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St. Marys - New Ross

ROSS-NEW, a parish and port and borough and market-town, chiefly in the barony of BANTRY, county of WEXFORD, and province of LEINSTER, but partly in the barony of SHELBURNE, 19½ miles (W. by N.) from Wexford, and 70¾ (S. S. W.) from Dublin, on the road from Wexford to Waterford, and on the eastern bank of the river of Ross, sometimes called the Barrow; containing 7523 inhabitants, of which number, 5011 are in the town and borough. Colgan states that St. Abban built a great monastery, now called Rossmactreoin, on the banks of the Barrow, and that this monastery, in process of time, gave rise to a noble and ancient city, formerly called Rossglas and subsequently Rossmactrium or Rossmactreoin; the magnitude and age of which was demonstrated by the ruins and walls remaining in his time (about 1620). Camden says that the town was founded by Isabella, daughter of Strongbow and consort of William le Mareschal, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, who held it in right of his wife. The charter granted to it by Roger Bigod, in the reign of Edw. I., directs that the provost, when elected, should be presented to him and his heirs at the castle of Old Ross, or, in case of absence, to their seneschal in the town of New Ross, thus shewing the pre-existence of the town. It afterwards acquired the name of Rossponte or Rosspontum, from the circumstance of a bridge having been built over the river here. Its situation on a navigable river in the heart of a fertile country soon rendered it populous and wealthy: the same circumstances exposed it to the predatory incursions of the neighbouring chieftains, to defend themselves from which the townsmen, in 1269, at which time they were grievously harassed by a feud between the Fitzmaurices and the De Burgos, resolved to secure the town by a wall. So anxious were they to accomplish this undertaking, that not only did the whole of the male population work at it by turns in companies, but many of the young women also aided in it, to commemorate which, a strong tower or gate called Maiden tower, was erected eastward in the town, for a prison exclusively for persons guilty of offences against females. The walls enclosed a circuit of a mile; and at that period the town could array for its defence, 363 cross-bow men, 1200 longbow archers, 3000 pikemen, and 104 horsemen, a number of fighting men nearly equal to its entire population at present. In the reign of Edw. I. the town was laid under an interdict by the pope, in consequence of the inhabitants having destroyed a house of the Crutched friars on account of the alleged profligacy of one of its members. Another proof of its early importance may be adduced from the attempts made by the people of Waterford to deprive it of the privileges of a trading port. The controversy, which commenced so early as the reign of Hen. III., was finally decided in favour of Ross by a decree of the English court of Chancery in the reign of Edw. III. In 1469 the town was partially burned by Donald Fuscus, then head of the Mac Murroughs or Kavanaghs; and the inhabitants afterwards suffered so much from re- peated occurrences of acts of lawless violence, that, in 1483, they procured an act of parliament, empowering them to "reprize" themselves against robbers, and further enacting that no person should alienate his freehold in the town without the consent of the provost and council. The latter provision leads to the inference that these acts of aggression were producing the effect of driving the wealthier and more respectable part of the population out of the town. This inference is confirmed by the preamble of a charter of Rich. III., which describes the place as being so reduced by this cause to extreme poverty and misery, as to be nearly depopulated.

Another charter allows them to treat and make truce with the Irish enemies and to sell them provisions, as well in time of war as of peace. In the war of 1641 the town, which was then held for the Irish, was besieged by the Duke of Ormonde, who, having attempted to storm it through a practicable breach, was driven back with considerable loss and forced to raise the siege. Immediately after, the battle of Kilrush was fought in the neighbourhood, in which the Duke obtained a signal victory, and the Irish in their flight broke down the bridge of Ross to prevent his pursuit. On the arrival of Cromwell in 1649, the Duke, after having garrisoned Wexford, threw himself into this town, which he also supplied with the means of defence. Cromwell, having taken the former town, invested Ross, which, notwithstanding the Duke's precautionary measures for its defence, surrendered without resistance upon articles, and its fortifications were immediately dismantled. The gate though which his troops entered has since been called Three-Bullet gate, instead of its former name, Bewley gate, from the circumstance that three cannon-shot fired against it was the signal for demanding a surrender: the shot were found a few years after in the walls of the gateway and are in the possession of John Deane, of Stokestown. During the disturbances of 1798, the town was the scene of a most sanguinary conflict between the king's troops and the insurgents, in which the latter, after ten hours' severe fighting, during which they had possession of the greater part of the town for some time, were ultimately defeated with great slaughter. Lord Mountjoy, who commanded the county of Dublin Militia, was killed at the Three-Bullet gate during the engagement.

The town is beautifully situated on the side of a hill declining so precipitously to the Ross river (formed by the Nore and Barrow, which unite about one mile to the north of it,) as to render the communication between the upper and lower parts extremely inconvenient. Some of the principal streets run nearly parallel with the river, and are intersected by others at right angles; minor streets and lanes diverge from these in several directions: the total number of houses, in 1831, was 1040. It is well supplied with water: the streets are partially paved but not lighted, the paving and cleansing being executed by contract under the corporation.

The general appearance of the town for some years did not indicate an increase of prosperity; a circumstance attributed to the difficulty of obtaining land on leases of sufficient duration to encourage building; but within the last two years there has been a visible improvement, several new houses having been built. The want of a bridge, after the destruction of the old one in 1643, was supplied by a ferry until the latter part of the last century, when a company incorporated by act of parliament raised a sum of £11,200, by means of shares; and a bridge was constructed by Mr. E. Cox, the architect of Londonderry, Waterford, and Wexford bridges, of American oak; its length, including a causeway of fifty yards on the Kilkenny side of the river, is 508 feet, and it is 40 feet broad; it rests on 24 sets of piers, and has a drawbridge to admit the passage of large vessels into the part of the river above the town. The bridge was much injured by a severe frost in 1814, and the footways were consequently removed and have not since been replaced. The tolls, which are let annually, produce on an average £800 per ann. This bridge connects the town with the village of Rossbercon, formerly a borough of itself, but now included within the electoral boundary of New Ross. A quay, secured by a parapet coped with hewn stone, extends from the end of the bridge nearly a quarter of a mile along the eastern side of the river. On the site of an ancient church in a retired part of the town, is a cavalry barrack, a plain building containing accommodation for 3 officers, 52 men, and 44 horses. There is also a constabulary police station. The markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday; the latter is the principal and is well supplied with provisions, at moderate prices. Fairs are held on Jan. 10th, Feb. 10th, March 17th, Easter-Monday, May 3rd, Whit-Monday, June 10th, July 10th, Aug. 10th, Sept. 10th, Oct. 18th, Nov. 10th, and Dec. 8th. The new corn market, erected in 1818, is an enclosure nearly 50 yards square, with a range of slated sheds along each side, twelve feet deep, opening into the central space by a series of arches; the entrances are by large gates to the north and south, contiguous to the former of which is a house for the offices of the clerk of the market. As the use of this market has not been made compulsory on the farmers, they still adhere to the old custom of carrying on their dealings in the open street. The meat market, a brick enclosure near the centre of the town, containing 25 stalls, was originally erected in 1749 and was rebuilt by John French, burgess, in 1831. There are three extensive breweries in the town, and a distillery in Rossbercon. There was formerly a profitable fishery, chiefly for salmon, carried on in small boats called cots; each cot employed two nets and four men: it has latterly declined considerably, the cause of which is said to be, in a great measure, the erection of Scotch weirs lower down the river. Ross was an independent port until about twelve years since, when it was made a branch port to Waterford; but, though independent, it was closed against all foreign produce from 1786 to 1832, when the port was re-opened by an order from the Lords of the Treasury: a bonded store for tea and other imports has been recently opened. The town is well situated for trade; the river being navigable up to it at high tides for vessels of 500 or 600 tons' burden, and for those of 200 at low water; barges can ascend, the stream to Athy, where there is a branch of the Grand Canal. The principal export trade is in grain, flour, live stock, bacon, and butter. Porter, ale and beer are sent to Newfoundland, whence fish and oil are received in return; a considerable trade in timber is carried on with the Baltic and with British America, the latter resulting from the system of emigration from this port, which for several years has been very considerable; coal, culm and slates are imported from Wales. There is a transit trade to Waterford; and Kilkenny coal is brought to Ross in barges, where it is shipped for other parts. There is a boat-building establishment in the town.

New Ross obtained its first charter from Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and Marshal of England, in the reign of Edw. I., by which privileges were conferred upon it as extensive as those then enjoyed by the burgesses of any town in Leinster, and it was made a free port. These rights were confirmed by a number of successive charters from subsequent kings till the reign of Jas. I., whose grant is considered to be the ruling charter. A subsequent charter of Jas. II., though still in existence, is not considered to be of any validity. The style of the corporation is "the Sovereign and Free Burgesses of New Ross." The sovereign is chosen from among the burgesses: he and the burgesses elect the new burgesses, who hold office for life; as also the recorder, who holds for life or years at pleasure; two bailiffs, the senior of whom, styled "Bailiff Receiver," presided in an inferior court, now discontinued, which decided pleas under 40s.; two coroners, besides the sovereign and his deputy, who are coroners ex-officio; and other inferior officers. The recorder has no salary or other emolument, and the town court under the charter having been discontinued, his only advantage in right of his office is his being, as well as the sovereign, a justice of peace for the county of Wexford. It is one of the towns named in the new rules of Chas. II., which require that the elections of the chief magistrate, recorder, and townclerk should be approved of by the lord-lieutenant and privy council. The sovereign and burgesses may admit freemen at pleasure, but no claim of right is allowed. By the charter of Jas. I. the liberties were extended a mile in every direction beyond its ancient limits, with the exception of the castle and lands of Mountgarret.

The lands of the corporation at present amount to about 400 acres, let for about £180 per annum. The town first returned members in 1374, and continued to send two till the Union, when the number was reduced to one, which has been continued under the act of the 2nd of Wm. IV., cap. 88. The number of electors, in 1835, was, freemen 9, householders 212; total, 221. The electoral boundary, which is much more limited than that of the borough under its ancient charter on the Wexford side, but includes the village of Rossbercon, on the Kilkenny side of the river, is accurately detailed in the Appendix. The court-house, in which the business of the corporation is transacted, is a handsome structure of hewn granite, erected in 1810, at the angle formed by two of the principal streets; it is built on piers with arches springing from them and surmounted with a tower and cupola; the area within the piers was originally intended for a corn-market, but being found to be too confined for the trade of the town, it has been used as a place for the sale of leather. The Easter and Michaelmas sessions for the district are held in the town, and petty sessions once a fortnight: the sessionshouse, completed in 1832 at an expense of £1334, defrayed by the county, forms a neat building; the bridewell comprises two day-rooms, seven cells, and two airing-yards, and is in very good order.

The entire parish of St. Mary's, New Ross, contains 5743 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act. The environs of the town are embellished with many 3Y2 elegant seats and fine demesnes, among which are Oaklands, the seat of Col. Sankey; Talbot Hall, of J. Hyacinth Talbot, Esq.; Macmurrough, of Chas. Tottenham, Esq., part of an estate which had been the ancient property of Dermod Mac Murrough, King of Leinster; Woodville, of Edw. Tottenham, Esq.; Maryville, of J. Talbot, Esq.; Stokestown, of Josh. Deane, Esq.; and Rosemount, the property of the Misses Rossiter. The approaches to the town from the north and east have been lately much improved by the formation of two roads, by which the steep ascents from those points are avoided. The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Ferns, united by act of council, in 1768, with the rectories of St. Mary's Old Ross, Carnagh, Tulleraght, Ballyane, and Clonleigh, and the impropriate cures of Kilscanlan and Ballybrazill, the whole forming the union of New Ross, in the patronage of the Bishop; the rectory is impropriate in the corporation of Kilkenny. The tithes amount to £330.3. 8½., of which £220. 2. 5¾. is payable to the corporation of Kilkenny, and £110. 1. 2¾ to the vicar: the whole tithes of the benefice amount to £1152. 17. 4½. In the town are a few scattered plots of building ground, called glebes, none of Which is of sufficient size for the site of a glebe-house and offices. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a light and commodious edifice, rebuilt on part of the site of the former edifice, and completed in 1813, partly by a loan of £2400 from the late Board of First Fruits: it stands in a very conspicuous situation on the side of the hill; the tower, on which a spire was intended to be built, is rather low: the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have granted £390 for its repair. It contains an organ, presented by the corporation, and in the chancel are three handsome mural monuments, erected to the memory of the father of the late Chas. Tottenham, Esq., and two of his family. A neat free church, or chapel of ease, is now being erected by subscription at the southern end of the town, on a site presented by Chas. Tottenham, Esq., of Ballycurry. In the R. C. divisions the parish comprises the whole of St. Mary's parish, including the town and its suburbs on the eastern side of the river. The chapel, in Southstreet, is a spacious and elegant structure with large pointed windows and faced with granite. A chapel belonging to a community of Augustinian friars, consisting of four members, stands on the hill near the site of an ancient friary of the same order: and on the summit of the hill overlooking the town is a convent of Carmelite nuns, a branch of that at Ranelagh, Dublin, which was removed hither in 1817, and has also a neat chapel. The Wesleyan Methodists and the Society of Friends have each a place of worship; the Primitive Methodists meet in the court-house; and a society denominating themselves simply Christian Brethren have a neat place of worship recently erected by subscription, in Priory-lane.

The grammar school was founded in 1713 by Sir John Ivory, Knt. who bequeathed his mansion, offices, and gardens to the corporation and vicar of St. Mary's in trust for the maintenance of a master to instruct four poor boys, the sons of parents of the Established Church, in Latin, and Greek: the school-house is a handsome and commodious building, re-erected with suitable offices, in 1791, at the expense of the corporation, and is capable of accommodating a considerable number of boarders and day-scholars. The school of the Friends of Education, built in 1799 by subscription, consists of a central structure and two wings, containing schools for each sex and apartments for the teachers; it is aided by a legacy of £3. 3. 0. per ann. by the late Mrs. Paul, and another of £10 per ann. Irish, chargeable on a farm called Creken, durin g the existing lease, bequeathed by the late Mr. John Hughes: an infants' school, capable of affording instruction to 100 children, has been lately established in connection with this school. Contiguous to the R. C. chapel are spacious school-rooms for 300 boys, who are instructed on the Lancasterian plan. The ladies of the Carmelite convent superintend a large female school, which receives an annual grant of £25 from the Board of National Education. An institution, called the College, for the preparation of candidates for the R. C. priesthood, has been converted into a private classical seminary, conducted by the Augustinian friars. In these schools are about 330 boys and 260 girls; and there are nine private schools, in which are about 300 pupils, and two Sunday schools. The charitable institutions are numerous. The Trinity hospital, founded by a bequest of Thos. Gregory, gent., and incorporated by Queen Elizabeth, consists of six houses in Priory-street for the accommodation of 14 poor women, each of whom has two rooms and an annual allowance of £18. 1. The Fever hospital, founded by the late H. Houghton, of Ballyane, Esq., and completed by bis widow in 1809, is built in an airy and commanding situation. The infirmary for chronic diseases was built by Grand Jury presentment in 1820. A dispensary is attached to the fever hospital, and the three institutions are under the management of a committee of 12 Protestants and 12 Catholics, of which the Protestant vicar of St. Mary's and the parish priest, being in right of their offices trustees to the bequest, are always members.

The funds arise from a rent-charge of £300 per ann. on the Ballyane estate, the bequest of the founder; £5 per ann. bequeathed by Mrs. Paul; one of four bridge debentures, value £20 per ann., by the late C. Tottenham, Esq.; two bridge debentures, value £10 per ann., by the late Misses Cliffe, of Bath; a Grand Jury presentment of about £400, and about £50 per ann. subscriptions: the average annual expenditure of the whole institution is £770. The vicar's almshouse provides lodging and sustenance for three poor Protestant widows from an endowment from the glebe of £5. 16. 10½. per ann., a legacy of £10 per ann. from C. Tottenham, Esq., and another of £5 per ann. from the late Lord Callen. The Lying-in hospital, founded in 1809, has accommodations for six patients; and a repository, opened in 1805 to supply poor married women during the period of their confinement with suitable comforts and attendance, is supported by the sale of ladies' work presented to the Society. An Industry Society, formed about ten years since, and aided by a contribution from the British and Irish Ladies' Society in London, gives employment to poor females chiefly in spinning and knitting. The Charitable Loan, instituted in 1809, for advancing sums of from one to five pounds, free of interest, to industrious tradesmen and artisans, has issued nearly 8000 loans without suffering any loss. The Leslie Comfort Loan, for the similar purpose of loans not to exceed one guinea each, arose from donations of £100 each from Col. Leslie and Wm. Wigram, Esq., to the corporation, on being elected, its representatives. A Dorcas society supported by the work of ladies., provides clothing for the poor, which is sold to them at a reduced price and payment received by small instalments. There is a savings' bank and a lending library kept in the building of the Friends of Education. A Temperance Society, said to be the first of these valuable institutions established in Europe, was founded in 1829, and owes much to the exertions of the Rev. G. W. Carr, well known in London and elsewhere as the eloquent advocate of these societies. A Bible Society was established here in 1804; and a second public library, called the Rumsey Lending Library, and consisting of religious books which are lent free of charge, was instituted by a grant of money to the Rev. G. W. Carr by Mrs. Rumsey, wife of Dr, Rumsey, of Amersham, Bucks. The bequests to the poor in general are £400 Irish in the 3½ per cents., from Archdeacon Curtis, of which ? is given to the poor of Old Ross and the remainder to those of New Ross; £10 per ann. Irish from Col. Earth. Elliott, to be equally divided among Protestants and Catholics; and £16. 0. 2. annually from Major Anthony Cliffe, to be distributed among the poor at Christmas.

The vestiges of ancient buildings or monuments are but few: the walls of a convent of Minorites, founded by Sir John Devereux on the site of the house of Crutched Friars destroyed by the people, were pulled down in 1732, with the exception of a large red pillar supposed to have been erected in commemoration of the former sanguinary act of the townsmen: in a garden on its site were found some ancient sepulchral stones sculptured with crosses, and bearing inscriptions in Norman French. The walls of the chancel and transepts of the old parish church, commonly called Christ- Church, and which was originally the conventual church of St. Saviour, are in a state of tolerable preservation, affording a good specimen of the style of the 13th century. Two of the five town gates are still standing: that on the north, called the Bishop's gate, retains proofs of its former magnificence; it had a portcullis, and the roof of the archway is very delicately groined: Priory or South gate has been lately taken down. The only other remains of the walls are a small fragment near the South gate, and part of an oval tower near the Three-Bullet gate: about a mile from the town, within the bounds of its liberties, but exempt from its jurisdiction, is a square tower or keep of moderate dimensions, the remains of Mountgarret castle, from which a branch of the noble family of Butler derives its title. In the town were also standing, within the memory of some of the present inhabitants, the ruins of a fortress called Mulgrave castle, from which the family of Phipps derives the title of Baron Mulgrave of New Ross. The town gives the title of Earl to the Parsons family.

from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.

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