Antiquities Near Miltown Malbay

Thomas Johnson Westropp
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Clare County Library


Western Clare has for over a century enjoyed an ever widening fame for its health resorts. Kilkee, Lehinch and Lisdoonvarna have advanced from unknown hamlets to widely known places of enjoyment. Another bathing place, however, has retrograded rather than advanced. Miltown Malbay gets little attention in the popular guides, and has almost escaped the notice of antiquaries and scientists. It is, however, well worthy of a better fate. Those who have loitered in its thyme-scented fields, along its open and, at times, too stormy bay, or watched the solemn but glorious sunsets, or the mirages, from the tops of its sandhills, will agree with us as to its charm. Its very quietness, as compared with the better-known watering places, adds not a little to its fascination for those who do not desire to be in a transported Dublin or Limerick such as they find at Lehinch or Kilkee.

To deal with its neighbourhood as an antiquary is our object in this paper. Those who take an interest in the ancient remains of the place may need a hint as to where to find the most characteristic objects. We purpose to take them to specimens of the churches, castles, forts and cromlechs, and hope that, though no Clonmacnoise or Quin be found there, we may note objects of no little interest in our rambles.

Miltown village plays no part in the older history of Clare. It evidently lies where once a wild, wolf-haunted district lay, near “the white strand and ever complaining wave, sea flanked, rich in ocean’s teeming wealth,” as Macgrath described the western half of Thomond in the fourteenth century; “the land of the two invers,” the creeks of Doonbeg and Liscannor, as O’Huidhrin sang half a century later. The townland of Breffy still commemorates the savage beasts in its name, “place of wolves,” and by a strange coincidence the wolf is also commemorated near Lisdoonvarna and Kilkee. The next name, Poulavullin, becoming Ballyvullen, still retained in the translation Miltown, marks human settlement and civilisation. It also was found as a forgotten townland name, Poulavullin, or mill-pool.

The older history is more suggestive than definite. The great tidal wave and earthquake of 802, which spilt Inis Fita (Mutton Island) into three, heaped the coast with sand, and destroyed a multitude of people—the flight of king Torlough O’Brien, when his expelled uncle was reinstated at Clonroad by a dangerous ally, Thomas de Clare, in 1276, and he himself fled down the coast to the hospitable Teige O’Brien of Tromra, and the MacMahons, — and that of Turlough O Brien to Cathairruis, or Caherrush castle, on the southern horn of the bay, in 1573. Such are a few of these events. Still earlier there were rude settlements on the sandhills, people living on shell-fish and sea-birds, and using stone weapons. Their hut-circles and hearths lie under the harsh grass and sand of the sandhills. Miltown also claims its memories of the “great fleet invincible” in the name “Spanish Point” and the Spaniards’ graves. No wreck is recorded to have taken place on the point, but we can easily believe that the currents heaped its reefs with bodies from the wrecks at Tromra and Doonbeg.

The more interesting ruins are, however, to be found in the “hinterland” and we purpose describing those in the parishes of Kilfarboy and Kilmurry-Ibricane, together with the remains at Boulynagreina Lake on Mount Callan — all within a radius of ten miles from Miltown.

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