Ferns - Wexford Guide and Directory, 1885

About “Wexford County Guide and Directory,” 1885

George Henry Bassett produced 7 Irish county directories in the 1880s: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Kilkenny, Louth, Tipperary and Wexford. Each provides useful history of the respective counties as well as lists of office holders, farmers, traders, and other residents of the individual cities, towns and villages.

Read more »

The directories are naturally an invaluable resource for those tracing family history. However, there are a few points to bear in mind.

  1. This online version of Bassett’s Wexford County Guide and Directory is designed primarily as a genealogical research tool and therefore the numerous advertisements in the original book, many full page, and quite a few illustrated, have been excluded.
  2. The text has been proofed with due care, but with large bodies of text typographical errors are inevitably bound to occur.
  3. Be aware that there were often inconsistencies in spelling surnames in the 19th century and also that many forenames are abbreviated in Bassett’s directories.

With respect to the last point, surnames which today begin with the “Mc” prefix, for example, were often formerly spelt as “M‘,”. For a list of some of the more common forename abbreviations used in the directory, see Forename Abbreviations.

Show less

Population 495 in 1881.

MODERN Ferns is a well-built, cleanly kept village, on the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford Railway, 69¾ miles from Dublin, 7 miles by rail from Enniscorthy, 9 miles from Gorey, and 23 from Wexford. By road from Enniscorthy it is 6 miles, and by road from Wexford 18 miles. It has several good places of business, and a first-rate fowl market once a week, on Monday. Twelve fairs are held in the year, four old and eight new. Experience has demonstrated that if the number had been increased to six instead of twelve, the success of each would be much greater. When the number was confined to four, the average attendance of sellers and buyers was larger, and there was more spirit in the transactions. Ferns is in the Barony of Scarawalsh. It ascends from the railway station to the top of a hill, from which excellent views of the surrounding country are obtained. These include Mount Leinster and Black Stairs to the west, Vinegar Hill to the south, and beautifully wooded lands on every side. The finest prospect is that which is offered from the remains of the Castle, associated with which are so many stirring incidents of ancient times. Maurice Fitzgerald, first cousin of Strongbow, and warden of Ferns, began its erection in 1176, and the work was completed by his sons. John St. John, first English bishop of Ferns, occupied it in 1223. It was the residence of the successors of St. John until 1312, when, by the connivance of Bishop de Northampton, it fell into the hands of the Scots and Irish, who destroyed it and the town. It was afterwards restored, and held by John Esmond against William Charnell, who had been appointed bishop in his place. Esmonde finally surrendered, and received another bishopric. “Constables of the Castle” succeeded the bishops in the government of Ferns. In 1559, Alexander Devereux, last abbot of Dunbrody, and first Protestant bishop of Ferns, lived in it; and in 1583, Sir Thomas Masterson, Knight, a native of Cheshire, received it from Queen Elizabeth, in addition to a considerable tract of land in the district, and the governorship of the northern portion of the county. In the reign of James I., English and Scotch planters were introduced into Scarawalsh and the adjoining baronies of Gorey and Ballaghkeen. Sir Charles Coote had charge of Ferns Castle, and blew it up to prevent the native septs from taking possession. They were crowding the settlers in a very uncomfortable manner at the time. The ruins are among the most picturesque in Ireland. Of the four towers which originally flanked it, one continues in wonderful preservation. This contains a chapel with groined roof, and has long loopholes, which are supposed to have served as embrazures for light artillery. Half the second southern tower, nearly full height, is also standing. It was torn in two from the top to the bottoM. About half the connecting wall remains, and in modern times has served the purposes of a ball-alley. Some smooth flags were set into it for the facilitation of the game, but play was discontinued in consequence of the erection of a high wall round the grounds. This was done at the expense of the landlord, the late Mr. Richard Donovan, of Ballamore. Mr. Donovan also had a door placed in the space between the wall and the broken tower, and the key of this is now in the keeping of William Henders, Pound master. About twenty years ago a portion of the northern wall fell during a thunderstorm, and the tenant, Mr. Humphrey Rynhart, now deceased, obtained permission to blast the rest in order to prevent a possible accident of a serious nature. Huge masses of stone and mortar lie upon the floor of the interior. A brass field-piece, nine feet long, found in the Castle, was employed in the defence of Wexford in 1641.

The history of Ferns is supposed to have begun with Ferna, son of Caril, King of Decies, who was killed upon its site while engaged in battle with Gallus, son of Norna. Brandubh, King of Leinster, to mark his conversion by St. Edan in 598, aided him in founding a monastery and cathedral at Ferns. The city, which grew to considerable proportions, excited the avarice of the Danes; and, after repeated attempts, they, in 930, plundered and burned it. The history of the city from that time until the sixteenth century, tells of continued burnings and plunderings. In 1166 it was partly destroyed during the war provoked by Dermod McMurrough, who had estranged the affections of O’Rourke’s wife. He is supposed to have died at Ferns in 1169, one year after his right to the Kingdom of Leinster had been acknowledged. His remains were interred either at Ferns or Baltinglass. The popular belief is that they repose under a granite block three feet six inches high, which is to be seen in the Cathedral churchyard. Near it is a slab erected to the memory of Matthew Leacy, who died in 1810. It has long been a habit among young men at funerals to test their reaching powers by encircling “the King’s monument” with their arms.

The Augustinian Monastery, partly destroyed in the time of McMurrough, was rebuilt and endowed by hiM. The ruins of this now form a narrow passage from the Cathedral grounds to those of Captain Irvine, and are chiefly remarkable for a row of lancet windows, five in number, at one side, while of those at the other, only one remains in good preservation. Broken sculptures of various kinds have been carried away to mark graves in the adjoining church-yard, where they are to be seen set up, many of them in a most whimsical fashion.

In the grounds of Captain Irvine, at the back of the churchyard, is a tower about 75 feet high. The late Mr. Butler Brien, who was murdered in 1841, had this tower lined with brick, and a moat sunk around it and the ruins of which it is a part.

The Cathedral of Ferns is likewise the Protestant parish church. It was rebuilt in 1816, and is in the later English style, with square embattled tower and pinnacles. A striking object in the interior, beside the pulpit, is the monument to St. Edan, which was found in clearing away the ruins of the ancient edifice. Above it is a tablet bearing the inscription : “Under this monument are interred the remains of St. Edan, commonly called St. Moague, the founder of this Cathedral, and first Bishop of Ferns. He discharged the pastoral office with piety and Christian zeal for a space of fifty years.”

At the foot of the hill, on the road to Gorey, is the well of St. Moague, the waters of which are said to possess medicinal qualities. It is covered by a house about fifteen feet high, erected by the Government during the famine of 1847. In that year its position was changed owing to the filling of the road beside it with material cut from the hills. The well was then about eight feet nearer to the centre of the road, with which it was level, and was covered by masonry four or five feet high. The key-stone of the arch, at present over the well, belonged to one of the doorway arches of the ancient Cathedral. The well is now on the property of Messrs. David Bolger & Sons, a purchase of fifteen acres made in 1877 from the Church Temporalities Commissioners. Within sight of the well is the ruin of the ancient Church of St. Peter. It occupies the side of the hill below the rectory, and has in its interior some handsome monuments. Repairs were done to the fabric not long ago by the Board of Works.

The Episcopal Palace of Ferns and estate are now owned by Captain Irvine. The grounds are open to the public, and are freely used by the villagers.

Search for a copy of Bassett’s Wexford Guide and Directory, 1885