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Clare Places: Towns & Villages
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of Thomas Dineley, 1681
Killaloe means the church of LUA or MOLUA, the saint who gave his name to the diocese, parish and town of this name.
THE DIOCESE OF KILLALOE covers a vast area much larger than the county in which its ancient cathedral still stands. It owes its existence as a diocese to the efforts of Brian Boru who ruled the Kingdom of Ireland from here. His successors continued his efforts to establish a church independent of Norman influence. This was a source of some concern to William the Conqueror's wily advisor, Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who wanted to extend Norman influence over Irish ecclesiastical affairs. Lanfranc's death in 1089 weakened Canterbury's grip on Irish church affairs, particularly in Killaloe which was becoming an important centre of religious life and enjoying the patronage of the Dalcassian Kings. The O'Briens still considered themselves Kings of Ireland although their power was restricted to Munster and Leinster. Towards the end of the eleventh century they shifted their capital to Limerick, making it their chief power base as Kings of Munster and Thomond. Killaloe came into being as a diocese in 1111 after the Synod of Rathbreasail.
THE PARISH OF KILLALOE: The Catholic parish of Killaloe, until 1987, consisted of 39 townlands. It was a well-defined area with natural boundaries on three sides. To the north and west were the Slieve Bernagh mountains and to the east was the River Shannon and the lower end of Lough Derg. The ancient name for the territory was Tuath Ui Toirdhealbhaigh which was ruled by a Dalcassian sept named after Torlough, the father of St. Flannan. St. Flannan was abbot of the monastery of Killaloe, founded by St. Lua two centuries earlier. St. Flannan is patron of the parish of Killaloe. The termon or monastic lands extended from the Annacarriga river to the Ardclooney river. Following the church reorganisation of the twelfth century these same lands became the See lands attached to Killaloe cathedral.
TOWN OF KILLALOE (1996 Census, Population 972)
In 1650 Cromwell's army encamped for ten days at Ballina exploring a passage across the river. Thirty years later, King James's men marched through on their way to defend Athlone. Patrick Sarsfield maintained a strong garrison to defend the passage of the river. In August, 1690, he crossed the Shannon with a select body of cavalry to destroy an ammunition train on its way to William of Orange, then besieging the City of Limerick. With the coming of peace after the Treaty of Limerick in 1691 the town began to take on its present day appearance. Most of the houses on Main Street and at the lower end of the town were built during the eighteenth century. A distillery was erected at John's Street, about which Arthur Young wrote in 1777 "The whisky stills at Killaloe trebled in five or six years". Killaloe also had a flourishing woollen and cloth industry which employed over 150 people at five shillings a week. The two weekly markets would indicate a certain prosperity among the farming classes in the second half of the eighteenth century. In 1793 the first Post Office was opened in Killaloe. The nearest mail coach stop was at Birdhill. A foot messenger conveyed the mail twice daily from there to Killaloe. In 1837 Killaloe consisted of one square, and a principal and several smaller streets, and contained about 300 houses. Above and below the bridge there were numerous eel weirs as well as a salmon fishery. A spirit of cheerful industry and enterprise seemed to promise much for the increasing prosperity of the town. The Shannon Steam Navigation Company had their headquarters here and had established a regular communication by steam packets for goods and passengers up the Shannon, through Lough Derg to Portumna, Athlone, and Banagher, and from Banagher by canal boats to Dublin. The company also afforded employment to a great number of people in the construction and repair of docks and warehouses. Below the bridge was a ridge of rocks over which the river rushed with a great noise. Many a Viking raider must have cursed this obstacle but the thought of all the plunder to be had along the shores and islands of the Shannon would have spurred these hardy pirates on. The Shannon Steam Navigation Company, however, constructed a canal through the bishop's demesne, avoiding the rocks, and joined the river beyond the falls. From there their steam boats continued down river to the pier head above O'Briens Bridge.
In 1837 Lewis described the bishop's palace, Clarisford House, as "finely situated in a highly improved demesne, near the only ford across the river into this county from that of Tipperary; the mansion is handsome and of modern appearance and, though small, forms a pleasant residence". The representative body of the Church of Ireland sold the property in 1977.
During the famine years the town of Killaloe lost 191 people. Between 1841 and 1851 the number of inhabited houses in the parish dropped from 1,253 to 920. In Killaloe 50 houses were listed as unoccupied in 1851, the number of mud cabins fell from 38 in 1841 to 4. By 1861 the parish had lost a total of 441 families.
In the nineteenth century Killaloe was described as being pleasantly situated on rising ground on the western bank of the Shannon, near the noted falls of Killaloe and connected with the County of Tipperary by a bridge of thirteen arches. The falls have since vanished beneath the higher waters necessary for the implementation of the Hydroelectric Scheme.
After the attack on Scariff R.I.C. Barracks in 1920 the Auxiliaries searched the countryside for people suspected of involvement. They found three men in hiding in Williamstown House. They were Alfie Rogers and Brud McMahon from Scariff and Martin Gildea from Galway. Micheal Egan from Whitegate was caretaker at Williamstown House and he was also captured. Two others, John and Michael Conway were captured en route and all six were taken by boat to Killaloe. The boat landed at the jetty of the Lakeside Hotel. After questioning in the hotel the Conway brothers were released. The other four were taken to the bridge at Killaloe around midnight where they were shot. A small concrete bunker can now be seen on the Killaloe side of the bridge, as a reminder of this event during the Troubles.
Today's Killaloe is no longer the capital of Ireland or Clare but it is still the water capital of Lough Derg and the southern limit of the recommended navigable part of the Shannon by small craft. The Shannon hydroelectric scheme created an artificial lake between Lough Derg, which acts as the main reservoir, and the weir at O'Brien's Bridge farther down river. Killaloe is the most important boating and fishing centre within the three counties of Clare, Limerick and Tipperary. There are facilities for sailing and a large marina. Hector Newenham introduced water skiing to Killaloe in 1956. By 1958 it had become a regular sport here and spread to the rest of Ireland. Today, fishing, cruising, boating, sailing, swimming, wind-sailing and water skiing are all well catered for, while all around is a rich heritage waiting to be explored.