LEA

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

LEA, or LEY, a parish, in the barony of PORTNEHINCH, QUEEN'S county, and province of LEINSTER, on the road from Dublin to Maryborough; containing, with the greater part of the post-town of Portarlington and with the village and post-town of Ballybrittas (both separately described), 7926 inhabitants. This parish is situated in the north-eastern part of the county, and bounded on the north-east and north-west by the river Barrow, which separates it from the county of Kildare and King's county. From its central situation and proximity to the Barrow it was selected, on the seizure of Leix and the rest of the province of Leinster by Strongbow, as one of the first settlements of the English; and a strong castle was erected here, either by William, Earl Marshall, by the family of De Vesci, or by William de Braosa, to whom it came by marriage with one of the Earl's daughters.

This fortress, from its commanding situation, was frequently the subject of contest between the English lords and the native chieftains; in 1292 it is noticed by Camden as being in the possession of John Fitzthomas, one of the Geraldines, who, during the hostilities that desolated the surrounding country, brought Richard, Earl of Ulster, prisoner to this place. Contiguous to the castle, which, though the territory had descended to the Mortimers, appears to have been retained by the Fitzgeralds, was a small burgh with a market and fairs, which is said to have been destroyed in 1315 by Edward Bruce, who also burned the castle. In the latter part of the reign of Edward II., this place was taken by Lysagh O'Moore; and on the decline of the English power, nearly the whole of the surrounding territory fell into the possession of the native septs.

In 1534 the castle belonged to the Earl of Kildare, and was considered one of the six strongest castles in his possession; it was taken in 1642 by the insurgents, who were afterwards expelled by Lord Lisle; in commemoration of which an ash tree was planted in the old market-place, which is now rapidly falling to decay. The castle was dismantled by the parliamentarians under Cols. Hewson and Reynolds; and the subsequent foundation of the neighbouring town of Portarlington prevented the revival of the old burgh or town of Lea, which has since dwindled into an inconsiderable village.

The parish comprises 17,932 statute acres, of which about 500 are woodland, about 1000 waste and bog, and the remainder divided in nearly equal portions between tillage and pasture. The surface is mostly level, with a few hills of small elevation, of which the chief are Spire hill, Windmill hill, and Mullaghalig; the soil is light and shallow, and the system of agriculture improving. The substrata are limestone, limestone gravel, and reddish sand; the limestone, which is of good quality, is extensively quarried. Besides the seats noticed in the articles on Portarlington and Ballybrittas, are Gray Avon, the residence of J. Armstrong, Esq.; Mount Henry, of H. Smith, Esq.; Jamestown House, of R. Cassidy, Esq.; Ballintoher, of D. French Esq.; the glebe-house, of the Rev. J. Powell; Fisherstown House, of T. L. Kenney, Esq.; Killamullen, of G. Blakeney, Esq.; Ballycarrol, of J. Reed, Esq.; Kilbracken, of A. W. Alloway, Esq.; and Abbeyview Cottage, of the Rev. D. Maher. The Grand Canal passes for three miles through the parish, and the river Barrow might be rendered navigable from Portarlington to Monastereven at a trifling expense. Fairs are held at Portarlington, and petty sessions arc held there weekly on Wednesday, and at Ballybrittas on Monday.

The living is a vicarage, in the diocese, of Kildare, and in the patronage of the Bishop; the rectory is appropriate to the dean and chapter.

The tithes amount to £830. 15. 4 ½., of which £553. 16. 11. is payable to the lessee of the dean and chapter, and the remainder to the vicar. The glebe-house was built by a gift of £369 and a loan to the same amount from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1829; the glebe comprises 25 acres. The church, a small neat edifice, was built by subscription, aided by a loan of £350 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1810; and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £375 for its repair. There are two chapels of ease at Portarlington.

In the R. C. divisions nearly the whole of the parish forms part of the union or district of Portarlington, Emo, and Killeynard; the chapel, at Killeynard, has been lately rebuilt. About 750 children are taught in six public schools; there are also six private schools, in which are about 130 children. At Portarlington and Ballybrittas are dispensaries, and a mendicity society on Dr. Chalmers' plan is supported by subscription. There are ruins of the old churches of Old Lea, Tierhoghar, and Ballyadden; and on the bank of the river Barrow are the remains of the ancient castle, consisting of a massive round tower, with several quadrangular buildings, apparently parts of the original structure and of great strength; the whole enclosed within massive walls pierced with embrasures, and presenting an imposing and venerable appearance as seen from the river. There are six raths in the parish. Near Portarlington is a powerful chalybeate spa, efficacious in scorbutic cases.

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