Ryan: History and Antiquities of the County of Carlow

Pdf Ryan, John. The history and antiquities of the county of Carlow. Dublin: Richard Moore Tims, 1833.
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John Ryan's The History And Antiquities Of The County Of Carlow was published in 1833. It is an account of Carlow history from the semi-legendary pre-Christian era and concludes in 1800 immediately following the 1798 rebellion.

The area of County Carlow has been inhabited for thousands of years and Carlow town on the River Barrow was historically a major stronghold. Ryan begins his history at the 'year of the world' reflecting the prevailing Christian belief at the time that the world was created in seven days and was only a few thousand years old. The ancient inhabitants of the Carlow area left behind numerous monuments including the Brownshill Dolmen with a capstone said to be the heaviest of its type in Europe .

The coming of St. Patrick to Ireland established the Christian era from the 5th century onward. St. Comgall established a monastic settlement at Castle Hill where an old church and burial site survive known as Mary's Abbey. Meanwhile Old Leighlin was the site of what became one of the most important monastic houses in Leinster . In 630 AD a synod held in Old Leighlin fixed the day Easter Sunday would fall. The diocese of Leighlin existed independently until 1694 when it merged with the diocese of Kildare. The Church Of Ireland diocese was established in the 16th century following the English Reformation pushing the Catholic Church underground. Persecution would continue for almost three centuries.

Beginning in 1169, the Normans invaded and conquered much of Ireland firstly taking the province of Leinster . The strategic position of Carlow on the River Barrow was evident and Carlow town became a major fortress created by William Marshall, 1st Earl Of Pembroke and existed until 1814 when its walls were finally demolished. All that remains of the original structure are two circular towers bookending a portion of stone wall. Other significant medieval castles in the Carlow area included fortresses at Ballymoon and Leighlinbridge. There were seven baronies in County Carlow which included Carlow, Forth , Idrone East, Idrone West, Rathvilly, St Mullin's Lower and St Mullin's Upper.

The history of County Carlow reflected the turbulent history of the rest of the Ireland which saw centuries of conflict between the native Gaelic population and the Anglo-Norman and later Anglo-Irish Protestant population. During the 16th century Desmond Rebellion, Fiach McHugh O'Byrne, leader of the O'Byrne ambushed English forces at Idrone and executed Gaelic allies of the ruling Carew family. Rebel forces gathered in Carlow and marched into Wicklow where they met the army of the Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey and defeated them at the Battle of Glenmalure. In 1650 Carlow was besieged and surrendered to the forces of Oliver Cromwell during his invasion of Ireland following the English Civil War. The surrender of Carlow hastened the surrender of Waterford city to the south. In 1798 a force of United Irishmen rebels was decimated by loyalist forces in Carlow town centre.

During the late 18th and early 19th century, the Penal Laws introduced following the defeat of the Catholic Jacobites at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 were gradually repealed culminating in Catholic Emancipation in 1829. The Irish Roman Catholic Church took advantage and built a series of churches throughout the county as well as the impressive Carlow Cathedral consecrated in 1833. The neighbouring St. Patrick's College taught lay students including nationalist figures such as James Fintan Lalor and John O'Leary.

John Ryan was sympathetic toward 'Tory, Conservative and Protestant principles.' In the preface to his work he does not hide his hostility to 'Romish priests' and 'agitators' who he claims sought to 'destroy the ancient and salutary influence of the gentry over their tenantry and usurp the power of the returning count members to parliament.' He laments successes of Irish nationalist MPs in the election of 1831 and 'their unjust and pernicious ascendancy.' However he does concede 'that the gentry themselves are not entirely blameless in the affair.'


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