Historical description of county Monaghan, Ireland

MONAGHAN (County of), an inland county of the province of ULSTER, bounded on the east by Louth and Armagh, on the north by Tyrone, on the west by Fermanagh and Cavan, and on the south by Meath. It extends from 53° 53' to 54° 25' (N. Lat.), and from 6° 33' to 7° 18' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 327,048 statute acres, of which 9236 are unimproved mountain and bog, 6167 are under water, and the rest cultivated land. The population, in 1821, amounted to 174,697; and in 1831, to 195,536.

According to Whitaker, this county was inhabited in the time of Ptolemy by the Scoti, who then possessed all the inland parts of Ireland: it afterwards formed part of the district of Uriel, Oriel, or Orgial, which also comprehended Louth and part of Armagh; but it was more generally known by the name of Mac Mahon's country, from the powerful sept of that name. Its present name is derived from its chief town, Monaghan or Muinechan, "the Town of the Monks," although no trace of an ecclesiastical establishment can now be discovered there. Immediately after the English invasion, when De Courcy entered Ulster, he was joined by a chieftain named Mac Mahon, who ingratiated himself so much with him that he was entrusted with the command of two forts, which, on the first change of fortune, Mac Mahon utterly destroyed; and when questioned on his breach of faith, answered, "that he had not engaged to keep stone walls; and that he scorned to confine himself within such cold and dreary enclosures, while his native woods were open for his reception and security." Hugh de Lacy, some time after, invaded Monaghan and burned the town and abbey, but soon after erected a castle there and restored the monastic institution. In the reign of Hen. IV., Lord Thomas of Lancaster, his son, having gone to Ireland as Lord-Lieutenant, received the homage of several of the native chieftains, among whom was Mac Mahon, who then submitted so far to the rules of English law as to accept an estate for life in that part of the county called the Ferney, for which he paid ten pounds a year chief-rent. This state of acquiescence, however, was not permanent; for, in the very next reign, Lord Furnival, who was then Lord-Deputy, found it necessary to undertake a military expedition against the Mac Mahons and other insurrectionary septs in Ulster; but, though he succeeded so far as to make them sue for the king's peace, he Was unable to reduce them to the obedience of subjects. The county remained in the same state until the time of Elizabeth, in the 11th of whose reign, the parts of Ulster that had not previously acknowledged the Queen's authority, were reduced into seven shires, of which Monaghan was one; and afterwards the Lord-Deputy Fitzwilliam, during a progress through this part of Ulster, caused Mac Mahon to be attainted and executed for high treason, and the county to be divided according to the baronial arrangement which it still retains, the lands to be allotted among the Irish occupiers and English settlers, and to be held according to the tenures of the law of England. According to this arrangement, the particulars of which are still extant in the original document, the five baronies contained one hundred "ballibetaghs," a term applied by the Irish to a tract of land sufficient to maintain hospitality, each ballibetagh containing 16 tathes of 120 English acres each; thus making the area of the county 86,000 acres, exclusively of church lands. All the grants then made contained a clause of forfeiture, in case of the re-assumption of the name of Mac Mahon, of failure in payment of rent, or of attainder on rebellion. The subsequent insurrection of the Earl of Tyrone, however, prevented the plan from taking effect. The chief of the Mac Mahons still continued to arrogate the title of supreme lord, and the whole county was occupied by three or four families only, namely, those of the chieftain, and of Mac Kenna, Mac Cabe, and O'Conally. So little had the progress of civilisation been forwarded by the measures of the English government, that in the succeeding reign of Jas. I., when the lord-deputy made a progress thither to inspect and settle the province, he was forced on entering the county to encamp in the open field. On investigating the titles by which the lands were held, it was found that the patents were all void in consequence of the non-observance or breach of some of the conditions, new grants were therefore made, and the country being reduced to a state of perfect submission, partly by intimidation and partly by concession, continued tranquil till the war broke out in 1641, when it followed the example of the rest of the north of Ireland in joining with the Irish against the lately established government, and the Mac Mahons again vainly endeavoured to recover their supremacy.

The county is wholly within the diocese of Clogher and province of Armagh. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Cremorne, Dartree, Farney, Monaghan, and Trough. It contains the disfranchised borough, market, and assize town of Monaghan; the market and post-towns of Carrickmacross, Castle-Blayney, Ballybay, Clones, and Newbliss; and the post-towns of Emyvale and Glaslough : the principal villages are Smithsborough (which has a penny-post), Ballytrain, Ballinode, Glennon, and Rockcorry. Prior to the Union it sent four members to the Irish parliament, two for the county at large, and two for the borough of Monaghan: since that period the two returned for the county to the Imperial parliament have been its sole representatives : the election takes place at Monaghan. The constituency, as registered at the close of the October sessions, 1836, consisted of 269 £50, 216 £20, and 1946 £10 freeholders; 4 £50 and 21 £20 rent-chargers; and 36 £20 and 602 £10 leaseholders; making in the whole 3094 registered electors. The county is included in the north-eastern circuit: the county court-house and gaol are in the town of Monaghan, where the assizes are held; general quarter sessions are held four times in the year at Monaghan and Castle-Blayney, which latter town has a sessions-house and bridewell. The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 11 deputy-lieutenants, and 50 other magistrates, besides the usual county officers, including two coroners. There are 21 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of an inspector, a stipendiary magistrate, a paymaster, 5 chief officers, 24 constables, 140 sub-constables and 6 horses. The district lunatic asylum is at Armagh, the county hospital at Monaghan, and there are dispensaries at Ballytrain, Farney, Scotstown, Castle-Shane, Smithsborough, Ballybay, Clones, Newbliss, Drum, Rockcorry, Monaghan, Carrickmacross, and Glaslough; half of the expenses of the dispensaries is raised from the baronies in which they are situated, while, in every other county it is assessed on the county at large. The amount of Grand Jury presentments for 1835 was £11,071. 8. 1½., of which £801. 1. 3. was for roads, bridges, &c., of the county at large; £7045. 17. 0½. for roads, bridges, &c., of the baronies; £5001. 3. 4. for public buildings, charities, officers' salaries and incidents; £2537. 10. 3½. for the police; and £1676. 16. 2½. for repayment of advances made by Government. In military arrangements the county is in the northern district, and contains a barrack at Monaghan for cavalry, which has accommodations for 3 officers, 54 privates and 44 horses, and hospital accommodation for 4 patients, but is generally occupied by a detachment of infantry from Londonderry or Newry.

Monaghan is described by old writers as being very mountainons, and covered with wood: it is, however, rather hilly than mountainous, and is now entirely stripped of its forests. The Slievebeagh or Slabbay mountains form an uninterrupted ridge of high land along the north-western boundary, separating the county from Tyrone, and exhibiting an uninteresting waste, with none of the romantic features that often atone for the want of fertility. The next mountain in point of extent is Cairnmore, whose summit commands a very expanded prospect, comprising the whole of this county, and parts of those of Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Leitrim, Down, Tyrone, Louth, and Meath; Lough Erne, studded with beautiful islands, is also in full view, as are the numerous lakes scattered throughout the county. Crieve mountain, towards the south, though not of such extent as Caimmore, is more elevated, commanding views far more extensive and varied. It is about six miles in circumference, and the waters flow from it in opposite directions, on one side towards Dundalk and on the other towards Ballyshannon. The lakes are numerous and highly interesting. On Cairnmore is one of considerable size and very deep: it has no apparent outlet for its waters, is always agitated, and is surrounded by a very wide strand. Another, called Lough Eagish, covers about 50 acres and is very deep: its waters are ext.remely useful for the supply of the neighbouring bleach-greens, fourteen of which are worked by the stream ftowing from it, the tail race of one mill forming the head of the next in succession; the lake is under the care of an engineer, whose duty it is to regulate the ftow of the water, 80 as to allow every claimant his fair proportion. But the largest and most interesting of all the lakes is that of Castle-Blayney, also called Lough Muckno: it is about S miles in length, covers upwards of 600 acres, and is embellished with numerons beautifully wooded islands; the shores are exceedingly romantic, and the demesne and woods of that mansion entirely surround its fertile banks. Glaslough, which gives name to a flourishing and beautiful town, and is situated near the northern boundary of the county, is somewhat leas than that of Castle-Blayney; but the fertility and gentle undulations aronnd its banks, the extensive demesne, the fine old timber, and the numerous plantations combine to form a delightful landscape. Near Mount Louise is a beautiful lake: the land rises suddenly and boldly from its shores, presenting an unusual inland scene, but the absence of wood considerably diminishes the effect. The town of Ballybay is situated between two lakes of considerable beauty. At Dawson Grove is a peculiarly interesting lake, around which is some sylvan scenery, rarely found in the North: there are also other very pretty lakes, particularly those of Emy, Leesborough, Creeve, and White Lough, besides upwards of ISO, upon a smaller scale, scattered over every part of the county. The climate is damp, but not unwholesome; the humidity is owing to the situation of the county, which is placed at the inner extremity of a very broad valley, for the most part forming the county of Fermanagh, through which pass the waters of Lough Erne to their influx into the Atlantic ocean at Ballyshannon; and as the wind from this quarter prevails for nine months in the year, the vapours are driven up the vale with great force, and rushing against the Slievebeagh mountains cause frequent showers or mists: this humidity is also much increased by the numerous lakes, whose exhalations, even in summer, are sensibly felt, particularly by strangers; the inhabitants, however, are in general very healthy.

The undulating surface of the county produces a great variety of soil. The low lands are very wet, and and moory, particularly near the foot of Slievebeagh; yet even in this district are some exceptions, for amid the very poorest tracts several gentle elevations of limestonc are found, and in the valleys are extensive deposits of marl; this moory soil is everywhere reclaimable, though the subsoil is stilt, and the shallow and mossy loam on its surface imbibes the moisture like a sponge, so that after a fall of rain it is nearly impassable for cattle, and a few dry days harden the surface so as to render it nearly impenetrable to a plough; this character pervades the greater portion of the barony of Trough. The central district, comprehending the depressed land between the Slievebeagh and Crieve mountains, is far superior to any other part of the county in point of fertility; it is interspersed with beautiful lakes, well watered with streams, has a sufficiency of bog, and in richness and natural capability may vie with some of the bcst improved lands in the north of Ireland. A vein of excellent land runs from Glaslough, by Tyhallon, Monaghan, Scotstown, and Clones, into Fermanagh at Corren. The southern extremity of the county consists for the most part of a rich and highly productive soil, based on a substratum of limestone, and in some places a deep loam highly improveable by calcareous manure. The soil in the intermediate district varies much in quality, and is disposed very irregularly: even in several parts of the same field it is seen sometimes to vary extremely, being deep and argillaceous at one spot, a gravelly grit at another, exhibiting at a third a stilt clay, and at a fourth a party-coloured mixture of red and greenish gravel; yet in general character it approximates nearly to that of the northern part. The western side of the county is a rich but shallow loam, in its natural state spongy, wet, and overspread with rushes. but capable of a high degree of improvement by manuring.

The large estates of the county vary from 1,20,000 to I, 1000 per ann., but a very considerable portion of the land is held in grants producing from 1,20 to 1,500 per ann.: the former are not resided on by the proprietor in fee, but the latter almost uniformly; many of them are held from the Crown by the descendants of the Scotch colony introduced here after the settlement of the county by James I.; a considerable portion were grants to Cromwell's soldiers, many of whose posterity now possess farms so small as not to yield an annual income exceeding £20. Few of the farms on the larger estates are tenanted in perpetuity: the usual term is 21 years, and a life, or 60 years and three lives. The mountainous districts form an exception to this observation, as they are divided into extensive portions, and mostly depastured by young cattle. An extraordinary mode of tenure formerly existed on some estates, of letting several. townlands in one lease to all the occupying tenants, who might be from 20 to SO joint lessees; by which practice part of the legal expenses for drawing the lease was saved by the tenants, but it gave the landlord a powerful control over them, as anyone of the tenants is liable to have his goods seized for the rent of the whole: the rent paid by each is acknowledged by a receipt on account, and he who pays last obtains a receipt for the total amount. The farms throughout the county do not average 25 acres; the smaller, which are much more numerous, not six: so that ten acres may be adopted as the general average. Great improvements have been made within the last few years in almost every department of agriculture, both as to the treatment of the land and the implements. The principal manure is lime and the produce of the farm-yard, together with composts of various kinds. Limestone in a state of decomposition is found in several distric~ I when first raised, it has a compact slaty appearance, but on exposure to the atmosphere forms a kind of paste; no benefit is derived from it as a manure for the first year; but for several years after the crops are most abundant. Marl, though found in several parts, is little used except in the southern districts, where it has been found very heueficial to the corn crops: but in .geaeral, land is seldom manured for any crop but the potato. In the northern districts, in consequence of the smallness of the farms, and the wetness of the soil, the manure is mostly carried to the fields in baskets, here called "bardocks," slung across the back of an ass, and very often on the shoulders of the women. There is no county in Ireland where manual labour is more employed in farming than in Monaghan. The spade which is generally used in tilling the land, working the manure, raising potatoes, &c., resembles the English spade in having a footstep on each side, but dilTers from it in haring the blade made hollow and filled with timber, to which the handle is made to fit in a sloping form. In some parts, where the soil is heavy and adhesive, the blade tapers nearly to a point, and is much curved in the middle, to prevent the mould clogging upon it. The principal crops are wheat, oats and potatoes. Flax has been a favourite and beneficial crop for the last few years: the quantity sown is constantly increasing. Clover and green crops are evcry year becoming more common. The pasturage in the mountainous districts is mostly formed of rushes and sprit grass, neither of which aJrords much nutriment; in the other parts it is very rich and close, the grass heavy and exceedingly nutritious. In some parta white clover is produced spontaneously, though too often choked with rushes; iD others it is sown with grass seeds and mowed twice or thrice a year: oats are also mixed with the clover seed, and cut green for fodder, by which management the farmers estimate that one acre is more productive than four of common pasture. The tops of furze, here called whins, are used for fodder; they are prepared by being pounded in a stone trough with a wooden mallet, which makes them very juicy; they are greedily eaten by horses, and answer the double purpose of food and medicine.

In some parts much attention is paid to the fences, which are generally quicksets of white thorn, often mixed with sallows that are afterwards applied to many purposes of country work; in some parts the only fence is a small mound of earth, apparently raised more as- a boundary mark than as a means of security against trespassing. The chief breed of horned cattle it' a cross of thc Old Leicester with the Roscommon cow, which grows to a large size and fattens rapidly. Butter is made in great quantities in the north and west: for though there are no large dairies, every farmer makes some, the greater part of which is sent to Monaghan, Newry and Dundalk, where it is bought np for the English market. Sheep are very numerous in the north and north-west, and of great variety of sorts. The native horses are not of a good kind; those worthy of notice are brought in from other counties: a small strong breed called Ragheries, imported from Scotland by carriers who are inhabitants of the island of Rathlin, (whence the name) are in great request; theyare cheap, durable, serviceable, well calculated for a hilly country, and live to a great age. Asses are also Dumerons: they are found to be extremely nseful and very easily fed, being particularly fond of the green tops of furze, on which the Raghery horses also feed. Pigs are more numerous here than in any other county; they are slaughtered in great numbers for the provision merchants of Belfast, Newry and Drogheda, and are also exported alive to Liverpool. The lakes abound with fish, particularly trout and pike, which grow to a great size: the pearl muscle is found in some of the larger streams.

Of the extensive forests mentioned by early writers, no vestiges can be traced, except in the stunted underwood so frequent at the foot of the hills, and the numerous trunks of forest trees, found deeply imbedded in almost every bog. The mountains and hills present no remains of timber, and the only woods now found in the county are those belonging to the mansions and demesnes of the nobility and gentry. Those of Dawson Grove and Anketell Grove are more especially worthy of notice. At Glaslough are some of the finest ash trees in Ireland; near Monaghan are several remarkably large beech trees, and some few venerable oaks are to be seen in different parts, so that Monaghan may be said to produce timber nearly sufficient for its own consumption. Sycamore is in much repute for the shafts of bleachmills, round which the webs of cloth are rolled and beetled: it never splinters during the operation of the machinery, whereas when other timber is used for the same purpose, it must be cased with hone skins, which do not last long. In the moory bottoms at tile foot of hills, groves of sallow and osier are planted, which thrive vigoronsly, and the wicker-work made of the twigs yields a return which forms no iaconeidereble portion of the rent. Fuel is procured in the greatest abundance from the numerons bogs, which are so dispersed in every part that the carriage adds but little to the expense.

The couuty forms part of the northern extremity of the great limestone field of Ireland; and, except in its aorthern districts, the rock is well distributed and lies very advantageously for working. The limestone is of great variety and of excellent quality; at Glenmore it is raised in large blocks, and, when polished, exhibits all the varieties of fine marble. Freestone of beautiful and valuable quality is found in various parts. Part of Slievebeagh is formed of a fine white sandstone extensively used for architectural purposes. The south side of this mountain is formed altogether of jasper, in some places very pure, but mostly in a state of decomposition, much resembling clay-slate and of a bright vermillion hue: the mountains of Crieve are entirely formed of greenstone and basalt. Escars can be traced in several parts,.particularly in the neighbourhood of Tyhallon, which, in one respect, are unlike all othera in Ireland, being entirely formed of jasper, quartz, agates and argillaceous sand. Coal has been found in thin seams at the foot of the Slievebeagh mountain near Emyvale, and at Glennon in large blocks; but the most extensive beds are near Carrickmacross, where pits were opened a few years since, but after a few tons had been raised, the workings were dis-continued. Iron-stone of inferior quality is frequently found; slate quarries are worked at the Crieve mountains, and flags in three quarries in Dartree. Large leadworks were erected in the Crieve mountains for the smelting of lead-ore, but they have been long since abandoned: the ore has also been found near CastleBlayney, both in large blocks and in thin veins: some promising veins can be traced in the limestone near Carrickmacross. Indications of copper have been discovered near Castle-Blayney, and ochres, potters' clay and soft unctuous earth in the same neighbourhood. Potters' clay found near Glaslough is wrought into glazed earthenware; brick clay, and oxyde of manganese, are distributed over all the country. The bones and antlers of the moose deer and the bones of several other kinds of animals, long since extinct in the island, have been discovered. Four teeth of extraordinary size were discovered on the Slievebeagh mountains, which on an examination by the Royal Society of London, were pronounced to be those of an elephant; two of them weighed 2tlb. each; the other two, 6oz. each.

The linen manufacture was established here at a very early period, and several towns and villages owe their origin to this branch of national industry. Both spinning and weaving declined considerably until the last two years, within which period the trsde has revived. A large linen factory is now in process of erection at Glaslough, and great quantities are made and bleached in various parts: the yaro is spun by the women. A very good description of woollen cloth is manufactured in considerable quantities at Carrickmacross. At Stonebridge and Emyvale are iron-mills, which are chiefly employed in the manufacture of agricultural implements. Tanning is extensively carried on at Glaslough and Castle-Blayney.

The cotmty has within it no stream of water deserving the name of river. The Blackwater, which bounds it on the side of Tyrone, receives several of its smaller tributaries; and a very rapid stream separates the county from Armagh. The Finn, which falls into Lough Erne, rises in the centre of Monaghan, but is not navigable for boats until it has quitted the county. The Lagan forms its southern boundary and afterwards joins the Glyde in the county of Louth. The canal from Lough Neagh to Lough Erne, now in progress, enters the county near Middleton and proceeds thence by Tyhallon, Bessmount and MORaghan, near to which town the works are almost finished; it is intended to carry it round this town and thence towards Clones, but some disputes having arisen respecting the lands through which the line was originally laid down, another line is now under survey.

There are two ancient round towers in the county, one' at Clones, the other at Inniskeen. Contiguous to the former is a rath of large dimensions, and near the latter a circular mount enclosed with a wall of stone and mortar. At Freamount is another large rath, and another also of very considerable dimensions, but now nearly concealed by plantations, at Fort Singleton near Emyvale. Near Carrickmacross are the ruins of a Druidical temple, consisting of an oblong mound of earth enclosed by a circuit of large upright stones. Wicker hurdles of very curious workmanship have been found in the bogs, in a high state of preservation : they appear to have been carried thither by parties on a marauding expedition, for the purpose of crossing the bog, and having been left behind in the hurry of advance or retreat, wert' gradually imbedded in the bog. A curious relic is preserved at Knockbuy, near the town of Monaghan: it is called the "Balaghdthownagh," and consists of a box, about the size of a thick folio volume, containing a crucifix and Rome relics: it is kept with the greatest veneration as a kind of heir-loom in the Bradley family, and is used as an attestation of innocence for imputed crimes which do not admit of the usual kind of evidence; when let out on an occasion of this kind, valuable security is always required for its restoration.

No county in Ireland has so few vestiges of monastic buildings: the abbey of Clones is the only one of which any remains exist: that of Monaghan is utterly destroyed, and a castle was erected on its site: the wealthy abbey of Tyhallon is known only by name. The castle of Monaghan is noticed by Sir John Davies, in his account of the lord-deputy's tour through the county, as being then in a state of ruinous neglect: the ruins of the old mansion-house of Castle-Blayney still standing are so close to the modern building as to injure the appearance of both: there are also the ruins of an old building in the same demesne, bearing no resemblance to a religious structure; the walls are very massive, but it is so overgrown with trees as to render its inspection very difficult. At Vicar's Dale, in Donaghmoyne, are the ruins of a castle; and ncar Dawson Lodge, those of another, called Magheroacligh.

The residences of the great landed proprietors are not remarkable for architectural splendour; they are rather good family houses, and are noticed in their respective parishes. The farm-houses are better than those of the same class in Leinster; those of the class that combines manufacture with timning are comfortahle in appearance, but the habitations of the cottiers and journeymen weavers are miserably poor. Such tenants hold their hovel, with a small plot of ground for a garden, either by a "dry cot take" or a "wet cot take," the former implying an agreement by which the tenant pays a rent for his tenement and works at taskwork or for daily pay at the loom for his landlord; the latter signifying that he has also the grass for a cow in winter, for which he pays an additional amount of rent, but finds his own hay and grass in summer: these tenures are merely from year to year. The clothing of the peasantry is frieze, or a coarse light blue cloth manufactured at home and dyed with indigo: the women wear cottons more generally than stuffs: all are tolerably well supplied with linen and with shoes and stockings. Their food is potatoes, meal, milk, and butter; though in the poorer parts, where the population depends wholly on the produce of the soil, the cot tiers are seldom able to procure anything better than salt to their potatoes; while in the neighbourhood of the county town the luxury of animal food is occasionally enjoyed. Irish and English are indiscriminately spoken in the intercourse of the peasantry with one another. An attempt was made some years ago to diminish the pressure of mendicancy, which is very prevalent, by compelling the paupers to wear badges, but it had no permanent effect. An extraordinary custom of annually electing a mayor, with power to decide all disputes, long prevailed in the village of Blackstaff, near Carrickmacross, which was composed of about 200 wretched hovele in the centre of 500 acres of bog, heath, and rock, 80 barren as never to have been cultivated, and on which the inhabitant. supported themselves by holding each a very small portion of land at a considerable distance from the village. But the inconvenient distance of their habitations from their farms, and the dangers apprehended from this irregular union of a number of families during the disturbed period of 1798, caused the community to be broken up, and its members established on their separate plots of land; yet for years after they met annually at Blackstaff to commemorate the by-gone pleasures of their former state of social intercourse. A chalybeate Ipring rises in Cairnmore, at a place called Drumtubberbuy, or "the ridge with the yellow spring," from which flows a stream of pellucid water covered with a strong scum of ochre; it is not noted for any medicinal qualities. At Tullaghan is a spring, the water of which, though tasteless and perfectly pellucid, forms an incrustation on all the substances it passes over near its source. This county gave the title of Baron to Sir Edw. Blayney, who was ennobled by Jas. I., in 1621, for his services against the Irish.

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