Clare County Library
Clare Places: Towns & Villages
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Places of Interest

  • The Stone Crosses of Kilfenora by Jack Flanagan

  • Kilfenora Cathedral
    KILFENORA CATHEDRAL is dedicated to St. Fachtna, who founded his monastery here during the sixth century. The original church was probably wooden and was later replaced by a stone building. Murrough O'Brien burned the abbey church in 1055 and killed many of the inhabitants. Repairs were carried out between 1056 and 1058 but the building was plundered in 1079 and accidentally burned in 1100. The present structure dates from between 1189 to 1200. Kilfenora cathedral was built in the transitional style with a nave and chancel. Samuel Lewis described it in 1837 as "a very ancient and venerable structure with a massive square tower, commanding a very extensive and interesting view; the aisle is at present undergoing repair, and is being fitted up as the parish church". It was during the course of these renovations that the nave and chancel were separated, with the nave forming the present Church of Ireland church. Two years later in 1839 Eugene O'Curry noted that "thirty-six feet of the east end is now roofless and given up to the desolation of the winds and weather. (It was after I had left the place that I discovered that the present Protestant church is part of the old one, newly windowed and finished off)."
  • Kilfenora: The ChancelTHE CHANCEL was roofed with an oak ceiling, or so tradition says, until the end of the eighteenth century. It was supposed to have been painted blue with gold stars. Now roofless, with a fifteenth century doorway leading into the interior, it is still dominated by the three-light east window with its triangular pillars topped by carved capitals. On either side of the window there is a carved effigy: that of a bishop with his right hand raised in blessing, to the north; and to the south a tonsured, bareheaded cleric holding a book. The carving of the cleric may date from the thirteenth century; while that of the bishop may have been sculpted in the early fourteenth. Another attractive feature is the wall-tomb with its cusped tracery and high pointed arch surmounted by the stone head of a mitred bishop. Beside it is a tomb slab showing the incised form of a bishop, complete with crozier. There is a monumental stone in the north wall dedicated to the Rev. Neptune Blood which bears the dates 1638-1694-1699; and the broken shaft of a possibly post-Reformation high cross was brought into the chancel and set into the floor. There is also an altar-shaped tomb in the south-western angle with an inscription transcribed by Eugene O'Curry as "William Mac-an Bharg and and his wife Eliza Ni Dea made this tomb, Anno Dom. 1650." The oldest decipherable tomb inscription here appears to be that of Hygate Lowe which dates from 1638 but remember that since the foundation of the church, monks, abbots, bishops, chieftains and the last King of Thomond and his sons have been laid to rest here. There are also some fragments of a high cross by the south wall.

  • THE LADY CHAPEL, sacristy or chapter room, was in a rectangular wing leading to the north from a door in the north wall of the chancel. It appears to be of the same date as the main building and may even have served as a transept of sorts. In her history of Kilfenora Cathedral Averil Swinfen mentions the possibility of this being the O'Brien Chapel often mentioned by earlier historians. Two lancet-type windows and a ruined two-light one are left in the eastern wall. There are fragments of a high cross beside the west wall.

  • THE TOWER has provoked a lot of comment from various historians over the years. Samuel Lewis mentioned it as "a massive square tower" while others described it as "a pile of emigrants' luggage, with a rabbit hutch or birdcage overhead," which "defies every order of architecture."

  • THE CATHEDRAL is still used for divine worship. In fact, the bishop's throne was donated in 1981 for the installation of the Right Rev. Walton Empey as the Church of Ireland bishop of Kilfenora. There is a mitred head over the pointed door leading into the cathedral and beyond the second doorway there is a large square stone baptismal font which may date from around 1200 as its decoration matches that on the chancel's east window. On the north side, near the eastern end and built into the wall, is the tomb of Donaldus MacDonogh and his wife, Maria O'Connor, which dates from 1685. This is elaborately decorated with the MacDonogh arms sculptured on it and it carries a Latin inscription. Below it is a more interesting inscription in English from 1752: "Here lie the remains of Dr. Patrick MacDonogh son of the above Donaldus and grandson of the Craven - He was dignitary of the Church of France and of Romish Ireland - He was intimately acquainted with men of the first rank." During the reconstruction of the 1830's the pulpit was placed immediately against the east wall on the north side while "in a corresponding position on the south there are desks for the clerk and parson." The interior is otherwise almost devoid of ornamentation.

  • THE HIGH CROSSES OF KILFENORA are its most famous feature. It is believed that there were seven high crosses here. The graveyard contains the remains of three high crosses. There is the shaft of a thirteenth or fourteenth century cross near the doorway of the cathedral. Close to the graveyard gate is a rather simple cross, possibly dating from between 1300 to 1500. This is unusual insofar as it has no ring and may have been a trial piece. The third cross is the one within the chancel. West of the graveyard and almost midway between the cathedral and the comparatively modern Catholic church dedicated to St. Fachtna is a splendid high cross, which stands in a field west of the lane. In 1821 Dr. Mant took what was then considered the finest cross of all, the Kilfenora High Cross, to Killaloe where it is still on display in St. Flannan's Cathedral. Some accounts claim that the high crosses may have been carved at about the same time as the cathedral was being built and in particular to mark Kilfenora's independence as a diocese.

  • The Doorty Cross
    THE DOORTY CROSS, re-assembled from broken fragments, stands near the western end of the cathedral. On the western face is the image of a robed Christ above the figure of someone riding a donkey. The eastern face is of more interest, as it shows St. Peter blessing two smaller arm-linked figures; one with an Irish-type crozier is supposed to be a bishop, while the second, holding a tau or T-shaped crozier, may be an abbot. The whole, according to tradition, is a representation of St. Peter or of the church blessing Kilfenora's change from monastic to diocesan status. This would date the cross to 1152, as it seems fairly clear that it commemorates the setting up of the diocese of Kilfenora in that year.

  • CAISLEAN AN MHAGAIDH is the funny or foolish castle. Only the foundations can be seen, at the north-west of St. Fachtna's Catholic church. In the O'Donovan letters it is referred to as "Caislean-an Mhaga" and the residents of the place state that it was well begun but never raised higher than it was at that time, (1839). Other writers claimed it was the site of an ecclesiastical edifice but failed to give any reason for so saying. At Kilcarragh, (Cill Cathrach), there are still some traces of an old church and hospital which O'Curry estimated to have been twenty -six feet long by fourteen feet six inches broad.
  • THE LISDOONVARNA ROAD heads north out of Kilfenora. The old fair green with its castellated paying-stand lies to the east, while further on, past the Noughaval Road, is a cottage built by the Land League. The east wall of Ballyshanny Castle is still standing but there is little else left to mark its former glory.

  • CAHERMINNAUN CASTLE was marked by "a heap of ruins and rubbish" in 1839. Murrogh O'Brien, the Lord of Caherminnaun, died here in 1591. There was an old church and burial ground in the townland of Caherminnaun within the caher which is to the north of the castle site and slightly west of it. There is also a holy well called after St. Caimin at which stations were performed in the early decades of the nineteenth century and its water is still used as a cure for afflicted eyes.

  • BALLYKINVARGA RING FORT takes its name from "Cathair Bhaile Cinn Mhargaidh, the town of the market. There is a fine chevaux de frise encircling this large stone fort. O'Curry reflected on the "great number of upright stones, forming a circle about it". He also stated that "there is a prostrate cromleac a little to the south of the caher". This may be the larger standing stone which some people think was part of a destroyed megalith. The interior of the fort contains the remains of huts which were built against the wall. With its double ring walls it must have been a formidable stronghold.

  • TULLAGH EARTH FORT is a good example of its type situated above and to the west of the Kilfenora - Leamaneh road. It is still encircled by a fosse.

  • ST. FACHTNA'S CATHOLIC CHURCH was built in 1917 to a simple T-plan with round-headed door, rose window and bellcote.

  • THE BURREN DISPLAY CENTRE was officially opened by President O'Dalaigh in 1975. Managed by a community development co-operative called Comhar Conradh na Boirne, it was Ireland's first interpretative centre. The site previously held the village national school. A builder was employed but shareholders were also involved in the construction work, making it truly a community development. It was financed by Bord Failte and Clare County Council. The centre promoted an understanding and appreciation of the unique Burren region and it won the International Carnegie Award for display excellence. Recent upgrading and refurbishment has taken place here and the revamped Burren Centre will continue to provide an interpretative service for this region.