Carrigaholt, Loophead (1891)

Carrigaholt Castle is a much longer distance away, and would be too long a walk for anyone except an athlete. Carrigaholt, or Carrigaholty, means the "Town of the rock of the fleet," and its origin is traceable to the anchorage for vessels, under a rock, on the shore. This old Castle is another of those structures which are so numerous in the County Clare, and which, like all other ancient buildings of the same type and character, has a history which would fill a bulky volume to narrate. A mansion, quite close to it, is inhabited by one of the local gentry, and a dismantled battery not far away. A "Patron's" or Saint's well is also near on the shore, and as the fishermen passed in their canoes with nets piled up, rowing to their fishing grounds, each might be observed taking off his hat, with all due reverence, as if engaged in prayer, no doubt seeking protection from the angry waves, as well as asking for success in their fishing operations. To us it is a source of deep regret that all old ruins like Carrigaholt Castle, in fact no matter of what class or style, are not taken charge of by the Government, and, preserved for posterity as "National Monuments." Lapse of years and the influence of wind and weather are making sad havoc of many of them. As time rolls, all these old ruins, moats, stone circles, ancient places of sepulture, and other historical sites, will be thought more of than we, of the present day, think of them, and therefore these ancient records of the work of the past ages should be restored, and maintained, if for no other object than to illustrate the architecture of remote ages, for the benefit of future generations.

It is not at all improbable that owing to the apathy of the men of the present era that our successors will censure us just as much as we condemn those who in proceeding ages disfigured and destroyed so many of those abbeys and castle which even in their ruinous state are beautiful. The formation of antiquarian associations in modern days is evidence that we are now endeavouring, in some measure, to atone for past neglect, in arresting the progress of decay of a few of the most interesting of the number remaining. All interested in antiquarian research, we trust, will not rest satisfied until the study of antiquarian subjects is enforced in our National Schools and Colleges, and that honours, rewards, and prizes be given as an incentive to teacher and pupil alike, with a view to preserve all ancient structures and places of interest, and by such means prevent acts of vandalism which are so common among the thoughtless, and which are not consistent with modern ideas of civilization. Here and there, as we proceed along the coast from Kilkee to Loophead, are so many objects worth noting that one should not be in a hurry; it is essential, in order to realize the beauty of the surrounding objects, to pause often and survey sea, sky and land, and with every inspiration, as it were, fill one's mind with something to carry away to dwell upon, and think of, and talk of at our own fireside, and among one's friends and acquaintances, in places remote, perhaps from these scenes of holiday life. There are many curious twistings and turnings of the coast to be observed as one drives along, but of all the remarkable features of coast-line there is nothing to surpass the interesting sight at the "Bridges of Ross." Here, with the sea rushing beneath, we stand upon arches which the mind of man never designed, and which the hand of man never formed; beholding such natural, and yet art-like, formation, one is lost in amazement.

Continuing our journey we reach Loophead, where we find ourselves in the midst of such a wide expanse of sea, and vast extent of coast line, that our feelings are excited to the highest pitch of admiration; on the one hand the estuary of the Shannon is in view for miles inland-a river, no doubt, it is called, but in our opinion, owing to its great depth, and its vastness in every way to Foynes Island, it would be more fitly described by calling it an arm of the sea-and stretching far away is the "broad Atlantic"-
"Thou huge heaving sea,
Thou art speaking to me;
Ever strong, ever free,
Is the voice of the sea:
Ever rising with power,
To the call of the hour,
Is the swell of thy tides as they flow."

And across the mouth of the Shannon the coast of the kingdom of Kerry is visible, with its headlands, capes, and bays, and standing above all, on the coast line, are the Brandon Mountains, near which lived the saint who gave them his name, and to whom tradition assigns the honour of being the first navigator, from the old world, who touched the shores of the new: and more inland still, the "Reeks," rising from near Killarney, lift their heads above the neighbouring hills-each and all a picture to admire, and a prospect to enjoy, to which "distance lends enchantment to the view." At one's feet are rugged rocks, and deep indentions of coast, with the sea seething beneath, through a chasm which separates the mainland from a small island opposite, which either the action of the mighty Atlantic wave, or some upheaval of nature, cast adrift in ages past. This wide gulf, a local gentleman attempted to span with a bridge, in order to obtain access to the island, but owing to the impracticability of obtaining a landing on the opposite shore of the island in order to work from both sides, he was obliged to conduct his operations from the mainland only, which increased his difficulties to such an extent that the work was abandoned when the bridge had been built about half way across and there it is, jutting out, as it were, in mid air, crumbling fast to decay, and the little island remains, as we believe as it always was, inaccessible to man or beast.

Standing beside this fragment of man's ingenuity, and looking across at the almost perpendicular sides of this derelict island rock opposite, and bending over to catch a view of the rushing waters down deep below, as it beats against the cliff, and taking in at a glance the great height of those cliffs at both sides, and the loneliness of the situation, one shudders at the sight. The same ingenious gentleman utilised a natural gallery, under an overhanging cliff to obtain access to a shelving rock to which he had earth conveyed, and converted this dreary spot into a miniature pleasure ground, for his amusement, descent to which he contrived by placing a step-ladder down a steep cavity in the earth, from which this natural gallery branches off towards the shelving rock; but like everything else that man contrives and constructs, time obliterates it sooner or later, if allowed to remain uncared for, and so it is in this particular place the hand of time has left little or no trace of the garden, and alas! he who planted and tended it is not now alive to restore it to the state it was formerly in. However, a descent into the cavity, and a visit to this unique attempt at gardening "under difficulties," will amply repay one for the trouble and time expended.

The light-house at Loophead is a remarkable object, standing high amid such solitude; owing to the courtesy of the keeper we were permitted to view the interior which afforded us much pleasure. Anyone who visits Loophead should inspect the mechanism which flashes the light across the waters, from the lantern above, proving a useful guide to those mariners who frequent this exposed coast. Loophead light-house is a picture of neatness and good order, but the isolated position of those who tend and care it, and the dull monotonous lives they lead, claim our sympathy. The Government, or some department of the State, or benevolent person, or institution, should provide books or literature for the keeper and his assistants to relieve the dreary hours in the long days of winter and early spring-time.

Loophead, like all other parts of Ireland, is associated with legends and stories, which amuse if they do not instruct: And after all is not this legendary lore a harmless thing-no doubt it is not what the practical mind would like to dwell upon, and some may scoff at it, but even in this age we are not without a taste for the sentimental as well as the practical, however there are minds that will not see good in anything except it is viewed from "the matter of fact" side. Everything to them has to be proved like a problem in Euclid; all those objectors forget that the legends and stories which used to delight and enthrall our youthful imagination,
When o'er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted,
have come down to us from a time when, although it could be said of the "dark age" just as well as when the poet penned the lines-
We find
Books in the running brooks, Sermons
In stones, and good in everything.
they had not among them men capable of finding any lesson, such as we discover now, in the rivers and brooks, meandering through valley and plain; and although having stones and rocks in abundance, such as we have, they had not, as in our generation, a Hugh Miller to read the history of creation in the rocks, and make them speak to us as in a volume of the wonderful operations of nature such as he revealed to us in "The Testimony of the Rocks," that work of his intellect which has become a standard authority for Geologists in the present day; and still applying the Poet's metaphor, although having good in everything, then, as well as now, the learned or the learning were not forthcoming to discover the good amid the ignorance in which the world was sunk, and which subsequently came to light, and is being developed from time to time since christianity has been exerting its civilizing influence. There were no printed books, because the age of printing was long subsequent to the period referred to, no literature such as we have in our time, and so "gross darkness" prevailed, and it came to pass that the memory became the depository of knowledge, such as it was; passing events had to be stored up in the mind, and all incidents, social, political, and historical, were treasured in it, and were transmitted from "father to son," so that the mind or memory in those days had to discharge the duty which the discovery of printing has enabled us to employ books for in modern days. And thus the imagination, ever fertile, magnified local squabbles into great battles, pigmies grew to be giants, rocks and stones, which were removed from one place to another, or set up on end for some purpose or other, by the ordinary means then available, were said to be hurled fabulous distances by the muscular energy of an individual whom they called a "giant." Even now, when we trust to the memory too much, do we not find out how "treacherous" it is, and how liable we ere to exaggerate as well as to "economize truth," and thus we can easily understand how, in the "dark ages," fiction and fact were blended, until fact became overlaid with fiction to such a degree that the original story was lost altogether almost, and thus it happened fiction as a rule came to be our inheritance. After all that can be said against these legends there is really some difficulty in ignoring them altogether since our classical literature, to which we are so much indebted, is full of incidents, and contains the history of heroes and heroines whom we term "mythical," but which are not less extraordinary than those legends with which Loophead and nearly every part of Ireland are identified.

Now with respect to Loophead and its legends, it is related that in years gone by, so remote that the "oldest inhabitant" knows nothing of the time or the date, some great Northern King or Prince, who was persecuted by a woman, swift of limb and stout of heart, sought flight from her southward, and he thought in coming to the County Clare, a place so remote in those days, he would be safe from his persecutor; but not so, she found him out, and in desperation this King or Prince, hearing of her close proximity, fled towards the Promontory, now known as Loophead, never thinking that the sea hemmed him in at both sides so closely as it did; and coming to the extreme point of the mainland he saw this dreadful woman close behind him, and before him a high rock, which was separated from the mainland by a wide chasm, jumped across and safely landed; but his persecutor was not to be outdone, so she, landing at his side almost at the same moment, stimulated him to retrace his steps, in order to baffle her, and with one great leap, he got back again to the mainland, but the woman, following his example was precipitated into the sea beneath, and thus escaped this great man from the clutches of his tormentor! From this incident it is said Loop (corrupted from Leap) Head derived its name, and probably like all other legends, there is a mixture of fact and fiction. It is not at all improbable that in those days of "wild revenge" some one had been driven to such an extremity by his foe, that he had had no alternative but either to choose between the sword, or taking his chance of life by jumping across this chasm, which separates the island from the mainland, and adopted the latter alternative.

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

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