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OVER THE BORDER DOWN WICKLOW WAY

Leinster Leader 11th March 2010
 
 
Over the border down Wicklow way.

The configuration of Ireland’s counties is a subject of endless discussion. How were their shapes established and boundaries defined? The story of county formation began with the arrival of the Normans in Ireland in the late 12th century and within a hundred years or so the counties of Leinster and east Munster had been named and given a shape.
As Norman authority waned the mapping of Ireland slowed but it regained momentum during the enforced plantations of the 16th century when the county map of Ireland was largely completed although some boundary anomalies remained. The last Irish county to be formally declared was Wicklow which was not made into a county until 1606, three hundred years or more after the formation of its neighbouring county of Kildare. Such was the resistance of the rebel clans (O’Toole’s and O’Byrne's) in their secure mountain fastnesses of Wicklow that Dublin Castle had great difficulty bringing them within the King’s writ. Given that parts of Wicklow were almost within sight of the towers of Dublin Castle this was an extraordinary situation, all the more so given the English conquest of other remote parts of Ireland.
And in many ways Wicklow is an extraordinary county – the great granite mass of the Wicklow mountains forming a very real barrier between east and west Wicklow. This physical division influenced aspects of the public administration of the county into modern times. While Wicklow has its own county council for mainstream local government services, other public agencies based in Co. Kildare have had responsibilities for West Wicklow. In modern times the Kildare organisation of the Health Services Executive covers West Wicklow, a fact very appropriately reflected in the naming of the ‘Imaal’ ward in Naas General Hospital. Other public bodies such as the old Co. Kildare Committee of Agriculture  embraced west Wicklow, reflecting the fact that many west Wicklow dwellers did their business in Naas and Ballymore Eustace.
The many cross county-boundary connections between Kildare and west Wicklow are highlighted in the recently published West Wicklow Historical Society journal, the fifth such journal published by this industrious history group with membership spanning a wide catchment from Ballymore to Baltinglass.
Among the contributors is WWHS secretary Donal McDonnell, brother of Naas parish priest Fr. Tom McDonnell, PP.  Donal brings readers on a journey from Tallaght to Tullow through the eyes of the compiler of ‘The Post chaise companion’, a travel guide for mail coach passengers in the 1780s. Of particular interest are the ‘Companion’s’ comementaries on Blessington, Ballitore and Ballymore Eustace. The author of the 1786 guide suggests that Ballymore had seen better times: ‘a small town, pleasantly situated on the Liffey, it was previously of much greater extent. Its decay chiefly arose from the turning of the great southern road from this town to Kilcullen bridge.’
Donal McDonnell is joint editor of the journal with Chris Lawlor, a well known staff member of Naas CBS post-primary and a doctoral scholar of history. Chris contributes an article entitled ‘Tithe, protest & criminality around Dunlavin 1823-45’ which suggests that the West Wicklow town was a much more raucous place in the past than its modern tranquillity would suggest. In a meticulously researched article he demonstrates how Dunlavin became a cauldron of resistance in the early 19th century embroiling the small farmer and the landlords in conflict. The immediate cause of the rancour was the imposition of a tax (known as a tithe) on farmers, including those with little acreage, to pay for the upkeep of the Anglican church. Threatening letters posted in public places were the main means of communicating grievance. The writer notes that one such letter of September 1836 cast aspersions on the parentage of the local rector in the following words: ‘we watch this bastard till we take him down’ (letter still on file in the National Archives). 
The rich contents of this journal include contributions on St. Patrick’s missionary society, Kiltegan; memories of Donard; dairy farming in West Wicklow; Methodists in Baltinglass; the Cistercian abbey of Baltinglass; the Blessington tram; and the establishment of the army firing range in the Glen of Imaal. Seldom has such good writing been incorporated in such a slim volume. Copies may be had from Chris Lawlor, Sparrow Road, Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. Series no: 168

An interesting article from Liam Kenny's regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun' from the Leinster Leader of 11th March 2010 on the configuration of Ireland's counties which began in the late 12th century.  Our thanks to Liam.


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