Limerick’s outskirts (Co. Clare)
Meelick // Cloonlara (County Clare / Southeast)
Meelick (Mileac – “Marshy land”), a growing commuter satellite of Limerick City, comprises a series of modern residential developments in and around the older location of Stonepark, where the church and school are situated. There is a thriving GAA club and other local amenities such as a community centre, tavern, shop etc.
Parteen (An Póirtín – “the little port / landing place“) was formerly callled Ardnacrusha (Ard na Croise – “Height / Hill of the Cross”) but the new hydroelectric station opened in 1929 took that name and the locals decided to rename their village Parteen. Nowadays it is another commuter satellite of Limerick City.
Ardnacrusha Power Station, Ireland’s largest hydroelectric plant, began life in 1925 as the centrepiece of the Shannon Scheme, a pharaonic civil engineering project designed to demonstrate that the new Irish Free State could provide for its citizens.
The first plan to harness the River Shannon‘s power was published by Sir Robert Kane in 1844. Inspired by Nicola Tesla’s Niagara Falls project (completed in 1896), another plan known as “Frazer’s Scheme” was sanctioned by the 1901 Shannon Water and Electric Power Act but the overall cost was considered too great and the project was shelved. A British Board of Trade committee approved proposals by Theodore Stevens and published a report in 1922. Sean Wall, Chairman of Limerick County Council and commander of the East Limerick IRA, sought to persuade the First Dail of the possibilities, but was killed in a gunfight at Annacarty in May 1921.
The proposal that was finally implemented came from Dr Thomas McLoughlin, who had started working for Siemens-Schuckert, in late 1922. The construction project was not without controversy, with national and governmental debate over wages, conditions, strikes, and spending over-runs.
Thousands flocked to the area to work on this vast development under the direction of Siemens & Schuckard, a large German engineering firm based in Berlin. Rivers and streams had to be re-routed, bridges constructed and new railway lines laid as a 7 ½ mile canal was dug to form the Head Race from the new Parteen Weir on the River Shannon and the power station itself was built, all for a total cost of £5½ million, an astronomical amount when the new state’s entire budget was £25m.
Inaugurated by Taoiseach William T. Cosgrave in July 1929, the Shannon Scheme subsequently served as a model for large-scale electrification projects worldwide. At the time, it was the largest source of hydroelectric power in the world, though soon superseded by the USA’s Hoover Dam (1936). The influential Financial Times was highly impressed, commenting: “They have thrown on their shoulders the not easy task of breaking what is in reality an enormous inferiority complex and the Shannon Scheme is one – and probably the most vital – of their methods of doing it.”
In 2002, on the 75th anniversary of the plant, the American Society of Civil Engineers marked the facility as an Engineering Milestone of the Twentieth Century.
Knockalisheen Camp, a disused army barracks dating from the Emergency (WWII), was used in 1956 to accommodae 161 Hungarians fleeing the Soviet repression in their country. In 1957, complaints and disputes between the refugees and the authorities over living conditions and enforced idleness led to a mass hunger strike. After three days, the Dáil and the Irish Red Cross negotiated an end to the strike. By the summer of 1958, most of the refugees were allowed to move to Germany and the USA, while a few chose to remain in Ireland. During their stay at the camp, the 51 children attended the local St Munchin’s Girls’ School where they were taught both English and Irish. Since the 1990s the camp has again been used to house refugees, now mostly from African countries.
Cloonlara (Cluain Lara), a village in the Kiltannenlea area of East Clare, is best known for its fisheries centre.
Clonlara Equestrian Centre, based at late C18th Oakfield House, is a family run riding school with stabling for 65 horses, an international size indoor arena, a large outdoor manage and 130 acres of farmland, making it ideal for trekking. Mounts can be hired for local drag hunts in season.
Cloonlara is near
Coonagh, a small historical barony to the northwest of Limerick City, is mainly known for the Coonagh Aerodrome, home to the Limerick Flying Club. (Photo – final gather)
Cratloe & Rossmanagher (County Clare / South)
Cratloe (An Chreatlach – “the land of sallow trees”; alternatively Croit-shliabh – “hump-backed hill”) (pop. 650) is a historic village overlooked by Woodcock Hill (310m / 1015ft), and the location of a fine cairn.
St John’s church (RC), erected in 1791, is one of only three “barn churches” left in the country. It is an attractive edifice, very popular for weddings.
The area is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters, where it is recorded that Crimhthan, king of Munster and High King of Ireland, died in Cratloe from poison administered by his sister; she wished for her son Brian to become High King, but in the end had to settle for the kingdom of Connacht, while the High Kingship went to the man later known as Niall of the Nine Hostages.
In 1510 an army led by the Lord Deputy Gearóid Mór Fitzgerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, marching on Thomond, was defeated near Cratloe by the O’Brien, MacNamara, Sil-Aedha and Clanrickard clans led by Turlough O’Brien.
Cratloe Woods and nearby Garranon Oak Wood are popular recreational forests. The latter probably provided the timbers for the roof of St Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick City, and makes the common but unlikely claim to have supplied beams for London’s Westminster Hall and Amsterdam’s Royal Palace.
Gallows Hill, classified as an area of outstanding natural beauty, has lovely forested slopes and views.
The remnants of several small raths / ringforts can be found in the area, as can some ruined churches and chapels, together with the shells of four Tower Houses, Cratloe / Cratloemoyle Castle, Cratloekeel Castle, Castle Donnell / Cratloemore Castle and Ballintlea Castle, all built by the MacNamara clan.
Craughaun Cemetery contains a megalithic wedge tomb, the ruins of an old church and a family vault.
Rosmanagher is the location of an atmospherically ruined church. (Photo by ferdia35)
Rosmanagher Castle, a Tower House built by Donogh MacNamara’s son Shane in 1548, was listed in 1580 as the property of the Earl of Thomond. It was garrisoned by Parliamentarian troops during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms until surrendered to Kilkenny Confederate forces by Captain Hunt and his small group of musketeers in May 1646. Abraham Dester leased the castle in 1675 and as the family prospered they built Rosmanagher House, leaving the castle to fall into disrepair, and changed their surname to D’Esterre. They are not fondly remembered in the area.
Henry D’Esterre‘s dastardly erection of a toll bridge in 1784 effectively rendered the O’Garney River unnavigable. (Locals claim that Daniel O’Connell’s refusal to pay the toll was behind the notorious 1815 duel in which he mortally wounded Captain John D’Esterre).
Bunratty (Co. Clare / South)
Bunratty (Bun na Raite – “End of the Raite / Ratty / O’gChearnaigh / O’Garney River”), first settled in 970 AD as a Viking trading post beside the river mouth opening into the River Shannon estuary, is best known for its magnificent castle, the largest intact medieval fortification in Ireland.
Bunratty village grew up rapidly as an “Englishry”, and by 1300 had a population of c.1000. Despite various setbacks it prospered over the centuries, and reached its peak by the early C19th, when Bunratty Bridge was largest single arched bridge in the country. At that time it had a thriving economy, with an expanding community requiring the construction of many of the buildings visible today. However, the Great Famine and its sequelae saw Bunratty fall into sad decline, and by the 1950s it was reduced to Durty Nelly’s pub (established c.1804) and a rundown house.
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Robert de Muscegros, granted the local cantred of Tradraighe by King Henry III in 1248, erected a motte and bailey / “bretesche” here in 1251, but his grandson surrendered it to the Crown.
In 1276 King Edward I granted the unconquered lands of Thomond (roughly coterminous with modern County Clare) to the Justiciar of Ireland, Thomas de Clare, second son of the 5th Duke of Gloucester and Maud de Lacey, a direct descendant of Strongbow. He built the first stone Tower House on the site in 1280, and spent the remaining eight years of his life trying to wrest control of Thomond from the descendants of Brian Boru, themselves split into dynastic factions vying for supremacy.
His son Richard de Clare entered into an alliance with followers of Brian Ruadh O’Brien, the most recently deposed king of Thomond, who he later betrayed and had torn apart by horses. Richard was killed in May 1318 at the Battle of Dysert O’Dea by the army of Muircheartach / Murtough O’Brien, the “rightful” king of Thomond (who had earlier ousted his cousin Donnach). The victors marched on Bunratty Castle, only to find that De Clare’s wife Joan had set the entire settlement aflame and returned to England. Thomond remained untamed for over 200 years.
In 1332, soon after its restoration, the castle was again razed by the O’ Briens and the MacNamaras. In 1353, after lying in ruins for 21 years, it was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Rokeby, but was attacked again almost immediately and remained in native possession thereafter.
The present impressive structure was completed c.1425 by the MacNamara family, but was in the hands of their more powerful O’Brien overlords by the end of the century. The castle became famed for its hospitality, and was surrounded by ornamental gardens and a great deerpark by 1543, when Murrough O’Brien submitted to King Henry VIII‘s scheme of Surrender & Regrant and was created 1st Earl of Thomond. (Photo – www.tripadvisor.com)
The last of the royal O’Brien dynasty to reside in Bunratty was Brian / Barnabas O’Brien, 6th Earl of Thomond, an astute political gymnast; during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, he allowed a large Parliamentary garrison to occupy the castle and fled to England for his own safety. In 1646 , it was captured from Admiral Penn by Kilkenny Confederacy forces under Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, and used to entertain the Papal Legate to the rebels, Cardinal Rinnucini (who described Bunratty as the most beautiful place he had ever seen!).
The property was sold in 1712 to Thomas Amory and bought in1720 by the Studdert family, who left the castle in 1804 to take up residence in the more comfortable and modern Bunratty House.
In 1954 the derelict castle was saved from ruin when it was purchased, reroofed, restored and refurbished by Standish Robert Gage Prendergast Vereker, 7th Viscount Gort, who later generously donated the premises and contents to the Irish people.
Bunratty Castle is open to the public, and is well worth visiting both in its own right and to see the Bunratty Collection of rare furnishings, paintings, tapestries and other fine antiques. At night the castle hosts medieval banquets, accompanied by talented harpists, flautists, fiddlers and other musicians.
The Bunratty Walled Garden, based on the original Regency garden that supplied fruit, vegetables, and flowers to Bunratty House, has been remodelled and refurbished in a typical Victorian style.
Bunratty Folk Park, adjoining the castle, comprises 26 acres with over 30 reconstructed historical buildings, some from elsewhere in the region, put together as a rather twee village complete with watermills, smithy, school, post office, doctors house, printworks, drapery, pawnbroker’s, old home bakery and a typical pub / grocery / hardware store. A C19th period feel is maintained by peat fires in cottages and characters such as the Policeman, Schoolteacher and Bean an Ti (Woman of the House) in contemporary dress. Old furniture, tools and artefacts are displayed, and there are live demonstrations of bread baking, weaving and pottery making.
Ardcroney church, a former CoI edifice near Nenagh in County Tipperary, was moved and rebuilt here stone by stone.
The Corn Barn hosts regular evenings of traditional and contemporary Irish music, with dinner served during the performance.
Run by Shannon Development as a major tourist attraction, Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is often unfairly dismissed as only suitable for school groups and naive travellers seeking an “authentic Oirish” experience.
Bunratty has grown in recent years, and now has several good shops, pubs, eateries and accommodation options.
Hurlers Cross (Cros an Iománaí) (pop. 8000) is remarkable only for Our Lady of the Wells church (RC), an attractive three-bay T-plan edifice erected c.1820.
Shannon / Shannon Town (Baile na Sionnainne) (pop. 9000) is one of only two C20th planned “new towns” in Ireland, the other being the town of Craigavon in County Armagh. It was built along with the Shannon Free Zone industrial estate on reclaimed marshland beside the newly established Shannon Airport, and was intended as a dormitory community for workers there and in surrounding industries and support services. The development was not a triumph of urban planning. Much of the town layout was car-oriented, with low-cost housing (mainly tower block flats) laid out along rigidly straight roads and a shopping centre of dubious design. Population growth was never as fast as intended during the first few decades of the town’s existence, but increased significantly as facilities slowly improved in the 1990s. The ecumenical church burned down in early 2010.
Shannon Airport (Photo by benallsup)
Planned in consultation with Charles Lindburgh, Shannon Airport was constructed on boggy land on Rineanna Point jutting out into the River Shannon estuary, drained in 1936; it soon replaced the flying boat terminal located at nearby Foynes, and became Ireland’s first transatlantic airport in 1945, but is now well past its heyday, when many flights between European cities and the Americas had to stop here for refuelling.
The rundown terminal serves Limerick and the “Midwest” region as a local convenience, artificially kept alive until 2008 by the government’s insistence on the absurd “Shannon stopover” requirement for transatlantic flights to and from Dublin, and military use by both the former USSR and the USA, including troop movements during the two Iraq Wars and allegedly as many as 50 “extraordinary rendition” flights during President GW Bush’s campaign against Islamic terrorism.
Although the airport processed over 3 million passengers (mainly American soldiers) in 2008, its future is probably primarily as a cargo facility and aircraft maintenance centre.
Kilconry (Cill Chonaire), situated at the junction of the Rivers Shannon and Fergus, is named after a C6th female saint traditionally believed to have been a cousin of Saint Senan of Scattery, who is reputed to have banned women from Inishcarthy, but relented and allowed her body to be buried there. The old parish took in the three inhabited islands of Dynish, Fynish and Innismacnaughten in the River Fergus estuary.
Kilconry church, now in ruins, is probably of C15th origin.
Clonloghan (Cluainlochain – “river meadow of the withered grass”) is the location of a ruined parish church that may have been built as early as the C10th, possibly by Saint Enda, who is associated with the Aran Islands. Traditional family graves are still in use. Some of the headstones were damaged when an Alitalia plane flying from Rome to New York crashed shortly after refuelling at Shannon Airport on 26th February 1960, killing 28 passengers.
Drumline is the location of a church site thought to date back to the C8th AD or even earlier, reputedly founded by Sanctain. Very little remains of the church building and the foundations can now only be barely identified.
Carrygerry Country House is a tastefully restored Manor (1793) with a charming courtyard, open fires and antique furniture, surrounded by tranquil green pastures. In addition to providing excellent B&B accommodation facilities in the main house and converted stables, hosts Niall & Gillian Ennis serve impeccable meals in their award-winning Conservatory restaurant.