Blessington New Town, 1669

In order to understand the foundation of Blessington as a new town, it is important to study its development in the context of:-

  • its continuity with the village of Burgage, and
  • the development of other new towns in Ireland, in particular 'Boyle towns' of the same time.

Blessington and Boyle

 In 1667 Michael Boyle was granted lands at Burgage, which already had a church, a corn-mill, a fishery, a castle and a village.

 

Boyle arranged for the incorporation of Burgage as a town in 1669 in the reign of King Charles II and re-named it 'Blessington' in the Charter.

 

A deerpark of 240 acres was also licensed by the Charter of 1669.

 

St. Mary's parish church was founded in 1682 to replace the old church of Burgage.  Boyle presented the new church with communion plate, an organ and a peal of bells, which bear the date 1682.  These are now the oldest church bells in Ireland and are still in use.

 

In addition to being an archbishop, Boyle was Lord Chancellor of Ireland.  In this capacity he held his court of chancery in Blessington House and built houses in the village for the six clerks of the court.  He also reorganised the rules and procedures of the Court of Chancery.

 

Blessington - a 'new town' and corporation created

In 1669, when Michael Boyle had moved to Armagh as Archbishop, he secured a charter for Blessington from Charles II.

 

Blessington House was built soon afterwards, then St Mary's Church, as the town began to develop towards its modern form.

 

Further lands were granted to the Blessington Estate in 1704, all in County Kildare, which had been forfeited after the war for the throne between James and William/Mary. So in 1704 the Blessington estate reached its maximum extent.

 

Michael Boyle spent hardly any time in Blessington, and it was in effect the estate of his son Murrough Boyle, for whom he secured the title, Earl of Blessington.  Murrough died in 1718 and his son, Charles, was more interested in the gay scene in Paris and spent most of his life there.

 

Charles Boyle died childless in 1732 and the Blessington estate went to William Stewart until 1769 and then to Charles Dunbar until 1778, who left it in his will in 1785 to the nearest living relative of Michael Boyle, his great-grandson, Wills Hill, of Hillsborough, who obtained the Downshire title.

 

Blessington's Charter

Michael Boyle obtained a charter from Charles II in 1669 by which he obtained  forfeited lands and permission to erect into a manor, and a new town to be called the Blessington.  it was to be governed by a corporation consisting of a 'Sovereign, Bailiffs, and Burgesses of the Borough and Town of Blessington'.  

The corporation consisted of a sovereign, two bailiffs and twelve burgesses, with power to a majority to admit freemen and choose inferior officers, and the archbishop was authorised to appoint a recorder and town-clerk.

The borough of Blessington returned two members to the Irish parliament, elected by its corporation, until the Act of Union in 1800.

Reorganisation under Wills Hill, 1785

Mace of Blessington - 1786
Mace of Blessington - 1786

In 1785 Wills Hill (later Marquis of Downshire) inherited the Blessington Estate.  He set about improving the town and the estate:-

  • he repaired and refurbished Blessington House
  • he redesigned the town plan of Blessington - created the square, widened the main street and re-located the road leading to Blessington bridge and mill
  • he built an inn and gave sites in the town to people such as Charles Lilly (his builder) and William Patrickson (his Blessington agent), to build houses
  • he reorganised the estate, particularly the townland of Oldcourt, where he consolidated the holdings into much larger farms and gave these to Charles Lilly, William Patrickson and his brother John Patrickson


Wills Hill also resurrected the town corporation of Blessington and commissioned a ceremonial mace in 1786.

 

However, all was not well with the Hill family and by this time they were hard up for cash.  Early in 1785, Wills sent a request from Dublin to the family accountant in the north asking that 80 guineas be paid into his bank account as a matter of urgency, 'otherwise', he said `I shall not leave Dublin without danger'.

 

Blessington's MPs

There were elections in Blessington in 1692, 1695, 1703, 1713, 1715, 1727, 1745, 1761, 1768, 1776, 1783, 1790, 1797.

 

Years elected     

   Name of MP (born – died)

1692 - 1693

   Sir Richard Levinge (1656-1724)

1692 - 93, 1703 – 11

   William Crowe (c.1657-1711).  He later sat for Trinity College, Dublin

1695 - 99

   Gideon Delaune (ante 1659-1701)

1695 - 99

   Denny Muscamp, (1637-1699).  Archbishop Boyle’s son-in-law

1711 - 13 - 14, 1715 - 18

   Charles Boyle, (post 1673 - 1732).  Son of Morough Boyle, 2 Vsct. Blessington

1719 - 27

   David Dunbar, (c.1687-1752).  Grandson of Morough Boyle, 1st Vsct. Blesssington

1724 - 26

   Joseph Slattery (c.1681-1726)

1727 - 44

   Patrick French (1681-1744)

1727 - 48

   Sir Richard Levinge (1685-1748)

1745 - 60, 1761-68-69

   Charles Ussher (1694-1769)

1748 - 49

   Joseph Kelly (ante 1719-1749)

1749 - 59

   Francis Macartney (post 1715-1759)

1759 - 60, 1761 - 8, June - Nov 1768

   George Smyth (1705-1772)

1761

   Hon. John Monck, later sat for St Canice's in Kilkenny. (Not in E M Johnston-Liik)

1771 - 6 - 8

   Charles Dunbar, (1717-1778) great-grandson of 1st Viscount Blessington

1776 - 83

   Sir John Talbot Dillon (1739-1805)

1779 - 83 - 90 - 97 - 1800

   John Reilly (1745-1804)

1783 - 90 - 95

   Sir Richard Johnston (1743-1795)

1796 - 97

   David Ker (1747-1811)

1797 - 1800

   Hon. Richard Annesley (1745-1824)

 

Source - Based on ‘History of the Irish Parliament, 1692-1800’, Johnson-Liik, E. M. (Belfast, 2002), with additions by John Hussey.

 

The Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Hussey is a historical-geography.  His studies focus on human settlement and industry in north-west of County Wicklow - the area extending from Blessington into the upper Liffey valley and the Kings River valley.

 

He has researched and written on the region's Granite Quarrying Industry, its Weaving Industry and its Quaker community.

 

His most recent research has focused on the Woolpack Road, along which the region's wool and cloth was transported to Dublin. 

 

His book on the Quaker community of Baltyboys was published by the Irish Society of Friends (Quakers) in July 2017.