LEIGHLIN-BRIDGE, a market and post-town partly in the parish of AUGHA, barony of IDRONE-EAST, but chiefly in that of WELLS, barony of IDRONE-WEST, county of CARLOW, and province of LEINSTER, 6 miles (S.) from Carlow, and 45 (S. S. W.) from Dublin, on the mail coach road to Cork; containing 2035 inhabitants. This place derives its name from a bridge over the river Barrow, which connects the two parts of the town on its opposite banks with each other, and also with the road leading to Old Leighlin, in contradistinction to which, previously to the erection of the bridge, it was generally called New Leighlin. It was originally granted by Hugh de Lacy to John de Clahul, or de Claville, who in 1181 erected a strong castle or fortress, called the Black Castle, which was one of the earliest defences of the English in Ireland.

Towards the close of the reign of Henry III., a Carmelite monastery was founded near the castle, on the eastern bank of the Barrow, by a member of the Carew family, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The bridge, of nine arches, was built in 1320 by Maurice Jakis, a canon of the cathedral of Kildare, to facilitate the intercourse between the religious houses of Old and New Leighlin. As the English settlement here became more insecure, the monastery was much exposed to the hostile attacks of the native Irish; and in 1371, Edward III. granted ten marks annually for the repair and rebuilding of the house, which grant was renewed six years afterwards.

In 1378, Richard II., in consideration of the expense and labour of supporting the house and the bridge against the king's enemies, granted to the prior an annual pension of 20 marks out of the rents of the town of Newcastle of Lyons, which he confirmed in 1394, and it was also ratified by Henry IV. and Henry V., the latter monarch ordering that all arrears then due should be paid. In 1408, Gerald, fifth Earl of Kildare, built another fortress here, which he called White Castle; and after the dissolution the monastery was also converted into a fort and occupied as a military station by Sir Edward Bellingham, Marshal of the English army and Lord-Deputy of Ireland. This fortress was taken in 1577 by Rory Oge O'More, dynast of Leix, who destroyed the town by fire; and in 1649 it surrendered to the parliamentarians under Colonel Hewson, soon after which the main army under Ireton, on their march to Carlow, laid waste the neighbouring country.

The town, which is chiefly the property of W. R. Stewart, Esq., still retains many indications of its earlier importance as a military station; it is pleasantly situated on the river Barrow, by which it is divided into two nearly equal parts, and contains 369 houses, of which 178 are in the parish of Augha and 191 in that of Wells. The market is on Monday and Saturday, and is amply supplied with corn and butter; fairs are held on Easter-Monday, May 14th, Sept. 25th, and Dec. 27th; and there is a constabulary police station.

The parish church of Wells and a R. C. chapel are in that portion of the town which lies on the Wells side of the river, and there is also a national school. About a mile distant is a celebrated spa, which is much resorted to. At the foot of the bridge, and on the eastern bank of the river, are the ruins of Black Castle, consisting of an oblong tower, about 50 feet high, completely capped with ivy; one of the floors resting on an arch is still remaining, and there is a flight of steps leading to the summit; it appears to have formed the north-western angle of a quadrangular enclosure, 315 feet in length and 234 feet wide, surrounded by a wall seven feet thick, with a fosse on the outside; part of the wall is standing on the west side, and at the south-eastern angle are the ruins of a round tower, the walls of which are ten feet in thickness. At the south end of the west wall of the quadrangle was the ancient monastery, of which an old building with loop hole windows and a stone doorway are supposed to be the only remaining portion; adjoining it and within the enclosure was a cemetery, now converted into a garden. In the neighbourhood was the abbey of Achad-finglass, founded by St. Fintan, who died in the 6th century; it was plundered by the Danes in 864, and there are no remains, even the precise site being unknown.

Search Topographical Dictionary of Ireland »