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OFFALY

"KING'S COUNTY, an inland county in the province of Leinster, Ireland, bounded on the N. by Westmeath, S. by Queen's County and Tipperary, E. by Meath and Kildare, and W. by Tipperary, Galway, and Roscommon. Its greatest length E. and W. is 45 miles, and greatest breadth N. and S. 39 miles. It comprises an area of 772 square miles, and contains a population by the census of 1861 of 90,043, against 112,080 in 1851, being a decrease of 22,037 in the decennial period. At the very dawn of Irish history this county formed part of the territory called Hy Falgia, including Meath, Westmeath, Dublin, and Kildare. In 1170 the English penetrated the country and effected settlements,' but were stoutly opposed by the Irish. In the reign of Edward VI. the O'Connors, spreading disorder through the whole of Leinster, were dispersed by a force from England under Sir William Bellingham, and their forfeited lands were shared among the English. Constant insurrections and rebellions against the English power continued from Mary's reign to 1599, when Sir Oliver Lambert, with 1,000 foot and 100 horse, attacked the insurgents at Philipstown, and dispersed them so effectually that no serious resistance was afterwards offered. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the 12 baronies of Ballyhoy, Ballybritt, Ballycowan, Clonlisk, Coolestown, Eglish, Garrycastle, Geashill, Kilcoursey, Lower and Upper Philipstown, and Warrenstown. It contains 51 parishes, including part of the borough and market town of Portarlington; the market and assize town of Tullamore-population in 1861, 4,791; the corporate towns of Philipstown, or Birr, with a population of 5,220, and Banagher; and the post towns of Parsonstown, Clara, Edenderry, and Frankford.

Formerly the county sent six members to the Irish parliament, but since the Union its representation has been limited to two members for the whole county. The constituency in 1859 was 3,324. The election is held at Tullamore. The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 7 deputy lieutenants, and 105 magistrates, besides the county officers. There are 45 constabulary police stations. It is in the home circuit. Assizes and quarter sessions are held at Tullamore, where is also the county gaol and court-house. As regards military arrangements, it is partly included in the south-eastern or Curragh district, and partly in the western district. There are barracks for infantry at Banagher, Parsonstown, and Shannon Harbour, and for cavalry at Tullamore and Philipstown, affording altogether accommodation for 68 officers and 1,412 men. The geographical features of the county are very irregular. The surface is in general flat, except in the S., where it rises into the Slieve Bloom mountains, which form the boundary between the King's and Queen's counties. There is only one passage through these mountains, called the Gap of Glandine, which is but 5 feet wide. The only elevations deserving of notice are, Croghan Hill, to the N. of Philipstown, which rises to 769 feet; the Height of Ireland, the highest point in the county; and the great hill of Cloghan, between the Brosna river and the Slieve Bloom mountains. The chief loughs are, Lough Pallis, containing the finest tench in Ireland, Lough Armagh, Lough Deroin, Lough Boura, and Lough Croghan. The climate is healthy. The soil is not fertile, being either a deep moor or a gravelly loam of medium depth, resting on limestone gravel. The pastures are excellent for sheep. The best land in the county is on the W. side of the Slieve Bloom mountains, extending to Parsonstown, and in the barony of Clonlisk. The Bog of Allen covers a large portion of the centre, and extends from E. to W. the whole length of the county. Of the total of 493,985 acres comprised within the county, 337,256 are arable, 145,836 uncultivated, 8,258 in plantation, 1,733 under water, and 902 occupied by the site of towns, roads, &c. The chief produce of the county is wheat and potatoes, but barley, oats, turnips, clover, flax, &c., are also cultivated. Much care has recently been bestowed in improving the various breeds of cattle. The bullocks of Ballybritt are large, and are used for field work. The horses are in general well-bred, light, and active, and are reared in great numbers for the neighbouring fairs. The county is well fenced, but draining and irrigation are much neglected. The net annual value of property in the county under the Tenement Valuation Act is £241,523. The timber is large and excellent, and the bogs supply an unfailing amount of fuel. The rivers are, the Brosna, which passes through the northern portion, the little Brosna, which traverses the S., and the Shannon, which skirts it on the W. The Grand canal enters the county near Edenderry in the extreme E., and following a westerly direction, unites with the Shannon near its mouth. It is the chief line of water communication for the county. The Athlone extension of the Great Southern and Western railway traverses it from S.E. to N.W., and in the S. a branch of the same line runs from Roscrea to Parsonstown. The roads, which are numerous, and greatly improved within the last few years, are maintained by grand jury presentments. The only manufactures are for home consumption, comprising coarse woollens, friezes, linen, and stuffs. Spinning was formerly carried on to a great extent, and the women are reckoned very industrious. There are numerous flour-mills and distilleries. The county is in the dioceses of Kildare, Meath, and Killaloe, with portions in Ossory and Clonfert. The social condition of the poor is capable of much amelioration. The houses of the small farmers, and the cabins of the peasants, are mean, dirty, and poor, and their food is potatoes, milk, and oatmeal. They are illiterate, but with a wish for education. There are mineral waters at Thinrone, in Garrycastle barony; at Escar, in Coolestown; at Kilduff, in Philipstown, in the barony of Ballycowan; at Ballincar, and at Geashill. The most interesting object of antiquity is a ruin called the White Obelisk, or the Temple of the Sun, in the Slieve Bloom mountains, being a large pyramid of white stones. Danish raths are common. There are interesting religious remains at Clonmacnois, Drumcullin, Kilcolman, Rathbeg, and Reynagh. The ruins of ancient castles are numerous: those worthy of notice are described under their several parishes."

 

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2018