Historical description of county Cavan, Ireland

CAVAN (County of), an inland county of the province of ULSTER, bounded on the north by the county of Fermanagh ; on the west, by that of Leitrim; on the south, by those of Longford, Westmeath, and Meath; and on the east and north-east, by that of Monaghan. It extends from 53° 43' to 54° 7' (N. Lat.); and from 6° 45' to 7° 47' (W. Lon.) ; and comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 477,360 statute acres, of which 421,462 are cultivated land, 30,000 unimproved mountain and bog, and 22,141 are under water The population, in 1821, was 195,076; and in 1831, 228,050.

According to Ptolemy, this tract, with the districts included in the adjacent counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh, was occupied by the Erdini, designated in the Irish language Ernaigh, traces of which name are yet preserved in that of Lough Erne and the river Erne, upon which and their tributaries these districts border. This district. exclusively of the greater part of the present county of Fermanagh, formed also the ancient principality of Breghne, Brefine, Breifne, Breffny, or Brenny, as it has been variously spelt, which had recognised limits from time immemorial. and was divided into the two principalities of Upper or East Breifne and Lower or West Breifne, the former composed almost entirely of the present county of Cavan, and the latter of that of Leitrim. East Breifne was often called Breifne O'Reilly, from its princes or chiefs having from remote ages borne that name: they were tributary to the O'Nial of Tiroen long before the arrival of the English, although Camden says that in his time they represented themselves as descended from the English family of Ridley, but were entirely Irish in manners. The county is celebrated in the history of the wars in Ireland for the fastnesses formed by its woods, lakes, and hogs, which long secured the independence of its native possessors. Cavan was one of the counties formed in Ulster, in 1584, by Sir John Perrott, lord-deputy of Ireland, and derived its name from the principal seat of its ancient rulers, which is still the provincial capital: in the following year it was represented in a parliament held in Dublin by two loyal members of the family of O'Reilly. Both Breffnys anciently formed part of Connaught, but the new county was incorporated with Ulster. The O'Reillys were at this time a warlike sept, particularly distinguished for their cavalry, and not living in towns, but in small castles scattered over the country. In order to lessen their influence by partitioning it among different leaders, and thus reduce them to the English law, it was resolved to divide the country into baronies and settle the proprietorship of each exclusively (In a separate branch of the families of the former proprietors. Sir John O'Reilly, then chief lord of the country, had covenanted to surrender the whole to Queen Elizabeth, and on the other part Sir John Perrott had covenanted that letters patent should be granted to him of the whole; but this mutual agreement led to no result, and commissioners were sent down to carry the division into effect, By them the whole territory was partitioned into seven baronies, of which. two were assigned to Sir John O'Reilly free of an contributions; a third was allotted to his brother, Philip O'Reilly; a fourth to his uncle Edmond; and a fifth to the sons of Hugh O'Reilly, surnamed the Prior. The other two baronies, possessed by the septs of Mac Kernon and Mac Gauran, and remotely situated in the mountains and on the border of O'Rorke's country were lett to their ancient tenures and the Irish exactions of their chief lord, Sir John. whose chief-rent out of the other three baronies not immediately possessed by him was fixed at 10s. per annum for every pole, a subdivision of land peculiar to the county and containing about 25 acres: the entire county was supposed to contain 1620 of these poles.

But these measures did not lead to the settlement of the country; the tenures remained undetermined by any written title; and Sir John, his brother, and his uncle, as successive taoists, according to the ancient custom of the country, were all slain while in rebellion, After the death of the last. no successor was elected under the distinguishing title of O'Reilly, the country being broken by defeat, although wholly unamenable to the English law, Early in the reign of James I., the lord-deputy came to Cavan and issued a commission of inquiry to the judges then holding the assize there concerning all lands escheated to the Crown by attainder, outlawry, or actual death in rebellion; and a jury of the best knights and gentlemen that were present, and of whom some were chiefs of Irish septs, found an inquisition, first, concerning the possessions of various freeholders slain in the late rebellion under the Earl of Tyrone, and secondly, concerning those of the late chiefs of the country who had shared the same fate; though the latter finding was obtained with some difficulty, the jurors fearing that their own tenures might be invalidated in consequence. Nor was this apprehension without foundation; for, by that inquisition, the greater part, if not the whole, of the county was deemed to be vested in the Crown, and the exact state of its property was thereupon carefully investigated. This being completed, the king resolved on the new plantation of Ulster, in which the plan for the division of this county was as follows : - the termon, or church lands, in the ancient division, were 140 poles, or about 3500 acres, which the king reserved for the bishop of Kilmore; for the glebes of the incumbents of the parishes to be erected were allotted 100 poles, or 2500 acres; and the monastery land was found to consist of 20 poles, or 500 acres. There then remained to be distributed to undertakers 1360 poles, or 34,000 acres, which were divided into 26 proportions, 17 of 1000 acres each, 5 of 1500, and 4 of 2000, each of which was to be a parish, to have a church erected upon it, with a glebe of 60 acres for the minister in the smallest proportions, of 90 in the next, and of 120 in the largest, To British planters were to be granted six proportions, viz., three of the least, two of the next, and one of the largest, and in these were to be allowed only English and Scottish tenants; to servitors were to be given six other proportions, three of the least, two of the middle, and one of the largest, to be allowed to have English or Irish tenants at, choice; and to natives, the remaining fourteen, being eleven of the least, one of the middle, and two of the greatest size. There then remained 60 poles or 1500 acres, of which 30 poles, or 750 acres, were to be allotted to three corporate towns or boroughs, which the king ordered should be endowed with reasonable liberties, and send burgesses to parliament, and each to receive a third of this quantity; 10 other poles, or 250 acres, were to be appendant to the castle of Cavan; 6 to that of Cloughoughter; and the remaining 14 poles. or 346 acres, to be for the maintenance of a free school to be erected in Cavan, Two of the boroughs that were created and received these grants were Cavan and Beltarbet, and the other 250 acres were to be given to a third town, to be erected about midway between Kells and Cavan, on a site to be chosen by the commissioners appointed to settle the plantation; this place was Virginia, which, however, never was incorporated. The native inhabitants were awed into acquiescence in these arrangements, and such as were not freeholders under the above grants, were to be settled within the county, or removed by order of the commissioners. The lands thus divided were the then profitable portions, and to each division a sufficient quantity of bog and wood was superadded. A considerable deviation from this project took place in regard to tithes, glebes, and parish churches. A curious record of the progress made by the undertakers in erecting fortified houses, &c., up to the year 1618-19, is preserved in Pynnar's Survey; the number of acres enumerated in this document amounts to 52,324, English measure, and the number of British families planted on them was 386, who could muster 711 armed men. Such was the foundation of the rights of property and of civil society in the county of Cavan, as existing at the present day, though not without subsequent disturbance; for both O'Reilly, representative of the county in parliament, and the sheriff his brother, were deeply engaged in the rebellion of 1641. The latter summoned the R. C. inhabitants to arms; they marched under his command with the appearance of discipline; forts, towns, and castles were surrendered to them; and Bedel, Bishop of Kilmore, was compelled to draw up their remonstrance of grievances, to be presented to the chief governors and council.

Cavan is partly in the diocese of Meath, and partly in that of Ardagh, but chiefly in that of Kilmore, and wholly in the ecclesiastical province of Armagh. For civil purposes it is divided into the eight baronies of Castleraghan, Clonmahon, Clonkee, Upper Loughtee, Lower Loughtee, Tullaghgarvey or Tullygarvey, TulIaghonoho, or Tullyhunco, and Tullaghagh or Tullyhaw. It contains the disfranchised borough and market-towns of Cavan and Belturbet; the market and post-towns of Arvagh, Bailieborough, Ballyconnell, Ballyhaise, Ballyjamesduff, Cootehill, Killesandra, Kingscourt, Stradone, and Virginia; the market-towns of Ballinagh and Shercock; the post-towns of Crossdoney, Mount-Nugent, and Scrabby ; the modern and flourishing town of Mullagh; and the villages of Butlersbridge and Swanlinbar, each of which has a penny post. Prior to the Union it sent six members to the Irish parliament, two for the county at large, and two for each of the boroughs of Cavan and Belturbet; but since that period its only representatives have been the county members returned to the Imperial parliament and elected at Cavan. The constituency, as registered under the act of the 2nd and 3rd of Wm. IV., cap. 89, amounted, on the 1st of February, 1836, to 2434 electors, of whom 311 were £50, 236 £20, and 1652 £10 freeholders; 11 were £20 rent-chargers ; 6 were clergymen registering out of benefices of £50 ; and 27 were £20, and 179 £10 leaseholders. It is in the north-west circuit: the assizes are held at Cavan, in which are the county court-house and gaol. Quarter sessions are held in rotation at Cavan, Bailieborough, Ballyconnell, and Cootehill; and there are a sessions-house and bridewell at each of the three last-named towns. The number of persons charged with criminal offences and committed to prison, in 1885, was 478, of whom 62 were females; and of civil bill commitments, 112. The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 10 deputy-lieutenants, and 85 other magistrates, including the provost of Belturbet, who is a magistrate of the county ex officio, There are 23 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of 8 chief and 22 sub-constables, and 151 men, with 8 horses, maintained equally by Grand Jury presentments and by Government. The county infirmary and fever hospital are situated at Cavan; and there are 18 dispensaries. situated respectively at Arvagh, Bailieborough, Ballyjamesduff, Ballyconnell, Belturbet, Ballymacue, Ballinagh, Ballyhaise, Cootehill, Crossdoney, Cavan, Killesandra, Kingscourt, Mullagh, Shercock, Swanlinbar, Strarlone, and Virginia; all of which are maintained partly by Grand Jury presentments and partly by voluntary contributions in equal portions. The amount of Grand Jury presentments for 1835, was £22,525. 4, 9., of which £1860. 8. 9. was for the public roads of the county at large; £7287. 19. 8. for the public roads, being the baronial charge; £6792. 15. 9. for public buildings and charities, officers' salaries, &c,; £4033. 5, for police; and £2550. 15. 7. in repayment of a loan advanced by Government. Cavan, in military arrangements, is included in the northern district, and contains the stations of Belturbet and Cavan, the former for cavalry and the latter for infantry, which afford unitedly accommodation for 13 officers, 286 men, and 101 horses.

The county lies about midway in the island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish sea, its two extreme points being about 20 miles distant from each. The surface is very irregular, being every where varied with undulations of hill and dale, occasionally rocky, with scarcely a level spot intervening; but the only mountainous elevations are situated in its northern extremity. To the north-west the prospect is bleak, dreary, and much exposed; but in other parts it is not only well sheltered and woody, but the scenery is highly picturesque and attractive; numerous lakes of great extent and beauty adorn the interior; and, generally, the features of the country are strikingly disposed for landscape decoration. Yet these natural advantages are but partially improved, though in no part of Ireland are there demesnes of more magnificence and beauty. The scenery of the lakes is varied by numerous beautiful islands, and lofty woods overhang the river Erne, which flows into the celebrated lake of that name in the neighbouring county of Fermanagh. Bruce hill forms a striking object in the southern extremity of the county; the Leitrim mountains overlook its western confines; while towards the north-west rises the bleak, barren, and lofty raqge of the Slieve Russell mountains. But the chief mountains are those which separate this county and province from Connaught, encircling Glangavlin, namely, the Lurganculliagh, the Cuilagh, Slievenskilla, and the Mullahuna, the highest of which is 2185 feet above the level of the sea. Some of the lakes cover many hundred acres, several of the smaller are nearly dry in summer, and might be effectually drained; all abound with fish, and their waters are remarkably clear. The streams issuing from some of them flow through the vales with much rapidity; their final destination is Lough Erne or Lough Ramor. A ridge of hills crones the county nearly from north to south, dividing it into two unequal portions: on the summit, near Lavy chapel, is a spring, a stream descending from which takes an easterly course towards Lough Ramor and into the Boyne, which empties itself into the Irish sea in Drogheda harbour; another stream flows westward through Lough Erne into the Atlantic, on the coast of Donegal. From the elevation and exposure of the surface, the climate is chilly, though at the same time salubrious; the exhalations from its numerous lakes being dispelled by the force of the gales. The soil in its primitive state is not fertile, being cold, in many places spongy, and inclined to produce rushes and a spiry aquatic grass: it commonly consists of a thick stratum of stiff brown clay over an argillaceous substratum; but when improved by draining and the application of gravel or lime, it affords a grateful return of produce. In the vales is found a deep brown clay, forming excellent land for the dairy.

Agriculture is very little improved: the chief crops are oats and potatoes ; in some districts a considerable quantity of flax is cultivated, and wheat, within the last two or three years, has become a more common crop. Green crops are seldom or ever grown, except by some of the nobility and gentry. Lord Farnham has in cultivation a large and excellent farm, and around Virginia are evidences of a superior system of husbandry. The chief proprietors afford by example and encouragement every inducement to agricultural improvement, but with little success, except in the introduction of the iron plough, which has been generally substituted for spade labour, by which the land was formerly almost exclusively cultivated. Into the mountain districts, however, neither the plough nor wheel car has yet found its way ; the spade, sickle, and flail are there the chief agricultural implements, cattle and pigs the common farm stock, and oats and potatoes the prevailing crops. The sides of the mountains are generally cultivated for oats to a considerable height, and their summits are grazed by herds of small young cattle. This practice more especially prevails in the barony of Tullaghagh, in the mountain district between the counties of Fermanagh and Leitrim, generally known as "the kingdom of Glan," but more properly called Glangavlin, or the country of the Mac Gaurans. To this isolated district there is no public road, and only one difficult pass; in some places a trackway is seen by which the cattle are driven out to the fairs of the adjacent country, It is about 16 miles in length by 7 in breadth, and is densely inhabited by a primitive race of Mac Gaurans and Dolans, who intermarry and observe some peculiar customs; they elect their own king and queen from the ancient race of the Mac Gaurans, to whom they pay implicit obedience, Tilling the land and ,attending the cattle constitute their sole occupation; potatoes and milk, with, sometimes, oaten bread, their chief food; and the want of a road by which the produce of the district might be taken to the neighbouring markets operates as a discouragement to industry and an incentive to the illicit application of their surplus corn. Wheat might be advantageously cultivated in most of the southern parts of the county, by draining and properly ploughing the land j a great defect consists in not ploughing sufficiently deep, from which cause the grain receives but little nourishment, and the land soon becomes exhausted, and is allowed to recover its productiveness by natural means. Hay seeds are scarcely ever sown, The farms are mostly small; and in many parts the farmer has looms in his house for weaving linen, on which he mainly depends for support, and hence neglects his land, Weaving, however, has of late somewhat declined, but tillage has not improved in proportion. Barley is sometimes sown, and the crop is generally good. In consequence of the system here practised of shallow ploughing and the unchecked growth of weeds, flax does not flourish in this so well as in some of the other northern counties, but it is still an amply remunerative crop. The fences in most parts are bad, consisting chiefly of a slight ridge of earth loosely thrown up. Draining and irrigation are wholly unpractised, although the country offers great facility for both; the gentle elevations are generally dry, and afford, beneath the surface, stones for draining; and the low grounds abound with springs, whose waters might be applied to the beneficial purposes of irrigation. Large allotments in the occupation of one individual are found only in the mountainous districts, and are applied to the grazing of young cattle during the summer months. In the demesnes of the gentry some sheep are fattened; but there are no good sheep-walks of any extent, except in the neighbourhood of Cavan, which district, indeed, is so superior to any other part of the county for fattening, that oxen are fed to as great size as in any part of Ireland, Dairy farms are by no means numerous. although the butter of Cavan is equal to that of any other part of the kingdom. The breed of cattle varies in almost every barony: that best adapted to the soil is a cross between the Durham and the Kerry, but the long-horned attains the greatest size. In the mountain districts the Kerry cow is the favourite; and in the lower or central parts, around Cavan, are some very fine Durham cattle and good crosses with the Dutch. The sheep are mostly a cross between the New Leicester and the old sheep of the country; the fleece, though mostly light, is good, and the mutton of excellent flavour. The horses are a light, hardy, active breed, well adapted to the country. The breed of pigs has been much improved, and although they do not attain a large size, they are profitable and readily fatten. Lime is the general manure. although in some parts the farmer has to draw it many miles ; and calcareous sand and gravel, procured from the escars in the baronies of Tullaghonoho and Loughtee, are conveyed for that use to every part of the county where the roads permit, and sometimes even into the hilly districts, by means of two boxes, called "bardocs," slung across the back of a horse, which is the only means of conveyance the inhabitants of those parts possess. The woods were formerly very considerable, and the timber of uncommon size, as is evinced by the immense trees found in the bogs; but demesne grounds only are now distinguished by this valuable ornament. There are, however, numerous and extensive plantations in several parts, which in a few years will greatly enrich the scenery, particulary around the lakes of Ramor and Shellin, also near Stradone, Ballyhaise, Ballymacue, Fort Frederic, Farnham, Killesandra, and other places. The county contains bogs of sufficient extent for supplying its own fuel, and of a depth every where varying, but generally extremely great: they commonly lie favourably for draining, and the peat yields the strong red ashes which form an excellent manure. There is likewise a small proportion of moor, having a boggy surface, and resting on partial argillaceous strata: in these a marl, highly calcareous and easily raised, most commonly abounds. The fuel in universal use is peat.

The minerals are iron, lead, silver, coal, ochres, marl, fullers' earth, potters' clay, brick clay, manganese, sulphur, and a species of jasper. Limestone and various kinds of good building stone are also procured, especially in the north-western extremity of the county, which comprises the eastern part of the great Connaught cow field. A very valuable white freestone, soft to work but exceedingly durable, is found near Ballyconnell and at Lart, one mile from Cavan. The substratum around the former place is mostly mountain limestone, which dips rapidly to the west, and appears to pass under the Slieve Russell range of mountains, which are composed of the new red sandstone formation, with some curious amalgamations of greenstone. To the west of Swanlinbar rises the Bealbally mountains, through which is the Gap of Beal, the only entrance to Glangavlin; and beyond, at the furthest extremity of the county, is Lurganculliagh, forming the boundary between Ulster and Connaught, The base of this mountain range is clay-slate; the upper part consists entirely of sandstone, and near the summit is a stratum of mountain coal, ten feet thick, in the centre of which is a vein of remarkably good coal, but only about eight inches in thickness. The coal is visible on the eastern face of the mountain, at Meneack, in this county, where some trifling workings have been made, to which there is not even a practicable road; its superficial extent is supposed to be about 600 acres. The sandstone of these mountains, in many parts, forms perpendicular cliffs of great height; and the summit of Cuilagh, which is entirely composed of it, resembles an immense pavement, traversed in every direction by great fissures. Frequently, at the distance of from 80 to 100 yards from the edge of the precipice, are huge chasms, from twelve to twenty feet wide, extending from the surface of the mountain to the bottom of the sandstone. Some of the calcareous hills to the west of the valley of Swanlinbar rise to a height of 1500 feet, and are overspread with large rolled masses of sandstone, so as to make the entire elevation appear at first sight as if composed of the same, Iron ore abounds among the mountains of this part of the county, and was formerly worked, A lead mine was worked some years ago near Cootehill, and lead and silver ore are found in the stream descending from the mountain of Ortnacullagh, near Ballyconnell. In the district of Glan is found pure native sulphur in great quantities. particularly near Legnagrove and Dowra ; and fullers' earth and pipe clay of superior quality exist in many parts. Proceeding towards the Fermanagh mountains, beautiful white and red transparent spars are found within a spade's depth of the surface; and here are two quarries of rough slate. Potters' clay, in this part of the county, occurs in every townland, and some of it is of the best and purest kind; patches of brick clay of the most durable quality are also common.

The chief manufacture is that of linen, upon which the prosperity of the inhabitants entirely depends, as it is carried on in almost every family, The average quantity of linen annually manufactured, and sold in the county, was estimated, at the commencement of the present century, to amount in value to £70.000; and pieces to the value of above £20,000 more are carried to markets beyond its limits. The number of bleaching establishments at the same period was twelve, in which about 91,000 pieces were annually finished. The quantity made at present is much greater, but the article is considerably reduced in price. Some of the bleach-greens are out of work, but, from the improvement of the process, a far greater number of webs is now bleached than was formerly; in 1835, nearly 150,000 pieces were finished, mostly for the English market. These establishments, around which improvements are being made every year, and which diffuse employment and comfort among a numerous population, are principally in the neighbourhoods of Cootehill, Tacken, Cloggy, Bailieborough, Scrabby, and Killiwilly. Frieze is made for home use, especially in the thinly peopled barony of Tullaghagh. The commerce of the county is limited and of little variety: its markets are remarkable only for the sale of yarn, flax, and brown linen; the principal are those of Cootehill and Killesandra.

The chief river is the Erne, which has its source in Lough Granny, near the foot of Bruce hill, on the south-western confines of the county, whence it pursues a northern course into Lough Oughter, and hence winds in the same direction by Belturbet into Lough Erne, which, at its head, forms the northern limit of the county. In most other parts the waters consisting of numerous lakes and their connecting streams, are with few exceptions tributary to the Erne. The Shannon has its source in a very copious spring, called the Shannon Pot, at the foot of the Cuilagh mountain, in Glangavlin, in the townland of Derrylaghan, four miles south of the mountain road leading from Enniskillen to Manor-Hamilton, and nine miles north of Lough Allen: from this place to Kerry Head, where it falls into the sea, it pursues a course of 243 miles, of which it is navigable 234 miles, and during that distance has a fall of not more than 148 feet. The Blackwater has its source in a lake at Bailieborough Castle, and flows on by Virginia into Lough Ramor, whence it enters the county of Meath, and becomes a tributary to the Boyne. A line of artificial navigation has been proposed from Belturbet by Cootehill into the county of Monaghan. The old lines of roads are injudiciously formed, so as to encounter the most formidable hills. Although the new lines are made to wind through the valleys, yet, with the exception of those very recently made, they are of inferior construction. The material formerly used was clay-slate, which pulverised in a short time; but, since the recent grand jury act came into operation, the newest lines have been well laid out, and the only material now used is limestone or greenstone, Several new and important lines have been formed. and others are in progress or contemplated: among the roads which promise to be of the greatest advantage are those through the wild district of Glangavlin; they are all made and kept in repair by grand jury presentments.

The remains of antiquity are comparatively few and uninteresting. The most common are cairns and raths, of which the latter are particularly numerous in the north-eastern part of the county, and near Kingscourt: in one at Rathkenny, near Cootehill, was found a considerable treasure, together with a gold fibula. There are remains of a round tower of inferior size at Drumlane, The number of abbeys and priories was eight, the remains of none of which, except that of the Holy Trinity, now exist, so that their sites can only be conjectured. Few also of the numerous castles remain, and all, except that of Cloughoughter, are very small. Though there are many good residences surrounded with ornamented demesnes, the seats of the nobility and gentry are not distinguished by any character of magnificence; they are noticed under the heads of the parishes in which they are respectively situated, The more substantial farmers have good family houses; but the dwellings of the peasantry are extremely poor, and their food consists almost entirely of oatmeal, milk, and potatoes, The English language is generally spoken, except in the mountain districts towards the north and west, and even there it is spoken by the younger part of the population, but the aged people all speak Irish, particularly in the district of Glan. With regard to fish, the lakes afford an abundance of pike, eels, and trout; and cod, salmon, and herrings, are brought in abundance by hawkers. The chief natural curiosities are the mineral springs, of which the most remarkable are those at Swanlinbar and Derrylyster, the waters of which are alterative and diaphoretic; those at Legnagrove and Dowra, containing sulphur and purging salt, and used in nervous diseases; the well at Owen Brenn, which has similar medicinal properties; and the purgative and diuretic waters of Carrickmore, which are impregnated with fixed air and fossil alkali. The mineral properties of a pool in the mountains of Loughlinlea, between Bailieborough and Kingscourt, are also very remarkable. In 1611, Sir Oliver Lambart was created baron of Cavan, and this title was raised to an earldom in favour of his son Charles, by whose lineal descendants it is still enjoyed.

Transcribed from Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840