ROSCREA, a market-town and post-town (formerly the seat of a diocese), and a parish, partly in the baronies of CLONLISK and BALLYBRIT, KING'S county, and province of LEINSTER, but chiefly in the barony of IKERRIN, county of TIPPERARY, and province of MUNSTER, 35 miles (N. E.) from Limerick, and 40 (S. W.) from Dublin, on the mail coach road to Limerick; containing 9096 inhabitants, of which number, 5512 are in the town. This place, of which the name, signifying a marshy situation, was descriptive of its early state, appears to have arisen from the foundation of a monastery here by St. Cronan, who flourished about the year 620, and was interred in the church. The establishment, which was for Canons Regular of the order of St. Augustine, was amply endowed, and soon became the seat of a small surrounding diocese; and the town had become a place of importance prior to the close of the ninth century. In 942, the Danes from Limerick and the west approached this place at the time of its great fair, which was frequented by merchants from all parts of the kingdom, and even from foreign parts; but the people, being apprised of their design, inarched out of the town to meet them, and after an obstinate conflict, in which more than 4000 of their men were slain, entirely defeated them and killed their leader. The town was destroyed by fire in 1133 and 1147; and was plundered by the inhabitants of the district of Cashel in 1153, and in the year following was again destroyed by fire.
During this century the ancient see of Roscrea was united to that of Killaloe, since which period there is no further notice of the abbey. In 1213, King John, with the consent of the Bishop of Killaloe, proprietor of the manor of Roscrea by the union of the sees, built a strong castle here to defend the town and neighbourhood against the incursions of Moriertach O'Brien, who had committed great devastations in this part of the country. The manor was, in 1280, given to Edw. I. by Matthew Hogan, Bishop of Killaloe, with the assent of his Dean and Chapter, in exchange for other lands in the county of Dublin: and in the following year it was granted by that monarch to Edmund Butler, afterwards Earl of Carrick, in whose family it remained till the reign of Wm. III., and by whom a strong castle was erected, of which a considerable part is still remaining. A Franciscan friary was founded here, in 1490, by Mulrany-na-Feasoige O'Carrol, or his wife Bribiana, which at the dissolution was granted to Thomas, Earl of Ormonde.
The town is situated on a small river which is tributary to the Brosna, and consists of several streets irregularly built, containing 663 houses, most of which are of indifferent appearance; the remains of its castles and ecclesiastical edifices, which were extensive and stately structures, with its ancient round tower, convey an idea of its former importance, and render it an interesting object as seen from the hills in the surrounding neighbourhood, which abounds with picturesque scenery.
The infantry barracks, formerly the mansion of the Darner family, are adapted for 7 officers and 106 noncommissioned officers and privates, with stabling for 4 horses. From its situation in the heart of a fertile district, the town carries on a brisk trade for the supply of the smaller towns in the neighbourhood, and is the principal mart for the agricultural and other produce of the surrounding country. The manufacture of coarse woollen cloths was established here in 1822, by Mr. Henry Buckley, and affords employment to about 100 persons; there are also three flour-mills, two breweries, and two tanneries, in full operation. The market days are Thursday and Saturday; and fairs are held on March 25th, May 7th, June 21st, Aug. 8th, Oct. 9th, and Nov. 29th, when vast quantities of cattle of all kinds and other farming stock are sold. The market-house is commodious, and there are also public shambles. A chief constabulary police force is stationed here; petty sessions are held every Monday, and a manorial court, in which debts to the amount of £10 Irish are recoverable, is held in the market-house every month before the seneschal. The bridewell contains 12 sleeping cells, 3 day-rooms, and two airing-yards, with a hall which is used also for a chapel.
The parish comprises 10,719 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, and valued at £7859 per ann.: the land is extremely fertile, and the system of agriculture greatly improved; limestone abounds and is quarried for agricultural purposes and for building, and there are extensive quarries of grit-stone. The seats are Juane, that of P. Jackson, Esq., situated in an extensive., highly cultivated, and richly planted demesne; and Mount Butler, the handsome and pleasant residence of Capt. Smith. Near the town but not within the parish, are Verdant Hill, the residence of the Rev. Mr. Townsend; Corville, of the Hon. F. Prittie; Golden Grove, of W. P. Vaughan, Esq.; Mount Heaton, of Mrs. Hutchinson; Mona Incha, of G. Birch, Esq.; Glen Albert, of Albert F. Maxwell, Esq.; Killavella, of F. Jackson, Esq.; the Grove, of Smith, Esq.; Ashbury, of Mrs. Bridge; Dungar Park, of Mrs. Evans; Laurel Hill, of S. Palmer, Esq.; Lowlands, of Mrs. Rollestone; and Mill Park, of Adam Acres, Esq. The living is a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Killaloe, episcopally united, in 1779, to the rectory and vicarage of Kyle, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £484. 12. 3¾. The glebe-house, towards the erection of which the late Board of First Fruits contributed a gift of £100 and a loan of £775, in 1812, is a good residence; the glebe comprises about 1¾ acre, and the gross income of the benefice amounts to £596. 6. 1¾. The church, towards the repair of which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have granted £160, is situated near the site of the ancient abbey, and was erected in 1812. In the R. C. divisions the parish is the head of a union or district, comprising also the parish of Kyle, and containing a chapel in each parish. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends and Primitive Methodists. About 260 children are taught in three public schools, of which one is supported by the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity and endowed with two acres of land by Lady Caroline Darner, who also contributed £300 for the erection of the school-house; and there are seven private schools, in which are about 200 children. A dispensary was established in 1809 by the late Drs.
Smith and Powell; and in 1830 the Earl of Portarlington gave a plot of land as a site and £50 towards the erection of a suitable building. A fever hospital and house of recovery was established by subscription in 1824; it contains four sick wards and two convalescent wards, and is capable of accommodating 32 sick and 24 convalescent patients. A cholera hospital was erected in 1832, which contains two wards and is capable of receiving 40 patients.
The only remains of the ancient abbey is the western gable, with an arched door now forming an entrance to the present churchyard; on each side of the arch are two flat niches, and above the doorway is a figure of the patron saint, Cronan, but much, mutilated. In the churchyard is part of a circular cross, which, with another stone now forming part of the wall, is called the shrine of St. Cronan, and is rudely sculptured with a representation of the Crucifixion and other figures. On the opposite side of the road, to the north-west of the old church, is an ancient round tower; it is about 80 feet high and in good preservation, and is covered with a dome roof of wood; around its base are two tiers of stone steps, and about 15 feet from the ground is a circular arched doorway, above which, at an elevation of 15 feet, is a pointed window. There are also some remains of the Culdee establishment of Mona Incha, where, from the time of St. Columba, who flourished early in the 6th century, and was the founder of that order, subsisted till the beginning of the 17th century a fraternity of monks remarkable for their learning and sanctity, who strenuously resisted the usurpations of the see of Rome, and are mentioned by Archbishop Ussher as existing in the earlier part of his time. In the north-western part of the town are the remains of the Franciscan friary, still in tolerable preservation; the tower of the ancient church forms the entrance to the R. C. chapel. In a street called the Mall is still standing a circular tower, forming a portion of the castle erected by King John, which has been recently roofed; and in the centre of the town, and in good preservation, is the lofty square castle built by the Ormond family, part of which has been appropriated as a depot for military stores for the use of the troops quartered in the barracks. St. Canice here wrote a copy of the four gospels, called Glass Kennic, or "the Chain of Canice", which till the time of Archbishop Ussher was preserved in the abbey of this place; there was also a curious copy written by Dimma, a scribe, the son of Aengus, son of Carthin, which was also kept there in a curiously ornamented box, and was most probably the manuscript in the possession of Sir William Betham, Ulster King at Arms. There is a chalybeate spring at Corville, near the town.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.