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WEXFORD

"COUNTY WEXFORD, a maritime county in the province of Leinster, Ireland, is bounded on the N. by Wicklow, E. by St. George's Channel, S. by the Atlantic Ocean, and W. by counties Waterford, Kilkenny, and Carlow. It lies between 52° 6' and 52° 48' N. lat., 6° 8' and 7° 2' W. long. Its greatest length from N. to S. is 55 miles, and from E. to W. 34 miles. Its area is 900 square miles, or 576,588 acres, of which 510,702 are arable, 45,501 uncultivated, 14,625 plantations, 2,392 towns and villages, and 3,668 under water. Its population in 1851 was 180,159, and in 1861, 143,954. The number of inhabited houses in 1861 was 26,011; 990 were uninhabited, and 50 were in course of construction. The Poor-law valuation in 1851 was £330,537, and the general valuation in 1861 was £372,056. 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 34,130, or 22 per cent. of the population at the former date. The county was in the time of Ptolemy mostly occupied by the Menapii, a people of Belgic Gaul, who also extended into the adjoining county of Waterford. Their chief town, Menapia, is supposed to have occupied the site of the present capital, Wexford. The county was then divided into Corteigh, Moragh, and Laighion; the former gave its name to Enniscorthy, the second to the family of MacMurrough, chiefs of this district, and the last is preserved in "Leinster," by which name this county alone is known in most of the earlier writings.

The Danes established themselves in the S., and having burned the capital, built a town, which they called Wiesford, a name which was extended to the surrounding districts. MacMurrough having asked for the assistance of the English in his war with O'Rourk, Prince of Breffny, Wexford was the first landing-place of the invaders, who came in 1169, under Robert Fitzstephen, and disembarked at Bagenbon, near Fethard, and after an assault upon the town of Wexford for four days, succeeded in taking it from the Danes. MacMurrough confirmed a grant of the town and part of the adjoining lands to the adventurers, whose position was strengthened by the support of Strongbow, who married Eva, daughter of MacMurrough, and on the death of his father-in-law, in 1172, was confirmed by Henry II. in the possession of his kingdom of Leinster as a palatinate. As he left no male heir, his territory was divided among his daughters, one of whom married William le Marischal. Early in the civil war of Charles I. the Marquis of Ormond was repulsed from before New Ross, Duncannon Fort was taken, and the entire county held by the Catholic party; but Cromwell, in 1649, after taking Drogheda, besieged and took the town of Wexford, when he put the inhabitants to the sword. The county held aloof during the Jacobite wars, but was the scene of stirring events in 1798, when the rebels took Enniscorthy and Wexford, forming their camp at Vinegar Hill, near the former place. The county is traversed by several ranges of hills; the loftiest mountains are in the N.W., on the border of Carlow, the principal summit being Mount Leinster, which rises 2,610 feet above the sea-level. More S., in the same line, are the Blackstairs mountains, which attain an elevation of 2,409 feet. The Wicklow mountains extend into this county on the N., in a prolonged series, separating the basins of the Bann and the Slaney, the highest points being Armagh Hill, 1,498 feet, and Slieveboy, 1,385 feet. A low range, called Forth mountains, extends in a south-westerly direction from a point near the N. of Wexford Harbour, and separates the baronies of Forth and Bargy from the rest of the county; their greatest altitude is 774 feet. The S.E. corner of the county is a dead level, abounding in marl and calcareous soil, and exceedingly fertile. The coast is generally low and shingly, from Kilmichael Point, in the N.E., to Wexford Harbour, a distance of nearly 30 miles, and is skirted along the entire line by a series of sandbanks, marked at their northern extremity by the Arklow light-ship. The entrance to Wexford Harbour lies between the extremities of two long narrow sandy peninsulas, called Raven Point and Rosslare Point, and is less than a mile wide, with a shifting sand outside, rendering the navigation difficult. There are only 18 feet of water on the bar in high tides, so the port is inaccessible to large vessels, but after clearing the entrance the harbour suddenly expands to more than 8 miles in width, with a breadth of more than 4 miles, affording a view of the town of Wexford, which lies opposite to the entrance. A little S. of Wexford Harbour the coast forms another bay before reaching Greenore Point, between which and Carnsore Point is the south-eastern corner of Ireland. Rounding the latter point the coast trends westerly, passing a number of small bays and headlands, till it reaches Hook Head, where it suddenly turns to the N., and forms the eastern side of Waterford Harbour. Hook Head is marked with a stationary light, and lights have been placed at various parts along the coast, which is here rocky and dangerous. The Great and Little Saltee islands lie off the S. coast, and are marked by a floating light. The principal rivers are the Slaney and the Barrow, the former, entering from Carlow on the N.W., flows across this county to Wexford Harbour, receiving in its course the waters of the Bann, Derry, Urn, and Boro. The Barrow, joined by the Nore, touches the county at the southern point of Carlow county, and flows along the boundary to the head of Waterford Harbour, communicating with the Grand canal. The only railway is the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford line, at present completed only to Enniscorthy, 14 miles N.W. of the town of Wexford, but an extension to Waterford is in contemplation. The principal roads are those from Dublin by Gorey and Enniscorthy to Wexford, from Wexford to Waterford by New Ross, and from New Ross to Fethard by Arthurstown, besides numerous branch roads. The geological formations of Carlow and Wicklow extend into this county, the mountain ridges in the N.W. consisting chiefly of granite, and the lower declivities of metamorphic rocks. The central parts of the county belong to the transition series, consisting principally of clay slate, graywacke, and graywacke slate, and extending eastwards to the Atlantic. The strata in the southern parts of the county are considerably infected, in the northern maintaining a uniform north-easterly and south-westerly direction, with a dip to the S.E. The S.E. corner of the county is composed of quartz rock alternating with clay slate, except about Carnsore Point, where granite again appears, and in some places greenstone is found among the clay slate, and limestone in a few districts in the S., the latter being the surface rock of Hook Head, where it contains numerous bivalves and corallites. The principal minerals are copper ore, which exists near Wexford, and in the Forth mountains, plumbago and asbestos at Greenfield, near Enniscorthy, iron ore and lead in the Forth mountains and at Cairme, and silver and galena have been raised at Clonmines. The horns and bones of the moose deer have been found in the alluvial districts in the S. and W., and a perfect fossil skeleton of the Cervus Megaceros, or gigantic deer of Ireland, was found at Ballyhuskard, near the bog of Itty. The climate is mild, healthy, and generally favourable to grain crops, though the south-eastern parts are exposed to storms, and suffer in winter from heavy rains. The soil is mostly of a cold clayey nature, the parts near the mountains are gravelly, but a rich belt lies along the coast. Agriculture is principally attended to, and dairies are numerous. In 1866, 240,106 acres, or 46 per cent. of the arable land, was under crops. There were 19,135 acres of wheat, 68,138 of oats, 38,886 of barley, here, and rye, 4,673 of beans and pease, 29,341 of potatoes, 20,249 of green crops, 379 flax, and 59,305 meadow and clover. Much coarse woollen cloth, principally for domestic use, was formerly manufactured in various parts of the county; and there is at present a cotton factory with 5,100 spindles and 130 looms, in which nearly 100 persons are constantly employed. The fishery belongs principally to the district of Wexford, but partly to those of Arklow and Waterford. The Wexford district had in 1863 251 registered vessels, employing 1,214 men and boys, while that of Arklow had 296 vessels, employing 1,686 persons. The county is chiefly in the diocese of Ferns, which is united to the sees of Ossory and Leighlin, but a small part belongs to the diocese of Dublin. In the Roman Catholic distribution, Ferns continues an independent see, and is suffragan to Dublin. Of the population in 1861, 12,759, or 8.8 per cent, were members of the Established Church, 130,103, or 90.4 per cent. were Roman Catholics, and 1,092, or 0.7 per cent. belonged to other denominations. The county returns four members to parliament, two for the county at large, constituency 6,368 in 1866, and one each for the boroughs of Wexford and New Ross, constituency 307 and 194 respectively. It is divided for civil purposes into 10 baronies, Ballaghkeen, North and South, Bantry, Bargy, Forth, Gorey, Scarawalsh, Shelburne, and Shelmaliere East and West, and contains 144 parishes. Its government is entrusted to a lordlieutenant and custos rotulorum, vice-lieutenant, high sheriff, and 23 deputy-lieutenants, assisted by one resident and about 121 local magistrates. It is in the Leinster circuit, the assizes being held at Wexford, where are the county gaol and county infirmary. Quarter sessions are held there and at Enniscorthy, Gorey, and New Ross, and petty session at 12 places. The county is in the military district of the Curragh, and there are barracks at Wexford, New Ross, and Duncannon Fort. Fairs are held at 49 places, and there are 6 market towns. The principal seats are Courtown, Earl of Courtown; Dunbrody Park, Lord Templemore; Edermine House, Power, Bart.; Johnstown Castle, Power, Bart.; Prospect, Fetherston, art.; besides numerous mansions of the resident gentry."

 

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