Historical description of county Louth, Ireland

LOUTH (County of), a maritime county of the province of LEINSTER, and the smallest in Ireland, bounded on the east by the Irish Sea; on the north, by the bay of Carlingford and by the county of Armagh; on the west, by the counties of Monaghan and Meath; and on the south by that of Meath. It extends from 53° 42'to 54° 6' N. Lat., and from 6° 4' to 6° 38' W. Lon.; and comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 200,484 statute acres, of which 185,568 acres are cultivated land, and the remaining 14,916 unimproved mountain and bog. It contained, in 182l, 101,011 inhabitants, and in 1831, 101,481, exclusively of the county of the town of Drogheda, which forms a separate jurisdiction at the southern extremity of the county.

It appears from Ptolemy that the present county formed, in his time, part of the territory of the Voluntii, which extended southward to that of the Eblani. It was subsequently included in the independent sovereignty of Orgial, or Argial, called by the English Oriel or Uriel, forming a large part of the province of Meath, including also the counties of Armagh and Monaghan. This principality is stated to have formed the subordinate territory of Conal Muirthemne, called also Hy Conal and Machuire-Conal, in which were the smaller districts of Fera Arda, or Fatharta, the present barony of Ferrard; Hy Segan, or Hy Seanghain, that of Ardee; Fera Lorg, Lorgan, or Lurgin, that of Lower Dundalk; Hy Mac Uais, the country of the Mac Scanlans, that of Upper Dundalk; and Ludha, or Lugha, that of Louth, which last was the country of the O'Carrols, chiefs of Argial. The last celebrated head of this race was Donchad O'Carrol, king of Argial, who founded the two great abbeys of Mellifont and Louth, and was likewise a prince of considerable prowess. Argial was conquered by John de Courcy, in 1183; and that part of it which is included within the limits of the present couuty of Louth (one of those erected by King John in 1210) being immediately peopled with English settlers, it continued ever after to be subject to the English jurisdiction; and thus the ancient Argial was divided into Irish Argial and English Uriel. The latter, from its situation, being much exposed to the incursions of the native chiefs, numerous castles were erected for its defence; but nevertheless, in the reign of Edw, II., it was overrun and ravaged by the Scots under Edward Bruce, who, however, received their final overthrow from Sir John Birmingham in this county.

The county of Argial, Lowth, or Louth, was one of the four counties of the pale in which, in 1473, a small standing force was appointed to be maintained; and the mayor of Drogheda, Sir Laurence Taaf, and Richard Bellew, were appointed commanders of the newly instituted fraternity of arms for the defence of the English pale. It was overrun by the insurgent chieftains in the reign of Elizabeth, at which time it appears to have formed part of the province of Ulster; for in 1596, in the conference held at Faughart between O'Nial and O'Donel, on the Irish side, and the archbishop of Cashel and the Earl of Ormonde on that of the English government, the latter proposed that the English should retain possession of that part of Ulster situated between the river Boyne and Dundalk, in this county, of which they had been in possession for a long period, together with the towns of Carrickfergus, Carlingford, and Newry, in the more northern parts: but these terms were altogether rejected, and ever since, Louth has formed a portion of the province of Leinster.

It is wholly in the diocese of Armagh, except a small portion of two parishes in the diocese of Clogher. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Ardee, Ferrard, Louth, Upper Dundalk, and Lower Dundalk, and contains the sea-port, borough and market-town of Dundalk; the sea-port and disfranchised borough of Carlingford; the disfranchised boroughs of Ardee and Dunleer; and the post-towns of Castle-Bellingham, Collon, Louth, Lurgan-Green, Tallonstown and Flurrybridge: the largest villages are Annaglasson, Clogher, and Mullaghcrew. It sent ten members to the Irish parliament, two for the county at large and two for each of the boroughs; but at the Union the boroughs were all disfranchised, except Dundalk, which sends but one member to the Imperial parliament. The election for the county, which continues to return two members, takes place at Dundalk. The number of electors registered up to the close of Michaelmas Sessions 1836, was 291 £50, 179 £20, and 556 £10 freeholders; 6 £50 and 32 £20 rentchargers; and 26 £20 and 104 £10 leaseholders; making a total of 1194 registered voters. The county is included in the north-eastern circuit; the assizes are held at Dundalk, where the county court-house and prison are built. Quarter sessions are held at Drogheda and Dundalk, in January, April, June, and October; and in April and October at Ardee, where also there are a court-house and a bridewell. The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 8 deputy-lieutenants, and 35 other magistrates, together with the usual county officers, including two coroners. There are 26 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of an inspector, paymaster, three chief and 26 sub-constables, and 108 men, with 4 horses. There are also 14 stations of the peace preservation police, which consists of a chief magistrate, 3 officers, 21 constables, and 70 men. The District Lunatic Asylum is in Dublin; the County Hospital, at Dundalk, was built in 1834, and is considered to be among the most complete in Ireland, both as regards the structure and the internal arrangements; there are dispensaries at Ardee, Ballymascanlan, Castle-Bellingham, Collon, Dunleer, Louth, and Termonfechan. The amount of Grand Jury presentments for 1835 was £11,247.2.8., of which £157. 18. 8. was for the roads, bridges, &c., of the county at large; £2591. 15. 11. for the roads, bridges, &c., of the several baronies; £4509. 6. 10. for public buildings, charities, officers' salaries, and incidents; and £3988. 1. 3. for the police. In military arrangements the county is included in the South-Eastern district, with the exception of the town of Dundalk, which is in the Northern; in the same town is the only barrack within the county, adapted for 25 officers, 513 men, and 320 horses. Along the coast are five stations of the revenue police, respectively at Greenore Point, Omeath, Cooley Point, Soldiers' Point, Dunany Point, and Clogher Head, which form the Dundalk district, in which there are one inspecting commander, five officers, and forty men.

This county, although the smallest in Ireland, presents several distinguishing features as to its scenery aad soil worthy of attention. The southern districts are level, varied by gently swelling elevations, in a state of high cultivation, and interspersed with thriving plantations: to the north the surface rises into the lofty group of the Ravensdale, Cooley, and Carlingford mountains. The coast from the muuth of the Boyne, which is the southern extremity of the county, presents a broad level strand, stretching northward for several miles to the boldly projecting promontory of Clogher head, at the foot of which is the village of the same name, with a natural cover that affords shelter to a few fishing yawls. Thence to Dunany head is a sandy bay, in which are a few reefs, covered at high water, bnt at ebb tide having a dry strand for half a mile beyond them. Dunany point is the southern extremity of Dundalk bay, which sweeps round into the land in a semicircular form, having the barbour and town of Dundalk in ita most inland point, and terminating northwards at Cooley point. The southern and western shores of tbiB fine bay, the mouth of which extends seven miles from point to point, and which measures the same distance in depth to the entrance to Dundalk harbour, are of the same character as those already noticed, broad, shallow, and skirted with a line of low land rising gradually into slight elevations, clothed with verdure and trees. The northern aide of the bay is of a character totally different. Here the mountains rise boldly from the water's edge, covered in their lower parts with wood, but above denuded and heathy. This mountainous tract forms a peninsula that separates the bay of Dundalk from that of Carlingford, which fonus the northern bouudary of the county. Its character is totally different from that of Dundalk bay; it is long and narrow, extending nearly nine miles inland to Narrow water, which i. the entraDce to Newry harbour, with an average breadth of Ii mile, and bordered on both sides by lofty eminences, on the south by the mountain group already described, on the north by those of Mourne, in the county of Down, which are among the highest in Ireland. Both these bays are considered as unsafe for shipping, that of Dundalk from its shoals, that of Carlingford from the sudden and violent flaws of wind that sweep along it from the surrounding cliffs. Fish of many kinds are caught in great numbers off the shores of this county: the moat common species are turbot, cod, haddock, plaice, ling, and herring. There is an oyster fishery in Carlingford bay, the oysters of which are in the highest estimation for their superior flavour, and are sent in large quantities to Dublin and other towns along the coast. The soil in the fiat parts is Illlitable to every kind of agricultural produce, being a rich vegetable mould, based on marl, limestone, or clay-slate. Northwards it gradually deteriorates, until, on approaching the summits of the mountains, the only vegetable productions are heath and the coarsest grasses. The best land is about Ardee and Louth; there are also extensive tracts of rich soil at Tallonstown, Dundalk, and Castle-Bellingham.

Louth may be said to be altogether an agricultural county. Much of the land is under pasture, but every description of grain is extensively cultivated. The best wheat districts are those of Ardee and Cooley: the best barley is grown in the neighbourhood of the town of Louth. The Chevalier barley has been lately introduced with the greatest sueeess, having been found better adapted to the soil than any hitherto raised. Flax is also grown in large quantities, principally for the supply of the spinners of Leeds, Bolton, and other manufacturing towns in England. Every kind of green crop is raised by the large farmers. Lime is the usual manure, except in the vicinity of the coast, where sea sand and weed are used; a compost of lime, earth, and bog mould is found to be very beneficial; the produce of the farm-yard is exclusively preserved for the potato crop. The breeds of every kind of cattle have been introduced under the sanction of the Castle-Bellingham Agricultural Association. Considerable numbers of horned cattle and sheep are purchased at the Ballinasloe fair to be fattened here. The native stock of tbe latter, when crossed by the New Leicester, is found to be very superior both as to fleece and mutton. Pigs are numerous throughout every part: there is scarcely a fanner or cottier who is not more or less a dealer in them: the Berkshire and the Chinese breeds are most esteemed. The horses are of a light and active description, well adapted for country work: the saddle horses are generally brought in by dealers from other counties. The agricultural implements are of the most improved kind, except in the mountain districts, where those of the old construction are still used in many places. Much of the land is cultivated by the spade; and even where the plough is used, the land is afterwards carefully trenched with it: the old solid-wheeled car has been laid aside, and a light, well-constructed single horse cart supplies its place. Irrigation and draining are better understood here than in any of the adjoining counties. The fences are generally quickset hedges, although the broad bank of earth or sods and the dry stone wall are to be met with in some parts. The extensive forests so frequently mentioned in tbe wars of the sixteenth century have entirely disappeared, and the only traces remaining of them are some scattered underwoods near the bases of the mountains. The principal ornamental plantations are those at ColIon, Ravensdale, Barmeath, and Dundalk: there are smaller plantations round BeUurgan, Cooleystown, Clermont, Louth Hall, Townley Hall, and Termonfechan. The waste lands comprise an extent of nearly 15,000 acres, chidty in the more elevated parts of the northern group of mountains. A small and hardy breed of sheep and some young cattle are grazed on them. They also contain some patches of bog, the turf of which is carried down into the low country for fuel. Coal is imported in conI!iderable quantities from the British coast, particularly for the use of the inhabitants of the larger towns.

The geology of this portion of the island is very simple. The Ravensdale and Carlingford mountains, in the north. are dependent on the Mourne mountains, and,like them, are composed chiefly of granite. Hornblende and primitive greenstone abound on the skirts of this granitic district, and to these succeed exterior chains of transition rocks. The rest of the county is chiefly occupied by clay-slate, except where limestone occurs in detached districts, as in the neighbourhood of Ardee, Killyner, and Mell. An extensive limestone field stretches from Shanlis towards Louth; another rises very abruptly near Collon. Blue limestone occurs near Carnabeg and Killin. Near Castletown there is a very pure red limestone, which appears to be the southern termination of the Armagh field; none other of the same character having been found anywhere except at Castleespie, in Down county. Other detached beds of this rock are worked in various parts of the country for agricultural purposes and for building. The line of demarcation between the granite and transition rocks is very clearly defined. Commencing at Carlingford, it crosses the Ravensdale and Coolev mountains and enters Armagh county at Myra Castle, whence it is traceable into the mountains of Forkhill: the new red &andstone is to be perceived only in a few places. Lead ore has been found in thin veins near the junction of the granite and transition rocks; and detached nodules have been found near Ardee, and in the bed of the Flurry river. Oxyde of manganese and impure ironstone have been discovered near Clogher head, and iron pyrites near Mount Ash and Ring Castle. The remains of iron-works are often found on the hills. The manufacture of sheetings and other kinds of coarser linen cloth is carried on in the neighbourhood ofDrogheda to a considerable extent, and there are large bleach-greens at Ravensdale and Collon. A pin-manufactory, established in Dundalk in 1886, gives employment to upwards of 600 persons; another of the same description is in course of erection in the town of Louth. There is an iron and brass foundry in the former of those towns, the castings of which are held in high estimation. At Dundalk and some other places there are extensive distilleries and breweries: the character of the ale of CastleBellingham has long stood very high. Flax-mills are to be seen on all the smaller rivers, and there are several large and very powerful flour and meal mills throughout the county. There are three places of export for the agricultural and mauufacturing produce, Newry in the north, Drogheda in the south, and Dundalk midway between the two; but the trade of the last-named place is somewhat impeded by the shallowness of the harbour, which prevents vessels of large borden coming up to the quay, except at spring tides.

All the rivers which pass through the interior of the county are small Of these, the Flurry, Stranarn, Cully, and Creaghan rise in the county of Armagh, and flow eastward into the bay of Dundalk. The Fane has its source in the beautiful lake of Castle Blaney, in Monaghan, and flowing south to Candleford, turns eastward, and, passing by Ring Castle, Grange, and Clermont, falls into the same bay at Lurgan Green. The Lagan water, which rises near Carrickmacross, in the county of Monaghan, enters Louth near Killany, and, having joined the Glyde, divides the county into two nearly equal portions, and falls into the sea below Castle-Bellingham. The Dee rises near Drumconrath, in Meath county, and, passing through the rich vale of Ardee, meets the White river near Poe's-court, and 'falls into the sea close to the mouth of the Lagan. Several minor streams rise in the interior: they all flow eastward, and contribute much to the fertility of the tracts they irrigate, and to the beauty and freshness of the surrounding scenery. The estuaries of the Boyne and of the Newry water form the extreme boundaries of the county to the south aud north. The roads are very numerous, well made, and kept in excellent repair, The proposed great northern railway from Dublin to Armagh is intended to pass through this county from south to north; another, to be called the western line, is designed to be carried from Dundalk bay to the county of Monaghan.

The remains of antiquity are extremely numerous and varied. The Druidical relics at Ballrighan and Carrick-Edmond comprise circles, detached stones and caims , there are the remains of a Druidical temple on the plains of Ballinahatney, near Dundalk; circles and a cromlech on Killin hill, a fine cromlech at Ballymascanlan, and a Iarge cairn on Carrick-Brant. At Ballrighan was also discovered a curious artificial cave; and near Killin hill is the extraordinary fort called Faghs na ain eight, or "the one night's work." The most ancient mounds appear to be the ordinary tumuli, such as are seen between Dundalk and Drogheda. in which latter vicinity is a very celebrated structure at Grange. Next are those encompassed with a deep trench, and generally met with in the neighbourhood of some old castle or place of note, such as those of Castle Guard at Al'dee, Greencastle, near Castle-Bellingham, and at Killany. Some mounts have a square redoubt, or other works, attached to the main encircling trench, as at Castletown. Besides those above mentioned, the places where camps of different kinds occur are, near Ballinahatney plain; Mount Albani, about two miles from Dundalk; Rosskugh, near Carrick-Brant, on the banks of the Dundngan river; Mount Ash, near Louth; a Danish fort near Dunleer; another at Castletown, near Dundalk; a round fort at Louth; Castle Ring, near the same place; Faughart, to the north of Dundalk, Mount Bagnal, and a Danish fort near Castle-Bellingham. A fine round tower is still standing at Monasterboice, and part of another at Dromiskin. The number of religious houses that have existed in the county is no less than 28 : there are still remains of those of Carlingford, where the ruined buildings are very interesting; Faughart, where the vestiges consist merely of St. Bridget's stone and pillar; Mellifont, the abbey of which place was very sumptuous, and its ruins are still curious; and Monasterboice, where there are two crosses, one of which, called St. Boyne's, is one of the largest, most ancient, and richly decorated in Ireland. Of the numerous ancient castles, there are remains of those of Haynstown (three miles from Dundalk), Miltown, Killincool, Darvor, Carlingford, Castle Roche, Dungooly, Rood's-town, Ballng (near the northern shore of Dundalk Bay), Dunmahan, Glass-Pistol (near Termonfechan) , Clonmore, Rath (three miles from Carlingford), Ardee, Termonfechan, Ballrighan (two miles west of Dundalk), and Castletown. All of these, together with the modern mansions of the nobility and gentry, are more particularly described in their respcctive parishes. A great number of ornaments of pure gold, swords, spears, axes of bronze, and other relics of antiquity, have been found in various places; and in the summer of 1835 a very large head ornament and fibula of pure gold were found near Monasterboice. Sir John Birmingham, in reward of his victory over the Scottish army near Dundalk, in the reign of Edw. II., was created Earl of Louth; but being shortly after slain in an insurrection of his own people in this county, the title became extinct. In 1541, however, Hen. VIII. created Sir Oliver Plunkett, Baron Louth, which title is at present enjoyed by his descendants. Oriel, the ancient name of the district, gives the title of Baron to Viscount Ferrard of Collon.

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