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

Mal Bay & Spanish Point

 

Mal Bay, between Mutton Island and Cream Point, is lined by rocky outcrops, reefs and sandy beaches. (Photo – www.ireland-guide.com)

 

It has been suggested that “Malbay” comes from Meal Bhaigh – “a treacherous coast or bay”, perhaps a reference to the Mutton Islanddisaster in 804 AD. Others claim the name commemorates the tradition that the hag / witch called Mal, who persued Cúchulain at Loop Head, was drowned here as she attemped to emulate the mythical hero’s long-jumping skills.

 

The earliest inhabitants were people “living on shell-fish and sea-birds, and using stone weapons. Their hut-circles and hearths lie under the harsh grass and sand of the sandhills” wrote Thomas Johnson Westropp in the Journal of the Limerick Field Clubvol. 2(8), (1904), going on to say that this was “once a wild, wolf-haunted district (…) near ‘the white strand and ever complaining wave, sea flanked, rich in ocean’s teeming wealth’ as Macgrath described the western half of Thomond in the fourteenth century“.

 

The hideous rash of caravan parks and fast food joints currently afflicting the zone will, we hope, soon be destroyed by a tasteful Higher Power, and the corrupt authorities who allowed it to blot the landscape sent to Hell for all eternity.

 

Spanish Point (The hideous yellow excrescence in the picture is the 3-star Armada Hotel, which should be carpet bombed without ado. Guests may enjoy great  accommodation, food and views, but must not be allowed to use the excuse of our friend who lives in a monstrous eyesore on the Costa Brava: “Well, I don’t have to look at it!”)

 

Spanish Point (Rinn na Spáinneach) marks the most famous of several good beaches in the area. Although there is no record of any relevant wrecks here, Spanish Point is thought to take its name from the large number of drowned Spanish Armada mariners and troops heaped on the local reefs and strands by currents in September 1588, after disaster had struck the San Esteban at Doonbeg and the Sao Marcos off Mutton Island.

 

Spanish Point first developed as a seaside resort over two hundred years ago, when fashionable members of the aristocracy built summer lodges with ocean vistas. In 1810 local landowner Thomas Moroney, hoping to found a vast sea-bathing spa-style resort, built the Atlantic Hotel, now reduced to vestigial ruins (the site of a boulder /monument commemorating the 1988 visit by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain). For many years the local community, scattered across a bleak and treeless landscape, perked up in summer to welcome regular holidaymakers.

 

There are several good hotels and eateries (we can particularly recommend Bellbridge House Hotel for afternoon tea on the lawn, and the excellent fish restaurant in Beal Trá).

Miltown Malbay (Co. Clare / West)

Miltown Malbay (Sráid na Cathrach – “The Street of the Stone Fort”, referring to a local Iron Age ruin known simply as An Cathair) (pop 1600) is at the heart of the ancient parish as Kilfarboy on the shores of Mal Bay. The locality once had five corn mills, of which the ruins of three can still be seen, and was known in the C18th as Poll a Mhuillin – “the Pool of the Mill”, which easily became Miltown.

The town’s long main street is lined with colourful houses, shops and pubs etc. (Photo – IrishGaelicTranlator.com) Many old façades have been preserved, their elegant lettering a reminder that Milltown Malbay has a strong tradition of craftsmanship. The street was built wide enough for large crowds of people and animals at the many agricultural markets and horse and cattle fairs that took place in and around the Market House and Fairgreen for 150 years.

Milltown Malbay still attracts large numbers of visitors, nowadays mainly to enjoy traditional Irish music. Willie Clancy, one of the greatest uillean pipers of the C20th, died in 1973; his life and work is commemorated by an annual Festival in his honour, attended by musicians from all over the world every July.

Musicians at the Willie Clancy Festival.

Miltown Malbay History

 

By 1837 Miltown Malbay contained 133 houses and 726 inhabitants. The local landlords were the Morony family, who cruelly evicted many tenants during the Great Famine.

 

In 1867 the local resident magistrate wrote to the Under-Secretary at Dublin Castle to say he was “seriously apprehensive of a Fenian outbreak” in the locality.

 

On January 26th 1885 Charles Stewart Parnell, invited to turn the first sod for the West Clare Railway, delivered an address to over 20,000 people in front of Miltown Malbay’s recently built Parochial House, with “numerous bands in attendance“.

 

The local parish priest Fr Patrick White played a significant role in the Land War. While the adjoining Fitzgerald and Leconfield estates maintained cordial relationships with their tenants, Mrs Burdett Morony continued to rack-rent those living on her land, until a boycott was operated against her. By the end of 1888 most of the shopkeepers and publicans of Miltown Malbay had been imprisoned for refusing to serve Mrs Morony or her servants.

 

The War of Independence

 

On 14th April 1920 news reached Miltown Malbay of the release of local IRA activists who had been on hunger strike in prison. Parades were arranged, bands played and banners and slogans were carried aloft as tearful mothers welcomed their sons home. At about 10.45 p.m., a group of adults and children congregated around a huge bonfire at Canada Cross were singing nationalist songs when a body of police and military arrived on the scene and ordered them to disperse. Before they had time to do so, a volley of about one hundred shots rang out. Three men were killed and several people including children were injured. The subsequent inquest in Ennis returned a verdict of “wilful murder without provocation“.

 

On 23rd September 1920 an IRA ambush at Rineen Bridge killed a British soldier and four policemen.

 

The reprisals started immediately with the shooting of two locals, but it was that night the Black & Tans really satisfied their hunger for revenge by setting fire to entire communities at Miltown Malbay Lahinch, Ennistymon and Liscannor.

 

Miltown Malbay, the town nearest to the scene of the ambush, suffered most. Shortly before midnight, residents of the town were startled by the sound of shots. A number of uniformed men were shouting and cheering and striking doors and window shutters with butt ends of rifles and other weapons. Goods were looted from several houses and enquiries were made as to the whereabouts of certain young men in the locality, who, fortunately for them, had fled. Over the next few hours the soldiers set various buildings ablaze.

 

Police arrived on the scene but did little to prevent further burnings. A number of soldiers stationed in the town led by their officers helped locals to fight the flames and rescue the unfortunate residents trapped in the burning houses. The uniformed men who carried out the destruction did not leave until 5.30 am.

 

The Irish Independent on September 24th described the town as “a spectacle akin to that of Belgian towns after the Huns“. It continued, “There are not ten houses in the town that have not suffered in greater or lesser degree.”

 

The following is an extract from The War of Independence in West Clare by Rita Marrinan, written for her B.Ed thesis at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick in 1982:

As some of the attackers were passing from Miltown to Lahinch they set fire to every rick of hay in sight. They also stopped at the house of Mr. Lehane, who lived at Cregg near Lahinch and set fire to it. They then dragged the old man from his burning home and shot him in front of his wife and daughter. His sons John Joe, Jimmy and Mickey escaped a hail of bullets as they escaped by the railway embankment. Pake, his eldest son, who fought in the ambush earlier that day, was engulfed by flames in Flanagan’s pub, Lahinch, on the same night.”

 

By the end of the night, the men had devastated Miltown, Lahinch, Ennistymon, and  Liscannor. These reprisals are remembered as amongst the worst actions carried out by British forces anywhere during the C20th.

Kilfarboy church is a C15th ruin; two graves which cannot now be identified contain the remains of Andrew MacCurtain (d.1749), hereditary bard of the O’ Briens, and Michael Comyn (d.1760), a distinguished poet and scholar.

Dr Patrick Hillery (1923 – 2008), scion of the local medical dynasty, served virtually invisibly as the  President of the Republic of Ireland from 1976 to 1990.

Milltown Malbay is due west of Inagh on ByRoute 11.

 

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