The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868
"COUNTY LAOIS, or QUEEN'S COUNTY, an inland county in the province of Leinster, Ireland, is bounded N. by King's County, E. by county Kildare, a detached portion of King's County and county Carlow, S. by county Kilkenny, and W. by county Tipperary and King's County. It lies between 52° 45' and 53° 13' N. lat., 6° 54' and 7° 47' W. long. Its greatest length from E. to W. is 37 miles, and from N. to S. 33 miles. Its area is 664 square miles, or 424,854 statute acres; of which 342,422 acres are arable, 69,289 acres uncultivated, 11,630 acres in plantations, 1,117 acres in towns, and 396 acres under water. The population in 1841 was 153,930, in 1851 it was 111,623, and in 1861 it had fallen to 90,650, or 137 to every square mile of the entire surface-little more than half of the number in 1841, when there were 232 to every square mile. The number of persons from this county who emigrated from Irish ports, stating it was not their intention to return, from the 1st May, 1851, to the 31st December, 1864, was 23,442, or nearly 16 per cent. of the population at the former dates. The number of inhabited houses in 1861 was 16,768, and of uninhabited 533. The poor-law valuation in 1851 was £223,299, and the general valuation in 1861 was £257,249. The county was anciently comprehended in the districts of Leix on the N. and E., and of Ossory on the W. The latter kingdom was of considerable importance, and its king took an active part in the war undertaken by Roderick O'Conor, King Paramount of Ireland, against Dermod MacMurrough, King of Leinster, which led to the invasion by Strongbow and the English, and his territories were repeatedly ravaged by the invaders. He subsequently made peace with the English, and managed to retain his independence.
Queen's County was at this time known as Glenmaleire and Leix, and the latter part was a county palatine, and was subsequently given to the youngest daughter of William Earl Marshal, on her marriage with William de Braosa, Lord of Brecknock. Their daughter married Roger Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore, and from this connection the royal family of England is descended. O'More, an Irish chieftain to whom, in the reign of Edward II., Mortimer had confided the management of his domain of Leix, took possession of it in his own behalf, and resisted all attempts to dislodge him. Meanwhile the Fitzpatricks, the chiefs of Ossory, succeeded in preserving their independence, and were generally friendly to the English. In the reign of Edward VI. Sir Edward Bellingham, the lord-deputy, re-annexed Leix to the English pale; and a rebellion in the reign of Mary having been successfully quelled, both districts were united, and named after the queen, the assize town being called Maryborough in her honour. A new rebellion in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign was crushed in 1599 by the Earl of Essex, and the O'Mores were annihilated by his successor, Lord Mountjoy. During the rebellion of 1641, this county was the scene of many struggles between the royalist troops and the insurgents under Roger More, head of the now reduced sect of the O'Mores; and in 1646 Owen Roe O'Neill held Maryborough and many other strongholds, but lost them in 1649 to the royalists under Ormond, who, in his turn, was obliged to surrender to the Cromwellian forces under Colonels Hewson and Reynolds. In the war of the revolution in 1688, William gained a decisive victory over the Irish near Cappard; and soon after a force of infantry and dragoons was stationed at Lea by request of the residents, to protect them from roving bands of rapparees who infested the country, since which time the county has been a military station. The county is for the most part flat or gently undulating. The greater portion is in the basin of the Barrow, but parts to the N. and W. incline to the Shannon. Extending through the county are a series of ridges or escarpments, which, having their rise near Athlone, cross King's County, and, entering near Mountmellick, run southwards past Maryborough in an almost unbroken line. They are principally formed of limestone and calcareous sandstone, varying in height from 12 to 45 feet, and are generally broad at the base and narrowed to a few feet at the top. The Dysart hills, in the S.E. of the county, lie between the villages of the Barrow and of the Nore, and relieve the monotony of the scenery. They are wholly composed of limestone, and consist generally of single elevations, of which the most striking are the Doon of Clopoke and the Rock of Dunamase. Towards the S. the Slievemargue hills separate this county from Kilkenny. The Slieve Bloom mountains, of the Old Red sandstone formation, occupy the north-western part, and form the boundary with King's County. Their summit rises 1,753 feet, and was popularly thought to be the most elevated point in the island, whence it obtained the name of Ard Errin, or "Height of Ireland." They are traversed by a narrow defile, called the Gap of Glendine, the only communication in this part with King's County. The central parts of the county abound in bogs, the Heath of Maryborough extending over 425 acres. The only rivers of importance are the Barrow and its tributary, the Nore. The former, rising in the Slieve Bloom mountains, flows across the N. of the county to Portarlington, and thence S. along the boundary, except where it enters Kildare at Monastereven and Athy, till its reaches Carlow. It is navigable for barges from Athy. The Nore has its source in the Slieve Bloom mountains in Tipperary. It enters Queen's County near Borris-in-Ossory, flowing eastward to Castletown, and then in a southerly direction till it reaches Kilkenny near Durrow. The lower Brosna, which is joined by the Clodagh, rises in the W. of the county, and flows across King's County into the Shannon near Banagher. Lough Annagh, the only lake of any importance, is on the northern boundary of the county. It is only 207 acres in extent, and does not exceed a mile in length. The Grand canal, entering the county at Portarlington, runs 12 miles southwards, and joins the Barrow just below Athy in Kildare. A branch of the canal, about 12 miles long, communicates with Mountmellick. The Great Southern and Western railway crosses the county in a north-easterly direction, and connects it with Limerick, Kilkenny, and Cork on the S., and Dublin on the N. The roads are numerous and well laid out, and are generally kept in good order. The principal portion of the county belongs to the limestone formation, which extends over most of Ireland. The Slieve Bloom mountains consist chiefly of sandstone, with thin beds of limestone and coal; and mica slate is found in the higher parts. One of the seven coalfields in Ireland commences in the Slievemargue Hills, and extends into Kilkenny and Carlow, and is extensively worked. The coal, which is of the anthracite quality, and unsuited for domestic purposes, is purchased by the maltsters and distillers of Kilkenny and the neighbourhood. Iron ore, copper, and manganese exist in small quantities, but are not worked. Potters' clay is found, and made into tiles, crocks, and other coarse earthenware. Slate and (in some places) marble are quarried; and near Mountmellick is found sandstone of soft texture, which is used for chimney-pieces and hearthstones. The climate is dry and salubrious. The occupations of the population are almost wholly agricultural. The soil is generally fertile, but in some parts, especially towards the N., it is light and unproductive, though capable of improvement. In the Slieve Bloom mountains, a yellow clay, and, in some parts, a strong red clay, produce good crows of oats and potatoes, but are often wet and spongy as well as rocky. The Dysart hills, and the plain from which they rise, consist of rich loam, and are good grazing grounds; and the lands on either side of the Barrow are rich and alluvial, and specially suited for pasturage. Bogs are to be found in many places, especially about Maryborough, and afford a valuable supply of turf for fuel or for manure. Pasturage predominates over tillage. In 1865 there were 148,391 acres under crop, of which 5,966 acres were devoted to wheat, 23,414 acres to bats, 22,905 to barley, bere, rye, vetches, and rape, 21,105 acres to potatoes, 15,987 to turnips, mangel-wurzel, beetroot, carrots, and other green crops, 422 acres to flair, and 68,593 to meadow and clover. 359 acres were left fallow or uncultivated, and 214,132 acres were under grazing land. Upon the several holdings there were 12,822 horses, 65,785 cattle, 97,132 sheep, and 29,818 pigs. The acreage under wheat in 1865 was not one-fourth of that in 1848, when 24,944 acres were sown, since which time the quantity gradually decreased, except during and immediately succeeding the Crimean war, when there was a temporary reaction. The large importations of foreign grain in later years will account for this change. The extent under oats in 1848 was 32,941 acres, or more than 40 per cent. over that of 1865, while that of barley, here, &c., was only 6,881 acres. That under turnips and other green crop increased from 10,262 acres in 1848 to 15,987 acres in 1865. Flax is still little grown, and only for domestic consumption. The cattle are generally of a very superior description, and have increased in numbers from 50,753 in 1848, the number of pigs increased from 16,571 in the same year, while sheep gradually declined from 198,208 in the same year to less than half that number in 1865. The value of live stock generally increased from £571,390 in 1851 to £661,611 in 1861. The average rent of land is 12s. per acre. The farm buildings and peasants' cottages are generally of a poor description. The farms are divided principally by hedgerows, but ditches and stone walls are occasionally met with. Dairies are numerous, and the butter is much esteemed; some cheese also is made. The woollen trade was formerly carried on to a considerable extent, and broadcloths were manufactured at Maryborough and Mountmellick, but the business is now very limited, and is confined to flannels, friezes, and coarse stuffs. There is also something done in weaving of linen and cotton. The religion of the county is principally Roman Catholic, 80,025 persons, or 88 per cent., having in 1861 belonged to that persuasion; 9,683, or 11 per cent., were members of the Established Church, and 942, or 1 per cent., were of other Christian denominations. Most of the county is in the united diocese of Ossory, Ferns, and Leighlin, of which Kilkenny is the episcopal seat, but it extends also into Kildare, which is joined with Dublin and Glandelagh. It belongs to the Roman Catholic dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin, with Carlow as the episcopal residence, and of Ossory, with Kilkenny as the cathedral town. It is divided for civil purposes into 11 baronies, Ballyadams, Clandonagh, Clarmallagh, Cullenagh, Maryborough, East and West, Portnahinch, Slievemargy, Stradbally, Tinnahinch, and Upperwoods, and containing 63 parishes. The chief towns are Maryborough, Mountmellick, Mountrath, Abbeyleix, and part of Portarlington, the rest of which is in King's County; also the market towns of Ballinakill, Durrow, and Stradbally. The county returns three members to parliament, two for the county at large-constituency in 1863, 3,554, and one for the borough of Portarlington-constituency 99. It is in the Dublin, or northern military district; and there is a barrack station at Maryborough, in which town the assizes are held. The county town is in the home circuit. It is governed by a lieutenant and custos, high sheriff, 17 deputy - lieutenants, and about 85 magistrates. The county gaol, county infirmary, and the district lunatic asylum for King's and Queen's counties are at Maryborough. In 1861 there were 83 National schools within the county, besides 39 under the Church Education Society and other societies, and 14 private schools, in which a course of primary instruction was imparted, and there were 19 other schools in which one or more foreign languages were taught. The standard of education has been steadily raised since 1841, when only 33 per cent. of the population over five years of age could read and write, 26 per cent. could read only, and 41 per cent. could neither read nor write. The per-centage in 1851 of those who could read and write had increased to 37, and that of persons who could read only, and who could neither read nor write, had fallen to 25 and 38 respectively. In 1861 46 per cent. of those above five years of age could read and write, 23 per cent. could read only, and the per-centage of persons wholly ignorant had fallen to 31. The principal seats are, Emo Park, Earl of Portarlington; Abbeyleix, Viscount de Vesci; Durrow, Viscount Ashbrook; Rathleague, Lord Congleton; Bally fin, Sir Charles Coote; Lisduff, J. W. Fitzpatrick; Indiaville, Des Voeux; Bellegrove, Adair; Stradbally, Cosby; Cremorgan, Moore; Cooperhill, Cooper;. Dunmore, Staples; besides many other private residences. The chief antiquities are, a cromlech and rath at Gracefield; a round tower, almost perfect, at Timahoe, near the ruins of a monastery; the remains of two others at Killeshin and Rosenalis; several tumuli around Mountmellick; a rath and the ruins of an abbey at Aghaboe; of a priory at Aghmacart; and of a monastery at Rathapick. There are also the remains of many old fortresses amongst which are Lea Castle, near Portarlington; the strongholds of the Fitzpatricks at Castletown and Borris-in-Ossory; Castlecuff, in Timehinch, built in 1641 by Sir Charles Coote; and a castle of Earl Strongbow on the rock of Dunamose, about four miles from Maryborough. These last named stand on the top of a single elevation, which projects from the more lofty range of the Dysart hills. They were formerly of great strength and of considerable importance, and were the scene of many acts of bloodshed. The castle was at length destroyed by Cromwell's army, but the remains are yet very extensive, and are among the most remarkable military rams in Ireland."
[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2018