OMAGH, an assize, market-town and post-town, partly in the parish of CAPPAGH, but chiefly in that of DRUMRAGH, barony of OMAGH, county of TYRONE, and province of ULSTER, 26¼ miles (S. E.) from Londonderry, and 86 (N. N. W) from Dublin, on the mail road between these two cities; containing 2211 inhabitants. This place, which was anciently called Oigh-Magh and Oigh- Rath, signifying "the seat of the chiefs," is supposed to have owed its origin as a town to an abbey founded here in 792, which was converted into a house for the third order of Franciscans in 1464, and continued to flourish as such until the dissolution, when its site and possessions were granted to Sir Henry Piers. No notice is taken of the town as a fortress or place of defence until 1498, when Mac Art O'Nial, having taken up arms against the English government, fortified himself in the castles of Omy and Kinnard, upon which the Earl of Kildare, then Lord-Deputy, marched against the former, took it, razed it to the ground and compelled Mac Art to submit to the King's authority. In 1602, Lord Mountjoy, Lord-Deputy, placed a strong garrison in Omy, under the command of Sir Henry Docwra, whence he marched with all his forces against the Earl of Tyrone and succeeded in taking the whole of his magazines, military chest and other valuables; and after driving the discomfited Earl to Castle Roe, on the Bann, penetrated as far as Enniskillen. Tyrone never recovered after this defeat, and soon after made his final submission at Mellifont. On the plantation of Ulster in 1609, the town, with its surrounding district, was granted to Lord Castlehaven in the following divisions; 2000 acres at Addergoole, being Omagh and the adjoining townlands: 2000 acres at Fintona; 2000 at Brade and 3000 at Ravone. But this nobleman having neglected to erect castles and settle British subjects on the land, according to the articles of plantation, the grant reverted to the Crown; and the district of Addergoole was granted by Chas. I., in 1631, to James Mervyn, Esq., under the name of the manor of Arleston or Audleston; and the greater part of Fintona or Ballynahatty, to the same person, under the name of the manor of Touchet. Gen.
Archdall, the descendant of the grantee, is now lord of the manor. In 1641, Sir Phelim O'Nial, shortly after the commencement of the war, marched against the castle of Omagh, which by an immediate surrender escaped the sufferings inflicted on those places in the county that made a more vigorous resistance. Jas. II. passed through the town in the spring of 1689, on his march northward to Strabane. The garrison which he placed here was soon afterwards driven out with great slaughter, but before they evacuated it the soldiers set it on fire and destroyed it, with the church and the castle built by Mervyn. In 1743, the town, having been rebuilt in the intermediate period, was again-destroyed by fire, two houses only having escaped the flames. It was soon after rebuilt on a new plan, and has become a thriving and rapidly improving place.
It is situated on a gentle eminence on the southern bank of the river Stroule, here known by the name of the Drumragh water, a branch of the Foyle, and consists of three principal streets with several smaller branching from them: many of the houses are large and well built; the streets are paved, but not lighted; and the inhabitants have but a scanty supply of water, as there are no public fountains or wells. It is now the county town, a distinction formerly enjoyed by Dungannon, but at what time the change took place has not been ascertained, farther than that it occurred previously to 1768. It contains 715 houses, of which 585 are of respectable appearance and slated. The communication between the parts of the town in the parishes of Drumragh and Cappagh is maintained by a fine bridge over the Stroule. A readingroom is furnished with newspapers, but not with periodicals or other literary works. The trade is very limited; the only manufactures are those of tobacco and of ale and beer, of which latter there is an extensive brewery, the produce of which has acquired some celebrity.
The land in the vicinity is tolerably cultivated and well planted; the seats not noticed under the head of either of the parishes of which the town forms part, are New Grove, the residence of Sam. Galbraith, Esq.; and Mount-Pleasant, of the Rev. C. Cregan. The market, held on Saturday, is well supplied with provisions, and on alternate Saturdays brown linens are exposed for sale: a market-house was built in 1830, in which grain and vegetables are sold, and a very convenient range of shambles was opened in 1834.
Fairs are held on the first Saturday of every month for all kinds of cattle. The assizes for the county are held here; as are the quarter sessions for the baronies of Omagh and Strabane, alternately with the town of Strabane. A court baron is also held every third Thursday for the manor of Audleston, at which the seneschal of the lord of the manor presides: debts to the amount of £4 are recoverable in it. The court-house is a large and handsome edifice, erected on the highest ground in the town: it has in front a fine portico of four Doric columns, with the royal arms in the tympanum: the stone of which the front is formed was raised from the quarries of Kirlis, eight miles distant. On the northern side of the town is the county prison, built in 1804, and enlarged in 1822, according to a plan adapted to the better classification of the prisoners: it has a tread-mill, which is not applied to any profitable use.
To the north of the gaol are the barracks, originally intended for artillery, but now enlarged and fitted up for infantry, being the depôt and head-quarters of the north-west military district; they contain accommodations for a field officer, 7 other commissioned officers, 110 privates and 60 horses, with an hospital for 12 patients. Here is a chief constabulary police station, with a barrack. The county infirmary was established here in 1796, and though considerably enlarged in 1810, its arrangements being still considered imperfect, further additions are now being made to it; a building for a fever hospital is also in progress. A dispensary, established in 1831, is supported in the usual manner. The parochial church of Drumragh, in the town, is a large and handsome edifice, erected in 1777, by the Mervyn family, and enlarged in 1820 with a north aisle and galleries, at the expense of the parish: it is in the Grecian style, with a lofty tower and spire, built at the expense of Dr. Knox, late Bishop of Deny.
In the town is a large and handsome R. C. chapel for the union or district of Drumragh and Omagh; there are also two meeting-houses for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, and two others belonging respectively to the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists. The male and female parochial schools, near the church, were built and are supported by the rector and parishioners: there is also a school in connection with the Board of National Education. No trace of the ancient abbey is now in existence, and even the locality of its site is matter of doubt: a small fragment of the ruins of Castle Mervyn is still visible on the side of a brook near the pound. Dr. John Lawson, author of "Lectures on Oratory," was born in this town, in 1712.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.