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Clare Places: Towns & Villages
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of Thomas Dineley, 1681
An RTE Television documentary from 1968
on the history and development of the town of Ennis,
Ennis, with an urban population of over 18,000 people is situated on the banks of the River Fergus. It is the capital of County Clare and the centre of administration and commerce. Ennis is 37km. from Limerick and 67km. from Galway. Shannon International Airport is 24km. south of Ennis.
The town takes its name from "Inis", meaning an island which was formed between two streams of the River Fergus and on which the foundations of the Franciscan Abbey were laid. The history of Ennis is intimately linked with that of the O'Brien family, descendants of Brian Boru. During the 12th century the O'Brien's, Kings of Thomond, left their seat of power in Limerick and settled at Clonroad where they built a royal residence. In 1240 King Donnchadh O'Brien commenced the building of an extensive church which he later entrusted to the newly arrived followers of St. Francis. The centuries which followed witnessed scenes of great activity. The Friars residence was extended and students came in large numbers to study at the theological school. The Friars who were free to move about met the spiritual needs of the townspeople.
When Clare became a county under Elizabeth I, Ennis was chosen as its capital by reason of its central position and its being well within the influence of the Earls of Thomond. Ennis received a grant to hold fairs and markets in 1610 and some years later a Charter for a Corporation with a Provost, Free Burgesses, Commonalty and a Town Clerk.
Ennis continued to expand in the following centuries in a slow but steady fashion, mainly as a market town and later as a manufacturing and distributing centre. Many commodities were then conveyed by river to Clarecastle for shipment abroad.
Hely Dutton who carried out a statistical survey of Ennis in 1808 left valuable information about the town at that time. Local factories were turning out clothing and blankets, the flour mills absorbed a large quota of corn for milling, all of which was grown locally. There was a brewery in the present day Abbey Street car park, and a distillery and malt house sited near Knox's Bridge.
The famine of 1845 and its aftermath affected Ennis, as did the cholera epidemic of 1832. The population fell from 9,318 in 1841 to 7,041 in 1861 because of famine, fever and emigration.
Ennis is associated with some of the great political leaders of the past. 1828 marked the return to parliament of Daniel O'Connell in the famous Clare Elections. Charles Stewart Parnell, when visiting Ennis in 1880, gave an address in which he propounded the policy of boycott.
In 1917 Eamon de Valera was selected to contest the East Clare by-election and so began his long association with the town and county.
Today, Ennis has well developed shopping, business, commercial, educational, community and amenity facilities. In 1997 Ennis became Irelands "Information Age Town" by winning the prestigious national Telecom Eireann competition. It is one of Irelands fastest growing towns. Ennis, with its narrow streets and lanes, represents a pleasant blend of the historic past and the active present. It is a tourist centre of major importance and acts as a superb base for County Clares many other attractions.