Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Old Leighlin Road
Carlow, Co. Carlow

Old Leighlin Road

Source of this material: Carloviana; The Journal of the Old Carlow Society

Vol. 1. No. 4, New Series, Dec. 1955

Pages 5 to 9.

CONFEDERATES and Cromwellians passed this way, as did James II. in 1690 in his flight from the Boyne.

T. P. HAYDEN, our valued writer who has contributed so much to the Society and to CARLOVIANA walked in the footsteps of bygone travellers when he came across some stepping stones near the: -


MEDIEVAL roads were much like our modern ones in one respect-all brushwood and cover was cut away for a considerable distance on either side; this was to prevent ambushes. They were not bordered by dykes or banks of earth as our roads are, but consisted of a causeway with a deep ditch or drain on either side. Because of these drains and because of the bad condition of the highways, travellers by night had to carry lanterns, and even then, could only travel at a slow pace. Up to the latter half of the 18th century all roads followed this pattern, and this construction is still to be seen on old and disused roads in many parts of the country.

TREES AND DRAINS A change then took place in roadmaking. The drains on the roadside were placed outside instead of inside the banks of earth bordering the roads, and it became the fashion to border the roads with high hedges and to plant trees for shade and ornament. The story of Ireland for over a thousand years is one of almost continuous warfare intermitted with short spells of comparative peace, so that almost all progress was impossible. A spell of peace succeeded the Williamite wars at the close of the 17th century and the legislators of the Irish Parliament were thereby enabled to devote their energies to the material improvement of the country.

FROM KILCULLEN In 1731 a Bill was passed in the Irish Parliament for repairing the road from Kilcullen bridge to Leighlinbridge. In 1743 a similar Bill was passed for repairing and shortening the highway or road from Athy through the coal-pits to Castlecomer and from thence to the town of Carlow. In 1752 there was another Bill for making and repairing the road from the town of Athy through the town of Castlecomer to the town of Leighlinbridge. In this Bill a clause was inserted to prevent the scraping of the turn-pike roads, or laying straw or other materials thereon for making dung or digging and taking away the ground in the high roads on either side of the turn-pike roads.

TOLL BARS This tends to show the condition the roads must have been in before that time. These roads were made turn-pike roads at the periods mentioned. There were toll bars at convenient intervals where all traffic, with the exception of foot passengers, had to pay toll. Along these roads, at intervals of three or four miles, were wayside inns for the convenience of travellers. The different stretches of turn-pike road were under the management of Boards of Trustees; Kilcullen to Carlow formed one section, Carlow to Kilkenny another; both were under separate management. In 1762 it was enacted that all future meetings of the Board of Trustees of the Carlow to Kilkenny section were to be held alternately at Leighlinbridge and in the city of Kilkenny.

CARLOW TO LEIGHLIN The section of road from Carlow to Leighlinbridge was in 1914 a typical example of what a main road was in 1798. Outside of Carlow one passed the Green Dragon Inn which ceased to be a public house in the 60's of the last century. Passing Cloghna we come to Milford. This crossroad is comparatively modern. An old map, published in the early part of FIVE the last century, shows that at that time the bridge at Milford and the road from Ballybannon crossroad leading to it had not then been constructed. Ballybannon cross is the cross on the Carlow to Bagenalstown road adjacent to Milford Railway Station. Leaving Milford, we come to Clump Hill. This hill is now cut away, but in 1914 it was a steep descent, just such a place as highwaymen would choose for a hold-up.

A GALLOWS Tradition has it that such occurred here and a neighbouring hillock is pointed out as a site where gallows was erected in olden times. At the foot of the hill crossing a small brook was a narrow stone bridge, now replaced by a wide modern one. The site of the bridge was locally known as the Ford and the old ford was to be discerned beside the bridge. The stepping stones for pedestrians were still in place. Before the erection of bridges in such places, that would be about the middle of the 18th century, large stepping stones were provided for pedestrians to cross by. At the Powerstown Crossroad is an old farm-house which was a wayside inn up to the middle of the last century. A little further on we come to another descent and to Orchard Bridge crossing another brook. At the top of this hill was a turn-pike bar or gate, and the turn-pike keeper's house. Since demolished, was still standing up to about 1914; the hill has also beer. much altered by improvements in the '30's of the present century.

ORCHARD BRIDGE The bridge at Orchard was, in 1914, of stone with round arches similar to the one at Powerstown Ford previously referred to. These two bridges were probably erected in or about 1731 when the first Bill for improving the road was passed. The stretch of road from Orchard Bridge to Leighlinbridge only dates from that time. Previous to that the old road parted from the line of the present one at the Carlow side of the stream. The steep descent of the old road to the stream beside the bridge is still to be seen, but in 1914 the steep ascent from the ford and the hill were as they had been previous to 1731. This was one of the most important main roads in Ireland, and from an examination of those two places, Powerstown Ford and Orchard Ford, one can form a good idea of what roads were like in the early part of the 18th century, and it is -easy to understand why six or even eight horses were necessary to haul coaches or wains in those days.

STEPPING STONES At Orchard the stepping stones for pedestrians are still in position. Crossing the stream, the road proceeded up the yard of the adjacent farm, where it is still to be seen as a farm laneway. This lane, locally known as "the lane," leads through the townlands of Orchard and Rathellen for about two miles and finally comes out on the Carlow to Bagenalstown road at Rathduff. On its way it is crossed by the roads leading from Leighlin to Nurney and Leighlin to Augha, respectively. Some short distance above the farmyard as we proceed along the lane, there was formerly a branch leading in the direction of Leighlin, and this was the high road to Leighlin previous to the making of the turn-pike road in 1731. This part of the lane has been made one with the fields and is now not readily recognisable.

TIMBER FROM DUNLECKNEY One must not conclude that this road was always a narrow laneway as it is to-day. It was originally a broad road, as it still is in some parts of its course, but when it ceased to be a public highway: was reduced to its present limits. This old road runs in almost a direct line towards Dunleckney Manor. This Dunleckney was. a place of some note in medieval times. We read that in the early part of the 13th century timber was brought from Dunleckney to Carlow for the repair of the Courthouse roof. The Courthouse, we are told, was roofed with shingles, that is thin boards or planks which overlapped each other and were given a coating of hot pitch to resist the weather. Many buildings were thus roofed in medieval times, and up to the introduction of roofing felt about eighty or ninety years ago, there was no other way for roofing wooden sheds. Up to a few years ago sheds of this construction were to be seen in many places, particularly around ports and harbours.

MEDIEVAL VILLAGE This Orchard is in itself an interesting place. There was a village there in the Middle Ages, and in a field, locally known as the Church Field and traditionally stated to have been an old church yard, there is a defaced stone which appears to have formed part of a cross, and also a holy well, known locally as Juggy's well. There is extant a grant from James I in the year 1613 to Geo. Bagnall of Ballymore, Esq., to hold two fairs at Orchard, viz., the one on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the Feast of Pentecost and the other on the Feast of St. Matthew and the day after, unless when the said feast day falls on Saturday or Sunday, then the said fair to commence on the following Monday, with courts of Pie Powder and the usual tolls. The fair was probably in existence centuries before that, and this is merely a confirmation. Fairs were held in Orchard up to about 1850, and up to about thirty years ago there were old people alive who, as children, remembered fairs to have been held there. There is also a field there known as the White Field and another known as the Horse Park Field. The former probably received its name from the booths and tents erected there in medieval times. There is also the remains of a flax mill, dating from the latter half of the 18th century, of which only the foundations remain, but which was originally two or three stories in height. There was probably a mill there in medieval times, as the site beside the stream is most convenient for the purpose. There appears to have been a fair-sized village at Orchard in olden times, as the stones built into the ditches plainly indicate.

AFTER "THE BOYNE'' I shall now ask you to accompany me, in imagination, along the stretch of road from Orchard bridge to Leighlin. This stretch of road, as we have seen, was made in or about 1731, at which date the older road was disused. This older road was the one along which the Confederates and the Cromwellians travelled in 1641, and along which the ill-fated James II passed in his flight from the Boyne in 1690. The old ford and the stepping stones are as they were in his day, and in Leighlin there is still standing the old inn at which he probably stayed to take refreshment before resuming his journey to Waterford.

ELIZABETHAN INN This old inn which faces the present road from Carlow is a half-timbered Elizabethan structure, and from a comparison with similar houses pictured in old prints one would be inclined to fix the date of erection as the latter half of the 16th century. In 1619 a licence was granted to Nicholas Caffrie and Joan his wife, of Leighlinbridge, to keep taverns and to sell wine and ardent spirits during their joint lives, at Leighlinbridge and for two miles around. This Nicholas Caffrie was probably the then proprietor of this inn. About this time there is mention in Bishop Ram's Visitation of a priest being harboured there by this Nicholas Caffrie.

BY BRIDGE AND FERRY In the time of James II and up to the latter part of the 18th. century ther was no bridge across the river below Leighlin. Travellers from Carlow to New Ross would cross the river at Leighlinbridge, proceed thence to Graignamanagh and cross the river by ferry at Ferry Mountgarrett near Poulmounty. The bridges at New Ross and Waterford across the Barrow and Suir, respectively, had not then been constructed, and travellers had to cross by ferry at those points. The large extent of the coast line of Waterford Harbour rendered it ideal for persons desiring to enter or leave the country unobserved.

NOTED HIGHWAYMAN We read in the life of James Freney, the noted highwayman, that when fleeing the country in 1746 he embarked, under cover of night, in a ship bound for the Isle of Man, the ship's boat being sent for him to a point on the Kilkenny shore a little below the city. In the first couple of decades of the 18th century, as mentioned in Dr. Comerford's history, Kiltennel, situated in the mountainous districts near Borris, Co. Carlow, was a refuge and resort for the hunted Catholic clergy, and it is recorded that several important Synods and Conferences were held there. Waterford at that time transacted a considerable trade with the Continent, and Kiltennel was most convenient for priests or political emissaries desiring to enter or leave the country. These few reflections and observations upon roads and communications were given rise to by seeing old stepping stones in a disused ford and by a quite natural curiosity to discover something about them. The result has been that we-I mean my readers and I-thereby obtain a fairly good idea of old-time roads and communications in the district. Every part of Ireland teems with similar memorials of antiquity only waiting to be remarked upon and written about, and the resultant researches will add much to the history and to the interest of our country to strangers and to ourselves.

Ancient Highways

SINCE 1914 the horse has gradually disappeared from the roads. The roads themselves have been changed and altered. Up to about 1914 the highways and byways were little changed from what they had been in 1798; there were the same narrow roads and country lanes bordered by trees and high hedges. But our roads were not always like that. Up to the middle of the 18th century Irish roads were very bad, and with the exception of a few miles around the capital were quite unsuited for coaching traffic.

BEFORE SPRINGS Coaches in those days were cumbersome affairs. Springs were not invented until the last quarter of the 18th century, and. before that the coach body was suspended by straps. There is an excellent example of such a construction in the National Museum-the State Coach of a Viceroy, now a show-piece. The ordinary travelling coach was much heavier and stronger; it was drawn by six or eight horses, outriders being necessary on the leading horses. When the roads were improved about the middle of the 18th century coaches could travel with two or even four horses abreast. About 1780 carriage springs were introduced, and coaches were thereby rendered speedier and more comfortable.

 HIGHROADS AND CHARIOTS We gather from the life of St. Patrick that, in his time, chariots were in common use for travelling, and the old records tell us· that there was a network of broad highways radiating from Tara, making communications easy and linking the several parts of the country, the traces of which roads are to be discerned to-day. No works deteriorate so quickly as neglected roads. During the century-long struggle with the Danes our roads disappeared and wheeled traffic was abandoned. With the coming of the Normans the centres of influence and population shifted. New towns and villages arose and new roads sprang into being, linking those centres and subservient to military and economic needs of dominant power.

Source: Carloviana Vol. 1. No. 4, New Series, Dec. 1955 .Pages 5 to 9.

Old Leighlin

OLD Leighlin 1837


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