From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
SWORDS, a market and post-town (formerly a parliamentary borough), and a parish, in the barony of NETHERCROSS, county of DUBLIN, and province of LEINSTER, 7 miles (N.) from Dublin, on the road to Drogheda by Balbriggan; containing 3722 inhabitants, of which number, 2537 are in the town. The place appears to owe its origin to the foundation of a monastery here, in 512, by St. Columbkill, who presented to it a missal written by himself, appointed St. Finan Lobhair, or the Leper, its first abbot, and blessed the well there. The monastery continued long to increase in character and wealth, and the town in consequence rose to such a magnitude, that it had several additional places of worship, among which were chapels dedicated to St. Finan and St. Bridget, near the latter of which was an ancient cross, called "Pardon Crosse."
It was repeatedly plundered and burnt by the Danes; and about the year 1035 it suffered in a similar manner from an attack by Conor O'Melaghlin, king of Meath, who was killed in the engagement, to revenge which his brother ravaged the whole district of Fingal with fire and sword. Notwithstanding these repeated injuries it still retained the character of a place of much importance: for when the bodies of Brian Boroimhe and his son Murrough, who fell in the arms of victory at the famous battle of Clontarf, were being conveyed to their final place of interment at Armagh, they were deposited for one night during the journey in the abbey of this town.
On the foundation of the collegiate establishment of St. Patrick's, Dublin, by Archbishop Comyn in 1190, Swords was not only constituted a prebend of that church, but it is noticed by Archbishop Alan, in his Repertorium Viride as "the Golden Prebend, similar to that of Sarum in England;" and in the same work it is registered as giving name to one of the rural deaneries in the northern part of the diocese.
King John granted to the same prelate the privilege of holding a fair there for eight days after the feast of St. Columbkill. It was incorporated by Queen Elizabeth in 1578. James I., in 1603, granted to the Archbishop of Dublin a confirmation of the privileges of the town, together with a weekly market on Monday; in this document the place is called the Archbishop's manor of Swords. A grant of two additional fairs was made to it in 1699. On the breaking out of the war in 1641, the Irish army of the pale assembled for the first time at Swords, and on the 10th of the following January they were driven from it with the loss of 200 men, by Sir Charles Coote, with scarcely any on his side except that of Sir Lorenzo Carey, a son of Lord Falkland, who was slain in the action.
The town occupies a pleasing situation on the steep banks of a small but rapid stream, which discharges itself northwards into the inner extremity of the creek or pill of Malahide: the creek, which comes within a mile of the town, is navigable for boats at high water. It consists chiefly of one wide street, a mile in length, formed of houses which, with but few exceptions, are of mean appearance.
Fairs are held on March 17th and May 9th for cattle and pedlery; petty sessions on Wednesdays; and it is a constabulary police station. Its charter, already noticed, which bears date in the 20th year of the reign of Elizabeth, incorporates the place by the name of the "Bailiff and Burgesses within the Town of Swords." It was a potwalloping borough and sent two representatives to the Irish parliament, but was disfranchised at the union.
By an order of the privy council of Ireland, dated Jan. 10th, 1837, under the Act of the 6th and 7th of William IV., for extending the jurisdiction and regulating the proceedings of the Civil Bill Court, the county of Dublin is divided into two districts: the northern, called the district of Balbriggan, consists of the barony of Balrothery, so much of the parishes of Swords, Killossory, and Malahide as are in the barony of Coolock, and the barony of Nethercross, except the part of the parish of Finglass which is within that barony; the act of council directs that two general sessions of the peace are to be held annually at Balbriggan and two at Swords for this district: for the particulars of the southern district, named the district of Kilmainham, see KILMAINHAM.
The parish, according to the county book in the custody of the treasurer, contains 3536 Irish acres, of which 1227 are in the town and its liberties. The soil is good, and the system of agriculture rapidly improving: there are several extensive corn-mills within the parish, and it is embellished with numerous seats and villas.
Brackenstown, the seat of R. Manders, Esq., is a spacious mansion, situated in a demesne laid out with much taste, in which is a cemetery erected by the present proprietor's father, whose remains are interred there: this place was the residence of the Chief Baron Bysse in the time of Cromwell, who visited him here during his military expedition to Ireland. Balheary House, the residence of A. Baker, Esq., is a large square structure with several apartments of ample dimensions; in the saloon and dining-rooms are some fine pieces of tapestry, formerly the property of the Earl of Ormonde: the surrounding demesne, through which flow the small rivers of Fieldstown and Knocksedan, is well laid out, and commands a fine view of Howth and the Dublin mountains, with the town and environs of Swords, which, with its church, round tower, ruins of the monastery, and other interesting objects, presents a varied and picturesque scene in the foreground.
Seafield is the residence of J. Arthure, Esq.; Little Lissenhall, of R. Smith, Esq.; Newport, of P. Wilson, Esq.; the Vicarage, of the Hon. and Rev. F. Howard; Swords House, of James Taylor, Esq.; Prospect Point, of Captain Purcell; Cremona, of Lieutenant Col: Gordon; and Mantua, of Mrs. Daly.
The parish is a prebend, rectory, and vicarage, in the diocese of Dublin. In 1431 it was divided by Archbishop Talbot into three unequal portions, one of which was assigned to a prebendary of St. Patrick's, the second to the perpetual vicar, and the remainder to the Economy of the same cathedral, which was thereby bound to maintain six minor canons and six choristers, and to furnish lights and to keep the building in a proper state of repair. At present, the rectory in part constitutes the corps of the prebend of Swords; one of the other portions is appropriated to the Economy fund of St. Patrick's, Dublin; and the other, with the vicarage, is episcopally united to the rectory of Kinsealy, and the curacies of Killeek and Killossory, in the patronage of the Archbishop.
The tithes amount to £273. 1. 2 ½., of which £112. 13. 5 ½. is payable to the dean and chapter, and the remainder to the vicar. There is a glebe-house, and a glebe of 33a. 2r. 20p. The church, completed in 1818 by aid of a loan of £2500 from the late Board of First Fruits, is a handsome building of hewn stone in the pointed style of architecture: the interior is fitted up neatly but without any display of ornamental decoration; a gallery, in which is an organ, extends across the west end: the east window is of modern painted glass. The belfry tower is that of the former church, which was allowed to remain when the rest of the edifice was taken down; it stands a little detached from the main building. Near it, in the same direction, is an ancient round tower, 73 feet high, which is of a ruder construction than most of the others now existing, but has been kept in good repair; it also differs from all the others by having on the vertex of its conical roof a small cross: near the summit are four round-headed windows opening to the four cardinal points, and at different heights are four other small square windows; an opening of about four feet high, apparently intended for the doorway, is nearly 24 feet above the ground.
In the R. C. divisions the parish is the head of a union or district, which comprises the parishes of Swords, Malahide, and Cloghran, and contains two chapels, one in the town, a spacious and neat edifice with a small tower and spire, the other at Balheary. The free school, which is situated in the town, owes its origin to circumstances connected with the Union.
On the suppression of the elective franchise of the borough at that period, the claimants for shares of the £15,000 allowed as compensation for the loss of that right were very numerous: but all their claims were disallowed, and the sum was vested in the Lord Chancellor and several clergymen of high station, in trust to found a school here, for the daily education of the children of the place in reading, writing, arithmetic and such branches of manufacture as would be most likely to be useful to them during their future life; the surplus to be applied to apprentice fees for those pupils who had completed their school course, for premiums, and for the general encouragement of manufactures and agriculture in the district: upwards of 300 children receive instruction in the school, and 6 of each sex are apprenticed every May with a fee of £12 each: a dispensary attached to the institution is supported from the fund, and also a coal yard for selling fuel to the poor at low prices in times of scarcity.
The old R. C. chapel has been converted into a school, which is in connection with the Board of National Education: there are 87 boys and 52 girls in it. Another dispensary is supported by Grand Jury presentments and private subscriptions in equal proportions.
The principal relics of antiquity still in existence are the ancient round tower and the archbishop's palace; the latter was a fortified structure in the centre of a court surrounded by embattled walls flanked with towers; these walls compose the whole of the existing remains, the enclosed area having been converted into a garden. The only evidence of the former existence of a nunnery, founded here at an unknown period, is the record of a pension granted by parliament, in 1474, to the prioress and her successors.
To the south of the town, near the sea-shore, are the ruins of Seatown castle, once a chief seat of the Russell family: about a mile from the town, in the same direction, is Drynam, built by the same family in 1627, and now the property of Robert Russell Cruise, Esq. Lissenhall, an ancient seat in the vicinity of Swords, belonged to the de Lacey family in the reign of Edward I.; Sir William Fitzwilliam resided in it. for some time, when he was Lord-Deputy of Ireland. Near Brackenstown House is a high rath, which commands a fine view of all the surrounding district: near Seafield is an old burial-ground, called Ballymadrouch.