Blackhead, The Burren (1891)

And now, after this digression, and a short pause which we consider necessary, to take some mental notes of "passing events," we proceed on our journey to Blackhead. For miles the drive is along the coast, with the sea on one side and a line of limestone hills on the other hand; every few miles we travel reveal new and enchanting scenery, till at length we reach the turn in the road, at the head of Galway Bay, which is the extreme point of land on the coast of North Clare. And here we stand amazed at the expansiveness of the sea view; we have objects before us, seen from the Cliffs of Moher, which appeared a long way off, now as it were spread almost within our reach, the Arran Islands, as if only a few miles distant, the Galway coast, across the Bay, is so near that we discern small objects. Salthill, a health-resort, and the town of Galway itself are within range of our vision; as to the sea-"the broad Atlantic"-who can adequately describe its vastness and its grandeur. Seen from a high elevation, such as we now occupy, who is competent to portray its sublimity; everything appears so calm one imagines it is in repose, but when we see those white specks now and again, which we know are wave-crests, we feel then that its repose is only apparent, and that there is a voice in the wave, but we hear it not; then, just look at those mountain ranges, which were like clouds when viewed from a greater distance, are now more easily discerned, and the whole, including islands, sea, mountains and landscape, focussed into a compass which the eye scans from the spot where we are standing, and such a combination of wild natural scenery, we venture to assert, cannot be surpassed in any other part of the world.

Behind us is Blackhead, rising hundreds of feet above the roadway where we stand, acting as a fence on one side and for a protection at the other hand, only dwarf stone wall, and down below the sea dashing in all its fury. An ascent to the summit of Blackhead, which attains an altitude of 647 feet, reveals greater wonder still, the panorama being more extensive on all sides, and to one that loves the sea and its surroundings it is enchanting with
"Echoes and waterfalls and pointed crags
That into music touch the passing breeze."

Proceeding for miles alongside this steep cliff and high mountain range, from the side of which the road was excavated, the sea on the other side, we discern objects more clearly across on the opposite shore, according as the bay narrows on approaching its termination, and arriving at Ballyvaughan, with an appetite for luncheon, soon have the desire gratified. And now, glancing at the scenery of this valley, with Ballyvaughan in the foreground, without doubt it is a most interesting place, and a nice retreat to spend a holiday in. The principal hotel is on the shore, and in our experience it is well conducted, and one can be made comfortable in it, as we ourselves experienced when staying under its roof. A steamer plys between Galway and Ballyvaughan, taking passengers to and from Lisdoonvarna, and excursions are made also to the Arran Islands from it and from Galway. Corcomroe Abbey, founded, it is said by Donald, King of Limerick, in 1194, others say in the year 1200 by his son, Donagh Carbrae, is in the neighbourhood, and here the antiquarian has a rich treat in the study of its sculpture and architecture, and of the events which have given it a foremost place in the Annals of Ireland.

In many a hard fought battle in ancient days these plains and hills were reddened with the blood of the O'Briens and O'Loughlins, and other clansmen of the period. The career of the Princes of Thomond and Lords of Inchiquin are the most remarkable of all the other great Irish families which influenced the destinies of Ireland for a considerable period. Their history might be said to be the History of Ireland at one time. The castles, churches and abbeys, which they built and endowed in Clare, Tipperary and Limerick are evidence of their great wealth, and of the extensive and extended powers which they exercised in former days; and notwithstanding all the turmoil, dissentions, strife and confiscations which history records of the Clan O'Brien, the Marquis of Thomond retained immense possessions till his decease not very many years since, and even the present representative of the family has in Dromoland a home worthy of his high lineage, and enjoys the revenue of a property of vast extent in his native county, and no matter how one may differ with the religion or the politics of the great house of the O'Brien's, one must take a pride in them on account of the distinguished part they played in the history of Ireland for centuries, although not always admiring the means employed and the plans adopted to conquer their foes or curb the rebellion of their allies and clansmen, as well as their own kinsmen.

In this Abbey of Corcomroe, King Conor O'Brien was interred, being slain in a battle not far from its site; again quoting from Mr. Westropp's paper-"and the monks of the abbey buried the King on the north side of the chancel, and put over him his effigy carved in black marble, with his flowing hair and tunic, pointed shoes and a reliquary round his neck, his sceptre and crown adorned with fleur-de-lis." AND we who have visited this abbey saw the effigy just as it is described, and in a good state of preservation after a lapse of six centuries, although no effort was ever made to protect it from the ravages of decay, or the hand of man, until a Government department took charge of the abbey within the past few years, and now abbey and effigy are preserved as one of our national monuments.

A drive to New Quay is also an enjoyable one, and in going and returning there are many objects and places of interest to be seen.

We hear and read of "Arabia Petra," and tourists and explorers have written about it, but nowhere, we think, is there such a wealth of rock as in this valley of limestone in the neighbourhood of Ballyvaughan.

The bold mountain range above the town, appears from its formation and the peculiar marks on the face of the rock to be at one time the limit of the sea, which probably having receded, or an upheaval of the coast, left valley and mountain high and dry as they are. From Corcomroe Abbey the route may be diversified by taking a southerly direction in order to see the deep cutting called by some the "Kyber Pass," through which the road leading to Carran was excavated out of the solid lime-stone rock, and for a considerable distance these rocks, which are almost perpendicular, and several feet high, are the only fences to the roadway at both sides. After passing Carran, and as one ascends the higher elevation, the country looks like a desert, no fences to the road, and altogether a dreary-looking spot. On one side is a valley bounded by a high lime-stone peak called the "Eagle's Nest," and on the other side a wide extent of country, rocks being the most prominent feature in the landscape. Proceeding onward we reach the southern brow of this hill, which we entered upon from the northern side, and now we have southward and westward a splendid view of hill, lake, wood, valley, and plain for miles, the view extending beyond Ennis, which is seen in the distance. From here it is a rapid descent for a mile or so, and on reaching the level road we have a choice of either returning direct by Lemineagh Castle or driving round the beautiful lake of Inchiquin. Taking the latter route we turn to the left, and on arriving near Corofin, wheel to the right, and soon after ascend the mountain side, then through a dense forest, amid a profusion of ferns, with tiny waterfalls trickling down the mountain, and vistas of the lake below, dotted with little islands, and on its shore old ruins, Corofin, with a church which "tops the neighbouring hill," a few miles beyond, and then back to Lisdoonvarna or Ballyvaughan.

It is due to the memory of a nobleman some years deceased to say that he erected, at his sole expense, a system of water supply in this valley of north Clare, which redounds to his memory as a public benefactor, and which event is recorded on an imposing-looking fountain in Ballyvaughan. It being the first work, we believe, of such magnitude inaugurated for rural supply in Ireland, it reflects the greater honour, not only on the deceased nobleman himself, but on the agent as well, who co-operated in bringing the scheme to completion with so much success, and with so much advantage to those living in a wide district of country who were subject to water-famine every summer or in dry seasons.

Having seen all that is worth observing in Ballyvaughan, instead of returning by Blackhead, we alter our route landward, towards the "corkscrew" hill, and turning to the left, on reaching the foot of a steep hill near Gregan's Castle, arrive at a point on the road which, to look at even from a short distance, appears as if the highway terminates there; the driver asked where he was to go next; we told him, "drive on," but still he could not be convinced there was an outlet, and asked again "whereto?" But we, knowing the locality from previous experience, urged him to proceed, and at last, obeying orders, he was surprised to see the road opening up before him as he progressed, and then on we went, winding our way upwards, from left to right, and right to left, in zig-zag fashion, sealing a height which, looked at from below, one would imagine that a pedestrian, much less a horse and vehicle, could possibly ascend so steep an incline. And proceeding in this way, at walking pace, for a considerable distance, up this height, gaining, on the principle of the screw-action, a few yards only, at each turn, till at length we arrive at the summit of this formidable obstacle, and then standing to rest, and contemplate, look backward at the glorious view of sea, land, wood, and rock, down in the valley below, and far away in the County Galway.

Here we close, because the remainder of our journey back to Lisdoonvarna, has to a great extent, been described already, when writing of Kilfenora; indeed we have exceeded the limit prescribed when we undertook the responsibility of writing this sketch, our original intention being simply to give to the public our own delightful experiences when sojourning at the coast, as we wandered among the rocks, and loitered on the cliffs, and, at evening, as the sun was setting, watched the orb of day drop, as it were, into the ocean, amid such a natural illumination as would put to shame the best efforts of a pyrotechnist, but the theme was so fascinating we were enticed to add line to line, and page to page, in order to give some idea of its wild grandeur to those who never before visited the west coast.
It is to us a labour of love to describe places with which we are so familiar, where we have so many friends, and where some pleasant days, as well as hours, have been spent in early life as well as when age has blanched the hair and made the step less elastic. We have often felt, like some ill-managed ship at sea in danger of foundering, when attempting to describe scenery which the pencil and not the pen would more fitly illustrate. And now having surmounted all impediments and overcome the difficulties which the inexperienced in writing a book of even this small compass have to encounter, in conclusion ask our readers to forget its imperfections, having regard to the fact that all has been written with a view solely of exciting the curiosity of such of our readers as have never had the opportunity of beholding the scenes described, which, in our opinion, should be more widely known because so suitable for health and recreation, and should these humble efforts of ours induce any one to visit the beautiful region we have so imperfectly depicted, it shall be an ample reward for the labour and time expended in writing of the Holiday Haunts on the West Coast of Clare. Finis.

Holiday Haunts on the West Coast of Clare by H.B.H
Courtesy of Clare Local Studies Project

Back to Holiday Haunts in West Clare

The Burren

Back to Clare Places - Ballyvaughan