Borough of Wexford - Wexford Guide and Directory, 1885

About “Wexford County Guide and Directory,” 1885

George Henry Bassett produced 7 Irish county directories in the 1880s: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Kilkenny, Louth, Tipperary and Wexford. Each provides useful history of the respective counties as well as lists of office holders, farmers, traders, and other residents of the individual cities, towns and villages.

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The directories are naturally an invaluable resource for those tracing family history. However, there are a few points to bear in mind.

  1. This online version of Bassett’s Wexford County Guide and Directory is designed primarily as a genealogical research tool and therefore the numerous advertisements in the original book, many full page, and quite a few illustrated, have been excluded.
  2. The text has been proofed with due care, but with large bodies of text typographical errors are inevitably bound to occur.
  3. Be aware that there were often inconsistencies in spelling surnames in the 19th century and also that many forenames are abbreviated in Bassett’s directories.

With respect to the last point, surnames which today begin with the “Mc” prefix, for example, were often formerly spelt as “M‘,”. For a list of some of the more common forename abbreviations used in the directory, see Forename Abbreviations.

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[Population 12,163 in 1881.]

THE borough of Wexford is situated at the mouth of the River Slaney. It is 92¾ miles from Dublin by the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, and 109¾ by the Great Southern and Western Railway via Carlow, Bagnalstown and BallywilliaM. A broad and sightly harbour spreads out before it, which gives entrance to shipping from St. George’s Channel. Ireland has few seaports that impress more favourably at full tide. The town rises from a quay nearly 1,000 yards in length, to a considerable height, its main thoroughfare beginning on the level and running along the side of a hill, frequently in such narrow limits as to barely permit vehicles to pass each other. This peculiarity belongs chiefly to the Main Street, which contains a majority of the business houses. At first sight it suggests hampered energies, but closer acquaintance with the people, and their quiet and orderly methods of business, gives to the narrow street an attractiveness which has to be experienced to be understood. It is something to be able to sit quietly of a summer’s evening in the coffee room of White’s excellently kept hotel, and get the full benefit of the concert in the adjoining Hall; and it is a strong incentive to the development of social feeling to be able from a window at one side of the street, to distinguish the title of the book which supplies Sunday reading for the head of the family in the house at the opposite side. Wexford has its broad streets also, but they have not yet succeeded in drawing to them many merchants from the old and highly favoured thoroughfare.

Connection with the left bank of the Slaney is secured by means of a long and well constructed metal bridge.

Waesford or Weisford was the name given to the town by the Danes, the signification being—washed by the tide. Its history prior to their settlement is considerably involved in doubt. The Danes protected themselves in their occupation by walls, and until the arrival of the British, under Robert Fitzstephen, in 1169, had been tolerably secure in their stronghold. Surrender was made to him after three days’ hard fighting. In 1171 Strongbow arrived, and by virtue of his agreement with Dermod M‘Murrough, King of Leinster, became master. During the wars of the Roses, Wexford was taken by Sir John Butler. He was dispossessed in 1462 by the Earl of Desmond, whose challenge to arms in the open field he accepted. In 1641 Wexford embraced the cause of the Catholic Confederation, and had a trained force within the walls of 800 men. A large amount was spent in fortification, and the channel was blocked by a ship purchased in Dublin for the purpose. A fort was erected at the Rosslare side of the harbour, and another at Raven Point, called Fort St. Margaret. A Flemish shipbuilder, Anthony Van Kaatts, was imported. He built several ships in a dockyard near the West Gate, at a point now known variously as “The Cat Strand,” and “Cat’s Strand,’’ a corruption which indicates to the mind of the innocent native a favourite nocturnal resort for cats. Cromwell arrived in 1649 from Drogheda. During several days the military governor of the town, Colonel Sinnott, kept up a correspondence with Cromwell, endeavouring to obtain such terms of capitulation as would be favourable to the inhabitants. It was desired that the people should be allowed to practice the Catholic religion, that the regular and secular clergy should be permitted to hold their livings, that the bishop should be permitted to govern the diocese, that the garrison might withdraw with the honours of war, that those of the inhabitants who desired to do so, might be allowed to leave with their goods, chattels, ships, or military stores, that the municipal privilege might not be curtailed, that the burgesses might be eligible to hold property elsewhere in Ireland, that those of them afterwards desiring to leave might be allowed to sell their property, and receive safe conduct to England or elsewhere, that the inhabitants might be regarded in all respects as free-born English subjects, and that there should be an absolute amnesty for “all past transactions.” Cromwell declined to accede to the conditions of surrender. Among the commissioners sent to him by the governor was James Stafford, Captain of the Castle, and it is believed that through his connivance Cromwell was enabled to dispense with conditions. In his report to Parliament of the capture of Wexford, Cromwell admitted that “fair treatment” for this captain gave to him possession of the castle, upon the top of which his soldiers had no sooner appeared than the Wexfordians quitted the walls. On perceiving this the Cromwellian troops, in the words of their commander, “ran violently up the town and stormed it. And when they were come to the market place, the enemy making a stiff resistance, our forces brake them, and then put all to the sword that came in their way. Two boatfuls of the enemy, attempting to escape, being oppressed by numbers, sank, whereby were drowned near 300 of theM. I believe, in all, there was lost of the enemy not many less than 2,000, and I believe not 20 of yours from first to last of the siege.”

In the Rebellion of 1798 all the records in the Office of the Clerk of the Peace were destroyed. There is reason to believe that Wexford was one of the first towns in Ireland to receive a charter of incorporation. Evidence of a deductive nature is found to show that it had a charter in 1173. In the division of possessions among the granddaughters of Strongbow Wexford was given to Joan, wife of Warren de Mountchesney. Her son-in-law, Adomar de Valence, granted a charter in 1318, which was confirmed in 1411 by Henry VIII. Several charters were afterwards conferred upon the sovereign, burgesses, bailiffs, &c., conceding to them a continuance of the “liberties, free customs, and claims” of their ancestors. Among the number was one from James I. James II. also granted a charter, but after the Revolution, which put a final end to that monarch’s chance of reascending the English Throne, the Wexford Corporation resumed the use of that of James I., which bears date 19th of January, 1608. It begins by confirming the bailiffs and burgesses in their jurisdiction over the ancient limits of land and water, which comprised the free corporate borough of Wexford. The corporate body was to consist of one mayor, two bailiffs, and twenty-four free burgesses. The mayor and bailiffs were to be elected annually by the free burgesses. Vacancies among the free burgesses were to be filled by the mayor and bailiffs. The mayor was, by virtue of his office, a Justice of the Peace, Escheator, Coroner, Clerk of the Market, and Master of the Assays. The charter also constituted a guild of merchants, and provided for the holding of a court to determine actions of various kinds. It specified that all ships entering the Port should unload, but not to the prejudice of the ancient liberties of New Ross. Two fairs each year were to be held, one at the Feast of St. Peter, and the other at All Saints’, and the three following days, and two markets each week, on Wednesday and Saturday. The Merchants’ Guild was to consist of one mayor, two constables, the same who filled the office of mayor and bailiffs in the previous year, and a number of merchants. The Guild was to have power of receiving and certifying all statutes of recognizance, &c. Grant was made to the Corporation of castles, gardens, foundations, lands, tenements, meadows, pastures, and other property in consideration of £10 current money of Ireland. The Corporation was to receive rents to the value of £40 per year, and no more. Reservation was made to the Crown of the right to levy a tax of three pence in the pound upon all merchandise imported or exported by foreign merchants, and twelve pence in the pound upon all wares exported and imported, and to collect certain customs, called “Cockett.” In 1841 Wexford, having then less than 12,000 inhabitants, was, by the Irish Municipal Corporation Act, shorn of its corporate dignities. A strong fight was made by Alderman John Greene, J.P., and the then Mayor, Mr. Sheppard Jeffares, led by the Member of Parliament for the borough, Sir Thomas Esmonde, to secure for Wexford immunity from the sweeping provisions of the law. A new charter was ultimately obtained from the Government, but the limits of the town were restricted. The boundary under the James Charter reached at the northern end to a little stream flowing through Stonybatter into the Slaney at Carcur. The southern boundary was a stream which skirts the demesne of Rocklands.

In the altered state of things, the Mayor is an ex officio member of the public boards, including that of the County Lunatic Asylum, but much of the power possessed by the holders of the office under ancient charters has been withheld. The Mayor was formerly first magistrate of county and borough. Now his magisterial powers are confined to the borough. He holds court once a week, on Thursday. He has power to deal only with cases of conscience, drunkenness and abusive language. Assault and larceny cases are tried at petty sessions, which are held weekly, on Wednesday, at the county court-house. The Mayor may attend there and sit as a justice. The corporation meets monthly at the Tholsel, in the Bull Ring, and quarterly at the Town Hall, in Corn Market. The general markets of Wexford continue to be held on Wednesday and Saturday, as provided by the charter of James I. In the season there is a market every day for corn, hay and straw. The number of the fairs has been increased. A fair for cattle, sheep, pigs and horses is now held once a month.

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