Clare County Library
Clare Places: Towns & Villages
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Historical Background

The Stone Crosses of Kilfenora by Jack Flanagan
The Annals of Kilfenora
Holiday Haunts on the West Coast of Clare 1891 by H B H
Guy's Directory 1893
Lloyd's Tour of Clare 1780
ITA Survey 1942/3
Deaths in Ballykeal Auxiliary Workhouse, 1850-51

Kilfenora is situated at the southern tip of the Burren. It supposedly derives its name from its location, the church of the fertile hillside, although another explanation for the name is given in "Cill Fionnabhrach", the church of the white brow or meadow. The official Irish name, as used on the roadsigns, is Cill Fhionnurach but no such person as a St. Fionnuir has ever been associated with Kilfenora. Other names for the town or diocese were Fenebore, Kilfenoragh, Finneborensis, and Collumabrach.

The history of Kilfenora goes back thousands of years. It was the site of an important early monastic settlement. St. Fachtna founded an Abbey here in the sixth century. Kilfenora gained the title "City of the Crosses", a reference to the High Crosses within or near the precincts of the cathedral.

THE DIOCESE OF KILFENORA: The Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 ignored Kilfenora's claim to separate episcopal government. This rejection briefly united the O'Connor and O'Loghlen clans whose chieftains preferred to maintain their own independent bishopric rather than submit ecclesiastically to the O'Brien dominated diocese of Killaloe. In 1152 the Synod of Kells, under Cardinal Paparo, recognised the diocese of Kilfenora as a separate entity.

Kilfenora was among the most important dioceses in Ireland at one stage but by the late mediaeval period it had fallen on hard times and the diocese was regarded as one of the most impoverished in the country. The first Protestant bishops were appointed in Ireland in 1541 but Kilfenora was not an attractive appointment. In 1628 Dr. Richard Betts was nominated by Charles 1 as bishop but he declined the position, stating that he had "no wish to become bishop of the poorest see in Ireland". Within the Church of Ireland jurisdiction and no longer able to maintain its independence, Kilfenora was united in turn to the Protestant diocese of Limerick from 1606-1607, Tuam from 1617-1742, Clonfert from 1742-1752, Killaloe from 1752-1976 and reunited to Limerick diocese in 1976. The diocese was described by Lord Stafford in 1638 as "being not worth above four score pounds to the last man." The diocese consisted of the baronies of Corcomroe and Burren and was the smallest in Ireland.

The last Catholic bishop of the diocese was James Augustine O'Daly who died in France in 1749. In 1750 the Catholic church united Kilfenora with Kilmacduagh and in 1883 both dioceses were united with the relatively new diocese of Galway. To this day, the official title for prelate in the see of Galway is Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora. Technically, this means that the Pope is the Bishop of Kilfenora. 

KILFENORA has been a focal point for the farming community in North Clare for thousands of years. The Celts are believed to have converged at Cathair Bhaile Cinn Mhargaidh (the town at the head of the market) for fairs. As Kilfenora grew around the monastic settlement it became a place where farmers could converge to sell their livestock and crops and enjoy the social contact of a visit to a market town. Fair days were commonplace in Kilfenora up to the 1960's but the establishment of marts in other towns in Clare and Galway soon took their toll on this way of life.

The Kilfenora Ceili Band is one of Ireland's most famous ceili bands. A group of musicians had come together in 1907 with the intention of raising funds for the local church and to play at local houses or cross road dances. They went on to become a household name in Ireland and beyond. The members of the band changed over the years but their special brand of traditional dance music was extremely popular. The 1950's was the golden era of ceili dancing in Ireland. In the 1960's the band played regularly in England. Huge crowds turned out to hear them. They won three All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil titles in a row. In July 1992 the local population gathered to pay tribute to the Kilfenora Ceili Band as they celebrated 85 years in existence. The event was broadcast live on R.T.E. radio.

The great tradition of bands in the parish stretches back to the 1800's with fife and drum, brass and reed and ceili bands all having their glory years.

The population of Kilfenora in 1937 was 558. As in many places the numbers declined during the 1950's but this trend has been reversed in recent times. Village and rural renewal schemes have been put in place. Uninhabited and derelict buildings have been removed or restored. Kilfenora is the gateway to the Burren region and is a village rich in history and culture.