The Origin and Growth of Towns and Villages in Ireland by James Reddiough

 In History

Celtic settlement was the earliest influence in the development of towns and villages in Ireland. Glendalough is one of the best examples and the monks tended to build in remote spots and on the other hand the friars were wont to build in settled populated areas. There was some degree of Viking settlement on the coast and on navigable rivers. The Romans never invaded Ireland and the urban development was the worst for it. The Normans built on what the Vikings developed and also they built towns inland.

It is true to say that town plans started in the 16th and 17th Centuries with the Market Square becoming the focal point for the development of a street network with the streets intersecting on the Market Square. The greatest achievement of town planning was the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed it could be said that the landlord had a part to play in the development of most towns in Ireland these landlord built up around or from a focal point such as a monument, a church from the market house and/or around the gates of the landlord’s big house. This would be typical for most towns in Ireland including places like Strokestown and Westport and Trim that owes much to Norman influences for its origin and growth. Adare in Co. Limerick is a classic example of a planned and well developed town that was destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries.

This writer had reason to visit Ballyhaunis recently and a colleague and I began to discuss what might have been the origins of east mayo town we felt that St. Mary’s Abbey may well have been the start. This was in 1348 but could there have been settlement around the old Friary bearing in mind what I wrote about the Friars and settlement in an earlier paragraph? In any event by 1837 Ballyhaunis was a town with a weekly market and four Fairs mainly for cattle and horses. This means that the Fitzgerald Manor there from Norman times could well be the origin of the town and this accounts in any event for how Ballyhaunis grew from being a mere hamlet around a castle to being an important town.

By and large it can be said that towns developed from Celtic Monasteries or Norman and Viking settlements, markets and coastal or portal towns.in Ulster a good number of towns would have grown from the Tudor and Stuart plantations. The Victorian towns came along in the 19th Century. These were the market towns of the subsequent decades the typical market town that served a large agricultural hinterland. A number of things could account for the growth of a town and these would include a cattle mart or market, waterways and ports, and the erection of a market house. The canals dated from the 18th century and they were superseded by the Railway and the road the network as we know it today. There is an excellent example of a Market house in the centre of Castlerea, Co. Roscommon and Mullingar and Longford are very good examples of towns that grew due to Canals and railways. Ballina in Co. Mayo began as a town in 1729 and the Quay and the River Moy had a major bearing on its growth in prosperity.

This is just a cursory look at the growth of towns over the years. Villages generally grew from monastic sites and landlords’ demesnes in much the same way as the smaller towns and they held markets and fairs too that gave the area an economic base for its existence. It is an interesting aspect of the country’s social history.

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