ByRoute 1.4 Co. Kerry (NW) // Co. Galway (S)

Kilkee (Co. Clare / West)

Kilkee (Cill Chaoi) (pop. 1100), developed as a genteel Victorian seaside resort, degenerated during the 1960s  into a tacky coastal dump with no Olde Worlde Charm whatsoever. However, recent reports suggest that it has improved, with several pubs, cafés, restaurants, guesthouses and hotels now highly recommended.

The mile-long horseshoe-shaped Moore Bay, protected from the Atlantic Ocean weather by the Duggerna Reef, is one of the safest bathing spots in Europe.  (Photo – www.shannonregionaltrails.ie)

Kilkee History

 

Cill Chaoidhe (“the church of Saint Caoidhe”) was recorded in the C14th, but it was not until the early C19th that it was identified by the Illustrated London News as the premier bathing spot in the UK.

 

Limerick City merchants and gentry had already begun to build summer lodges and villas in the area, and by the 1830s the village had three hotels. A contemporary recalled that at that time only a few of the local fisherfolk spoke English.

 

January 1836 saw 14 lives lost when the Intrinsic, a ship from Liverpool, was wrecked under the high cliffs of what has since been called Intrinsic Bay.

 

The Great Famine hit West Clare very hard; one of the worst affected areas was the Kilrush Union, which included Kilkee. Construction of the sea wall and embankment around the bay began as famine relief work in 1846 and was completed twenty years later.

 

Nearly 100 people drowned in November 1850 as the emigrant ship Edmond, bound from Limerick to Quebec, was blown into Kilkee Bay and broke in two on the rocks now known as Edmond Point.

 

Landlord General Francis Nathaniel Connyngham, Earl of Mountcharles & 2nd Marquess Connyngham, who as Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household had been the first to greet Princess Victoria as “Your Majesty” in 1837, had tenants evicted and their “hovels” razed in the 1850s to make way for the construction of Market Square and the streets around it (he later gave land to the Sisters of Mercy for the erection of a convent school).  Most new houses in Kilkee at that time were built with bay windows.

 

Distinguished C19th visitors included writers Charlotte Bronte, Ryder Haggard, Alfred Lord Tennyson, his friend Sir Aubrey de Vere and a Crown Prince Rudolf of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Some no doubt stayed in the famous Moore’s Hotel or attended concerts in Moore’s Hall, where Percy French was a frequent performer.

 

The vast majority of Kilkee’s regular summer holidaymakers have always come from Limerick City, initially via steamer to Kilrush and later by train. A branch of the famous narrow-gauge West Clare Railway was extended to Kilkee in 1892; although the line never made a profit, the station remained operational until 1961.

Kilkee is surrounded by wonderful scenery. There are excellent public walking routes to natural wonders such as the Diamond Rocks, the Pink Caves, the Puffing Hole and the Amphitheatre, a remarkable half moon of  tiered natural rock seats, and across the cliffs to Castle Point (named for Dunlicky Castle, a ruined MacSweeney stronghold abandoned by the MacDonnell landlords at the end of the C18th),  George’s Head (so called due to its alleged resemblance to a former monarch) and Look Out Hill, commanding views along the coast all the way from Mount Brandon in County Kerry to the Aran Islands.

The crescent strand, traditionally segregated by sex but nowadays popular for mixed family bathing, is annually awarded Blue Flag status. Byrne’s Cove is another good swimming spot. The more adventurous favour the Pollock Holes, natural tidal swimming pools, and New Found Out, where diving boards allow for plunges of up to 13m / 45ft into the open sea. The shoreline is dotted with good fishing spots.

The Kilkee Dive Centre and Kilkee Oceanworld are fully equipped Scuba diving facilities, enabling visitors to observe diverse marine life. (The late Jacques Cousteau apparently declared Kilkee the best diving spot in Europe!). Skin diving and snorkelling are also popular.

Boats can be hired for fishing or dolphin-spotting excursions, while the cliffs near Kilkee contain many inlets and caverns best explored by kayak or canoe.

Other popular watersports catered for include sailing, rowing, speedboating, surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing, while landlubbers can also enjoy cycling, mountain biking and horseriding.

The Kilkee Strand Races, traditionally a major attraction,with courses laid across the sand at low tide for the ponies, are held every September.

Kilkee Waterworld, a Mecca for screaming children, has a large indoor swimming pool with a 61m slide, a bubble pool, a beach pool, bouncy castles and a surf shop.

Squash Racquets, a combination of handball and squash, is a game peculiar to Kilkee;  junior and senior competition winners are actually World Champions.

Additional leisure facilities include tennis and squash courts, a pitch & putt course and amusement arcades full of spotty teenagers playing video games. Inevitably, there is also a golf course.

Traditional and other forms of music can be enjoyed nightly in several pubs, but beware of raucous singalong / karaoke bars.

Apart from fresh seafood in a couple of hotel / guesthouse dining rooms, and the occasional periwinkle, eating in Kilkee used to mean either candyfloss and crisps or vile burgers etc. sold in unhygienic chippers. This has changed; for Kilkee’s best current cafés and restaurants / dining options, we strongly advise reliance on the regularly updated recommendations made by Georgina Campbell.

Accommodation options range widely and include relatively upmarket hotels such as the refurbished Halpin’s Townhouse or the Stella Maris, the Thalassotherapy Centre & Guesthouse (very popular with German visitors), the intriguing Headfort Demesne, numerous “family-friendly” B&Bs and extensive camping & caravan facilities.

The church of the Immaculate Conception & St Senan (RC), completed in 1963, replaced Kilkee’s first post-medieval church, erected in 1831.

Many, if not most, of Kilkee’s early sojourners were Protestants; the Church of Ireland edifice on the Carrigaholt Road, built in 1841, was open until quite recently, and a Prebyterian place of  worship existed in the early C20th. The Methodist Chapel on Geraldine St, inaugurated in 1900, is still in use, at least during the summer season.

Dunlicky Castle is the site of a touching memorial dedicated in 2003 to the crew members of the 15ft Puffin, lost in their 1966 attempt to row across the Atlantic, and to other oceanrowers who perished in similar heroic endeavours.

The actor Richard Harris (1930 – 2002), commemorated by a statue unveiled in 2006, was a regular summer visitor in his youth (members of  this writer’s family remember him as a bully).

Summer holidays in 1950s Kilkee are evocatively described in Honan Potterton‘s memoir Rathcormick (2001).

Ernesto “Che” Guevara Lynch de la Serna (1928 – 1967) visited Kilkee sometime between 1961 and 1965; the exact date is disputed, but he is known to have been in Dublin airport in December 1964, and the Strand Bistro & B/B claims to have a guestbook signed by him on 18th December 1964. His beloved grandmother Anna Isabel Lynch was descended from Patrick Lynch, who may have had local connections and left Galway in 1715 for Spain and Argentina.

The Che do Bheatha Festival of Cuban / Latin American music and culture, held in September 2011, celebrated the supposed 50th anniversary of Che Guevara’s visit to Kilkee. He was served a pint of Guinness in the Marine Hotel by  the young artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who later used a photo to create the iconic image of Che seen on posters and T-shirts to this day.

Kilkee hosts the annual Hell of the West Triathlon every June, while the Kilkee Marine Rescue Service annual Bay Swim, run jointly with Kilkee Boat Club, takes place every August. The town has seen numerous fleadhs /music festivals, surfing and other sports events over the years, and will no doubt have more in the future.

Kilkee is  not far from Creegh on ByRoute 10.

Donegal / Doonegall Point is the site of a large Promontory Fort.

Doughmore Beach is popular for surfing. (Photo by Charles W Glynn)

Doonbeg (Co. Clare / West)

Doonbeg (Dún BeagSmall Fort) is a beach fringed fishing village and popular tourist resort at the mouth of the Doonbeg River. The local pubs are known for their authentic traditional music Seisiúns.

The parish contains several ancient Ring Forts and at least one Promontory Fort (Baltard, almost cut off from the mainland by an isthmus resembling the Bridges of Ross). However, the village grew up around the once large C16th building adjacent to the harbour.

Doonbeg Castle


 

Doonbeg Castle, confusingly aka Doonmore (Dún Mor – “Big Fort”), was built by Philip Mac Sheeda Mor McCon. The annals of the Four Masters refer to it as Dun More Mhic an Fhearnachaigh, and Donough Mac Dermot Mac an Fhearmachaigh was indeed in possession in 1584, but Donogh O’Brien, Earl of Thomond was listed as the Castle’s owner.

Turlough MacMahon MacGorman of Corca Baiscinn, claiming title to all of Donogh’s land, took Doonbeg in 1585, and presumably witnessed the grounding of a Spanish Armada vessel, the San Esteban (700 tons/264 men) at the mouth of the river in September 1588 (the survivors were taken to Doolin). After his death  at the end of a fierce siege in 1595, the castle was surrendered to the O’Brien’s, who hanged the entire garrison back to back.

 

The Castle was confiscated by the Crown in 1688, sold in 1703, and classed as a ruin in 1837, when, despite its condition, seven families lived in the tower.

 

T J Westropp measured it in 1893, findingthat the castle stood 60ft high with a frontage of 45ft from west to east and a depth of 33ft. By that time it lacked gables, battlements and chimneys. Up to 1930 a local schoolmaster occupied one of the small western rooms. Locals used the upper floor with its mossy overgrowth as a picnic spot, since it afforded privacy and beautiful views.

 

In September 1939 the castle was in a dangerous condition due to the crumbling of the river bank. Sadly, most of the building has since come down, leaving only the north-western corner standing.

2002 saw the inauguration of a new Greg Norman-designed golf course, despite fierce opposition from environmentalists. In fact, it has to be said that the Links blend in well with the dunes system lining the Atlantic shore, and protect the local ecosystem from the depredations of builders’ suppliers, who used to take away truckloads of sand.

Doonbeg is

White Strand is a popular family camping and caravanning holiday location in summer.

Carrowmore Point, a favourite spot for local shore anglers, was where the Royal Navy’s war sloop Martin ran aground and was wrecked in a gale in December 1817. Five crewmen perished, but Captain Mitchell and the other mariners aboard made it safely ashore by using a broken masthead as a gangway onto the rocks, where they were found “in a most deplorable state“.

Lough Donnell is a shallow sedimentary lagoon with an impressive cobble barrier perforated by a concrete tunnel allowing seawater to flow in and out. The Annageeragh River flows into the lagoon from the east.

 

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