Historical description of county Fermanagh, Ireland

FERMANAGH, an inland county, of the province of ULSTER, bounded on the east by Monaghan and Tyrone, on the north by Tyrone and Donegal, on the west by Donegal and Leitrim, and on the south by Cavan. It extends from 54° 7' to 54° 40' (N. Lat.), and from 7° l' to 8° 5' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 456,538½ acres, of which 32O,599 are cultivated land, 46,755 are under water, and the remainder are unprofitable bog and mountain. The population, in 1821, amounted to 130,997; and in 1831, to 149,555.

The Erdini, according to some authorities, were the inhabitants of this district in the time of Ptolemy; but Whitaker considers it to have been part of the territory of the Nagnatæ. By the ancient Irish it was called Feor Magh Eanagh, or "the Country of the Lakes," and Magh Uire, or "the Country of the Waters:" it was also called Ernai or Ernagh, and the inhabitants who lived round Lough Erne, Ernains and Erenochs, a name supposed to be derived from the Erdini. It was divided into two great portions, one called Targoll, the ancient seat of the Facmonii, and of the Macmanii, or the Mac Manuses; the other named Rosgoll, occupied by the Guarii or Guirii, from whom the Mac Guires, or Maguires, derive their origin. This family was so powerful that the greater part of the county was for several centuries known by the name of Mac Guire's country. It was made shire ground in the 11th of Elizabeth, by the name which it still retains. The unsettled state of the district at this period may be inferred from the anecdote told of its chieftain, when the lord-deputy sent to inform him that he was about to send a sheriff into his territory; Maguire's answer was, "that her majesty's officer would be received, but at the same time he desired to know his eric, the fine to be imposed on his murderer, in order that, if he happened to be slain by any of his followers, the amount might be levied on the offender's chattels." It was one of the six counties which escheated to the Crown by the flight of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel, on an imputed conspiracy, and which were included in the celebrated scheme of James I. for the improvement of the north of Ireland, under the name of the Plantation of Ulster. According to the arrangements therein made, the county is supposed to have consisted of 1070 tates of 30 acres each, besides 46 islands, great and small: of these, 212 tates, containing about 6360 acres, were assigned to the church, and the remainder disposed of among the English and Scotch settlers, who, from their undertaking to fulfil the conditions of the plantation, were called Undertakers. A portion, consisting of 390 tates, was assigned to the head of the Mac Guire famly; and the rest of the native inhabitants were here, as in the other five counties, removed to waste lands in Munster or Connaught. The principal settlers were Sir James Belford, Sir Stephen Butler, Sir Wm. Cole, Sir John Hume, Malcolm Hamilton, John Archcdall, George Hume, and John Dunbar, who were Scotchmen; John Sedborrow, Thomas Flowerdew, Edward Hatton, Sir Hugh Wirrall, George Ridgwaie, Sir Gerrard Lowther, Edw. Sibthorp, Henry Flower, Sir Edw. Blenerhasset, and Thomas Blenerhasset, Englishmen; besides whom, Sir John Davis, Capt. Harrison, Sir Henry Folliott, and Captains Gore and Atkinson, acquired large tracts in the allotments set apart for such natives as were suffered to reside. Of these, Con Mac Shane O'Neal, and Brian Mac Guire were the only persons of sufficient consequence to be noted in the report to the English government on the state of the plantation in 1619. In the war of 1688, this county became famous by the gallant stand made by its inhabitants, under the name of the Enniskillen men, in favour of King William, during which period they not only maintained themselves in the town of Enniskillen, thus preserving this important pass between Ulster and Connaught, in spite of all the attempts made to obtain possession of it, but made incursions into the neighbouring counties, from which they carried off many prisoners and much booty, and paralysed the operations of a large portion of the Irish army before Derry, from an apprehension of an attack from this quarter. After the relief of this city, they joined the army of William in Ulster, and from their gallant demeanour and knowledge of the country rendered him good service, and made the name of the Enniskilleners respected among their English friends and dreaded by the Irish enemy. The military spirit thus drawn forth has been maintained ever since, so that not only do the sons of the native farmers frequently prefer a soldier's life abroad to that of an agriculturist at home, but young men from other counties anxious to enlist travel thither to the recruiting parties which are always ready to receive them.

According to the Ecclesiastical arrangements the county is partly in the diocese of Kilmore, but chiefly in that of Clogher. For the purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Clonkelly, Coole, Glenawly, Knockninny, Lurg, Magheraboy, Magherastephana, and Tyrkennedy; it contains the borough, market and county town of Enniskillen, the market and post-towns of Irvinestown (formerly Lowtherstown), Lisnaskea, and Brookborough; the market-town of Maguires-bridge (which has a penny post); and the post-towns of Florence-Court, Kesh, Tempo, Church Hill, Newtown-Butler, Belleek, and Lisbellaw, together with the villages of Ballinamallard, Ederney, and Holywell. Prior to the Union it sent four members to the Irish parliament, viz., two knights of the shire, and two burgesses for the borough of Enniskillen; and since that period it has returned three representatives to the Imperial parliament, the number for the borough having been then reduced to one, and so continued under the Reform act. The elections take place in the county town. The county constituency, as registered at the close of the January sessions, 1836, consists of 220 freeholders of £50, 246 of £2O, and 1120 of £10; one leaseholder of £50, 24 of £20, and 36 of £10; two rent-chargers of £50, and 11 of £2O; making a total of 1660 registered electors. The county is included in the North-west circuit. The assizes and general quarter sessions of the peace are held at Enniskillen, where the county gaol and courthouse are situated: quarter sessions are also holden at Newtown-Butler, where there are a sessions-house and bridewell. The number of persons charged with criminal oifences, and committed for trial in 1836, was 409. The local government is vested in a lord-lieutenant, 14 deputy-lieutenants, and 64 other magistrates, together with the usual county officers, including a coroner. The constabulary police consists of an inspector, paymaster, stipendiary magistrate, 4 officers, 21 constables, 90 sub-constables, and 5 horses, quartered in 20 stations; the expense of their maintenance is defrayed in equal proportions by Grand Jury presentments and by Government. The district lunatic asylum is at Armagh, the county infirmary is at Enniskillen, and there are dispensaries at Church Hill, Rosslea, Kesh, Brookborough, Maguires-bridge, Lisnaskea, Irvinestown, Newtown-Butler, Holywell, Ballinamallard, Belleek, and Lisbellaw. The amount of Grand Jury presentments for 1835 was £16,346. 8. 1¾., of which £3098. 19. 9½. was for the roads, bridges, &c., of the county at large; £4380. 11. 1¼. for the roads, bridges, &c., being the baronial charge; £6566. 11. 6½. for public buildings, charities, officers' salaries, and incidents; and £2300. 5. 8½. for the police. In the military arrangements the county is included in the northern district, and contains barracks for artillery and infantry at Enniskillen, affording accommodation for 14 officers and 547 non-commissioned officers and men, with 98 horses.

The surface is very uneven, and presents great varieties both of soil and aspect. On the eastern verge of the county the land is elevated and sterile, and on the western still more so: indeed, with the exception of small portions in the north and south, the county may be said to consist of hills environed by mountains, and having its centre depressed into a great natural basin or reservoir, serving as a receptacle for the numerous rivers and streams from the higher grounds, whose accumulated waters form one of the noblest lakes in Ireland. Of these mountains the most elevated is Cuilcagh, which, though generally considered as belonging to Leitrim and Cavan, has its lofty eastern extremity, 2188 feet high, altogether in Fermanagh. The Slievebaught or Slabby mountain, which forms the boundary towards Monaghan and Tyrone, extends far westward into this county, and, in like manner, that of Barnesmore in Donegal penetrates southward into it. The most conspicuous of the mountains which are wholly within the county is Belmore, 1312 feet high, between the Shannon and the Erne. Tosset, or Topped mountain, of inferior elevation, commands a range of prospects, which for grandeur, variety, and extent is not surpassed by any other in the north of Ireland. Turaw mountain, rising boldly from the waters of Lough Erne, forms a beautiful and striking feature of its scenery. The other mountains of remarkable elevation are Glenkeel near Derrygonnelly, 1223 feet; North Shean, 1135; Tappahan on the borders of Tyrone, 1110; and Carnmore near Rosslea, 1034 feet. But the grand distinguishing characteristic of the county is Lough Erne, which extends forty miles from north-west to south-east, forming in reality two lakes, embayed by mountains and connected by a deep and winding strait, on an island in the centre of which stands the county town of Enniskillen. Of the two lakes, the northern or lower, between Belleek and Enniskillen, is the larger. being upwards of 20 miles in length, and 7½ in its greatest breadth; the southern or upper, between the latter town and Belturbet, is 12 miles long by 4½ broad. Both are studded with numerous islands, which in some parts of the upper lake are clustered so closely together as to present the appearance rather of a flooded country than of a spacious lake. It is a popular opinion that the number of these islands equals that of the days in the year; but accurate investigation has ascertained that there are 109 in the lower lake, and 90 in the upper. The largest is Bo or Cow island, near the northern extremity of the upper lake; it takes its name from being mostly under pasture. Ennismacsaint, also in the upper lake, is noted for a burying-ground, which is held in great veneration; Devenish island, in the same lake, near Enniskillen, is particularly remarkable for its ancient round tower and other relics of antiquity, all of which are described in the article on the parish of that name. The other more remarkable islands in this division are Eagle, Innisnakill, and Gully, all richly wooded; Cor and Ferney, mostly under pasture, and Herring island, said to derive its name from the quantities of fresh-water herring found near its shores. Innismore, the largest island in the upper lake, forms part of the two nearest parishes on the main land. Belleisle has long been celebrated for its natural beauties, which were much heightened by the judicious improvements they received when it was the residence of the Earl of Rosse: it is connected with the main land by an elegant bridge. Near it is Lady Rosse's island, so called from the improvements bestowed on it by that lady. Knockninny was used as a deer-park by the nobleman just named. In descending the lake from Belturbet, the first two miles present the appearance of a large river winding through the county without any striking features to arrest attention; but as the lake widens, asuccession of rich and picturesque views opens upon the eye. The banks on each side, as well as the islands that present themselves in rapid succession, are clothed with stately timber, which rises boldly from the water's edge, occasionally interrupted by sweeps of low marsh overgrown with rushes and enlivened by herons and other aquatic fowl. After narrowing in to the strait of Enniskillen, and expanding again into a still wider sheet of water in the lower lake, it is finally contracted into a river which quits the county at the village of Belleek in a magnificent fall. The lakes called Lough Melvin, Lough Macnean, and Lough Kane, which form part of the boundary between Fermanagh and Leitrim, may be considered as partly belonging to the former county.

The soil in some parts is a rich loam upon a substratum of limestone, or calcareous gravel; in others, a light friable soil on slaty gravel; and again in others, a heavy soil mixed with stones, beneath which is blue and yellow clay on a substratum of basalt, here called whinstone; but throughout almost every part, the soil is wet and cold, obstinately retaining the surface water unless counteracted by constant draining. The size of farms varies from 3 acres to 500; those of large size are mostly near the mountains, and occupied in grazing young cattle. Considerable tracts of land are let in bulk, and the holders of them are generally middlemen, who sublet in small portions: proprietors of this description are called Terney begs, or "Little Lords." The manure, which is seldom used for any crop except potatoes, is generally a compost of stable dung, lime, and bog mould; the scourings of ditches are sometimes used as a substitute for lime. Marl is in high repute; it is of a dusky white colour, mostly found at the bottom of bogs; near Florence-Court and in some other places it shews itself in large ridges resting upon gravel, whence issue numerous springs impregnated with vitriolic acid: in the vicinity of these springs the marl is found in various curious shapes, cylindrical, spherical, oblong, and curved, highly indurated, and of a dirty red colour, but when exposed to the action of a winter's atmosphere, and used either in top-dressing or as a compost, it retains its efficacy for two or three successive seasons. The staple crops are oats and potatoes, with some wheat; flax, barley, turnips, clover, and vetches are occasionally planted; the culture of barley is every year extending, but that of all the others is chiefly confined to the gentry and wealthy farmers. In the mountain districts, much of the land is cultivated with the spade or the old heavy wooden plough; in other parts, the use of the improved iron plough and light angular harrow is universal, as well as that of all other new and improved implements. The old car with solid wooden wheels has given way to the light cart with spoke-wheels, and the slide-car is rarely used, except in the most mountainous districts to bring turf down the precipitous roads. These mountain farms are chiefly appropriated to the rearing of young cattle. great numbers of which are annually purchased in Leitrim, Sligo, and Donegal, at a year old, and kept by the mountain farmer for one or two years, when they are sold to the graziers of the adjoining counties; great numbers of milch cows are kept, and large quantities of butter made, which is mostly salted in firkins, and bought up in the neighbouring markets, chiefly for the merchants of Belfast and Newry. Perhaps less attention is paid to the breed of cattle in this than in any other county in Ireland; almost every sort of stock known in the kingdom is to be found here in a day's journey, but so crossed as to defy the possibility of distinguishing the original breeds; that best adapted to the soil and climate is the long-homed Roscommon. Sheep are numerous in some districts; they are generally a small mountain breed, and mostly kept for the purpose of furnishing wool for domestic clothing, but many of the gentry have very excellent stocks, being for the most part a cross between the Leicester and Sligo breed. Pigs, though found in all parts, are by no means so numerous as in the adjoining county of Monaghan; indeed in many instances the food which should be given to the pig is carefully saved for the cow. Goats are so numerous as to be highly detrimental to the hedges, which are everywhere stunted by the browsing of this animal.

The horses are bad, being neither of the hack nor waggon kind; larger than the poney and smaller than the galloway: but great numbers of a very superior description are brought into the county by dealers for the use of the gentry. The fences for the most part are dry stone walls, or sods, except in the lower and level districts, where white thorn and other quicksets have been planted; these, wherever properly protected, thrive remarkably well. Draining is sometimes practised, mostly by open trenches; irrigation rarely or never. Every part of the county appears to produce forest timber spontaneously, particularly ash and beech; to such an extent does the former grow, as to be called the weed of the country; and towards the northern part and in some other districts, excellent ash and beech are to be seen growing to a large size as hedgerow timber. At Crum and Castle Caldwell there are excellent and extensive woods of oak, beech, and ash, and much full-grown ornamental timber and young plantations around Florence-Court and Castle Coole; indeed, plantations are more or less connected with the residence of almost every gentleman, and they are yearly increasing. The fuel universally used is turf, cut from the numerous bogs scattered over every part of the county, from the lowest levels to the sides, and even to the summits of the mountains. Coal is sometimes brought to Enniskillen, but the expense of conveyance limits its use to the more wealthy part of the community.

In a geological point of view this county is highly interesting: the great central limestone district of Ireland terminates in it, and the western coal and iron formation commences; here the granite of Donegal forms a junction with the basaltic range, which, with little intermission, extends to the coast of Antrim; here also the Escars (that extraordinary chain of low hills, which extends (rom Lough Neagh to the remotest part of Galway and Mayo,) seem to form a nucleus, whence they radiate in every direction; so that within a very limited space are found almost every kind of rounded nodule, from the jasper and agate down to the softest clay slate. Generally speaking, the rock of the county is either secondary limestone, abounding with organic remains (particularly encrinites), or quartose sandstone, in some districts equal in closeness of grain, uniformity of structure, and durability to any in the British islands. Limestone of several kinds is found in the islands of Lough Erne, and in other places on the main land; the quarries of the latter are extensively worked. Near Florence-Court is brown marble beautifully veined; it receives a fine polish, and when worked into ornaments presents a surface which, for mellowness of tint and variety of veins, is not excelled even by the celebrated marble of Iona. In the parish of Killasher are large beds of marble, having a perpendicular face of 58 feet in height, projecting boldly from the neighbouring cliffs; it is of a grey colour, often beautifully clouded, but it has never been worked (or ornamental purposes. Near the foot of Cuilcagh are vast deposits of ironstone, veins of which can also be traced in the bed of the neighbouring streams: numerous mines were opened, and the ore extensively wrought as long as the forest afforded fuel; but when this source failed, the works were abandoned, and the furnaces and mills have gone to decay. In this mountain and in the Tosset are thin Beams of coal, which appear to form the verge of the great Leitrim and Roscommon field, the indications and strata of the base of Cuilcagh, exactly corresponding with those of the Iron mountain in the county of Leitrim; some slight excavations have been made by the peasantry, but no effort on an extended scale has been attempted to search for this valuable fossil. In the hills of Glengarron are also indications of coal; but the great quantity of turbary in every part affords so many facilities for procuring turf at a cheap rate, as to prevent any effort towards the working of the collieries. When the canal between Loughs Neagh and Erne is finished, and the navigation opened to Ballyshannon, there is every reason to hope that the mineral treasures of Fermanagh will prove a new source of national wealth and prosperity.

Fermanagh may be said to be almost exclusively an agricultural county: the only staple manufacture is that of linen, which in some districts is briskly carried on; the cloth for the most part is 7/8ths; a stronger kind, principally for domestic use, is made from the refuse and tow. Flax-spinning is general throughout the county; scarcely a house is without a wheel and reel, The yarn is carried to the market-towns, and bought up in large quantities for the manufactures of the more northern counties. Wool-spinning prevails in the mountain districts, and excellent flannels and blankets are made: druggets, with linen warps of a very superior quality, are also manufactured; likewise a very useful stuff, principally for domestic wear.

The fish most common in Lough Erne are salmon, perch, pike, bream, trout, and eels. It is said that perch first appeared in this lake about the year 1760, and that they were seen in all the other lakes in Ireland and in the Shannon at the same period. There are some large eel-weirs at Enniskillen, where great quantities of that fish are caught: they come from the sea when young, and are intercepted in their return; those which are not sold fresh, or sent to Dublin, are cured in barrels containing about eight dozen each, and sold at Belturbet. There is also an eel-weir near the falls of Belleek , but this town is more remarkable for its salmon fishery, considered, in conjunction with that at Ballyshannon, a little lower down the river, to be one of the most productive in Ireland. Large flights of wild geese and swans occasionally visit Lough Erne towards the close of the year, the appearance of which is considered to prognosticate a severe winter.

The only river of any consequence is the Erne, which, entering the county a short distance from Belturbet, flows into Lough Erne at its southern extremity, and, after passing Belleek at its northern extremity, discharges itself into Donegal bay at Ballyshannon; all the other rivers empty themselves into Lough Erne. The Finn is navigable for boats as far as Cumber bridge on the confines of Monaghan; the Pettigo and the Omna. rise near Lough Derg, in Donegal, and after uniting their streams fall into the lake a mile south of the town of Pettigo : the Scillies rises near Church hill, and takes a southern direction to the lake. There are upwards of fifty smaller streams, all contributing to augment the waters of the great central reservoir. The Ulster canal, intended to unite Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, will enter this county from Monaghan, not far from Clones; thence proceeding towards Belturbet, it is to fall into Lough Erne. The roads are numerous, but for the most part badly laid out; many of them are flooded during winter, exceedingly inconvenient, and kept in indifferent repair.

The number of Danish raths in all parts is very great, but none of them are peculiarly singular in their construction. Tumuli also occur, surrounded with circles of upright stones; when opened, urns and stone coffins have been found in them. At Wattle bridge, three miles from Newtown-Butler, on the banks of the Finn, are the remains of a Druidical temple. There are but few remains of monastic institutions: those of Devenish and Gola are the only structures in which traces of the original buildings can be discovered: the abbeys of Ennismacsaint, Cleenish, Kilskerry, and Rossory have been converted into parish churches: those of Ariodmuilt, Derough, Domnachmore, Inniscasin, Inniseo, Innisrocha, and Loughuva are now known only by name. About a mile from Pettigo stand the ruins of Castle Mac Grath, the residence of the first Protestant bishop of Clogher, from whom the building took its name. Lisgool, a castle on the bank of the Rale opposite to Enniskillen, also suffered during the civil war of 1641, being burnt by the Irish. The ruins of Callahill castle are near Florence-Court. Castle Hume, which was the seat of Lord Loftus, is now a pile of ruins. Enniskillen, which was little more than a fort in Elizabeth's time, has since completely changed its character; the castle is in ruins, and its defences and outworks have been gradually converted by the progress of civilization into peaceful and substantial dwelling-houses. The modern residences of the nobility and gentry are noticed in the articles on the parishes in which they are respectively situated.

The peasantry are a fine race, much superior in appearance to those of any of the other northern districts: they are tall, well formed, and robust: their countenances display the bloom of health, and they possess that uninterrupted flow of spirits which is the constant attendant on regular living and active, yet not overstrained, industry. Whether from habit or a natural propensity, the people do not rise until a late hour in the morning, and the cows are not milked until noon. The cottiers who dwell in the more retired and mountainous parts are poor, and their cabins are wretched huts, with a wattled door and a straw mat on the inside; many of the herdsmen, who are able to give their daughters a marriage portion of £20 and a feather bed, live in these cabins. The lower classes have no confidence in physicians: when one is called in, the patient despairs of life; hence a dislike is entertained for the whole medical profession. Yet, notwithstanding the reluctance to spend money upon medicine, considerable sums are lavished on the wake which precedes interment. The English language is universally spoken, and most of the children are educated in the parochial and national schools. Mineral springs are very numerous: Rutty gives a list of twenty, partly chalybeate, partly sulphureous. Of the former are those of Aghalun, Coolauran, Drumcroe, KillinshanvaIly, Largy, and Tullyveel; of the latter, Aghnahinch, Ashwood, Derryinch, Derrylester, Killasher, Lisbleak (two springs), Meham (two springs), Owen Brewn, and Pettigo: the water of the last-named is more strongly impregnated with the mineral than even the celebrated spring at Swanlinbar. A spring at Maguires-bridge, and two at Drumgoon, are sulphureous, with a prevailing admixture of an alkali. Four miles north-west of Enniskillen, near Ballycassidy, are some natural caves called the Daughton: the entrance is by a large arch, 25 feet high, the roof being composed of various pieces of rock in regular order; the passage leads to a second vault of the same form, but not so high, and thence it is- continued by narrow windings to a brook, which, passing through unknown recesses, discharges itself at the first entrance. At Belcou, a small distance west of Enniskillen, is a celebrated well, called Davagh Phadric, reputed the best. cold bath in Ireland, and in great esteem for nervous and paralytic disorders: it discharges a large stream which turns two mills at the short distance of 150 yards from its mouth. This county gave the title of Viscount to the Verney family, now extinct.

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