QUEEN'S COUNTY SOCIETY

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The middle classes of the gentry pay much attention to the improvement and embellishment of their grounds; their dwelling-houses are handsome and convenient, with suitable offices. The habitations of the peasantry, though in many parts superior to those of the neighbouring counties, are very deficient in appearance or in internal comfort. Abbeyleix and Castletown are exceptions, much attention being paid to the houses there; in the baronies of Maryborough and Upper Ossory they are comfortable, but in the northern barony of Tinnehinch they are very poor, being little better than hovels, and in the neighbourhood of the collieries still worse.

A plot of ground of from half an acre to an acre is generally attached to the peasant's hut, as a potato garden, for which he pays in labour from 20s. to 50s. rent. The fuel throughout the entire county is turf, the coal being exclusively used for manufacturing purposes; wood was formerly so abundant, that a clause was introduced into many old leases binding the tenant to use no other kind of fuel; and at the present time the ancient custom of dues and services is inserted in many leases.

A strong attachment to old customs is pointed out as one of the striking characteristics of the peasantry: but that this adherence is not caused by prejudice alone is proved by their adoption of improved practices of agriculture, when the success of others had ultimately convinced them of their superior advantages. Another fact, illustrative of this observation, is, that the peasantry in all parts, even in the mountainous districts, speak English fluently, the Irish being never heard except with some of the very old people. The custom of frequenting wells for devotional purposes is declining fast. Of the chalybeate springs the most remarkable are those at Cappard, Killeshin, Mountmellick, and Portarlington: the first-named is the strongest, but none of them are in much repute for their sanative qualities beyond their own immediate neighbourhood.

There is a very singular artificial curiosity, called the Cut of Killeshin, about three miles from Carlow, on the road to the collieries. It is a pass through a lofty hill above half a mile long, and from 10 to 40 feet deep according to the rise of the ground, but not more than four feet four inches wide, cut through the solid rock, so that cars have barely room to pass along it. The constant flow of water and the friction of the carriage wheels have occasioned this extraordinary excavation. The carrier, as he approached the gap at either end, shouted loudly, and the sound was easily conveyed to the other extremity through the cavity. Should the cars have met within the cut, the driver of the empty car was bound to back out, a task of no small difficulty along this narrow and ill-constructed road.

A new road has been opened, which has obviated the necessity of making use of this pass. Contiguous to this cut are the ruins of Killeshin church, with an antique and highly ornamented entrance archway, surrounded by an inscription in Saxon characters, now illegible. Adjoining the church was a rath with a deep fosse. This place was remarkable for having once been the chief town in the county, though not a stone building of it is now standing except the ruins just mentioned.

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