of Cluainchaoin, Cluainimurchir, Disert Fularthaigh, Disert Odrain, Kilfoelain, and Leamchuil or Lahoil, are wholly unknown.
Among the remains of military antiquities is the rock of Dunamase, described in the account of the parish of Dysartenos. Lea castle, on the Barrow, eight miles from Dunamase, is supposed to have been built about the same period, its architecture much resembling that of the other, and it was still further secured by its natural position, being protected on one side by the Barrow, and on the other by a deep morass : it was incapable, however, of holding out against Cromwell, by whom it was taken and destroyed.
The castles of Shean, Moret, Ballymanus, and five others in the same part of the county, were built by Lord Mortimer, as posts of defence for the English tenants whom he endeavoured to settle on his estates. Shean or Sim castle was built on a conical hill : though not of great extent, it was a place of considerable strength, but not a vestige of it is now in existence. Burros-in-Ossory was a strong fort on the Nore, belonging to the Fitzpatricks, and the great pass to Munster : it was the scene of a very bloody engagement in the war of 1641. Ballygihin, Castletown, Watercastle, and Castlefleming, with several others, belonged to branches of the same family. Shanbogh, in the same district, was a castellated mansion, which served as a protection against the rapparees who infested the deep woods with which this part of Ireland was then covered. Grantstown, Ballagh, Clonbyrne, Gortneclay, Coolkerry, and Kilbreedy are in the same barony. Castlecuff in Tinnehinch, built about 1641, by Sir Charles Coote, celebrated for his military prowess, is a very large ruin : he also built the castle of Ruish-hall.
The castles of Clara, Ballinakill, Coolamona, Tinnehinch, and Castlebrack, are in the same district : the last-named contains some subterraneous apartments, which were opened and partially explored, but presenting nothing more than other small caves, and the air being very foul, no attempt was made to penetrate to the extremity of any of them. The ruins of an old castle at Ballyadams, which gives name to the barony, are still visible ; another is to be seen at Grange. Shrule castle was in the south-western extremity of the county, near the town of Carlow.
The entrance into the ruins of Cloghgrennan castle separated the county of Carlow from the Queen’s county. The remains of Rathaspeck castle were applied to the building of the neighbouring parish church. A conical heap of stones on the summit of a very lofty hill, near the boundary of Stradbally barony, is known by the name of Cobler’s castle. The modern mansions of the nobility and gentry are noticed under the heads of their respective parishes.
The middle classes of the gentry pay much attention to the improvement and embellishment of their grounds ; their dwelling-houses are handsome and convenient, with suitable offices. The habitations of the peasantry, though in many parts superior to those of the neighbouring counties, are very deficient in appearance or in internal comfort. Abbeyleix and Castletown are exceptions, much attention being paid to the houses there ; in the baronies of Maryborough and Upper Ossory they are comfortable, but in the northern barony of Tinnehinch they are very poor, being little better than hovels, and in the neighbourhood of the collieries still worse.
A plot of ground of from half an acre to an acre is generally attached to the peasant’s hut, as a potato garden, for which he pays in labour from 20s. to 50s. rent. The fuel throughout the entire county is turf, the coal being exclusively used for manufacturing purposes ; wood was formerly so abundant, that a clause was introduced into many old leases binding the tenant to use no other kind of fuel ; and at the present time the ancient custom of dues and services is inserted in many leases.
A strong attachment to old customs is pointed out as one of the striking characteristics of the peasantry : but that this adherence is not caused by prejudice alone is proved by their adoption of improved practices of agriculture, when the success of others had ultimately convinced them of their superior advantages.
Another fact, illustrative of this observation, is, that the peasantry in all parts, even in the mountainous districts, speak English fluently, the Irish being never heard except with some of the very old people. The custom of frequenting wells for devotional purposes is declining fast.
Of the chalybeate springs the most remarkable are those at Cappard, Killeshin, Mountmellick, and Portarlington : the first-named is the strongest, but none of them are in much repute for their sanative qualities beyond their own immediate neighbourhood. There is a very singular artificial curiosity, called the Cut of Killeshin, about three miles from Carlow, on the road to the collieries.
It is a pass through a lofty hill above half a mile long, and from 10 to 40 feet deep according to the rise of the ground, but not more than four feet four inches wide, cut through the solid rock, so that cars have barely room to pass along it. The constant flow of water and the friction of the carriage wheels have occasioned this extraordinary excavation. The carrier, as he approached the gap at either end, shouted loudly, and the sound was easily conveyed to the other extremity through the cavity. Should the cars have met within the cut, the driver of the empty car was bound to back out, a task of no small difficulty along this narrow and ill-constructed road.
A new road has been opened, which has obviated the necessity of making use of this pass. Contiguous to this cut are the ruins of Killeshin church, with an antique and highly ornamented entrance archway, surrounded by an inscription in Saxon characters, now illegible. Adjoining the church was a rath with a deep fosse. This place was remarkable for having once been the chief town in the county, though not a stone building of it is now standing except the ruins just mentioned.