BELTURBET, an incorporated market and post-town

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

BELTURBET, an incorporated market and post-town, partly in the parish of DRUMLANE, but chiefly in that of ANNAGH, barony of LOWER LOUGHTEE, county of CAVAN, and province of ULSTER, 12 miles (N. N. W.) from Cavan, and 67 (N. W.) from Dublin; containing 2026 inhabitants. It is pleasantly situated on the river Erne, on the road from Cavan to Ballyconnell, and owes its origin to the Lanesborough family, whose patronage has also contributed materially to its prosperity. In 1610, certain conditions were proposed by the lords of the council in England to Sir Stephen Butler, of Bealetirbirt, Knt., for establishing a market here and erecting a corporation; and in 1613 it received its first charter, whereby the king, on petition of the inhabitants, and for the purpose of furthering the plantation of Ulster, incorporated the village and its precincts into a borough. By an indenture in 1618 Sir Stephen Butler, in fulfilment of the conditions of the lords of the council, granted and confirmed to the corporation certain parcels of land amounting altogether to 284 acres, also a weekly market and two annual fairs, and a weekly court of record, the whole to be held of him or his successors in the fee, in fee-farm for ever, at the rent of 30s. yearly. This indenture contains a covenant on the part of the corporation that all the inhabitants should be ready at all times to be mustered and trained to arms whenever required by Sir Stephen, or his heirs or assigns, or by the Muster-master General of Ulster, or any of the king's officers duly authorised; and that they should grind their corn at Sir Stephen's mill. By Pynnar's survey, made in 1619, it appears that the newly erected houses were built of "cage work," and all inhabited by English tradesmen, who had each a garden, four acres of land, and commonage for a certain number of cows and horses.

In 1690, the town, being garrisoned by a body of the forces of James II., was taken by surprise by the Enniskilleners, who fortified it for their own party. It contains several neat houses, but the greater number are indifferently built and thatched. The wide expanse of Lough Erne to the north, and the varied character of the surrounding scenery, impart to the environs an interesting and highly picturesque appearance. A handsome bridge of three arches is in course of erection over the Erne, for which the Board of Works has consented to grant a loan of £1700, and has already advanced £500 on account. There is a cavalry barrack for 7 officers, 156 noncommissioned officers and men, and 101 horses. A very extensive distillery belonging to Messrs. Dickson, Dunlop, and Co., was erected in 1825 at an expense of £21,000, and enlarged and improved in 1830, at an additional cost of £6000: it is wrought by never-failing water power, and the quantity of whiskey made annually is from 90,000 to 100,000 gallons; about 100 persons are usually employed. There are also some malting establishments. The river Erne opens a communication through Lough Erne to within three miles of Ballyshannon; but in dry weather the navigation is interrupted by shoals, which might be removed, to the great improvement of the trade of the town. The market is on Thursday, and is principally for butter, oatmeal, potatoes, and yarn, of which last there is a good supply. Fairs are held on Ash-Wednesday, Sept. 4th, and the first Thursday in every other month. Here is a station of the constabulary police.

The charter of James I., granted in 1613, after incorporating the inhabitants, empowered them to return two representatives to the Irish parliament, and to hold a court of record every Tuesday, before the provost, with jurisdiction to the extent of five marks, besides conferring other privileges, which were confirmed by the indenture made between Sir Stephen Butler and the corporation, by which the jurisdiction of the court of record in all actions, personal or mixed, was extended to £6. 13. 4., and it was ordered to be held before the bailiff and stewards of the corporation every Saturday. The corporation is styled "the Provost, Burgesses, Freemen, and Inhabitants of the borough of Belturbet," which in some degree differs from the style prescribed by the charter of James I. and the indenture. The officers named in the charter are a provost, twelve free burgesses, and two serjeants-at-mace; the other officers are a treasurer, town-clerk, herd, marshal-keeper or corporation gaoler, pound-keeper, foreman of the market jury, and weigh-master.

The provost is by the charter to be elected by the provost and free burgesses from among the latter annually on the 24th of June, and sworn in upon Sept. 29th. The burgesses are chosen from among the inhabitants by the provost and free burgesses, and by the usage of the corporation must be freemen prior to their election; there are at present only nine or ten, all non-resident, and they were formerly entitled to certain privileges and emoluments now lost. No recognised right to the freedom at present exists, nor does it appear that any freemen have been admitted by the provost and burgesses for many years, except for the purpose of qualifying persons immediately after elected burgesses. The town-clerk and other officers of the corporation, whose offices have not fallen into desuetude, are appointed by the provost. The municipal affairs are regulated by the inhabitants assembled by the provost at what are termed "Town Courts," which are held before the provost generally eight or ten times in the year, and in which are made by-laws for the government of the town, the corporation property is regulated, and complaints of trespass respecting commonage and upon the private lands within the district are referred for investigation and adjustment to the market jury. This jury consists of not less than twelve members appointed from the inhabitants by the provost, and sworn in at the town court; its duties are not only to inspect the meat brought to market, of which the foreman is appointed clerk by the provost, but to superintend the property of the corporation generally, forming, in fact, a court of arbitration, and exercising a jurisdiction highly beneficial to the inhabitants.

The borough returned two members to the Irish parliament until the Union, when the £15,000 awarded as compensation for the abolition of its franchise was paid to Armar, Earl of Belmore, who had a short time previously purchased the borough for that amount from the Earl of Lanesborough. It comprises the town and precincts, forming a district termed "the corporation," the boundaries of which are clearly defined. The provost is chief magistrate, and is by usage the first magistrate named upon the commission in the county, and next in rank to the lieutenant; he formerly sat with the judges at the county assizes, but has not for many years exercised this privilege. The court of record, in which he presided, has fallen into disuse for nearly 30 years. Petty sessions are held by the county magistrates every Saturday in the market-house, of which the upper part is appropriated to that use and the lower to the purpose of the market. Beneath this building was the corporation gaol, a damp and unhealthy prison, which was prohibited to be used as a place of confinement after the passing of the act of the 7th of George IV., c. 74.

The commons in possession of the corporation comprise about 120 acres; the right of commonage enjoyed by the inhabitants is regulated by the possession of the whole or a portion of a homestead, to which also a proportionate quantity of bog is annexed: these homesteads include certain portions of the front of streets, defined and granted to individuals on the original foundation of the town, and subsequently divided among different tenants, and the right to commonage was by usage similarly apportioned. The lands allotted for the private occupation of the burgesses are said to have been granted to them and their heirs, instead of their successors, and, under the name of "burgess acres," are divided and separately enclosed as private properties. The only revenue which the corporation now possesses is derivable from some nominal reservations on fee-farm grants made, within the last few years, of small portions of the commons, the fines on which, amounting to £175, were applied to the repairs of the market-house.

The parish church of Annagh, a neat edifice with a tower surmounted by a spire, is situated in the town; it was rebuilt by a loan of £923 from the late Board of First Fruits in 1828, and of £800 in 1829. It is in contemplation to erect a handsome R. C. chapel. The parochial school for boys is on the foundation of Erasmus Smith, and was built on an acre of ground granted by the corporation, who also gave a site for the erection of a school for girls on the same establishment, which is supported by subscription; and there is an infants' school, also a dispensary. Six alms-houses for poor widows were built on a site granted by the corporation in 1733, the inmates of which are supported by a legacy bequeathed by a Mr. Maunsell, of Dublin, and distributed by the rector. He also distributes the interest of £100 paid by the Earl of Lanes-borough's agent, £3 per ann. derived from a charity called Fellor's List, and £6 per ann. accruing from another charity; and there is a house in the town bequeathed by Benjamin Johnson for the benefit of the poor, and let for £1. 16. 11. per annum. In the churchyard are vestiges of a strong fortification enclosing an extensive area, with bastions and salient angles of great strength; about two miles distant are some venerable ecclesiastical ruins, with others at Clinosy; and in the vicinity are the remains of an ancient castle.—See ANNAGH and DRUMLANE.

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