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Clare Places: Towns & Villages
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Haunts on the West Coast of Clare 1891 by H B H
Quilty is a coastal village in the parish of Kilmurry Ibrickane. The origin of its name is uncertain but it may be a derivation of "coillte", meaning woods. In this instance the woods referred to would probably have been an underwood of hazel or holly. Local tradition mentions the finding of tree stumps which indicate the existence of large woods here in ancient times. The same word "coillte" could also refer to "ruined or destroyed" and be a reference to a tragedy of long ago. This particular stretch of coast is dangerous for shipping and is constantly being eroded by the sea. Sean Spellissy, historian, believes that the name refers to the devastation caused by the tidal wave that separated Mutton Island from the mainland in 804, drowning 1,010 people in the process. Quilty is set in picturesque surroundings with the Aran Islands on one side, Connemara behind and the Cliffs of Moher on another side. The Kerry mountains are visible in the distance.
A dramatic moment in Quiltys history has been recorded in song and in story. It happened in October 1907 when a raging storm hit the Clare coast. The French ship "Leon XIII" was completing her journey from America with a cargo of wheat when it was swept on the reefs near Quilty. The ship had earlier lost a rudder near Mutton Island. It was smashed on a reef, splitting in two. Huge waves crashed over her side and Captain Lucas had fractured his leg. On October 2nd the fishermen of Quilty made a brave effort to rescue the crew, using only their currachs. However, the strong waves made their task impossible and the rescue attempt was postponed until the following morning. The storm was still raging but the Quilty men managed to bring ashore thirteen of the twenty-two sailors. By Friday the wind had calmed slightly and a British steamer, the H.M. Arrogant, appeared in the bay. The remaining crew was brought to safety and there were scenes of jubilation in Quilty. Louis Boutin, First Mate, summed up the event as follows; - "I have been all over the world, but never, never, in my life have I seen any action more heroic than the conduct of the Clare fishermen." Newspaper reports lauded their bravery and a fund was established, partly for the needs of the fishermen but with the remainder to be used for the building of a church in Quilty.
The village has long been associated with fishing. In the early 1900's it was a community of farmers and fishermen. They fished for ling, haddock, cod and mackerel. The local women cured fish for export to America. Nowadays, Quilty fishermen also bring in lobster and salmon in season. According to a 1940's survey Quilty was a little fishing village where the men, women and bare-footed children toiled by the shore all day, fishing, drying and burning seaweed or picking carrageen. Making a living from the sea was not easy and most farming families supplemented their meagre incomes by harvesting seaweed. Around the month of June, dried seaweed was burnt along the coast to make kelp. The kelp was then collected, loaded into carts and transported to Quilty Railway Station. From there it was delivered to the factory and converted into iodine and other products.
As in other places in Ireland, emigration was a common event. The American wake was an important social gathering as the locals said farewell to the emigrant. Dancing and singing continued into the early hours of the morning. The closure of the West Clare Railway in 1961 was also a blow to Quilty. The Station there had been a hive of activity on fair days.
Coastal erosion has been a serious problem in the area for generations. Quilty Action Group is currently waging a campaign for coastal protection. Cliff stabilisation and rock armour works have been carried out in a bid to prevent damage, flooding and further erosion.
Nowadays, tourism plays an important role in the area. Holiday homes, mobile home parks, picnic areas and indoor facilities are all being developed. However, having seen the commercialisation of other resorts, locals are keen to safeguard the charm of Quilty.