"LONGFORD, an inland county of the province of Leinster, Ireland, lying between 53° 29' and 53° 56' N. lat., and between 7° 19' and 7° 56' W. long. It is bounded on the N. by the counties of Leitrim and Cavan, on the E. and S. by the county of Westmeath, and on the W. by the county of Roscommon. Its greatest length from N. to S. is 29 miles, and its greatest breadth from E. to W. 22 miles, comprising an area of 420 square miles, or 269,409 acres, of which 191,823 are arable, 58,937 uncultivated, 4,610 in plantations, 13,675 under water, and 364 in towns and roads. In ancient times it formed part of the native kingdom of Meath, and as such was included in the grant made by Henry II. to Hugh de Lacy, who built castles and planted a colony of English, represented by the Tuite and Delamere families; but the O'Farrels held the chief power till the time of Elizabeth. In the 11th year of that reign, Sir Henry Sidney, then Lord Deputy, constituted it a separate county, under the name of Longford, from its chief town; and in the 29th year of the same reign, Faghan O'Farrel, the prince of Annuly, made a formal surrender of his territory to the queen, and next year obtained a re-grant, subject to the jurisdiction of the English law. In 1615, a commission was appointed by James I. to inquire into his title to the territory, and upwards of 17,904 acres were seized to the king's use by virtue of the Act of Absentees, and disposed of to patentees. The plantation did not take effect to any great extent; and when the civil war commenced in 1641, the entire county appears to have been in the possession of the O'Farrels, except Longford Castle and Castle Forbes, both of which were then besieged and taken by the Irish for the O'Farrels.
But the ultimate triumph of Cromwell's forces entirely reversed the fate of the country, and the O'Farrels lost both their property and influence. The confiscation which ensued extended over nearly the entire county, and introduced a new proprietary, most of whom were of English descent. The population in 1851 was 85,350, and, in 1861, 71,694, and the net annual value of property in the county under the Tenement Valuation Act, is £151,598. The surface is for the most part fiat, and, in many places, overspread with large tracts of bog. Towards the N., where Longford borders on the county of Leitrim, it rises into bleak and sterile mountains; but towards the S., it is much more fertile and well cultivated, especially in the valley of the Inny. In the S. the only considerable eminence is Slieve Gauldry, which rises to the height of 650 feet, and consists of a mass of sandstone, resting upon a stratum of stratified limestone, which constitutes the prevailing formation of the southern portion of the county and the tract in the north-eastern part of it. The hilly district in the N.W. is chiefly clay slate, of the graywacke formation, so prevalent in the adjoining county of Cavan. The principal range of hills is the Clonhugh, which extends for about 10 miles in a south-westerly direction, attaining an altitude of 912 feet at Cairn Clonhugh. The line of division between the limestone and clay-slate proceeds from the Camlin river, near Longford, by St. Johnstown, between Lough Kinale and Lough Gownagh, to the head of Lough Sheelin. To the W. of the clay-slate formation in the north-western extremity of the county, is a considerable tract of sandstone, which stretches on both sides of the Shannon into the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim. Marly clay in beds, from 1 foot to 10 feet thick, underlies many of the boggy tracts, which are of great extent, and have an average depth of 30 feet. In these bogs the scented myrtle, and many rare species of plants, are found, particularly in the barony of Longford. Near Ballymahon, a marble of a deep grey colour is raised, and near Lough Gownagh is a small tract of millstone grit. The only mineral treasures at present discovered are lead ore and ironstone rock. This latter, mixed with coal shale, is abundant in the vicinity of Lough Gownagh and Benlaghy, not in thin layers like those of the Arigna district, but regular in formation and of a deep red colour. No systematic attempts have, however, yet been made to work either of these minerals; ochres of various colours are common. Notwithstanding the abundance of limestone, sandstone, and gravel, pure water is rather scarce and the streams few. The whole drainage of the county, except a few streams that fall into Lough Gownagh, is towards the Shannon. This noble river connects the county with the important line of navigation, extending from Lough Allen to the city of Limerick; and, by another line, through Longford, with the city of Dublin. On first entering the county, the Shannon expands into Lough Forbes, about 3 miles long by 1½ mile broad, and here receives the waters of the Rhinn flowing out of Leitrim; about 2 miles farther on it receives the waters of the Camlin, which rises near the eastern boundary of the county, and pursues a winding course of 20 miles towards the W. After passing the county town, it receives the waters of the Keenagh and another stream from the S.; then those of the Fallen and Ownamount, two insignificant streams. The Shannon then expands into the extensive lake of Lough Ree, the banks of which are diversified by deep bays, rugged headlands, and numerous islands. At this point it is joined by the Inny, which flows through a rich country in a winding course by Ballymahon, and forms part of the southern boundary of the county. Few rivers present so many facilities for water carriage as the Inny, the total fall from Fines, to the Shannon being only 90 feet, and the main obstructions to its navigation the two shallows between the Shannon and Ballymahon, and the ridge of rocks between the latter and Newcastle. The waters of Lough Ree, swollen by numerous streams in winter, rise to an average height of 7 feet above the summer level, and inundate the country to a wide extent on its banks. The islands of this lake are numerous, and some of them large: those within the county of Longford are All Saints, Inchban, Inns-bofin, Innisdoran, Inchynough, and Quakers' Island. Besides the loughs already mentioned, many smaller lakes diversify the surface of the county, as Loughs Gownagh and Kinale, between this county and Cavan; also, Loughs Bon, Bonnow, Drum, Derry, Drumurry, Doogary, Gurteen, Tully, and Glin. The Royal Canal passes through the county in a westerly direction, entering from Westmeath by an aqueduct over the Inny, near Tinellick, and joins the Shannon at Richmond Harbour, in its course having sent out a branch northwards to the town of Longford. Two branches of the Midland Great Western railway pass through the county from Mullingar to Longford and Cavan. The roads are numerous and well made, but are in general wet, owing to the watercourses being neglected. The soil varies very considerably both in quality and composition, being in parts a light thin mould, in others a deep loamy clay, alternating with bog and marl, while the best lands in the south are a rich vegetable mould, resting on blue clay or limestone gravel. Large tracts in the north are still in a state of nature, and are of little value except as sheep walks, while the rich lands of the south, especially in the barony of Granard, produce herbage of the finest quality for grazing, and the high lands between Edgeworthstown and Longford yield heavy grain crops. The climate, however, of this part of Ireland being mild and damp, is, on the whole, better adapted for pastures and green-crops, and, under a better system of drainage, would rank with the best grazing lands in the kingdom. The lower grounds, which are chiefly in pasture, produce great varieties of acidulous plants, occasioned by the overflowing of the rivers and by the accumulation of the surface waters, which have at present no sufficient outlets. The occupations are tillage and grazing, chiefly the latter. A few manufactures only, as linen cloth, linen yarn, flannels, friezes, and coarse woollens, are carried on chiefly for domestic consumption. The county returns two members to the Imperial Parliament, and had a constituency in 1859 of 2,869. It is in Ardagh diocese, with a small portion in Meath. It is divided into 6 baronies, Ardagh, Granard, Longford, Moydow, Rathcline, and Shrule, comprising 26 parishes. The principal towns are Longford, the county town, where the Assizes are held, and where are the county prison and county infirmary, with a population in 1861, of 4,535, Granard with a population of 1,665, and Ballymahon,-at all these quarter sessions are held, and each is the seat of a Poor-law Union. The county is within the N.W. circuit, and forms part of the military district of Dublin, where are barracks for cavalry and military. The constabulary force has its headquarters at Longford, but the staff of the county militia is stationed at Newtown-Forbes. Fossil remains of many extinct animals have been discovered in the limestone caverns and fissures; also, bones and horns of the elk and red deer in the marl at the foot of the Escars, and beneath several of the bogs. The remains of antiquity are very few. A large rath, usually called the Moat of Granard, stands at one end of the main street of that town; another, called Lisardowlin, situate near the road from Longford to Edgeworthstown, was probably connected with the rampart of Dunela, which runs from Lough Kinale to Lough Gownagh, about 8 miles, and is supposed to have formed part of the division between the ancient kingdoms of Meath and Ulster. Monastic institutions were numerous and well endowed; the Abbey of Longford is said to have been originally founded by St. Patrick, and was afterwards rebuilt by O'Farrel, Prince of Annaly, in 1400. There were also abbeys, or priories, at Abbeyshrule, Ardagh, Clone, Clonebrone, Dery, Druimchei, Granard, where are ruins of a round tower, Killinmore, Lesha, or Laragh, and Moydow, besides those of the Islands of Innismore, a foundation of St. Columba's in Lough Gownagh; Innisbofin, founded by a nephew of St. Patrick, about 530, in Lough Ree, Inniscloran, or Inch-Clorin, also in Lough Ree, on which are the ruins of seven churches and a round tower, and I All Saints' monastery, founded by St. Kieran in 544. Ruins of all the above remain, but of the priories at Ballynasaggard, Kilglass, and St. Johnstown, no vestiges can now be found. At Lanesborough are the ruins of a preceptory of the Knights Templars. A few castles are still partially standing; the most interesting are Granard Castle, built on the summit of a lofty hill, and commanding an extensive view over the level country; Castle-Forbes, the strongly-fortified seat of the Forbes family; Ballymahon, erected to defend the ford of the Inny, of which the vaults only remain; Rathcline, the chief residence of the O'Cuins; Barnacor and Lot's Castles, on the opposite banks of the Inny; Tenellick, a very strong castle, of which there are considerable ruins."
[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2018