The Towns & villages of the Barrow
Edward J. Law (2013)
In 1776 Lieutenant Colonel Charles Vallancey undertook a military survey of Ireland, which is now in the British Library. The material for my talk is taken from the section dealing with the south-east under the heading Towns and Villages of the Barro described. So, in 1776 we are told.
Graignamanagh is a village of about 60 stone houses, 30 cabbins, a spacious church and a large mass house. It is inhabited by boatmen and by persons employed to tow the boats up the river. Here also they build the boats; the constant employment of 70 boats belonging to the village gives this little place the air of industry and business. It is seated in the midst of a plentiful vale, and might on occasion canton 1500 infantry and 100 cavalry.
Gores Bridge is an inconsiderable village of 8 or 10 small houses.
Bagnels Bridge consists of one good public inn, known by the name of the Royal Oak, and about 20 cabbins.
Leighlin Bridge is the great pass over the river Barro from Dublin to all parts of Munster. The village consists of one large inn, about 30 stone built houses, two large breweries, and about 150 cabbins. It is situated on each side of the river, and would canton 500 infantry and 200 cavalry.
The town of Ross is built on the side of a hill so steep carriages cannot pass in a straight line down the main street, but are obliged to make the circuit of the town. It was intended for a place of trade, which is now chiefly concentrated in Waterford. Still there belong to this port 3 brigs of about 400 tons burthen each, which carry-on a constant victualling trade with Newfoundland. About 700 years ago this town was surrounded with a ditch and wall, great part of the latter is still standing, and though of bad materials, and without flanks, would contribute to make this port tenable in a few hours, with the assistance of 1000 men. It is open and exposed to the hills on the other side of the river, which will certainly be occupied by the officer who shall resolve on taking post at Ross.
The church formerly enjoyed great privileges in this town, and according to the custom of those times, the buildings and gardens belonging to ecclesiastics possessed a fourth part of the town. The former are now destroyed, the gardens yet subsist, and this has occasioned many void spaces within the walls. The town contains many large stone houses, a cathedral and large mass house; a barrack for one troop of horse, a well built market house, and several spacious dwellings which, together, would canton 5000 infantry and 500 cavalry.
Should we be obliged to retreat, the bridge of Graignamanagh offers itself. This bridge consists of 7 arches, through one of which passes a canal. The river is fordable above and below bridge, but these fords are rocky, narrow and dangerous. The ground on the western side, commanding and favourable to cover the retreat.
From Graignamanagh are two roads on the western side leading to Gores Bridge, 7 miles distant, one over the heights of Glancom, which is the principal road; another runs parallel to the river, and unites with the former at Mount Loftus; this is not passable for heavy carriages.
Elsewhere Vallancey notes that the boats operating from Graiguenamanagh in the 1770s were largely employed in transporting coal from Athy to Ross for onward shipping to Dublin. It is probable that the coal was from the Castlecomer coalfield.
Some 60 years later, in 1837, local newspapers indicate that Carlow was a similar shipping centre where Daniel O’Brien operated 9 boats each capable of carrying 48 tons. It is not known if these were engaged in carrying coal, but they were tradeing to Dublin via Waterford.