New Ross is defined by its location near the meeting point of the Nore and Barrow Rivers. This is what made the town the most successful port in 13th century Ireland and allowed it to be the departure point centuries later for those fleeing the Potato Famine. At the edge of the old town are the remains of the once strong defences which still survive here and there. Inside the walls is one of the largest medieval churches in the country, memorials to its role in the 1798 rebellion and an excellent interpretative centre, complete with famine coffin ship, telling the story of Irish emigration.
A brief history of New Ross
New Ross was one of the first Irish towns to be developed by the Normans. It is traditionally believed to have been founded by the Earl of Pembroke, William Marshall, between 1192 and 1207. The town was developed in a strategic location near the manorial centre at Old Ross and was intended to serve as a port for the Marshall lands of the Barrow, Nore and Suir valleys. By 1210 William Marshall had built so fine a bridge that the new town became known as Ros ponte and subsequently New Ross. By the first half of the thirteenth century New Ross had established itself as a successful port due to its key location. At the end of the century custom returns showed that it was the busiest port in Ireland.
The town itself was without defences until the late thirteenth century when the ‘frequent inroads and predatory excursions of the neighbouring Chieftains’ and a feud between the Fitzmaurices and the De Burghs in 1264 convinced the inhabitants of the necessity to construct a defensive wall. With the construction of the town defences in 1265 the town began to take on a new meaning and a distinction between those living “within the walls” and those “without the walls” began to appear in documents. In 1279 the burgesses had holdings inside and outside the wall. It was at this time that Irishtown to the north developed as a distinct suburb. The charter granted to New Ross in 1283 gave specific permission for the extension of burgages by the reclamation of land from the river. It also stipulated that the burgage plots should be 20 feet wide. Many of the plots were still evident in the first edition ordnance survey maps created during the mid 19th century.
The potential earning power of such a successful port was reflected in a bitter dispute which persisted between the port of New Ross and the King’s port of Waterford. Trade restrictions introduced to limit the success of New Ross, combined with political unrest, saw a slow decline in the prosperity of New Ross from the fourteenth century onwards. The town was burned by Art McMurrough in 1394 as an opening shot in his war against Richard II. It was besieged by the Earl of Ormond on behalf of Charles II, as part of the long complex war that followed the uprising of Confederate Catholics in 1641. While Ormond failed to take the town, it had little choice but to surrender to Cromwell six years later. In 1798 much of New Ross was destroyed in a bloody battle and over 2,000 people were killed in little more than 24 hours.
For further information on the town’s history contact:
New Ross Town Council
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