The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"COUNTY WESTMEATH, an inland county in the province of Leinster, Ireland, is bounded N. by the counties of Longford, Cavan, and Meath, E. by the county of Meath, S. by King's County, and W. by Roscommon and Longford. It lies between 53° 8' and 53° 48' N. lat., 6° 54' and 7° 55' W. long. Its extreme length from E.N.E. to W.S.W. is 36 miles, and its greatest breadth at right angles to that line is 2 miles. Its area is 708 square miles, or 463,468 acres, of which 365,218 are arable, 56,392 are uncultivated, 8,803 in plantations, 628 in towns, and 22,427 under water. The population in 1841 was 141,300, in 1851 it was 111,407, and in 1861 it was 90,879, or only 64 per cent, of the population in 1841. In 1861, 16,589 houses were inhabited, 435 were uninhabited, and 39 in course of construction. The Poor-law valuation in 1851 was £257,551, and the general valuation in 1861 was £314,544. The number of persons from this county who emigrated from Irish ports with the expressed intention of not returning between May, 1851, and December, 1865, was 24,456, or 22 per cent. of the population at the former date. The county formed the western division of the kingdom of Meath, to which Longford also belonged. During the occupation of the country by the Danes it suffered severely, and was the scene of civil contentions. It was granted by Henry II. to Hugh de Lacy, who had assisted to reduce it, and was by him divided amongst his followers. The Irish made repeated attempts to recover their patrimony, but without success. " 

The separation from Meath, or East Meath, took place under Henry VIII., but it was not till Elizabeth's reign that the county of Longford was formed. The very central position of this county probably contributed to keep it comparatively unaffected by the disturbances which were so general through Ireland in the years succeeding 1641, in 1690, and in 1798. The surface is principally a luxuriant plain, varied by undulating swells, gravelly ridges, and a few low hills; there are no mountains, the greatest elevation being only 849 feet. A few patches of bog are found in the S. and E., and some extensive lakes in the N.W. and centre. Lough Rea, an expansion of the Shannon river, is the largest of these, and contains some islets upon which are found traces of abbeys or monasteries. Loughs Sheelin and Kinnail occupy the most northerly point of the county, and in the interior are Loughs Deveragh, Iron, Hoyle, and Ennel, with others. Most of these are connected by small streams, which at length, mingled with the waters of the Brosna and the Inny, make their way to the Shannon. The centre and W. of the county belong to the basin of this river; the eastern to that of the Boyne, and is drained by several small tributaries. The county is diversified only by its lakes, affording a great contrast to the wild mountain scenery of Wicklow and Kerry. The Midland Great Western railway passes through the county from E. to W., and communicates with Dublin and Galway, with branch lines from Mullingar to Sligo, and to Clones and the N., and the Tullamore branch of the Great Southern and Western line affords easy access to the S. The principal roads are those from Dublin to Longford, Granard, and Athlone respectively; branches from these lead to the other portions of the county. The Shannon is navigable through its entire course to the sea, and steamers ply on it daily between Athlone and Limerick. The Royal canal, connecting Dublin with the Shannon navigation at Termonbarry, crosses the county from E. to N.W., passing near Killucan and Mullingar, and there is a branch from the Grand canal between Philipstown and Tullamore to Kilbeggan in this cotnty. This county presents less variety in its geological features than any other in Ireland, and excels all othErs in the aggregate wealth of the prevailing substrata. It belongs wholly to the central carboniferous district. It is principally of the calp, or black shale series, consisting of impure black argillaceous limestone, alternating with black shale, containing balls of clay and ironstone. The hillocky ridges which are scattered through the county are accumulations of limestone gravel. There are two small districts in the neighbourhood of Moate oF yellow sandstone formation, but these are attributed to the same period as the carboniferous limestone, of which series they constitute the lowest members.

Being an inland county, with few lofty hills, it is not subject to extremes of heat and cold, and the rainfall is not excessive. The soil in the eastern parts is a rich loam, from 7 to 12 inches in depth, resting on a yellow till, producing fine pastures. The central and northern districts are hilly, but large numbers of sheep and black cattle are fed on it. The soil in the western parts is interspersed with bog, but it produces potatoes, oats, and flax. Horses are extensively reared to supply the Dublin and English markets, and large numbers of pigs are kept. Dairies are numerous, and a small quantity of cheese is made. Wheat and barley are very little grown; the principal crops are oats and potatoes. In 1865, 115,177 acres, or 32 per cent. of the arable land was under crops. Of this extent only 1,196 acres were under wheat, and 668 under barley, here, and rye, 38,660 under oats, 16,548 of potatoes, 6,619 of turnips, 1,301 of other green crops, 342 of flax, and 50,943 of meadow and clover. There were only three counties in Ireland, of which a large proportion of the entire area was grass, exclusive of meadow and clover-viz:, Meath, Limerick, and Fermanagh. In 1863 there were on 11,943 holdings 13,481 horses, 4,192 mules and asses, 79,312 cattle, 132,428 sheep, 15,634 pigs, 4,405 goats, 218,503 poultry, of the estimated value of £792,132. The peasantry are intelligent, and readily adopt improved systems of farming. Their houses are small, but neatly kept. Of 17,526 families in 1861, 7,334 were returned as engaged in agriculture, 2,736 at some manufactures or trades, and 7,455 were employed at other pursuits. Flour and meal are manufactured in large quantities, and there are two woollen factories containing 1,692 spindles, and 25 where about 120 persons are employed.

The county belongs chiefly to the diocese of Meath, but also to that of Ardagh, which is united to the sees of Kilmore and Elphin. In the Roman Catholic distribution it is in the diocese of Meath, and the joint diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. Of the population in 1861, 6,336, or 7.0 per cent., were members of the Established church; 83,749, or 92.1 per cent., were Roman Catholics; and 794, or 0.9 per cent., belonged to other denominations. The county returns three members to parliament, two for the county at large, constituency 3,568 in 1865, and one for Athlone burgh, constituency 219. It is divided into 12 baronies -Brawny, Clonlonan, Corkaree, Delvin, Farbill, Fartullagh, Fore, Kilkenny West, Moyashel and Magheradernan, Moycashel, Moygoish, and Rathconrath, and contains 63 parishes. Its government is intrusted to a lieutenant and custos, a vice-lieutenant, a deputy-custos, a high sheriff, 18 deputy-lieutenants, 2 resident and about 121 local magistrates. It is in the home circuit, and the assizes are held at Mullingar. Quarter sessions are held there, and at Moate and Delvin, and petty sessions at 16 places. The county gaol, county infirmary, and district lunatic asylum, are at Mullingar, and there is a bridewell at Moate. The county is in the military district of Dublin, and there is a barrack station at Mullingar. Fairs are held in 40 places, and there are 9 market towns. The Poor-law Unions are Athlone, Delvin, and Mullingar, containing 16 dispensary districts. In 1861 there were 110 National schools, 30 schools under the church education and other societies, and 27 private schools, in which primary education was given, and there were 7 superior schools in which the course of instruction included at least one foreign language. In that year 38 per cent. of the population over five years of age were wholly ignorant, 21 per cent. could read only, and 41 per cent. could read and write. In 1841 the percentages were 52, 22, and 26 respectively. In 1863 there were 124 National schools, attended by 6,422 males and 7,122 females. The principal seats in the country are Pakenham Hall, Earl of Longford; Rosmeade, Lord Vaux of Harrowden; Moydrum Castle, Lord Castlemaine; Gaulstown Park, Lord Kilmaine; Knockdrin Castle, Levinge, Bart.; Killua Castle, Chapman, Bart.; Rochfort, Hopkins, Bart.; Donore, Nugent, Bart.; Ballinlough, Nugent, Bart.; with numerous mansions of the resident gentry. The chief antiquities are Druidical remains at Castletown Geoghegan, ancient forts at Kilbeggan, Rathconrath, and Turgesius, and the ruins of abbeys and castles in many places, including some castles of the De Lacys. One of them, called Sonnagh Castle, is situated upon the edge of a small lake. Westmeath gives the title of Marquis to the Nugent family.

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2018