History of Clare

Motto Dílis d’ar nOidhreacht 

“True to our heritage”

County Clare is often referred to as the “Banner County”, for which various origins have been suggested; the banners captured by Clare’s Dragoons at the Battle of Ramillies; or the banner of “Catholic emancipation” raised by Daniel O’Connell’s victory in an 1828 by-election for County Clare that led to the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.

The earliest settlers in Ireland were Neolithic with much evidence supporting of this civilization can be found in many parts of the Clare area. These Prehistoric peoples left evidence behind in the form of ancient dolmen; single-chamber megalithic tombs, usually consisting of three or more upright stones. Clare is one of the richest places for these tombs in Ireland, the most noted is in The Burren area, it is known as Poulnabrone Dolmen which translates as the hole of sorrows”. The remains of the people inside the tomb have been excavated and dated to 3800 BC.

Another scholar of this time, Ptolemy, created a map of Ireland in his Geographia which contained information dating from 100 AD. It is the oldest written account of the island with geographical features. Within this map, Ptolemy names the Gaelic tribes inhabiting Ireland and the areas in which they resided. In the area of Clare he identified a tribe known as the Gangani

The Tau Cross at Roughan Hill near Corofin, County Clare, Ireland.

During the Early Middle Ages the area was part of the Kingdom of Connacht ruled by the Uí Fiachrach Aidhne, until it was annexed to the Kingdom of Munster to be settled by the Dalcassians in the mid-10th century. It was renamed Thomond, meaning North Munster and gave birth to the infamous Brian Boru during this period, the most noted High King of Ireland. From 1118 onwards the Kingdom of Thomond was in place and ruled by the O’Brien Clan. After the Norman invasion of Ireland, Thomas de Clare established a short-lived Norman lordship of Thomond, extinguished at the Battle of Dysert O’Dea in 1318 during Edward Bruce’s invasion.

The county name Clare arrives from 2 possible associations. One comes from the association that the de Clare family has with the county and the other, most notably, from the settlement of Clare (now Clarecastle) whose Irish name Clár  meaning “plank bridge” which refers to an 12th century bridge crossing over the River Fergus.

In 1543, during the Tudor conquest of Ireland and what was to be historically know as the Plantations of Ireland, Murrough O’Brien by surrender and regrant to Henry VIII became Earl of Thomond, which heralded the first of the Desmond Rebellions during the Plantations. During this time the Kingdom of Thomond was transferred from Munster to Connaught, which Henry Sidney then shired thus making the Kingdom of Thomond County Clare. In about 1600 A.D, Clare was removed from the Kingdom of Connaught and when Henry O’Brien, 5th Earl of Thomond died in 1639, Lord Deputy Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, decreed Clare should return to the province of Munster, but the Wars of the Three Kingdoms delayed this until the Restoration.

The county was badly affected by the Great Famine of 1845-47. The population was 286,000 in 1841 and by 1851 had been reduced to 212,000. Over 50,000 people died between 1845 and 1850 and many others emigrated to the United States and Australia. The decline in population continued during the subsequent one hundred years, falling to 73,500 in 1966.

Towns of Clare

A quiet village overlooking the Shannon estuary, Ballynacally is home to the world-famous O’Dea musical family. Try Daly’s bar on Saturday nights. Often you’ll hear the gentle accordion playing of Charlie Piggott accompanied by his cheeky young goatskin-thrashing sidekick Tom Neylon. If it’s the music you want, ring before you go.

Ballyvaughan is a small fishing and trading centre which grew up in the 19th century. The harbour was built in 1829 for fishing purposes, but as the town widened, it became useful for trading imports such as turf from Galway, and exports like local produce – grain, vegetables and bacon. Steamers began to bring tourists from Galway, and laid the foundations for a thriving tourism trade. In recent years the commercial use of the pier has declined, and now it is used for mainly pleasure craft and a starting point for boat trips to the islands.(Aran). One of the main nearby attractions to Ballyvaughan are the Ailwee Caves, and also the vast Burren – an area of carat limestone, renowned for its flora and fauna.

This quiet, peaceful village was virtually unheard of outside of Co. Clare before the 1880’s. The Bodyke Evictions in 1887 became headline news in all the Irish and English newspapers. Even Le Temps of Paris sent a reporter to cover the agitations. The controversy resulted in a spirited debate in the House of Commons. Today it has somewhat reverted to its pre 1880 state and remains relatively untouched, retaining a certain old world charm. The East Clare Golf Club, designed by Arthur Spring, is almost equidistant between the villages of Tulla, Scarriff, Feakle and Bodyke, set in beautiful countryside adjacent to the Clare shore of Lough Derg.

A small sea-side village at the very mouth of the Shannon , the village has become a popular summer destination for the serious traveller. A fine keep and bawn of a small castle (one of the McMahons’) stands near the pier. This castle has a long and colourful history of siege, capture and betrayal: quite a microcosm of Irish history. It was once the home of Lord Clare who is remembered today principally in the title of a well-known Irish tune , ‘Lord Clare’s Dragoons’ (he raised several regiments in support of King James II during the war against William). A descendent , also Lord Clare , became a Marshal in the French army and fought at Font?noy (1745) and other battles.

Corofin is a small market village about 13km from Ennis. It is the centre of a complex of lakes, one of which is Inchiquin Lake where there are two ruined castles once O Brien strongholds. Sir Frederick Burton was born in Corofin House in 1816. He went on to be the director of the National Gallery in London, and died in 1900. The Clare Heritage Centre displays the traumatic period of Irish History, between 1800 – 1860, including the Famine, land tenure and culture. Built on the River Fergus on the edge of the Burren, Corofin is a convenient location from which to tour the area.

A village on the Galway to Ennis road, the Crusheen area has a number of field monuments (wedge grave, ruined castles) , churches and several small local lakes for the coarse angler. In 1651 the Cromwellian Ludlow defeated a force of Royalists at the siege of Inishcronan Castle. The village has a particularly pleasant and unassuming thatched pub, Fogartys, with two open fires: the one in the small bar could roast an ox , and food is served.

Doolin is famous worldwide for it’s wealth in traditional Irish folk music, and attracts large numbers every year. It is also called Fisherstreet, and is marked that way on many maps. It is a small fishing village, and has two beaches. The one to the south of the pier is extremely dangerous for swimming, while the one next to the public toilets is suitable for swimming when the lifeguard is one duty.

The county town of Clare is the town of Ennis. Built on the River Fergus, it is a centre of administration, commerce and industry. In the 13th century, an O’Brien built a castle here and the town grew around this. In 1612, Ennis became a borough. Atourist trail of the town takes in a number of historical and archeological items of interest. These include Ennis Abbey, built in 1250, the West Clare Railway Engine, the O Connell monument, the Courthouse and the De Valera Museum. Public transport access to the town is by bus or by train, and Shannon Airport is nearby also.

Ennistymon is an attractive holiday centre on the main Ennis Lisdoonvarna road 4km inland from Lahinch. The town is in a wooded valley beside a cascade on the River Cullenagh. Boating, dancing, tennis, cinema and other recreations are provided are there is good brown trout fishing on the Cullenagh River and the Dealagh River.

One of Feakle’s claims to fame is that the important Irish-language poet Brian Merriman is buried there. Merriman was an 18th century schoolmaster at nearby Kilclarin. His magnum opus is The Midnight Court, a zestful and irreverent satire on church and state, the best translation is by Frank O’Connor (Mercier Press). It is regarded as one of the great works of Irish Literature but was strongly disapproved of in the past because of its uninhibited sexual content. Feakle was also the home town of a famous 19th century wise woman or witch known as Biddy Early. She was both revered and feared. Numerous stories and legends have circulated about her and her ‘blue bottle’, which she used in a similar fashion to a ‘crystal ball’.

No village in Ireland was more appropriately named. A haven of peace, it snuggles into the side of an immense valley, at the depth of which runs the River Barrow. The views from Glenmor across into County Wexford and the upper and lower reaches of the much availed of river, plus its seclusion, grants its people a place of rest and refuge few can match.

One of Kilbaha’s claims to fame is the ‘little ark’ preserved to this day in Moneen church. The story is that one Father Meehan in 1852 had a wooden ‘church’ built on wheels. This could then be wheeled down to the beach in order for the Catholics of the area to celebrate mass. Why the beach? Well in those days there was no Catholic church. The landlords of the time would not permit one to be built. The area below the high tide mark was considered ‘no-man’s land’ as far as the ruling Protestant minority was concerned and so the Catholics were immune from further persecution.

Kilfenora’s main claim to fame is its ruined cathedral and associated high crosses. At one time Kilfenora was a small diocese in its own right, and the ruins of the small cathedral testify to this. The Cathedral has a variety of carved figures , tombs and windows. There were five high crosses originally , but one was removed in 1821. The best-known is the Doorty Cross with three bishops and a double-headed bird on the east side, on the west is (possibly) a carving showing Christ entering Jerusalem and other carvings, this face is the less well preserved one.

Kilkee is a resort town set along a fine beach in Moore Bay. At the entrance of this bay is a reef known as the Duggerna Rocks. The town gained popularity as a resort town during early Victorian times. Wealthy families from Limerick City built summer “lodges” near the beach, which offers ocean breezes, safe swimming and interesting walks. There is still a Victorian charm in the town, but there is also more modern amusements such as pitch and putt, tennis, squash, golf, children’s amusements and watersports. Kilkee, in 1901, became a municipal town. There are the remains of a once popular spa near to the town of Kilkee, at Foonagh.

Killaloe has a fine situation on the west bank of the River Shannon, where it emerges from Lough Derg and narrows again on its way to the sea at Limerick. The town, which is connected with the village of Ballina by a bridge of thirteen arches, is the centre of a beautiful and historic district. A well as being a fishing centre for Lough Derg, Killaloe is a popular cruising, sailing and water skiing centre. Boats are available for hire on Lough Derg. A river bus provides a 1.5 hour pleasure cruise outof Killaloe during the season. A new interpretative centre on Lough Derg has recently opened in the town.

Kilrush, chief marketing centre of south-west Clare, is the third largest town in the county. Its fine harbour has been developed into Ireland’s first west coast marina and has berthage for a large number of yachts.

Lahinch, fronted by a fine sandy beach fringing Liscannor Bay, is a popular resort for bating and surfing, and has two 18 hole golf courses. Near the beach is an entertainment centre with a modern ballroom, cinema, theatre, cafe, sea water swimming pooland children’s pool and water swimming pool, children’s pool and playground, games room and tennis courts.

The name of Liscannor is synonymous in Ireland with stone: numerous small quarries, usually worked by the farmer who owns the land, abound in the area. The stone has interesting ‘worms’ on the surface and is much used locally for floors, patios, paths , walls and even -occasionally- as a roofing material. It splits into thick slate-like slabs. However the ‘worms’ wear off in time from being walked upon. Liscannor has two other claims to fame, it is the closest town to the famous Cliffs of Moher – the highest sea cliffs in Europe- and it was the birth-place of John P. Holland (1841-1914) , who devised the idea of the submarine as a means of warfare, it was his hope that it might be used as a means of destroying British naval power.

Lisdoonvarna, Ireland’s premier spa and a popular holiday resort in its own right, is in the hilly Burren country of north Clare. Only 8km from the sea, the town is surrounded by an interesting district with varied scenery. The Lisdoonvarna waters are sulphurous and chalybeate springs, all of which contain the valuable therapeutic element of iodine. Much of the efficacy of the waters especially the sulphur water is ascribed to their radioactive properties. The principal sulphur springs is at the south side of the town, while the principal iron springs are on the north side. At the Spa Centre are sauna baths, sun lounge, showers, rest rooms and a cafe, together with facilities for beauty therapy and massage.

Milltown Malbay
The Irish name for this town means Village of the Stone Fort. Although it is inland, it takes it’s English name from the nearby Mal Bay, which is linked with Mal. This was a fairy woman who pursued Cuchulain at Loop Head, and in an attempt to emulate the hero’s long jumping abilities she drowned, and her body was washed ashore at Mal Bay. Like Kilkee it is an example of a Victorian resort, although it was some distance from the sea. It also is an example of early town planning, so the streets are laid out in a regular pattern which branches from a central main. It is famous for hosting the Willie Clancy Summer School, which attracts traditional piping enthusiasts from Ireland and abroad. This is held every year in July.

A pretty and well-kept one-street village with a good small harbour on Lough Derg, this makes it hugely popular with boating people during the summer months. Holy Island (q.v.) is reached from here by the East Clare Heritage launch and is well worth a visit. Mountshannon is also a shooting and fishing centre. The village was designed and built from scratch by Alexander Woods, a Limerick merchant, who intended it as a purely Protestant settlement from which the surrounding Catholic population would be so impressed by the thrift and industry of the settlers that they would quickly convert to the Reformed Church, even as late as the 1830’s there was not a single Catholic resident in the village.

It would be easy to overlook Quilty as an unassuming village by a bend in the road between Milltown Malbay and Doonbeg, but this would be a pity , for there is more to Quilty than meets the eye. Its most noticeable feature is what looks like in the distance – for it is visible for miles across the flat open countryside – like a rather small round tower, which turns out is the tower of the local church. There are two beaches , the nicer one being easily missed , and some low cliffs, but the most interesting feature of the village is the church , which has a remarkable history.

The country around the village of Quin has many archaeological remains, the most notable being the Franciscan friary (remains). The first building that we know of on this site was a church, and then on the site de Clare built a castle in 1280 A.D. This was attacked and destroyed by the native Irish, and the present church was built on the site (c.1350 A.D.), incorporating some parts of the castle ruins. One of the Macnamara’s, the local ruling family, brought the Franciscans to Quin c.1433 A.D., thelast of them died in 1820 and is buried in the ruins. The surrounding countryside has many ruined castles of the Macnamara’s, and the spot on which they were inaugurated is now a flat-topped mound surrounded by a bank and ditch and called Magh Adhai.

A pleasant market town built on a hill, the town square (now a car park) occupies the crest of the hill, so that every road into the town is uphill. The Scariff River is an attraction for anglers, and the river , which flows into the Shannon is navigable for river cruisers almost to the town. Scariff has one major – and conspicuous- industry: a wood-processing plant, large areas of the Slieve Aughty Hills are now under afforestation. Scariff is the hometown of the famous novelist Edna O’Brien whose works were once banned in Ireland as being too obscene and irreverent in a Catholic country.

A small town on a hill, the surrounding countryside has a scattering of wedge graves , gallery graves and standing stones, however many of these have been destroyed and the ones that survive are generally ruinous. The remains of several small castles, also mostly in ruins, dot the landscape.