1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/King's County

KING’S COUNTY, a county of Ireland in the province of Leinster, bounded N. by Meath and Westmeath, W. by Roscommon, Galway and Tipperary (the boundary with the first two counties being the river Shannon); S. by Tipperary and Queen’s County, and E. by Kildare. The area is 493,999 acres or about 772 sq. m. The greater part of the county is included in the central plain of Ireland. In the south-east the Slieve Bloom Mountains form the boundary between King’s County and Queen’s County, and run into the former county from south-west to north-east for a distance of about 20 m. consisting of a mass of lofty and precipitous crags through which there are two narrow passes, the Black Gap and the Gap of Glandine. In the north-east Croghan Hill, a beautiful green eminence, rises to a height over 700 ft. The remainder of the county is flat, but a range of low hills crosses its north-eastern division to the north of the Barrow. In the centre of the county from east to west a large portion is occupied by the Bog of Allen. The county shares in the advantage of the navigation of the Shannon, which skirts its western side. The Brosna, which issues from Loch Ennell in Westmeath, enters the county near the town of Clara, and flowing south-westwards across its north-west corner, discharges itself into the Shannon after receiving the Clodagh and the Broughill. A small portion of the north-eastern extremity is skirted by the upper Boyne. The Barrow forms the south-eastern boundary with Queen’s County. The Little Brosna, which rises in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, forms the boundary of King’s County with Tipperary, and falls into the Shannon.

This county lies in the great Carboniferous Limestone plain, with clay-soils and bogs upon its surface, and many drier deposits of esker-gravels rising as green hills above the general level. The Slieve Bloom Mountains, consisting of Old Red Sandstone with Silurian inliers, form a bold feature in the south. North of Philipstown, the prominent mass of Croghan Hill is formed of basic volcanic rocks contemporaneous with the Carboniferous Limestone, and comparable with those in Co. Limerick.

Notwithstanding the large area occupied by bogs, the climate is generally healthy, and less moist than that of several neighbouring districts. The whole of the county would appear to have been covered formerly by a vast forest, and the district bordering on Tipperary is still richly wooded. The soil naturally is not of great fertility except in special cases, but is capable of being rendered so by the judicious application of bog and lime manures according to its special defects. It is generally either a deep bog or a shallow gravelly loam. On the borders of the Slieve Bloom Mountains there are some very rich and fertile pastures, and there are also extensive grazing districts on the borders of Westmeath, which are chiefly occupied by sheep. Along the banks of the Shannon there are some fine tracts of meadow land. With the exception of the tract occupied by the Bog of Allen, the remainder of the county is nearly all under tillage, the most productive portion being that to the north-west of the Hill of Croghan. The percentage of tillage to pasture is roughly as 1 to 21/4. Oats, barley and rye, potatoes and turnips, are all considerably grown; wheat is almost neglected, and the acreage of all crops has a decreasing tendency. Cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are bred increasingly; dairies are numerous in the north of the county, and the sheep are pastured chiefly in the hilly districts.

The county is traversed from S.E. to N.W. by the Portarlington, Tullamore, Clara and Athlone line of the Great Southern and Western railway, with a branch from Clara to Banagher; from Roscrea (Co. Tipperary) a branch of this company runs to Parsonstown (Birr); while the Midland Great Western has branches from its main line from Enfield (Co. Kildare) to Edenderry, and from Streamstown (Co. Westmeath) to Clara. The Grand Canal runs through the length of the county from east to west, entering the Shannon at Shannon harbour.

The population (65,563 in 1891; 60,187 in 1901), decreasing through emigration, includes about 89% of Roman Catholics. The decrease is rather below the average. The chief towns are Tullamore (the county town, pop. 4639) and Birr or Parsonstown (4438), with Edenderry and Clara. Philipstown near Tullamore was formerly the capital of the county and was the centre of the kingdom of Offaly. The county comprises 12 baronies and 46 civil parishes. It returns two members to parliament, for the Birr and Tullamore divisions respectively. Previous to the Union, King’s County returned six members to parliament, two for the county, and two for each of the boroughs of Philipstown and Banagher. Assizes are held at Tullamore and quarter sessions at Parsonstown, Philipstown and Tullamore. The county is divided into the Protestant dioceses of Killaloe, Meath and Ossory; and the Roman Catholic dioceses of Ardagh, Kildare and Leighlin, Ossory and Clonfert.

King’s County, with portions of Tipperary, Queen’s County and Kildare, at an early period formed one kingdom under the name of Offaly, a title which it retained after the landing of the English. Subsequently it was known as Glenmallery, Western Glenmallery pretty nearly corresponding to the present King’s County, and Eastern Glenmallery to Queen’s County. By a statute of 1556 the western district was constituted a shire under the name of King’s County in honour of Philip, consort of Queen Mary—the principal town, formerly the seat of the O’Connors, being called Philipstown; and the eastern district at the same time received the name of Queen’s County in honour of Mary. Perhaps the oldest antiquarian relic is the large pyramid of white stones in the Slieve Bloom Mountains called the Temple of the Sun or the White Obelisk. There are a considerable number of Danish raths, and a chain of moats commanding the passes of the bogs extended throughout the county. On the borders of Tipperary is an ancient causeway leading presumably to a crannog or lake-dwelling. The most important ecclesiastical ruins are those of the seven churches of Clonmacnoise (q.v.) on the Shannon in the north-west of the county, where an abbey was founded by St Kieran in 648, and where the remains include those of churches, two round towers, crosses, inscribed stones and a castle. Among the more famous religious houses in addition to Clonmacnoise were Durrow Abbey, founded by St Columba in 550; Monasteroris founded in the 14th century by John Bermingham, earl of Louth; and Seirkyran Abbey, founded in the beginning of the 5th century. The principal old castles are Rathmore, probably the most ancient in the county; Banagher, commanding an important pass on the Shannon; Leap Castle, in the Slieve Bloom Mountains; and Birr or Parsonstown, now the seat of the earl of Rosse.