History of Balbriggan 1641-1841
The area around Balbriggan has almost certainly been populated since shortly after the first people arrived on these shores, but the town of Balbriggan is a relatively recent development. This town owes much to the largesse of the Hamilton family since the 18th century, and their willingness to invest in housing, industry and the development of the local harbour. The population of the town and surrounding area remained relatively small having been effected by the famine and did not show significant growth until the late 1960s. Since then its continual expansion has been at a phenomenal rate.
Balbriggan 1641 - 1841
Unlike the neighbouring ancient manors of Balrothery, Balscadden and Bremore, the town of Balbriggan has a shorter almost meteoric history. Returned in the Civil Survey of 1656 as "The great farme of Balbriggen", belonging to Nicholas Barnewall of Turvey and as "The little farm of Balbriggin", belonging to Peter Barnewall of Tyrenure, Balbriggan was then no more than two townlands occupying 220 acres.
The Building of the Harbour 1761 - 1765
The Barnewall "dynasty" was replaced by the powerful Hamilton family in the early 18th century. Baron Hamilton, with the aid of Parliamentary grants supervised the erection of a fine harbour wall, or mole, of 600 feet in length, thus affording safe anchorage for large vessels. The little port of Balbriggan very quickly prospered and apart from the development of a local fishing fleet, a sizeable trade grew up in the port where large quantities of corn and timber were exported and imports of slates, coal, culm and rock salt were unloaded at the busy quayside. We are fortunate in having a first hand account of the building of the harbour wall and of the success of the growing fishing industry. This account is provided by a traveller called Arthur Young who toured Ireland in the years 1776 to 1778. He actually visited Balbriggan on 19th July 1776 and the following is a snippet from his observations: "Got to Baron Hamilton's at Hampton, near Balbriggen, by breakfast. His house is new built and stands agreeably by a fine shore ... the population increases very fast and the country in every respect improves amazingly .... The Baron carried me to Balbriggen, a little sea port of his, which owes it's being and care to his attention. It subsists by its fishing boats which he builds; has 23 of them, each carrying 7 men, who are not paid wages, but divide the produce of their fishery."
Building of the Mills in 1780's
Balbriggan was given an enormous boost in the early 1780's when two large cotton mills were built. These mills were powered by the sophisticated manmade mill race and were the equal of any contemporary mills in England. The first of the mills, the Lower Mill, was promoted by George Hamilton of Hampton but was soon sold to Messrs. Comerford and O'Brien. The second mill, the Upper Mill, was supervised by Joseph Smyth and was in production by 1783. Further evidence of this increased prosperity was provided by an article which appeared in the "Dublin Chronicle " on August 18th 1791. The article began: "Balbriggan Franchises: Monday, August 15th being the day appointed for the perambulation of the Franchises of Balbriggan, the several manufacturers who have settled in that rapidly expanding town, assembled in their respective bodies to exhibit the splendour of trade and the comforts of industry." The pageant was divided into six bodies, the tailors, smiths, weavers, butchers, brewers and spinners and concluded the next day with an address from Captain French of Lowther Lodge. Lewis mentioned also a large corn store on the quay, extensive salt works and a tanyard in the town. A Market House, at Market Green, was erected in 1811 and large quantities of corn were shipped to Liverpool and Dublin. Fair days were held on 29th April and 29th September, mostly for cattle. However, the imposition of tariffs and taxes can have an immediate effect on even the most successful of enterprises. Thus, while Balbriggan harbour could employ 863 men in the year 1829, Samuel Lewis could relate in 1837 that: "The fishery, since the withdrawing of the bounty, has very much diminished: there are at present only 10 wherries or small fishing boats belonging to the port." John Dalton could tell us in 1838 that: "Balbriggan has been a very thriving place, but, by the decline of the cotton factories, the withdrawing of the fishery bounties, and the diversion of the great northern road, the advantages .... have been considerably impeded."