Castlefergus (Co. Clare / South)
Castlefergus is a small community near Latoon Bridge.
Ballyhannon / Ballyhannan Castle, aka Castle Fergus, a Tower House close to Latoon Creek, was built c. 1490 by Hugh, and possibly Síoda, sons of Donnchadh MacNamara. In 1560 Queen Elizabeth I granted the castle to Conor O’Brien, Earl of Thomond, on whose land it stood. In 1586 a pardon was issued to Hugh, son of Covea Riogh MacNamara of Ballyhannon Castle, for being in rebellion.
In 1626 Ballyhannon Castle was listed as being rented to one Robert Hawksworth, probably one of the many English Protestant settlers brought into the county by the O’Briens and settled on their properties in Thomond during this period.
This policy helped to precipitate the 1641 Rebellion by Irish Catholics. Many records exist of the natives despoiling the settlers and turning them out of their newly acquired lands and properties, and the MacNamaras of Ballyhannon acted no differently. John Smith of Latoon complained that Oliver Delahoyde of Fomerla Castle in Tulla “with fifty men came, on the night of 15th January 1642, and stripped him of part of his goods. The work of spoliation was subsequently completed by the MacNamaras of Ballyhannon” among others, and that his losses “amounted to £1,354, including his lease for life of Lattoon, and his outlay upon buildings and sea embankments.”
Most of the Irish landowners who took part in the rebellion were later stripped of their possessions. Among these was Mahone MacNamara of Ballyhannon, whose property was disposed of to Pierce Creagh and to Barnabas O’Brien, 6th Earl of Thomond.
Ballyhannon escaped destruction or “slighting” by Cromwellian forces, and during the Williamite War was one of the castles noted by Sir Daniel O’Brien, Viscount Clare, as being suitable for the imprisonment of the Protestant settlers who were now being dispossessed. A 1689 letter reads “Take every one of them that are young (Seir or Mr.), and let the common sort lie in the prison, and the rest strictly guarded, or rather put into some strong castle that has a geate to be locked on the outside like Ballyhannon”. Pierce Creagh was one of those encarcelated.
The castle appears on Henry Pelham’s 1787 “Grand Jury” map, for the first time under the name Castlefergus. Hely Dutton recorded the castle in 1808 as: “Fergus – inhabited and lately white-washed!” In 1831 Charlotte Blood, daughter of William Blood, who was murdered at his house at Applevale near Corofin, married her cousin Matthew Henry Blood, MD of Castlefergus House, noted by Lewis (1837) as a “fine modern residence”, now demolished. By 1858 the castle was described as: “a fine old green-mantled tower”.
The American oil heiress Elizabeth Phillips and her husband Henry D Irwin restored the building to its former glory in 1970. It has since been acquired by Liam Moore, and is currently available for self-catering holiday rental.
Castlefergus Riding Stables is an AIRE approved equestrian centre with an outdoor arena, cross country course, and changing rooms with showers, offering riding lessons, pony and horse trekking and trail rides through 100 acres of lush farm and woodland, along river banks, down winding lanes and past local points of historical interest.
Carnelly House was designed by Francis Bindon. It is said that Maire Ruadh, the notorious chateleine of Leamaneh, was buried in a hollow tree on the grounds of Carnelly, and her ghost supposedly haunts the drive. Peter “The Packer” O’Brien, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, was born in Carnelly House in 1842. His father depleted the family funds during the Great Famine by contributing heavily to the relief schemes around Clarecastle. Carnelly was the home of Dermot F Gleeson, author of A History of the Diocese of Killaloe.
Killoo, an old church ruin and graveyard on the eastern side of the River Fergus, opposite Clarecastle, derived its name from Cill Lugha – “church of Lugh”.
Clarecastle (Co. Clare / South)
Clarecastle, located at the head of the River Fergus estuary, derived its English name from its main military landmark.
Locals insist that the earliest settlement took its name from the word clár (“board / plank”), generally used to signify a wooden bridge, and was called Clár Atha Dá Choradh (“Bridge Between Two Weirs”). The story goes that the village gave its name to the whole county when it was shired in 1579 (but Queen Elizabeth I soon made Ennis the administrative capital). However, others plausibly contend that the name stems from the medieval grant of the territory to a branch of the powerful de Clare family, whose ancestors had founded Clare Castle in the eponymous village in Suffolk. In modern Irish the town is called both An Clár and Droichead an Chláir (“Bridge of the Board”).
Clare Castle was built by Robert de Muscegros in 1250 on an island at the narrowest navigable point of the River Fergus, an excellent spot from which to monitor the movements of the O’Brien kings of Thomond in their nearby castle of Clonroad. (Photo – www.mylocalnews.ie)
In 1276 the castle was granted (along with vast swathes of land) to a great grandchild of Strongbow, the Earl of Gloucester’s second son, Thomas de Clare (d.1287), ennobled as Lord of Thomond, whose son Richard de Clare (d. 1318) became the 1st Lord Clare. However, after the latter was killed and his allies defeated at the battle of Dysert O’Dea in 1318, the castle fell into the hands of the “rightful” king of Thomond, Murtough O’Brien, whose descendants held it for several centuries.
The uprising against Connor Groibleach (“long-nailed”) O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Thomond, gave Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex the opportunity to capture Clare Castle from another branch of the O’Brien family in 1558 . Red Hugh O’Donnell attacked the castle in 1600.
The Wars of the Three Kingdoms saw Captain Hugh Norton lose the castle to Kilkenny Confederacy troops, who in turn surrendered it to Cromwellian forces in 1651. Clare Castle proved to be an unhealthy spot for Parliamentarian officers. Generlal Ludlow contracted a heavy cold and fever which he apparently passed on to his commander, Oliver Cromwell‘s son-in-law Henry Ireton, who died in Limerick a few days later.
Clare Castle was taken over by Teigue MacNamara of Ayle, who garrisoned it at his own expense for the Jacobite cause before King James II was defeated at the 1690 battle of the Boyne, but surrendered to the Williamites when attacked.
The last Earl of Thomond (d.1738) and his descendants were paid ground rent by the Government for the use of the castle, which was occupied as the main barracks for the county until 1921.
Sir Lucius O’Brien, 3rd Bart, developed Clarecastle as an industrial and commercial centre in the C18th. By 1770, employing 154 men and 24 horses, he had added a harbour quay, a market house, a number of slated or thatched artisan dwellings and several manufacturing operations (textiles, timber, salt works etc.).
The town became the port for Ennis, used for the export of agricultural products and the importation of iron, salt and provisions; imported wine could be bought “cash down” by members of the gentry at the quay, extended in 1815. While most of the trade was with ports like Liverpool, Glasgow and London, there were also shipping links to the European continent and North America.
However, an 1830 account described the town as “luxuriant in dung and pigs“. Agrarian outrages committed by the Terry Alts kept the entire area in a state of unrest for most of 1830 and 1831. The 1832 cholera epidemic affected both town and garrison and in its aftermath destroyed the landless agricultural labourers from whom the Terry Alts drew most support. Lewis (1837) reported that many of the 1021 inhabitants of Clarecastle were living in “sublime poverty”.
The Great Famine took its toll of the starving population, but not without some resistance. In early December 1846, the principal overseer on the relief works at Clare Abbey, a man called Hennessy, was shot by an unknown assailant. He survived this blunderbuss attack because he was wearing a heavy coat at the time and a clerk who was accompanying him declared that Hennessy was dead. The attacker simply walked away. The area paid heavily for this outrage. Over 900 persons were “turned adrift” on December 7th, as the authorities closed down the works in an effort to force the people to divulge the identity of Hennessy’s assailant. Captain Wynne reopened the works on December 28th because he was “unmanned by the intensity and extent of the suffering.” No one identified the gunman and no arrest appears to have been recorded.
Clarecastle Harbour’s trade, once a huge part of the local economy, slowly declined in the C19th due to competition from the railway, and later from motor transport; the last cargo vessel docked in 1969. However, the harbour is still the base for the remnants of the local fishing fleet.
The tradition of drift net fishing for salmon on the River Fergus estuary dates back centuries, and fishing licences were handed down from father to son among certain families, but it is now banned.
Clarecastle was long a backwater, but increased its population considerably during the Celtic Tiger years to become a hub of the Industrial Midwest.
Barntick, built in 1661, is one of the oldest occupied houses in the county.
Newhall Estate surrounds an impressive mansion, Newhall House, the older part of which is supposed to have been constructed with stones from Killone Castle, now just a ruined stump on a nearby eminence; the rest dates from 1764, built by Charles MacDonnell MP with a facade probably designed by Francis Bindon. This was long the home of a branch of the O’Briens, and until recently was the residence of three remarkable Joyce siblings.
Killone Lake is said to have been the abode of a mermaid who used to swim up a small brook and steal wine from the cellar of Newhall. Stabbed by the O’Briens’ butler, she managed to drag herself back into the lake to bleed to death, and the waters still turn red every forty years or so (due, unromantically, to algal bloom). Ballybeg Lake lies nearby.
Killone Convent, originally the convent of Cill Eoin / St John’s Church, founded in 1190 by Donal Mór O’Brien, king of Thomond, was the first Augustinian nunnery in County Clare, last occupied at the end of the C16th. The scenic ruin contains a crypt and is atmospherically surrounded by graves, including those of several generations of the Barrett family. (Photo – chrysbillinireland.blogspot.com)
The Annals of Inisfallen mention the death of “Slaney, O Bryan’s daughter, Abbesse of Kill Eoin, chief in devotion, almes-deedes and hospitality of all women in Munster” in 1260. Another abbess, Dubcollaithig Breyn, died in 1350. One legend relates how Honora O’Brien, a nun in Killone, ran off with Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy of Gort and presented him with a son and daughter before getting the Pope’s dispensation for their marriage.
In 1543 King Henry VIII granted the abbey to Donough “the fat” O’Brien, Baron of Ibrickan and future 2nd Earl of Thomond, but it seems to have re-vested in the Crown in 1584. It is mentioned in the “Visitation of Killaloe” in 1617 as the property of Baron Inchiquin.
St John the Baptist’s Well, situated at the northern end of Killone Lake, was once a popular place of pilgrimage for the people of Ennis and Clarecastle, and the venue of a yearly pattern in June.
The British Parliament passed the River Fergus Navigation and Embankment Act 1860 to reclaim land from the estuary. However, little was done until 1879.
Mr HC Drinkwater, a Mancunian, was the principal character behind land reclamation on the Fergus. Under his direction Islandavanna became a peninsula connected to the mainland by a massive stone causeway, traversed every half-hour by a locomotive hauling a train of trucks laden with stone, which ran out into the water to the “tip end”, while scores of raft loads of stone were flung into the water on lines staked and flagged out by government officials. Islandavanna was one of three such stations and during the winter of 1880-1881 was occupied by a third of the 450 men then at work on the scheme (700 were employed in the summer).
Drinkwater had established his own settlement at the works for he believed it better to “pay a man liberal wages, than have him walk several miles to work and home again, and be allowed to live on a scant supply of potatoes and bread, washed down with too much of the whiskey…” He preferred to pay high wages, on the condition that a certain proportion should be spent on food and lodging, “in a range of labourer houses admirably built of iron, lined with wood, perfectly warmed and lighted, and kept wonderfully clean. There was a store-house and refectory, a cooking department and dormitories, perfectly ventilated and swept and garnished every day“. Tea, beer and other beverages, except whiskey, could be obtained, and there was an abundant supply of books and newspapers. Drinkwater also fed his workmen, got them porter at wholesale prices and established a club with a reading-room – in short, he afforded them every inducement to prefer his new settlement to “the wretched huts and groggeries of Clare Castle“.