FERNS

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

FERNS, a post-town and parish, and till lately the seat of a diocese, partly in the barony of GOREY, but chiefly in that of SCARAWALSH, county of WEXFORD, and province of LEINSTER, 17 ¾ miles (N.) from Wexford, and 56 ¾ (S. by W.) from Dublin, on the road from Gorey to Enniscorthy; containing 4038 inhabitants, of which number, 571 are in the town. This place, according to Colgan, derives its name from Ferna, son of Caril, King of Decies, who was slain here in battle by Gallus, son of Morna; but according to other writers from "Fearn," signifying either an alder tree, or the well-known weed so common in uncultivated districts. It is said to have been granted, in 598, by Brandubh, King of Leinster, to St. Edan, who built a monastery here, in the church of which his benefactor and himself were subsequently interred. Early in the 9th century, the growing importance of the town, which had gradually risen around the monastery, was checked by successive incursions of the Danes, in 834, 836, and 838; afterwards in 917 and 928, and in 930 they plundered the abbey and burnt the town.

In 1041 the city was destroyed by Dunchad, son of Brian, and in 1165 it suffered from an accidental fire. In the following year it is said to have been burnt by Dermod MacMurrough, the last King of Leinster, to prevent its falling into the hands of Roderic, King of Ireland; but according to more numerous authorities, it was destroyed by the confederate army under Roderic, who, advancing to Ferns during Dermod's absence in England, took the castle and restored Dervorghal, whom Dermod had forcibly carried off, to her husband O'Rourke, King of Breffny. On his return from England, towards the close of 1168, Dermod secretly took refuge in the Augustine monastery which he had founded here; and after the capture of Wexford by his English auxiliaries, concentrated his forces at this place, where he remained for three weeks refreshing his men, and concerting plans of future operations.

After a successful attack on the King of Ossory, Dermod again retired to Ferns, whither Roderic, alarmed at his continued successes, advanced to give him battle. Dermod, sensible of his inferiority in numbers, stationed his troops in the bogs and woods which surrounded the castle, and awaited the contest; and Roderic, fearing to attack him in that position, concluded, at the solicitations of the clergy, a treaty of peace, in which he acknowledged Dermod's right to the crown of Leinster. Dermod died the year following, and was interred either in the cathedral of Ferns or at Baltinglass. After his death, Strongbow visited this city, where he subsequently solemnized the marriage of his daughter, by a former wife, with his standard-bearer, Robert de Quiney, whom he created Lord Daffren and appointed constable of Leinster.

The city appears never to have recovered from its previous devastations; for when it was given by Henry II. to Robert Fitz-Aldelm, it was described as an inconsiderable place, and exposed to the hostile assaults of the native chieftains. Fitz-Aldelm, having seized the castle of Wicklow, gave this lordship in exchange to the sons of Maurice Fitzgerald, who began to build a strong castle here, which was treacherously rased to the ground before it was completed.

The castle, which subsequently became the occasional residence of the bishops of the diocese, and of which there are some remains, was most probably built in the reign of John, by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. It was attacked, in 1312 and 1313, by the O'Tooles, who also set fire to the city; and Bishop Esmond, whose prelacy was disputed, maintained himself in it by force of arms against William Charnells, who was appointed to succeed him. The latter, after the sheriff had declared his inability to displace the former, put himself at the head of his own servants and forcibly obtained possession of the castle, in the occupation of which he was greatly annoyed by the Irish septs.

In the reign of Henry VIII., Mac Murrough, chieftain of Leinster, was made governor of the castle for the king; and during the reign of Edward VI. and Mary, the custody of it was given to Richard Butler, Viscount Mountgarret. In 1641, Sir Charles Coote, the parliamentary general, dismantled the fortress and greatly oppressed the inhabitants.

The town is romantically situated on the river Bann, in an open and healthy district, and is sheltered on the north and west by a range of mountains. It consists chiefly of one irregular street, and contains 106 houses indifferently built, retaining no trace of its ancient importance. The market has been long discontinued; but fairs are held on Feb. 11th, March 25th, May 12th, June 29th, Sept. 4th, Oct. 29th, and Dec. 27th. Here and at Ballycarney are constabulary police stations.

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