Kilfinane (Co. Limerick / Southeast)
Kilfinane (Cill Fhíonáin – “Church of Saint Finnian“, a local C5th hermit) (pop. 1100) is a small market town in the Ballyhoura Mountains, overlooking the Golden Vale. Partially enclosed by a wall of relatively modern construction, it is the highest municipality in County Limerick, at an elevation of over 150m.
Kilfinane is probably best known for its Outdoor Education Centre.
The Moat of Kilfinane is a striking mound, 34ft high with a 2000ft circumference and 54ft diameter at the base, tapering to 20ft at the top. Opinions differ as to whether the moat was used as living quarters or as a ceremonial mound for the crowning of Kings. Kilfinane was one of the royal seats of the Kings of Cashel. It is recorded that Brian Boru repaired and strengthened “the great fort of Kilfinane“. The summit commands a good view of the surrounding countryside. (Photo – Limerick Diocese).
Gabriel Rosenstock, a native of the parish, wrote a beautiful poem called The Moat in Kilfinane.
A small group of Protestant refugees from the Rhine Palatinate came to the area c.1760 at the invitation of local landlord, Captain Charles Silver Oliver. The Germans helped the village inhabitants defeat an attack from the Defenders in 1793. They are commemorated in placenames such as Palatine Rock.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached in the Market House in Kilfinane on no less than six occasions between 1765 and 1789. On his first visit he was dismayed to discover that the local Palatines had descended into “drunkenness, cursing and swearing“, but he presumably remedied this by coming back frequently.
A monument in the Main Street commemorates the life and death of local man Patrick “Staker” Wallis / Wallace, a small farmer who joined the United Irishmen. Wallis’s views began to annoy Captain Oliver, who felt threatened, and had him hunted down, tied to a cart and flogged up and down the main street of Kilfinane. Wallis, still refusing to inform on his friends, was hanged a few days later. He was then beheaded, and his head was set on a spike above the Market House in the square.
Kilfinane has several good pubs (notably Heffo’s) and eateries.
The Ballyhoura International Walking Festival takes place here annually in May. Participants have been heard to observe ruefully that “Kilfinane sure knows how to party“!
Kilfinane is linked by the R517 to Mitchelstown (Co. Cork) on ByRoute 4.
Ardpatrick & Glenosheen (Co. Limerick / Southeast)
Ardpatrick (pop. 400), a small rural community, lies in the northern foothills of the Ballyhoura Mountains.
Ardpatrick Hill is the location of Iron Age earthworks, the remains of a monastery supposedly founded by Saint Patrick, and the stub of a Round Tower; the site has long been used as the main graveyard for the area. The ancient name of the hill was Tulach na Feinne – “Hill of the Fianna”.
Ardpatrick hosts the three day Na Fianna Festival in July every year.
The Greenwood south of the village gives access to walking trails across extensive countryside.
Castle Oliver was long known as Clonodfoy, a contraction of Cloch an Otbhaidhigh – “the stone structure of Otway“, referring to the first Norman settlers, who were succeeded by members of the Roche and FitzHarris families.
The land was granted to Captain Robert Oliver (c.1593 – c.1678), known as Robin Rhu or Roux, a Cromwellian soldier known to have been involved in a 1666 plot to overthrow King Charles II and restore a Puritan regime with “a sober and painful ministry“. His descendants dominated the area for 150 years, and are mainly remembered as despotic and cruel landlords.
The old castle was the birthplace of Eliza Oliver, mother of Lola Montez, the favourite of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.
The current sprawling red sandstone Scottish Baronial mansion was designed by the York-based architect George Fowler Jones with over 100 rooms, 12 staircases (five stone spiral) and two ballrooms, and contains Ireland’s largest wine cellar, with a capacity for 55,000 bottles.
It was built in the late 1840s, at the height of the Great Famine, by joint heiresses Elizabeth and Mary Oliver-Gascoigne, whose monogrammed initials OG appear all over the building. These Yorkshire-raised sisters are said to have been remarkable women, not only for their musical and artistic skills, but also for their compassion and civic spirit; apparently their generosity saved many lives.
They both married members of the Trench family, whose attitude towards the tenantry differed radically from theirs. Elizabeth’s husband Frederick Trench, 2nd Baron Ashtown, was responsible for mass evictions, and was cursed by hundreds forced to emigrate to America.
The castle was inherited in 1893 by Lord Ashdown’s grandson from his first marriage, the Hon. William Cosby Trench (1869-1944), who was forced by the Land Acts to sell most of the 20,000-acre estate to his tenants. The last Trench left in 1978, and the castle was allowed to fall into decay for several years.
The mansion was rescued by Damien Haughton, who sold it in 1998 to Nicholas Browne, largely responsible for transforming it back into a habitable residence, and author of the book Castle Oliver & the Oliver Gascoines. The present owner acquired the property in 2006.
Castle Oliver currently has 11 luxurious en suite bedrooms for hire at astronomical prices; a resident butler is included. A self-catering Coach house is also available. Set in 15 acres of beautiful grounds, the property is a popular wedding venue.
Kilflyn church (CoI) has a beautiful stained glass window commemorating Elizabeth Oliver-Gascoigne. The churchyard contains the graves of several Palatine families.
Glenosheen (”Glen of Oisin”) is the name of a tiny hamlet and beautiful valley at the foot of Seefin, the highest peak in the Ballyhoura Mountains. There are several well-preserved Palatine houses north of the village, one of which has recently been purchased and restored by Limerick County Council.
Glenosheen was the childhood home of C19th Hibernicist writer and antiquarian Patrick Weston Joyce and the birthplace of his younger brother, the musician, poet and translator Robert Dwyer Joyce. Both were native Irish speakers.
Ardpatrick & Glenosheen are north of Kildorrery (Co. Cork) on ByRoute 4.
Ballyhoura Mountain Park is a natural park covering approximately 10,000 hectares of woodland, rugged mountain, grouse moor and peat bog, abounding in plants, flowers and berries, providing mixed habitats for a wide range of creatures. Its nature trails, ideal for birdwatching and wildlife observation in general, waymarked paths taking in sites of archaeological or historical interest, and the Ballyhoura Mountain Biking Trails, arranged in “stacked loops” over some 100 km of varied terrain, include leafy glades, steep windy sections, rocky pinnacles and boardwalk bog crossings. The park is a regular venue for orienteering and fitness training courses, with good visitors’ facilities.