Carlingford, a short history
Carlingford has its roots in the 9th century with the Viking presence on the east coast of Ireand (Ireland's Ancient East) and is first mentioned in the Annals of Ulster in 852 a.d. by it's ancient Gaelic name "Cuan Snamh Aigneach" or the “Bay of the Swim of Aigneach”, the Aighneachta were the people of the Connaille who inhabited the area prior to the Vikings' arrival.
The town's name is derived either from the Norse Carlinn Fjord, the Fiord of Carlinn, or else Kelingafjorthr, "The Old Woman’s Fiord". However it was the Anglo-Normans who established the first urban settlement and the first references to a town were made in 1185. Its importance stemmed from both its strategic location at an easily defended natural harbour, and from the ease with which men and livestock could be ferried from there across to County Down, avoiding the arduous and dangerous journey across land.
Carlingford’s importance increased with the construction c.1190 of Carlingford Castle by DeLacey, who saw the advantage of locating a fortification at the foot of a mountain and at the mouth of the lough on the southern borders of Ulster. Subsequently the castle was garrisoned continuously until its abandonment in the early 18th century. In 1227 Hugh DeLacey was granted permission to hold an annual fair in the town, allowing trade to develop. Thereafter this and fishing formed the economic base for a prosperous town.
Carlingford was granted the right to mint coinage in 1467, which confirmed its regional importance as a centre for trade and administration, and obtained a full Town Charter in 1619, which granted the town urban independence from the local lord. A corporation had been in existence since at least 1326, when the first recorded Charter was granted to the bailiffs of the town.
By 1619 decline had already set in, new road infrastructure between Dundalk and Newry meant that travel over land became easier and the lough was bypassed as the main mode of transporting goods. Along with a declining fish catch due to falling Herring numbers on which the fishing industry depended, the local economy was decimated while Newry and Dundalk were establishing themselves as the main urban centres of the area. Even though Carlingford’s port survived, mainly because of the presence of oysters in the harbour and a flourishing trade in locally mined blue limestone, by 1854 one quarter of the village dwellings had been deserted.
Carlingford’s medieval street pattern still survives in two parallel streets running north/south, cut by three cross streets, of which Market Street is the widest and most central. Medieval dwelling plots, known as burgage plots, are also still in evidence. Buildings which would have been wealthy merchant’s fortified homes still stand –Taaffe’s Castle and the Mint - along with fortifications such as remnants of the Town Wall and Gate (the Tholsel) and King John’s Castle. The Holy Trinity Church and the remains of the Dominican Friary represent its ecclesiastical past.
Ironically the town’s decline and the subsequent lack of development allowed these reminders of its prosperity to survive. Yet in the last 150 years some change has occurred. The Dundalk, Newry & Greenore railway line opened in 1876. Its route went along Carlingford’s seafront and allowed for the infilling of the old quay and the construction of the harbour in the 1880’s. The Railway company were also responsible for bringing Tourism to the regain.