Historical description of county Longford, Ireland

LONGFORD (County of), an inland county of the province of LEINSTER, bounded on the south and east by that of Westmeath, on the north by those of Cavan and Leitrim, and on the west by that of Roscommon, from which it is separated by the Shannon and Lough Ree. It extends from 53° 30' to 53° 54' (N. Lat.), and from 7° 2l' to 7° 53' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 263,645 acres, of which 192,506 are cultivated land, 55,247 are bog and mountain, and 15,892 are under water. The population, in 1821, was 107,570; and in 1831, 112,558.

It appears uncertain from Ptolemy's statement what tribe inhabited this portion of the island in his time. It was afterwards known by the name of the Anale or Annaly, and was the principality of the O'Farrels, or O'Ferrals, which family was afterwards divided into two main branches, O'Farrel Buy or the Yellow, which held the southern part of the county, and O'Farrel Ban or the White, which possessed the northern portion. The family of O'Cuin also had a small territory here, of which Rathcline castle was the head quarters and chief fortress. Feargal, chief of this country, was defeated in 960 by Mahon, prince of Thomond, on the banks of the Inny, near its influx into Lough Ree, to which place the latter had ascended by the Shannon with a number of small vessels; but this event produced no territorial changes. Previously to the arrival of the English, Annaly was included in the province of Meath, and as such formed part of the grant made by Henry II. to Hugh de Lacy, who built castles and planted a colony of English there; but this remote part of his territory, although the English families of Tuite and Delamare succeeded in making a settlement in it, yielded him little more than nominal submission, as the O'Farrels held the chief power till the time of Elizabeth. On the division of Meath into two counties in 1543, the Annaly was considered to be a portion of its western division, and was not formed into a separate county until the 11th of Elizabeth, when it was made shire ground by Sir Henry Sidney, Lord-Deputy, under the name of Longford, from its chief town, and was considered as one of the seven counties of Connaught. Notwithstanding this interference on the part of the English government, the O'Farrels were still recognised as chieftains until the 29th year of the same reign, when Faghan O'Farrel made a formal surrender of the territory to the queen, and next year obtained a re-grant, subject to the jurisdiction of the English law. That the authority of the English government had but little influence during the subsequent reigns of James and Charles I., is evident from the fact that no charter of incorporation was granted to any town in it by the former of these monarchs, by whom so many places in other counties were endowed with corporate rights; the earliest grant of this nature being that of St. Johnstown, in the beginning of the reign of Chas. I., while those of the other borough towns, Longford, Granard, and Lanesborough, were not obtained until the middle of that of Chas. II. From a remonstrance purporting to be sent by the inhabitants of Longford to Lord Costello, to be presented by him to the Lords Justices in Dublin, dated Nov. 10th, 1641, in which they complain of the grievances under which they laboured as Roman Catholics, and petitioned for an act of oblivion and restitution, liberty of conscience in matters of religion, and a repeal of the statutes of Elizabeth against popery, it also appears that the O'Farrel family still maintained almost the exclusive control over the county, as the 26 signatures affixed to the doeument are all of this name. Shortly after the breaking out of the war of 1641, Longford castle was besieged and taken by the Irish for the O'Farrels, and the garrison put to the sword, notwithstanding it had surrendered on promise of quarter. Castle Forbes, the only other fortress in the county held for the government, also fell into the power of the insurgents. But the ultimate triumph of Cromwell's forces entirely reversed the fate of the country, and the O'Farrels lost both their property and influence, which have since been vested in other and various hands.

This county is partly in the diocese of Meath, but chiefly in that of Ardagh, and in the archdiocese of Armagh. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Abbeyshrule, Ardagh, Granard, Longford, Moydow, and Rathcline, and contains the !ncorporated market and assize town of Longford, the incorporated market-towns of Granard and Lanesborough, the disfranchised borough of St. Johnstown (now a village), the market and post-towns of Edgeworthstown and Ballymahon, the post-towns of Colehill and Newtown-Forbes, and the villages of Bunlahy, Ballinamuck, Drumlish, Killashee, Keenagh, and the episcopal town or village of Ardagh. The county sent ten members to the Irish parliament, two for the county at large, and two for each of the boroughs of Longford, Granard, Lanesborough, and St. Johnstown; but since the Union its sole representatives have been the two for the county, who are elected at Longford. The registered constituency consists of 201 £50, 105 £29, and 854 £10 freeholders; 67 £20 and 149 £10 leaseholders; and 5 £50 and 7 £20 rent-ehargers, making a total of 1388 voters. The county is included in the Home Circuit; the assizes and general quarter sessions are held at Longford, where the county gaol and court-house are situated: quarter sessions are also held at Ballymahon. The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 10 deputy-lieutenants, and 46 other magistrates, together with the usual county officers, including one coroner. There are 27 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of 1 sub-inspector, 3 chief officers, 25 sub-constables, 117 men, and 5 horses. The district lunatic asylum for this county and the King's, Queen's, and Westmeath is at Maryborough; the county infirmary is at Longford, and there are dispensaries at Ballymahon, Edgeworthstown, Granard, and Keenagh, supported equally by Grand Jury presentments and private subscription. The amount of Grand Jury presentments for the year 1835 was £12,606. 9.2., of whieh £329. 11. 7. was for the roads, bridges, &c., of the county at large; £3833. 6. 10. for the roads, bridges, &c., of the baronies; £2209. 6. 2½. for public buildings, charities, officers' salaries, and incidents; £2678. 13. 10. for the police; and £3556. 10. 8½. for repayment of advances made by Government. In military arrangements it is in the Western district, and there are barracks at Longford for infantry and cavalry, and at Granard for infantry, both together being capable of accommodating 15 officers, 391 men, and 202 horses.

The general outline of the county presents little to attraet the eye or exeite the imagination. It is for the most part flat and in many places overspread with large tracts of bog. Towards the north, where it borders on the county of Leitrim, it rises into bleak and sterile mountains. In its other extremity the country improves very mueh, particularly on the banks of the Inny, where the land is much more fertile and is well cultivated. Near Ballymahon the scenery is varied and beautiful. Lakes are numerous in many parts, particularly in the baronies of Longford and Granard; the most extensive are Lough Gownagh, in the northern extremity of the county, and Lough Kinale near Granard, both of whieh contribute to form the boundary between this county and Cavan. In each there are several islands. aud each possesses considerable interest from the surrounding seenery, whieh is mueh heightened by numerous young and flourishing plantations. The principal islands in Lough Gownagh are Innismore, Inchmory, Innisdavoge, and Jasper island, each of which is fertile" planted, or embellished with remains of ancient buildings : those of Lough Kinale are Chapel island and Bruree; the former has the ruins of an old ehurch on it; the latter is planted. The other more remarkable lakes are Loughs Bon, Bonnow, Drum, Derry, Drumurry, Doogary, Gurteen, Tully, and Glin. The Iast- named, which is on the borders of the county eastward of Edgeworthstown, receives several streams from the north and west, and empties its waters by a windiog river into Lough Iron, in the county of Westmeath. The Shannon is the boundary along the whole western verge of the eounty, separating it from Connaught, and for the greater part of its course presents more the appearance of a lake than that of a river; near the north-western boundary of Longford is Lough Forbes, about five miles long by one broad; and at Lanesborough is the commencement of Lough Ree, a noble expanse of water extending from that town to the neighbourhood of Athlone. The islands of this lake are numerous, and some of them large; those whieh may be considered to belong to the county of Longford are All Saints, Inchban, Innisbofin, Inniseloran, Quakers' island, and Inehynough. The soil of this county, like the surface, is exceedingly various, changing from a light thin mould to a deep loamy clay, without any apparent variation in the geological arrangement: much of the north is in a state of nature, and the practicability of draining, reclaiming, and eultivating to any profitable purpose is exceedingly doubtful. Toward the south the prevailing character is a rieh vegetable mould resting on blue clay, very retentive of moisture and based on a substratum of yellow marl, two or three feet thiek, ultimately resting either on an excellent marl or limestone gravel. In this part of the eountry every kind of grain and green crop may be cultivated to the greatest advantage. The barony of Granard is mostly good land producing a short, close and sweet herbage; the elevated district between Edgeworthstown and Longford has a good soil, whieh yields abundant crops of grain, but westward of the latter place, except in the immediate neighbourhood of Newtown-Forbes, the land is mueh encumbered with surface water, the injurious effects of which could be easily obviated by a judicious system of draining. The level parts of the county are mostly in pasture, producing great varieties of acidulous plants occasioned by the overdowing of the rivers, or by the aecumulation of surface water: these meadows, if properly drained and secured, would rank among some of the best in Ireland. Bogs are very numerous in many parts of the county, and everywhere capable of drainage and reclamation; but in .consequence of the water being suffered to remain in them, numerous gullies or swallows are formed, which though always full never run over, although numerous small streams flow into them, whence it is evident that their waters must find a subterraneous passage to the Shannon, the Inny, or some other river, thus silently but forcibly pointing out the means by which the land may be made available to the service of man. The chief crops are oats and potatoes, but the sowing of wheat and barley is becoming more general; and flax, rape, clover, turnips and vetches are sometimes sown. Rape thrives peculiarly well on boggy soil, and the produce is everywhere very great. The praetice of laying down land with grass or clover seeds is gaining ground every year. All the surplus grain is purchased in Longford and other markets, and sent down the Royal Canal to Dublin or Drogheda. Agricultural implements are of an inferior description, except with the gentry and wealthier farmers; one-horse carts of excellent construction are universal. Great improvements have been made in the breed of cattle; the short-horned stoek appears to be a decided favourite. A cross between the Durham and the long-horned native breed grows to a good size, and fattens well. Although this is not a sheep-feeding country. the breed of that useful and profitable animal has not been negleeted; the New Leicester is decidedly a favourite with all the large landholders, but a cross between it and the small short-woolled sheep of the country suits the light and upland soils better. The horses are chiefly of a slight active breed, well adapted for light harness, but not equal as saddle-horses to those of Roseommon, Galway, and Sligo. Pigs are universally kept, and of every possible variety of breed; they are fattened for the merchants and curers of Longford, who ship KJ'e8t quantities of pork and bacon for Dublin, London, and Liverpool, Dairies upon an extensive scale are not very general, but great quantities of butter are made and ehiefty sold in Longford and Ballymahon for the English markets. The meadows in the lower districts produee hay in great abundance, but it is much mixed with rushes and other aquatic plants, and it is everywhere cut too late in the season, the mowing seldom beginning till September, and is badly managed. Woods are very rare, although the land is everywhere well adapted to the growth of timber, and in many places throws up shoots spontaneously, particularly of oak, hazel, alder, and birch, which only require the protecting hand of man to attain their full growth; but cattle are everywhere suffered to browse upon them, and hence nothing but brushwood and stunted bushes remain. There is some good old timber at Castle Forbes, which, together with the plantations around Newtown-Forbes, shews to great advantage; there are also some good plantations at Edgeworthstown, others near Granard, on the shores of the lakes, on the road between Longford and Edgeworthstown, and in a few other places. The fences are generally good, being for the most part ditehes faced with soda or stones, and having quickset hedges planted on the breast. Draining and irrigation appear to be quite unknown here, although no distriet in the province requires them more. The scented myrtle is found in all the bogs, whieh everywhere present an ample field for the pursuits of the botanist, as the plants are numerous and many rare species are found, particularly in the barony of Longford. Orchards and gardens are sometimes seen near the small farm-houses, and add greatly to their comfortable appearance and domestic economy.

The northern boundary of the great limestone field of Ireland passes through this eounty, forming part of the hilly tract whieh, rising in the north-eastern part of it, proceeds into several of the northern counties. The line of division between the limestone and clay-slate proceeds from the Camlin river, near Longford, by St. Johnstown, between Lough Kinale and Lough Gownagh, to the head of Lough Sheelin. The portion of the eounty to the south of this line is based on limestone, the general range of whieh approaches to the east and west, and the dip towards the south. An isolated mass of sandstone forms within the limestone field the bill of Slieve Goldry near Ardagh, and another at Ballymabon extends on both sides of the Inny: this kind of roek may also be observed to the west of the clay-slate formation, in the north-western extremity of the county, oecupying, beyond its limits, also a considerable space on both sides of the Shannon in the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim; and on the hill at Shroid, a little east of Longford, conglomerate of a very compact structure crosses the country in a very extraordinary manner, rising in wavy undulations, frequently submerging, and again presenting itself on the surface, There are numerous esears in all the level districts, forming a portion of the great chain which passes from the coast of Killala bay, through the centre of the island, to Lough Neagh; and here, 88 in every other part of their course, they are formed of fragments of primitive! and secondary rocks, evidently rounded by attrition, but the greater portion of nodules in the esears of this county are oflimestone, and near the base, in almost every instance, are great quantities of fine ealcareous sand and marl, which are everywhere used as manure, and, on some kinds of land, are far more beneficial than lime. Notwithstanding the abundance of limestone, sandstone, and gravel, pure water is rather scarce. At Ledwithstown is a spring of excellent water gushing out of the marble rock in a copious stream, which is very highly esteemed.

The mineral treasures of Longford are few. Lead ore has been found in several of the limestone quarries, but no practical efforts have yet been made to trace out the vein; it has also been found in some of the mountain streams, and even turned up by the plough: ochres of various colours arc common, Near the shores of Lough Gownagh are extensive rocks of iron-stone of a very superior kind, equal to the best Swedish ore, and the rocks appear to be inexhaustible, not being detached, or in thin layers like those of the Arigna district, but regular in formation and of a deep red colour. Coal shale appears in several places around Burlaghy, and near Lough Gownagh; but from the situation an'd arrangement of the contiguous strata, its continuation is doubtful. Near Ledwithstown, and in some other places, marble of a deep grey colour is very abundant; it takes a high polish, and is worked into chimney-pieces and other domestic ornaments. An analysis of the blue "marl that forms a bed more than ten feet thick under the bog near the Inny, gave, of carbonate of lime 44.4 parts, carbonate of magnesia 1.4, alumine 27.2, and silex 27.0. The white marl of the same district gave, of carbonate of lime 87.3 parts, bog stuff and vegetable matter 10.1, alumine 1.0, silex 0.9, and oxyde of iron 0.1. The blue clay under the bog near the Shannon gave, of carbonate of lime 53.0 parts, alnmine 36.0, silex 11.0.

Coarse linen cloth, and linen yam, are manufactured to some extent and sent to markets in other counties: the first Earl of Granard took great pains to introduce this branch of manufacture among his tenantry at Newtown-Forbes. Flannels, friezes, and linsey-woolseys, chietly for domestic consumption, are manufactured in several places. The rivers that water the interior of the county are the Camlin and the Kenagh. The source of the former is amid the numerous springs around Granard; its course is uncommonly winding, in consequence of the ftatness of the valley through which it flows after quittiug the hill of Granard, insomuch that the country is ftooded to a great extent in winter: it runs westward and joins the Shannon at Tarmonbarry. The latter rises in the south and ftows northward to the Shannon. The Fallen and Ownamount are insignificant streams. The Inny, which forms part of the southern boundary of the county, ftows through a beautiful and rich country in a winding course by Ballymahon to Lough Ree: it contains salmon, trout, pike, perch, roach, tench, bream, and eels: the last are highly esteemed. It is said that since the introduction of perch, all other kinds of fish except eels have grown scarce both in Lough Ree and in the Inny. Few rivers present so many facilities for water carriage: its course is very slow. The total fall from Finea to the Shannon is 90 feet, and the main obstructions to its navigation are a ridge of rocks between Newcastle and Ballymahon, and two shallows between the latter town and the Shannon. The Royal canal enters the county from Westmeath, by an aqueduct over the Inny near Tinellick, passing westward by Ballymahon, Keenagh, and Mosstown, to Killashee, whence a branch leads northward to the town of Longford, while the main line from the junction continues westward until it joins the Shannon at Richmond harbour a mile below Tarmonbarry. This line of communication through the heart of the country is of the greatest advantage to the commercial interests; boats of 20 tons convey bulky articles, and fty boats, travelling at the rate of 7 miles an hour, ply constantly between Longford and Dublin. The roads are numerous and well laid out, and the material of which they are made is abundant and of very good quality; but in general they are very wet throughout every part, a defect arising entirely from want of due attention to keep the drains and water courses open.

The remains of antiquity are very few. A large rath, usually called the Moat of Granard, stands at one end of the main street of that town; another, called Lisardowlin, sitnate near the road from Longford to Edgeworthstown, is by the people of this country generally believed to be the eentre of Ireland. Monastic institutions were numerous, and for the most; part held in great veneration and well endowed. Abbeyshrule belonged to the Canons Regular; Ardagh, to the Franciscans; Lerha or Laragh, to the Cistercians; the wealthy abbey of Longford was founded by the O'Farrels; there were also abbeys or priories at Moydow, Clone, Clonebrone, Derg, Druimchei, and Killinmore, besides those on the islands of Innismorey, Innisbofin, Inniscloran, and All Saints Island in Longh Ree. Ruins of all the above still remain; but of the priories at Ballanasaggard, Kilglass, and St. Johnstown, no vestiges of the original buildings remain, and their actual site is matter of doubt. At Lanesborough are the ruins of a collegiate church or preceptory, originally founded by the Knights Templars. The remains of ancient castles are not so numerous here Ill! in most of the other level counties. Granard castle is built on a hill rising to a considerable height above the town, and eommanding an extensive view over all the level country. Besides Castle Forbes, the Forbes family had another fortified mansion at Longford, which was burned by the O'Nials in 1605. At Tenellick is the ruin of a strong castle, and near Ballymahon are the remains of two others. There are still remains of Rathcline castle, the chief residence of the O'Cuins; and not far from it are the ruins of a very ancient church. At Ballymahon was a strong castle erected to defend the ford of the Inny, the only traces of which are the cellars, under a house built on its ruins. Barnaeor castle and Lot's castle, on the Inny, on the opposite banks, were both erected to protect the important pass or ford of that river, and at Castlecor are some remains of its ancient fortress. Fossil remains of various kinds have been diseovered in the limestone caverns and fissures , Many of them are those of animals unknown in these regions, and several others of species now extinct in Ireland. The bones and horns of the elk have been discovered in the marl at the foot of the Escars, and beneath several of the bogs, also in a small lake near Ballinalee the antlers and bones of the red deer are often found quite sound, having been preserved by the antiseptic properties of the bog water.

There are but few resident noblemen or gentry of large estates: the mansions and demesnes deserving of notice are described in their respective parishes. There are few pam of Ireland in which persons of limited ineome can live cheaper or better than here. In the towns are plentiful and eheap markets for beef, mutton, fowl, and fresh water fish, wild fowl in abundance, and the water fowl free from the fishy flavour of those from the sea coast. Cod and haddoek from Galway, and oysters from the same shores, may be obtained at moderate prices. The diet and mode of living of the small farmers and others is very indifferent: they seareely ever taste flesh meat, and not often anything but potatoes; yet they are strong, healthy. and active, and their general appearance is prepossessing. The women wear scarlet cloaks, with hoods, which they seldom use, as they eover their heads with handkerchiefs: the rest of their dress consists indifferently of cotton chequer and linsey-woolsey. Those of the lowest order travel barefoot, carrying their shoes and stockings in their hands, till they draw near their place of destination; their fuel is invariably turf, whieh can be procured in great abundance and of very superior quality. Coal is sometimes brought by the canal for the use of the wealthier classes, but even these generally burn turf. The prevalent diseases are inflammatory and putrid fever in summer and autumn, and ague, which latter is generally contracted in Meath, whither the labourers go to the harvest, and where they suffer much from the searcity of fuel, whieh they had enjoyed in plenty at home. The lower orders are shrewd, intelligent, and industrious, fond of manly exercises and amusements, such as foot-ball, hurling, and wrestling, but on Sunday evenings the ehief and invariable amusement is dancing. They are of a very proud and independent spirit, which manifests itself most eonspicuously in their great repugnance to hire 88 servants, an occupation considered by them to be highly disreputable; hence t1;l.ey remain at home living in penury in a cabin and on a small patch of ground. They are exceedingly litigious, ever ready to have recourse to the law upon the most trivial subjects; they are also extremely superstitious: the first day of the year and of the month or week is considered the most proper times to commence an undertaking. Noone removes to a new habitation on a Friday. A large candle is lighted on Christmas night, and suffered to bum out: should it be extinguished by accident, or otherwise, before it be completely burned away, it is considered as a certain prognostic of the death of the head of the family. The first of May and Midsummer-day are observed with great regularity, as are all the other festivals usual throughout the country: that of Hallow Eve concludes with a supper of boiled wheat buttered and sweetened, called faranbree. In the summer months, many individuals set out on pilgrimages either to holy wells in the vicinity, or to Lough Derg, in Donegal, to which latter place persons in afluent circumstances have been known to walk barefoot as a penance. The places at which violent or sudden deaths have oecurred, particularly if near a road, are marked by heaps of stones, to which every passenger deems it a duty incumbent on him to add one. The Irish language is scareely ever heard, except in the mountainous distriets among the old people; adults and children everywhere speak English. Of the ancient families of this county, scarce any traces now remain: titles of the most romantic kind were assumed and borne by the heads of several clans, all of which have long since fallen into disuse.

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