|Clare County Library||
|Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare|
NO. 1 DRIVE TO BLACKHEAD
is a cliff, whose high and bending head
After passing the village of Burrin and the new Roman Catholic Chapel, about three miles from New Quay, is Pouldoody - long and justly celebrated for its excellent oysters. The London Penny Magazine (No. 335, page 236), published under the auspices of the Society for Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, mentions, amongst the best beds in the United Kingdom, this bank as remarkable for oysters of superior flavour. It is at present the property of Mr. Ryan, a gentleman no way churlish of its delicious produce. Mr. Ryan resides at Muckinish Cottage, which, situate on the right hand side of the road at the bottom of a bay of the same name, commands a delightful view of Finvarra House, the mansion of William Skirrett, Esq., and its improvements backed by the craggy cliffs of Burneen - hill.
Within a few hundred yards of the point where the road to Ballyvaughan branches off from that leading to Ennis, is an extensive lough, denominated Moaneen, - a name signifying “a little bog,” or marsh. The lough is well stocked with eels, and it is also a favourite haunt for snipe, which resort thither in great number. Some miles to the South-East of this place, in the inaccessible and beetling steeps of Mount Carron, is an eagle’s erie, whence the royal birds descend daily, about noon, to Lough Moneen, for the purpose of preying on its winged and finny occupants.
The ruins of Muckinish Castle (Turlough, the son of Owny, son of Mcloughlin O'Loughlin (of Burren) was in the beginning of the month of March in this year taken prisoner on Muicinis by Turlough, the son of Donnell O'Brien, and put to death at Ennis by Captain Brabazon at the ensuing summer sessions. Four masters ad an. 1584) stand on the verge of the sea, Pouldoody bay, not far from Mr. Ryan’s cottage. They present the appearance of long decay; one-half only of the castle has survived the shock which razed on the reminder to the foundation. The partially demolished arches and hanging vaults yet unfallen seem like a sad monumental mourner pausing in melancholy silence over the prostrate wreck of kindred walls and sidelong towers which lie around them. The desolate keep of Muckinish is now one of the many memorials in Ireland, pointing back to that ruthless puritanical spirit when scourged the land in days long gone by. Some of the fallen masses of masonry here strewed around are very large, and still exhibit entire the prostrate apertures once used for windows, chimneys, and portholes. Adjoining the castle are the remains of a more modern illicit malt kiln, contrived to serve the double purpose of drying malt and burning lime. The gently-rising hill of Muckinish will amply repay the autumnal visitor for the trouble of ascending it, by presenting him with an enchanting prospect, which embraces the ruined castle just described, relieved by rich corn fields, the sea, and Beha mountain in the distance.
About a mile and an half from Muckinish, on the right, is the castle of Ballynacreggan (Ballynascregan was called shan Muicinis, or Old Hog-Island. Uaithne Mor O'Lochlainn is said to have inhabited this castle about AD. 1720. The other castle of Muckinis was called "Muckinish Noc, or New Muckinish. It too was the abode of an O'Loghlin), the property of Major Kirwan, who caused it to be repaired a few years ago; it is a square building of the Elizabethan fashion. The large and ancient stone mantle-piece in some of the apartments, although time-worn and mutilated, are still worth the inspection of the curious. This must have been a place of importance so early as the reign of Queen Elizabeth - erected on an Isthmus, it presented an effectual barrier against all communication by land, with the fertile peninsula hardby. Ballynacreggan means the house on the little rock.
Beyond Ballynacreggan, and within a mile of Ballyvaughan, on a rising ground to the left, stand the ruins of Drumcreehy Church; there is but little remarkable about it. Near this church is a piece of land called. ‘Bishop’s Quarter’ - the meaning of which appellation may be collected from an inquisition taken the 8th of October, 1629, which, amongst other lands and temporalities appertaining to the See of Kilfenora, finds ‘the land of Dromcrihi containing two cesses of land, of which one quarter was held in demesne by the Bishop.
Proceeding a little farther, we met, on the same side of the road, a modern well, furnished with a pump for raising water to supply a small stone cistern close by the road side. This well and pump must have been much needed, as there is not any other supply of fresh water in the neighbourhood.
The tourist next arrives at Ballyvaughan - a village still apparently in its infancy, although the remaining vestiges of a castle on the sea shore, as well as ancient documents, tell of it’s former importance. This place is marked by the name of Ballybaghan on Mercator's map, and by that of Beghan on the chart prefixed to Pacata Hibernia. It was granted the 16th of June, in the 21st year of the reign of Charles the Second, to Colonel Carey Dillon, as containing one cartron and three acres of land, by the name of Ballevoghan, at a quit-rent of eleven pence. An island, as situate in the barony of Burrin, and therein spelled ‘Iscanlan Island,’ (it is now known as Scanlan's Island, which contains about 50 acres. It is the estate of Wm. J. Skirrit Esq. and is near the peninsula or Finvarra. The mistake in the above text originated in the misspelling in the grant) was also given to Dillon by the same grant, in which it is mentioned as containing 48 acres, 2 roods, and 15 perches statute measures. Can this be the island now commonly called Islanlue, and which lies in the centre of the several lands bestowed by the same grant? Islanlue is at present nothing more than a small and barren rock, inhabited by sea-birds and encompassed by dangerous reefs which surround it below high-water mark on every side. If the waves have thus, in a comparatively calm bay, washed away 48 acres of land in less than two centuries, what devastation must the surges of the wide Atlantic have committed on our exposed western coast in the lapse of ages! There is a weekly market held in Ballyvaughan on Thursdays, and fairs are held there every 23d of June and 29th of September. The inhabitants are principally fishermen. A party of the Coast Guard is stationed here; their signal-post forms a handsome object, as seen from the Blackhead side of the village. Ballyvaughan bay is so shallow that none but small craft can approach the village; and even these must wait for high water or at least for half flood. The Duke of Buckingham, who is the proprietor of a considerable tract of land in this neighbourhood, keeps a well-equipped boat here for the convenience of his tenantry, who convey by it, at a moderate expense, the produce of their farms to the market of Galway. There is a copy of an exceedingly curious Irish record of the manner in which the O’Brien family became possessed of the lands by Ballyvaughan, given in Mr. Hardiman's Collection of Ancient Irish Muniments, from which their right appears to have originated in the circumstances of a person described as the son of Madra Dun (the Brown Dog) having stolen a cow and brought it to Lewis O’Loughlin, the then owner of that townland, who thereby forfeited it. The same document informs us that three crosses of intordiction were to be set up at Ballyvaughan, which, in the original Irish, is written Baile - I - Beachain. No trace of these crosses is now remaining.
On the road-side, about two miles on the way to Black-head from Ballyvaughan, an extraordinary natural fountain of fresh water arrests the traveller’s attention. The water rises in a perpendicular jet of half-a-foot in height through an orifice of a few inches wide, in a solid horizontal rock. It seems as if Providence intended this ceaseless and plentiful limpid geyser solely for the benefit of those persons living in that vicinity; for the water, after thus suddenly emerging from its limestone bed, runs only three or four yards until it hides itself beneath the same firm covering from which it sprang. This well is called Tubbercornane, probably from the Irish Tobar, a spring, and Corna, a drinking cup. The neighbouring peasantry call it a Blessed Well (there was a St. Carnech who died in 530. He was an abbott and bishop. 1. Lanigans Tober-Corna probably means Carnech's well); but they cannot give any information respecting whether it is dedicated to any patron. However, it is to them a blessing, indeed, for which they cannot be too thankful.
At Gleninagh are the ruins of the ancient parish church, encompassed by a small burial-ground, some short distance between the road and the sea coast. The building is a parallelogram, measuring about thirty feet in length by twelve in breadth; it is not more than nine feet high. The doorway, which is at the south side, exhibits a pointed arch. Three small and narrow windows admitted the only light that illumed the interior of the building: two of these are crowned by semicircular heads; the third was capped by a square one. The altar, which still remains, is a diminutive one, composed of very small stones, and having beneath it a recess-probably formerly used for keeping the altar vessels;- but it is now a receptacle for bleached bones, and other types of mortality.
Passing along a pathway, over green fields, from the church towards the sea-coast, the tourist arrives at Gleninagh Castle, once a handsome and stately building, but which is now thatched with straw, and used as a barn by Mr. Blood, its proprietor. It is in the form of the letter L. In this structure is a large, and yet unmutilated, stone mantle-piece. When visited by the writer of these lines, the upper part of the building, was used as a dove-cot, and abounded in pigeons. The sea beats within a hundred yards of the Castle's base, on a flat, but bold, and rocky coast. Here are more than a dozen canoes drawn up high and dry upon the green turf: they are all made of ozier ribs, covered on the outside with patched canvass, and form a tiny and frail fleet, ever ready to brave the surges of the deep, when opportune times for fishing offer.
Close hardby the Castle just described, is a fountain dedicated, as the people tell us, to Saint Laurence. The patron's day is said to be kept on the 2d of May. This fountain is called Croghneva, (Tobar na Croisi Naomhtha i.e. the well of the Holy Cross) which seems to mean “The Holy Hut,” from the Irish CRO, a hut, and Neamhadh (g.s.), holy. The well, now being written of, is enclosed by walls of solid masonry, vaulted overhead, and having in front an aperture resembling a low Gothic window, with its sill elevated about three-and-a-half feet from the ground. Upon an offset in the wall, within the interior, are human skulls, and round flat stones, resembling cakes of home-made bread. A great many stones of a similar kind are to be found at a well near the church of Noghavale, between Ballyvaughan and Kilfenora. This well and its circumscribing structure, are encompassed with a clump of shrubs, and stunted shrub-like trees. The place is reported to be the resort of numerous devotees, on particular days set apart for the performance of acts of pilgrimage and devotion. There, however, seems to be some mistake as to the patron's day, for the 2d of May is the day given in the calendar for commemorating St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria.
Should the weather prove fine, a person leaving Gleninagh has a delightful drive round Blackhead, by the new road which runs nearly level and close to the sea. Far above the traveller, about half-way up the mountain, the old, and now obsolete, way is still visible. This drive, however, demands a steady horse and good nerves. While a beetling wall of frowning rock, more than one hundred feet high, impends over the passenger's head on the land side, the deep ocean is foaming far below, and always visible through a reticulated parapet, composed of single stones piled upon each other: you thus move between Scylla and Charybdis, expecting to be crushed by the falling debris on the one side, or swallowed in the deep seawave on the other. The shore here is so bold, that troops might, in moderate weather, drop from the bowsprit of a man-of-war upon the Queens highway. From this place the road winds along the coast by Fanore point towards the celebrated Cliffs of Moher. Blackhead, called in the old maps Cean Boraine, or Burrin Head, is situate in latitude 53?. 8m. 20s. north, and longitude 9?. 13m. It forms a striking feature on this coast, as seen from sea, or from the Isles of Arran, and it is the south-western limit of the fine Bay of Galway.