BLESSINGTON

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

BLESSINGTON (ST. MARY), or BURGAGE, a market and post-town, and a parish, in the barony of LOWER TALBOTSTOWN, county of WICKLOW, and province of LEINSTER, 6 ¼ miles (E. S. E.) from Naas, and 14 (S. S. W.) from Dublin; containing, with Burgage, 2677 inhabitants, of which number, 426 are in the town. 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 only of one street, and contains about 50 houses, which are mostly of respectable appearance, and a good inn or hotel. Considerable improvement has taken place since the construction of the new turnpike road from Dublin to Carlow, by way of Baltinglass, in 1829, by which the Waterford mail and the Kilkenny day mail, and several coaches and cars to the counties of Wexford and Carlow, have been brought through it.

The celebrated waterfall called Poul-a-Phuca, about three miles distant on the road to Baltinglass, and described under the head of Ballymore-Eustace, is generally visited from this place. The market is on Thursday; and fairs are held on May 12th, July 5th, and Nov. 12th. Here is a station of the constabulary police; and the chief officer of the peace preservation force resides in the town. The inhabitants were incorporated by charter of the 21st of Charles II. (1669), granted to Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Dublin and Chancellor of Ireland, and certain forfeited lands assigned to him were at the same time erected into a manor, to be called the manor of Blessington. This charter empowered the archbishop to hold before the seneschal of the manor a court leet with view of frankpledge twice in the year; a court baron every three weeks, or less frequently, for claims not exceeding 40s.; and a court of record when and where he should think proper, with jurisdiction not exceeding £10: and prescribed the style, constitution, and mode of electing the officers of the corporation.

The corporation was styled "The Sovereign, Bailiffs, and Burgesses of the Borough and Town of Blessington;" and consisted of a sovereign, two bailiffs, and twelve burgesses, with power to a majority to admit freemen and choose inferior officers, and the archbishop was authorised to appoint a recorder and town-clerk. The borough returned two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, when the £15,000 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. Petty sessions are held on alternate Saturdays; and the Marquess of Downshire, as proprietor of the town, has power to hold a manorial court for the recovery of small debts.

The parish, which, previously to the erection of the town and church in 1683, was called Burgage, comprises 17,570 statute acres. The land is chiefly under tillage and pasturage, and there are some large tracts of mountain waste, on which are turf bogs; the state of agriculture has considerably improved. The subsoil is chiefly limestone gravel; and the mountains abound with granite, which is quarried and sent to Dublin for public buildings. The Marquess of Downshire had a handsome mansion and demesne of 410 statute acres, with a deer park of 340 acres, all surrounded by a wall, and situated on the right of the road from Dublin: the mansion was originally built by Primate Boyle, the last ecclesiastical chancellor of Ireland, who held his court of chancery here, and built houses for the six clerks, two of which yet remain; the interior was burnt by the insurgents in 1798 and has not been restored; the demesne is richly embellished with fine timber.

About two miles from the town, on the road to Baltinglass, is Russborough, the elegant seat of the Earl of Miltown: the mansion, erected after a design by Mr. Cassels, architect of the Bank of Ireland, is in the Grecian style, and consists of a centre and two wings, connected by semicircular colonnades of alternated Ionic and Corinthian pillars, and presenting a noble facade of hewn stone 700 feet in extent; the interior is fitted up in a style of sumptuous magnificence; the floors of the principal apartments are of polished mahogany, and there is an extensive and valuable collection of paintings, chiefly of the Italian school, arranged in seven apartments appropriated to its reception: the demesne comprises 405 statute acres tastefully laid out and planted. Russellstown, the seat of J. Hornidge, Esq., is also in the parish.

The living is a vicarage with Burgage, in the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, to which the vicarages of Boystown and Kilbride were united by act of council in 1833, forming the vicarial union of Blessington, in the patronage of the Archbishop; the rectory is united to those of St. Andrew's and Ardree, and part of Lusk, together constituting the corps of the precen-torship in the cathedral church of St. Patrick, Dublin. The tithes, including those of Burgage, amount to £218. 10., of which £120 is payable to the precentor, and the remainder to the vicar, and the gross tithes of the benefice amount to £210. 19. 5. The lands of Great Burgage, comprising 670a. 3r. l0p. statute measure, let on lease at a rental of £64. 12. 3 ¾., form part of the endowment of the precentorship.

The church, a neat edifice with a lofty square tower, was erected at the expense of Primate Boyle, who also gave a ring of bells: it is neatly fitted up, and an organ was erected by the grandfather of the present Marquess of Downshire, who allows the organist a salary of £40 per ann., to which £10 was formerly added by the parish, and now by the new Ecclesiastical Board: a monument to the memory of the founder records his benefactions to the town, and the inscription concludes with the motto, "Abi, et fac tu similiter." During the disturbances of 1798 the church was used as a barrack. Viscount Blessington, a descendant of Primate Boyle, in 1736, endowed the living of Blessington, otherwise Burgage, with 130 statute acres of land in the adjoining parish of Tipperkevin, subject to the payment of £5 per annum by the incumbent to the school: there is neither glebe-house nor glebe.

In the R. C. divisions this parish is partly included in the union or district of Blessington, partly in that of Blackditches, and partly in that of Ballymore-Eustace: the first union comprises also the parishes of Rathmore, Kilbride, and Kilteel, and contains three chapels, situated at Cross and Eadestown, in Rathmore, and at Kilbride. A neat building, the upper part of which is used as a girls' school, and the lower as a court for holding the petty sessions, with a house for the master and mistress, has been erected at an expense of £800 by the Marquess of Downshire, who allows a salary of £20 to the master and £10 to the mistress, the latter of whom also receives the £5 payable by the incumbent: there are about 20 boys in the school, who are taught in a school-room a short distance from the building, and 30 girls.

There are also five hedge schools in Blessington and Burgage, in which nearly 150 children are taught. A dispensary is supported in the customary manner. There are some ruins of the old church of Burgage, and in the churchyard are the remains of a castle, and on the outside is a very fine cross, hewn out of one large block of granite, and about 14 feet high. On the townland of Crosscool Harbour, near Liffey Cottage, are a burial-place and a holy well, the latter of which is much resorted to in June for its reputed efficacy in healing various diseases. On the townland of Three Castles are some remains of one of the ancient fortresses from which it has derived its name. Blessington gave the title of Earl to the family of Gardiner, now extinct; and Russborough gives the inferior titles of Viscount and Baron to the Earl of Miltown.

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