1st January 1837
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A snapshot of pre-famine local history, as described in the "Topographical Dictionary of Ireland" by Samuel Lewis, 1837. (The information collected here was submitted by members of the local gentry and clergy of the time)

CARLOW, an inland county of the province of LEINSTER, bounded on the east by the counties of Wicklow and Wexford, on the north by those of Kildare and Wicklow, on the west by the Queen's county and Kilkenny, and on the south by that of Wexford.

  • It extends from 52° 26' to 52° 54' (N. Lat.), and from 6° 30' to 7° 12' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 219, 863 acres, of which 196,833 are cultivated land, and 23,030 mountain and bog.
  • The population, in 1821, was 78,952, and in 1831, 81,988.


This district, so far as can be collected from Ptolemy, was the habitation of the Brigantes and Cauci; or, according to Whitaker, of the Coriundi. Afterwards it formed the northern part of the principality of Hy Kinselagh, and was distinguished by the name of Hy Cabanagh and Hy Drone: in later times it was called Catherlough. It is noticed in the earliest period of Irish history as the scene of contention between Conmal, son of Heber, and grandson of Milesius, and a descendant of Heremon, the latter of whom was defeated at Leighlin. When Con of the Hundred Battles, who reigned about the middle of the second century, divided the island into two jurisdictions, Dinrigh or Dewa Slaney, between Carlow and Leighlin, and Naas in Kildare, were made the sites of the royal palaces of the kingdom of Leinster. No traces of ruins, however, now exist to confirm the truth of this traditionary record, with respect to the former of those places. The synod of the clergy held about the year 630, to decide on the proper time for the celebration of Easter, met at St. Gobhan's abbey, in Old Leighlin; and about the same time the bishopric, which takes its name from that place, was founded. That the county shared with the other parts of the island in the devastations committed by the Danes, during the ninth and tenth centuries, appears from the fact that the rich abbey of Achadfinglas was plundered by them in 864. The year 908 was distinguished by a decisive battle between the people of Leinster and those of Munster, the latter headed by Cormac Mac-Cuillenan, better known as the writer of the Psalter of Cashel than by his political or military acts: the scene of this battle was at Moyalbe, supposed by O'Halloran and Lanigan to be somewhere in the vicinity of Ballymoon, in this county; the Munster men were defeated, and Cormac, with many of his nobles and officers, and six thousand of his best soldiers, slain. In the same century, the monastery of St. Mullins was plundered by the Danes, and Leighlin was three times taken by the people of Ossory.

After the arrival of the English, it appears that some of the petty chieftains of the district refused to join in the alliance formed by Dermot Mac Murrough, their king, with the Welsh invaders. For, when Strongbow, after having dispersed the numerous army with which Roderic, King of Ireland, had invested Dublin, marched southward to relieve Fitz-Stephen, then blocked up in Carrig castle, near Wexford, he was assailed during his passage through Hy Drone by O'Ryan, the lord of the country, with such impetuosity that victory remained doubtful, until the death of the Irish leader turned the scale in favour of the invaders. It was in this battle that Strongbow is said to have hewn his son, a youth about fifteen years of age, in two, for deserting his post during the engagement. The importance attached by the conquerors to the possession of the territory thus acquired is evident from the fact that, within a few years after, the castles of Carlow, Leighlin, and Tullow, were erected by Hugh de Lacy, then lord-deputy. After the death of William, Earl-Marshal, to whom nearly the whole of Leinster belonged in right of his wife Isabel, daughter of Strongbow by Eva, princess of Leinster and heiress of Dermot Mac Murrough, this vast estate was divided among his five daughters; and the palatinate of Carlow, which had been previously made one of the twelve counties into which King John divided all those parts of Ireland that acknowledged his government devolved by marriage on Hugh le Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who thus became earl-marshal and lord of Carlow, in right of his wife Maud, eldest daughter of the deceased. For many subsequent years the English kept possession of these border districts by a very frail tenure. At the close of the thirteenth century, Old Leighlin was burnt in an incursion of the people of the neighbouring territory of Slieumargy, which was then considered to be part of the county; and, at the commencement of the next century, it appears that the owners of this princely estate, the palatinate of Carlow, having also large possessions in England, paid but little attention to its interests. Residing in another country, and finding their income from this quarter diminishing, in consequence of the mismanagement of their deputies and the disturbed state of the country, they had recourse to a remedy, which, however effectual at first, ultimately proved destructive to their interests in this quarter. They retained one of the Kavanaghs, the descendants of Mac Murrough, and, though illegitimate, the inheritor of his hereditary rights, as a kind of military agent, to supply by the sword the deficiencies of the law. Kavanagh, thus placed in a situation peculiarly tempting to a turbulent and ambitious character, soon broke the connection, and seized upon a great portion of Carlow and Wexford, as belonging to him of right: he further assumed the regal title of Mac Murrough, and strengthened his newly acquired power by an alliance with the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles of the neighbouring mountainous district of Wicklow. In 1316, Sir Edmund Butler, lord-justice, defeated Mac Murrough near Ballylethan; and the same year was marked by the incursion of Edward Bruce into the southern counties. But though the invader passed through Castledermot and Tullow, in his progress southward, he made no impression on this county; and, that it still continued subject in a great degree to the sway of the Kavanaghs may be inferred from the circumstance that, in 1323, Donnell Mac Arthur Mac Murrough, " a slip of the royal family, " as Campion calls him, raised forces and displayed his banner within two miles of the city of Dublin. He paid dearly, however, for his temerity, being defeated by a party of the garrison. O'Nolan, dynast of Forth barony, and twenty-five of his followers were killed; and Mac Murrough's life was spared only on payment of £200, a large sum in those days; after remaining six years immured in Dublin castle, he at length contrived to effect his escape through the connivance of his keeper.

After this the Irish enjoyed the ascendancy for some time; they plundered the English and burnt their churches. One outrage was marked with features of peculiar atrocity. The church of Freineston, or Friars-town, was attacked during the time of divine service, the building fired, and the priest and congregation, while attempting to escape, driven back into the flames. The spiritual, as well as temporal power, was called into action to inflict punishment for this horrid act. It was visited by a sentence of ex-communication from the pope; and the burghers of Wexford, aided by others of the English, having attacked the perpetrators when preparing to advance upon the English settlement there, routed them with considerable loss both in the field and in crossing the Slaney. The depredations of the Irish borderers at this period called for the most decisive measures, as a preliminary for which it was deemed expedient to summon the most distinguished nobles and prelates to a council in England. But such was the reduced state of the county, from the long continuance of deeds of outrage, that the return to the writ of summons states that, " by reason of poverty, from the frequent robberies and depredations of the Irish enemies, there was no layman able to attend the king in the English council. " It appears further that a temporary protection from the predatory assaults of the borders could only be procured by the degrading payment of a tribute called the Black Rent. In 1332, the castle of Clonmore was taken by the English, yet, notwithstanding the advantage thus gained, Sir John D'Arcy, the lord-justice, could devise no more effective means for repressing the spirit of insubordination than by calling in the assistance of Maurice Fitzgerald, afterwards Earl of Desmond, whose services were purchased by a promise of remuneration from the treasury, and whose compliance changed the aspect of affairs. Advancing against the Mac Murroughs and O'Nolans, he ravaged their district, compelled their submission, and exacted hostages for its continuance. But the most disastrous effects were produced by this connection; the lord-justice, unable to fulfil his pecuniary engagements, was forced to connive at the extortion of coyn and livery, now first practised by the English; a grievance the more intolerable, as it was limited neither in place nor time. Every lord of a castle, or warden of the marches, made war at his pleasure, until the desolation became universal and threatened to be perpetual. Still, however, the Irish, though worsted on most occasions, were in arms. In 1339, the Earl of Kildare pursued the O'Dempseys across the Barrow; and the greatest booty ever seized in the country was carried from Idrone, by the Bishop of Hereford, then lord-justice. In 1346, the county of Carlow, with all its appurtenances, was granted in capite to Thomas de Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk and Marshal of England. The next year, Donald Mac Murrough, styled Prince of Leinster, was murdered by his own followers: some years after, the castles of Kilbelle, Galbarstown, and Rathlyn were taken and dismantled by the O'Nolans, the Mac Murroughs, and the O'Birnes. In 1361, Lionel, the king's son, arrived in Ireland as lord-lieutenant. The importance attached by him to the possession of this district is shown by his causing the king's exchequer to be removed to Carlow town, and by his expending the large sum of £500 on the repairs of its fortifications. But the neglect of the English Government and the intestine feuds of the natives had been suffered to ferment too long to admit of an effectual remedy by the exertions of any single governor. To such a height had the power of the Irish chieftains increased that, within a very few years, the boundary of the pale was transferred from Carlow to the immediate vicinity of Dublin. The system of ravage and desolation continued. The annals of the time state that the priory of Old Leighlin, being situated in a depopulated and wasted country, obtained a grant of public money to enable it to give refuge and succour to the king's subjects; and that the bishop of the diocese was plundered of all his goods, in 1376, by the insurgents; also that, in 1389, he obtained a grant of Galroestown, near the O'Tooles' country, as a residence in lieu of his own, which had been rendered uninhabitable.

When Richard II. first visited Ireland, in 1394, the place selected by him to receive the homage and oaths of fidelity of the Irish was in an open field at Ballygorey, near Carlow, when Malachias and Arthur Mac Murrough, Gerald O'Birne, Donald O'Nolan, and others, swore fealty before the earl-marshal on bended knees, and without girdle, skein, or cap. Pensions on this occasion were granted to several of them, especially to Art Mac Murrough, chief of the Kavanaghs, whose grant was continued to his family till the time of Henry VIII. Yet hardly had the king quitted the country, when the Irish again asserted the independence they had so long struggled to maintain; and Richard, determined to effect the complete subjugation of the country, returned thither in 1399. He marched from Waterford to Dublin through the districts of the Mac Murroughs, Kavanaghs, O'Tooles, and O'Byrnes; but, in consequence of the severe pressure on his men from want of provisions, he performed no action worthy of notice beyond that of felling considerable quantities of timber, and clearing the highways through his line of march. The state of affairs in England compelled his speedy departure. In 1420, in order to make up a subsidy of 1000 marks voted to the king, the county of Carlow was assessed at four marks, one shilling and fourpence; while that of Louth, nearly of the same area, was charged with twenty-five marks, twelve shillings and fivepence; a convincing proof of the low ebb to which the former had been reduced by its internal distractions. In 1494, the brother of the Earl of Kildare, then strongly suspected of treasonable intentions, seized on Carlow castle but was compelled by the lord-deputy to surrender it, after sustaining a siege of ten days. Lord Thomas Fitzgerald, better known by the name of "the Silken Knight," who broke out into rebellion against Henry VIII. in 1534, was in possession of six of the chief castles of the kingdom, of which Carlow was one. Three years afterwards, the act of Absentees was passed, in consequence of which the Duke of Norfolk was deprived of this county, which he inherited from Thomas de Brotherton, and a great part of it was afterwards bestowed upon the Ormonde family. In the same year, the lord-deputy defeated the Kavanaghs, and compelled their chief to submit and give hostages. The act for the suppression of religious houses, in 1537, caused the dissolution of three only in this county, being the preceptory of Killarge, the Carmelite monastery of Leighlin-Bridge, and the Augustinian friary of Tullow.

In the same reign, a fierce contest for their territorial possessions took place between two branches of the Kavanagh family, in which, after a pitched battle, wherein upwards of one hundred were killed on each side, Cahir Mac Art, of Polmonty, prevailed over Gerald Mac Cahir, of Garryhill, and secured possession of the disputed property. During the succeeding reign of Edward VI., this family was perpetually harassed by Sir William Brabazon, lord-deputy, who ravaged the country, and ultimately compelled the chieftain of it to make a formal submission, renounce the name of Mac Murrough, and surrender his jurisdiction and territory. A change of fortune attended it in the ensuing reign. Charles Mac Art Kavanagh was created Baron of Balian, and after his death, his brother Dermot had the same title; but these honours were insufficient to secure their attachment to the Government; for, in 1555, they invaded the county of Dublin, but were ultimately driven by a sortie of the armed citizens into Powerscourt castle, where, on the appearance of a regular military force, they surrendered at discretion, and were taken to Dublin, where seventy-five of them were hanged and the rest pardoned. During this and the preceding period, the barony of Idrone was considered to be a distinct jurisdiction from the county of Carlow. By an inquisition taken in the reign of Richard II. it appears, that Sir John Carew, who came into the country in the train of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, was in possession of it, and that it devolved, at his death, on Sir Leonard Carew, upon whose decease the Kavanaghs seized on it and held it by force of arms. Sir Peter Carew revived and established the family claim to it before the privy council of Ireland, in 1567; and the next year he was employed by the lord-deputy to put down Sir Edmund Butler, who had joined the great Earl of Desmond in his rebellion, and succeeded not only in taking Sir Edmund's castle of Cloughgrenan, but in routing a large body of the earl's friends in Kilkenny, and in compelling the Kavanaghs, who had taken up arms in the same cause, to throw themselves upon the queen's mercy, and give hostages. Still, the restless spirit of the natives of this district seems to have been indomitable; for, in 1571, they " began again," as Hooker quaintly expresses it, "to play their pageants." A quarrel having taken place between one of the Kavanaghs and a proprietor of the name of Browne, recourse was had to arms, and Browne was killed; but the strife was not thus terminated. The Wexford people joined the weaker party, and the quarrel was still carried on for some time in petty but sanguinary conflicts, in which the superior generalship of the leader of the Kavanaghs finally prevailed. The strife, however, led to no remarkable changes.

During the attempts made by the court of Spain to excite insurrections in Ireland, in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, the county was harassed by a new disturber. Rory Oge O'More, a chieftain of the Queen's county, attacked and burnt part of the town of Leighlin-Bridge: he did not, however, remain unmolested. Sir George Carew, a relative of Sir Peter, attacked him unexpectedly by night and routed his party; but the fugitives having discovered the great inferiority of numbers that pursued them, rallied and drove the English back to Leighlin castle, which they very nearly succeeded in taking. O'More afterwards made an attack on the town of Carlow, but with as little success; he was finally taken and executed as a rebel. The same spirit of turbulence continued to the close of Elizabeth's reign. Donell Kavanagh, usually called Spaniagh or the Spaniard, made himself peculiarly formidable by his prowess and activity. In 1590, having procured the aid of the mountain tribes of Wicklow, he plundered the whole country from the border of Wexford to the gates of Dublin. At length Lord Mountjoy undertook the subjugation of the district, which he effected after ravaging Donell Spaniagh's country, whence he carried off an immense booty of cattle, and secured his conquest by placing garrisons in the strong posts of Wicklow and Tullow. So effectually did he succeed, that the leaders of those districts served under his standard in his subsequent operations for tranquillising Munster, in effecting which he made Carlow his head-quarters, " as being, as things stood, the place best to give directions to all parts and to secure the most dangerous." It was not until the ninth year of his reign that James I. found sufficient leisure to put in practice his pacific project for the settlement, or plantation, as it was called, of Carlow, Wexford, and Wicklow counties. In that year a king's letter was issued on the subject, but it does not appear to have been followed up, with respect to the first of these counties, by further measures. On the breaking out of the civil war in 1641, the people of Carlow and Wexford, together with those of the Wicklow mountains, took up arms against the Government; and not content with overrunning these counties, they marched into Waterford, where they were defeated by Sir William St. Leger, president of Munster. The next year, the Earl of Ormonde having entered the county with a large force, the Irish, who were in possession of the town of Carlow, and had blocked up the English garrison in the castle, broke up the siege and retreated with some loss; and the garrison, consisting of 500 men, was thus saved from destruction. When the confederate Catholics afterwards resolved to levy a force of 31,700 men, this county was assessed at 2400, of which 40 cavalry and 400 infantry were to serve in the general army, and the remainder to act in the county. The county was not exempt from its share in the sufferings of 1798: the amount of money claimed by the loyalists within it, in compensation for their loss of property during the disturbances, was £24,854. 14. 7.


This county is entirely within the diocese of Leighlin. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Carlow, Idrone East, Idrone West, St. Mullins North (Saint Mullin's Upper), St. Mullins South (Saint Mullin's Lower), Rathvilly, and Forth. Idrone was divided into East and West, and made two distinct baronies, in 1802, under the provisions of an act passed in 1799; and by an order in council, dated June 2nd, 1834, St. Mullins was also divided, pursuant to the same act, into North and South, or Upper and Lower St. Mullins, now constituting distinct baronies.

The county contains


Prior to the Union it sent six members to the Irish parliament; namely, two knights of the shire, and two representatives for each of the boroughs of Carlow and Old Leighlin; but since that period its representatives in the Imperial parliament have been limited to two members for the county at large, and one for the borough of Carlow. The county constituency, as registered at the close of 1835, consists of 273 £50, 134 £20, and 846 £10, freeholders; 1 £50, 15 £20, and 108 £10 leaseholders; and 9 £50, and 49 £20, rent-chargers; making a total of 1435 registered voters.

  • The county is included in the home circuit: the assizes and general quarter sessions are held at Carlow, where are the court-house and county gaol; and quarter sessions are also held at Tullow and Bagnalstown, at the former of which and at Moneybeg are bridewells. The number of persons charged with offences and committed, in 1835, was 363, and of civil bill commitments, 23.
  • The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 6 deputy-lieutenants, and 50 other magistrates, besides whom there are the usual county officers, including two coroners.
  • There are 19 constabulary police stations, with a force of 5 chief and 20 subordinate constables, and 105 men, with 3 horses; the cost of maintenance is defrayed equally by Grand Jury presentments and by Government.
  • There are a district lunatic asylum, and a county infirmary and fever hospital, at Carlow, also fever hospitals at Tullow and Bagnalstown; and dispensaries, supported by equal subscriptions and Grand Jury presentments, at Carlow, Tullow, Leighlin-Bridge, Borris, Hacketstown, Bagnalstown, Myshall, and Clonegal.
  • The amount of Grand Jury presentments, for 1835, was £15,162. 13. 10 1/2. of which £87. 11. 2. was for the public roads and buildings of the county at large; £4905. 8. 9. for the baronial roads; £4817. 0. 6. for public buildings, charities, officers' salaries, &c.; £2483.10.7 ½. for police, and £2869.2.10. in repayment of an advance made by Government.
  • In the military arrangements, the county is included in the eastern district, and contains one barrack station for cavalry at Carlow, affording accommodation for 8 officers, 112 non-commissioned officers and men, and 90 horses.


This county presents a considerable variety of surface: the ground is generally undulating, particularly in its northern parts, where the rivers Barrow and Slaney form broad valleys of great fertility and beauty, rising into low hills clothed to the summits with a rich herbage varied by fine plantations. To the south and west the character changes. In the south the land rises into a very elevated ridge, which runs along the whole of the south-eastern verge of the county, separating it by a strongly marked natural barrier from that of Wexford. The northern portion of this ridge, which commences from the valley of the Slaney at Newtownbarry, is called Mount Leinster, and is separated at its southern extremity from the Blackstairs mountain by Sculloge gap, the only passage through which a communication can be kept up between the two counties. Blackstairs extends in the same direction till it is interrupted by the Barrow, where its rugged and precipitous termination, together with the peculiarly sombre tints of its appearance throughout its whole extent, has fixed upon it the name just mentioned. This part of the country is comparatively barren and of discouraging aspect. To the west of the Barrow there is also a tract of elevated land, called the Ridge of Old Leighlin, which, however, being cultivated to the very summit, does not strictly merit the name of mountain. This latter district is deficient in the natural beauties which gratify the eye in the northern and eastern parts; but their absence is considered to be amply compensated by the treasures concealed beneath the surface, as this part of the county forms the commencement of the great coal field of Leinster, and bears all the external marks of diminished fertility which usually characterise such tracts. Though the country is well watered, there is nothing in it entitled to the name of lake, although the more ancient name of its chief town, Catherlough, " the city on the lake," would lead to such an inference.


The climate is mild and salubrious, subject neither to the extremes of heat and cold, nor of excessive moisture, to which regions in the neighbourhood of lofty mountains, or near the shores of the Atlantic, are liable.

The soil is rich and generally of a calcareous nature, except in the more mountainous parts, and, even there, cultivation has been carried to a considerable height on the acclivities.

Agriculture is in as highly improved a state here as in any other part of Ireland. So far back as 1779, the vicinity of Carlow town was noticed by Young as one of the few places in which green crops formed part of the system of rural economy, turnips being at that time extensively planted there; though it does not appear that they became a general farm crop till many years after. Since 1817, agriculture, as a system, has been extending its beneficial effects with rapid progress under the fostering care and spirited example of some of the resident gentry.

  • Wheat of a superior quality is grown in every part, barley only on some of the most favoured soils, whilst oats and potatoes are universal; the barley has long been celebrated and in great demand, and large quantities are annually shipped to England; the potatoes also, particularly those grown on the calcareous soils, are much esteemed. Turnips are everywhere cultivated with success by the gentry and large farmers; but the small farmers are generally averse to the culture of green crops, notwithstanding the inducement held out by several landlords of releasing them from the payment of rent for land tilled for turnips or mangel-wurzel. Clover seed is sometimes sown on the larger farms, and the sowing of grass seeds in laying down exhausted land is now pretty general, although the old and pernicious system of allowing the land to recover by a natural process is still too prevalent; flax, hemp, rape, vetches, &c, are occasionally sown.

The pastures are remarkably good, and although the land is not so rich as in some parts of Tipperary and Limerick, the cattle attain a larger size here than in either of those counties. ​Dairies are numerous, and the dairy farms extensive and profitable; butter, generally of very superior quality and much esteemed in the English and foreign markets, is the chief produce; cheese is made only for domestic consumption.

  • The dairy farmers pay great attention to the selection and breed of milch cows. Limerick heifers were much in demand, but a cross between the Durham breed and the old country cow is now the favourite: some of the Durham breed are, nevertheless, highly prized for the dairy, but they neither fatten so soon nor weigh so profitably as those crossed with the Limerick, Devon, or Tees-water breeds.
  • Sheep of the New Leicester breed have been introduced at considerable expense by some of the most spirited agriculturists, and are now become pretty general and in high repute; they appear to be well , adapted to the soil and climate, and bear an excellent fleece. In the hilly districts the sheep are smaller; those in highest repute are a cross between the new Leicester and the Kerry.
  • Pigs are not so generally kept here as in some of the adjoining counties, and are mostly of an inferior kind.

Draining has been introduced by some of the gentry, but irrigation is very little practised. The fences are far superior to those of the adjoining counties, though in many cases the large old ditches or mounds of earth, with a deep shough on one or both sides, are to be seen. A kind of fence common here is formed out of the blocks of white granite which lie scattered over a great part of the county or are procured from the quarries; these blocks being cloven with great regularity, the larger slabs are fixed upright in the ground, and the lighter and longer pieces ranged transversely along the top, in the manner of posts and rails, forming an unique and very durable fence.

Agricultural implements on the most approved principles are generally used in every part, except the hilly districts, where the old heavy implements may still be partially seen: the iron plough and light harrow have been in use some years by gentlemen, and are now in the possession of almost every farmer.

The old heavy wooden car has given place generally to one of lighter form, with iron-bound spoke wheels, but having very short shafts. Carts nearly similar to those of England, with narrow wheels, are every where used by the wealthy farmers, but the old clumsy low-backed car is common upon the road.

The whole of the county, with the exception of the mountainous parts already noticed, is well wooded: trees thrive well, but not every species; an oak wood is rarely met with, although oaks flourish in the soil.

  • The spruce and silver fir, after having been tried for some time, were extirpated on account of their unhealthy appearance; the soil was thought not suitable to them.
  • The weeping, or Hertfordshire elm is frequently to be seen: the elm, in general, germinates earlier here then elsewhere.
  • But the most beautiful and ornamental trees are the sycamore, chestnut, lime, birch, and whitethorn, the last of which attains a large size: the entire level part of the county presents much the appearance of some of the English counties.

Lime is plentiful, and the facilities of its conveyance for agricultural purposes abundant.

Fuel is equally so: coal is brought from the collieries of Kilkenny and the Queen's county by land carriage, and turf is procured from the small bogs in this and the adjoining counties.

Horticulture is in an advanced state; few farm-houses are without a vegetable garden, and the scarcer kind of esculents, and likewise flowers, are generally cultivated.


The county lies between the great eastern granite district of the county of Wicklow and the coal formation of the Queen's county and Kilkenny. The granite shews itself along the south-eastern verge, in the mountainous range of Mount Leinster and Blackstairs, where it is interrupted by the precipitous valley of St. Mullins, but it appears again at Brandon hill, in the southern part of Kilkenny. The coal country is surrounded by and rests upon limestone, the strata of which, wherever examined, present appearances extremely similar. The description of the limestone valley between the granite country; two miles east of the town of Carlow, and the coal field as far westward, may serve to give a clear idea of the general nature of this part of the country. At the base of Browne's hill, two miles east of Carlow, the granite is covered with stratified silicious limestone, dipping 60° west of north at an angle of 10° from the horizon: the colour is light greyish blue, with numerous petrifactions, chiefly bivalve shells; it is calcined with great difficulty, and gives, on analysis, of carbonate of lime, 95.00; of silica, with a tinge of iron, 4.50; and of carbon, 0.50. The stratification is quite regular between the granite country and Carlow, but with a change of colour and character as it recedes from the mass of granite. At first it changes to a dark blue, and madrepores are visible in it. The beds are extremely vesicular, and their numerous cavities are coated with a series of different fossils. On approaching Carlow, the limestone becomes more silicious and of a deeper colour: at the town the colour is dark or iron grey, and the texture fine-grained, and it is sometimes polished and used for chimney-pieces: to the west of the town the limestone is lighter in colour and much purer. Here the Lydian stone begins to appear in quantity, both in irregular beds and round nodules. The stone becomes still lighter in colour and finer in quality as it approaches the west. Some specimens from the higher quarries were found to contain solely carbonate of lime, with a small residuum of carbon, not amounting to a quarter per cent. The number of petrifactions in the upper quarry is immense, comprehending a great variety of fossil productions. On approaching the point where the coal strata join the limestone, the stratification is generally disturbed; the rock becomes shivery and breaks into indeterminately angular small fragments. The quantity of Lydian stone is greatly increased; the actual point of contact between the limestone and coal being scarcely visible, on account of the disturbance of the strata. The Lydian stone appears to pass into slate clay,no division existing between them. The succession of rocks visible at Old Leighlin, is as follows, commencing from the bottom: dark blueish grey limestone, 10 feet; irregular black Lydian stone, with silicious petrifactions, 2 feet; light grey limestone, 20 feet; Lydian stone, with numerous silicious petrifactions, 3 feet; flinty slate, in very thin beds, the uppermost of which graduate into slate clay, and contain balls of clay ironstone of a dark blue colour, 30 feet; and sandstone flag, 200 feet. This stone continues to the summit of the hill, where it varies very much in quality, and passes from soft sandstone into soft micaceous slag, which divides into thin laminae from one-tenth of an inch to an inch in thickness. Besides the irregularities above described, beds of brown spar rock are met with near the point of junction of the two formations; but they are more frequent on the southern and western boundaries than on the northern and eastern. The limestone field abounds with, rolled calcareous masses, pebbles, gravel, sand and marl, forming escars of considerable elevation, in which the calcareous gravel and sand frequently exhibit a stratified disposition with layers very distinct from each other. Carlow is almost exclusively an agricultural district. An inland trade, particularly in grain, is carried on by the Barrow to Waterford, and by the Slaney to Wexford. But though the county is much indebted to both these rivers for the increase of its agricultural prosperity, neither has any claim to be considered as belonging to it exclusively. The former has been rendered navigable from Athy bridge, in the county of Kildare, to the tideway at the rocks called the Scars, below St. Mullins, a distance of about 43 miles: the total fall is 172 feet. The navigation is chiefly in the bed of the river, except near the several mills, where there are artificial cuts and locks: the total extent of the new cuts is five miles; their breadth, 27 feet at the bottom and 42 at the surface of the water. The Derry and Derreen, branches of the Slaney, and the Burren, a branch of the Barrow, are insignificant streams. The roads are numerous, and in general well constructed.


Among the more remarkable relics of antiquity are

  • a large cromlech at Browne's hill, near Carlow, and
  • another, still larger, at Tobinstown;
  • also a rath near Leighlin-Bridge and,
  • near Tullow, a pillar, perforated at the top and thence called Clogh a' Phoill, " the stone with the hole."

The Kavanagh family were in possession of several curious relics of antiquity, of which the most remarkable was

  • an ivory horn mounted and ornamented with gilt brass, supposed to have been the tenure by which they held the estate: it has been deposited in the museum of Trinity College, Dublin.
  • Another of these is the Figeen, a kind of ring, composed of a mixture of silver and tin; it was found in a ditch in the demesne of Borris.
  • A third is the Liath Meisicith, being a brass box encased with silver, and containing extracts from the gospels written on vellum in Latin, but in the Irish character: it is also deposited in Dublin College. Near Cloghgrenan some brazen swords and arrow-heads were raised out of a ford in the Barrow.

Several remains of monastic buildings still exist.

  • The most remarkable are those of Achadfinglass near Leighlin, Athade, Ballymoon (or, as it is called by Archdall, Bally-Mac-William-roe), Killarge, Kilfortchean, Old Leighlin, Leighlin-Bridge, St. Mullins, and Tullow.
  • The remains of a round tower were visible near the church of Kellystown, until the year 1807, when they were cleared away to make room for a belfry.
  • Around Old Leighlin are numerous remains of ancient buildings, among the most conspicuous of which are those of the venerable cathedral; and in several parts are ruins of churches, some of remote origin, close to which the modern churches have in many instances been built, tending to heighten the picturesque effect.

The most remarkable of the military antiquities is

  • Carlow castle, built on the banks of the Barrow.
  • In Idrone East are Ballylaughan, called also Ballylorgan castle, whose remains retain many traces of its former strength and importance; and
  • Ballymoon castle, a structure of the Knights Templars, the walls of which are of great thickness, and sheep graze peaceably within its enclosure.
  • Black castle, built on the eastern side of Leighlin-Bridge, retains its walls: near it was another fortress, built by one of the Fitzgeralds, and named for distinction White castle.
  • The castles of Gilbertstown, Rathlin, Lorum, and Rathnegeragh, were in the same barony.
  • Clonmore castle, in Rathvilly, is in tolerable preservation.
  • There are no remains of the castle of Tullow: it is supposed to have stood near the site of the present church.
  • The ruins of Castle Grace are near Tullow.
  • Clonmullen castle, of which some traces were in existence about fifty years since, though now obliterated by the plough, was anciently remarkable as the residence of Donell Spaniagh, and perhaps not less so, at a more modern period, for possessing as an inmate Ellen Kavanagh, immortalised by Carolan in his affecting melody of Aileen a Roon, and recently made the subject of an interesting poem by Mr. R. Garrett, of Janeville, in this county.


The habitations of the peasantry are of a better description than in many other parts of the country, the general appearance and habits of both sexes much improved, and the interior of their dwellings neat and comfortable.


At Garrowhill, or Knoclcdrimagh, near the bottom of Mount Leinster, is a chalybeate spring; but its efficacy is little known except in its immediate vicinity.

SOURCE: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (pub 1837)

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  • I have reason to believe that my ancestor, Ann Cute, immigrated to the USA in the 1850's along with some children. I believe that she had resided in Carlow, Ireland. She appears in the 1860 USA census. I have never been able to track down her husband. If there are any records of the family in Carlow I would appreciate hearing about them.


    Sunday 26th April 2020 05:50PM
  • Hi David

    Have you added Ann Cute / Coote/ Coot / Cootes to our Ancestors roll-call for Carlow?

    Be sure to include as many details as you know about her (such as age on US census) so our volunteers can narrow her down. 


    Here's how... 

    Ancestors Masterclass


    Thursday 18th June 2020 05:25AM
  • Does anyone know about any Ultach settlements in the vicinity of Co. Carlow?

    Francis Reid 

    Vancouver, Canada.

    Francis Reid

    Thursday 17th November 2022 06:44AM

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