Clare County Library
Clare History
Home | Library Catalogue | Forums | Foto | Maps | Archaeology | Folklore | Genealogy | Museum | Search this Website | Copyright Notice | Visitors' Book | What's New
Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare
NO. 8 KINVARRA

“Within a long recess there lies a Bay,
An island shades it from the rolling sea,
And forms a port secure for boats to ride.”
                                                         Dryd. Virg.

Such is the geographical position of the harbour of Kinvarra, situate on the south east extremity of the bay of Galway. The entrance to Kinvarra bay is a moderately narrow one, lying between Durus head land on the west, and a point of Drumacoe parish on the east. Opposite to the mouth of this narrow channel is Eddy Island, which forms a natural breakwater protecting the little Delta of a bay within, from the rough seas that are occasionally reverberated from off the southern face of Kilcolgan point.

The village of Kinvarra is built on a gentle acclivity at the bottom of the bay, bearing the same name.

- The appellation seems to be derived from the Irish Ceann, the end or limit, and Mara, of the sea. -

This village is about five miles distant from New Quay, and is situate in the barony of Kiltarton, and county of Galway. Fairs are held here the 18th of May, and 17th of October annually. Kinvarra also is the name of the parish in which the village is situate, being a Vicarage in the Diocese of Kilmaduach. This little town is the property of Mr. Gregory, of Coole, and has been much improved of late years. Many good houses have been erected - an excellent quay, wall and pier, have been built, and some good shops have been opened. Amongst the latter is an Apothecary’s establishment, kept by Dr. Hines where the infirm are supplied, on moderate terms, with medicine, and all meet with that attention and humanity, which is ever grateful to the invalid. There are several streets here, and the population is much employed in traffic. The market, is principally, remarkable for the sale of corn, bought up to be exported from hence. Adjoining the quay are temporary stocks, on which a superior class of sea boats are built. Beef and other provisions are regularly sent from hence to New Quay.

Kinvarra was granted by the Crown the 16th of June, on the 21st year of Charles the Second’s (A.D.1681) reign, at a rent of £1 03 3d, by the name of Kinvara along with Durus, and many neighbouring lands, to Col. Cary Dillon. O’Flaherty, who in the Ogygia spells the name Kinnmbeara, says that it was the Belgians who gave it that name.

The most remarkable object within the town is the old church and burial place. It is particularly worthy of the antiquary’s especial notice, that the gable-end of the ruinous ecclesiastical edifice, just mentioned, which fronts the neighbouring castle, presents in that direction a round aperture, apparently designed for a clock. In the burial ground, surrounding the ancient house of worship, there are some comical monumental inscriptions to be met with. Amongst them are the following. On one tomb-stone is the pious couplet,

" James O' Farrell lies under this stone; Pray for him, Christians - to sin he was prone."

On another stone we find,

" Pray for the soul of Father Patrick Neilan, who
Dyed in ye year 1753,
Who lies under this stone,
He that feared but God alone."

Of those departed persons, whose names are thus attempted to be perpetuated in doggrel verse at Kinvarra, it may be said with Grey,

" Their names, their years
spelt by th' unletter'd muse
The place of fame and elegy supply."

Kinvarra Castle, County Galway and part of the ruin of Dun-Guaire
Kinvarra Castle, County Galway and part of the ruin of Dun-Guaire

Next in order after the Church, the Castle demands attention. It is a square building in the fashion of Queen Elizabeth's reign, and of several stories in height, standing some distance outside the town upon a small elevated peninsula, surrounded by the sea, with the exception of one low and narrow isthmus, that connects it with the main land. A strong and high wall built along the verge of the declivity encloses the court-yard, or bawn. The outer gateway is large, and has an embattled wall with embrazures overhead. It is flanked on the right by a small quadrangular bastion, or tower, which commands it and the outward wall on two sides. In the sides of the tower, just mentioned, there are set in masonry some large stones, perforated with round holes of five or six inches in diameter, apparently intended for exposing the muzzles of small ordnance. The Castle of Kinvarra was, until very recently, used as a Barrack by a military detachment quartered here. The walls circumscribing the bawn, have, in former days been shattered in two of the angles, apparently by the fire of artillery from a sod battery thrown up about two or three hundred yards off, in the direction of Tubbermacduach. The platform of this ancient battery is still visible, and on it are placed at intervals some very large rocks, which, in all probability, served as shelter to the gunners against the fire of matchlocks or other small arms from the castle. It is not very likely that the besieged were altogether inactive or without using fire-arms, during the investment of the place, as the song would lead us to suppose, some of the Wardens of a Castle in the county of Cork, spent their time about the same period.

The poetaster seems to have taken a bardic license in the following ridiculous verse, inserted amongst Croker's popular songs of Ireland-

"So they fired the bullet like thunder,
and it flew through the air like a snake,
And they hit the high walls of the castle,
which like a young curlew did shake;
While the Irish had nothing to fire, but
their bows and arrows - the sowles-
Poor tools for shooting the Sassenachs,
though mighty good for wild fowls.
It was now the poor boys of the castle
looked over the battlement wall,
And they there saw that ruffian, old Cromwell,
a feeding on powder and ball."

The Gort river, after pursuing for many miles a subterranean course, rises in the sea by the side of the high road, near the isthmus leading to the castle just mentioned, where it is to be seen like an overgrown spring well boiling up out of the ground when the tide is out.

Near the castle already described, but separated from it however by an inlet of the sea, are the ruins of another yet more ancient castle, denominated Dun Guariagh, which signifies "Guaire's Stronghold." (I have at present an ancient bottle which was found in a Submarine cellar in this Castle. It is covered with Barnacle shells. - 1860 - T.L. Cooke). It may here be remarked, en passant, that the townland of Gort was formerly called Gort-Inse-Guare, signifying, "Guaire's Island Garden," and was heretofore the demesne of the O'Shagnessies, whose territory situate in the county of Galway, was known by the name of Cineal- Aodha. The O’Shagnessies are interred at Kilmacduach.

Kinvarra is said to have been one of the fortalices of Guaire, who was king of the Hyfiacras in Connaught about the beginning of the seventh century King Guaire is well known in the legendary, and other, tradition of this neighbourhood. Already has an account been given in the second number of these Rambles of his signal pursuit after the dishes flying to the cell of Saint Colman under the Raven's Nest. His residence here was called "Durlus Gauire," the first portion of which appellation was pronounced "Thurlus," and in Irish signifies a place where watergrass grows. The remaining part of the name is derived from that of the king.

King Guaire is reported by historians to have been a prince of an extraordinary great disposition for performing acts of charity; yet even he is accounted amongst fallen sinners. Keating and Comerford relate of him the following story:- "There is an account in a very ancient chronicle that, in the seventh year of Diarmuid, King of Ireland, a poor woman, called Sionach Cro, who was a nun, and had vowed a religious life, applied to King Diarmuid, complaining of a great injury she had received from Guaire, the son of Colman, who had violently forced from her a cow that was her only means of subsistence.— Diarmuid, resenting the injury, directed his march with a strong body of horse towards the river Shannon and encamped on its banks. Guaire resolving to justify himself, marched with his forces to the opposite bank, but doubting of his strength, sent, requesting Diarmuid not to pass for twenty-four hours, which was granted - Diarmuid continuing encamped on the east side of the river, and Guaire on the west. A battle ensued, in which Guaire was defeated, as, it is said, owing to the prayers of Saint Caimin, of Inis-Cealtrach, an island in the Shannon."

It must here be remarked, that numerous Irish historians assert the two armies in this conflict respectively attempted to gain the opposite side of the river Shannon, and that King Diarmuid's troops plunged into the stream, and with incredible difficulty forced their way across. The place of their passage therefore must have been fordable at least. We are also historically informed that King Guaire, having been informed of the hostile interposition of Saint Caimin's prayers, applied himself without effect to the saint, pending the armistice. Inis Cealtrach, where the saint then was, is an island of that part of the wide Shannon, called Lough Derg, situate below Portumna, in the barony of Leitrim and county Galway, and the part of the river which is fordable and nearest to it, is at Keelogue, below Banaghar, where several warlike implements, such as flint hatchets, &c., were lately discovered in the bed of the Shannon, by the workmen employed there under the Shannon Navigation Commissioners. These warlike instruments have been presented by the Commissioners to the Royal Irish Academy, at its last meeting in the present month. One of the members of the Academy has asserted that the stone hatchets were formed of Galway flint stone. It, therefore, is exceedingly probable that the munitions of war thus recently dug from the Shannon's bed, and now in the Museum of the Academy, are part of the weapons used by King Guaire’s troops, or by those of his opponent, in contesting the passage of that river, about twelve centuries and a half ago. This conjecture becomes more likely from the additional fact that many of the numerous ancient brazen hatchets, celts, skeynes, spears, horns, &c., now in the possession of the Earl of Rosse, of that indefatigable and talented antiquary the Dean of St Patrick’s Dublin, and of Mr. Cooke, of Parsonstown, who presented a cabinet of those ancient remains to the Marquis and Marchioness of Normanby, were found at Dowris, a place situate in the King’s County.

To return to the story of Sionach Cro and Guaire: - After the battle this king fled, and was sheltered in privacy and solitude by a poor religious woman, but at last he surrendered to his adversary. Guaire was reputed a most charitable prince. His charity was put by Diarmuid to many and severe tests for the purpose of ascertaining if it was real or merely simulated. These trials all tended to prove the sincerity of Guaires pretensions. Diarmuid and he at last became great friends, and continued so until death put an end to their engagements. It is this King Diarmuid, or Dermot, (in English, Jeremiah) who founded the Church of Cloonmacnoise. His monumental stone was seen there a few years ago by me, and copied with many others. It bore the simple inscription - “Diarmait.”

It is reported, I know not on what authority, that, on the 1st of November, 1755, the day of the great earthquake at Lisbon, a castle, on the western boundary of the parish of Kinvarra, which had formerly belonged to the O’Heynes,’ was destroyed, and a portion of it swallowed up.

<< Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare