Roscommon, Ireland

Description

ROSCOMMON (County of), an inland county of the province of CONNAUGHT, bounded on the north by the county of Leitrim, on the north-west by those of Mayo and Sligo, on the south-west and south by that of Galway, and on the east by the counties of Leitrim, Longford, Westmeath, and King's. It extends from 53° 16' to 54° 7' (N. Lat.), and from 7° 50' to 8° 46' (W. Lon.); comprising an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 609,405 statute acres, of which 453,555 are cultivated land, 131,063 are uncultivated mountain and bog, and 24,787 are under water. The population, in 1821, was 208,729; and in 1831, 249,613.

According to Ptolemy, this region was inhabited by the Auteri, who occupied also the present county of Galway. Among the native septs by whom it was afterwards occupied, the O'Conors enjoyed the supreme authority in the central districts, the Mac Dermots in the northern, and the O'Ceilys or O'Kellys in the southern. After the arrival of the English in the country, Murrough, son of Roderic O'Conor, King of Ireland, during his father's absence, persuaded Milo de Cogan to undertake an expedition into Connaught, who having come to Roscommon was there joined by Murrough, and their united forces commenced a marauding campaign through the neighbouring districts. In 1204, this part of the island was ravaged by Wm. Bourke Fitz-Aldelm; in 1216, Athlone castle was erected by King John; and in 1268 Robert de Ufford, Lord Justice, commenced that of Roscommon, which shortly afterwards fell into the hands of the natives. The erection of the county into shire ground must have taken place at a very early period, as notice of the sheriffs of Roscommon and Connaught are found among the records of the reign of Edw. I., into which counties the portions of the province that acknowledged the English supremacy were divided.

Roscommon was included in the grant of Connaught made by Hen. III. to Richard de Burgo, or Bourke, with the exception of five cantreds reserved to the crown adjacent to the castle of Athlone; Edw. I., in the 13th year of his reign, granted to Thomas de Clare and Geoffry de Conobyll, "the king's waste lands in Connaught, in the region of Roscoman." That the de Burgos held possessions here appears from Richard de Burgo assembling his forces at Roscommon, to oppose Edward Bruce when he was joined by Felim O'Conor; and their united forces took their route by Athlone. The latter chieftain, however, having subsequently taken part with Bruce, encountered the Anglo-Normans at Athenry, on which occasion the power of the O'Conor sept received an irrecoverable shock. The possessions of the de Burgos became vested in the English crown through the marriage of the daughter and heir of William, the last Earl of Ulster of this name, with the Duke of Clarence; but the native septs appear to have resumed almost entire possession of Roscommon until the reign of Elizabeth. The O'Conors of Roscommon were divided into the families of O'Conor Ruadh or Roe, "the Red," and O'Conor Dhunne, or Don, "the dark or brown," from two rival chieftains thus distinguished by the colour of their hair, who were generally at war with one another; the chief seat of one was Ballynafad castle, and of the other that of Ballintobber. In 1565, Connaught was subdivided according to its present arrangement by Sir Henry Sidney, Lord-Deputy, when the county acquired its present limits. The country of the Mac Dermots was named the barony of Boyle; that of O'Conor Don forms the barony of Ballintobber; that of O'Conor Roe, the barony of Roscommon; and that of the O'Kellys, the barony of Athlone and the half barony of Moycarnon. The principal castles were those of Athlone, Roscommon, and St. John, the last of which was in ruins, all belonging to the Queen; and that of Ballintobber, belonging to O'Conor Don. Sir John Perrot, Lord-Deputy, compelled the native chiefs, in 1584, to resign their territories into the hands of the crown, to execute indentures of submission, and to receive re-grants, whereby their estates were to descend in future according to the rules of the common law of England. Both the septs of O'Conor firmly maintained their allegiance to Elizabeth; and O'Conor Don, who had been knighted by her, represented the new county in parliament in 1585. When the Earl of Strafford, in the reign of Chas. I., adopted the project of subverting the titles of all the proprietors of Connaught, he adduced legal objections against their indentures with Sir John Perrot, and against every grant and other document produced; and attending the Commissioners of plantation in person, he began with Roscommon in the execution of his plans. The commission was opened for this county; the king's title to the lands was produced, examined, and submitted to a jury composed of the principal inhabitants, who were told by the earl that his majesty's intention in establishing his title was to make them a rich and civil people, and participators in the glorious and excellent work of reformation which he had now undertaken; to these persuasive arguments he also joined threats, and thus induced the jury unhesitatingly to give a verdict in favour of the crown. The Deputy then published a proclamation, whereby all proprietors throughout the province were assured of easy composition, and of new and indefeasible grants. In the war of 1641, Roscommon for some time took no part: but in the succeeding disturbances its ancient families joined with the confederate Catholics, and obtained entire possession of the country, although they were twice defeated by Lord Ranelagh, President of Connaught. Accordingly, on the termination of the war, they were stripped of their possessions, which were divided among English and Scotch adventurers. At the Restoration, however, the family of O'Conor Don regained part of its property on the western side of the county, and has ever since kept possession of it: it is, therefore, the only family in this county which now enjoys the possessions held by it previously to the arrival of the English.

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