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Literature and Learning in Ennistymon and North Clare

North Clare has for centuries produced an outstanding array of writers and poets, storytellers and bards, hedge-school teachers and eminent scholars in diverse fields across the broadest spectrum of literature and learning.

The legacy of these erudite forbears lives on today in a healthy gathering of modern wordsmiths – some weaned locally on earlier tradition; more drawn to the area for it’s myriad inspirations.

From the middle of the seventeenth century through to the end of the nineteenth century, Co. Clare in general and North Clare in particular was awash with Gaelic scribes and scholars; such as, amongst others, Aodh Bui MacCruitin from Kilmacreehy, Labhras O’hAinle and the MacMathuna’s from Ennistymon and Seamus MacCruitin from Tullyvargan, Lahinch.

So-called ‘hedge-schools’, too, abounded in the area, especially during the nineteenth century. These basic but essential seats of learning varied from comfortable chapel rooms to miserable cow cabins. One such in the area was described at the time as " . . . . a wretched hovel, of the worst description."

In contrast, and at the height of the Famine, Lord Inchiquin established on his lands at Cahersherkin near Ennistymon, a Model Farming School. As well as being schooled in the basic subjects, pupils were encouraged to grow vegetables and crops and were instructed in cattle management on the adjoining 20 acres. One of its students was Professor Brian O’Luanaigh from nearby Monreel, who became an outstanding scholar in Irish literature and archaeology.

Brian Merriman is reputed to have been born in or near Ennistymon in the year 1747. Merriman wrote the now renowned aisling poem, The Midnight Court, whose theme is a celebration of the right of women to sex and marriage, and is, considered one of the most important contributions to Gaelic literature in the eighteenth century.

Into the twentieth century, Caitlín McNamara of Ennistymon House (now the Falls Hotel) married the famous Welsh writer, Dylan Thomas. The bar in the hotel is named after him. Caitlín’s forbears too were involved with the bohemian literary scene of the time. Her father Francis McNamara was a published poet in his own right, as well as an associate of well-known writers and artists, such as Augustus John and George Bernard Shaw, both of whom visited the area.

Storytellers and popular balladeers have flourished in the area, and much of their material has featured in the Clare Festival of Traditional Singing held annually in Ennistymon. Two local exponents in particular, Tadhg O’hEagráin and Miko Guthrie are fondly remembered.

Ennistymon on the Inagh
Le Tadhg O hEagráin

I’m no poet, I’ve no pen, but my story I’ll relate,
Concerning my childhood, sure I know ‘tis my fate,
In a town in a valley, I was brought up with care,
Ennistymon on the Inagh, On the West Coast of Clare.

The waters of Inagh, come tumbling down,
‘Neath the bridge o’er the falls, quite close to the town,
Stand and look if you’re passing, any bet I will dare,
To equal my cradle, on the West Coast of Clare.

From the East and the West, from the world all around,
The tourist come flocking, our sights they abound,
But there’s none so lovely, so happy or fair,
As my dear little village, on the West Coast of Clare.

There are places of fancy, of fame and renown,
But my choice is my birth place, my own little town,
Snuggly nestled and happy, no trouble or care,
In my dear little village, on the West Coast of Clare.

Come ye back our dear exiles, to the green hills of Clare,
To your home in the valley, your cradle lies there,
All your loved ones and neighbours, your joy they will share,
With a Cead mile failte, to the West Coast of Clare.

Sure we all will assemble, in our own little town,
Our birth place is calling, we can’t let it down,
We’ll fly or hitch hike it, or go by shanks mare,
To that town in the valley on the West Coast of Clare.

There’s a grave near the village, up on Moughanna hill,
Sure it’s the finest that ever you’ve seen,
Won’t you bury me decent, and lay me down there,
On the hill oe’r the village, on the West Coast of Clare.


Brother Michael F. O’Conchuir of Woodmount, Ennistymon, who had a passionate love of the native language as well as music, history and art, published three volumes of poetry in the Irish language. Many of his poems were inspired by his birthplace. He also published a scholarly history of the O’Connor clan of Corcomroe.

And today, North Clare is still vibrant with writers, poets and publishers . . .

  • The North Clare Writers Workshop, founded in the late 1980s by Anthony Edwards, who was then librarian in Ennistymon Library, met weekly for many years in the library, and published a number of anthologies.
  • Salmon Publishing, based near the Cliffs of Moher, publishes poetry and offers writing workshops.
  • Rathbane Publishing, in Lisdoonvarna, focuses on material of local interest. Kit and the late Cyril Ó’Céirín of Rathbane have also successfully published in their own right, including Wild and Free and Women of Ireland.
  • Ennistymon Printing has been responsible for many local publications, especially the annual Parish Magazine, published by The Old Ennistymon Society.
  • The Dal gCais journal has, over the years, featured many aspects of North Clare’s rich life and lore.
  • John Doorty of Kilshanny edits the literary journal New Series: Departures, has published his own volume of poetry Into the Heart of It, and has written the successful Out of the Heavens in Showers, a drama with music based on the life of Micho Russell.
  • Eddie Stack from Ennistymon has published a book of short stories, The West: Stories from Ireland, which have the distinct flavour of his home town.
  • Cora Harrison, now resident in Kilfenora, has written a successful series of books for children, The Timeline Series, which draw their inspiration from various aspects of both Irish and local history.
  • Kate Thompson’s acclaimed series for teenagers, Switchers, was spawned and cultivated in Ennistymon, as Kate was an active member of the North Clare Writers Workshop. Kate won the Guardian Fiction Prize for Children in 2005 for her novel The New Policeman.

Many, many books featuring North Clare have been published. The following is a sample reading list:
Clare Elections – (Kieran Sheedy) – 1993
Ennistymon Union Minute Books – (North Clare Historical Society & FÁS) - 1992
Guide to Ennistymon Union – (North Clare Historical Society) - 1992
West Clare Railway – (Patrick Taylor) - 1994
Festival of Lunasa Parts 1 & 2 – (Maire MacNeill) - 1982
Natural History of the Burren - (Gordon D’Arcy) - 1992
Irish Shopfronts – (Photos by John Murphy) - 1981
Forgotten Stones: Ancient Church Sites . . . – (Averil Swinfen) - 1992
Houses of Clare – (Hugh Weir) - 1986
Dorothea Lange’s Ireland – (Photos by Dorothea Lange) - 1996
Local Songs – (Ennistymon Festival of Traditional Singing) - 1990
Micho’s Dozen - (Ennistymon Festival of Traditional Singing) - 1991
Handbook to Lisdoonvarna & It’s Vicinity (P.D.) – 1876 & 1998
Burren Journey – (George Cunnigham) - 1978
Burren Journey West – (George Cunnigham) - 1980
Burren Journey North – (George Cunnigham) - 1992
Book of the Burren – (Tir Eolas) - 1991
Burren: Irish Heritage Series 30 – (Maryangela Keane) - 1980
Two Flamboyant Fathers – (Nicolette Devas) – 1966 & 1985
Doolin’s Micho Russell: A Portrait – (Dennis C. Winter) – 1990
O’Conor Corcomroe – (M.F. O’Conchuir) - 1996
Clare: County of Contrast – (Sean Spellissy) - 1987
Monastery Boys: Celebrating 175 Years, Ennistymon C.B.S., 1824-1999-09-02 Mount St. Joseph, Ennistymon 1824 – 1974
County Clare: A History & Topography
– (Samuel Lewis) – 1837 & 1995
Antiquities of County Clare – (John O’Donovan & Eugene Curry) – 1839 & 1997
Kilfenora: A History – (John Flanagan) - 1991
In the Tracks of the West Clare Railway – (Eddie Lenihan) – 1990 & 1999
Ennistymon Parish Magazine – [Annual Publication]
Sticks and Stones - (North Clare Writers Workshop) -1990
Roughly Speaking - (North Clare Writers Workshop) - 1991
This is Where We Came In - (North Clare Writers Workshop) - 1992
Footprints On The Limestone - (North Clare Writers Workshop) - 1993
Nothing is ever what it seems - (North Clare Writers Workshop) - 1994
Viewpoints - (North Clare Writers Workshop) - 1996
The Other Clare - [Annual Publication]
Dal gCais – [Biennial Publication]
Clare Association Yearbook – [Annual Publication]
Through the Green Lightly: Stories about Golf and Golfers . . . – (Finn, G.A.) - 1997
The Cliffs of Moher: Cornelius O’Brien – (Eamonn Kelly)
The Cliffs of Moher: Birds of the Locality – (Eamonn Kelly)
Pocket Guide to the Cliffs of Moher – (Tony Whilde) - 1987
Exploring the Burren – (George Cunningham) - 1988
The Outlandish World of the Burren– (Cyril Ó Céirín) - 1998
The Secret Places of the Burren– (John M. Feehan) - 1989
The Doolin Guide & Map– (Martin Breen) - 1992
Aillwee Cave and the Caves of the Burren– (David Drew) - 1984
The Burren: A Map of the Uplands of North-west Clare – (Tim Robinson) - 1977
The Burren: A Companion to the Wildflowers . . . – (E. Charles Nelson) - 1997
Archaeology of the Burren: Prehistoric . . . – (Thomas J. Westropp) – 1896 & 1999

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