This place, called anciently Dunsginne, from an old fortification to the east of the town (now termed the Round Hill), to which, on his expulsion from Rathenin by King Blathmac, in 631, St. Carthagh fled for shelter, derived its present name signifying "a great house or village," from a monastery founded here by that saint, which subsequently became a celebrated seat of learning and the head of a diocese. St. Carthagh, who died in 638, and was interred in his own church, was succeeded by St. Cataldus, afterwards bishop of Tarentum, in Italy, whose successors were indifferently styled abbots and bishops; and the school, which was attended by numbers not only from neighbouring districts, but also from remote countries, was in the zenith of its reputation about the commencement of the 8th century. The establishment continued to flourish; and such was the fame of the place, that not less than 20 churches were founded in its immediate vicinity; but in 812 it was plundered by the Danes, who, from that period until 915, five times repeated their devastations. In 978 the town and abbey were burned by the Ossorians; in 1095 the town was destroyed by an accidental fire; and in 1116, 1138, and 1157, both the town and the monastery suffered from conflagration.
Henry II., after landing in Waterford, marched to this place, where he was met by the chiefs of Munster, who, with the archbishops, bishops, and abbots of Ireland, swore allegiance to him, and gave him a charter confirming the Kingdom of Ireland to him and his heirs for ever. While here, the King chose a site, and gave the necessary orders for the erection of a fortress for its defence. In 1173, Raymond Le Gros, with the English army, marched to Lismore with the plunder he had taken in Ophaly; and, ravaging the city and neighbourhood, proceeded onhis route to Dungarvan. A castle was erected here in 1185, by John, Earl of Morton, and Lord of Ireland. Four years afterwards it was taken by the Irish, who put Robert de Barry, the commander, and the whole of the garrison, to the sword; it was however, soon rebuilt by the King, and for many ages continued to be the residence of the Bishops of the see, till Miler Magrath, Archbishop of Cashel and Bishop of Lismore, in 1518 granted the manor and other lands to Sir Walter Raleigh, from whom, with the rest of his possessions, they were purchased by Sir Richard Boyle, afterwards created Earl of Cork.
The castle was greatly strengthened and improved by the earl, who built three other forts in the neighbourhood, one of which was at Park, one at Ballygarran, and the third at Ballyinn; he also obtained a charter of incorporation for the town, and the grant of a market and fairs.
At the commencement of the war in 1641, the castle was beseiged by a force of 5000 Irish under Sir Richard Belling, but was bravely defended by the earl's son Lord Broghill, who compelled them to abandon the attempt. In 1643, a party of 200 insurgents, in retaliation for the destruction at Clogheen by the garrison of this place, entered the town and burned most of the thatched houses and cabins, killed 60 of the inhabitants, and carried off several prisoners.
In July of the same year Lieutenant-General Purcell, commander-in-chief of the insurgent forces, at the head of 7000 foot and 900 horse, with three pieces of artillery, marched to Cappoquin, where he remained for four days, laying waste the adjacent country; and being there joined by Lord Muskerry, he advanced to beseige the castle of Lismore. After a week's siege, a cessation of arms was mutually agreed on, and the assailants immediately retired; but the castle suffered great injury during this war, and in 1645, being burned by Lord Castlehaven, it was reduced almost to a ruin, and the town became a neglected village, consisting only of a few miserable cabins. In 1686, the Earl of Clarendon, on his progress through Munster, passed a night in this castle, which was also visited by James II., in 1689; and in 1785 the Duke of Rutland, Lord- Lieutenant of Ireland, held a council in the castle, from which he issued several proclamations. The castle, with all its lands and other property, descended from the Earls of Cork and Burlington, by marriage, to the ancestor of his Grace the Duke of Devonshire, who is the present propriator.
The town, which has been greatly improved by the late and present duke, is romantically situated on the summit of a steep eminence rising to the height of 93 feet from the southern bank of the river Blackwater, over which is a fine bridge of stone, erected by the late duke of Devonshire at an expense of £9000, and of which the central arch has a span of 100 feet. Some new streets have been made: the total number of houses, in 1841, was 352, several of which are neat and well built; the place has a cheerful and thriving appearance.
The castle, restored by the late duke in 1812, forms an imposing object, rising majestically from the elevated bank of the river, and occupying the verge of a precipitous cliff, partly clothed with wood and towering above the foliage which conceals its base. The approach is through an outer gateway, called the Riding House, from which a long avenue of stately trees, flanked with high stone walls, leads to the principle entrance through a lofty gateway-tower over which are the arms of the first earl of Cork, into the square castle. Several of the towers are still in their original state, though other portions of the building have been restored and embellished in a more modern style. The state apartments are spacious, and very elegantly fitted up; the drawing-rooms are hung with splendid tapestry, and paintings by the first masters. From the summits of the tower, and the flat roofs of the building, are magnificent views of the surrounding country: in front is the lofty mountain of the Knockmeledown, rising above the range of hills extending eastward, and from which a deep ravine thickly wooded, and alternated with projecting masses of rugged rock appearing through the foliage, descends to the vale immediately below it; the vale is embellished with handsome residences and rich plantations; and near its apparent extremity is seen the town of Cappoquin, with the spire of its church, and its bridge of light structure over the river. In the grounds are some remarkable fine yew-trees of great age, forming an avenue, and assuming the appearance of cloisters.
The trade is very inconsiderable; but on the river, immediately below the castle, is an extensive salmon-fishery, and during the season great quantities of fish are taken, which are packed in ice, and exported to Liverpool and to other distant ports. The Blackwater affords facility of commerce with the port of Youghal; the navigation was extended from the point to which the tide reaches, about a mile to the east, up to the bridge, by a canal constructed at the expense of the late duke, by means of which corn and flour are exported, and timber, iron, coal, and miscellaneous articles are imported, in lighters plying between this place and Youghal. In the excise arrangements Lismore is within the district of Waterford.
There are no stated market days: the fairs are on May 25th, Sept. 25th, and Nov. 12th; and here is a constabulary police station. By charter of James I., granted in 1613 to Sir Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork, the town, with the circumjacent lands within a mile and a half round the parish church, was made a free borough; and the corporation was directed to consist of a protreeve, free burgesses, and commonalty. The charter also invested the corporation with the privilege of returning two members to the Irish parliament, which they continued to exercise till the Union, when the borough was disfranchised, and the £15,000 awarded as compensation were paid to the trustees under the will of the Earl of Cork and Burlington, whose seneschal was the returning officer. Whether the officers of the corporation, nominated in the charter, were ever regularly chosen, cannot be ascertained; but it appears that few municipal functions were exercised, except by the seneschal of the manor. He still holds his court, at which debts not exceeding £10 are recovered every third week; but since the Union the corporation has become virtually extinct. Petty-sessions are held on alternate Wednesdays: the sessions-house is a spacious building, and there is a bridewell.
The parish of Lismore and Mocollop conatins 64,037 statute acres. The soil is in general fertile, and the lands alternately arable and pasture, with very little waste, except roads and river, and a small quantity of bog; the system of agriculture is improved. Limestone abounds in the southern parts of the parish, and towards the north is found in strata of great depth. Slate of good quality for roofing is quarried on the north side of the Blackwater and at Glenribben, and there are several other quarries, one of which near the bride of Lismore has been worked for a long time: there is slate also on the side of Knockmeledown; and coarse clay-slate, silicious rock, conglomerate, and sandstone are found in various parts. Iron, copper, and lead ores are frequently discovered, and were formerly worked, but discontinued for want of fuel; a lead-mine was discovered in 1836, a little below Cappoquin, near the navigable part of the Blackwater, but it is not yet worked.
The scenery abounds with features of grandeur and beauty; on the north, towards the county of Tipperary, the parish is bounded by a mountainous ridge, the highest point of which is the conical summit of Knockmeledown, 2,700 feet above the level of the sea, commanding a magnificent and extensive prospect, embracing the Rock of Cashel and its cathedral church, and the ocean, with the bays of Youghal and Dungarvan. On the summit of this mountain, Mr Eccles, a writer on electricity, was buried in 1781, at his own request. Some very rich scenery is also observable on the roads to Clogheen and Cappoquin, about two mlies distant; in various places deep ravines intersect the rangs of hills, and the whole of the adjoining district presents features of interest and variety.
The principal seats are Tourin, the residence of Sir R. Musgrave, Bart., composed partly of an ancient castle, and commanding an extensive and picturesque view; Ballysaggartmore, an ample and tastefully planted demesne near the river, also commanding some fine views; Flower Hill, a beautiful residence in the cottage style, surrounded by richly diversified scenery; Fort William, a demense on the opposite side of the Blackwater, in which a new house has been erected by the propriator; Glencairne, a handsome residence beautifully situated; Ballygally; Glenbeg; Tourtain; Ballyinn; Ballyrafter; and Salterbridge, beautifully situated in thriving plantations. At Ballyinn are some flour-mills.
The See of Lismore, soon after the arrival of the English, was enlarged by the annexation of the ancient see of Ardmore. Bishop Felix, who succeeded to the prelacy in 1179, gave the church of St John to the abbey of Thomas-Court, near Dublin; and from this time, fierce disputes were carried on between the prelater of this see and Bishop of Waterford, which were frequently renewed and continued by several of his successors, till 1358, when, during the prelacy of Bishop Reve, the two sees were united. They continued to be held as one by Le Reve, Bishop of Lismore and Waterford, and by his successors till the passing of the church Temporalities' act, in the 3rd and 4th of William IV., when, on the decease of Dr. Bourke, both were annexed to the see of Cashel, and their temporalities became vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Lismore is one of the sixteen dioceses which constitute the ecclesiastical province of Dublin: it includes the greater part of the county of Waterford, and part of Tipperary, extending 38 miles in length and 37 in breadth, and comprising an estimated superficies of 323,500 acres, of which 92,000 are in Tipperary and the remainder in Waterford. The lands belonging to the see, and its gross revenue, are comprised in the return for the see of Waterford.The chapter consists of a dean, precentor, chancellor, tresurer, archdeacon, and the prebendaries of Tulloghorton, Dysart, Donoughmore, Kilrossanty, Modeligo, Kilgobinet, Seskinan, and Clashmore. There are five vicars-choral, who were first instituted by Bishop Christopher about the year 1230, and are all appointed by the dean, who has a peculiar jurisdiction over the parishes of Lismore, Tallow, and Mocollop during eleven months of the year, till inhibited by the bishop, a month befor the episcopal visitation; he has also a right to appoint a registrar, and can grant licences under his own consistorial seal: the deanery, it is said, may be held by a layman. There are comprehended in the see the rural deaneries of Lismore, Whitechurch, Dungarvan, Carrick, Clonmel, and Cahir. The number of parishes in the diocese is 76, comprised in 43 benefices, of which 23 are unions of two or more parishes, and 20 single parishes; of these benefices, 6 are in the patronage of the Crown, 26 in that of the Bishop of Cashel, and the remainder in lay patronage. There are in the diocese 36 churches, and one other episcopal place of worship; and 15 glebe-houses.
In the Roman Catholic divisions the diocese is united with that of Waterford, together forming one of the seven bishoprics suffragan to the archiepiscopal see of Cashel: it contains 65 chapel; the number of parochial benefices and clergy is stated in the account of the see of Waterford. The cathedral church, dedicated to St. Carthagh, the only one remaining of the numerous ancient churches of this place, and now used as the parochial church, was, after being almost destroyed in the reign of Elizabeth by Edmund Fitzgibbon, called the "White King," restored in 1663 at the expense of the Earl of Cork. It is a handsome structure, chiefly in the later English style, with square tower surmounted by a light and elegant spire, which were added to it some few years since, when extensive alterations and repairs were made. The entrance is at the extremity of the south transept, under a pure Norman arch of elegant design: the choir, in which the parochail service is performed, is embellished with windows of stained glass, executed by the late George McAllister, of Dublin; and the bishop's throne and prebendal stalls are of oak richly carved.
The only ancient monument now remaining is one to the family of McGrath, dated 1548, and very richly sculptured; there are some handsome tablets to the memory of Dean Scott, Archdeacon Ryan, J. H. Lovett, Esq., and the families of Musgrave, Chearnley, and others. The economy fund, on an average of three years ending May 1831, amounted to £823.10.8. per annum, arising from the tithes of the parishes of Lismore and Mocollop: it is appropriated to the payment of two preachers in the cathedral, whohave respectively stipends of £80 and £65; to the curate of Cappoquin, who stipend is £90; and to the payment of salaries to the cathedral officers, and of repairs. The rectory of Lismore has been united from time immemorial to that of Mocollop, and both are impropriate to the economy fund of the cathedral; the vicarage is also united to that of Mocollop, and both are appropriate to the vicars-choral, who have cure of souls. The tithe rent-charge is £1476.18.6. for both parishes, which, with the exception of four townlands in the county of Cork, comprises of 62,744 statute acres; there is no glebe-house, but a residence for the archdeacon.
The Roman Catholic parish is co-extensive with that of the Established Church; the chapel here is large and neat edifice, and there is a chapel also at Ballyduff. There are places of worship for Presbyterians in connexion with the General Assembly, and for Wesleyan Methodists. Of several public schools, the classical school was endowed with a house and £30 per annum by the late Earl of Cork; two are partly supported by the dean and chapter and vicars-choral, one of which is aided by a bequest of £17 per annum from Mr. Magner, of Boston, in the United States; two are aided by Sir R. Musgrave and Captain Bushe, and one by the Duke of Devonshire. Six almshouses were founded and endowed by the first earl of Cork for decayed Protestant soldiers; and there are a fever hospital, and dispensary. Mr. Lovett, in 1805, bequeathed £500 to the poor.
The union workhouse, on the site of four acres held at a rent of £10 per annum, was completed in 1841, at an expense of £5500, and is constructed to contain 500 paupers. At Kilbree are some remains of a castle built by King John, situated on an eminence commanding the Blackwater. There are vestiges of a double and single trench in the parish; the former, called Rian-Bo-Padruic, extending eastwards from Knockmeledown, and twice crossing the river in its line towards Ardmore; and the latter stretching from Cappoquin, along the side of the mountains, into the county of Cork. Halfway between Lismore and Cappoquin is a weak chalybeate water, and there is another between Lismore and Knockmeledown; also a very strong chalybeate spring near Glenmore, Near the church are two small caves, and in the grove near the castle is a third; there is also a cave at Ballmartin, though which flows a rivulet.
Numerous circular intrenchments still remain in the parish, especially on both sides of the high road to Dungarvan and the mountains. Roger Boyle, first earl of Orrery, and the fifth son of Richard, first earl of Cork, an eminent statesman and soldier; Robert Boyle, his brother, the celebrated natural philosoper; and Jonathan Henry Lovett, distinguished by his attainments in the Persian, Hindostanee, and Arabic lanuages, and who died off the Cape of Good Hope, in 1805, on his voyage from India, in the 25th year of his age; were natives of this parish. Lismore gives titles of Baron and Viscount of the family of O'Callaghan.