Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow

Baltinglass is a town at the western edge of the Wicklow Mountains some 38 miles from the centre of Dublin. Though close to the capital, it is a small town in a rural area. Its setting is a picturesque valley through which the River Slaney slowly sets out on its journey to the sea fifty miles away at Wexford. Towering above the town is Baltinglass Hill, with its Neolithic passage tomb, and close to the river are the ruins of the twelfth century Cistercian abbey.

Though Baltinglass is in the heart of West Wicklow, it is separated from the eastern part of Co. Wicklow by the mountains. Just two and a half miles from the town’s centre is the point where three counties – Wicklow, Carlow and Kildare – meet, so Baltinglass gravitates more towards the midlands than the east coast.

According to the 2006 Census the town of Baltinglass has 1,735 inhabitants. If the immediate environs (including the Carrigeen area of Co. Kildare and the villages of Grangecon and Stratford) are added, the population of what might be called ‘greater Baltinglass’ is just short of 5,000. Despite being a small community, Baltinglass has a multicultural population. It is home to people from every continent, with the obvious exception of Antarctica. There are three Roman Catholic and three Church of Ireland churches within ‘greater Baltinglass’, but other faiths are also represented among the residents.

The most prominent natives of Baltinglass included John Thomond O’Brien, a key figure in South American’s struggle for independence, Richard Crosbie, Ireland’s first successful aviator, and Jennie Wyse Power, one of the earliest female Irish politicians.

The Cistercian abbey, founded by Diarmaid Mac Murchadha in 1148, was the origin of the settlement that became Baltinglass. It began as a village at a fording place on the Slaney adjacent to the Abbey. At the time of the dissolution of the Abbey by Henry VIII in 1537 there was a small gathering of houses. By the 1660s there were 38 houses and in 1663 the town was incorporated by charter from Charles II. In the mid-eighteenth century textile industries were introduced by the Stratford family (later Earls of Aldborough).

During the 1798 Rebellion, and for many decades afterwards, Baltinglass was a garrison town. By the early nineteenth century it was the seat of administration for West Wicklow, with a courthouse, a prison and an infirmary. In 1838 it was designated the centre of a poor law union and in 1841 the workhouse was opened. The railway reached Baltinglass in 1885 and trains were to play a major part in the town’s economy for over six decades.

In 1950 the ‘Battle of Baltinglass’, a dispute about the job of sub-postmaster, brought international media attention to the town. St.Patrick’s Day 1990 brought more worthy recognition and unprecedented celebration to Baltinglass with victory in the All-Ireland Club Football championship. The town’s multicultural aspect accelerated in 1999 with the arrival of fifty programme refugees from Kosova, many of whom made their permanent home here. Since then migrant workers from various countries have settled in the town. In 2008 the town’s global awareness was highlighted when it was awarded Fairtrade Town status.