Clare County Library
Clare History
Home | Library Catalogue | Forums | Foto | Maps | Archaeology | Folklore | Genealogy | Museum | Search this Website | Copyright Notice | Visitors' Book | What's New
Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare

Oh! to be free like Eagle of heaven,
That soars over valley and mountain all day;
Then flies to the rock which the thunder hath riven,
And nurses her young with the fresh bleeding prey!

The wild and romantic mountain scenery, known by the name of the Eagle's Nest, is situate about seven miles south east of New Quay. The way to it lies along the northern base of Ross Raly mountain, on the side of which, at an elevation of upwards of 200 feet above the level of the sea is Patrick's Well, to which we shall advert in some future ramble. Hence, pursuing the direction of Curranrue village, as far as the intersection of the cross-roads, the traveller has to journey along the highway leading from Curranrue to Ennis. The latter road is one of the best made and most level in the kingdom, and runs, for some miles through a naked rocky district, along the foot of a chain of lofty mountains, claiming attention for their sameness, if not possessed of other interest. This road was originally laid out and executed under the auspices of Burton Bindon, Esq., a gentleman to whose indefatigable and spirited exertions the improvement of this neighbourhood owes much. Great public advantage has accompanied the amelioration of Mr. Bindon's private estate wherever he has applied his persevering talents.

The Eagle's Nest is built in high and inaccessible cliffs, on the townland of Kilekella, otherwise called Chula, which forms the eastern termination of Sliebh Carron, and is the property of Francis Davis, Esq., of Hampstead. This mountain presents on the side just mentioned, an awful, perpendicular face of limestone rock, degenerating into something like clay slate, several hundred feet high, and at least half a mile in length. Its dark and frowning cliffs appear to the cautious visitor too steep to afford a footing, even to goats; yet here upon the giddy brow of the dreadful precipice have we seen too daring females appear no larger than crows, while plucking far above us a scanty bed of ferns and wild lichen from the mountains craggy side, whence a single false step would send them headlong into eternity.— What a low value is here set upon human life!— to stake it thus against an almost worthless weed! The aspect of this portion of Sliebh Carron resembles the face of a huge quarry purposely cut down perpendicularly through the mountain's side to a level with its base by some gigantic hand. The report of a gun fired a few hundred yards from the nest, resembles the continued roar of thunder, so loud and oft repeated are the echoes reverberated from the several projections of the rock.

Close under the precipice stand a ruinous gable, and part of the north side wall of a small church or oratory, founded by St. Colman, better known as Mac Duach, who lived early in the seventh century, and of whom a more particular notice is reserved for our ramble to Kilmacduach, where he founded a bishopric. This ruinous oratory, which goes by the name of Kinallack, seems to have been of an early antiquity, and was originally very small. It was enlarged in aftertimes, as appears from an offset in the gable. The yet remaining small square headed window in its north wall, the aperture of which is not more than 13 inches by six, leads one to suppose that the structure was in what is known as the Cyclopean style of architecture. There is another and much more perfect specimen of Cyclopean architecture at Termon, about four miles from the Eagle’s Nest.

Near the old oratory are some modern graves, in which children have been interred. There is also a well hardby, for enclosing which was erected a wall, now venerable for its antiquity. The spring was heretofore overhung by one of the few thorn bushes which decorate the place; but even that shelter was torn from the fountain by the violence of storm on the night of the 6th of January, 1839-a storm which spared not anything, sacred or profane, ancient of modern, in its resistless career. This spring well is called Tubber Macduach, or the well of Duach’s son, by which name another fountain near Kinvarra Castle is also known. On the north side of, and outside the oratory, yet remains a rude cubic pile of stones, resembling an altar. Several curious stones, now grown hoary with age, are deposited thereon, and these being respected as are reverenced as such relics of St. Colman. Some of them are of the size and figure of an ostrich egg. Others are flat with impressions in them, and are supposed by the peasantry to have received these impressions from their having accidentally served as a resting place for the Saint’s hands. All these relics seem to be of sand stone not to be commonly met with in this neighbourhood.

Elevated some 20 or 30 feet above the church, is a rude cave excavated beneath a huge rock on the mountain side; it is called Leabadh Macduach, signifying Macduach’s bed (this Cell is also known by the name Kinallia which seems to be from Cin, a bed, and Aill, a great steep, precipice, rock or cliff). Tradition says, that this is the cell of hermitage in which St. Colman spent some time amongst the Burrin mountains, as related in his life by Colgan. On a slightly elevated table land of shattered limestone south east of the church is an altar-like erection of loose stones. Near to this is a stone coffin or grave, now opened, and encircled with heaps of stone, appearing as if casually thrown together, and which leads one to believe that it was formerly similar to its neighbouring altar, and that the scattered stones now strewn about, are the materials which once formed a second altar, covering the burial place, now desecrated and exposed. The people here relate that this was the burial place of Macduach and of his attendant. It is called Laught-divanough, probably Leacht Dithreab hach, which seems to be in Irish the Hermit’s Grave, or the pile of stones in memory of the hermit.

At the distance of about five hundred yards north east from the cell before mentioned, is a large and level expanse of rock, whose surface is perfectly even and smooth, with the exception of the fissures after mentioned, and the similtude to many tracks of men, horses and dogs. It bears much resemblance to lava, and no person who looks upon it can doubt that it was originally one vast aggregate sheet, the fissures in which were caused by its having been raised from below by some upheaving effort of nature. This is called in Irish Bothur-leanallteach-na-mias, which signifies the Way following the Dishes. The people of the neighbourhood account for the place having acquired that appellation by relation in substance the following story of St. Colman, as extracted from Keating, where, by the way, the Saint is called Mochua, an error sufficiently reproved by Dr. Lanigan to render farther notice of its here unnecessary.

In order that the reader may fully understand the story, it is right to premise, that Guaire, one of the Kings of Connaught, who was a contemporary and relation of St. Colman, kept his palace in those days at Kinvarra, in the county Galway, then called Durlus Gauire, not far from the Eagle’s Nest. St. Colman was at the time accompanied in his secluded life, under Mount Carron, amidst the Burren mountains, by a young clerk his disciple. Their food was water cresses and wild herbs; their drink the pure spring, and deer skins served them for clothes.

It seems to be from such well known frugal habits of hermits in former days that the harmonious Goldsmith drew his picture of one. His lines correctly depict our Saint under the Eagle’s Nest-

“But from the mountain’s grassy side,
A guiltless feast I bring;
A scrip with herbs and fruits supplied,
And water from the spring.”

Be the Poet indebted for the inspiration to what he may, Colman and his disciple constructed their habitation and oratory encircled with trees, and here they remained in Burrin forest seven years, without conversing with any person whatsoever as biographers inform us.

The following is Keating’s version of the legend respecting the way of the Dishes. After mentioning St. Colman’s having retired to this hermitage, the historian (2nd vol.) writes- “He had a clergyman to attend him. In this retirement they observed great abstinence; their food consisting of coarse barley bread, with water cresses and spring water from the fountain. Thus, they spent the lent until Easter-day, when the Saint’s attendant asked permission to go to Durlus (Durlus, Watercress) to the Court of Gauire to refresh himself with some flesh meat. Colman (called by Keating, Moclua (Mochua may be an appellation derived from this translation -Mó signifies a man, a slave; & Cua means flesh, meat, ie, Man of Meat) ) told him that he would supply him without encountering the journey, and accordingly prostrating himself he importunately implored God to provide the desired flesh meat for his servant. It happened at the very instant (as some M.S.S. relate, but with little truth, I am afraid, adds the historian) that the servants of Gauire were laying out dinner on the table, when, to their great surprise the dishes were hurried away by an invisible power and conveyed to the Saint’s cell. The Prince and his whole court were amazed at this wonderful occurrence, and being enraged at the disappointment, he ordered a body of his Horse Guards to pursue the dishes as they travelled in the air, and he himself followed with the principle of his nobility, resolving to recover, and bring the dinner back to his court. The dishes having arrived at Colman’s cell (it is probable from this story that this cell was formerly called Aragal-ne-feile, a name found in the Tain-bo-Cuailgne or Cattle Raid of Cooley- â Uracal, a cell, grotto, retired dwelling, a hut, and Féile (g.s.), a feast, hospitality), presented themselves with great submission before the devout Saint and his clerk. The latter had scarcely put a bit in his mouth, when he espied a great number of horseman advancing at full speed. The saint comforted him by the assurance that it was Gauire, who was pursing the meat, and he engaged that the pursuers should not approach nearer until he had eaten as much as he thought fit. Colman accordingly offered up another short petition to Heaven, when immediately the feet of the horses stuck fast in the rock, and the riders remained immovable on their backs. After his attendant had eaten enough, the Saint released Gauire and his party, who, presenting themselves before him implored his benediction in the most submissive manner.” The historian adds- “Whatever share of credit, or contempt this relation may meet with, it is most certain that the road leading from Durlus to the fountain, where the Saint and his clerk retired to fast during the time of lent, which is the length of five miles, is known to this day in the Irish language by the name of Bothur-na-mias (Mias also signifies an altar, and probably was the true derivation of the name of the road before the invention of the monfish legend of the asporation of dishes), which in English signifies the Dishes road.”

The author just mentioned farther writes as follows, also connected with the now so-called Eagles’ Nest : -”As a M.S. of some credit, though of small importance, relates when Macduach was retired into the wilderness for the benefit of his devotion, he had no living creatures about him, (where was his clerk?) except a cock, a mouse, and a fly. The use of the cock was to give him notice of the time of the night, that he might know when to apply himself to his prayers. The mouse, it seems, had his proper office assigned him, which was to prevent the saint from sleeping above five hours within the space of twenty-four : for, when the exercise of his devotions, which were performed on his knees with great reverence and regularity, had so fatigued his spirits that they required longer refreshment, and Macduach was willing to indulge himself, the mouse would come to his ears and scratch him with his feet until he was perfectly awake. The fly always attended on him when he was reading. It had, it seems, the sense to walk along the lines of the book, and when the saint had tired his eyes, and was willing to desist, the fly would stay upon the first letter of the next sentence, and by that means direct him where he was to begin. An excellent monitor ! But as fate would have it, these three sensible creatures unfortunately died, which was so great an affliction to Macduach that he immediately dispatched a letter to St. Columkille, then in Scotland, lamenting the death of his companions, and entreating his advice how to bear up against the misfortune. Columkille, with Christian patience, advised him to mitigate him grief, inasmuch as misfortunes attend on all sublunary things; adding, that his three defunct companions having been mortal, were subject to the inexorable stroke of death, and therefore it became the saint not to be surprised or lament their departure in an immoderate manner.” So far Keating. The reader may judge to what extent the relation merits the rebuke of Dr. Lanigan, who, in a note to the life of Saint Macduach, charges Keating with having picked up some ‘prodigious fables’ concerning this saint.

South-east of Sliebh Carron there is a mountain of the Trap tribe, curiously crowned as if with circular artificial breastsworks. On another yet more contiguous mountain is a large conical detached heap of stones, called Leim-Na-Pucan (Pucán is a he-goat: but Púca, signifies a Puck, elf, sprite or Habgoblin) (the Leap of the He-Goat.)

Be the foregoing legends of St. Macduach well or ill founded, it is at all events certain that eagles have built their aerie in the wild crags overlooking his hermitage; and that lambs and poultry, within miles around became their prey, until in later times the farmers of the district combined to banish them, which they succeeded in accomplishing within the last two years. Ravens have now taken up their abode in the once royal residence of the king of the feathered race.

The inhabitants of this part of Burrin, although hardy as their native rocks, posses a degree of hospitality and civility to strangers, that would do honour to more favoured climes, Of their habits, it may with truth be said- “Some sterner virtues o’er the mountain’s breast

May sit like falcons cowering on the nest.” Should this fugitive paper meet the eyes of those valued friends (the wife and family of Wm. J. Skirrett Esq. of Finnevarra, Co. Clare), who accompanied the writer to the locality he essays to describe, he will be amply repaid if it perchance call forth one pleasing reminiscence of the few, but happy hours spent with them at the Eagle's Nest.

<< Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare