1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kilkenny (county)

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18719271911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15 — Kilkenny (county)

KILKENNY, a county of Ireland, in the province of Leinster, bounded N. by Queen’s County, E. by Carlow and Wexford, S. by Waterford, and W. by Waterford and Tipperary. The area is 511,775 acres, or about 800 sq. m. The greater part of Kilkenny forms the south-eastern extremity of the great central plain of Ireland, but in the south-east occurs an extension of the mountains of Wicklow and Carlow, and the plain is interrupted in the north by a hilly region forming part of the Castlecomer coal-field, which extends also into Queen’s County and Tipperary. The principal rivers, the Suir, the Barrow and the Nore, have their origin in the Slieve Bloom Mountains (county Tipperary and Queen’s County), and after widely divergent courses southward discharge their waters into Waterford Harbour. The Suir forms the boundary of the county with Waterford, and is navigable for small vessels to Carrick. The Nore, which is navigable to Innistioge, enters the county at its north-western boundary, and flows by Kilkenny to the Barrow, 9 m. above Ross, having received the King’s River at Jerpoint and the Argula near Innistioge. The Barrow, which is navigable beyond the limits of Kilkenny into Kildare, forms the eastern boundary of the county from near New Bridge. There are no lakes of any extent, but turloughs or temporary lakes are occasionally formed by the bursting up of underground streams.

The coal of the Castlecomer basin is anthracite, and the most productive portions of the bed are in the centre of the basin at Castlecomer. Hematitic iron of a rich quality is found in the Cambro-Silurian rocks at several places; and tradition asserts that silver shields were made about 850 B.C. at Argetros or Silverwood on the Nore. Manganese is obtained in some of the limestone quarries, and also near the Barrow. Marl is abundant in various districts. Pipeclay and potter’s clay are found, and also yellow ochre. Copper occurs near Knocktopher.

The high synclinal coal-field forms the most important feature of the north of the county. A prolongation of the field runs out south-west by Tullaroan. The lower ground is occupied by Carboniferous limestone. The Old Red Sandstone, with a Silurian core, forms the high ridge of Slievenaman in the south; and its upper laminated beds contain Archanodon, the earliest known freshwater mollusc, and plant-remains, at Kiltorcan near Ballyhale. The Leinster granite appears mainly as inliers in the Silurian of the south-east. The Carboniferous sandstones furnish the hard pavement-slabs sold as “Carlow flags.” The black limestone with white shells in it at Kilkenny is quarried as an ornamental marble. Good slates are quarried at Kilmoganny, in the Silurian inlier on the Slievenaman range.

On account of the slope of the country, and the nature of the soil, the surface occupied by bog or wet land is very small, and the air is dry and healthy. So temperate is it in winter that the myrtle and arbutus grow in the open air. There is less rain than at Dublin, and vegetation is earlier than in the adjacent counties. Along the banks of the Suir, Nore and Barrow a very rich soil has been formed by alluvial deposits. Above the Coal-measures in the northern part of the county there is a moorland tract devoted chiefly to pasturage. The soil above the limestone is for the most part a deep and rich loam admirably adapted for the growth of wheat. The heath-covered hills afford honey with a flavour of peculiar excellence. Proportionately to its area, Kilkenny has an exceptionally large cultivable area. The proportion of tillage to pasturage is roughly as 1 to 21/4. Oats, barley, turnips and potatoes are all grown; the cultivation of wheat has very largely lapsed. Cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are extensively reared, the Kerry cattle being in considerable request.

The linen manufacture introduced into the county in the 17th century by the duke of Ormonde to supersede the woollen manufacture gradually became extinct, and the woollen manufacture now carried on is also very small. There are, however, breweries, distilleries, tanneries and flour-mills, as well as marble polishing works. The county is traversed from N. to S. by the Maryborough, Kilkenny and Waterford branch of the Great Southern & Western railway, with a connexion from Kilkenny to Bagenalstown on the Kildare and Carlow line; and the Waterford and Limerick line of the same company runs for a short distance through the southern part of the county.

The population (87,496 in 1891; 79,159 in 1901) includes about 94% of Roman Catholics. The decrease of population is a little above the average, though emigration is distinctly below it. The chief towns and villages are Kilkenny (q.v.), Callan (1840), Castlecomer, Thomastown and Graigue. The county comprises 10 baronies and contains 134 civil parishes. The county includes the parliamentary borough of Kilkenny, and is divided into north and south parliamentary divisions, each returning one member. Kilkenny returned 16 members to the Irish parliament, two representing the county. Assizes are held at Kilkenny, and quarter sessions at Kilkenny, Pilltown, Urlingford, Castlecomer, Callan, Grace’s Old Castle and Thomastown. The county is in the Protestant diocese of Ossory and the Roman Catholic dioceses of Ossory and Kildare and Leighlin.

Kilkenny is one of the counties generally considered to have been created by King John. It had previously formed part of the kingdom of Ossory, and was one of the liberties granted to the heiresses of Strongbow with palatinate rights. Circular groups of stones of very ancient origin are on the summits of Slieve Grian and the hill of Cloghmanta. There are a large number of cromlechs as well as raths (or encampments) in various parts of the county. Besides numerous forts and mounds there are five round towers, one adjoining the Protestant cathedral of Kilkenny, and others at Tulloherin, Kilree, Fertagh and Aghaviller. All, except that at Aghaviller, are nearly perfect. There are remains of a Cistercian monastery at Jerpoint, said to have been founded by Dunnough, King of Ossory, and of another belonging to the same order at Graigue, founded by the earl of Pembroke in 1212. The Dominicans had an abbey at Rosbercon founded in 1267, and another at Thomastown, of which there are some remains. The Carmelites had a monastery at Knocktopher. There were an Augustinian monastery at Inistioge, and priories at Callan and Kells, of all of which there are remains. There are also ruins of several old castles, such as those of Callan, Legan, Grenan and Clonamery, besides the ancient portions of Kilkenny Castle.