LIFFORD

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

LIFFORD, an assize town (formerly a parliamentary borough) and parish, in the barony of RAPHOE, county of DONEGAL, and province of ULSTER, 1 mile (W.) from Strabane, and 103 (N. by W.) from Dublin, on the road from Strabane to Letterkenny; containing 5941 inhabitants, of which number, 1096 are in the town. This place, formerly called Ballyduff and Liffer, and of which the parish still retains its ancient name of Clonleigh, was first distinguished as the residence of the chiefs of the sept of the O'Donells, who had a strong castle here, in which Manus O'Donell, Prince of Tyrconnell, after being detained prisoner for the last eight years of his life by his own son Calvagh, died in 1563. Hugh O'Donell, called Red Hugh, in 1596, entertained in this castle Don Alonzo Copis, emissary of Philip III. of Spain, who had been sent to ascertain the state of Ireland previously to the embarkation of a Spanish force for its assistance against the English.

In 1600, Nial Garbh O'Donell, who had abandoned the cause of Hugh, led 1000 men of the English garrison of Derry to this place, which, from the previous destruction of its castle, was defended only by ramparts of earth and a shallow ditch. On the approach of the English, the garrison of Hugh O'Donell abandoned the place and encamped within two miles of it, and the English took possession of the post, which they fortified with walls of stone. Nial O'Donell, after some weeks had elapsed without any action taking place, observing some disorder in the camp of Hugh, advised the English to attack it; but after an obstinate battle, in which many were killed on both sides, the English retreated to their fortifications, and O'Donell soon after led his forces into Connaught to oppose the young Earl of Clanrickarde.

Under the protection of this English fortress the present town first arose, and in 1603 had attained such importance that a market was granted by James I. to Sir Henry Docwra, Knt.. governor of Lough Foyle. In 1611, the village of Liffer, with the fortress and about 500 acres of land adjoining, were, on the settlement of Ulster, granted by James I. to Sir Richard Hansard, with right to hold two fairs in the town, on condition that he should within five years assign convenient portions of land to 60 inhabitants for the erection of houses with gardens, and 200 acres for a common, and that he should also set apart 100 acres for the keep of 50 horses, should His Majesty think proper to place a garrison of horse in the town. The same monarch, in the 10th of his reign, granted to the inhabitants a charter of incorporation, under the designation of the "Warden, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Borough of Liffer," from which time its progress was gradual.

The town is situated in a beautiful valley at the base of an extensive range of mountains, and on the western bank of the river Foyle, over which is a stone bridge of twelve arches leading into the county of Tyrone. It consists of two streets, and contains 161 houses, of which several are neat and well built: the market and fairs have been discontinued. There are infantry barracks for 3 officers and 54 non-commissioned officers and privates. A penny post to Strabane has been established, and there is a constabulary police station in the town. The corporation by the charter consisted of a warden, 12 free burgesses, and an indefinite number of freemen, assisted by two serjeants-at-mace and other officers. The warden, who was also clerk of the market, was annually elected from the free burgesses, who were chosen for life from the commonalty or freemen by a majority of their own body, by whom also the freemen were admitted and the serjeants-at-mace and other officers appointed.

The borough returned two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, when it was disfranchised. A court of record for the recovery of debts to the amount of £3. 6. 8. was granted by the charter to be held weekly before the warden; but no proceedings appear to have issued from it for a long period; the corporation seems to have ceased to exercise any other municipal function except that of returning members to the Irish parliament, and since the Union it has become quite extinct. The assizes and December quarter sessions are held in the town. The court-house and county gaol is a very spacious and handsome building in the castellated style; the former is well adapted for holding the various courts; and the latter, which is divided into six wards, is well arranged for classification, and capable of receiving 124 prisoners; the men are employed in breaking stones and in pounding bones for manure, for which there is a large demand, and the women in needlework, spinning, and washing; there is a good school, and the discipline and interior economy have been recommended to the imitation of the managers of other prisons.

The parish, which is also called Clonleigh, comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 12,517 ½ statute acres, of which 153 are in the tideway of the river Foyle, and 12,227 are applotted under the tithe act and valued at £8520 per annum.

The principal seats are Clonleigh, the residence of the Rev. W. Knox; and Cavanacor, of B. Geale Humfrey, Esq. The river Foyle is navigable for vessels of 20 tons from Derry to this place.

The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £840, and the glebe comprises 427 acres, of which 177 are uncultivated land. The church is a neat edifice of stone with a square tower, and contains a monument to Sir Richard Hansard and Dame Anne, his wife, enumerating his various benefactions to the town.

In the R. C. divisions the parish forms the head of a union or district, comprising also the parish of Camus-juxta-Morne: the chapel, within a mile of the town, is a neat edifice. There is a place of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the second class. About 450 children are taught in seven public schools, of which one is endowed by Sir Richard Hansard with £30 per ann. for a master and £20 for an usher, to be appointed by the Bishop of Derry, who is visiter; the parochial schools are partly supported by a bequest of the late Lord Erne and by the Rector, and another is supported by the Creighton family. There are also four private schools, in which are about 80 children, and a Sunday school.

Mr. Blackburn, in 1806, bequeathed £200, the interest of which he appropriated to be annually distributed among poor householders, but the legacy has not yet been made available to the purpose. There are remains of three religious houses, at Ballibogan, Churchminster, and Clonleigh; the monastery of Cluanleodh, according to Archdall, was founded at a very early period by St. Columb, and St. Carnech was bishop and abbot of this establishment in 530. Lifford gives the titles of Baron and Viscount to the family of Hewitt.

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