The Last County - Towns, Stately Homes and Some Forgotten People

Map of Wickow showing important great houses
The Last County

The following descriptions of the most important towns in Wicklow are mainly derived from Samuel Lewis’ ‘Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’. These extracts give an insight into the respective histories and state of these towns in 1837, when it was published.


Arklow is a seaport, market and post town, twelve miles from Wicklow and forty miles form Dublin containing over 4,383 inhabitants. This place, formerly called Arclogh, appears to have been used as a fishing station since time immemorial. It was included in one of those grants of territory for which Henry II, in 1172 caused service to be done at Wexford and by an original charter preserved among the rolls of Kilkenny Castle. In 1649 its castle was assaulted by Oliver Cromwell on his victorious march southward, and on its surrender was totally demolished. During the disturbance of 1798 a battle was fought near Arklow bridge between the King’s troops under the command of General Needham and the insurgents, in which the latter were defeated and their leader shot. The town is situated on the rise of a hill extending along the right bank of the river Ovoca. It is divided into upper and lower towns in which the latter town is called the Fishery, and in 1831 it contained seven hundred and two houses. The houses in the upper town, which consists of one principle street, are neatly built, while the lower town is inhabited by the fishermen who live in cabins. The inhabitants are amply supplied with fresh water from the excellent springs, but no works have been established to pipe it into the houses. The only improvement made recently is the laying down of foot pavements.

The church situated in the principal street of the town was erected in 1823 at an expense of £2,000. It was built after a design by Mr. Johnston and is in the later English style. The chapel is a handsome, modern structure situated opposite the remains of the ancient castle. There is a small place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists. About three hundred and twenty children are instructed in several public schools, of which a boys’ school is supported by the Trustees of Erasmus Smith’s Charity, two for girls are aided by Mrs Proby and an infants’ school is maintained by voluntary contributions. There are six private schools, in which there are two hundred and forty children and two Sunday schools.

A fever hospital and dispensary were erected in 1821. The only relic of the ancient castle is a small fragment mantled with ivy situated on an eminence above the river. The adjoining abbey is still used as a burying place by the Roman Catholics.


Baltinglass is an ancient borough, market and post town in the barony of Upper Talbotstown, thirty two miles from Wicklow and twenty eight miles from Dublin containing 1,670 inhabitants. This place, according to most antiquaries, derives its name from Boal-Tin-Glas, ‘The Pure Fire of Baal’. The town is pleasantly situated in a romantic vale watered by the Slaney, over which is a stone bridge of three arches connecting those parts of it which are on the opposite banks of the river. It consists of four principal streets, with two or three others of less importance and in 1831 contained two hundred and fifty six houses. It is amply supplied with water from springs and from its situation on the great road from Dublin by Tullow to Wexford, enjoys a considerable traffic. The manufacture of linen, woollen and diaper was formerly extensively carried on here. There is also a flour-mill.

A market and fairs were granted by James I and Charles II. The town was incorporated by charter of Charles II in the fifteenth year of his reign, 1663, under the designation of the sovereign, burgesses, a recorder and town-clerk, a sergeant-at-mace and a clerk of the market.

In the town of Baltinglass is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists. An infirmary for the county of Wicklow containing four wards, in which are twenty beds, with a dispensary annexed to it, has been established in the town; there is also a saving’s bank.


Blessington is a market post-town in the barony of Lower Tablotstown, six miles from Naas and fourteen miles from Dublin, containing 426 inhabitants. This place is situated on the river Liffey and on the high road from Dublin by Baltinglass to Wexford, Carlow and Waterford. The town occupies a rising ground on the north-western confines of the county and was built by Archbishop Boyle in the reign of Charles II. It consists of one street and contains about fifty houses, which are mostly respectable in appearance and a good inn or hotel. The market is on Thursday and fairs held on 12th May, 5th July and 12th November. The inhabitants were incorporated by charter of the 21st of Charles II, 1669, granted to Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Dublin and Chancellor of Ireland.

The borough returned two members to the Irish Parliament till the union, when the £1,500 awarded as compensation for the loss of the franchise was paid to Arthur, Marquess of Downshire; the right of election was vested in the corporation at large, which from that period has been extinct.

A neat building, the upper part of which is used for a girls’ school and the lower as a court for holding petty sessions with a house for the mistress and master, has been erected at the expense of £800 by the Marquess of Downshire, who allows a salary of £20 to the master and £10 to the mistress. There are about twenty boys in the school, who are taught in a school-room a short distance from the building, and thirty girls. There are also five hedge schools in which one hundred and fifty children are taught. A dispensary is supported in the customary manner. There are also some ruins of a church at Burgage and in the churchyard are the remains of a castle. On the outside is a very fine cross, hewn out of one large block of granite and about fourteen feet high.


Bray, a market and post town in the half-barony of Rathdown fourteen miles from Wicklow and ten miles from Dublin. It contains about 2,590 inhabitants. This place derives its name, originally Bre or Bree signifying a hill or headland, from the precipitous promontory of clay slate and quartz called Bray Head which rises immediately on the south of the town to an elevation of eight hundred and seven feet above the level of the sea. The town is situated on the Dargle or Bray river, which here forms a boundary between the counties of Dublin and Wicklow. The trade is exclusively of what is requisite for the town’s needs, consisting principally of the importation of coal, timber, slates and limestone, in which vessels of seventy tons each, one of fifty tons, and one of twenty five tons belonging to the town, are regularly employed. There is a very extensive brewery, with a mailing store, capable of producing three hundred barrels weekly and near the brewery is a large flour mill.

The small harbour is very incommodious, having a bar at the entrance and only eight feet of water at spring and five feet at neap tides. The river abounds with excellent trout, which are in great quantities sent to Dublin and different parts of the country, even to London. The market is on Tuesday and Saturday and is abundantly supplied with quality provisions of every kind. Fairs for friezes are held on 12th January, 4th May, 5th August and 12th November. They are attended by all Dublin dealers and fairs for cattle are held on 1st March, May, July, 15th August, 20th September, and 14th December.

A constabulary police force has been stationed here and also at Little Bray, the old castle in the latter having been fitted up as a barracks. A coastguard station has also been fixed here. There is also a Martello Tower near Bray Head, occupied by a private of the artillery. Petty sessions for the division are held in the school-house in Little Bray every alternate Saturday and the Earl of Meath, as Lord of the Manor of Kindlestown, holds a court here by his senesehal every month. By an inquisition taken in the reign of Charles I it appears, from various records, that the town had been in times past incorporated and endowed with many privileges.


Carnew is a market and post town in the barony of Shillelagh, twenty three miles from Wicklow and forty seven from Dublin, containing 826 inhabitants. During the 1798 Rebellion Carnew witnessed an important battle in which the insurgents were victorious. The town is situated on the road from Gorey to Tullow and Carlow and on the side of a mountainous eminence that overlooks a fertile valley. It consists principally of one street containing one hundred and thirty one houses and has, during the last four years, been greatly improved by Earl Fitzwilliam, who has erected two rows of neat houses. The air is pleasant and there is a good supply of water. Two snuff and tobacco manufactures and a small brewery are also carried on here. The market is on the Thursday after the 12th February, May, August and November. Four other fairs have been established and are held on 1st April, July, October and 22nd December. Petty sessions are held on alternate Sundays, in a neat building erected by Earl Fitzwilliam over which is the constabulary police barracks. This town being the residence of the chief constable of the Tinahely district.

The church, which was enlarged in 1813, is a handsome building with an embattled tower. The chapel is situated in Tomacork and there is a place of worship in the town for Wesleyan Methodists. A parochial library has been established and there are schools at Monatower, Askeymore and Camew, principally supported by Earl Fitzwilliam, in which are educated about four hundred and sixty Protestant and Roman Catholic children. There is also a school connected with Tomacork chapel and two hedge schools. A dispensary is supported in the customary manner. There is an association for employing the poor in spinning and weaving, superintended by the lathes of the town and neighbourhood, and a loan fund was established in 1834.


Donard is a town in the barony of lower Talbotstown, four and a half miles from Dunlavin containing 717 inhabitants. St. Silvester, who accompanied St. Palladius into Ireland about the year 430 A.D. (sic) presided over a church here, in which he was interred and his relics were honoured, until they were removed to the monastery of St Baithen or Innisboyne. During the disturbances of 1798 the village was burnt by the insurgents, the inhabitants having been driven to seek refuge in Dunlavin. The church was garrisoned by the yeomanry on this occasion, which greatly injured it and it has since become dilapidated. A market and two fairs were formerly held here by patent, but both have been discontinued, though a pleasure fair is yet held on 15th August. There is a constabulary police station. The church was built on a new site in 1835, with the aid of a grant of £850 by the late Board of First Fruits. The parochial school is aided by an annual donation from the vicar and an infants’ school for foundlings sent from the Foundling Hospital, Dublin is supported by this institution. In these schools about one hundred and fifty children are taught and there is also Sunday school. The remains of the church over which St. Silvester presided are on the summit of the mountain called Slieve Gadoe, or the church mountain, more than two thousand feet above the level of the sea and is a resort of numerous pilgrims.


Dunlavin is a market town in the lower half-barony of Tablotstnwn; containing 1,068 inhabitants, seven and a half miles from Baltinglass and twenty one from Dublin on the old road from Blessington to Timolin. The town which is the property of the Tynte family, is built on an eminence surrounded by higher grounds and consists of two streets, one of which branches off at right angles from the centre of the other. It contains about 180 houses, of which several are well built, is amply supplied with water from springs and is considered a healthy place of residence. The market, chiefly for corn, is held on Wednesday and fairs for cattle are held on 1st March, 19th May, second Friday in July, 21st August, third Tuesday in October and 1st December. The market house is in the centre of the principal street. It’s said to have been erected at an expense of £1,200 by the Rt. Hon. R. Tynte in 1835, thoroughly repaired and one end of it fitted up as a courthouse by Lady Tynte. It is a handsome building of hewn stone, with four projecting porticoes and crowned in the centre by a dome. About one hundred and thirty children are taught in two public schools of which one is supported by Mrs. Pennefather, and there are six private schools, with about three hundred and twenty children, a Sunday school and a dispensary.


A post town, in the parish of Powerscourt, barony of Rathdown, three miles from Bray and ten from Dublin. It contains 497 inhabitants and seventy houses most of which are tastefully built in the cottage style and inhabited by families of respectability. It is a favourite resort for strangers and visitors from Dublin, for whose accommodation, two very comfortable hotels and lodging-houses have been built. The air is extremely pure and mild and the temperature is favourable to persons affected with pulmonary diseases. A mail, a stage coach and jaunting cars commute between it and Dublin daily. A constabulary police force is stationed here and petty sessions are held on alternate Fridays. Near the bridge is a schoolhouse with apartments for a master and mistress. There is a dispensary and in 1828 a fever hospital was erected by subscription, towards which Lord Powerscourt contributed £200.


A market post town and a parish in the barony of Ballinacor, eight miles from Wicklow and twenty nine from Dublin; containing 1,054 inhabitants. It derives its name of Rathdrum, ‘The fort on the Hill’, from its position on a lofty and commanding eminence, formerly the fortified residence of the ancient chieftains of the territory in the north east of the county, then known by the name of Crioc Cuolan. It was subsequently held by the O’Byrnes, but in 1595 was wrested from Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne by the Crown’s forces. The manufacture of flannel is carried on here to such an extent that the Irish government deemed it necessary to appoint a seller of flannels to superintend it, under whom are a deputy and eight sworn meters, residing in the town. A flannel-hall was erected in 1793, at an expense of £3,500, by the late Earl Fitzwilliam, the trade continued to flourish so long as the protecting duties on Irish woollens were maintained, but on their repeal it declined rapidly and is now nearly extinct: the few pieces at present made are purchased by the shopkeepers in the town. The apartments in the market house, which forms a spacious square and above the principal entrance of which in an escutcheon of Earl Fitzwilliam’s arms, are now used for a court-house, a Roman Catholic chapel and schools. The manufacture of woollen cloth also flourished here, but owing to the same causes has declined within the last twelve years and is now also extinct.

There are two breweries in the town, The market, held on Thursday, is well supplied with. provisions: the monthly market for flannels, which was well attended by buyers from Dublin, has been discontinued for some time. Fairs are held in Rathdrum on the last Thursday in February, May and August and on 5th April, 5th July, 10th October and 11th December; and at Ballinderry on 21st April, 16th May, 21st August, 29th October, the first Monday in November and 2nd December. Petty sessions for the barony are held on alternate Thursdays in flannel-Hall and there is a chief constabulary police station in the town.

There are places of worship for Presbyterians and Wesleyan Methodists. About two hundred and fifty children are taught in two public schools; and there are three private schools in which are about a hundred children and a Sunday school; the parochial school is about to be rebuilt on a larger scale, at the expense of the vicar.


Rathnew, a parish and village, at the junction of the roads from Dublin, Rathdrum and Bray to Wicklow; in which there are 544 inhabitants. This place is also called Newrath and derives its name from an ancient rath. It is intersected by the river Vartry, over which there is a picturesque bridge. A constabulary police force is stationed in the village and petty sessions are held there on alternate Mondays. In the village there are the ruins of an ancient church, to which is attached a burial-ground.


A market-town and a parochial district, near the road to Wexford; containing 952 inhabitants. This town, which is of recent date, owes its origin to Edward, late Earl of Aldborough. A battle was fought here during the disturbances of 1798. Adjoining the town, on the bank of the river, are extensive cotton and calico printing works established in 1792. A fever hospital with a dispensary was erected near the town in 1817. Adjoining the church is a plot of two acres of freehold land, from which Lord Hennikea takes his title of an Irish baron.


A market and post-town, in the parish of Kilcommon. It is twenty miles from Wicklow and forty one from Dublin on the road from Rathdrum to Carnew; containing 575 inhabitants. This place formed part of the vast estate of the Earl of Stratford. During the disturbances of 1798, the town was entirely destroyed but was soon afterwards rebuilt in an improved style. Here is a chief constabulary; a manorial court is held in April and petty sessions on alternate Wednesdays in a room over the market house, erected by the late Earl Fitzwilliam. Soap boiling is carried on and there is an extensive flour-mill and a tan-yard. A school is maintained partly by a grant of £50 from Earl Fitzwilliain.


Wicklow is a sea-port, assize, borough, market and post-town partly in the parish of Rathnew, barony of Newcastle, but chiefly in that of Kilpoole, barony of Arklow, twenty four miles from Dublin on the coast road to Arklow containing 2,963 inhabitants. Its ancient name Wykinglo or Wykinglogy is derived from its situation at the southern extremity of a narrow creek, shut out from the sea by a long narrow peninsula called the Murrough.

Wicklow is situated on a piece of elevated rugged ground backed by hills of considerable height, over the point at which the river Vartry or Leitrim discharges itself into St. George’s Channel; this river is crossed by a bridge of eight arches. The houses are irregularly built and are of very inferior appearance; the streets are narrow and neither paved nor lighted, but there is an ample supply of water from the springs. The place is a resort for sea-bathing in the summer months. Races occasionally take place on the Murrough, a portion of which was kept as a race course on which a small stand was erected. The border of low land, which extends nearly six miles northwards slopes down gradually to the strand which, at low tide sometimes consists merely of fine sand, but at other times of layers of small pebbles, three or four feet in height and of considerable breath. Many of these pebbles are so esteemed for their beauty as to be bought by jewellers in Dublin to be wrought into necklaces and other ornaments.

The market is held on Saturdays for butchers’ meat, poultry and vegetables. There is no regular market for corn, it is delivered to stores any day of the week. The fairs are held on 28th March, 24th May, 12th August and 25th November. The trade is confined to the exportation of grain and copper and lead ore, of which four hundred tons from neighbouring mines are shipped weekly and to the importation of coal, limestone, timber and iron.

Two light houses were erected on Wicklow Head, a promontory of considerable height bodily projecting into the sea about a mile to the south of the town. The lantern of one of the lighthouses is two hundred and fifty feet above high water mark and is visible in clear weather at a distance of twenty one nautical miles. The other lighthouse is five hundred and forty feet distant, but is one hundred and twenty one feet above the same level and spreads its light only to sixteen miles distance. Both are fixed lights. The corporation was constituted by a charter in the 11th of James I(1613). The Wicklow parochial schools were built in 1827 at an expense of £656, of which £200 was granted from the Lord Lieutenant’s fund, and an infants’ school was established in 1830 by the Hon. Martha Stratford. In these schools are about sixty girls, sixty boys and sixty infants. Sunday schools were also established.

The county infirmary and fever hospital was erected in 1834 at an expense of £2,000. It is a neat building, situated in an airy part of the town: the infirmary is supported by the county presentments, the petty sessions fines of the whole county and subscription: the fever hospital by subscriptions only. A parochial alms-house for aged men and widows is supported by subscriptions and weekly collections at the church. There is also a coal and clothing fund for supplying the poor with blankets and a loan fund. On a rocky projection overhanging the sea may still be seen a small fragment of the walls of an ancient castle, the masonry of which is so excellent that it appears to be a portion of the natural rock. It is called the Black Castle.

Great Houses

One of the most notable aspects of Wicklow’s landscape is the profusion of stately homes and great houses. The following is a list of some of the most noted of these houses and the families who owned them. Their numbers bear testament to the vibrant life of the gentry in the county. Nowhere else in the country do you find so many houses of the affluent. Their social and economic influence on the life of the county was immense, bringing much needed employment to their environs.

Altidore CastleKilpedderBlatchford
Ballina ParkAshfordTighe
BellevueDelganyLa Touche
Blessington HouseBlessingtonSmith
Carnew CastleCarnewFitzwilliam
Castle HowardAvocaHyde
Glenart CastleArklowProby
Glendalough HouseAnnamoeBarton/Childers
(West Aston)
LuggalaRoundwoodLa Touche
Mount KennedyNewtownmountkennedyGun Cuninghame
Mount UsherAshfordWalpole
Saunders GroveBaltinglassSaunders
Shelton AbbeyArklowHoward

Two Forgotten People

Over the years the county was to play host to many famous and infamous people. A lot of these have by now been forgotten but in their day their names were well known across the country and beyond. The following are brief accounts of the lives of two of Wicklow’ s most well known personalities in the eighteenth century.

‘Buck’ Whaley (1766-1800)

Thomas Whaley, commonly known as Buck or Jerusalem Whaley was born in Dublin on 15th December 1766. He was the eldest surviving son of Richard Chapell Whaley of Whaley Abbey, county Wicklow, MP for Wicklow, 1747-1760. Richard’s ancestors settled in Ireland in the time of Oliver Cromwell to whom they were closely related (his great, great grand – mother and Cromwell’s father were brother and sister). His maternal great granduncle, Edward Whalley, was one of the signatories to Charles II’s death warrant. Richard Chapell Whaley was twice man-led, first to Catherine, who died childless and secondly to a much younger girl, Anne Ward, who was then only eighteen years old.

It was said that Richard acquired his nickname, Burn-Chapel, from the number of Roman Catholic churches he had helped burn. He died about 16th January 1791, leaving his young widow and seven children. Young Thomas Whaley upon his father’s death became entitled to estates worth £7,000 a year together with a sum of £60,000 in cash, the other members of the family being at the same time amply provided for. He remained at school till sixteen, his mother then sent him to France with an allowance of £900 a year, under the charge of a tutor. After a short but riotous experience of life in France, young Whaley returned to Dublin where, by all accounts, he threw himself into the decadence and general mayhem that was Dublin society at that time.

On 10th February 1785 when he was only eighteen years old, he was elected a member of the lrish House of Commons for Newcastle and was to keep this seat until 1790. It was during this period that his famous trip to Jerusalem took place. Whaley had wagered that he could enter Jerusalem, which was then Muslim ruled and out of bounds for Christians. Whaley and two friends, Captains Wilson and Moore, set off for the Holy Land. On their travels through the Mediterranean they were welcomed by the many British garrisons in the area and their every move was relayed back to Ireland. Captain Wilson was then prevented from making it past Smyrna due to a rheumatic attack. So Whaley and Moore continued alone and on 28th February 1789 they reached Jerusalem. They returned to Dublin in June in great acclaim. His friends reluctantly paid him the £15,000 he had won from them. This was to be one of the few occasions that his gambling balance was in his favour. Over the next few years he lived in London and on the European mainland, where as usual his gambling exploits went against him. One of his most outrageous exploits occurred when, after winning all the money the Prince of Wales was willing to lose in a night he duly won his ‘Favourita’, or escort, in a final bet (obviously decadence was not a solely Irish trait).

His fortune was soon to run out as he explains in his memoirs, “in the course of a few years I dissipated a fortune of near £400,000 and contracted debts to the amount of £3,000 more without ever purchasing or acquiring contentment or one hour’s true happiness”. Bankruptcy forced him into exile in the Isle of Man where one of his last bets was to continue to live on Irish soil forever (he had a ship load of soil sent from Ireland on which he built his house). His new lifestyle enabled him to be re-elected to the Irish Parliament in 1797, this time as an M.P. for Enniscorthy. It did not, however, clear him in the eyes of his enemies his short and reckless life had earned him, for when he died of a cold in 1800 it was reported that a certain Irishman, a Mr. Robinson, danced on his grave.

Mary Tighe (1772-1810)

Born in 1772, Mary was the daughter of Reverend William Blachford and Theodosia Tighe of Rosanna, near Ashford. Rev. Blachford was librarian in Marsh’s Library Dublin from 1766 until his death in 1773. Mrs. Blachford joined the Society of Methodists in 1775. Mary married her cousin Henry Tighe of Rosanna, when she was twenty one. It was at Rosanna, on 25th June 1786, that John Wesley stayed on his visit to Wicklow. He preached there that night before doing likewise for the county’s fledgling congregation in Wicklow town courthouse the next day.

Mary’s was not a happy marriage. Her husband was a barrister of the Middle Temple and not long after they were married the couple moved to London where Mary mixed a lot with society. A few years after this, in 1805, her most famous poem ‘Psyche’ was published. At this time her health began to fail. Thomas Moore, writing to his mother in August 1805, was sure that Mary would not live through the winter. However it was not until 24th March 1810 that Mary Tighe, after many years of suffering, died of consumption, aged thirty eight. She is buried in Inistioge where a monument has been erected to her memory. Although her renown has not lasted, she was greatly admired in her day, particularly by the Methodist community. Her work was described by her biographer, Mackintosh, as “the most faultless series of verses ever produced by a woman”. In the pre-feminist era this would have been considered to be praise indeed. It is rumoured that she built an addition to the Orphans’ Asylum in Wicklow (which was afterwards known as the Psyche Ward) with the profits from ‘Psyche’. It is also rumoured that the profits went to The Home of Refuge for Unprotected Female Servants in Dublin, which was founded by her mother.

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