1st January 1837
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A snapshot of pre-famine local history, as described in the "Topographical Dictionary of Ireland" by Samuel Lewis, 1837. (The information collected here was submitted by members of the local gentry and clergy of the time).

KILKENNY (County of), an inland county, in the western part of the province of Leinster, bounded on the east by the counties of Carlow and Wexford, on the north by the Queen’s county, on the west by the county of Tipperary, and on the south by the county of Waterford.

  • It extends from 52º 14’ to 52º 51’ (N. Lat.), and from 6º 56’ to 7º 38’ ( W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 536,686 statute acres, of which 417,117 are cultivated land, and 96,569 bog and mountain.
  • The population, in 1821, was 158,716; and in 1831, 169,945.


According to Ptolemy, this county was originally inhabited by the Brigantes and the Caucoi, and it afterwards formed part of the kingdom of Ossory.

  • The name of Uisraigagh, modernized into Ossory, is supposed to be expressive of its local situation, being compounded of the Gaelic words uisge, “water,” and rioghachd, “kingdom,” as lying between the rivers.
  • The portion between the Nore and Barrow is sometimes excluded from the kingdom of Ossory, and was anciently styled Hy Creoghain Gabhran; the southern part of the county was sometimes called Comor na tri uisge, “the high district of the three waters.”
  • The countries of Ely OCarrol and Hy Carthin comprised some of the north-western portion of this county. This kingdom was sometimes tributary to Leinster , and sometimes to Munster. After the arrival of the English, it formed one of the counties into which King John divided the portion of the island that acknowledged his sovereignty.

At the commencement of the reign of James I., it was chiefly occupied by the Graces, the O’Brenans, the Wandesfords, the Butlers , the O’Sheas, the Rooths, the Harpurs, the Walshes of the mountains, and the Shortals.


This County is partly in the diocese and province of Cashel, and partly in the diocese of Leighlin, but chiefly in and comprehending the greater part of the diocese of Ossory, in the province of Dublin.

For purposes of civil jurisdiction, it is divided into the baronies of Gowran, Ida, Fassadineen, Kells, Galmoy, Cranagh, Iverk, Knocktopher, and Shillelogher.

It contains

READ MORE: Kilkenny City in the 1830s


Prior to the Union this county sent twelve members to the Irish parliament, two knights of the shire, and two representatives for each of the boroughs of Callan, Gowran, Thomastown, Knocktopher, and Innistiogue: but since that period its representation has been confined to the two members for the county at large. The constituency, as registered at the summer assize of 1836, consists of 266 £50, 108 £20, and 864 £10 freeholders; 27 £50, 12 £20, and 189 £10 leaseholders; and 5 £50 and 6 £20 rent-chargers: making a total of 1477 voters. The election takes place at Kilkenny. It is included in the Leinster circuit: the assizes are held at Kilkenny; and the general quarter sessions at Kilkenny, Castlecomer, and Thomastown.

  • The county court-house and the county gaol are in Kilkenny, and there is a bridewell at Thomastown. The number of persons charged with criminal offences and committed to the prisons, in 1835, was 574, and of civil bill committals, 21. The local government is vested in a lieutenant and 17 deputy lieutenants, of whom 13 are county magistrates, and there are also 105 other magistrates; besides whom there are the usual county officers, including two coroners.
  • There are 50 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of one stipendiary magistrate, 10 chief and 51 subordinate constables, and 341 men, with 22 horses, the expense of maintaining which is defrayed equally by Grand Jury presentments and by Government. There are 30 stations of the peace preservation police, consisting of two magistrates, 3 chief and 18 subordinate constables, and 112 men, with 2 horses, maintained at an expense, in 1835, of £6963.
  • The county infirmary and fever hospital are at Kilkenny, and there are also fever hospitals at Freshford, Kells, Kilmaganny, and Rossbercon, and dispensaries at Kilkenny, Castlecomer, Ballyragget, Graig, Freshford, Kilmanagh, Knocktopher, Kilmaganny, Thomastown, Ida, Kells and Stonyford, Gowran, Callan, Durrow, Johnstown, Kilmacow, Urlingford, Whitechurch, and Innistiogue, maintained by equal subscriptions and Grand Jury presentments.
  • The amount of the Grand Jury presentments, for 1835, was £29,793. 14. 8½., of which £2603. 11. 6. was for the public roads of the county at large; £5907. 19. 1. for the public roads, being the baronial charge; £2387. 6. 9. in repayment of loans advanced by Government; £7609. 19. 1. for officers’ salaries, public establishments, &c.; and £11,284. 18. 3½. for the police.
  • In the military arrangements, this county is included in the eastern district.


An argillaceous soil may be considered as predominant throughout the county, within the limits of which there is very little ground unfit for tillage, or which does not form good meadow or pasture. The northern part consists chiefly of a moory turf, a few inches deep, incumbent on a bed of stiff yellow or whitish clay, which is the worst soil in the county, and the only kind liable to be injured by surface water.

More southerly, the soil is in general light, covering an argillaceous schistous. The northern part of the barony of Gowran is similar in quality until its hills subside into a rich plain covered by good loam of various kinds. An excellent soil for the growth of wheat pervades the southern part of this barony from the Barrow to the Nore; its western portion consists of low hills or gently sloping grounds of good soil, dry, and sometimes deep, but diminishing in quality as it approaches the latter of those rivers.

That to the west of the Nore, below the city of Kilkenny, is a clayey loam immediately over a bed of limestone. In general, the nearer the limestone is to the surface, the poorer the soil; but as this kind of ground, along the banks of the river, produces close and green herbage, and is extremely dry, it seems calculated by nature to form the best kind of sheepwalks.

A light soil appears all round the city of Kilkenny, frequently rising into hills of sand and gravel. Along the banks of the Nore, northwards, good meadow ground is found, apparently formed by aquatic depositions: some of it consists of a deep blackish loam, apparently the produce of decayed vegetables, and inducing the inference that the Nore, formerly obstructed by rocks or other natural impediments which the impetuosity of its water had ultimately broken down, was once an expansive lake, whose edges may still be traced round the flat plain inclining towards Freshford. Achadh-ur, or “the Field of Water,” the old name for Freshford, strengthens this conclusion.

The north-western portion of the county is chiefly occupied by hills, the soil of which, though not deep, is of good quality and productive of fine herbage. From the whitish appearance of these calcareous hills, the district was probably called Geal-Magh, “the white field,” corrupted into Galmoy.

The country declines north-wards into a varied plain of still better soil, until it is bounded by a branch of the Bog of Allen: the western part, with a varied surface and a limestone bottom, possesses all the gradations between a stiff, yet rich, clayey soil and a light gravel. Proceeding southwards, the fertility of the land increases as it approaches the Suir, on the margin of which is some of the richest and deepest ground in the county.

Some parts of this southern district consist of low hills covered by a light dry soil, producing good crops; and, as the soil has a large proportion of argill, it is peculiarly productive on the application of calcareous manure. There is a considerable extent of mountain land in the county, much of which is unimproved: all the hills, when they rise a little above the calcareous districts, incline to a moory surface, and when neglected produce little but heath.

The quantity of peat is inconsiderable; by far the largest tract, amounting to 1000 acres, is in the north-western extremity: several small tracts, from 30 to 50 acres each, are scattered in various parts; the whole may be estimated at about 1500 acres, not including mountain ground, the surface of which is often stripped for fuel.

A bed of marl has been found in a bog between two strata of black peat; also three strata of bog separated by alternate beds of indifferent marl. Some of the lesser bogs may be cut to a depth of 20 feet: considerable quantities of oak, fir, and birch are found in them. A stratum of bog has been found 33 feet beneath the surface, covered with the following strata; —vegetable mould, 3 feet ; marl with black stones, 15 feet; yellow clay and hard gravel, 15 feet.


There are no loughs of any extent: in the parish of Cloghmanta are some small lakes, here called Loughans, which are formed by the surface water in winter. The best land in the county, most of which has a limestone bottom, is applied to the growth of wheat which is the predominant crop. Barley is usually sown after it: here is not in general cultivation.

Oats are cultivated in all parts of the county: the species most commonly used is the Irish, a hardy but small grain, which does not shed easily. Rye, which is but little cultivated, is usually sown on land that has been pared and burned and produces fine crops on mountainous ground. Potatoes are everywhere grown, and all the manure of the county is applied in their culture; but the most approved is that from the farmyard, though the sweepings of the streets of Kilkenny are purchased at a high price, and other manures consist of composts of various kinds; lime only is sometimes used.

In the barony of Iverk, and everywhere within reach of the coast, or of the Suir, sea-wrack and sand are generally used. Green crops are very rare, being cultivated only by some of the principal gentry and a few wealthy farmers. Manure is seldom used for any but the potatoe crop: when exhausted by repeated tillage, the land is too frequently left to recruit itself by a natural process; grass and clover seeds are, however, sometimes sown, and the advantages are beginning to be appreciated.

In the best-cultivated parts of the county about one-third of the ground is under tillage, but in the hilly parts the proportion is much less. The use of green food for any species of stock is almost unknown to common farmers: many of the cattle graze abroad the whole winter, but some are housed from Christmas to April.

In the Walsh mountains grass is kept for the cattle, into which they are turned in the winter without hay, straw, or shelter. The only green food used in winter is furze tops pounded, which are commonly given to horses, and sometimes to black cattle: the former become fat, sleek, and fine, skinned on this food: the sort preferred is the large French furze, but the small Irish furze will serve.

The stalks of potatoes, dug when green, are given to cattle: sheep are remarkably fond of them, and particularly of the apples, which fatten greatly. The Jerusalem artichoke has also been used successfully as food for sheep. Less attention seems to be paid to pasture than to other agricultural objects, being, in the tillage districts, such fields as will no longer bear corn, let out without any seeds.

The mountain pastures are left in a state of nature, unenclosed and unimproved. Sheep are banished from many places for want of fences, and the land seems to be applied to no purpose, being left to the spontaneous growth of heath. These heaths are very liable to take fire in dry summers by accidental circumstances, and cause some damage: the fire, however, eventually improves the surface, when not too intense, and sometimes is kindled for that purpose.

That the hilly tracts are capable of being improved by culture is testified by the aspect of the small enclosures near mountain villages, where the natural grass by a little shelter and manure becomes surprisingly green. Improvement is not much impeded by rights of common, as there are few persons to assert such rights, if they exist, and landlords seem to have an undisputed authority in partitioning lands, which, though grazed in Common, confer no legal claim on the occupier.

Irrigation is but little attended to, although, where it has been practised judiciously, it has been found very advantageous. There is a considerable portion of land, bordering both on the Suir and the Nore, which is embanked and chiefly used for meadows: the most remarkable is in the parish of Roer, where the embankment is about two miles long; some of it is pastured, and was formerly tilled, but the greater part is constantly kept in meadow: it is intersected by open drains communicating with a main drain connected with the river by sluices.

Besides this district, the most extensive dairies are in the barony of Iverk and principally around the Walsh mountains: this tract has a good depth of soil, much inclined to grass. So late as the close of the last century, the principal family residing in it consisted of five branches, holding among them more than 2000 acres; they retained a remarkable degree of clanship, by constantly intermarrying, and were very comfortable and hospitable.

But from the practice of subdividing the land amongst their descendants, the farms have become very small and the occupiers poorer. The land, however, is much improved: the chief crops are oats and potatoes, and great numbers of cattle and pigs are bred here. The milch cows are principally fed on potatoes during the summer, and the butter is of a superior quality, and brings a good price both at Waterford and Kilkenny, whence it is exported to England.

The pigs are mostly fed with buttermilk and potatoes and grow to a large size: vast numbers are annually shipped for England, and during the season the provision merchants of Kilkenny and Waterford obtain a large supply from the barony of Iverk. Throughout the whole of that part of the barony which is not immediately adjacent to the city of Waterford, the population is more or less connected by ties of consanguinity, rarely marrying out of their own district.

Limestone to a great extent is burned for manure; and limestone sand and gravel, raised from the numerous escars and screened, were formerly esteemed nearly as efficacious as lime, and are still frequently employed when found at a distance from limestone rocks. Before the practice of burning lime became general, they formed the principal manures, for which reason large excavations are to be found whence these substances were raised: the most remarkable is in the barony of Iverk, where, from the magnitude of the old excavations, they have been in use probably for a thousand years.

A manure somewhat similar is used, under the name of Kilmacow sand, for hilly ground: it is carried up the Nore to Innistiogue, and thence drawn for some miles up the hills. Marl is found in great quantities in different parts, generally mixed with fragments of limestone; but, in consequence of the higher estimation in which lime is held, it is not in general use.

River sand, raised below Ross, is more extensively used than marl. At the edge of the river, near Ringville, black mud, containing the decayed remains of vegetables, is raised, and proves an excellent manure for light ground; some sand is also taken up, containing thin broken shells of a species of tellina; the earth of old ditches and from boggy ground is often mixed with it.

A compost of lime and earth is common as a top dressing; and the scrapings of roads, and furze, fern and straw, spread on lanes and other thoroughfares, are also used. Burning was the usual way of bringing land into tillage, and was encouraged by many landlords under particular restrictions, but is now generally discountenanced, as the carbon and all volatile particles are dissipated by the fire.

The use of oxen in the plough seems to be rather increasing, though the proportion is very small in comparison with horses. The native horses are lively, active, hardy, and well adapted to the uses of the farmer: few are bred in the county; of English breeds the Suffolk is most in request.

The attention paid to the breeding of cattle is inferior to that of the adjoining counties of Carlow and Waterford, and some parts of Tipperary: the common breed is a cross between the old Irish and Lancashire, and some districts have the old native cow. Some noblemen and gentlemen have a superior kind, being a cross between the Irish and Durham; and crosses between the Irish and Devon and Ayrshire and Durham breeds appear to suit both the soil and climate.

But those that attain the largest size are a cross between the Limerick and Durham, which fatten speedily and weigh well. The little Kerry cow is much sought after in some of the dairy districts, in which it improves much, and when crossed with the Ayrshire is very profitable to the small farmer.

The breed of sheep is generally little improved; the New Leicester and Ayrshire breeds are found in the lawns and demesnes of some gentlemen, but are comparatively few in number.

Pigs have been greatly improved by the introduction of the Berkshire and other superior breeds. In all the minor departments of rural economy, except the rearing of poultry, the farmers are very deficient. The fences generally are very indifferent, principally consisting of an old broad mound of earth (called a ditch), with a deep and broad trench on one or both sides, or of dry and broken stone walls, except in the immediate neighbourhood of Kilkenny or on the farms of gentlemen, where in many instances quick set hedges show to great advantage: the parks and demesnes are mostly enclosed with high stone walls.


The county is very deficient in woods and plantations, although there are some of considerable extent around Kilkenny, Durrow, Desart, Woodstock , Besborough, Castlecomer, Thomastown, and other places on the banks of the Nore. Callan and its neighbourhood, once so celebrated for its extensive woods, is now denuded; but from Kilkenny to Callan the fences appear better and the land more judiciously divided than in other parts. Planting is by no means general, except around demesnes. An agricultural society, the first midland society formed, has been long established, of which, perhaps, the most beneficial result is the improvement of agricultural implements, which has been accomplished to a considerable degree.


As the soil is seldom much raised above the rock that forms its basis, it is not difficult to trace the substrata: these are granite, silicious schistus, silicious breccia, argillite, sandstone and limestone. The granite hills form a very small part of’ the county, being merely the extension of the Wicklow group, which, including Mount Leinster and Blackstairs in the county of Carlow, forms the hills of Brandon between the Barrow and the Nore, and ultimately terminates in the low and secondary hills which unite to the south, towards the mountains of Waterford.

The stratum which usually joins the granite is silicious schistus, and lower down argillaceous slate. The granite varies in shades of grey, red, and yellow, and in the fineness of its grain; the best is of a light yellow tint, finely grained and compact; black mica is found in it, together with specks of iron ore and crystals of schorl: it can be raised in blocks of large size, and may be chiselled into any form. Below Innistiogue, part of the hills are composed of granite; on their lower part the yellow mica is sometimes found by itself in large masses.

The detached stones which form the surface of these hills are called fire stones, and are worked into hearth-stones, and also applied to other purposes. Pieces of a very fine deep red and compact jasper, of various sizes, the largest ten or twelve inches long and half as broad, have been discovered in the granite district. The silicious schistus is blackish, sometimes containing grains of quartz; when broken it has a shivery texture and thin lamellae, and is hard enough to scratch glass. The base of Brandon Hill, and of that extending thence to Graig, is composed of it; between Innistiogue and Ross it is quarried out of the steep banks of the river.

New Ross is mostly built of it: the dip of these quarries is east- ward. Martial pyrites frequently lies between the beds of this stone: the strata are also intersected by broad veins of quartz: iron ochre occurs in it, and it is much tinged by oxyde of iron. A few specks of copper are sometimes perceived, but no vein has been discovered. Fine-grained galena has also been detected in it, in small quantities and in detached fragments. Silicious breccia forms many of the lower hills: it consists principally of flue quartz sand, united by a silicious cement and enveloping rounded pebbles of quartz, from the size of a pea to two or three inches in diameter, and of a reddish tinge: it seems to be one of the stones styled by Kirwan semiprotolites, and wherever its base can be discovered, it appears to lie on silicious schistus.

This stone is constantly accompanied by red argillite, which covers the sides of the hills, but scarcely ever the sum-mits: it prevails on the northern sides of these hills, and from its appearance is sometimes called red slate. The hills of breccia run southward from the Nore, spreading to the south and south-east till they approach the Suir: the great hill of Drumdowney, bounded by the Ross river, forms the extremity of the principal range. The stone here is of a fine grain, and is raised for mill- stones, which are principally quarried on the top of the hill of Drumdowney, where an enclosure of about 300 acres has been made for the purpose: they are sent coastwise to Cork, Dublin, and other ports; the dimensions of the largest are five feet in diameter and sixteen inches in the eye. This stone is sometimes accompanied by a fine-grained white sandstone, consisting chiefly of quartz with a silicious cement: its Chief defect is that the strata are very thin. Slaty argillite also often forms the lower parts of those hills, varying from reddish brown to green or blue, but being very heavy is not well adapted for roofing.

In the western part of the county there is an extensive quarry of excellent slates, scarcely exceeded by any in colour and lightness. The northern part, including the whole of Fassadineen and the upper part of Gowran, consists either of ferruginous argillite, or of silicious schistus: of the latter, stones are raised in several quarries for the purpose of flagging; the former is always found above the coal, and is thence called coal-cover. It is a brittle blackish slate impregnated with iron ochre, and more or less inlaid with nodules of iron ore; it extends from the collieries to the south and west, forming the banks of the Dinan almost to its confluence with the Nore.

The same stone forms lower hills which stretch towards the river, but in that part it is generally found of a fine soft grain, some of which is quarried for polishing marble, and the finer specimens are sometimes used as hones. In several parts are numerous escars, mostly near the banks of the rivers; some are seen near Urlingford, approaching the verge of the Bog of Allen, and they are also frequently found far removed from either river or bog; they are mostly composed of rounded masses of limestone, quartz, clay-slate, and ironstone, but most commonly of the first. They form gently rising hills, and may be traced from the banks of the Shannon, in the county of Limerick, through Tipperary and Kilkenny, to the banks of the Suir, whence they range through Carlow, Kildare, and near to the sea shore a little to the south of Dublin: along their entire extent the surface is generally fertile and very picturesque.


The Kilkenny collieries are situated two miles north from Castlecomer, twelve from Kilkenny, eight from Carlow, and forty-one from Dublin , and extend in length from Cooleban to the river beyond Maesfleld, continuing thence into the Queen’s county. In this county the coalfield may be estimated at six miles in length by five in breadth, and the collieries are distinguished by the names of Firoda, Ballyouskill, Clogh, and Maesfield.

The mines were discovered in 1728. A great number of men had been for several years employed in raising iron ore, which was smelted with charcoal from the numerous woods of the country; and having worked through the seam, came unexpectedly to a vein of coal. The first pits were sunk near the southern termination of the coalfield, and were consequently unprofitable; others were then opened on the ridge of hill at Cooleban, where three separate seams were worked at little expense till exhausted. The present colliery is in the plain westward from Cooleban, and is much flooded: two powerful steam-engines are constantly at work, but the water frequently accumulates to such a height as to interrupt the operations.

In this field are 24 pits, varying from 31 to 39 yards in depth, and only the upper seam of coal has yet been worked, which varies from 34 to 38 inches in thickness: more than 700 men are constantly employed. The soil of the entire district is a stiff clay, below which is a rock composed of argillite and silicious limestone, resting on an argillaceous deposit here called grey or curled rock, below which is black shale, with thin layers of rich iron ore, and beneath these are thin layers of slate, here forming the roof of the coal.

The seat of the coal is a soft, black, brittle stone, or fire-clay, containing impressions of various plants: it has never been applied to any beneficial purpose, although, when pulverised and worked into cement, it becomes fire-proof, and would be very valuable for crucibles, glass-pots, and other vessels exposed to intense heat.

Since the woods of the country failed, no attempt has been made to smelt the iron ore, and vast quantities lie scattered about in every part. Wheaten bread is the principal food of the colliers, which they take with them into the pits: their earnings are generally consumed in the purchase of spirits, whence it happens that, though their wages are higher than those of other workmen, they are the most wretched class in the county.

Their habitations are miserably mean, being generally built and covered with sods, sometimes without chimneys or windows; their children naked, themselves ill-clad and unhealthy, few arriving at the age of fifty. A Consumption of the lungs is the most fatal disorder among them: those who work in wet pits live longest, as they do not inhale so much of the volatile dust of the coal.

The excellent qualities of this coal for particular uses occasion a demand for it in all parts of the country. It burns dully, with little flame, but lying like charcoal in an ignited state for seven or eight hours, casts a steady and strong heat. No fuel dries malt so well, and this without any preparation; it is excellent for the forge and for all works in iron; indeed in every manufacture in which steady heat is required void of smoke, it cannot be excelled; nor does it dirty the flues where it is used.

On being analysed, it appears to approach nearly to pure carbon, without any bituminous matter; the proportions being 97.3 per cent. of pure carbon, and the remainder noninflammable ashes. Iron has been successfully smelted with it, and it seems peculiarly calculated for cementing steel and for potteries.


In the town of Castlecomer very good, tenacious, brown potters’ clay is found, and different clays for potters’ use exist in the neighbourhood: a pottery commenced here many years since failed from want of capital. Indications of coal present themselves in other parts, extending for a considerable distance into Queen’s county, and in one direction stretching to the border of Carlow.

Yellow ochre is found in different parts; pipe-clay of good quality, and potters’ clay lie in the southern part of the county as well as in the northern. Manganese is considerably dispersed: it is seen on the banks of the Barrow, and in limestone quarries, particularly near Freshford.


Of copper, no certain indications have been found: lead ore has been met with in small quantities between Innistiogue and Ross; large pieces of fine-grained galena are frequently taken up near Knocktopher, imbedded in limestone quarries. But the only lead mine ever worked was in the park of Floodhall , which was continued for some time with considerable profit: the ore was rich, and contained a considerable quantity of silver.

Limestone is the base of the central part of the county, and of detached portions of its north-western and south-western extremities. The quality of the stone varies considerably: that to the north of Gowran, which appears good to the eye, cannot be burned into lime, on account of its hardness, or of the quantity of silicious sand which it contains.

Near Callan is a kind of white limestone, splitting into laminae, which is little esteemed: near Durrow, the stone is full of flint. All the limestone of this county contains impressions of shells or corallines: it is stratified more horizontally than the rocks around it usually are, and appears to fill all the lower lands between the hills; no other stone lies above it, and it is generally so deep that scarcely any other has been found beneath it. In most cases the limestone district is terminated by a broad bed of gravel, composed chiefly of rolled calcareous pebbles.

The most important quarry is that which produces the Kilkenny marble; it is called the black quarry, and is situated about half a mile south of the town. The stone, when polished, has a black ground more or less varied with white marks, which appear more conspicuously when exposed to the air; but the jet black specimens only are esteemed at Kilkenny.

This marble contains a great variety of impressions of madrepores, and of bivalve and turbinate shells: the spar which occupies the place of the shells sometimes assumes a greenish-yellow colour. In some places there are iridescent spots: and sometimes martial pyrites is imbedded in the marble. A small specimen of pink fluor was found in it, but this is a very rare occurrence. The analysis of the most common kind gave 98 per cent, soluble in marine acid, and 2 per cent. of a black powder of carbon, which burned without leaving any ashes.

The blocks raised at this quarry are finished principally at a marble mill at some distance, which presents a very elegant combination of simplicity of’ structure with powers of execution: it performs the work of forty- two men daily; water never fails, and from the excellence of its construction it is scarcely ever stopped on account of repairs.


The woollen manufacture owes its introduction into the county to Pierce, Earl of Ormonde, who died in 1359, and his wife Margaret, who brought artists in tapestry, diaper, and carpets from Flanders; some of their tapestry is still in the castle of Kilkenny. James, Duke of Ormonde, also incurred great expense, in the middle of the seventeenth century, in establishing both the linen and woollen manufacture.

This latter branch was chiefly carried on at Carrick, where it gave employment for many years to the population of the surrounding district: its decline is attributed to the fraudulent practice of stretching the cloths to augment the measurement, until the Dublin merchants refused to buy them: the manufacture was principally carried on by large farmers and their families.

In the hilly districts a constant manufacture of frieze and ratteen prevails: the yarn is spun by the women; both sexes are employed in carding the wool; and the farmers’ sons, who are taught to weave, manufacture it into cloth. On the decline of the frieze trade, that of wool-combing succeeded; the combers converting their coarse offal wool into blanketing, which has gradually become a staple branch of trade.

The linen trade was introduced towards the close of the 17th century, and prospered for fifty or sixty years; but within the last century it has so decayed as to leave few traces of its former prosperity, only the coarser cloths for domestic consumption being now made: many of the bleach-greens were converted into mills of various kinds, but there are three still tolerably well employed.

In the hilly districts every farmer grows a little flax for his own use, and generally bleaches his own linen: he also often has a little hemp to make sacking. The number of flour-mills is very great; there are twenty-two on the Nore between Durrow and Innistiogue; on the King’s river, from Callan to the Nore, ten; on the part of the Barrow within the county, three or four, and several on the streams which fall into the Suir and other great rivers.

Rape-mills have been erected, but are not profitable; the exportation of the seed being found more advantageous than the manufacture of the oil. The principal part of the grain raised is sent to Dublin in the shape of flour, malt, and meal, the preparation of which is another source of internal wealth: the wheat and barley find a ready sale among the numerous millers, maltsters, and distillers, so that very little is brought to the market- house.


The rivers were formerly famous for their salmon, much of which was sent to Dublin, both fresh and preserved in ice; but the quantity has decreased during the last century, caused, as is supposed, by the increased number of mills. The salmon trout is not uncommon in the rivers; its usual length is from eighteen to twenty inches. The shad comes up the Nore in April and returns in May; the sturgeon appears but rarely; porpoises sometimes follow the salmon beyond Waterford; the conger eel is sometimes taken; lampreys are thrown away by the fishermen, not being even kept for bait. All the aquatic birds usually found along the course of large rivers are met with here: the common gull follows their course to a great distance, devouring many insects pernicious to the farmer, and returns to the sea at night: the common people call it the white crow. The kingfisher and water ousel are not uncommon.

The river Suir forms the southern boundary of the county for twenty miles; vessels of 100 tons navigate it to Carrick, and of a much larger burthen to Waterford. An act has been recently obtained for removing rocks and other obstructions in its bed, which will enable large vessels to proceed to Carrick.

The Barrow skirts the eastern border of the county for about twenty-six miles. Large sums of money have been expended in improving its navigation to Athy: the boats which ply on it are from twenty to forty tons’ burthen, but the locks last constructed admit boats of eighty tons.

The river forms the course of the navigation, except in a few instances, where inland cuts are connected with it. The Nore more peculiarly belongs to this county, flowing nearly through its central part in a winding course of not less than forty-six miles, from the neighbourhood of Durrow to its junction with the Barrow near Ross: after passing Kilkenny, it receives the King’s river from the west, whence in its course by Thomastown and Innistiogue it presents a rich variety of picturesque scenery: after its junction with the Barrow, the united stream takes the name of the Ross river.

Like all mountain rivers, it is subject to great floods, which are highest when the wind has blown for some time from the north-east, accompanied with rain: the clouds thus driven on the hills to the north of the county, and quickly succeeding each other, convert into torrents all the streams that feed the Nore; on such occasions, the water has risen eighteen feet at Innistiogue.

It has long been an object of importance to establish a navigation from Kilkenny to the sea by means of this river; much money was expended in the attempt, and many plans proposed, but none accomplished: the boats navigating it to Thomastown carry thirteen or fourteen tons down the river when it is full, and bring up ten tons, but only three or four when the water is low; they are drawn up by eight men, and require two more to work them.


The roads are numerous, and are generally well laid out and kept in good repair. Several new lines have been recently made: the principal are those from Kilkenny to Piltown, Carrick-on-Suir, Freshford, and Roscrea respectively, and those from Castlecomer to Ballynakill, from Callan to Johnstown , and from Innistiogue to Waterford . The construction of these numerous lines, particularly through the hilly districts, has afforded to the farmer increased facility for the carriage of lime and the conveyance of agricultural produce to market.


The traces of antiquity are numerous.

  • On the summit of Tory Hill, called in Irish Slieve-Grian, or “the Hill of the Sun,” is a circular space covered with stones, on one of which, resting on several others, is an inscription which has given rise to much controversy.
  • On the summit of the Hill of Cloghmanta, which signifies “the Stone of God,” is another circular heap. Both these monuments are much decayed.
  • The most remarkable cromlech is at Kilmogue, in the barony of Knocktopher; the upper stone is 45 feet in circumference, and is elevated six feet above the ground at its lower end, and 15 at its upper: the country people call it Lachan Schal, or “the Great Altar.”

Numerous other cromlechs are dispersed through various parts of’ the county.

  • Not far from the spa of Ballyspellane is a large stone, formerly supported by several smaller: it is called Cloghbannagh, or “the Stone of Blessing.” Not far from it is a conical stone, lying on its side.
  • The remains of another heap, called Cloghan- carneen, may be seen at Ballynasliegh, near Durrow.

Many human bones have been found in the neighbourhood, and, among others, a skeleton enclosed between flags, with a horn near it.

On the Hill of Garryduff, in Fiddown parish, is a place called Leibe-na-cuhn, or “the Dog’s Grave,” around which are the remains of ranges of stones. Several small urns containing ashes were found in front of a great stone in Kilbeacon parish, and in other places.

Raths are very numerous in some districts, particularly in Galmoy and near the Nore; they are of various shapes, and are formed of one, two, or three enclosures. Chambers underground, roofed with flags, are found not accompanied by raths.

  • At Earlsrath is a very large fort, enclosed by a fosse, in the area of which are the vestiges of buildings.
  • Some large moats are observable in several parts: the largest are at Callan, Kilkenny, and Castlecomer; one of them, at Rathbeath, is pointed out as the place where Heremon built his palace and was buried.

There are five round towers: one at St. Canice, a few feet from the southern side of the cathedral; another at Tulloherm; a third at Kilree; a fourth at Fertagh, or Fertagh-na- geiragh; of the fifth, at Aghaviller, only the lower part remains.

In the parish of Macullee is a place called Reighlig-na-lughduigh, or “the Burying-place of the Black Lough,” where are some upright stones, near which human bones and several bronze spear-heads were found. There is a faint tradition that a great battle had been fought here.


Besides the ruined abbeys in the city of Kilkenny, there were two very celebrated monasteries of the Cistercian order, one at Jerpoint, the other at Graig.

  • The Dominicans had abbeys at Rossbercon and at Thomastown, and the Carmelites at Knocktopher.
  • An old abbey is said to have stood at Barrowmount; another near Kellymount; and a second monastery, not noticed by writers on the monastic antiquities of Ireland, at Thomastown.


The number of castles, though much diminished by the ravages of time and internal commotions, is still very great, but most consist of a single tower. Granny or Grandison Castle , in Iverk, is one of the most considerable: it was the residence of Margaret Fitzgerald, the great Countess of Ormond, a lady of uncommon talents and qualifications, who is said also to have built the castles of Balleen and Coolkill, with several others of minor note.

The Butlers owned the castles of Knocktopher, Gowran, Dunfert, Poolestown, Nehorn, Callan, Ballycallan, Damagh, Kilmanagh, and Urlingford. King John built a castle at Tybrackny, where also are the foundations of a Danish town and a tombstone with Danish sculptures.

The castles of Drumroe, Barrowmount, and Low Grange, are said to have belonged to Lord Galmoy; those of Stroan, Kilfane, Clofouke, Conahy, Ballyfoyle, and Cloranke, to the family of the Purcells; that of Cowen to the Brennans; those of Castlemorres, Frenystown, and Foulksrath, to the families whose names they bear; and those of Bishopscourt and Kilbline to the Currys. The Shortalls possessed the castles of Cloghmanta, Kilrush, Tubbrid, Killeshuran, and Balief; the two latter, as well as that of Seskin near Durrow, are round.

Gaulstown Castle belonged to a branch of the De Burgos; Grenan, said to have been built in the time of King John, to a family of the name of Den; the Walshes of the mountains held numerous castles in that district; Courtstown, Ballylench, and some others, belonged to the Graces; Dunfert, corrupted into Danesfort, was erected by William, Earl Marshal. The modern mansions of the nobility and gentry are noticed in the account of the parishes in which they are respectively situated.


The farm-houses are generally built of stone, oftener cemented with clay than mortar; some of the better kind are slated, but thatch is most general; some may be comfortable, but few are neat or cleanly.

  • The residences of rich farmers are generally inferior to their means; but the greatest defect is in the offices, which are sometimes covered with potato stalks, forming a very bad thatch, and sometimes with heath, which is not much better.
  • Ash trees are often planted near the farm-houses, and, towards the border of Munster, cherry trees.
  • The offices generally form an irregular yard in the front of the house, wholly or at least partially occupied by the dunghill.
  • The most usual tenure for farms is for thirty-one years, or three lives: some land in the hilly districts is held at will, but tenures of this description are decreasing; the inhabitants of these districts, who generally live in scattered villages and hold in partnership, usually obtaining a joint lease for years.
  • There is not much land in mortmain: the see of Ossory possesses about 9300 acres, besides the manors of Durrow and Freshford.

The condition of the labouring poor is wretched in the extreme: it is only by slow degrees that they can procure articles of clothing; turf is their general fuel, in consequence of the high price of coal; potatoes, with milk when it can be procured, are almost their only food; sometimes, but not always, salt is added, and occasionally a herring. The clothing is frieze and flannel; the women wear stuff petticoats; straw hats manufactured at home, and estimated at from sixpence to a shilling, are commonly worn by both sexes. The English language is very generally spoken.


At Ballyspellane, in Galmoy barony, is a mineral spa, celebrated both for the medicinal properties imputed to it, and by the lines written on it by the witty and eccentric Dr Sheridan, the friend of Swift; the water is best drunk on the spot, as the carbonic acid gas contained in it, and to which its effects are chiefly attributable, soon evaporates on exposure to the air.

Chalybeate spas, but not of much strength, exist near St. John’s bridge on the Nore, near the marble hill on the same river, and at Jerpoint Abbey. In the Castlecomer collieries there are also some weak chalybeates, and others are to be found dispersed through the county.

Springs of very pure transparent water are also numerous; most of them are named after some saint, and have a patron annually held near them.

SOURCE: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (pub 1837)

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  • Is there any way of finding records of these fever hospitals ?


    Tuesday 13th October 2020 10:38PM
  • Is there a particular one you are interested in? If so, try asking about it in our local volunteer Message Board.

    Also check out our Buildings Chronicles database which you can filter by "health/medical" or by "workhouse" (to which many a fever hospital was attached).


    Wednesday 14th October 2020 02:01PM
  • Thanks so much for prompt reply. Will go look.
    My G Grandmother and her son who lived in Cotterstown are who I am looking for (1902) I'm unsure which would be the closest fever hospital/workhouse.
    I'd just like to say I love this site, its so informative and interesting.


    Wednesday 14th October 2020 05:27PM
  • I'm unable to find the buildings chronicles database? Could you direct me please


    Sunday 18th October 2020 08:04PM
  • Hi Tracy.

    See "Buildings" on the home page. Or click this link... https://irelandxo.com/ireland-xo/history-and-genealogy/buildings-databa…


    Sunday 18th October 2020 10:49PM

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