Memorandums Made in Ireland, 1852, Co. Carlow

Extracts from ‘Memorandums made in Ireland in the Autumn of 1852’ by John Forbes, M.D., F.R.S. Vol. I, London. Publishers: Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill, 1853

We reached Carlow about seven o’clock, having travelled according to our post-boy’s reckoning, 35 Irish miles from Arklow. We put up at a very good inn, called the Club House. Though the country we had passed over is but little travelled, and nearly the whole tract may be regarded as a cross-country, the roads were by no means bad. Our post-chaises, to be sure, were in a rather dilapidated condition, but the horses were good, and the drivers active and obliging.

Carlow, the capital of the county of the same name, is a very handsome town, with more than the ordinary display of public buildings in good style. It contains the ruins of a fine old castle, said to have been built by the famous De Lacy in the eleventh century. One front wall and two corner towers still remain, the latter upwards of sixty feet high. A singular piece of barbarism – it may almost be called sacrilege – was committed on this beautiful ruin, within the last forty years, by a man who, from his education, ought to have had some regard for such relics of antiquity. A physician wishing to adapt the building for the purposes of a lunatic asylum, set about blasting with gunpowder some portions of the walls, and brought down about his ears more than half the structure. One cannot help wishing that it had been brought down literally about his ears. How such an act could have been permitted under the cognisance of the authorities of the town is marvellous. Both the English and the Catholic churches are remarkably fine buildings, the one surmounted by a handsome spire, the other by a still handsomer tower: the latter is the cathedral church of the Catholic dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin. There are also here a Catholic college, with a handsome chapel attached to it, and a convent; a jail, lunatic asylum, infirmary, and a very handsome court-house, only recently erected.

Carlow lies on the banks and near the union of the two rivers, the Barrow and the Burren, the former of which divides the county of Carlow from the Queen’s County (Laois). A portion of the town is situated in the latter and goes by the name of Graigue. It is connected with Carlow proper by a handsome stone bridge called Wellington Bridge. The barrow is navigable by barges down to Waterford ; and the town is now also connected by railway with Kilkenny on the one hand, and with Dublin on the other.

The population of Carlow, by the last census, was, including the suburb of Graigue, 8687, being a decrease of 1722 since 1841. The great majority of the inhabitants are Catholics. According to the official returns of 1834, the proportion of the different religions in the parish were as follows: Catholics, 7843 ; Church of England, 1755 ; Presbyterians and other dissenters, 106.

I had not time to visit any of the public institutions of Carlow, nor to make any very special inquiries into other matters. I may state however, that according to the last two Reports of the National Schools, that of Carlow had on its books in September 1850, boys, 351 ; girls, 604 ; and in September 1851, boys, 288; girls, 452.

Strong in its Catholic tendencies as Carlow is, it has its staunch Protestantism also; the stauncher, no doubt, because of the strength of these very tendencies. I here met with a most intelligent gentleman of this persuasion, who was not a whit less prejudiced and jaundiced by his Orange principles than was the small farmer and ex-soldier of Wicklow, formerly mentioned. He thought that no compromise should be made with the Catholics, and that every effort should be made to extirpate their religion at least, if not themselves. He, however, admitted that the Protestant clergy had made a great mistake in withdrawing the children of their flock from the National Schools, as they had thereby thrown all the educational advantages of this system into the hands of their opponents.

While admitting with all the world that the temperance movement of Father Matthew had done infinite good to the people in their social position, he could not refrain from deprecating it as a measure calculated to enhance the authority of the priests, and to strengthen the anti-Protestant spirit among the lower classes. From everything I have seen and heard in Ireland, I believe no imputation could be more groundless than this, and that there never was a reform undertaken with a more single eye to good than this temperance movement, incomparably the greatest efforts of modern philanthropy, after that of education.

I learned from the conversation of this gentleman, what was confirmed from various other sources subsequently, that many of the proprietors of the encumbered estates already sold, had been enabled to repossess themselves of much of their property by certain arrangements made with the principal creditors, and by borrowing money to effect the re-purchase at a depreciated value.