BALTINGLASS, an ancient borough, market and post town, a parish, and the head of a union, partly in the barony of RATHVILLY, county of CARLOW, but chiefly in the barony of UPPER TALBOTSTOWN, county of WICKLOW, and province of LEINSTER, 36 ¾ miles (W.S.W.) from Wicklow, and 35 miles (S.S.W.) from Dublin; combining, with the town of Stratford-on-Slaney, 4336 inhabitants, of whom 1928 are in the town of Baltinglass. This place, in the opinion of most antiquaries, derives its name from Baal-Tin-Glass, signifying, according to common acceptation, the pure fire of Baal, and is thence supposed to have been on e of th principal seats of Druidical worship. At the time of the English invasion it formed part of the inheritance of the kings in Leinster; and about the year 1148 or 1151, Diarmid Mac Murchad OCavanagh, the reigning monarch, founded here a monastery for Cistercian monks, in the church of which he was afterwards interred. Among the most distinguished benefactors to this establishment which became a mitred abbey, was john, Earl of Morton, afterwards King of England; and among its abbots was Albin OMolloy, one of the most zealous advocates of the Irish clergy, in opposition to the overbearing allegations of Giraldus Cambrensis. The monastery was frequently plundered by the mountain septs of the OByrnes and the OTooles; and in 1314 the abbot obtained from the English government permission to hold a conference with the chiefs of those formidable septs, who in the deed for this purpose are designated Irish Felons, in order to recover the goods and chattels of which he had been robbed, or a full equivalent of the same. The monastery was suppressed in 1537, and, with its extensive possessions, including the castle and manor of Baltinglass, was granted in 1541(?) to Thomas Eustace, Lord Kilcullen, whom Henry VIII created Viscount Baltinglass. In the reign of Elizabeth a parliament was held here, in which was passed an act rendering every kind of inheritance forferable (?) for high treason, emphatically called the Statute of Baltinglass. James, the third viscount Baltinglass, and his four brothers, having joined in the gread Desmond insurrection, were convicted of high treason; and their estates, being confiscated under this statute, were granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir John Harrington. The manor is now the property of Henry Carroll, Esq. Of Ballynure; and the castle, with the town and other considerable property in the neighbourhood, is in the possession of the Earl of Aldborough. During the disturbances of 1798, the insurgents, after their defeat in the county of Wexford, stationed themselves in the mountains of this neighbourhood, and continued for some time to commit outrages on the peaceable inhabitants of the surrounding country.
The TOWN is pleasantly situated in a romantic vale watered by the Slaney, over which is a stone bridge of three arches, connecting tho9se parts of it that are on the opposite banks of the river. It consists of four principal streets, with two or three others of less importance, and contains 303 houses. It is amply supplied with water from springs, and, from ist situation on the great road from Dublin, by Tullow, to Wexford, enjoys a considerable traffic. There are infantry barracks for one officer, and 25 non-commissioned officers and privates; and a constabulary police and a peace-preservation force are stationed in the town. The manufacture of linen, woolen, and diaper was formerly carried on her extensively; there are still two bleach-greens in the town in full operation, and extensive flour mill; also some cotton spinning and weaving works at Stratford-on-Slaney. A market and some fairs were granted, in 1617 to Sir Thomas Willmott by James I. Charles II, in 1663, gave by charter a market to be held on Friday, and two fairs to three days each in May and September, to Sir Maurice Eustace, with the tolls thereof; and four more fairs were granted in 1763, to John, Lord Baltinglass, by a patent, which also contains a grant of a market on Tuesday, not now held, and of the tolls and customs of the markets and fairs to his lordship. The market is on Firday; and the fairs are held on Feb. 2nd, March 17th, May 12th, June 1st, Sept. 12th and Dec 8th. Until within the last few years the tolls and customs were received by the corporation, but the collecting of them has been discontinued.
The town was incorporated by charter of Charles II, in the 15th year of his reign (1663), under the designation of the Sovereign, Burgesses, and Free Commons of the Borough of Baltinglass. The corporation continued to exercise its functions until October 1841, when it was dissolved under the act of 3rd and 4th Victoria, cap. 108, and any property it possessed became vested in the guardians of the poor of the union. It consisted of a sovereign, twelve burgesses, a recorder and town-clerk, a serjeant-at-mace, and a clerk of the market. The sovereign was elected annually by and from the burgesses, on the Monday next after the feast of St. John the Baptist, and was sworn into office on the Monday after Michaelmas-day; he had power to appoint a deputy from among the resident burgesses, by consent of a majority of that body. The sovereign or deputy was a justice of the peace within the borough during the year of office, and the former for one year after; the sovereign was also coroner. Burgesses were elected for life, but had no functions to perform. The power of appointing the recorder and town-clerk during pleasure, and also the clerk of the market, was vested by the charter in Sir Maurice Eustace, his heirs and assigns, and the serjeant-at-mace was appointed by the sovereign and burgesses. The freedom of the borough was obtained only by gift of the corporation; the freemen were exempted from serving upon juries without the limits of the borough, which, according to the charter, extended beyond the town, and comprised 300 acres lying on the west and south sides. The corporation had nearly become extinct, there being only two burgesses, and not one freeman, in 1832, when ten burgesses were chosen. The town returned two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, when it was disfranchised, and the sum of 15,000 pounds awarded as compensation was paid to the trustees of the Earl of Aldbourough, the sovereign was the returning officer. The borough was included in the manor of Baltinglass, and the manor court was constituted a court of record, in which the seneschal presided, with jurisdiction to the amount of 10 pounds; but this court has been long discontinued. The quarter-sessions for the western division of the county are held here; as are also petty-sessions for the upper division of the barony of Talbotstown, every alternate Friday, before the county magistrates. The court-house stands at the extremity of the principal street, on the eastern bank of the river. The district bridewell, situated in the town, contains thirteen cells, four day-rooms, a small hospital, and three airing-yards, in one of which is a tread-wheel; and though badly planned and inconveniently situated, it affords sufficient facility for the classification of the prisoners usually confined within its walls.
The parish comprises 6149 statute acres. The lands are in a state of good cultivation; the soil is fertile, and the system of agriculture is improved; there is very little bog or wasteland. Stratford Lodge is a spacious mansion pleasantly situated in a demesne of 100 acres tastefully laid out and planted, ornamented with several ponds of water, and commanding from the house some extensive views, including the town, the valley, and a magnificent range of mountain scenery. Saunders Grove is a handsome mansion of hewn stone lined with brick,, beautifully situated in a rich demesne adorned by the windings of the Slaney. Golden Fort is situated on an eminence over the Slaney, opposite the demesne of Saunders Grove; Slaney Park and Whitehall are also in the parish; and on the townland of Ladytown, which is part of this parish, but detached and completely surrounded by the county of Carlow, is Mount Lucas, commanding extensive mountain views and the scenery of the valley. The living is a rectory, annexed to that of Ballybnure, in the diocese of Leighlin, and in the patronage of Henry Carroll, Esq.; the tithe rent-charge of Baltinglass is 463.17 pounds. The church, which occupies the site of the chancel of the ancient abbey, was repaired, and a square tower added to it in 1815, at an expense of 500 pounds; and a grant of 252 pounds has been made b the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for its further repair. The churchyard is the burial-place of the Stratford family, and over the remains of his deceased ancestors, the present Earl of Aldborough, in 1832, erected a massive mausoleum of granite, terminating in a pyramidal spire. There is a chapel of ease at Stratford-on-Slaney. In the Roman Catholic Divisions this parish is the head of a district, which comprises also the parish of Ballynure, those parts of the parishes of Timolin and Moon which are in the county of Wicklow, and that part of Kindeagh which is in the county of Kildare; the chapel near the town is a neat edifice with a tower, and there is also a chapel at Stratford-on-Slaney. In the town of Baltinglass is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists, and at Stratford is one for Presbyterians. A second infirmary for the county of Wicklow, containing four wards, in which are 20 beds, with a dispensary annexed to it, has been established in the town; there is also a savings bank. Within the demesne of Stratford Lodge is a shop for supplying the poor with goods at cost price. The workhouse of the union, on a site of 7 ½ acres held a t a rent of 23 pounds 10 shillings was completed in 1840, at a cost of 5750 pounds and is constructed to receive 500 paupers.
There are some considerable remains of the Cistercian abbey, chiefly consisting of a series of seven pointed arches springing from alternated round nd s2quare pillars with curiously carved capitals, which, formerly separated the south aisle from the nave; the church appears to have been a spacious cruciform structure, and the west end, which is still standing, has the remains of a lancet-shaped window of three lights. The walls enclose a large area, which appears to have been surrounded with monastic buildings. Of the ancient castle, now converted into a farmhouse, two Norman doorways leading into a court-yard are still remaining; and formerly many fragments of stone, highly wrought, lay scattered in all directions. Near the town is a cromlech, and numerous other relics of antiquity are said to have been lately existing there. On the eminence on which Golden Fort is built are two circular intrenchments or raths, surrounded by moats; in one of these the proprietor of the estate discovered a few years since, a number of gold coins, from which circumstance the seat derived its name, and in the other, of larger dimensions and in a much more perfect state, was found a kistavaen containing an urn of rude pottery, in which were ashes, with a number of human bones scattered around. In the same demesne is an ancient cemetery. Baltinglass gives the title of Baron to the noble family of Stratford, Earls of Aldborough.