ByRoute 11.2 Co. Offaly (W) // Co. Clare

Portumna Bridge across the River Shannon has a central pile resting on Hayes Island, dividing  the waterflow into two streams.  This point on the river has a very long history of ferries; the first bridge was erected in 1795. The current structure dates from 1911, with a replacement pivotal vehicular swing section inaugurated at a cost of €2.2 million in December 2008.

Portumna (Co. Galway / East)

Portumna (Port Omna – “Port of the Oak”) (pop. 4000) is an attractive town with several good pubs. The town’s architecture is mainly Georgian and early Victorian.

Portumna is an important centre for cruisers and angling on the Shannon and especially Lough Derg, with three well-equipped harbours / marinas available for river users.

Portumna History

 

The old name of the parish was Likmolassey, deriving from Saint Molaisse / Laisrean, an early C6th disciple of Saint Finnian of Clonard who reputedly founded a monastic community on Devenish Island in Lough Erne, which appears to have supplied priests to this district for many years.

 

Due to its location at the point where the River Shannon enters scenic Lough Derg, Portumna has long been of strategic importance. The territoty was dominated by the O’Madden clan until the arrival of the Normans, who established a settlement. However, remarkably little is known of its history prior to 1333, when an inquisition following the death of the young “Brown Earl”, Willelmo “Donn” (“Brownhair”) de Burgo, 4th Lord of Connacht and 3rd Earl of Ulster, recorded that he ”kept his courts, levied priesage of beer and maintained a ferry” here. Much of Ireland was subsequently plunged into a Civil War as various dynastic factions vied in vain for supremacy. The family did not regain control of Portumna until the early C17th.

 

King Charles I‘s Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, held a council in Portumna in 1634, and the town was garrisoned during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Williamite War.

 

The Great Famine and its sequelae are said to have reduced the local population from over 7000 to under 1000.

 

Hubert George de Burgh-Canning (1832 – 1916),  2nd Marquess of Clanricarde, grandson  of British Prime Minister George Canning, had a reputation as one of the worst absentee landlords in Ireland. His estate in Portumna, comprising 21,000ha / 52,000 acres, yielded 25,000 pounds sterling yearly in rents paid by 1,900 tenants, and was a main target during the Land League’s 1887 Plan of Campaign for fair rents. On his death all his peerages became extinct, save the of the Earldom of Clanricarde (second creation), which passed by special remainder to the 6th Marquess of Sligo.

Portumna Priory stands on the site of a chapel built in 1254 by the Cistercians of Dunbrody, who consented when the local O’Madden chieftain, anxious to receive a papal indulgence, gave it to the Dominicans;  Pope Martin V granted a Bull to confirm their possessions in 1426. and they erected a monastic complex dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The Priory was suppressed during the Reformation but was revived again in 1640. It came into the ownership of the Earl of Clanicarde in 1577. It was finally abandoned by the Friars in 1712. This was where Honore de Burgo married Patrick Sarsfield in 1689. The site was used for Protestant worship until 1832. (Photo by Naru Kenji)

Portumna Castle & Gardens

 

Portumna Castle, a semi-fortifield mansion  built sometime before 1618 by Richard Burke,  4th Earl of Clanricarde, was home to his descendants for over 200 years, until an accidental fire in 1826 destroyed the interior.

 

A new castle constructed in 1862 by the 14th Earl, Ulick John de Burgh, was torched by Republican arsonists in 1922.

 

The property was acquired by the State in 1948, and has been undergoing restoration by the OPW for over forty years. The ground floor  is now open to the public. Exhibitions are held in the Gate House. (Photo by caa_tx)

 

A marker stone commemorates the spot where, according to local legend, an Irish wolfhound heroically broke the fall of a child who had toppled from an upper storey window.

 

To the north of the Castle are formal, geometrically laid out gardens, including an impressive Willow Maze. A C17th walled potager kitchen garden has been restored and organically planted with fruit trees, flowers, herbs, hollies, and vegetables. A beautiful Yew Walk has been restored to its full glory.

The church of Ss Peter & Paul (RC) was built in 1830 for the Dominican Order, who left the district in 1899.

Christ church (CoI) is a fine Gothic edifice, built in 1832 on land presented by the Earl of Clanricarde.

Portumna Courthouse (1847) and the Square have recently been renovated and landscaped.

Portumna Workhouse, a grim complex constructed in 1852, in use until the 1920s, is now partially derelict.

The church of the Ascension (RC) in Gortnumera was constructed in 1938 with the stones of a deconsecrated Protestant church nearby.

St Brigid’s parish church (RC), occupying part of the old Fair Green, was inaugurated in 1961, replacing an 1821 edifice, while the tower was completed in1969.

Portumna Forest Park

 


Portumna Forest Park, formerly part of the estate of the Earls of Clanricarde, now run by Coillte, is a jewel, with woodland and lakeside walks, a well-signposted nature trail, observation points and a viewing tower overlooking Lough Derg.

 

A mature mix of coniferous and broadleaved trees, both native and exotic, plus wide open spaces, green fields, scrub, marsh, water and numerous off-shore islands provide a wide choice of habitats to support a great variety of flora and fauna. There are centuries old oaks, majestic beeches, giant evergreens from California and Oregon, colourful larches from Europe and Japan, blue Atlas cedars from Africa, maples from Canada and Europe and practically all of the native tree species, including yew and juniper.

 

Sixteen species of wild mammals live in the park, from tiny pigmy shrews and elusive pine martens (known locally as ‘the cat’) to hedgehogs, rabbits, hares, otters, red squirrels, stoats, badgers, foxes and a large herd of fallow deer. 85 different types of bird breed here, notably the tiny goldcrest, while many others pass through. Mute swans and wildfowl in the thousands may be seen on the lake. The lake and the shore are official sanctuaries.

 

There are two ruined castles in the Park, and a marina giving access to the Shannon waterway system.

The Shannon Oaks Hotel & Country Club is generally well reviewed, and has several self-catering lodges on its wooded lakeside grounds.

Portumna is

Near Portumna there are a number of ancient / historical ruins, mostly of religious foundations. Interesting old fortified structures include one of the last Tower Houses to be built in Ireland, erected by Donal O’Madden at Derryhiveny in 1653.

Tynagh (Co. Galway / Southeast)

Tynagh (Tine) (pop. 900), best known as a lead and zinc mining centre during the mid-C20th, is believed to have anciently been dedicated to the cult of the Celtic deity Lugh.

Pallas Castle

 

Pallas Castle, a de Burgo / Burke Tower House built c.1500, is one of the best preserved edifices of its kind in Ireland, with its keep / tower, bawn wall and gatehouse still intact. (Photo – Mike Searle)

 

The property, held in 1574 by Jonyck FitzThomas Burke, was assigned in 1654 to Richard Nugent, 2nd Earl of Westmeath, formerly of Clonyn Castle at Delvin, which he had burnt down in 1651 in defiance of Oliver Cromwell‘s stated intention of expropriating it. The family retained ownership well into the C20th.

Pallas Karting is a noisy motor racing venue.

Tynagh is the ancestral home of two Australian Prime Ministers, Joseph Lyons and Paul Keating.

Tynagh is not far from Eyrescourt and Loughrea on ByRoute 12

Abbey (pop. 250), a regular winner of Tidy Town awards, was historically called Kinlahan, Kinalekin, Kilnalahan, Kynnaleighen – all anglicisations of Cinéal Feichín, meaning the ‘Tribe of Feichín’. It takes its modern English name from the ruins in the middle of the village, and should not be confused with Abbeyknockmoy north of Athenry.

The Abbey of Kilnahan was founded in the mid-C13th the only Carthusian monastery in Ireland. It was subsequently taken over by the Knights Hospitallers and later the Franciscans, who remained after the Reformation under the protection of the Earl of Clanricarde and managed to keep the abbey open until the end of the C18th.

Marble Hill was built c.1770 by Thomas Burke, a substantial landowner (disdained by another branch of the family as “of peasant stock“). He raised an infantry regiment at his own expense to fight in the war against the French, for which he was rewarded with the title of Baronet Burke of Marble Hill in 1797. The house was enlarged by his son Sir John Burke, who served as the regiment’s Colonel in America and the West Indies. Other members of the family had distinguished careers in politics, the army, navy and judiciary. The mansion, torched by Republican thugs during the Civil War, is now a gaunt ruin, with a large stable block at the rear. (Photo – www.landedestates.ie)

Woodford (Co. Galway / Southeast)

Woodford (An Ghráig / Gráig na Muilte Iarainn – “the Village of the Iron Mills”) (pop. 700) is located in the northern foothills of the Slieve Aughty Mountains, where  once abundant oak woods were long used as fuel for smelting local iron ore deposits. The village was probably founded in the mid C17th as a place to house and provide services for the ironworkers.

The Woodford River, a Shannon tributary flowing into Lough Derg, is spanned by a fine triple-arched stone bridge. Just above the bridge the river is dammed and broadens out into a small artificial lake called Woodford Bay or simply “The Bay”. This served as a source of waterpower for a corn mill by day and provided electric light for the town by night from the mid-C19th until the 1950s, when Woodford was connected to the National Grid.

Woodford’s moment in the limelight came during the late C19th Land War, when the absentee 2nd Marquess of Clanricarde’s agent sought to evict one Thomas Saunders for non-payment of rent. The locals resisted, and a large force of RIC accompanied by troops came to enforce the ejectment. The house became known as “Saunders’ Fort” as several hundred defenders fought off the police and soldiers until reinforcements arrived and the “fort” was finally taken.

“Battle of Saunder’s Fort” (Image – The Graphic, 1886 – www.maggieblanck.com, an excellent site with an extensive collection of materialon the Land War)

Wilfred Scawer Blunt, an English writer and supporter of the oppressed, organised a protest meeting in Woodford in 1887, for which he was arrested and spent two months in prison.

Woodford Heritage Centre, housed in the former National School / Parish Hall, is run by the East Galway Family History Society, who have computerised birth and marriage records for the area.

Woodford has seven pubs, supporting a strong traditional and contemporary music scene.

Moran’s at The Bay is a traditional old grocery shop / bar, once common rural communities but increasingly rare all over Ireland.  This one has a pleasant if distinctly untraditional beer garden.

Tommy Larkin’s Hall, formerly the Waldorf ballroom, now run by the local GAA club, is the central venue for the annual Mummers Feile, a festival of music, song, dance, stories and mime in the ancient Wren Boy tradition, held over several days after Christmas.

There are some beautiful walks and scenery in the surrounding area (including the ruins of a ringfort over 1000 years old).

Woodford is within easy reach of Loughrea on ByRoute 12 and close to Clonoon on Lough Derg.

Woodford Forest in the Slieve Aughty Mountains is a large (4926ha) mainly coniferous Coillte plantation. Rosturra and Derrygill are the sites of “people’s millenium forests” planted with native species on the basis of one tree per household in the adjacent counties, and are due to have nature trails, signposted walks and picnic facilities.

 

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