The River Shannon is spanned by O’Brien’s bridge between the “twin villages” of Montpelier (Co. Limerick) and O’Brien’s Bridge (Co.Clare).
O’Brien’s bridge (Photo by Sarah777)
The first bridge here was a wooden structure erected in 1506 by Turlough 0’Brien, Lord of Thomond, and burned down in 1510 by the Lord Deputy, Gearoid Mór FitzGerald, the great Earl of Kildare.
The O’Briens next built two offshore castles on either side of the river, connected by a massive seven-arch wooden span 15 ft. above the water. Turlough’s sons Conor and Murrough O’Brien sided with Gearoid Mór’s grandson, Silken Thomas, in his 1536 rebellion against King Henry VIII, and after a battle that lasted for several days this “Great Bridge” was destroyed by Crown forces led by Lord Gray.
The current 12-arch stone structure was erected c.1691, when the Williamite War saw fighting on both sides of the river; largely rebuilt c.1750, it was substantially altered in 1842 and 1927.
The ancient river crossing here was called Áth Caille Gallaigh (“The Rough Ford of the Wood”), one of the three principal fords of Ireland mentioned in early manuscripts, together with Áth Luain (Athlone) and Áth Cliath (Dublin).
The section of the river downstream from O’Brien’s bridge is popular for fishing and watersports.
O’Brien’s Bridge & Bridgetown (Co. Clare / Southeast)
O’Brien’s Bridge / O’Briensbridge (Droichead Ui Bhriain) (pop. 200) is a small village, eager to profit from the passing tourist trade. The main street is pretty, with several handsome C19th buildings and traditional shopfronts etc., but is so self-consciously “quaint” that it verges on twee. There are several good pubs, eateries and B&Bs in the district.
The village is proud of its Millenium Water Feature sculpture created from ancient bog yew.
O’Brien’s Bridge village has long been physically cut off from County Clare by two artificial waterways:
The Shannon Headrace and its impressive weir were constructed to divert water from the River Shannon to the turbines of the new Ardnacrusha hydroelectric station downstream, where a tailrace returns the spent water to the river. These works formed part of the Shannon Scheme for the Elecctrification of the Irish Free State, which provided major employment in the area between 1925 and 1929.
The Errinagh Canal, built roughly parallel to the River Shannon between Killaloe and Limerick City in the early C19th to facilitate navigation of boats and barges, has been developed in recent years as a recreational amenity.
The scenic river and canal towpaths have been incorporated into signposted / waymarked walking trails, some looped for the benefit of less energetic strollers.
Bridgetown is the location of the showgrounds for the annual South East Clare Show, an important regional agricultural fair held ever July.
O’Brien’s Bridge and Bridgetown are both within easy reach of Killaloe on ByRoute 10.