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ROSCOMMON (County of), an inland county of the province of CONNAUGHT, bounded on the north by the county of Leitrim, on the north-west by those of Mayo and Sligo, on the south-west and south by that of Galway, and on the east by the counties of Leitrim, Longford, Westmeath, and King’s. It extends from 53º 16’ to 54º 7’ (N. Lat.), and from 7º 50’ to 8º 46’ (W. Lon.) ; comprising an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 609,405 statute acres, of which 453,555 are cultivated land, 131,063 are uncultivated mountain and bog, and 24,787 are under water. The population, in 1821, was 208,729; and in 1831, 249,613.
Early People & History.
According to Ptolemy, this region was inhabited by the Auteri, who occupied also the present county of Galway . Among the native septs by whom it was afterwards occupied, the O’Conors enjoyed the supreme authority in the central districts, the Mac Dermots in the northern, and the O’Ceilys or O’Kellys in the southern.
After the arrival of the English in the country, Murrough, son of Roderic O’Conor, King of Ireland. during his father’s absence, persuaded Milo de Cogan to undertake an expedition into Connaught , who having come to Roscommon was there joined by Murrough, and their united forces commenced a marauding campaign through the neighbouring districts.
In 1204, this part of the island was ravaged by Wm. Bourke Fitz-Aldelm ; in 1216, Athlone castle was erected by King John ; and in 1268 Robert de Ufford, Lord Justice, commenced that of Roscommon, which shortly afterwards fell into the hands of the natives. The erection of the county into shire ground must have taken place at a very early period, as notices of the sheriffs of Roscommon and Connaught are found among the records of the reign of Edw. I., into which counties the portions of the province that acknowledged the English supremacy were divided.
Roscommon was included in the grant of Connaught made by Hen. III. to Richard de Burgo, or Bourke, with the exception of five cantreds reserved to the crown adjacent to the castle of Athlone ; Edw. I., in the 13th year of his reign, granted to Thomas de Clare and Geoffry de Conobyll, “the king’s waste lands in Connaught , in the region of Roscoman.” That the de Burgos held possessions here appears from Richard de Burgo assembling his forces at Roscommon, to oppose Edward Bruce when he was joined by Felim O’Conor ; and their united forces took their route by Athlone.
The latter chieftain, however, having subsequently taken part with Bruce, encountered the Anglo-Normans at Athenry, on which occasion the power of the O’Conor sept received an irrecoverable shock. The possessions of the de Burgos became vested in the English crown through the marriage of the daughter and heir of William, the last Earl of Ulster of this name, with the Duke of Clarence ; but the native septs appear to have resumed almost entire possession of Roscommon until the reign of Elizabeth,
The O’Conors of Roscommon were divided into the families of 0’Conor Ruadh or Roe, “the Red,” and O’Conor Dhunne, or Don, “the dark or brown,” from two rival chieftains thus distinguished by the colour of their hair, who were generally at war with one another ; the chief seat of one was Ballynafad castle, and of the other that of Ballintobber.
In 1565, Connaught was subdivided according to its present arrangement by Sir Henry Sidney, Lord- Deputy, when the county acquired its present limits. The country of the Mac Dermots was named the barony of Boyle ; that of O’Conor Don forms the barony of Ballintobber ; that of O’Conor Roe, the barony of Roscommon ; and that of the O’Kellys, the barony of Athlone and the half barony of Moycarnon,
The principal castles were those of Athlone, Roscommon, and St. John, the last of which was in ruins, all belonging to the Queen ; and that of Ballintobber, belonging to O’Conor Don. Sir John Perrot, Lord-Deputy, compelled the native chiefs, in 1584, to resign their territories into the hands of the crown, to execute indentures of submission, and to receive regrants, whereby their estates were to descend in future according to the rules of the common law of England. Both the septs of O’Conor firmly maintained their allegiance to Elizabeth ; and O’Conor Don, who had been knighted by her, represented the new county in parliament in 1585. When the Earl of Strafford, in the reign of Chas. I., adopted the project of subverting the titles of all the proprietors of Connaught, he adduced legal objections against their indentures with Sir John Perrot, and against every grant and other document produced ; and attending the Commissioners of plantation in person, he began with Roscommon in the execution of his plans.
The commission was opened for this county ; the king’s title to the lands was produced, examined, and submitted to a jury composed of the principal inhabitants, who were told by the earl that his majesty’s intention in establishing his title was to make them a rich and civil people, and participators in the glorious and excellent work of reformation which he had now undertaken ; to these persuasive arguments he also joined threats, and thus induced the jury unhesitatingly to give a verdict in favour of the crown.
The Deputy then published a proclamation, whereby all proprietors throughout the province were assured of easy composition, and of new and indefeasible grants.
In the war of 1641, Roscommon for some time took no part: but in the succeeding disturbances its ancient families joined with the confederate Catholics, and obtained entire possession of the country, although they were twice defeated by Lord Ranelagh, President of Connaught. Accordingly, on the termination of the war, they were stripped of their possessions, which were divided among English and Scotch adventurers.
At the Restoration, however, the family of O’Conor Don regained part of its property on the western side of the county, and has ever since kept possession of it : it is, therefore, the only family in this county which now enjoys the possessions held by it previously to the arrival of the English.
Roscommon is partly in the diocese of Clonfert, partly in that of Tuam, but chiefly in that of Elphin. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Athlone, Ballintobber, Ballymoe, Boyle, Moycarnon, and Roscommon. It contains the corporate, market and assize-town of Roscommon ; the corporate and market-towns of Boyle and Tulsk ; the market and post-towns of Castleren, Elphin, French-park and Strokestown ; the post- towns of Athleague and Mount-Talbot ; nearly the whole of the important and flourishing market and post-town of Ballinasloe ; and parts of the towns of Athlone, Jamestown, Lanes borough and Carrick-on-Shannon: the largest villages are Lough Glyn, Ruskey (each of which has a penny post), Knockcroghery, Tarmonbarry, and Castle Plunket.
It sent eight members to the Irish parliament, two for the county at large, and two for each of the boroughs of Roscommon, Boyle, and Tulsk ; but since the union the two returned for the county are its only representatives. The elections take place at Rosommon. The constituency, as registered up to the beginning of the year 1837, consists of 405 freeholders of £50, 201 of £20, and 1287 of £10 ; 9 leaseholders of £20 and 96 of £10 ; making in the whole 1998 electors.
The county is included in the Connaught circuit ; the assizes are held at Roscommon, where the court-house and county gaol are situated. There are also court- houses and bridewells at Athlone, Boyle, Castlerea and Strokestown. For the convenience of holding the general sessions of the peace, the county is divided into the districts of Athlone and Boyle, the former of which comprises the baronies of Athlone, Ballymoe, and Moycarnon, and the parishes of Kilbride, Roscommon, Kilteevan, Kilgeffin, and Clontuskert ; the latter comprises the remainder of the county.
The sessions for the former are held at Athlone and Roscommon ; and for the latter at Boyle, Castlerea, and Strokestown. For the purpose of holding petty sessions it is divided into the eighteen districts of Clogher, Belanagare, Croghan, French-park, Boyle, Roscommon, Athlone, Ballydangan, Tobberpatrick, Four-Mile-house, Rahara, Rooskey, Keadue, Ballintobber, Kilmore, Lanesborough, Elphin, and Mount-Talbot, with a small exempt district in the vicinity of Tulsk.
The local government is vested in the lieutenant, 10 deputy-lieutenants, and 90 other magistrates, together with the usual county officers, including three coroners. There are 54 constabulary stations, having in the whole a force of 1 stipendiary magistrate, 1 sub- inspector, 6 chief officers, 66 sub-constables, 250 men and 8 horses.
The total amount of Grand Jury presentments for the year 1835 was £27,378. 6. 5., of which £1130. 13. 2½. was for the roads, bridges, &c., of the county at large ; £7058. 9. 1½. for those of the baronies ; £8575. 11. 4½. for public buildings, charities, officers’ salaries and incidents ; £5759. 1l. 1½. for the police ; and £4854. 1. 7. for repayment of advances made by Government. The district lunatic asylum for the whole of the province of Connaught is at Ballinasloe,
The county infirmary is at Roscommon ; and there are dispensaries at Athlone, Athleague, Ballagh, Boyle, Castleren, Croghan, Elphin, French-park, Keadue, Lecarrow, Loughlin, Strokestown, and Tulsk, supported by Grand Jury presentments and private subscriptions in equal proportions.
In military arrangements the county is included in the western district, that part of Athlone within it being the headquarters of the district, which, besides Roscommon, extends over the counties of Leitrim, Mayo, Sligo, Galway (except the town of Mountshannon), Longford, Westmeath, and King’s county, with the barony of Lower Ormond in the county of Tipperary, not including the town of Nenagh, The county contains three barrack stations ; two at Athlone for artillery and infantry, and one at Roscommon for infantry, affording, in the whole, accommodation for 30 officers and 521 men.
The county is of very irregular form, its length being nearly 60 English miles, whilst its greatest breadth does not exceed 32 ; southward it quickly contracts to ten, and northward it gradually declines to three, forming an important frontier to the whole of Connaught . Its general surface forms part of the vast limestone plain of the central parts of the island, with only four very striking elevations of surface.
These are, the mountains on the borders of Lough Allen, in its northern extremity ; the Curlew mountains on its north-western confines, near Boyle ; the great ridge of Slievebawn, extending through the baronies of Ballintobber and Roscommon, and Slieveaeluyn, near Ballinlough, in the west. In the plain districts are considerable tracts of flat ground, through which the rivers wind a sluggish course, frequently overflowing their banks, and inundating the adjoining country.
Some of the larger bogs also present flat surfaces of considerable extent, while others are diversified with all the inequalities of the hills upon which they are situated. Remarkably extensive tracts of flat alluvial land, and of bog, occur along the courses of the Shannon and Suck, forming detached portions of the bog of Allen, the most worthy of notice being those situated near Athlone and Lanesborough, both of which are crossed by several ridges of limestone gravel.
Along the Suck, and along the Shannon south of Carrick, the shores in several parts are bold, and the cliffs occasionally overhang the water ; but these in general are formed of compact masses of limestone gravel and indurated clay. The highest mountains are those of Bracklieve and Slieve Curkagh, in the most northern extremity of the county, between which the river Arigna flows in a deep valley, over which the mountains rise upwards of 1000 feet with steep and ragged acclivities, and broad perpendicular faces of rock. Next to these in height is the ridge of Slieve Bawn, which, from the shores of
Lough Bodarrig on the Shannon , extends nearly southward, from two to four miles distant from that river, to the parallel of Lanesborough. On the east side, towards the Shannon, a gradual slope extends nearly from the crest of the ridge down to the edge of the flat bogs which stretch along the base, and up the sides of these acclivities cultivation is annually extending.
The western side of the range is more broken, the pastures are naturally richer, and groves are scattered along the base. Amid the mountains forming the northern boundary of the county are numerous scenes of a very picturesque character. Some parts of the banks of the Suck are also beautiful, and the shores of some of the lakes are delightful, yet there is a great deficiency of wood throughout the county, although in the neighbourhood of some of the principal residences there are groves and plantations, showing by their luxuriant growth the capabilities of the soil for such productions.
The largest and most beautiful of the lakes wholly belonging to the county is Lough Kea, close to the town of Boyle, now more generally known by the name of Rockingham lake, from the seat of Lord Lorton on its southern shore, Several rivers from the south and west are tributary to it, but its principal supply proceeds from Lough Gara, on the borders of Sligo, whence a rapid stream called the Boyle water enters the Western extremity of the lake ; it discharges itself by a narrow outlet, which soon expands into a series of lakes that take their common name from the town of Oakford in their neighbourhood, and discharge themselves into the Shannon.
The scenery throughout the whole of this chain of lakes is highly picturesque. To the north of Lough Kea are the smaller lakes of Lough Skean and Lough Meelagh, the latter very beautiful and both communicating with the Shannon by a common outlet. In the west of the county is Lough Aeluyn, and in its neighbourhood are Loughs Erritt and Glynn. In the central part, to the east of Elphin and Strokestown, are numerous small lakes, the waters of most of which find a passage to the Shannon ; Lough Funcheon, in the barony of Athlone, is the only lake of any extent in the south.
The eastern boundary of the county is bordered by several of the lakes formed by the Shannon ; Lough Gara, already noticed, is on its western side between it and Sligo . In winter the extent of water in the county is considerably increased by the turloughs or temporary lakes which usually disappear in summer, though they sometimes remain through the whole of that season, and occasionally even a second year. These turloughs, which vary considerably in extent during different years, occupy shallow basins in the limestone districts, where fissures in the rocks and swallow-holes occur ; and are apparently formed by these vents being stopped by the back water from the subterraneous reservoirs with which they are connected.
Such as have a grassy bottom, when the waters retire in time, produce most luxuriant crops. Some are of considerable size ; that of Mantun contains about 600 English acres ; and one near Lough Glynn is upwards of half a mile in length ; they are most numerous in the western and central parts of the county.
The extent of surface occupied by water, in the baronies of Boyle and Roscommon, is much greater than in all the other divisions. The soil, though of great variety, may be divided into two remarkable portions, that based on the limestone of the plain districts, and that on the sandstone of the mountains and their vicinities, of which the former is by much the most fertile, forming the natural pasture land for which Roscommon has been so long celebrated, particularly the pasturages in the vicinity of Tulsk and Kilcorky and in the plains to the south-east of the town of Boyle.
Extensive tracts of very light shallow soil are commonly devoted to sheep-feeding, more particularly along the ridges which separate the waters of the Suck and the Shannon, Where the limestone rock is so sparingly covered, that the plough cannot be used. Rich deep loams are also met with in the limestone districts, and the dry, mellow sandy lands between Elphin and Kingston are particularly noted for their fertility.
Between the surface soil and the rock are often vast alluvial deposits of gravel and loams of various texture. Some of the sandstone soils, as in the vicinity of the Curlew mountains, though of a very poor quality, are susceptible of great improvement by judicious cultivation. The only sandy land is contiguous to Lough Aeluyn, where it appears to have been formed by drifts from the shores of the lake. On the mountains, dry patches covered with heath are occasionally found ; but the surface is commonly wet and boggy.
Great improvements by draining may be effected in every part of the county, both by deepening the streams in the low grounds, and by making drains in the uplands, where cold, wet and spongy land, producing rushes and aquatic plants, occurs in places apparently little likely to produce them.
Although tillage has in later years been greatly extended, yet the general system of agriculture, except on the lands held by wealthy individuals, is still in a very backward state. The course consists of an introductory crop of potatoes, followed by wheat, barley, bere, and oats, or by such of these corn crops as the fertility of the soil is calculated to produce With the greatest advantage, until the ground is exhausted, when it is “let out,” that is, the land is allowed to remain in its natural state after the last crop has been drawn off, and continues thus until a new herbage is produced, in which thistles, docks, and ragweed usually predominate.
Agriculture has made rapid advances among the gentry and wealthier farmers ; the most approved implements and modes of culture have been introduced, but, probably in consequence of the system of shallow ploughing still generally adhered to, turnips and mangel wurzel, whose roots strike deep into the ground, do not succeed so well as in some other counties.
The English spade is unknown, its place being supplied by the loy, so common throughout Connaught . The steeveen, used in setting potatoes, is merely a pointed stake, with a cross piece near the lower end to receive the foot, and which likewise determines the depth of the holes. In certain districts of Roscommon, as in other places where spade husbandry prevails, it is usual for the people to exchange labour reciprocally, and to unite in considerable numbers in the fields of individuals in rotation, more especially for the purpose of planting or digging potatoes.
The extensive grazing farms present a remarkable contrast to the fallow tillage land: the pastures are unrivalled in beauty and fertility. The highest quality of pasture land, consisting of native grasses, is reckoned to feed a bullock and a sheep per acre ; on other lands an acre and a half is required, and on some grazing farms forty bulloeks are allotted to a hundred acres.
The best land for feeding bullocks is the district extending from Elphin to Castlerea ; that for sheep, those from Roscommon to Tulsk, and thence northwards to Boyle.
Dairy farms are neither numerous nor extensive, yet the butter made in the County is of remarkably good quality and everywhere commands high prices. Great attention is paid to the breeds of cattle ; the favourite stock is the Old Leicester crossed with the long-horned breed of the country, as being best adapted to the soil, remarkable for their symmetry, of good size, and easily fattened: the bullocks are larger than those in any other part of Ireland ; they are generally disposed of at the October fair of Ballinasloe: sheep are also reared in great numbers ; the most approved kinds are the New Leicester and a cross between it and the native breed ; the wool of the latter being close and fine, and the mutton peculiarly well-flavoured.
The superiority of both cattle and sheep in this county is attributable both to the excellence of the soil and the skill and attention of the breeder. The horses are likewise in high estimation both as roadsters and hunters,
Pigs, though superior to those of many other parts, are not a common stock ; goats are seldom seen except with the cottiers in the mountainous districts,
The fences for the most part are high dry stone walls, which are preferred to the quickset hedge, even by most of the wealthier and more intelligent farmers, as affording more shelter to the cattle. Draining and irrigation are little practised, though much could be effected in this respect, as the bogs, which are interspersed throughout most parts in various sizes, from tracts of a thousand acres to patches scarcely adequate to supply the neighbouring district with fuel, are all so situated with respect to elevation and subsoil as to make their drainage and reclamation a work of little difficulty or expense.
The country in general is extremely deficient in timber. Its ancient forests have long since been cleared away ; their only remaining traces are on the shores of some of the lakes ; and not until lately have any general or enlarged exertions been made to reinvest the country with this useful and beautiful appendage.
The only plantations are in the neighbourhood of the mansions of the nobility and gentry. To the west of Castlerea and on the shores of Lough Ree the land spontaneously throws up shoots of oak, hazel and other species of forest trees in great abundance ; and small copses, chiefly of underwood, are often met with among the rocky ravines.
Turf is universally the fuel of the common people, and generally of the farmers: the principal part of the coal that has been raised in the north, above the quantity consumed in the iron-works, has been sold for the supply of more distant places, where fuel is less plentiful.
All the plain district is based on limestone, varying in appearance and quality. The upper beds are commonly of a grey colour and of secondary formation, abounding with petrifactions, principally madrepores. The lower beds are more commonly of a blackish hue, and the stone contains large portions of argillaceous and silicious earths, which frequently render it unfit for burning: this impure limestone, called calp, is often accompainied by thin layers of Lydian stone, which are sometimes so numerous and minute as to give the rock a striped appearance. The calp beds are commonly succeeded by strata of black limestone of a crystalline structure, susceptible of a high polish ; but in the northern parts of the county, the limestone of the lower beds, even where they come in contact with the sandstone, are of a light grey colour, and of a crystalline texture and susceptible of polish.
Silicious sandstone appears in several parts of the county rising up from beneath the limestone bed and forming isolated hills, and likewise composing the long ridge of Slievebawn, where it appears on the summit in large broken masses. Of similar composition is the hill of Ballyfermoile, and at Belanagare the sandstone appears at the surface in very thin flags, which are used in the vicinity for roofing houses. In the more western part of the county, beyond Castlerea, sandstone appears in various places, and limestone is comparatively rare.
But by far the most interesting part of Roscommon, in reference to its geological formation, is the northern mountainous district on the confines of Lough Allen, forming the celebrated coal and iron district of Arigna. This coal district forms a portion of that of the county of Leitrim , but of its two most important divisions, one is wholly and the other chiefly in the northern end of this county.
The strata are arranged with great regularity, rising immediately into the high fiat- topped mountains of Bracklieve and Slieve Curkagh. They dip conformably with the subjacent limestone, and in opposition to the southern declivity of the mountains ; but the continuity of the different beds is frequently broken by faults, where the strata of one part of a hill have slipped down to a lower level, producing a variation of level of from 20 to 40 yards.
In the series of strata the lowest and first above the limestone base is black slate clay, about 600 feet in thickness, in the upper part of which are shale and thin beds of sandstone ; it likewise contains numerous beds of clay iron-stone, from half an inch to two feet in thickness. Resting on it there is from thirty to sixty feet of greyish white rock, called the first or great sandstone. Above this succeeds black state clay, from nine to twenty feet thick, covered by grey sandstone from six to ten feet thick, on which rests sandstone from one to three feet in thickness, with fossil impressions, known by the name of ”seat rock,” incumbent on which is fire-clay of a similar thickness.
This forms the seat of a stratum of coal intermixed with thin laminae of shale, from one to three feet thick, above which is greyish white sandstone, from four to twenty feet ; next, black slate clay from six to fifteen feet ; and then sandstone from twelve to fifteen feet. This forms the seat of the second coal stratum, which is of good quality, and the only one yet discovered that will repay the labour of the miner: it varies from one foot four inches to two feet six inches, and appears to promise an abundant produce: the stratum is thicker, and the coal better, than any before known.
Its roof is grey, soft slate clay, from ten to fifteen feet thick, above which is white sandstone, from twenty-four to forty-five feet, on which rests the third and uppermost seam of coal, from eight to nine inches only in thickness. Above it is slate clay in beds varying in thickness, generally soft and black, and containing innumerable thin layers of clay iron-stone: these beds are unitedly from 100 to 200 feet thick, and are succeeded by blackish grey sandstone slate in thin layers, from 30 to 60 feet thick, capped by sandstone flag, from 30 to 50 feet, which forms the summits of the coal mountains, and is the highest stratum in the county in geological and in actual elevation: the chief workings now in operation vary from 260 to 270 feet below the surface.
The course of the Arigna river, which runs through a deep and narrow valley, has been adopted as a line of division between the coal field of Bracklieve, on the south, and that of Slieve Curkagh on the north, in both of which the strata are nearly similar, although minor differences, such as the change of soft slate clay into sandstone slate, may be observed within a few yards.
A peculiarity of these coal districts is that of the beds of coal all lying at a considerable elevation in the mountains, where their outcrop may be distinctly traced in various places. The coal district to the south of the Arigna river extends in the direction of the mountain, from south-east to north-west, about nine miles, and in breadth about two, comprising an area of 4540 acres ; and the coal field to the north of that river comprises about 1940 acres ; making a total of about 6480.
The quality of the coal, though not equal to that of Whitehaven or Newcastle , is sufficiently well adapted for culinary or manufacturing purposes, being a medium between the quick blazing coal of Scotland and the coal of Whitehaven. Inconsiderable workings appear to have been made in the borders of the several seams from an early period ; but the first important era in the mining history of the district was the establishment of iron-works at Arigna, in 1788, by three brothers of the name of O’Reilly. By these enterprising men, pit coal was for the first time used in Ireland in the smelting of iron-ore ; and both bar and pig iron of the best quality were produced. But the speculation proved unsuccessful, and, after passing into other hands, the concern was discontinued in 1808, although it had two coal mines in the southern district for its supply, the Rover colliery, about a mile distant, and the Aughabeby colliery, the largest in the district, about three miles distant.
A report on the mineral wealth of this district, made by Mr. Griffith to the Royal Dublin Society, in 1814, and the repetition of the statements therein contained by that gentleman before a committee of the House of Commons in 1824, induced the investiture of capital in the working of these mines by several companies, who made the borders of Lough Allen the scene of revived activity and industry.
The Irish and the Hibernian Mining Companies began operations in the mountains on the north side of the Arigna river, but suspicions were soon entertained by the agents both as to the reported extent and thickness of the coal ; and the Hibernian Company at once abandoned the speculation as unworthy of further attention. The Irish Mining Company, however, persevered, and opened several pits, the largest of which, at Tullynaha, was worked to advantage for a long time.
But the body that engaged most extensively in these works was the Arigna Mining Company, formed in London during the speculating period of 1824 and 1825, whose affairs became the subject of a parliamentary investigation and of a long and expensive chancery suit, which was not terminated until Jan. 1836. In 1824, a lease of the old Arigna works was obtained from Mr. Latouche ; a colony of engineers and workmen was brought over from England in the same year ; the works were restored, the coal and iron mines reopened, and 230 tons of iron were manufactured between Nov. 1825 and May 1826, at an expense of £8. 4. per ton, when the furnace became choked, in consequence of which the smelting was discontinued and the works were suffered to fall into decay until after the decision in chancery, when Mr. Flattery, in whose favour the decree was made, recommenced the works, which have been since in full operation, producing 18 tons of castings daily and affording employment to 560 men: the metal wrought is said to be equal to the best Swedish iron.
Fine castings of every description are made here and shipped for Dublin , where there is already a great demand for them. In connection with these works are the collieries of Rover and Aughabehy, belonging to the old proprietors, and a new pit, in which the coal is superior in quality and the seam thicker than any of those previously discovered, has been opened at Gubberother by Mr. Flattery, who is about to form a railway from his works to the lake.
The same spirited individual is erecting a building for the manufacture of bar, rod, and sheet iron. The value of these works to the manufacturing industry of the country is much diminished by the want of good roads through this mountainous district. The works are near the shore of Lough Allen and 9 miles from Carrick on Shannon , south of the Arigna river, where the royalties chiefly belong to Mr. Tennison, though one is held under the Archbishop of Tuam. There are coal mines on both sides of this mountain ridge, of which the most important is that of Aughabehy, more distant than any from the iron-works. The iron-stone of the neighbourhood is of the greatest variety, richness, and abundance ; and the limestone used as a flux is of the best quality.
Of other mineral productions, it remains only to state that clay suitable for potters’ use and for tobacco pipes is found in different parts of the county: in the vicinity of Roscommon are several small potteries ; and at Knockcroghery there is a manufactory for tobacco pipes. Fire-bricks have been made from the fire-clay of the coal districts, and considerable quantities are now made at the Arigna works.
Iron-stone is found not only in the northern but likewise in the western part of the county, where it was formerly smelted in small quantities ; and between Mantua and Belanagare occurs a tough compound calcareous stone, containing pale, blueish, striated flints, resembling chalcedony and agate. Except the above, scarcely any manufactures are now carried on ; that of linen, which partially flourished while supported by bounties, having become nearly extinct when they were withdrawn ; and even the domestic manufacture of coarse flannels, striped woollens, and cotton stuffs, for home consumption, is injured by the rivalry of cheap goods from England . The commerce therefore consists in the export of agricultural produce, in the extensive sales of cattle at the surrounding marts, of which Ballinasloe is the principal, and in the importation of the foreign supplies required by its wealthier population.
The chief rivers connected with the county are the Shannon and the Suck. The Shannon , from Lough Allen, throughout the whole of its course along the eastern frontier of the county, has been made navigable, notwithstanding its numerous rapids. The difficulties of the first seven miles and a half are obviated by a canal from Lough Allen, near Drumshambo, to Battlebridge, whence the navigation is continued down the river to Carrick-on-Shannon, below which it winds a smooth and majestic course beneath high cliffs of gravel on the Roscommon side, and a mile or two farther forms numerous little bays and inlets, and encircles some small islands.
A second canal then occurs, to avoid the rapids between Jamestown and Drumsna. After passing through Loughs Bodarrig and Boffin, the Shannon again becomes shallow and narrow, and, to obviate the obstructions, a canal of about three- quarters of a mile in length is carried past the falls of Ruskey . At Tarmonbarry the rapids are avoided by coasting round the great island of Cloondra, at the lower end of which a short canal recommunicates with the river: the next town on the navigation is Lanesborough, where rapids are avoided by another artificial cut, and immediately below the river expands into Lough Ree, nearly eighteen English miles in length, the navigation of which is attended with some danger on account of its sunken rocks and shoals, the most difficult part being the end next Lanesborough, where the channel is narrow and tortuous ; the greatest depth of water of this lake does not exceed seventy-five feet, and the general depth is much less.
Great numbers of pleasure boats are kept upon it, but along the whole Roscommon shore there is not a quay for large vessels, nor any place interested in, or connected with, the navigation of the lake, except an occasional group of cabins. From the lower end of Lough Ree the Shannon glides in a broad navigable channel a mile and a half to Athlone, below the ancient bridge of which the falls are avoided by a canal about a mile in length.
The rest of its course is through a dreary and thinly inhabited country by Shannon bridge to the influx of the Suck, where it quits the county. With the Shannon navigation are connected all the other lines of water communication with which this county is intersected, the Royal Canal to Dublin entering it at Richmond harbour below Tarmonbarry, and the Grand Canal at Shannon harbour, below the confines of the county, whence a branch is extended westward to Ballinasloe.
The Shannon serves for the transmission of turf, brick, sand, lime, flags, marble, slates, native timber, manures, coal, culm, and stone for building ; besides potatoes, meal, flour, grain, and other articles of provision. Coal is brought down from Lough Allen to Carrick, Drumsna, and even to Athlone ; but the population is so dispersed over the country, that the trade in this article is necessarily very small. Corn and butter are exported by the canals ; and heavy articles, such as sugar, iron, deals, slates, manufactured goods, &c., received by them in return.
The Suck is navigable to Ballinasloe for flat-bottomed barks of light burden ; small row boats ascend still higher ; but the construction of the canal from this town to Shannon harbour has rendered the river navigation unnecessary.
The Shannon and Suck abound with all the common kinds of river fish, especially with eels, of which vast quantities are taken at weirs erected for the purpose, and a large supply sent to Dublin ; those of the Suck are esteemed peculiarly fine, The principal smaller rivers are the Breeogue ; the Lung, which has a subterraneous passage for about a mile, collaterally with one of its tributaries, and at length enters Lough Gara ; and the Gara river, or Boyle water, which, on emerging from Lough Kea, becomes navigable for small craft, but below Knockvicar bridge, and below the upper lough of Oakford, dwindles into a mere stream which, in ordinary seasons, could scarcely be supposed to afford the only channel for all the waters which pour from Lough Gara and Lough Kea.
Besides this last tributary, the Shannon receives from Roscommon the powerful stream of Arigna ; the Fiorish, from Lough Skean and Meelagh ; and a large stream from under Carnadoe bridge, discharged from a chain of small lakes in the interior, the lowest and largest of which is about three miles in length.
Plans have been proposed for extending a branch of the Shannon and Royal Canal navigations to the town of Roscommon ; but their execution has not been undertaken.
The roads are numerous and highly important, as the lines of communication between Dublin and every part of Connaught pass through this county. The old lines of road are crooked and in many parts very hilly, but generally well made, though wet in winter in consequence of the drains and watercourses not being properly attended to.
A line has recently been opened from Tarmonbarry to Lung bridge, another from Roscommon to Richmond harbour and Ruskey, and another from Lanesborough to Strokestown. All the roads are kept in order by Grand Jury presentments, as there are no toll gates in the county.
The most numerous class of antiquities are the raths, which abound in the northern and middle baronies, but are less frequent in the south. No less than 470 are marked on the Grand Jury map of the county ; and the people generally regard them with veneration, deeming it unlucky to disturb or cultivate them.
At Jamestown are two, remarkable for being situated so close to each other that the encircling trenches join. There is a still more curious circular fortification at Lough Glynn, and at Oran are the remains of an ancient round tower.
The monastic remains are also various and interesting ; Archdall enumerates 50 religious establishments of various kinds ; and there are still interesting and picturesque ruins of Boyle abbey, of that at Clonshanvill, of Trinity abbey on the shores of Lough Kea; of the priory of Inchmacneerin, an island in the same lake ; of Tulsk abbey ; of the Dominican convent at Roscommon ; of Derane abbey, two miles north-east from Roscommon ; and of Clontuskert abbey, in the same vicinity.
There are also a large old church and other ecclesiastical ruins at St.. John’s. Several remains of small castles are scattered through the county, undeserving particular notice. The following are most remarkable: the old castle of Lough Glynn ; the fortress on Castle island, in Lough Kea, anciently belonging to Mac Dermot ; Ballynafad castle, the ancient seat of O’Conor Roe ; the extensive ruins of Roscommon castle ; those of Ballintobber castle, belonging anciently to O’Conor Don ; the old keep of Athlone castle ; the ruined fortress and fortified isthmus of St. John’s ; and the old castle of Ballinasloe.
Old Coote Hall, in the parish of Tumna, presents curious remains of fortification in a tower and ruined walls ; and at Belanagare, Kilmore, and near Athleague, are ancient ruined mansions, conspicuous by their tall ornamented chimneys and high gables.
Among the antiquities may be noticed the old bridge of Athlone, the inscription on which states it to have been built in the 9th year of Elizabeth , and records several circumstances connected with the history of that period.
The county contains a considerable number of seats, of which some are very splendid, and surrounded by grounds of great beauty ; they are all noticed in their respective parishes ; and though every part of it, but more particularly the barony of Boyle, affords numerous instances of improvements in the buildings, even down to the cottages of the peasantry, yet too many instances of squalid misery in their habitations are still to be met with.
Among the most remarkable natural curiosities are the swallow holes, through which several of the streams are precipitated into subterraneous caverns : the largest river having a subterranean course is the Lung, near Lough Glynn. At Rathcroaghan, Kilmacumsky, and other places are natural and artificial caves, in which have been found various fossil bones. Roscommon confers the title of Earl on the family of Dillon.
ROSCOMMON, an incorporated market and assize town (formerly a parliamentary borough), and a parish, in the barony of BALLINTOBBER, county of ROSCOMMON, and province of CONNAUGHT, 15¼ miles (W. by N.) from Athlone, and 74¾ (W.) from Dublin, on the road to Sligo ; containing 8374 inhabitants, of which number, 3306 are in the town.
This place appears to have derived both its origin and its name, originally Ros Coeman, or “Coeman’s marsh,” from the foundation of an abbey of Canons Regular in a low situation here, by St. Coeman, or Comanus, a disciple of St. Finian, about the year 540.
This abbey was pillaged by the Danes in 807, and plundered and burnt by the people of Munster in 1134 ; it, however, was soon afterwards restored, and in 1156 its endowments were greatly augmented by Turlogh the Great, King of Ireland. In 1204, the establishment was plundered by William Bourke Fitz-Aldelm, one of the earliest English adventurers that penetrated into Connaught .
A Dominican friary was founded here in 1253, by Felim McCahile Croovdearg O’Conor, King of Connaught, who was interred in it in 1265 ; both these establishments, at the dissolution, were granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Nicholas Malby, Knt., and his heirs, at a yearly rent of £30. 5. 10.
In 1268, Sir Robert de Ufford, the English Lord-Justice, erected a strong castle here, which, four years afterwards when Maurice Fitz-Maurice, Earl of Kildare, was Lord-Justice, was razed to the ground by the native Irish. This castle was rebuilt, and in 1276 was again taken by the Irish, who on that occasion obtained a signal victory over the English ; and in the following year, Thomas de Clare, who had retaken it, was, with his father-in-law, the Earl of Kildare, surrounded by the native forces, and compelled to purchase a safe retreat by the final surrender of the place.
The De Burgos afterwards recovered possession of this fortress. The castle, on its first erection and also the town which gradually rose around it, paid a ground rent to the abbot of the older monastery. In 1360, the town was destroyed by fire, and in 1498 the Earl of Kildare, then Lord-Deputy, in an expedition into Connaught , took possession of the castle, which he strongly fortified.
It subsequently fell into the hands of the enemy, who kept possession of it till 1566, when it was retaken for the Queen by Sir Henry Sidney, Lord-Deputy, who placed Sir Thomas L’Estrange in it as governor, with a garrison of infantry and 20 horsemen, In the parliamentary war of 1641, the castle was held for the king by Sir Michael Earnley, with a detachment of the President of Connaught’s troops ; and in 1642 it made a brave defence against the assaults of the insurgent forces, but ultimately fell into their hands. The insurgents kept possession of it till 1652, when it was delivered up to Col. Reynolds, an officer of the parliamentarian army.
The town is principally built on the eastern and southern sides of a hill, at the base of which are the remains of its ancient and venerable religious buildings, and its once stately castle ; it consists of one main street, forming its chief entrance from the north, and expanding at the extremity into a wide open area, round which are some of the public buildings and the best of its more ancient houses. Several smaller streets of very inferior character diverge from the main street : the total number of houses is 581, of which 400 are merely cabins ; of the remainder, several are handsome and well built, and a few are pleasing villas.
The inhabitants are but indifferently supplied with water from a deep well in the centre of the town, and from others near the base of the hill ; in summer the supply is very inadequate. Five roads radiate from the town to different parts of the country. About half a mile distant are barracks for one troop of horse. Races, which are supported by subscription, are held annually on a course about a mile from the town ; and a news-paper is published weekly.
The principal trade is in grain, of which large quantities are sent to Lanesborough, whence it is conveyed by the Shannon ; this trade has greatly increased since the improvement of the roads and the facilities afforded by the continuation of the Royal Canal ; and a plan is under consideration for the construction of a line of navigation from the town, either to the Shannon or to the Royal Canal harbour at Tarmonbarry.
A branch of the National Bank of Ireland was opened in the town in 1837 : there are also a public brewery and a tanyard. The market is on Saturday, and is numerously attended and abundantly supplied with corn and provisions of all kinds ; among various other articles exposed for sale are frieze, coarse woollen stuffs, flannels, and a little linen, with coarse brown pottery made in the neighbourhood, for which the clay is brought in carts from the borders of the river Shannon. Fairs are held on Whit-Monday and Dec. 5th, and are well attended.
A chief constabulary police force is stationed in the town. The market-house, originally the old gaol, was afterwards used as a lunatic asylum, and since the removal of the patients to the district asylum, has been appropriated to its present use.
The town received a charter of incorporation in the reign of Edw. I., and in 1310 the burgesses petitioned for a confirmation of it from Edw. II., who issued to the Lord Chief Justice, Chancellor, and Treasurer of Ireland his writ of inquiry for that purpose, but neither the return nor any subsequent proceedings to this writ are recorded. Jas. I., in the 10th of his reign, granted the inhabitants a charter of incorporation, under the designation of the “Provost, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Borough of Roscommon,” with power to hold a court of record with jurisdiction to the amount of five marks, and to return two members to the Irish parliament.
A new charter was subsequently granted by Jas. II., which increased the number of free burgesses from twelve to eighteen, and extended the jurisdiction of the court from five marks to £5, which latter alteration alone was adopted by the corporation. Under the charter of Jas. I., by which the town was governed, the corporation consisted of a provost, twelve free burgesses, and an indefinite number of freemen. The provost was annually chosen from the free burgesses by a majority of that body, by whom also vacancies in their number were filled up as they occurred, and the freemen were admitted solely by favour. The corporation continued to return two members to the Irish parliament till the Union , when the borough was disfranchised. Since that period it has become virtually extinct, and the only local court now held is that of the manor of Roscommon, held before the seneschal, at which debts not exceeding £10 are recoverable.
The assizes for the county are held here, and the general sessions for the division of Athlone twice in the year ; petty sessions are also held in the town every Monday. The new court- house, situated on a levelled space on the western brow of the hill, is a handsome and spacious structure with a Doric portico in front ; and contains, besides two well arranged court-rooms for criminal and civil business, a superb room for the Grand Jury, an apartment for the use of the judges, a room for the barnisters, refreshment rooms, and accommodations for persons having business at the assizes or sessions, with complete ranges of requisite offices. Near it is the new gaol for the county, built upon the radiating principle and of a polygonal form, containing eight wards, with airing-yards and work-rooms, and 91 sleeping cells, an hospital, a chapel, school, and tread-wheel.
The parish comprises 7289 statute acres, of which 6345 are applotted under the tithe act. The land is of good quality and generally in a state of profitable cultivation, and the neighbourhood is rich in agricultural produce. The principal seats are Carrowroe, the residence of R. Goff, Esq., a substantial and handsome mansion of limestone, with a Doric portico in front, situated in a highly improved and richly wooded demesne, commanding fine views of the surrounding country ; and Hazelbrook of R. Blakeney, Esq., pleasingly situated ; and within two or three miles of the town is Moate Park, the seat of Lord Crofton, a handsome and spacious modern mansion, situated in an ample demesne richly wooded.
The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Elphin, episcopally united, in 1805, to the vicarages of Kilbride and Kilteevan, and in the patronage of the Bishop ; the rectory is impropriate in the Earl of Essex. The tithes amount to £147. 13. 10., of which £73. 16.11. is payable to the impropriator, and the remainder to the vicar ; the gross income of the benefice, including a bequest by the late Lord Ranelagh of £18. 9. per ann., amounts to £292. 14. 11, The church is a neat edifice with a square tower, in which are a doorway and window of elegant design.
In the R. C. divisions the parish is the head of a union or district, comprising also the parish of Kilteevan, in each of which is a chapel. The chapel in this parish being too small for the congregation, the old court-house was purchased from the Grand Jury by the Rev. John Madden, P.P., and converted into a chapel with galleries ; there is a painting of the Crucifixion over the altar, and others on the walls ; the building cost £2000 ; the former chapel is now used as a school.
About 360 children are taught in six public schools, of which one is supported by a bequest of £52 per annum by the late Lord Ranelagh ; and there are 12 private schools, in which are about 540 children,
The county infirmary is a plain substantial building, consisting of a centre and two wings, erected, as appears from a tablet over the entrance, at the sole expense of Mrs. Walcott, sister of the late Lord Chief Justice Caulfeild, in 1783 : it contains 50 beds, with a small detached fever hospital, and a dispensary for the relief of extern patients, of whom nearly 16,000 annually receive medical assistance ; the number of patients received into the infirmary is more than 300 annually, and the annual expenses of the institution are about £1000 ; the income arises from an annuity of £92. 6. 2. bequeathed by Mrs. Walcott, donations and subscriptions, parliamentary grants, and presentments.
An equitable loan society was established in 1830, with a capital of £150 ; it has now a capital of £4000, curculating in small loans, raised chiefly by the exertions of Mr. Carson, who has built several neat cottages, to be occupied by the poor rent- free, and two for poor widows, who are supported by him and the Protestant curate.
There are some remains of the Dominican friary, consisting of the church, 137 feet in length, and 23 in width, with a northern transept, in which is an aisle separated by four pointed arches, resting on massive round pillars : over the principal entrance is a very beautiful window, with an enriched architrave decorated with pinnacles ; the windows in the choir and other parts are lancet-shaped and much mutilated ; under an arch on the north side of the choir is a tomb with a mutilated effigy, said to be that of O’Conor, and on the base are four warlike figures in high relief, representing ancient gallowglasses.
Fragments of sculptured stones are scattered over the whole area, which, notwithstanding the shallowness of the soil, is still used as a burial-place. The ruins of the castle, on the north side of the town, have a grand and imposing appearance, as seen from various points of view ; they occupy a quadrangular area, 223 feet in length, and 173 feet in breadth ; each angle is defended by a round tower ; two similar towers project from the eastern side to defend the gateway entrance, and on the western side is a square gateway tower of smaller dimensions ; the lower stories of the towers are strongly groined, and the upper are of more airy character, with spacious windows of handsome design, and appear to have been connected with a rectangular edifice in the inner court, which contained the state apartments ; the whole is surrounded with outer walls, defended at the angles with low round towers.
Two miles to the north-east of the town are the remains of the abbey of Derhan, or Derane, said to have been granted to a party of monks from the abbey of Roscommon by O’Conor, at an early period, but the date of its foundation is unknown ; they occupy the summit of a barren hill, but present few interesting details, except the mutilated remains of a large window, which appears to have been very highly enriched ; adjoining is an extensive cemetery, still in general use. Roscommon gives the title of Earl to the family of Dillon.