WICKLOW, a sea-port, assize, borough, market, and post-town, partly in the parish of RATHNEW, barony of NEWCASTLE, but chiefly in that of KILPOOLE, barony of ARKLOW, county of WICKLOW, and province of LEINSTER, 24 miles (S. S. E.) from Dublin, on the coast road to Arklow; containing 2963 inhabitants. Its ancient name Wykinglo, or Wyhinglogh, is derived from its situation at the southern extremity of a narrow creek shut out from the sea by a long narrow peninsula called the Murragh. It is supposed to have been one of the maritime stations occupied by the Danes previously to the landing of the English in 1169, and to have been called by them Wigginge Lough, "the Lake of Ships." Afterwards it formed part of the extensive possessions granted by Strongbow to Maurice Fitzgerald, who commenced the building of a castle here for the protection of his property, the execution of which was discontinued in consequence of his death in 1176. His sons were subsequently dispossessed of their inheritance by William. Fitz-Aldelm, and compelled to accept in exchange for it the decayed and defenceless city of Ferns. In 1301 the town was burned by the Irish, but the castle was subsequently put into a state of defence, in 1375, by William Fitzwilliam, a descendant of one of the early English settlers, in whose family the constableship continued for several generations. From its vicinity to the Irish mountain septs it was a frequent subject of contention. In the early part of the 16th century it fell into the hands of the Byrnes, the chieftains of the northern part of the county, by whom the castle and town were surrendered to Hen. VIII. in 1543. In 1641, Luke O'Toole invested the castle, but was forced to raise the siege on the approach of Sir Chas. Coote, who sullied his victory by an unauthorised and indiscriminate slaughter of the inhabitants of the town.
Wicklow is situated on a piece of elevated rugged ground backed by hills of considerable height, over the point at which the river Vartrey, or Leitrim, after flowing through the narrow creek already noticed, discharges itself into St. George's Channel; this river is crossed by a bridge of eight arches. The houses are irregularly built and of very inferior appearance: the streets are narrow and neither paved nor lighted, but there is an ample supply of water from springs: the town is a place of resort for sea-bathing during the summer months, and would be much more frequented for this purpose were suitable accommodations provided for visiters. Races occasionally take place on the Murragh, a portion of which is kept as a race-course, on which a small stand has been erected. This border of low land, which extends nearly six miles northwards, slopes down gradually to the strand, which, at low water mark, sometimes consists merely of fine sand, but at other times of layers of small pebbles, three or four feet in height and of considerable breadth, varying according to the changes of the weather; many of these pebbles are so much esteemed for their beauty as to be bought up by the jewellers in Dublin to be wrought into necklaces and other ornaments. Several neat houses have been lately built on the Murragh, and hot and cold baths are in progress of erection. The market is held on Saturday, for butchers' meat, poultry and vegetables, which are exposed for sale in the market-house and the shambles. There are no regular markets for corn, that article being delivered at the merchants' stores on any day of the week. The fairs are held on March 28th, May 24th, Aug. 12th, and Nov. 25th. The trade is confined to the exportation of grain and of copper and lead ore, of which 400 tons from the neighbouring mines are shipped weekly, and to the importation of coal, culm, limestone, timber and iron. The narrow estuary of the Vartrey, which forms the harbour, is accessible only to vessels of small burden, in consequence of a bar at its entrance, on which there is only eight feet of water at spring and not more than four or five at neap tides, but vessels may ride in the bay in three or four fathoms of water during the prevalence of western winds. Some attempts were made, about the year 1760, to diminish this obstruction, when sums to the amount of £800 were granted by parliament, but did not produce any beneficial result. In 1835 an application was made to the Irish government from the merchants and traders of the port, pointing out the advantages of having a large and secure artificial harbour formed here, which has not been acceded to, in consequence of the expense that must be incurred, as, according to the reports of scientific men, the construction of such a harbour would require an outlay of £80,000. In the same year the number of vessels belonging to the port was 20, varying in burden from 35 to 100 tons, and about 30 small craft. Two lighthouses have been erected on Wicklow Head, a promontory of considerable height boldly projecting into the sea, about a mile to the south of the town. The lantern of one of these lighthouses is 250 feet above high water mark, and is visible in clear weather at a distance of 21 nautical miles; the other, 540 feet distant, is but 121 feet above the same level, and spreads its light only to 16 miles distance: both are fixed lights. Under the Head are several caverns, scooped out by the incessant working of the waves, in which seals frequently take shelter. A coast-guard is fixed here, being one of the eight stations which constitute the district of Glynn.
The limits of the borough, which are fixed by prescription, include the town of Wicklow and a space of a mile from it in every direction on the land side. The corporation was constituted by a charter granted in the 11th of Jas. I., according to which it consists of a portreeve chosen annually from among the burgesses, 12 burgesses elected for life from among the freemen, and an unlimited number of freemen, who are admissible by birth, apprenticeship, marriage, or special favour, and enjoy an exemption from tolls and harbour dues and a right of commonage on the Murragh: there has been no recorder for several years. The charter also granted the portreeve and burgesses the power of returning two members to the Irish parliament, which was exercised by them until the Union, when the borough was disfranchised. The landed property of the corporation consists of 200 or 300 acres, all let on terminable leases: the rental is on the increase. Market tolls have been relinquished for some time; a barrel of coal is taken from each vessel discharging in the port; harbour dues are levied on all vessels above 20 tons' burden. The corporation exerts the power of regulating the pilotage. The portreeve holds a court every Tuesday, in which debts to the amount of five marks, or £3. 6. 8. Irish, can be recovered; he is not, however, a justice of the peace for the borough, which is, in this respect, under the control of the county magistracy: the town is a station for the county constabulary police. The castle, called in public documents "The King's Castle of Wicklow," is specially exempted from the jurisdiction of the borough: from an inquisition held in 1620 it appears that every person selling beer in the town should pay to the use of the castle four sextaries (pints) of ale for every bushel of malt brewed; and that several parcels of land, amounting to 45 acres, belonged to it. The assizes for the county and the general sessions for its eastern district are held here: petty sessions are held at Rathnew, as being more central for the surrounding district. The representatives for the county are elected here. The county court-house, erected in 1824, is a plain but commodious edifice, with sufficient accommodation for all requisite purposes. The gaol, which adjoins it, contains 6 wards, having in all 36 cells, of which 30 are for males, and 6 for females, besides a debtors' ward; it has also an infirmary and a treadmill: the building stands on 1½ acre, enclosed with a high wall.
The benefice of Wicklow extended over a district comprehending several chapelries and parochial churches, and on the annexation of the church of Newcastle-Lyons to the archdeaconry of Glendalough, in 1467, it was separated from that dignity and erected into a distinct prebend. In a terrier, dated 1781, the vicarage of Wicklow comprised what are called, in the ecclesiastical return, the chapelries, and in the civil return, the constablewicks of Rathnew, Killeskey, Glanely and Kilcommon. It is a prebend in the cathedral church of St. Patrick, Dublin, and a vicarage, in the archdiocese of Dublin and Glendalough, episcopally united in 1795, the whole comprising the rectory and vicarage of Drumkey, the vicarage of Kilpoole, and the chapelries of Glanealy, Kilcommon, Rathnew, Killeskey, and Killoughter, and in the patronage of the Archbishop. The tithes of the four chapelries amount to £1150, and those of Drumkey and Kilpoole to £185, £60 of which is payable to Earl Fitzwilliam; the tithes of the whole union are £1335. There is a glebe-house in the chapelry of Glanealy, and in the union there are three glebes, containing in all 40a. 2r. 19p. The church, which is locally in Drumkey, is a neat edifice with a tower and a copper cupola, which were added to it in 1777, by a bequest of a member of the Eaton family, formerly resident in the town: over the south door is a fine Saxon arch which belonged to a more ancient church; the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have lately granted £670 for its repair. There are also churches in the chapelries of Glanealy and Killeskey, the latter of which was built partly at the expense of the late Francis Synge, of Glenmore, Esq. The R. C. district is nearly coextensive with the Protestant Union: the chapel, which is a plain cruciform edifice with a tower, forms, with the schools annexed to it, an extensive pile near the entrance to the town; there are also chapels at Ballynahinch, near Ashford, and at Glanealy. There are in the town places of worship for Wesleyan Methodists and the Society of Friends. The diocesan school for the archdiocese of Dublin was established here under an act of the 12th of Elizabeth; a grant of ten acres of land near the town to encourage a Protestant clergyman to keep a classical school remained inoperative for some years, until the land was recovered by the Rev. Mr. Corcoran, head-master of the diocesan school, who now enjoys it. The Wicklow parochial schools were built in 1827, at an expense of £656 late currency, of which £200 was granted from the Lord-Lieutenants' fund; and an infants' school was established in 1830, by the Hon. Martha Stratford: in these schools are about 60 boys, 60 girls, and 60 infants. Sunday schools have also been established. Among the sources from which these schools are maintained are a bequest of £37. 6. 8. per ann. from a member of the Eaton, family, £8 from the Association for Discountenancing Vice, and an allowance varying from £40 to £50 from the Governors of the Foundling Hospital, Dublin, for instructing and clothing some of its children: there is also a school of industry, chiefly supported by a bequest of £25. 5. per ann. by the late Miss Catherine Eaton. The county infirmary and fever hospital was erected in 1834, at a cost of £2000, defrayed by subscription and Grand Jury presentments: each of the two departments is divided into four wards: it is a neat building, situated in an airy part of the town: the infirmary is supported by county presentments, the petty sessions' fines of the whole county, and subscriptions; the fever hospital by subscriptions only. A parochial almshouse for 15 aged men and widows is supported by subscription and by the weekly collections at the church. There are also a coal and sick-clothing fund, a fund for supplying the poor with blankets, and a loan fund. A sum of about £500 per ann. is thus expended on the poor, of which £82. 18. 8. proceeds from a bequest of the late Miss Eaton, £11. 1. 4. from a bequest of Mr. Boswell, and £21, a bequest from Mr. Morrison. On a rocky projection overhanging the sea may still be seen a small fragment of the walls of the ancient castle, the masonry of which is so excellent that it appears to be a portion of the natural rock: it is called the Black Castle. There are also some remains of a Franciscan convent, founded by the Byrnes and O'Tooles in the reign of Hen. III., near the entrance of the town from the Dublin and Wexford road; they are inclosed in the grounds of the parish priest, for which a nominal rent is charged. In the grounds are a number of fine old yew trees.
Directories & Gazetteers
We have transcribed the entry for Wicklow from the following:
Land and Property
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