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County Clare: A History and Topography 1837 by Samuel Lewis


A post-town and parish, and the seat of a diocese, in the barony of Tulla, county of Clare, and province of Munster, 20 miles (E. by S.) from Ennis, and 87 (S. W. by W.) from Dublin, on the road from Scariff to Nenagh ; containing 8587 inhabitants, of which number 1411 are in the town. This place, anciently called Laonia, derived its present name, supposed to be a corruption of Kill-da-Lua, from the foundation of an abbey, in the 6th century, by St. Lua or Molua, grandson of Eocha Baildearg, King of Munster, and which became the head of a diocese. Turlogh O’Brien, in 1054, built a bridge across the Shannon at this place, which had grown into some importance, though little of its previous history is related ; and, in 1061, Hugh O’Connor destroyed the castle which had been erected here, and burned the town, which was again reduced to ashes in 1080 and 1084, by the people of Conmacne. In 1177, Raymond Le Gros, after his triumphant entry into Limerick, came to this place, where he received the hostages of Roderic, King of Connaught, and O’Brien, Prince of Thomond, who took the oath of fealty to the King of England. On Richard de Clare’s obtaining a grant of certain lands in the county of Clare, this town, as containing the only ford over the Shannon, obtained for some time the appellation of Claresford. In 1367, after the recall of "Lionel", Duke of Clarence, from the government of Ireland, who had acquired considerable tracts of territory around the town, Murrogh-na-Ranagh, one of the O’Briens, made himself master of all the country beyond the Shannon, and destroyed this town and several others belonging to the English. Gen. Sarsfield, in 1681, posted a strong party at this place, to defend the passage of the river ; but having abandoned their post, the English advanced into the western provinces ; and in 1691 the same general, at the head of a select body of cavalry, passed the river and destroyed a convoy of ammunition on its way to Wm. III., then at Limerick.

The town is pleasantly situated on a rising ground on the western bank of the Shannon, near the noted falls of Killaloe, and about a mile from Lough Derg, and is connected with the county of Tipperary by an ancient bridge of nineteen arches. It consists of one square, and a principal and several smaller streets, and contains about 300 houses. There is a small infantry barrack. A flourishing trade in stuffs, camlets, and serges was formerly carried on, and two well-supplied markets were held weekly ; but both the manufacture and the markets have been discontinued. Above and below the bridge there are numerous eel weirs, which produce a strong current in the river, and there is also a salmon fishery. In the vicinity are some very extensive slate quarries, from which, on an average, about 100,000 tons are annually raised for the supply of the surrounding country to a great distance. A mill, with machinery driven by water, has been erected at an expense of 6000, for cutting and polishing stone and marble, and working them into mantel-pieces, flags, slabs, and other articles, in which about 100 men are employed, and for whose residence near the works are some handsome slated cottages. A spirit of cheerful industry and enterprise seems to promise much for the increasing prosperity of the town. Close to these mills is a yard for boat-building, belonging to the Shannon Steam Navigation Company, whose head-quarters are at this place, and who have 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 afford employment to a great number of persons in the construction and repair of docks and ware-houses. About a quarter of a mile from the village of O’Brien’s Bridge is the pier-head, where the steam-boats transfer their cargoes and passengers to a packet-boat, which is towed at a rapid rate to Limerick, between which place and Dublin packet-boats ply daily ; the trip to Portumna and Williamstown is beautifully picturesque. Below the bridge the navigation of the Shannon is interrupted by a ridge of rocks, over which the water rushes with great noise ; and the appearance of the town at this place, with the waters of Lough Derg in the distance, and its venerable cathedral rising above the bridge and backed by a fine mountain range, is strikingly romantic. To remedy this obstruction of the navigation, the Board of Inland Navigation constructed a canal through the bishop’s demesne, avoiding the rocks, and joining the river beyond the falls ; it has also erected an hotel, called Ponsonby Arms, for the accommodation of families visiting Lough Derg and its neighbourhood. This lake is about thirty miles in length, and abounds with beautiful and interesting scenery, more especially in that part which is near the town ; the shores are embellished with several handsome mansions, embosomed in luxuriant woods and plantations, and with several ancient and venerable castles. Pike, perch, trout, and various other fish are taken in abundance, among which is found the Gillaroo trout. Fairs are held on April 5th, May 24th, Sept. 3rd and Oct. 20th ; and petty sessions once a fortnight. A constabulary police force is stationed in the town.

The SEE of KILLALOE was originally founded about 639, by Pope John IV., who consecrated St. Flannan, successor to St. Lua or Molua, first bishop. Theodrick, King of Munster and father of St. Flannan, endowed the see with many estates, and was interred in the abbey. Moriertach, King of Ireland, and Donald O’Brien, King of Limerick, were also great benefactors ; and the former was interred here with great pomp in 1120. The church early became a favourite place of resort for pilgrims, and among numerous others was Connor Mac Dermod O’Brien, King of Thomond and Desmond, who died here on a pilgrimage in 1142. The cathedral was erected by Donald, King of Limerick, in 1160. About the close of this century the ancient bishoprick of Roscrea was permanently united to this see, together with a portion of that of Iniscathay ; and in 1752 the see of Kilfenora, which had been founded by St. Fachnan, was also united to it ; and the two dioceses have, since that period, been always held together. It is one of the twelve dioceses that constitute the ecclesiastical province of Cashel, and comprehends parts of the Queen’s county, Limerick, Galway, and King’s county, with a large portion of the county of Tipperary, and the greater part of Clare ; it extends about 100 miles in length, varying from 9 to 32 in breadth, and comprises an estimated superfices of 628,500 acres, of which 3200 are in Queen’s county, 5300 in Limerick, 8800 in Galway, 50,000 in King’s county, 134,500 in Tipperary, and 426,700 in Clare. The lands belonging to the see comprise 7528 statute acres, of which 6795 are profitable land ; and the gross revenue, on an average of three years ending Dec. 31st, 1831, amounted to 4532. 9. 1. Since that time the dioceses of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, having become vacant, have been, under the Church Temporalities’ Act of the 3d of Will. IV., united to the see of Killaloe, and the temporalities vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The chapter consists of a dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, and archdeacon ; there are also seven prebenderies, who have no voice in the chapter, viz., those of Tomgranna, Lackeen, Clondgad, Dysert, Tulla, Inniscattery, and Rath. The consistorial court consists of a vicar-general, registrar, and proctor ; the registrar is keeper of the records, of which the earliest are of the date 1668, the old registry having been burnt during the parliamentary war. The total number of parishes in the diocese is 108, of which 89 are comprised in 41 unions, and 19 are single benefices, of which one is in the patronage of the crown, 11 in lay patronage, and 38 in that of the bishop. The number of churches is 56, and there are five other places in which divine service is performed ; and of glebe-houses, 39. The cathedral, which also serves for the parish church, is an ancient cruciform structure, with a square central tower ; it is about 200 feet in length, with a fine east window, and the west front has an imposing appearance ; the prevailing character is that of the Norman style. Near it is a building called the Oratory of St. Molua, one of the most ancient ecclestical edifices in the country, being apparently of the 7th century ; it was roofed with stone, but is now in ruins. The economy fund of the cathedral amounts to 602. 10. 5. per annum. In the R. C. divisions, the dioceses of Kilfenora is held with Kilmacduagh ; the diocese of Killaloe is co-extensive with that of the Established Church, and is an independent bishoprick. The number of benefices, or unions, is 49, and of chapels 111, which are served by 123 clergymen, of whom 49 are parish priests, and 79 are coadjutors or curates.

The parish comprises 13,045 statute acres, and is generally under profitable cultivation. The surrounding scenery is beautifully diversified, and in many parts truly picturesque. Near the town, on the west bank of the Shannon, is Clarrisford House, the episcopal palace, 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, those small, forms a pleasant residence. There are several gentlemen’s seats, most of which command fine views of the lake and the beautiful scenery along its shores : of these, the principal are Ballyvalley, the residence of W. Parker, Esq., from which is a fine view of the town and bridge, with the falls on the river: Tinerana, of S. G. Purdon, Esq., Ryhinch, of Jeremiah O’ Brien, Esq. ; Derry Castle, of Capt. Head ; Castle Lough, of Anthony Parker, Esq. ; Youghall, of William Smithwick, Esq., and Ogonilloe, of the Rev. R. W. Nisbett. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter ; the rectory is appropriate to the economy fund of the cathedral : the tithes amount to 369. 4. 71/2., of which 295. 7. 81/2. is payable to the economy fund, and 73. 15. 11. to the bishop, as mensal tithes ; the stipend of the curate is 60 per annum, paid out of the economy fund. The R. C. parish is co-extensive with that of the Established Church ; there are four chapels, also a place of worship for Presbyterians. About 110 children are taught in a public school, and there are seven private schools, in which are about 400 children. Near the town is a rath, where was formerly the castle or palace of Brien Boroihme, monarch of all Ireland : this fort, called Ceanchora or Kinkora, was destroyed by Domohall Mac Adgail, Prince of Tyrconnell, during the absence of Murtogh, grandson of Brien ; the site has been levelled and planted, and few vestiges of the original building can be traced.

County Clare A History and Topography by Samuel Lewis
Courtesy of Clare Local Studies Project

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