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

Lough Atorick, a lonely lake surrounded by desolate bogs and woodlands in the Slieve Aughty Mountains, is partly in County Galway but mainly in County Clare.

Lough Graney (5 x 0.5 km / 100 acres), the biggest lake in County Clare, is particularly popular with pike anglers.  Parts of the lake are shallow enough to cross on horseback. This is celebrated in Brian Meriman‘s famous poem as the venue for the Cúirt an Mhean-Oíche / Midnight Court trial of Ireland’s manhood. (Photo by seamusnoonan)

Lough Graney and the River Graney are named after Gráinne, a mountain chieftain’s daughter said to have drowned herself in the lake, thus gaining the unenviable fame of being the first recorded suicide in Ireland. Some associate her with Grían, a Celtic sun goddess.

Flagmount, a small village named for its once abundant flagstones, is the main lakeside recreation centre. There are several pleasant signposted walks in the vicinity.

Bunshoon Bridge is the location of a stone commemorating the poet Brian Merriman.

Cahermurphy ( Cathair mhurchu) is an unspoilt area of natural beauty, sometimes called the “Killarney of County Clare”.  The lakeside Coillte forest park, a remnant of the great oak woods that once covered East Clare, is a notable bird sanctuary.

Cahermurphy House was once the stately home of Arthur Knox, the famed C19th travel writer. A caher / stone fort on the grounds can  be seen from the road.

Feakle (Co. Clare / East)

Feakle (An Fhiacail – “The (deer’s) tooth / wood”) (pop. 450) is an attractive village set in scenically varied countryside, popular with walkers, hikers, cyclists, riders, anglers, climbers, adventure sports enthusiasts and especially lovers of traditional Irish music. (Photo by oceanfree)

Saint Mochonna, the patron saint of Feakle, is said to have built a church on the spot where his molar fell out (hence Paroiste na Fiacaile – “parish of the tooth”). The ancient ruins were destroyed in the early C19th.

Brian Merriman (c.1749- 1005), a local hedge-schoolmaster, was the author of Cúirt an Mhean- Oíche (“the Midnight Court”) (1780), a satirical epic poem, by turns comic, bawdy and solemn, which scandalised pious Roman Catholic circles with its frank appraisal of the failure of Irish men to meet women’s needs. The poet is commemorated by a statue in the local graveyard, grudgingly permitted by the Church authorities. The Merriman Summer School is held every summer in different County Clare venues.

Biddy Early (c.1798 – 1874), a local wise woman / folk healer once charged with witchcraft, is nowadays  more politically correctly described as a “herbalist”. To effect cures she would consult a mysterious blue bottle holding a potion given to her by the Little People (fairies), whose language she understood. She was made famous posthumously in stories collected by Lady Gregory.

Johnny Patterson (1840- 1889) “the rambler from Clare” was born near Feakle and spent most of his life with the circus. He composed such memorable songs as The stone outside Dan Murphy’s door and The garden where the Praties grow.

Smyth’s Country Lodge / Village Hotel, a pleasantly old-fashioned establishment with landscaped gardens and a good restaurant, was the venue for a December 1974 encounter between IRA / Sinn Féin representatives and leaders of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist  denominations to discuss the Northern Ireland crisis. The meeting was broken up byGardaí.

Shortt’s Bar has held regular traditional music sessions every Thursday evening for over 36 years – a world record!

Pepper’s Bar & Restaurant on the village outskirts, established in 1810, is another well-known venue for traditional musicians, and also serves good food all day long (personally recommended).

The Feakle International Festival of traditional music, poetry and song is a major event held every August.

Ballycroum Forest (Photo – www.discoverireland.ie)

The Ballycroum Loop is a pleasant walk through an area of mixed woods and farmland noted for its Holy Well, Tobar Ghráinne, and “giants’ graves” – wedge tommbs used for celebrating Mass during the Penal Laws era. The Loop overlaps part od the East Clare Way, a long-distance trail.

Kilbarron Lake is the last resting place of Biddy Early’s remarkable potion bottle, thrown into the water by a priest after her death.

Lough O’Grady,on the River Graney, is small but well stocked with trout.

Scariff & Tuamgraney (Co. Clare / East)

Scariff / Scarriff (An Scairbh – “the shallow / rough / rocky shore / ford”) (pop. 1000), regarded by some as the “real” capital of Clare, ascends a hillside from a bridge over the Scariff River (the lower reach of the River Graney).  It is a friendly village with a market square, attractive C19th houses and traditional timber shopfronts, plus several good pubs, eateries and accommodation options.

Scariff History

 

The location, between the Slieve Aughty Mountains and the western end of Lough Derg on the River Shannon, was long a strategically important crossing place on any journey between Connacht and western / southern Munster.

 

The earliest written reference to Scariff is a brief description in the Annals of a 1315 victory by the O’Brien rulers of Thomond during their civil war against a shifting series of opponents including the MacNamara and O’Grady clans.

 

The O’Grady lords of Hy-Donghaile rebounded during the C14th to regain control of the district and wield national power wih no less than three Archbishoprics. To maintain their local dominance they erected three fortified Tower Houses.

 

Scariff Castle no longer exists, but played an important role in the development of the village. The earliest account of it is from 1564. The property was purchased by Richard Boyle, the “Great Earl” of Cork, and it is shown on a 1655 Down survey map. A smelting furnace licensed to the O’Grady / Brady family contributed to Scariff’s prosperity even as it gradually destroyed the local forest.

 

The principal landlords changed over the years. Col. Richard Ringrose, reputedly 124 years old when he died in 1707 at Moynoe, had two granddaughters; one married John Bowerman and the other Francis Drew of Drewscourt, County Limerick. The latter family changed the name of Scariff townland to Drewsborough and established milling and markets in the town, but incurred the wrath of the Brady family, resulting in an 1813 night of terror known as the Battle of Scariff. The Sampsons were a powerful Roman Catholic land-owning family in the C19th.

 

Scariff Harbour / Dock, created by the C19th dredging of the river to provide access from Lough Derg, transformed the village into the main East Clare depot for goods transported to and from Dublin via the Grand Canal, and a market town of some importance.

 

The Great Famine reduced the regional population by more than 50%, also destroying the landlord families of Brady and Drew.

 

A local branch of Sinn Fein was established after the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Troubles saw significant disturbances in the district, including the destruction of the RIC barracks in 1920. The resulting lawlessness reportedly saw pubs open day and night, with farmers’ crops being stolen to pay for drink to keep the party going.

 

Since 1960 Scariff has been dominated by the only chipboard factory in the Republic of Ireland, acquired in 1984 by a Spanish company. The western headquarters of the Inland Waterways Association are also situated locally.

The Scariff Market House is easily recognisable, and often used to represent the town.

The church of the Sacred Heart (RC) dates from c.1830.

Scariff_HarbourScariff Harbour has been recently renovated, although the new marina for pleasure craft on the Shannon Navigation System has been compared to “a U-boat pen”!

The Scariff Harbour Festival, a three day event held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, involves street theatre, arts, music and other activities inspired by Lough Derg.

The Scariff Agricultural Show & Family Day has been a major regional gathering at the start of every September since 1944.

The Clare Drama Festival, an annual spring  highlight since 1947, attracting amateur theatre groups from all over Ireland, takes place in Scariff Community Hall.

Moynoe (Magh n-Eó n-Orbraighe – “the plain of the yew trees of Orbach”, a pagan princess) was the location of a pre-Christian Holy Well later dedicated to Saint Mochunna, and also gave its name to the large medieval parish of Moynoe Norbree, whichextended northwards into the rugged Slieve Asughty mountains.

Moynoe monastery, first mentioned in the Annals when it was burned by Connachtmen in 1084, was a sister foundation of Holy Island on Lough Derg. It was long famous for its hospitality, but in 1307 some members of the MacNamara clan returning from a cattle raid assaulted their hosts; a foster son of  The MacNamara was slain in the resulting fracas, and in revenge every habitation in Moynoe was burned. Vestigial remains of a C14th church are visible, along with an arch from an O’Grady Tower House built on the site in the mid-C16th.

Cappabane is the location of a wedge tomb thought to be at least 4000 years old, and of a Mass Rock used during the Penal Law period.

Reddan’s Quay is a peaceful riverside fishing spot.

Drewsborough / Drewsboro was the location of a Workhouse opened in May to accommodate 600 paupers. Thousands of destitute locals sought relief here during the Great Famine; by 1846 the graveyard was already full, and a new burial ground had to be opened outside Tuamgraney. The following year the workhouse ran out of food, water and clothing for the inmates, who were expiring at the rate of up to a dozen a day, along with those caring for them (the parish priest, the matron and her children, among other carers, died of fever). A contemporary report states “It is horrifying to behold a donkey cart laden with five and six bodies going to be interred and not a person attending the wretched cortege except the driver”. In 1851 the workhouse still had 3,212 inmates. The IRA’s East Clare Brigade burned the building down in 1921.

Drewsboro House, an Art Deco edifice built in 1926, was clearly influenced by the aesthetics of Scottish architect Rennie Mackintosh. It was the 1930 birthplace of Edna O’Brien, whose first novel  The Country Girls (1960) was one of several she set in the district, which she described as “enclosed, fervid and bigoted“. Noted for their explicit sexuality, her books were long banned  in the Republic of Ireland, and ironically even burned by the local parish priest.

Scariff is not far from Mountshannon on Lough Derg.

Tuamgraney / Tomgraney (Tuaim Gréine – “Tomb of Gráinne / Grian”) an ancient settlement on the River Graney, is the traditional burial site of the legendary princess drowned in Lough Graney. The district is notable for its pillar stones and Holy Wells.

The post-medieval village developed around a small green known as “the Rock”, and features several fine C18th and C 19th sandstone buildings with slate roofs. It has several friendly shops and pubs, notably the family run Teach Ui Bhriain.

Tuamgraney Monastery & St Cronin’s church

 

Tuamgraney Monastery, founded by Saint Cronin / Cronan in the early C7th, receives no less than 32 mentions in the Annals, the earliest referring the death of Abbot Maenchine in 735 AD. Norsemen attacked the monastery in 886 AD and again in 949 AD, when they destroyed the buildings and “carried off great plunder”.

 

St Cronin’s church (CoI), noted for its early Hiberno-Romanesque doorway, is said to be the oldest church in continuous use in the British Isles. (Photo by Nik Seviour)

 

It was built c.950 AD by Abbot Cormac Uí Cillín. Prior to his death in 964 AD he also erected a cloictech / Round Tower, the earliest of which there is written testimony, although no physical vestige remains.

 

Brian Boru, legendary High King and Emperor of the Irish, whose brother Marcán was Abbot of the monastery, visited the church frequently, and financed repairs in 1012.

 

O’Rourke of Breffni burned the monastery and church in 1084, and the site was again plundered in 1164 and 1170.

 

The East Clare Heritage Centre, housed in part of the chuch, features an audiovisual display and a folk museum.

 

Dr Edward MacLysaght (1887 – 1986), Ireland’s foremost genealogist, is buried in the adjoining graveyard.

Tuamgraney Castle, a C15th Tower House built by the O’Grady clan, was enlarged c.1543 by their last elected chieftain, Donough O’Grady, who entered into King Henry VIII’s scheme of Surrender and Regrant and became the Knight of Tomgraney. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Edmund O’Grady, while his second son Hugh changed his surname to Brady and became the first Anglican bishop of Meath.

St Joseph’s church (RC) was erected in 1870.

The Garden of Remembrance, dating from 1952, honours locals who fought in the War of Independence.

The Casaoireach / Famine Memorial Park, commemorating the thousands unceremoniously interred here during the Great Famine, is planted with indigenous trees and forms a peaceful habitat for wild plants, insects, birds and animals.

Clareville House is a pleasant and highly rated B&B run by friendly hostess Teresa Browne and open all year round.

McKernan’s Handweavers use C19th looms and traditional techniques to make attractive modern garments.

Wilde’s Handmade Irish Chocolates are produced organically in a small building on the local business estate.

The East Clare Equestrian Centre, splendidly equipped with restaurant and bar facilities, changing rooms and showers, is the headquarters of the East Clare Riding Club, and caters for adults interested in show jumping, dressage or cross country outings or, from November to March, drag hunting with the East Clare Farmers.

Raheen Oak Wood, long part of the Tinerana estate on the shore of Lough Derg, is a remnant of one of the great primeval oak forests of Munster. One particularly venerable tree, known as “Brian Boru”, is believed to be over 1000 years old. The 30m tall trees are magnificent, their high branches creating vaulted spaces reminiscent of a green cathedral nave.(Photo – www.clarevillehouse.net)

The Raheen Woods School, based on the educational principles of Rudolph Steiner, hosts the East Clare English School in summer and holds year-round lecture courses on Anthroposophy.

The East Clare Yoga Centre is a  pleasant rural venue for Iyengar yoga classes, workshops and residential retreats, run by the Sturton family in the grounds of Boru Oak House.

Tuamgraney Quay is nowadays mainly used by pleasure craft exploring Lough Derg.

Tuamgraney is within easy reach of Ogonelloe on Lough Derg and Killaloe on ByRoute 10.

 

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