1st January 1837
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From Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (pub. 1837)

KILLALA, a sea-port, market and post-town, and parish, and the seat of a diocese, in the barony of TYRAWLEY, county of MAYO, and province of CONNAUGHT, 22 miles (N.) from Castlebar, and 131 ½ (N. W.) from Dublin, on the road from Ballina to Ballycastle; containing 3875 inhabitants, of which number, 1125 are in the town.

During the disturbances of 1798, General Humbert, with two frigates of 44 and one of 38 guns, having on board 70 officers and 1030 men, sailed from Rochelle on the 4th of August, to make a descent on the county of Donegal; but being frustrated in that attempt by contrary winds landed his forces in Kilcummin bay on the 22nd of the same month. The garrison, at that time consisting of only 50 men, fled, after a vain attempt to oppose the entrance of the French vanguard; and several of them were taken, prisoners. The French forces were joined by many of the peasantry, and after they had taken Ballina greater numbers flocked to their standard, to receive the arms and uniforms which had been sent from France for their equipment.

The town is situated on the bay of the same name, and on the west bank of the River Moy; it contains about 200 houses, of which those in the principal street are well built. The manufacture of coarse linens is carried on to a very small extent, but the principal trade is the exportation of grain, of which the annual average from 1810 to 1820 was 5000 tons, chiefly oats and barley; and the value of the imports, consisting of planks, iron, tar, slates, flax-seed, herrings, and sugar, about £5000. The trade was on the increase from 1820 till 1825, but, from the improvements of the port of Ballina, what formerly came into this port for the supply of that town is conveyed thither direct by the river Moy, and from 1830 to 1835 the average exports from Killala have not exceeded 3500 tons, nor the value of the imports £4000 per annum.

A considerable fishery is carried on, in which more than 300 persons are occasionally engaged, and for which this is a very good station; and large quantities of sea-manure are landed at the quay; the pier is very old, but has been recently repaired. The entrance to the bay is between Kilcummin Head and Kennisharrock Point. On the western side of the bay, off the point of Ross, are the Carrigphadric rocks, between which and the mainland is a shoal dry at low water: and on the eastern side, about two miles from Kennisharrock Point, is a creek called Pullogheeny, where small vessels load kelp and other commodities during the summer. The harbour affords good and safe anchorage for vessels drawing eight or nine feet of water, and vessels drawing 12 feet may get to the anchorage about high water.

A constabulary police force is stationed in the town; and it is the head of a coastguard district, comprising the stations of Dunkeehan, Port Terlin, Belderig, Ballycastle, Lacken, Kilcummin, and Ross.

The market is on Saturday, and fairs are held on May 6th, Aug. 17th, and Nov. 8th.

Petty sessions are held in a private house every Friday, and a manorial court is held occasionally.

The episcopal SEE of KILLALA appears to have been founded between the years 434 and 441, by St. Patrick, who, during that period, was propagating the faith of Christianity in the province of Connaught; and built a church at this place, called Kill-Aladh, over which he placed one of his disciples, St. Muredach, as bishop. Of Muredach's successors, who by early writers are called bishops of Tiramalgaid (from the surrounding territory, now the barony of Tirawley), and also bishops of O-Fiacra-Mui (from a district of that name extending along the river Moy), very little is recorded till after the arrival of the English in Ireland; though among the few names that occur within that period is that of Kellach, the son of Doghan, or, according to some writers, of Owen Beol, King of Connaught. At the instance of Donat O'Beoda, who was bishop in 1198, Pope Innocent III. confirmed all the ancient possessions of the see; and in 1255 a bishop of Killala, whose name is not given, accompanied the archbishop of Tuam into England, to petition the king for the redress of certain grievances to which the clergy was then exposed. Robert of Waterford, who succeeded in 1350, was fined 100 marks for neglecting to attend a parliament assembled at Castledermot, in 1377, to which he had been summoned. Owen O'Connor, Dean of Achonry, was advanced to the see by Queen Elizabeth in 1591, and was allowed to hold his deanery with the bishopric; and his successor, Miler Magragh, was permitted to hold also the see of Achonry in commendam. Archibald Hamilton, who succeeded in 1623, obtained from Jas. I. a commendatory grant, of the see of Achonry; and his successor, Archibald Adair, was, in 1630, consecrated bishop of Killala and Achonry, which two sees appear from that time to have been united. Thomas Otway, who succeeded to the united sees in 1670, rebuilt the cathedral from the foundation. The sees of Achonry and Killala continued to be held together till the death of the last bishop, Dr James Verschoyle, in 1833, when, under the provisions of the Church Temporalities' Act of the 3d and 4th of Wm. IV., they became annexed to the archepiscopal see of Tuam, and the temporalities were vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

The diocese is one of the six that constitute the ecclesiastical province of Tuam, and comprehends part of the county of Sligo and a very considerable portion of that of Mayo; it is 45 miles in length and 21 in breadth, comprising an estimated superficies of 314,300 acres, of which 43,100 are in Sligo and 271,200 in Mayo. The lands belonging to the see comprise 33,668 ½ statute acres, of which 10,176 ½ are profitable land; and the gross annual revenue, on an average of three years ending Dec. 31st, 1831, amounted to £2600. 11. 10 ½., which, together with the revenue of the see of Achonry, since the death of the last bishop, is, by the provisions of the Church Temporalities' Act, vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The chapter consists of a dean, precentor, archdeacon, and the five prebendaries of Killanly, Errew, Ardagh, Lackan, and Rosserkbeg: there are neither minor canons nor vicars choral belonging to the cathedral, nor is there any economy fund. The number of parishes in the diocese is 27, comprised in 13 benefices, of which seven are unions of two or more parishes, and six are single parishes; and with the exception of the deanery, which is in the gift of the Crown, all are in the patronage of the Archbishop. The number of churches is 13, and there are two other places where divine service is performed; and of glebe-houses, 11.

The cathedral, which is also the parish church, is an ancient structure with a spire; it was repaired in 1817, for which purpose the late Board of First Fruits granted a loan of £1061. 10. 9., and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £600 for its further repair.

In the R. C. divisions this diocese is a separate bishopric, and one of the six which are suffragan to Tuam; it comprises 23 parochial benefices or unions, containing 30 chapels, which are served by 33 clergymen, 23 of whom are parish priests, and 10 coadjutors or curates. The parochial benefice of the bishop is Killala; the cathedral is at Ardnaree, near Ballina, and contiguous to it is the bishop's residence.

The parish includes the island of Bartra, or Bartrach, and is generally in a good state of cultivation: the soil is very fertile, and the lands are nearly divided into equal portions between pasture and tillage, except the wasteland and a large tract of bog.

The surrounding country is rather bleak, especially towards the north, but the scenery is enlivened by several gentlemen's seats, of which the principal are:

  • the Castle, formerly the episcopal palace, and now the residence of: W. I. Bourke, Esq.;
  • the Lodge, of T. Kirkwood, Esq.;
  • Ross, of J. Higgins, Esq.;
  • Castlerea, of J. Knox, Esq.;
  • Farm Hill, of Major J. Gardiner; and
  • Summer Hill, of T. Palmer, Esq.

The living is a rectory and vicarage, constituting the corps of the deanery of Killala, and in the patronage of the Crown. The tithes amount to £154. 13. 9.: the lands belonging to the deanery adjoin the town and comprise 108 acres; and the dean, in right of his dignity, has the rectorial tithes of the parishes of Ballysakeery, Rafran, Dunfeeny, Kilbreedy, Lacken, Kilcummin, and Templemurry; the entire revenue of the deanery, including the lands, is £772.

In the R. C. divisions, the parish is the head of a union or district, comprising also the parish of Templemurry; the chapel is a neat slated edifice.

There is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists.

The parochial school, in which are about 90 children, is supported by the trustees of Erasmus Smith's fund, who allow the master £30 per annum, with a house and one acre of land rent-free; and there are two private schools, in which are about 150 children.

There is a dispensary for the poor of the neighbourhood.

On an eminence in the town is an ancient round tower, about 83 feet high, of which the walls are of great strength and nearly perfect.

About a mile to the south-east of the town, at the mouth of the River Moy, are the remains of a friary of Franciscans of the Strict Observance, founded in 1460 by Mac William Bourke, or, according to some writers, by Thomas Oge Bourke. Several provincial chapters of the order were held there, and the establishment continued to flourish till the dissolution, after which it was granted to Edmund Barrett. The remains consist of the church and some extensive portions of the conventual buildings: the church is a cruciform structure, 135 feet in length, and from the centre rises a lofty tower, supported on four noble arches leading from the nave into the choir and transepts.

At Castlereagh, on the banks of the river Rathfran, about two miles from the sea, are the vestiges of a castle apparently of great strength, which has been levelled with the ground: about a mile to the west is Carrickanass castle, about 35 feet square, and 45 feet high, built by the family of Bourke, and surrounded with a low strong bawn; and there are also several forts.


  • In the course of investigating my family tree, I discovered (about 8/10 years ago) that my great great grandmother (Jane Derry) was born in Killala, so I am delighted to read about the place she came from. As her first child was born to her and her Dublin husband in 1838, she would have left before the date of this document, but not much before. Having made this discovery, I visited the area with my husband about 3 years ago, and was charmed by it --  the town of Killala, Kilcummin harbour, Dun Briste, and the wonderful 1798 monument in Ballina. I look forward to returning to Killala before too long and exploring it more thoroughly.

    Mary Monks Hatch

    Sunday 12th July 2020 03:13PM

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