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Remembering Clarecastle in the Rare Auld Times

Clare Champion, Friday, 7th March 2008

Some very interesting old maps and views of County Clare have gone on display at the County Library in Ennis and can also be viewed on its website. These were donated to the library by Graham Hull. One of these maps is entitled, Port of Clare - River Fergus.

Lieutenants J Wolfe and RB Beechy and Mr JS Taylor, Master Royal Navy, surveyed the Fergus in the vicinity of Clare Castle, as well as other ports, lakes and estuaries around Ireland. The scale of the map they produced is given as twelve inches to a statute mile and there is a note that the soundings are in feet, reduced to low water ordnance springs.

"On studying this map iin detail, I was delighted to discover the image used as a decoration, in the bottom-left of the map", commented Eric Shaw in respect of the drawing showing the bridge and Clarecastle. "The original of the image is quite small but the quality of the drawing lends itself to be enlarged without distortion of the details. The image gives a wonderful view of pre-Famine Clare Castle from the quay area and is quite accurate. In fact, apart from the houses shown on the left of the image, it was a view that remained largely unchanged until the developments of the 1960s and is one that is well remembered by people of my vintage."

The very fine arched stone bridge, designed by John Semple and completed shortly before 1780, is well depicted, with a stagecoach crossing the bridge heading towards Limeick. "This elegant bridge was removed in 1971 and replaced by a flat, concrete structure. It is rather ironic, now that the village has been bypassed, to realise that the destruction of the cut-stone bridge could have been avoided", Mr. Shaw said. The Semple Bridge is well recorded in a Lawrence photograph of about 1900 and there is a nice drawing of the bridge dated 1838 by Henry Bucke, CE.

The drawing on the map of 1840 adds another impression. The castle and barracks are very accurately drawn and compare well with the Lawrence photograph of the same scene taken some 60 years later. The boat tied up appears to be about 30 feet in length and has a tall mast, with a long pennant at the mast-top. The upper part of the mast seems to be painted white. She is well aground and the river is probably at half tide. She seems to have a doghouse on deck and she could well have been the boat used by the surveyors. The quay as shown was an older quay than that there currently. The fishing boat, with one man aboard her and an oar at the stern, is similar to the ganalows still used in Clare Castle.

The large outcrops of rock shown in the river must have been removed at a later time and the bed of the river seems to drop a level just above the spot where the fishing boat is moored. The large two-storey house with the four chimney pots is no longer there. The Ordnance map of 1842 does show a large house in that position at the end of Creggaun Lane. In the later map used for the Griffith Valuation of 1855, that house is gone.

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