FERNS, a post-town and parish, and till lately the seat of a diocese, partly in the barony of GOREY, but chiefly in that of SCARAWALSH, county Of WEXFORD, and province of LEINSTER, 17- miles (N.) from Wexford, and 56- (S. by W.) from Dublin, on the road from Gorey to Enniscorthy ; containing 4038 inhabitants, of which number, 571 are in the town. This place, according to Colgan, derives its name from Ferna, son of Caril, King of Decies, who was slain here in battle by Gallus, son of Morna ; but according to other writers from "Fearn," signifying either an alder tree, or the well-known weed so common in uncultivated districts. It is said to have been granted, in 598, by Brandubh, King of Leinster, to St. Edan, who built a monastery here, in the church of which his benefactor and himself were subsequently interred. Early in the 9th century, the growing importance of the town, which had gradually risen around the monastery, was checked by successive incursions of the Danes, in 834, 836, and 838 ; afterwards in 917 and 928, and in 930 they plundered the abbey and burnt the town. In 1041 the city was destroyed by Dunchad, son of Brian, and in 1165 it suffered from an accidental fire. In the following year it is said to have been burnt by Dermod MacMurrough, the last King of Leinster, to prevent its falling into the hands of Roderic, King of Ireland ; but according to more numerous authorities, it was destroyed by the confederate army under Roderic, who, advancing to Ferns during Dermod's absence in England, took the castle and restored Dervorghal, whom Dermod had forcibly carried off, to her husband O'Rourke, King of Breffny. On his return from England, towards the close of 1168, Dermod secretly took refuge in the Augustine monastery which he had founded here ; and after the capture of Wexford by his English auxiliaries, concentrated his forces at this place, where he remained for three weeks refreshing his men, and concerting plans of future operations. After a successful attack on the King of Ossory, Dermod again retired to Ferns, whither Roderic, alarmed at his continued successes, advanced to give him battle. Dermod, sensible of his inferiority in numbers, stationed his troops in the bogs and woods which surrounded the castle, and awaited the contest ; and Roderic, fearing to attack him in that position, concluded, at the solicitations of the clergy, a treaty of peace, in which he acknowledged Dermod's right to the crown of Leinster. Dermod died the year following, and was interred either in the cathedral of Ferns or at Baltinglass. After his death, Strong-bow visited this city, where he subsequently solemnized the marriage of his daughter, by a former wife, with his standard-bearer, Robert de Quiney, whom he created Lord Daifren and appointed constable of Leinster.
The city appears never to have recovered from its previous devastations ; for when it was given by Hen. I[. to Robert Fitz-Aldelm, it was described as an inconsiderable place, and exposed to the hostile assaults of the native chieftains. Fitz-Aldelm, having seized the castle of Wicklow, gave this lordship in exchange to the sons of Maurice Fitzgerald, who began to build a strong castle here, which was treacherously rased to the ground before it was completed. The castle, which subsequently became the occasional residence of the bishops of the diocese, and of which there are some remains, was most probably built in the reign of John, by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. It was attacked, in 1312 and 1313, by the O'Tooles, who also set fire to the city ; and Bishop Esmond, whose prelacy was disputed, maintained himself in it by force of arms against William Charnells, who was appointed to succeed him. The latter, after the sheriff had declared his inability to displace the former, put himself at the head of his own servants and forcibly obtained possession of the castle, in the occupation of which he was greatly annoyed by the Irish septs. In the reign of Hen. VIII., MacMurrough, chieftain of Leinster, was made governor of the castle for the king ; and during the reign of Edw. VI. and Mary, the custody of it was given to Richard Butler, Viscount Mountgarret. In 1641, Sir Chas. Coote, the parliamentary general, dismantled the fortress and greatly oppressed the inhabitants. The town is romantically situated on the river Bann, in an open and healthy district, and is sheltered on the north and west by a range of mountains. It consists chiefly of one irregular street, and contains 106 houses indifferently built, retaining no trace of its ancient importance. The market has been long discontinued ; but fairs are held on Feb. 1 ith, March 25th, May 12th, June 29th, Sept. 4th, Oct. 29th, and Dec. 27th. Here and at Ballycarney are constabulary police stations.
The DIOCESE of FERNS appears to have been founded by St. Edan, commonly called St. Maidoc or Mogue, a descendant of Colla Vais, King of Ireland, who, having left his country, resided for some years with St. David, bishop of Menevia, in Wales, by whom he was carefully instructed in the principles of the Christian religion. After his return to Ireland, St. Maidoc founded a church at Ferns, which soon after became the seat of a diocese. In a great synod held afterwards at Leinster, Brandubh decreed that the archbishoprick of Leinster should forever remain in the chair and see of St. Maidoc ; who, after presiding over it for nearly 50 years, died in 632 and was succeeded by St. Molin. The see was governed by a regular succession of bishops till 814, from which date there is a chasm of more than a hundred years, arising probably from the ravages of the Danes of Ulster. It was afterwards governed by Laidgnene, under the title of Comorban, who died in 937: of his successors little worthy of notice is recorded till after the arrival of the English in Ireland. On the refusal of Giraldus Cambrensis to accept the see, which, with that of Leighlin, had been offered to him by John, Earl of Morton, Albin O'Mulloy succeeded in 1186 ; and during his prelacy it was forcibly deprived of two manors by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Adam de Northampton, who succeeded in 1312, was attainted of treason for his adherence to Edward Bruce, and for furnishing Robert Bruce with provisions, arms, and men during his invasion of Ireland. The revenues of the see were greatly diminished during the prelacy of Alexander Devereux, who succeeded to it in 1539, and remained in undisturbed possession of it, notwithstanding the changes then taking place in religion ; and the manor of Fethard was alienated by Hugh Allen, who succeeded in 1582, but it was subsequently recovered by Bishop Ram. During the prelacy of Bishop Graves, who was consecrated in 1600, the see of Leighlin, which had been for some time vacant, was united with Ferns ; and his successors continued to be bishops of Leighlin and Ferns from that period till 1836, when, on the death of the last bishop, Dr. Elrington, both dioceses were annexed to the see of Ossory, and the temporalities of the latter became vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The diocese is one of the five which constitute the ecclesiastical province of Dublin : it comprises a small part of the county of Wicklow and of Queen's county, and nearly the whole of that of Wexford, extending 46 miles in length and 18 in breadth, and comprehending a superficies of 570,564 statute acres, of which 550,800 are in the county of Wexford, and 19,764 in that of Wicklow. The lands belonging to the see comprise 13,370 statute acres of profitable land ; and the gross revenue of the bishoprick amounts to £5882. 15. 3-. The chapter consists of a dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, archdeacon, and the ten prebendaries of Kilrane, Coolstuffe, Fethard, Edermine, Taghmon, Kilrush, Tomb, Clone, Crosspatrick, and Whitechurch. The consistory court, held at Enniscorthy, consists of a vicar-general, two surrogates, and a registrar, who is also keeper of the records, of which the earliest are of the date of 1618. The total number of parishes is 142, which, with the exception of two without cure of souls, are comprised within 58 benefices, of which 34 are unions of two or more parishes, and 24 single parishes ; of the benefices, one (the deanery) is in the patronage of the Crown, 10 in lay patronage, and the remainder are in the patronage of the Bishop or the incumbents. The number of parish churches is 61, and there are also two other places in which divine service is performed ; there are 31 glebe-houses. The diocesan school, the master of which is paid a salary by the bishop and beneficed clergy of the diocese, is at Wexford. In the R. C. divisions this diocese, as originally constituted, forms a distinct bishoprick, and is one of the three suifragan to the archiepiscopal see of Dublin: it comprises 36 parochial unions or districts, and, exclusively of the friary chapel at New Ross, contains 90 chapels, served by 36 parish priests and 54 coadjutors or curates ; the episcopal parishes or districts are Enniscorthy and Camolin: the Bishop resides at the former place.
The parish comprises 15,085 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act: the greater portion of the land is under tillage, and there is a considerable tract of hilly pasture. The gentlemen's seats are Ballymore, the residence of R. Donovan, Esq., proprietor of the town and the largest estate in the parish ; and Clobemon Hall, of T. Derinzey, Esq., beautifully situated on the eastern bank of the Slaney, which here abounds with rich and varied scenery: the latter is a handsome modern mansion of the Grecian Doric order, erected from a design by Mr. Cobden, and is surrounded by an extensive and finely wooded demesne, in which are the ruins of a castle formerly belonging to the ancestors of Lord Baltimore. The living is a vicarage, united by act of council, in 1776, to the rectory of Kilbride, and in the patronage of the Bishop, to whom the rectory is appropriate, The tithes amount to £880. 15. 4-., of which £553. 16. 11. is payable to the bishop, and £276. 18. 5-. to the vicar ; the tithes of the vicarial union amount to £480. The glebe-house, the residence of the Rev. H. Newland, D. D., is pleasantly situated on a rising ground near the church ; it was erected by aid of a gift of £800 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1805. The glebe comprises more than 29 acres of cultivated land, held under the see at a yearly rent of £15, by deed executed in 1778. The present cathedral, which is also the parish church, was erected in 1816, by aid of a loan of £500 from the late Board of First Fruits ; it is a small structure, in the later English style, with a square embattled tower crowned with pinnacles ; and adjoining it is a small building used as a chapter-house. In removing the ruins of the old building, the date 632 (the year of St. Edan's death) was found inscribed on several pieces of timber, and also on a huge beam of oak ; an ancient monument to the memory of that saint is still preserved in the present church. In the wall of the churchyard have been inserted the fragments of one of those ancient crosses which are usually referred to the 10th or 11th century. The Episcopal palace is equally conspicuous for the simple elegance of its design and the beauty of the grounds: it was commenced during the prelacy of Bishop Cope, who, in 1785, obtained an act enabling him to carry into effect two bequests, one made in 1715 and the other in 1772, for the erection of an episcopal residence at this place. The church of the ecclesiastical district of Ballycarney (which see), recently erected out of the parishes of Ferns, Templeshanbo, and Monart, is situated in this parish. In the R. C. divisions the parish is the head of a union or district, comprising also the parishes of Kilbride and Kilcomb : the chapel, erected in 1826, is a neat modern building, with a low tower of granite surmounted by a cupola supported on eight pillars of grit-stone ; adjoining it is a good house for the priest. About 150 children are taught in two public schools, of which one is aided with £30 per ann. by the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity, and the other is chiefly supported by Dr. Newland ; there are also three private schools, in which are about 100 children, and a dispensary.
Of the Augustine monastery founded by Dermod MacMurrough, the chief remains are the walls of a narrow building with lancet-shaped windows, and a tower of two stages, of which the lower is quadrangular and the upper polygonal and covered with moss and ivy, which give it a circular form ; within is a geometrical staircase leading to the top of the square tower. There are extensive remains of the ancient castle on an eminence in the town: it appears to have been of great strength, of quadrangular form, and defended at the angles with round towers, of which one is still entire and contains a beautiful small chapel with a groined roof, the interior of which has been recently fitted up ; it commands from its summit a pleasing and extensive prospect, and is the property of R. Donovan, of Ballymore, Esq., who is using every precaution to preserve it: part of one of the other towers is also remaining. Near the churchyard is St. Mogue's well, said to have been sunk by Molin, successor to St. Edan, and held in veneration for the miraculous efficacy attributed to its waters.