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).

CORK (County of), a maritime county of the province of MUNSTER, and the largest in Ireland, bounded on the east by the counties of Tipperary and Waterford, on the north by that of Limerick, on the west by that of Kerry, and on the south-west, south, and south-east by St. George's Channel:

  • it extends from 51° 12' to 52° 13' (N. Lat.), and from 9° 45' to 10° 3' (W. Lon.); and comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 1,725,100 statute acres, of which 1,024,340 are cultivated, and 700,760 are occupied by mountains, bogs, &c.
  • The population, in 1821, was 629,786, and in 1831, 700,359, of which latter number, 407,935 were in the East, and 292,424 in the West, Riding.

The earliest inhabitants of the south-western part of this extensive territory are designated by Ptolemy Uterni or Uterini, and by other writers Iberni, Iberi, and Juerni. They occupied most of the southern part of the country subsequently called Desmond: their name and situation prove them to have been of Spanish Iberian origin, and the former, as well as that of the tribes from which they sprung, and the designation Ibernia or Hibernia, applied to the whole island even by Ptolemy, was derived from the western situation of the country which they inhabited.

  • From Ptolemy's map, it appears that the most eastern maritime part of the county in the south of Cork was, in the same age, inhabited by a people whom he called Vodice or Vodii, but who are unnoticed both by Sir James Ware and Dr Charles O'Conor.
  • The Coriondi, whose name still bears some affinity to the Irish appellation of this tract, were, according to Smith, the inhabitants of the middle and northern parts, particularly near the present city of Cork, and are said to have sprung from the Coritani, a British tribe occupying a tract in the eastern part of England.

The ancient divisions of the country prior to the English settlements were intricate, and at present can with difficulty be ascertained. The whole formed the southern and most important part of the petty kingdom of Cork or Desmond, which comprised also the western portion of the present county of Waterford, and all Kerry.

  • Desmond, signifying 'South Munster," was more properly the name of only the south-western part of the principality, which was divided into three portions, of which the whole of that called Ivelagh or Evaugh, including the country between Bantry and Baltimore, and also that called Bear, lying between Bantry and the Kenmare river, are included in the modern county of Cork.
  • Bear still partly retains its ancient name, being divided into the baronies of Bear  and Bantry;
  • but Evaugh is included in the barony of West Carbery, which, with East Carbery, Kinalmeaky, and Ibawn or Ibane and Barry-roe (Ibane and Barryroe), anciently formed an extensive territory, deriving its name from its chieftain, Carbry Riada, and in which are said to have been settled four of the eight families of royal extraction in Munster, the head of one of which was McCarty Reagh, sometimes styled Prince of Carbery.
  • Kerrycurrihy was anciently called Muskerry Ilane, and comprised also the barony of Imokilly (Imokilly), on the north side of Cork harbour: the only maritime territory remaining unnoticed, viz. Kinnalea (Kinalea), was formerly called Insovenagh.
  • Besides Kerrycurrihy and Imokilly, the entire central part of the county, between the rivers Lee and Blackwater, formed a portion of the ancient territory of Muskerry, which name the western portion of it still retains.
  • The north-western extremity of the county, forming the present barony of Duhallow, is in some old writings called Alla and Dubh Alla; and its chief, who, to a very late period, enjoyed almost regal authority, was sometimes styled prince of Duhallow.
  • The remainder, to the north of the Blackwater, formed, before the English conquests, a principality of the O'Keefes, called Fearmuigh (Fermoy).

Henry II., about the year 1177, granted to Robert Fitz-Stephen and Milo de Cogan the whole kingdom of Cork, except the city and the cantred belonging to the Ostmen settled there, which he retained in his own hands; but they were unable to take possession of more than seven cantreds lying nearest the city, receiving tribute from the other twenty-four. They introduced other Anglo-Norman families and their retainers, and the military colony thus established was never completely uprooted.

  • Cork was one of the districts erected into a county by King John, and the English power was gradually extended by the divisions arising from female inheritance and inferior grants; large tracts of country were successively held by the Carews, De Courcys, and other families, of whom the former, who were styled Marquesses of Cork, built the castle of Donemark, in the western part of the county, and others in Imokilly, for protection against the natives. The chief men of this family, with many other English, settled here, removed into England on the breaking out of the civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster; while De Courcy, who remained, besides divesting himself of some of his possessions, which he gave in marriage with his daughters, lost a considerable portion by the superior power of the natives.
  • The English were thus greatly reduced both in numbers and power, and were subsequently further weakened by the usurping measures of the Earls of Desmond, to whom Robert Fitz-Geoffry Cogan granted all his lands in Ireland, including one-half of Cork; but the whole was forfeited by the attainder of the last Earl, in 1582.
  • This induced the settlement of new colonies of the English; for although a considerable portion was regranted to the Fitz-Geralds and other resident families, the rest of the forfeitures was divided in seigniories and granted by letters patent to several English gentlemen, who were called undertakers, from being bound to perform the conditions mentioned in the articles for the plantation of this province with English, who were consequently settled here in great numbers, especially by Sir Richard Boyle, afterwards created Earl of Cork.
  • In the Spanish invasion of 1600, this county was wholly the scene of operations, particularly in the vicinity of Kinsale.
  • During the civil war which broke out in 1641, the bands of trained English contributed much to the maintenance of British interests here, which, however, were greatly weakened by these commotions, until in a great measure renewed towards the period of the Restoration by the settlement of republican officers, soldiers, and adventurers;
  • and the Protestant inhabitants of English descent again proved their strength by the most active and important services in 1691.


This large county contains the whole of the united dioceses of Cork, Ross, and Cloyne, and about 28,800 plantation acres of that of Ardfert and Aghadoe. By the statute of the 4th of Geo. IV., cap. 93, it was divided, for the more frequent holding of general sessions of the peace, into two districts, called the East and West Ridings:

CORK TOWNS & PARISHES (each town name links to its civil parish community)

Besides the city of Cork, which, with an extensive surrounding district forms a county of itself, it contains


Prior to the Union it sent twenty-four members to the Irish parliament, being two for the county at large, and two for each of the boroughs, besides the two for the county of the city of Cork. At present it sends to the Imperial parliament two representatives for the county at large, two for the city of Cork, and one each for the boroughs of Bandon, Kinsale, Mallow, and Youghal.

  • The recent enactments have made no alteration in the number of representatives, but have constituted each riding a separate jurisdiction for the purposes of registry: the county members are elected at the court-house in the city of Cork. The total number of voters registered up to March, 1836, was 4394, of which 1179 were £50, 532 £20, and 1828 £10 freeholders; 158 £20, and 639 £10 leaseholders, and 23 £50, and 35 £20 rent-chargers.
  • The county is included in the Munster circuit: the assizes are held in the city of Cork; and by the act of the 4th of Geo. IV., it is enacted that five general sessions of the peace shall be holden in alternate months in each of the two ridings, so that in the county at large a session is held every month, except the two in which the general sessions are holden for the entire county: the sessions for each division are directed to be holden, for the East Riding, alternately in the city of Cork, and at Midleton, Fermoy, Mallow, and Kanturk; and for the West Riding, alternately at Bandon, Macroom, Bantry, Skibbereen, and Clonakilty; the precise days to be settled by the high sheriff, the two assistant barristers, and the clerk of the peace. In all processes connected with these sessions, the several divisions are to be carefully distinguished as Cork County East Riding, and Cork County West Riding; but with the exception of the power given to the lord-lieutenant to appoint an assistant barrister for each, with a salary equal to that of similar officers in entire counties, the officers and jurisdictions of the county are not in any manner altered from those which are customary.
  • In the city of Cork are the county gaol and house of correction, rules for the management of which were drawn up by a committee of the magistrates in 1816, which were afterwards embodied in the general act for the prisons of Ireland. There are, besides, seventeen bridewells, situated respectively at Midleton, Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Bantry, Dunmanway, Macroom, Mitchelstown, Fermoy, Mallow, Cove (Cobh), Kinsale, Rosscarbery, Millstreet, Kanturk, Youghal, and Charleville. The number of persons charged with criminal offences and committed to the county prison in 1835, was 740.
  • The local government is vested in a lord-lieutenant, 16 deputy-lieutenants, and 282 other magistrates; besides whom there are the usual county officers, including four coroners.
  • The constabulary force consists of 16 chief and 85 subordinate constables, and 426 men, with 17 horses, the expense of maintaining which is defrayed equally by Grand Jury presentments and by Government.
  • The coast-guard districts are those of Youghal, containing the stations of Helwick Head, Ardmore, Youghal, Knockadoon, and Ballycotton; Cove (Cobh), containing the stations of Ballycroneen, Poor Head, Lighthouse, East Ferry, Cove, Cork, Crosshaven, and Robert's Cove; Kinsale, containing the stations of Upper Cove, Oyster Haven, Old Head, Howshand, Courtmasherry, Barry's Cove, Dunny Cove, and Dirk Cove; Skibbereen, containing the stations of Milk Cove, Glandore, Castle-Townsend, Barlogue, Baltimore, Long Island, Crook Haven, Dunmanus, and Whithorse; and Castletown, containing the stations of Colaris, Garnish, and Castletown: the entire force consists of 5 inspecting commanders, 32 chief officers, and 251 men.
  • The public charitable institutions are the lunatic asylum, house of industry and infirmary at Cork, an infirmary at Mallow, 12 fever hospitals, and 48 local dispensaries, maintained partly by subscription and partly by grand jury presentments: the dispensaries are situated respectively at Mitchelstown, Millstreet, Castletown-Roche, Bandon, Ovens, Ballyneen, Newmarket, Kanturk, Cloyne, Rosscarbery, Timoleague, Charleville, Buttevant, Kildorrery, Dunbullogue, Whitechurch, Kinsale, Glanworth, Fermoy, Glenville, Midleton, Bantry, Ballyclough, Skibbereen, Rathcormac, Glandore, Innishannon, Donoughmore, Doneraile, Glanmire, Carrigaline, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Cove (Cobh), Kilworth, Ballydehob, Passage, Macroom, Castletown-Bearhaven, Inniscarra, Conna, Castlemartyr, Magourney, Crookstown, Ballymacoda, Blarney, Glauntain, and Water-grass Hill.
  • The total amount of the county Grand Jury presentments, for 1835, was £62,645. 15. 8 3/4., of which £6978. 19. 0 3/4. was for the public roads and bridges of the county at large; £17,629. 16. 5. for public roads, being the baronial charge; £21,026. 19. 5. for public establishments, officers' salaries, and buildings; £9864. 16. 6. for police, and £7145. 4. 4. for repayment of advances made by the Government.
  • In the military arrangements the county is in the Southern District; it contains sixteen military stations, situated respectively at Ballincollig, Buttevant, Charles Fort, Clonakilty, Fermoy, (which is the principal, and the military depot of the district,) Kinsale, Mallow, Millstreet, Mitchelstown, Youghal, Skibbereen, and, in Cork Harbour, at Spike Island, Camden Fort, Carlisle Fort, Rocky Island, and Hawlbowling Island; and affording barrack accommodation in the whole, for 352 officers and 6799 men.


The surface of the county is of considerable variety and much natural beauty but exhibits a very great deficiency of timber, and of hedgerows and plantations. The western part is bold, rocky, and mountainous; while the northern and eastern portions are distinguished for their richness and fertility. But even in this irregularity, some order is perceived, the ranges of high land stretching nearly in the direction of east and west, though several ranges of hills branch off in transverse directions.

  • The principal deviation from this general character is seen in the Bogra mountains (Boggeragh Mountains), forming a high and barren tract in the centre of the county, between the rivers Lee and Blackwater, and which, instead of rising into narrow summits, spread out into an ample area, having in some places a deep boggy surface. The great longitudinal ranges of high ground are likewise often intersected by deep glens and gullies, through which numerous small streams find a rapid descent, and, after heavy rains, form beautiful waterfalls. The western mountains differ from the rest in form and aspect, being far more rocky, bold, and sterile, and abruptly parted by gaps and fissures.
  • The entire south and south-western portions of the county are composed of stupendous masses of schistose rock, standing as barriers against the waves of the Atlantic, which, for the greater part of the year, are driven with fury against them by the force of the prevailing winds.
  • Of low grounds, the most extensive tracts are those in which limestone is found: the largest is in the northern part of the county, lying north of the Blackwater, and extending upwards of twenty miles in length from east to west, varying in breadth from five to nine. This rich and beautiful expanse of country, though comparatively flat, is, however, agreeably diversified with gentle elevations, and contains but little land forming a dead level. By far the greater part of the county, excepting its western portion, has a similar undulating character; even the mountains are little more irregular in their outlines than the lower grounds, and the transition from one to the other is by very gentle degrees. The limestone vale, in which part of the city of Cork is situated, commences at Castlemore, about 10 miles to the west of it; and though at first of inconsiderable breadth, on crossing Cork harbour and reaching Imokilly, it takes a wider range, and throughout its course to the sea presents a fine tract of the best-cultivated ground in the county.
  • The line of coast presents a series of magnificent headlands, separated from each other by numerous inlets forming safe and commodious harbours, of which the most noted are those of Youghal, Cork, Kinsale, Baltimore, Crookhaven, Dunmanus, and Bantry, in the last of which, surrounded by the majestic scenery of the western mountains, whole navies may ride in safety. The numerous estuaries, disclose at low water, rich banks of calcareous sand for manure, and afford access to the interior of the country by navigation.
  • On the southwestern coast are various small, rocky islands, of which the principal are Cape Clear and Innisherkin, near the harbour of Baltimore; Bear island and Whiddy island, in Bantry bay; and Dursey island, off the extremity of Bearhaven promontory, forming the most western extremity of the county.
  • In the mountainous parts of the district are several small lakes, among which are those of Cahir, near Glengariffe; others on Three-Castle Head: that of Loughbofinny, near Bantry; and those of Shepperton; three between Bantry and Dunmanway, and the interesting lake of Googane-Barra, with smaller sheets of water at Rathbarry, Macloneigh, Ballintowlus, Drinagh, and in other parts.


The climate is remarkable for the mildness of its temperature, never reaching those extremes of heat and cold to which the same degree of latitude is subject even in England. This arises from its proximity to the Atlantic, across which the prevailing winds come loaded with vapours, seldom objectionable in winter, but often intercepting the maturing rays of the summer's sun; which circumstance renders the corn raised here, though good, generally inferior to that of a drier climate. The county, however, suffers much less in this respect than the neighbouring more western counties; and its climate has been decidedly improved by the draining of bogs and swamps.

The soils present no great variety, and may be distributed into four classes, each comprising several species differing in degrees of fertility, but united by a general resemblance of component parts. These are

  • 1st. The calcareous soils, or those found in the limestone tracts, which exceed all the rest in richness and fertility, producing the finest herbage and best wheat, and having always a crumbling and mellow surface.
  • 2nd. The loamy soils not calcareous, comprising the deep and mellow loams remote from limestone, occurring in several of the less elevated parts, especially towards the south, where they constitute the best lands: they are next in quality to the former, to which some of the best bear a close affinity both in texture and fertility; they generally rest on clay-slate.
  • 3rd. The light and shallow soils resting upon an absorbent bottom, as gravel, or rubbly stone, which have a much shallower and less vigorous arable surface than the preceding, but commonly afford a short sweet herbage peculiarly adapted for sheep, and produce the best corn in wet seasons.
  • 4th. The moorland or peat soil, the usual substratum of which is a hard rock or coarse retentive clay, and is of greater extent than any of the preceding classes, occupying both bog and mountain, and even several tracts of elevated land, which, though improved by culture, still exhibit sufficient traces of their origin: though inferior in fertility, some portions of this class may be rendered productive of good crops of grass, oats, and potatoes; but the. most elevated portions can never afford any thing better than coarse summer pasturage. Sands occur only on the sea-shore, and are most extensive in the bays of Courtmasherry, Bantry, Kinsale, Clonakilty, and Ross.

The tillage, except on the demesnes of resident gentlemen, presents rather unfavourable features, owing in a great measure to the want of skill and adequate capital, the too minute subdivision of farms, and the superabundant population of the arable districts. The crop of the greatest importance, and cultivated with the greatest care, is that of potatoes, which constitute the staple food of the small farmers and the labourers: it is succeeded in the more fertile districts by wheat, for which the ground is not infrequently manured with lime, and this is followed by one or two crops of oats. The ground is rarely levelled, properly cleared, or sown with artificial grasses, except by a few of the more opulent farmers on calcareous soils in the west and south parts of the county; barley and oats are more generally cultivated. The land held by the small farmers, or cottiers, presents an impoverished appearance, and is rarely left to recruit its productive powers by means of rest, until first exhausted by over-cropping. The cabins occupied by this class of tenants are for the most part of a wretched description.

A considerable portion of the northern part of the county is appropriated to dairy farms and is but thinly inhabited, but the land there is in good condition, and the farm-houses more comfortable than in the tillage districts. Some of the principal landowners have corrected the abuses of the cottier system and adopted for the improvement of their estates, and the amelioration of their tenantry, the practice of letting sufficiently large farms to occupying and working tenants, and providing them with comfortable dwelling-houses and farm-offices suitable to the extent of land and the condition of the holder.

The substances generally employed as manure are, common dung, lime, earth collected from the ditches, sea-sand, and sea-weed. As the beds of limestone are situated in the northern and eastern parts of the county, the farmers in the south-west are precluded from using this material, but find an abundant substitute in the calcareous sea-sand driven upon the shore, which is partly composed of pulverised marine shells in various proportions, and of which the coral sand of Bantry bay, being wholly calcareous, is most esteemed: some kinds of a red colour are also in great esteem; those of a dark blue colour seem to be composed chiefly of the fragments of mussel shells.

Spade labour is generally preferred to the use of the plough, of which the prevailing kind is of very rude construction, having short and thick handles, a low beam, and the coulter and sock placed obliquely so that in working, the mould-board is raised out of the ground; the Scotch swing plough has been introduced by the gentry and wealthy farmers in the neighbourhood of Cork and other places.

Formerly hay and corn were brought from the fields on slide cars or crooks, both of which are still used in the west; but the general improvement of the roads has introduced the wheel car, which, however, is of very rude construction, consisting of little more than a pair of shafts connected by a few crossbars, and resting upon a wooden axletree fixed into small solid wheels of ash plank, and turning with them; in all the low districts the cart, or "butt," has become general.

The fences contribute to the general naked appearance of the surface, being commonly formed of banks of earth dug from trenches on each side, and faced with sods or stones; they are frequently planted with furze, and occasionally with whitethorn and forest trees.

The cattle of the south and south-west are small, seldom weighing more than 3 1/2 cwt.; formerly they were all black, but at present the breed is mixed, and of various colours; they generally yield an abundance of milk. In the baronies of Duhallow, and Orrery and Kilmore, forming the north-western portion of the county, the Leicester breed, or, as they are here commonly called, the Limerick heifers, form the stock of some of the rich dairy farms; lands of inferior quality are stocked with a mixed breed of these and the old native black cattle. Indeed the cattle of the great northern vale are altogether superior in size and form to those of the more southern and western districts, and the same may be observed of all other kinds of livestock. The Holderness, Devon, Durham, and Ayrshire breeds have also been partially introduced.

There are no large flocks of sheep, except in gentlemen's demesnes; the Leicester is the prevailing breed on good soils and the common and half-bred Irish on inferior soils.

Horses, mostly black, are, in the northern portion of the county, universally employed by the common farmers: in other parts are kept great numbers of mules of a small size, which are occasionally employed in draught, but chiefly for backloads; and being easily fed, very long-lived, and able to endure great fatigue, are well adapted to the purposes of a poor peasantry in a rough country.

Of the extensive woods with which this county was once adorned, numerous vestiges are found both above and beneath the surface. Although now so denuded, the oak, birch, alder, fir, and yew, and even the ash and poplar, appear to be indigenous, and of shrubs and underwoods, there seems to have been a still greater variety. The former growth of firs in this part of the island is also traced by their existence in the bogs, in which they greatly exceed in number all the rest. The mountain lands, covered with little but heath and sedgy grass, form extensive tracts of comparative waste: the bogs and marshes are chiefly confined to these elevated regions, being elsewhere of very small extent. The scarcity and dearness of fuel are in many parts very disadvantageous; the maritime towns and the richer inhabitants generally obtain coal from England; while the mass of the people are compelled to seek for peat, which in many places has been exhausted; furze is often planted to supply this grievous deficiency.

The crown lands of Pobble O'Keefe (aka Pobal O'Keefe parishes of Clonfert and Drumtarriff) are in the centre of a wild district on the confines of the counties of Limerick, Kerry, and Cork, which, until within these few years, had been neglected and deserted, and was nearly inaccessible for want of roads. They are estimated to contain about 9000 statute acres of undulating hilly country, the soil of which varies from a strong clay to a loamy gravel and sand on the higher grounds, with tracts of alluvial land rind peat bog in the valleys and along the bottoms. The Crown is at present in actual possession of 5000 acres only; the remainder being withheld by the adjacent proprietors who claim to be entitled to the inheritance. When these lands were surrendered to the Crown they were inhabited by about 70 families residing in miserable mud cabins, the only buildings then on the property, subsisting almost entirely on the deteriorated produce of a few acres of potato tillage, and depending on the produce of a few cows and their harvest labour in the adjoining district for the payment of their rent. With every local facility for drainage, the lands were saturated with water and covered with thick matted beds of moss, rushes, and heath, the growth of ages. Under these circumstances, Mr Weale, who was deputed to survey the estate, suggested to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests that the Crown, instead of reletting or selling, should retain possession of the property, render this wild district accessible by the construction of proper roads, and cause its natural resources to be made available for ameliorating the condition of its inhabitants; and thus foster a numerous body of loyal, contented, and prosperous peasantry.

  • Mr Weale's benevolent suggestions have been acted upon, and under the superintendence of Mr Griffith, the government engineer, an excellent road has been constructed from Roskeen Bridge on the Blackwater, about seven British miles above Mallow, by the collieries of Coolclough, Dromagh, and Clonbanin through the village of Boherbee, and the centre of the Crown Estate, and, crossing the Blackwater near its source, it extends to Castleisland in the county of Kerry;
  • another branching off from Clonbanin also crosses the Blackwater and extends to Shanogh Cross in the same county, where it forms the mail road from Cork to Killarney.
  • The former line is 33 1/2 British miles in length, and forms a direct communication between Tralee and Cork; the latter measures 9 3/4 miles, and forms an equally direct communication between Killarney and Mallow.
  • These roads have been executed chiefly at the expense of Government, who advanced £17,000 of the gross estimate of £24,987; the remainder, £7937, was presented by the Grand Juries of Cork and Kerry. The roads are completed, with the exception of a portion of the line between Castleisland and King-William's-Town, which is expected to be speedily finished.
  • The general improvement of this district already affords a striking contrast to its utterly neglected state previously to their formation.
  • The new village, called "King-William's-Town," (Kingwilliamstown now Ballydesmond) on the east bank of the Blackwater, on the road to Castleisland, with the various improvements made by Government in its vicinity, is described under that head. The geological divisions may be classed under four principal heads.

The calcareous districts comprise the greater part of the vale to the north of the Blackwater, and of the vale south-west of Cork, the vale of Imokilly extending from Midleton to Killeagh, and the vale of the Bride from Rathcormac to Tallow. Detached beds of this formation are to be met with at Moylan and Taur, near Newmarket, at Blarney, near Macroom, near Bantry, at Timoleague, at Skibbereen, and near Cloyne. It also forms the Barrel rocks on the coast near Youghal.

  • The marble presents a great variety of colours and is, for the most part, close-grained and susceptible of a good polish.
  • That raised near Cork is grey, with white veins;
  • that near Castle Hyde is of a darker hue, embellished with various shades and a rich display of shells.
  • A very beautiful species is found near Castlemartyr.

The district bordering on Kerry and Limerick forms a portion of the great southern coalfield, many parts of which contain valuable beds of non-flaming coal, similar to that of Kilkenny, and of culm much used for burning lime. It extends from the north-western boundary of the county to the river Awbeg, running west of that river and north of the Blackwater, and lying chiefly between the limestone district and the last-named river. The principal collieries, and the most important in the south of Ireland, are

  • in the valley of the Blackwater, where beds of coal and culm are found running parallel with each other.
  • The largest now worked is that of Dromagh, in the barony of Duhallow, 22 miles from Cork, and the property of Nicholas Leader, Esq. This colliery has been worked uninterruptedly for nearly a century; a large capital has been expended in useful works connected with it within the last fifteen years, and it is now in excellent order and capable of supplying any demand.

The second division includes the mountains on the western confines of the county, and the two extensive ranges enclosing the great calcareous vale on the north side of the Blackwater, one on the north and the other on the south.

  • The northern range is of the grauwacke formation and is composed of various beds of red, green, and grey schist and sandstone.
  • The mountains which separate Bantry bay from the Kenmare estuary are composed of beds of schist and sandstone of various colours, but similar in their composition to the grauwacke formations of other parts of the county.
  • The eastern mountains have generally a thick covering of clay mixed with small stones, while those of the west are more bare and rocky: indications of iron are more or less visible in all.

The third great district is that of the clay-slate, locally known as the brown and red stone, which prevails in all the middle and northern parts of the county not included in either of the above-named divisions and which first occurs on the south on a line forming the southern boundary of the limestone district of Cork, from the western mountains eastward.

  • To the north of the city, this stone occupies the whole of the great elevated tract between the vale of Cork and the Blackwater: though commonly of shades of red, it has some other varieties of colour as well as of texture: it affords good building stone and flags, but will not split into laminae sufficiently thin for roofing.
  • The last division is that of the clay-slate, called also grey-stone, the epithet grey being indicative of the prevailing hue of the rocks, the colours of which really vary considerably. It comprehends by far the greater portion of the remainder of the county, lying to the south of the vale of Cork, and contains several kinds of argillite, some of grit, a few strata of calcareous schist and a large proportion of slate.
  • The numerous quarries along the southern coast supply Cork and most parts of the northern districts with slates for roofing, some of a good kind, but the best of a quality inferior to those imported from Wales. Extensive quarries of excellent slate have, however, been lately opened near Skull, and others at Nohaval, Ringabella, and some other places. Large pieces of quartz, generally of a circular form, and sometimes weighing three or four cwt., are frequently found lying on the surface of the ground; and near Ross there is a very curious and remarkable rock composed entirely of white quartz. Vast numbers of grit stones, often of large size, are likewise scattered over the surface, above which the rocks in the south-western parts are seen projecting in almost every field. The dip of the strata throughout the county is in most places very rapid, and everywhere very irregular.
  • Freestone is found on Horse island near Castle-Townsend, and in small veins in several places along the coast: extensive quarries of it are worked on the Duke of Devonshire's estate, near Bandon, and on Capt. Herrick's, near Innishannon, on which latter appear also some rocks of greenstone. Of the metallic ores, that of iron is the most abundant, and appears to have been formerly smelted to a considerable extent.
  • Lead ore has been found in many places in small veins, generally combined with quartz; in some parts, it is very productive, particularly at Annacarriga and Ringabella; the latter mines are worked on a considerable scale.
  • Copper has also been found in abundance; the whole barony of Bear produces it more or less, and near Castletown are extensive and valuable mines worked with much spirit. There are large deposits of this ore in the parish of Skull: valuable mines are now in operation on Horse island, and on the mainland, adjoining the slate quarries at Ballydehob, from which an abundance of excellent ore is obtained. Veins of copper ore are likewise found in Kilmoe, near Crookhaven, and in several other places, but are not elsewhere worked with spirit or advantage.
  • Manganese is abundant and very pure, particularly in the neighbourhood of Ross, the Leap, Nohaval, Castleventry, and other places, but is only worked with any degree of spirit in the parish of Kilfaughnabeg, near Leap, where it is obtained very good and in large quantities.
  • The impregnation of two small turf bogs near Rosscarbery with particles of copper, by the agency of springs, has led to an opinion that the neighbouring mountains contain abundance of it: the turf of one of these bogs was burned, and the ashes sent to Swansea where good copper was procured from them.
  • In Whiddy island, in Bantry Bay, is found a peculiar kind of black chalk.


The manufactures are various but of trifling importance. Flannel and frieze are made in most places, some for sale, but the greater part for home use: the dyeing of the latter, chiefly of a blue colour, is carried on to a considerable extent in Carbery, and at Bandon, where a large number of hands are likewise employed in wool-combing, in the camlet and stuff trade, and in the cotton manufacture.

  • The spinning of woollen yarn and the manufacture of camlets, stuffs, valentias, and woollen cloth of various kinds, are carried on at Blarney and Glanmire; and there is an extensive manufacture of stuffs at Cork, of calicoes at Templemartin, and of paper near Blarney, at Dripsey, and on the Bandon river near Morah: there are also iron-works near Blarney.
  • The manufactures more immediately connected with the trade of the city of Cork, which, however, are unimportant as compared with its commerce, are described in the account of the city.
  • The inhabitants of the maritime districts derive a principal means of support from fishing, frequently procuring not only enough for their own families, but a surplus for sale: the principal fish is hake, the season for taking which is from July to November.
  • A singular kind of fishery is carried on during the months of Sept. and Oct. in the strands of Ross and Castlefreke, where the inhabitants of the neighbourhood assemble, when the tide is low, and dig out of the sand great numbers of a choice and peculiar kind of small eel, which are sold in the markets of Clonakilty and Ross. Clonakilty and Courtmasherry strands also supply this fish, but less plentifully; and likewise afford great quantities of cockles and muscles.

The commerce of the county consists in the exportation of a great portion of its agricultural produce, and the importation of coal and other commodities for the ordinary supply of the inhabitants.


  • The principal river is the Blackwater, which, rising in the mountains on the confines of Kerry, runs southward along the western border of this county to the vicinity of Millstreet, where it suddenly turns eastward, and after a course of many miles, passing Mallow, Fermoy, &c, enters the county of Waterford, after a short course through which it returns to that of Cork at its most eastern extremity, where it forms the harbour of Youghal. Owing to the rapidity of its current this noble river is navigable scarcely higher than the reach of the tide; but few others present a greater variety of beautiful scenery, having on one side a range of lofty mountains, and on the other a wide tract of fertile country, both adorned by fine plantations and forming a striking and agreeable contrast.
  • The river Lee also has its source on the confines of Kerry, in a lake called Gougane-Barra, encompassed by wild and rocky mountains: after a course of about thirty miles eastward it reaches Cork, through which city it flows in two channels, and becomes navigable for vessels of considerable burden on meeting the tide: below Cork it soon expands into a wide estuary, in which are several considerable islands, on the largest of which stands the modern town of Cove (Cobh). The course of this river until it reaches the vale of Carrigdrohid, is very irregular, through hills exhibiting much variety, but no scenery approaching in luxuriance to that of the Blackwater; but here and below Cork it rivals the most celebrated rivers, in the winding variety of its channel and the cultivated richness of its shores.
  • The Bandon has its source in the Owen mountain above Dunmanway and runs eastward through the town of Bandon, and by the beautiful village of Innishannon to Kinsale, of which place it forms the harbour.
  • The Glen also rises in the same mountains, and runs nearly southward to the town of Skibbereen, where it increases in size on meeting the tide, and forms the harbour of Baltimore.
  • Among the small streams, which are exceedingly numerous, may be noticed the Awbeg, tributary to the Blackwater, and celebrated under the poetic name of "the gentle Mulla," by Spenser, who resided at Kilcolman castle in its vicinity.
  • The only valuable fish in the rivers is salmon, of which the Blackwater affords the greatest abundance, while those of the Lee are distinguished for their superior quality, and are always in season: eels and trout are found in all, pike and perch only in a few.
  • Their general rapidity renders the number of advantageous sites for the erection of mills very great; and boulting-mills are particularly numerous on their banks.

This county has no canals; some have been proposed, but none executed, and only one begun, viz., that designed to extend from Mallow to the Duhallow coal-pits, but which has long been abandoned.

The roads, which were in a very bad state, have been much improved since the commencement of the present century by sums originally furnished for the most part by Government, but ultimately repaid by Grand Jury presentments, and several new lines have been constructed. The turnpike trusts, which are very few, are partly vested in trustees, and partly in the hands of contractors.


Stone circles, cromlechs (commonly called Druids' altars), raths or circular mounds of earth, caves, and stone pillars, are numerous, particularly raths.

  • Near Clonakilty is a remarkable stone circle: close to the church is an ancient pillar, formed of a single stone, and in the vicinity an artificial cave.
  • In the neighbourhood of Ross is an imperfect circle of smaller diameter than the preceding, and near it a cromlech, and an upright stone of the same kind as those composing the circle.
  • In the mountains of Clondrohid is a spacious circle; at Ring, near Clonakilty, the remains of another; and fragments of several may be seen in different parts of the county.
  • Near Glanworth is a monument of extraordinary size and form, called in Irish Labacolly, or the "witches' bed." In the demesne of Castlemary, near Cloyne, are the remains of a similar monument.
  • At Rosscarbery are caves of much greater extent than that near Clonakilty. Another subterraneous vault has been discovered in the Great Island in Cork Harbour, between Cove (Cobh) and Cuskinny. There are also large caves at the Ovens, about seven miles westward from the city of Cork.
  • Many of the raths have vaults or caves, the entrances to which lie on the eastern side, and which, after winding for some distance, terminate in a small square room in the centre. A very large rath of stone may be seen on the hill of Knockdrummon, above Castletown; and there are several of similar construction in the rocky parish of Ballyvourney.
  • The cairns and barrows are commonly met with near waters or bogs.
  • Of ancient round towers there are two, one at Cloyne, the other at Kineth: the former is 102 feet high, with floors and ladders perfect from bottom to top; the latter is divided into six stories, each 11 feet 9 inches high.
  • At various places urns have been found in tumuli; and several brass trumpets were discovered in a bog between Cork and Mallow. Diverse ancient remains of minor importance are still occasionally found.

The number of religious houses, of the existence of which in ancient times evidences are still found in records or in ruins, was very great.

  • Archdall enumerates no less than sixty-nine, and states that the sites of nine of these were unknown.
  • Most of those mentioned by him were built subsequently to the first English invasion, and owed their foundation to the descendants of the English adventurers.
  • Those of which some vestiges still exist are at Rosscarbery, Buttevant, Ballybeg, Monanimy, Timoleague, Innisharkan, Bantry, Abbey-Mahon, Abbeystrowry, Ballyvourney, Mourne, Bridgetown, Glanworth, Ballymacadam, Red Abbey in Cork, Tracton, Coole, and Youghal.

Of the ancient fortresses erected by the early English invaders and their descendants the remains are very numerous, owing to their massy strength and durability: some are of a superior description, and deficient neither in magnificence nor accommodation; but by far the greater number are composed merely of a square tower or keep usually very high, to compensate for the small size of the area by the number of stories, and containing only cold and gloomy apartments: they generally occupy bold and commanding situations, and many had an enclosed area attached, flanked by smaller towers; in size there is a great disparity, some being very small and rudely built.

  • The castle of Kanturk is of the greatest extent and magnificence: the other principal fortresses of which there are extensive remains are those of Blarney, Macroom, and Lohort, of which the first is one of the finest edifices of the kind in the kingdom.
  • Donneen castle, though a very small structure, deserves notice for its remarkable situation in Ross bay, on a point of land forming part of the mainland at the time of its erection, but now isolated by the force of the waves.

Of fortified residences of a later age, bearing some resemblance to the English mansion-houses in the Elizabethan style, there are yet remaining three, built about the year 1638,

  • one at Monkstown, near Cork harbour;
  • one called Castle-Long, on Oyster haven,
  • and the third at Ballyvireen, a little to the west of Ross.


  • The modern residences of the nobility and gentry, among which Mitchelstown Castle, the splendid mansion of the Earl of Kingston, is pre-eminently distinguished for its extent and grandeur, are noticed in the description of the parishes in which they are respectively situated.
  • The appearance of the farm-houses seldom affords matter for commendation; though varying in size, according to the circumstances of the occupier, they are all built on the same plan, with an open chimney at one end, and at the other a small room separated by a partition and serving both as a bed-chamber and a store-room.
  • Few farmyards are attached to the houses, and these are very small and confined: the corn being frequently stacked on circular stages supported by upright cap-stones: barns are never used for any other purpose than thrashing, and are consequently built very small: the common farmer, indeed, is often unprovided with either stage or barn, and thrashes his grain in the open air.
  • The cabins of the poor have no glass windows and only one door, which is almost always left open to admit the light, and by which the smoke mostly escapes; an arrangement which, in bad weather, makes them very cold and uncomfortable.


The general condition of the labouring poor is very wretched; a cabin and an acre of ground to plant potatoes in, generally held at forty or fifty shillings per annum, and under an obligation of working for the farmer at an extremely low rate, forms their chief means of subsistence.

  • Almost their sole food throughout the year is potatoes, except that on the sea-coast they obtain fish, and boil different kinds of seaweed. The peasantry are nevertheless hardy, active, and lively, and generally, except in the mountain districts, speak the English language.
  • A striking similarity in some of their customs in husbandry, and some of their agricultural terms, is observed between them and the inhabitants of the south-western English counties.
  • The most remarkable ancient customs still preserved are, the wailing over deceased persons, the waking, and the lighting of fires on Midsummer's Eve.
  • Among the entire population, there is a considerable intermixture of English blood and English surnames, but the names of the old Irish families also remain.

There are several chalybeate springs, but none of medicinal celebrity except those of Mallow, which resemble the Bristol waters in taste and temperature, and are reputed to possess the same properties.

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

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