The town is situated on the King's river, and on the mail coach road from Dublin, by way of Clonmel, to Cork: it is chiefly the property of Viscount Clifden, and Consists of four streets meeting in the centre, and in point of size ranks the second in the county, but is very indifferently built; the thoroughfares were formerly very bad, but have been improved in the town, though the roads in the vicinity are still much in need of repair. Many years ago, the late Lord Callan introduced some weavers from Carrick-on-Suir, but the project of establishing the manufacture was soon abandoned. There are a large flour and two grist-mills, but the want of employment for the excessive population is very great. The market is held in a small market-house on Tuesday and Saturday; and a large market for pigs is held every Monday from January to May, attended by buyers from Waterford, Kilkenny, Clonmel, and Carrick-on-Suir, and the sales are very extensive. Fairs for the sale of live stock, wool, and, in autumn, considerable quantities of poultry, are held on May 4th, June 18th, July 10th, Aug. 21st, Oct. l0th, Nov. 4th, and Dec. 14th; the May, June, July, and October fairs are the principal. Here is a chief station of the constabulary police.
This appears to be a corporation by prescription; and it is recorded that Wm. Mareschal, or Marshall, granted a charter to it in 1217. A writ of the 4th of Rich. II. (1380) recites that the towns of Callan and Kilkenny were part of the lordship of the Earl of Gloucester, and that all merchants and others within that lordship ought to be free of customs and murage, which immunities the sovereigns and commonalties had enjoyed since the foundation of those towns; and commands that they should not be molested against the tenour of such liberties. Other grants were made in the 19th of Rich. II., 4th of Hen. IV., 11th of Eliz., 7th of Chas. I., and 30th of Geo. III. The corporation is styled "the Sovereign, Burgesses, and Freemen of Callan," and consists of a sovereign and an undefined number of burgesses and freemen, with two bailiffs and a town-clerk. The sovereign is elected annually by the burgesses and freemen: the latter are about 20 in number, and are admitted for life by the corporation at large. The borough sent representatives to the Irish parliament of the 27th of Elizabeth, and thenceforth without intermission until the Union, when it was disfranchised, and the £15,000 awarded in compensation for the abolition of its electoral rights was paid to George, Lord Callan. The town court is held before the sovereign or his deputy generally every Monday, but sometimes on other days, for the recovery of debts not exceeding 40s. late currency. The limits of the borough include the entire town and a considerable space round it, but extend unequally in different directions, from half a mile to nearly two miles. The corporation has a small property in lands and houses, let for about £15 per annum, but derives its principal revenue from the customs, which on an average yield about £50 per annum.
The parish comprises 4700 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, and valued at £5798 per annum; about 600 acres were enclosed under an act in 1831. The whole is capable of tillage, and, with very trifling exceptions, is in cultivation; vast quantities of limestone are procured and burnt for manure. West Court, situated in a very neat demesne and surrounded by trees of stately growth, is the residence of the Rev. C. Butler Stephenson, the rector; it formerly belonged to Lord Callan, and prior to that was the property of the Earl of Desart, The living is a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Ossory, united by act of council, in 1763, to the rectories and vicarages of Tullaroan, Tullamain, Coolaghmore, Killaloe, and Ballycallan, together forming the union of Callan, in the alternate patronage of the Crown and the Marquess of Ormonde. The tithes amount to £550, and of the entire benefice to £2338. 19. 10. There are two churches in the union, one at Callan, and the other at Ballycallan. The parish church, which was very extensive, was formerly occupied by Canons Regular of the order of St. Augustine, under an abbot: the ante-chapel is in ruins, but displays two windows of beautiful design and in good preservation, and there are several tombstones of considerable antiquity, some of which are elaborately carved, with a handsome monument to the Comerfords; the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £393 for the repairs of this church. The church at Ballycallan, distant about four miles, is a small edifice, built about 60 years since at the request of several of the inhabitants. There is no glebe-house: the glebe lands of the union are in divers places, and comprise 32 acres. In the ante-chapel at Callan was a shrine under the invocation of the Holy Trinity and St. Catherine, for the purpose of saying mass for the repose of the noble family of Desart: this foundation still exists as a chaplaincy, in the gift of the Earl of Desart; it has no cure of souls, but the chaplain is required to attend visitations. In the R. C. divisions this parish is partly in the union or district of Ballycallan; and the remainder forms the head of a union, comprising also the parishes of Coolaghmore, Tullamain, Earlstown, and part of that of Kells, called Mallardstown. The latter union or district contains three parochial chapels, situated respectively at Callan, Newtown, and Coologh. The chapel at Callan is a spacious edifice, not quite finished, in the southern part of the town; the interior is very neat, and the ceiling is chastely and handsomely carved. The chapel or (as it is called) church of the Augustinian friary was erected through the exertions of the very Rev. John Rice, at an expense of £4000: the building, which was commenced in 1810 and completed in a few years, is of hewn stone, in the ancient English style of architecture, and has a beautifully groined ceiling: the altar-piece is the copy of a design by Dominichini, by an Italian artist; and on each side of the altar is a niche, in which it is intended to place two marble statues, now in progress of execution at Rome by Mr. Hogan. The chapel is situated on the declivity of a hill; and in the basement story are apartments for the clergymen, harmonising with the general design of the building, and fronting a small lawn environed by gravel walks enclosed between fences of beech trees, and bounded by the King's river, which is crossed by a neat wooden bridge leading into the abbey field, in which are situated the venerable ruins of the ancient friary, consisting principally of a tower 90 feet high. The friary is occupied by three Augustinian friars of a different order from the Canons Regular previously noticed. The Protestant parochial school, in which are about 20 boys and 20 girls, is aided by donations from Lord Clifden and the incumbent, who also contribute to the support of a sewing school. A national school, in which on an average 212 boys daily attend, is endowed with 25 acres, parcel of the late commons, by the act of 1831; and another has been lately opened for girls, of whom 167 daily attend on an average. There are also several private schools in the parish. A dispensary is maintained in the customary manner ; and a loan fund has been lately established. Callan gives the title of Viscount in the peerage of Ireland to the family of Feilding, Earls of Denbigh, in right of their superior title of Earl of Desmond.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis