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County Clare: A History and Topography 1837 by Samuel Lewis

 
Ennis

A borough, and market-town, in the parish of Dromcliffe, barony of Islands, county of Clare, (of which it is the chief town), and province of Munster, 18 miles (N. W.) from Limerick, on the main road to Galway, and 1113/4 (S. W.) from Dublin ; containing 7711, and within the new electoral boundary, 9747 inhabitants. This place derives its name, formerly spelt Innis or Inish, signifying an island, from the insulation of a considerable plot of ground by the river Fergus. According to the Ulster Annals, it was anciently called Inniscluan-ruadha, and one of its suburbs is still called Clonroad. Mac Curtin states that it was eminent as a seat of learning, upwards of 600 scholars and 350 monks having been here supported by O’Brien, prince of Thomond, after the arrival of the English. About the year 1240, Donough Carbarac O’Brien erected a noble monastery at Ennis for Franciscan friars, which in 1305, according to the Annals of Innisfallen, was rebuilt or repaired and much adorned by another branch of that family. It was for a long period the place of sepulture of the princes of Thomond, and occasionally of the chiefs of the sept of Mac Namara ; and its prosperity appears to have been in these times dependent on this circumstance. In 1306, Dermot, grandson of Brien-Roe, at the head of a body of native and English forces, entirely destroyed the town. In 1311, Donogh, King of Thomond, bestowed the whole revenue of his principality for the enlargement and support of this monastery, and some time after the refectory and sacristy were built by Mathew Mac Namara. It is recorded in the Ulster Annals that Terence O’Brien, bishop of Killaloe, was here barbarously slain, in 1460, by Brien O’Brien. The friary was reformed by Franciscans of the Strict Observance : it remained in the Crown for some time subsequent to the Reformation, and was granted, in 1621, to Wm. Dongan, Esq. In 1609, Donogh, or Donat, Earl of Thomond, obtained a grant of a market and fairs to be held here ; and in 1612 "the town of Inish," was created a borough. In 1661, the goods of some of the towns people were seized in payment of salary due to Isaac Granier, one of their representatives in parliament, but were released on their stating, that he had agreed to serve gratuitously as their representatives.

It is situated nearly in the centre of the county, on the principal or south-western branch of the river Fergus, which surrounds a portion of the town and its north-eastern suburbs ; two of the principal streets form a continuous line following the winding of the river, and a third branches off from the court-house towards Limerick. The most populous of these is very narrow and irregularly built, and the entrance from Limerick is rendered equally inconvenient by a projecting angle of the court-house, which, from its dilapidated state, requires to be rebuilt. In 1831 the town comprised 1104 houses, and within the new electoral boundary, 1390 ; the suburbs, which are very extensive, consist chiefly of cabins. A new street of superior houses has been lately built between the county infirmary and the river ; and a handsome bridge of a single arch, with parapets of hewn stone, has been recently completed, at an expense of 800, on the site of a former one nearly opposite the abbey. The town is not lighted, and the police perform the duty of a nightly patrol. A county club-house has been established ; there are also two subscription news-rooms ; and races are held annually in the autumn, which generally continue five days. The numerous seats in the vicinity are noticed under the head of Drumcliffe and the adjacent parishes, in which they are situated. The woollen manufacture, which formerly flourished here, has greatly declined ; but the trade in corn, butter, and other produce has much increased. About 60,000 barrels of wheat, 100,000 of oats, and 30,000 of barley, are annually sold in the market, and chiefly shipped at Clare, about two miles distant, to which place the Fergus is navigable for lighters, and thence to the sea for vessels of considerable burden. A plan for improving the navigation between Ennis and Clare, is noticed in the account of the latter town, which is considered the port of Ennis. A weighing-house for butter, of which a large quantity is annually exported, was built in 1825, and there are several large corn stores. Ennis Mills, which have been recently enlarged, are capable of producing 30,000 barrels of flour annually : the produce is much esteemed in the Limerick market. At Clonroad is the extensive brewery of Messrs. Harley and Co., who are also about to re-establish a distillery formerly carried on at that place ; and there is a smaller brewery in the town ; the Ennis ale is in great repute. Branches of the Provincial and Agricultural Banks, and a savings’ bank, have been established. A market for the sale of country produce is held daily, but the principal markets are on Tuesday and Saturday, and are abundantly supplied with provisions of every description. Fairs are held in the town on April 9th, and Sept. 3rd, and at Clonroad on May 9th, Aug. 1st, Oct. 14th, and Dec. 3rd ; of the latter, the first three are large fairs for cattle and horses, and the last is chiefly for pigs.

By the charter of the 10th of Jas. I. (1612), the corporation, under the style of "The Provost, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Town of Ennis," consists of a provost, twelve free burgesses, and a town-clerk, with power to admit an unlimited number of freeman to constitute a "commonalty ; " but no freemen have been appointed for many years. The provost is elected by the burgesses from their own body, on the 24th of June, and sworn into office on the 29th of Sept. : until lately he appointed a deputy, called the vice-provost. The burgesses are elected for life by the provost and burgesses, who also appoint the town-clerk. The provost is empowered by the charter to hold a court of record, with congnizance of debts not exceeding 3. 6. 8. late currency, arising within the limits of the borough : this court was held until within the last 12 years, by the vice-provost, who also acted as weigh-master. By the charter the provost is a magistrate within the old borough, and the vice-provost formerly acted as such ; but latterly no exclusive jurisdiction, either civil or criminal, has been exercised. The borough sent two members to the Irish parliament prior to the Union, since which period it has returned one to the Imperial parliament : the right of election, formerly limited to the provost and free burgesses, was, by the act of the 2nd of Wm. IV., cap. 88, extended to the 10 householders ; and a new boundary was formed for electoral purposes, comprising an area of 469 statute acres, and comprehending the entire town and suburbs, which is minutely described in the Appendix. The number of voters registered, in March 1836, was 254, of which 7 were free burgesses, and the remainder 10 householders ; and the number polled at the last election was 194 : the provost is the returning officer. The spring and summer assizes, and the January, April, and October quarter sessions for the eastern division of the county, are held in the court-house. Petty sessions are held every Friday ; and a court for the manor of Clonroad, which was granted by Jas. I. to the Earl of Thomond, and now belongs to the Earl of Egremont, is occasionally held by the seneschal, for the recovery of debts not exceeding 10 late currency. The county gaol, situated on the south side of the town, is an extensive modern building on the radiating principle, with detached prisons for females and debtors, lately erected in front : it contains 10 day-rooms and airing-yards, 73 sleeping cells, and 12 other bed-rooms, and has a treadmil. The total expense of the establishment, for 1835, was 2522. 7. 10. The constabulary police force, including an extra force called the peace preservation police, is under the control of a resident stipendiary chief magistrate and a sub-inspector ; the barrack is a commodious building, formed out of the old county gaol. A party of the revenue police is also stationed in the town.

The parish church, which forms part of the ancient abbey, was much injured by lightning in 1817 ; the abbey tower was also damaged and the bell destroyed. The late Board of First Fruits granted 2000 for its renovation, and the tower was subsequently heightened by the addition of battlements and pinnacles : a grant of 146 has been recently made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the further improvement of the church. The organ was presented, in 1825, by the Earl of Egremont. The R. C. district of Ennis comprises the eastern part of the parish of Dromcliffe, including the whole of the town and suburbs : the R. C. chapel is an old building, situated in an obscure part of the town. A chaste and elegant cruciform structure, from a design by Mr. Madden, was commenced in 1831, on a more eligible site, under the superintendence of the Very Rev. Dean O’Shaughnessy, P. P., which is intended for the cathedral of the R. C. diocese of Killaloe : the tower will be surmounted by a spire rising to the height of 140 feet. The estimated expense is 5000, towards which Sir Edward O’Brien, Bart., of Dromoland, contributed 100 : the site was presented by Francis Gore, Esq. A small society of Franciscans has a chapel which is open to the public ; and to the east of the town is an Ursuline convent, established about seven years since. There are meeting-houses for Primitive Methodists and Independents ; and a congregation of Separatists meet in the court-house : the Methodist meeting-house is a modern building, erected chiefly at the expense of Mr. Leach. Ennis college is one of the four classical schools founded by the munificent bequest of Erasmus Smith. The school-house, which is situated at a short distance north of the town, was built about 70 years since by the trustees, who have recently added wings and out-offices, and made other extensive improvements, at an expense of nearly 1200 : it is now capable of accommodating more than 100 boarders, and a large number of day scholars. The building, which presents an imposing front, is approached from the extremity of the promenade called the "College walk" by a handsome gateway of four octangular pillars, and, together with the extensive play-ground, is surrounded by a high wall. The head master receives a salary of 100 from the trustees, and is allowed the full benefit of the establishment as a boarding and day school ; the second master also receives 100 ; and the third, 80. The course of instruction comprises the ancient and modern languages, mathematics, and English composition, and there are usually ten free day scholars on the foundation. The parochial school, in Jail-street, is supported by subscription ; a school is held in Cook’s-lane meeting-house, and a Sunday school in the church. Near the town is a large and substantial school-house, built in 1830, at an expense of 800, of which 200 was contributed by the National Board, by whom the school, in which are about 400 boys, is partly supported, and partly by collections at the R. C. chapel. About 200 girls are instructed by the nuns of the convent, by whom they are also taught every description of useful and ornamental needlework. Connected with the nunnery-school is a preparatory establishment for very young girls, under the patronage of Dean O’Shaughnessy, who contributes 6 per ann. towards its support. The County Infirmary, situated on the north side of the town, is a substantial building, containing four wards for male and two for female patients, with a dispensary, and accommodations for a resident surgeon and apothecary. The Fever Hospital is situated in a confined part of the town, but one for the county is now been erected in a more appropriate situation and on a larger scale, to which a cholera hospital will be attached. The House of Industry immediately adjoins the infirmary, and contains three male and four female wards ; it was built by subscription about the year 1775, and is governed by a corporation under an act of the Irish parliament. A loan fund, for the benefit of the poorer classes of tradesmen and farmers, has been for some time in operation, and a mendicity society was established in 1832. The remains of the Franciscan abbey, founded by the Kings of Thomond, of whom several where interred in it, still present many traces of its ancient grandeur. Of these, the principal is the grand eastern window, upwards of 30 feet high, consisting of five lancet-shaped compartments, separated by stone mullions, and universally admired for its exceedingly light proportions and beautiful workmanship. In the chancel is the "Abbot’s chair," which, with the altar, is richly sculptured with figures in high relief ; and some of the ancient monuments, also profusely sculptured, still exist.-See Dromcliffe.

County Clare A History and Topography by Samuel Lewis
Courtesy of Clare Local Studies Project

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