The Corporation of the Borough of Belturbet
County Cavan, Ireland
The Corporation of the Borough of Belturbet was established on March 30th 1613, under a Charter from King James (Rot. Pat. 11 Jac.I p1 m.27). The Charter placed the corporation in the charge of thirteen Burgesses, one of whom would be elected annually to the office of Provost by the other twelve. The burgesses were also empowered to return two members to the parliament in Dublin. NOTE: It appears there are no copies of the Belturbet Charter in existance, at least in such sources as Trinity, RIA, National Archives-Dublin or UK,Proni, Cavan Public Library, National Library, Marsh Lib. University College Dublin. If you know of one I suggest you advise one or all where to locate a copy. Stephen Butler, who had been granted 2000 acres of land (but in fact considerably more) in the barony of Loughtee was the first Provost. He, together with other local planters of similar stature, was charged with building the town in the heart of Gaelic Cavan and peopling it with English inhabitants. The Provost and his Town Clerk kept records of the proceedings of the Corporation's meetings and of the court in the Town Book. Records for the period 1613-1656 did not survive. The manuscript for 1657-1840 was rescued from a wartime waste-paper drive by the Town Clerk, Edmund O Reilly who gave it to Reverend Father Traynor, Parish Priest. He in turn donated it to the National Archives of Ireland which recently transferred it to Cavan County Archives. The Town Book records the bye-laws, petitions of the inhabitants, disfranchisement of errant burgesses and freemen, election of Provosts and borough MP's to the Irish parliament, appointments of freemen, transfers of land, the Corporation's accounts, apprentice indentures, charitable donations to widows and 'decayed' freemen, annual lists of those entitled to graze cattle on the Commons and much else. Supporting papers which one might expect to be part of the record such as the Town Charter, correspondence with the High Sheriff and Dublin Castle proclamations, maps and surveys, market prices and market accounts are not included although there is evidence that there were attachments and additional pages at one time. The legibility of many parts of the manuscript varies from 'difficult' to 'impossible', pagination is frequently confusing and entries are often made where space allows rather than in time sequence. Despite these deficiencies the manuscript provides a unique insight into the management of a small borough from the middle of the17th century to 1840.
The Corporation's life spanned a period noted for revolutions, wars, reprisals and oppressions that for some is best forgotten. It was also a time of social change and economic growth. Between 1619 and 1841 the town grew from about 34 houses to 286 while the number of inhabitants increased from about 200 to 1620. In roughly the same time the town government, as reflected in the Town Book and elsewhere, developed from a relatively spirited democratic one in the 1670's to an autocracy harshly criticised by Coote (Statistical Survey 1802) as monopolistic and by the Commissioners for Municipal Corporations (1834) as having usurped the town's property. The last half-century of the Corporation's existence was a time of local and national social unrest, the system of local government being just one of the many grievances of the time. In 1840, under intense pressure from the Reform movement, the British parliament dissolved 58 Borough Corporations in Ireland, including Belturbet, eliminating some of the abuses which afflicted contemporary urban society. Whatever the Corporation's roots and its failures and faults, its life-span links late medieval Gaelic Ireland to modern Ireland and as such is worthy of study. For those of us who lived in the town the Town Book's plethora of familiar names is a reminder of the many who walked the streets before we did, who shaped the town and left enduring imprints there. In addition, it provides a perspective on our own mortality
The manuscript of the Town Book is housed in the Cavan County Archives, Age, exposure to moisture, haphazard pagination and arrangement has rendered much of it difficult to read. A hard-copy of my privately prepared transcription of the manuscript in MS Office is also available at the Cavan County Archives. The Town Book raises many questions about the town - its growth, landmarks, relics and of course, its inhabitants - which I hope to have answered through this website. Some of these questions are documented under the subject pages of this site and more will be added. It is hoped that those who know the answers will let me know through the e-mail address below. Information provided will be acknowledged and published here.
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This site last updated February /2007
Acknowledgement: Ownership of the Archives of the Corporation of Belturbet resides with Belturbet Town Commission and is administered on its behalf by Cavan County Archives Service. Excerpts from the archives are identified with the Archives codes (BC/n). Permission to quote the excerpts presented on this site as of the above date has been granted by Cavan County Archives Service. Permission to publish these excerpts or any other parts of the Archives should be sought from firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 049-4378300