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A look at Enniskillen in the 1840s

ENNISKILLEN, a borough and market-town, a parish, and the head of a union, partly in the barony
of Magheraboy, but chiefly in that of Tyrkennedy, county of Fermanagh (of which it is the chief town), and province of Ulster, 21 1/2 miles (S. E.) from Ballyshannon, and 80 1/2 (N. N. W ) from Dublin; containing, in the whole parish, 14,678 inhabitants : the borough and town extend into the parish of Rossory, and contain 5686 inhabitants. This place, which is said to derive its name from an island in Lough Erne, near which it is situated, was formerly called Inniskillen, and previously to the time of James I. was merely a stronghold of Maguire, chieftain of Fermanagh, who had a castle here. This castle was taken by the English forces under Sir Richard Bingham, in 1594; but no sooner had that general retired, leaving in it a royal garrison, than it was besieged by the forces of O’Donnel and his confederates. A detachment sent to its assistance by the lord-deputy was totally defeated ; and the garrison, after holding out to the last extremity, being compelled to surrender, were inhumanly slaughtered by the assailants, who pleaded the like cruelty on the part of Bingham, when he took the place, as a justification of their revenge. The town, though it holds a conspicuous place in Irish history and is now the capital of the county, is of no great antiquity. The island on which it stands being considered an important spot for the establishment of a military force, a royal fort was erected about the commencement of the 17th century; and the advantage of its situation for a town
induced James I., in 1612, to make a grant of one-third of the isle to William Cole, Esq., ancestor of the Earl
of Enniskillen, on condition of his building a town upon it ; of his settling here twenty British families to be
incorporated as burgesses, some of whose descendants still hold burgage tenements ; and assigning convenient places for a church and churchyard, a market-house, and public school, 30 acres for a common, and a site for a prison to be built for the custody of prisoners and malefactors within the limits of the county of Fermanagh. This last condition seems to imply that it was intended to make this the assize town and capital of the county from the very date of its foundation.

On the breaking out of the war in 1641, the town was defended by its founder and governor, then Sir William Cole, who despatched the first intelligence of that event to the English government . and so active
were the inhabitants in opposing the enemy, that they not only repulsed the insurgents with great loss, but
also made themselves masters of the castle of Maguire. While the Earl of Ormonde acted in concert with the royalists, the town opposed the parliamentarian interest, and firmly resisted every attack made upon it by the forces of that party ; but it was finally compelled to surrender to Sir Charles Coote. During the war of the Revolution the inhabitants firmly adhered to the cause of William III., whom they proclaimed king ; they
chose Gustavus Hamilton as their governor, and bravely defended the town, which became a refuge for the Protestants of the north-west, from all assaults of the adverse party. Owing to the embarrassment they
caused to James’s forces during the siege of Londonderry, the Protestants assembled here soon became celebrated as the “Enniskillen men” Lord Galmoy was sent with a detachment of James’s army to reduce
them, and for this purpose invested Crom Castle, their frontier garrison, situated on Lough Erne ; after an
unsuccessful stratagem on his part to produce intimidation, by ordering two painted tin cannons to be drawn by eight horses towards the fort, the garrison, being reinforced from Enniskillen, made a vigorous sally upon the besiegers, drove them from the trenches, and returned in triumph with considerable booty and the mock cannon which had with so much apparent difficulty been drawn up and planted against them. So successful and formidable were the frequent excursions of this Enniskillen band, that the ruling party in Dublin actually expected them speedily at their gates ; and at length a plan was formed for attacking the town at once by three different armies. With this view, Macarthy, an experienced officer, who had been recently created a peer, encamped at Belturbet with 7000 men; Sarsfield, another general equally distinguished, led an army from Connaught ; while Fitz-James, Duke of Berwick, prepared to attack the place from the north. The Enniskilleners, aware of the movements of the Connaught army only, marched out with great rapidity, surprised the camp, and routed the forces with much slaughter. On the approach of the Duke of Berwick, some companies sent from the town to seize a post which they might have defended against his numbers, ventured beyond the prescribed bounds, and were cut to pieces; but on the approach of Hamilton, governor of the town, the duke retired with his forces. Macarthy, at the head of an army which had already defeated Lord Inch in Munster, marched towards Enniskillen, and his vanguard invested Crom Castle ; a detachment under an officer named Berry was sent to the relief of the castle, but finding it necessary to retreat before a very superior force, which had been detached by the enemy to intercept him, he was pursued, and a skirmish followed, in which the townsmen were victorious. The arrival of the main bodies respectively under the command of Macarthy and Wolsley, the latter one of Colonel Kirk’s officers, brought on a general engagement near New-town-Butler and Lisnaskea, from both which places the battle has taken its name. The inferiority of the Enniskilleners in numbers was counterbalanced by superior resolution and energy ; they defeated and pursued the assailants, granting quarter to none but officers: about 2000 were killed in the engagement, and of 500 who plunged into the lake only one escaped drowning; about the same number of officers were taken prisoners, among whom was their general Macarthy.

The town is situated on an island lying in the narrowest part of Lough Erne, or rather in a strait several miles in length, which connects the great northern and southern expanses of the lake, and in which are numerous inlets. It is remarkable for its respectable and thriving appearance, and for the advantages it possesses in the navigation of the lake, and in the facility afforded for excursions among the rich and beautiful scenery for which it is distinguished ; it has increased considerably of late, and is still improving. The principal street takes an irregular course across the island, from the bridge which connects it with the main land, on the east, to that which crosses the opposite channel on the west ; the two bridges form the only outlets. Several smaller streets diverge from the main street ; and contiguous to the eastern bridge, in the townland of Toneystick and parish of Enniskillen, is a suburb in which is an old redoubt, called the East Fort ; while beyond the western bridge is another suburb, in the parish of Rossory, in which is the West Fort. The total number of houses is 866, about a third of which are slated and the remainder thatched. Here are barracks for artillery and infantry, and a constabulary police station. Among the buildings recently erected are, a range of respectable houses called Brook-place, built by Mr. Richard Kirkpatrick, on the mail-coach road to Ballyshannon ; a very neat house, called Brook-View Lodge, pleasantly situated on the side of a hill commanding an extensive view of Lough Erne and the surrounding country ; and a number of respectable houses, called Willoughby-place, which add much to the beauty of the town. There is a good
trade in timber, coal, and slates, imported from Ballyshannon to Belleek, at the lower extremity of the lough, 18 miles distant, and thence brought by water to Enniskillen. The manufacture of leather is carried on upon a limited scale, and there are two distilleries and a brewery. A considerable trade is carried on in corn, of which great quantities are sold, partly for the supply of the town and of the distilleries here and at Belturbet, and partly for exportation to Sligo and Strabane ; this place is also the chief retail market for a very large surrounding district. The patent granted to William Cole, in 1612, authorised the holding of a market on Thursdays, and a fair on Lammas-day, with tolls, and in 1813 a patent was granted to the Earl of Enniskillen for holding fairs on the 10th of each month, except March, May, and August. Besides the general market on Thursdays, a butter-market, which is now also very extensive, is held on Tuesdays. A butter and grain market have been built on land belonging to the earl, at an expense of upwards of £900; there is another market-house under the town-hall, also a pig-market: and convenient shambles have been erected at an expense of £750, which was advanced by the earl to the corporation. Branches of the Provincial and Ulster Banks are established ; the former was opened an 1831, the latter in 1836. A linen-hall was built a few years since at an expense exceeding £400, but has never been used as a hall, and is lent gratuitously to the conductor of a private school. In the excise arrangements the town is within the district of Sligo.

An act of parliament was obtained in 1845, for the construction of a railway from Londonderry to Enniskillen, the length to be 56 British miles; the capital is £500,000, and the company are empowered to raise £166,666′ by loan. Another act was obtained for a railway between Newry and Enniskillen, the length of which will be 71 1/2 British miles ; the capital being £900,000, with power to raise by loan £300,000. In the same year, also, an act was passed for effecting a railway communication between Dundalk and Enniskillen: as originally projected, this was a line of upwards of 77 miles, with the termini indicated by its name , but as the part between Clones and Enniskillen was almost identical with part of the Newry and Enniskillen scheme, that portion of the undertaking was abandoned, and the act was passed only for a line from Dundalk to the Newry and Enniskillen line at Clones ; the Dundalk company retaining the right, on repaying, after its completion, one-half of the cost of the line between Clones and Enniskillen, to a joint use of it. Thus reduced, the length of the line will be 40 3/4 British miles ; the capital is £750,000, with power to raise £250,000 by loan.

By the charter of James I., granted in 1613, the corporation consisted of a provost, 14 burgesses, and all the inhabitants of the island as a commonalty. The provost was elected by the free burgesses on Midsummerday, and was sworn into office on the 29th Sept.; he was a justice of the peace for the borough, and also usually for the county. The government was vested in the provost and free burgesses, who elected members of their own body, admitted freemen, appointed officers, and managed the property of the corporation. In 1840, the corporation was dissolved, and its property vested in the guardians of the poor of the union of Enniskillen. The borough court, held every Thursday, has jurisdiction to the amount of £3. 6. 8., late currency, and proceeds by attachment. The same charter conferred upon the entire corporation the privilege of sending two members to the Irish parliament, which they continued to do till the Union, since which time the town has returned one to the Imperial parliament. By the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 88, the right of election is vested in the resident burgesses and £ 10 householders, amounting, in 1843, to a constituency of 250, of whom 232 were £10 householders; the electoral boundaries comprehend an area of 156 statute acres. The assizes for the county and quarter-sessions of the peace are held in the county
court-house, a plain building near the eastern bridge. The county gaol, built about 30 years since, is near the town, on the Dublin road : it is on the radiating plan, with the governor’s house in the centre, and will contain 120 prisoners; the number of cells is 36, four of which are for females, and there are four day-rooms, four airing-yards, a treadmill, hospital, and school. The prisoners are regularly employed in breaking stones for repairing the roads, and in other useful works.

The parish comprises 26,440 1/2 statute acres, of which 26,387 are in the barony of Tyrkennedy; 681 3/4 are water. The residences of the nobility and gentry are numerous, including Ely Lodge, that or the Marquess of Ely ; Florence Court, of the Earl of Enniskillen ; Castle Cool, of the Earl of Belmore; Rosfad;
Rockfield; Castle Archdall; Riverstown; Prospect; Gran; Levaghy; Dunbar; Crocknacrieve; Cork Hill; and Bellview. On the border of Lough Erne is Bellislc, the beautiful and romantic seat of the former earls
of Rosse. The living is a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Clogher. forming the corps of the precentorship of the cathedral, in the patronage of the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin : the tithe rent-charge is £412. 10.; and the glebe, consisting of 315 acres, with the glebe-house is valued at £293. 4. 6. per annum, making the income of the precentor £705. 14. 6. The church is a plain building, erected in 1637; there is a chapel of ease at Tempo, and divine service is also performed in the school at Derryhean. In the Roman Catholic divisions the parish is the head of a district, including the town of Enniskillen, the parish of Rossory, and parts of Derryvullen, Cleenish, and Derrybrusk ; there is a very large chapel in the town, in which are also a meeting-house for Presbyterians in connexion with the General Assembly, and places of worship for Wesleyan anil Primitive Methodists. The Royal School of Enniskillen was founded by Charles I., in 1626, and endowed with lands near the town, which, according to a survey made in 1795, comprise 3360 statute acres. The school-house in the town being too small, about 1777 the Rev. Mark Noble, who was then head master and had the absolute disposal of the school funds, built a spacious house for it at Portora, in the vicinity, capable of accommodating 70 boarders. The head master has a salary of £500 per annum, late currency, besides the payments from the pupils, and the house and grounds, which last include 33 acres; the first classical assistant has £950, and the second £100 per annum. Four scholarships of £20 per annum each are conferred by the Commissioners of Education on those scholars who are most distinguished for proficiency in study and for propriety of conduct; and are held during their stay at the school. The Rev. Mr. Burke bequeathed three sums of £110, late currency, for the use of three of the pupils on their entering Trinity College, Dublin. The commissioners also appropriate £400 per annum of the funds of this school to the endowment of five king’s scholarships of £50 each, and five of £30 each, in Trinity College, to be held for five years by scholars elected by the board of the College, out of those who have been three years at least in either of the royal schools of Enniskillen, Armagh, or Dungannon. Besides others, there are nine national schools. The charitable institutions are, a mendicity society ; a dispensary ; and a county infirmary, which is a large building on an eminence outside the town, on the Dublin road. The union workhouse, on a site of 9 1/2 acres, was completed in 1842, at a cost of £8750, and is constructed to contain 1000 paupers. Enniskillen is the birthplace of Lord Plunket ; and gives the titles of Earl and Viscount to the family of Cole, by which it was founded.

Extract from: Lewis – A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland
Photo from: The Lawrence Collection

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