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Clare Places: Towns & Villages
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Historical Background

County Clare A History and Topography 1837 by Samuel Lewis
ITA Survey 1942/3

Mountshannon, in the parish of Iniscealtra, dates mainly from the eighteenth century. The present name of Mountshannon is first found in Aher's Cork Almanac of 1779 where it is listed as having fairs in February, May, August and November. By 1837 it had achieved some status as a village and contained a population of 171 people. This small village is sheltered from the north by high land and protected from Lough Derg by a powerful breakwater. Mountshannon is now within the Clare boundary but from 1610 to 1898 the parish was in County Galway. Despite its location within the barony of Leitrim in Co. Galway, the parish of Mountshannon remained part of the diocese of Killaloe. In Frost's "Map of Ancient Thomond" it is placed in the territory of Ui Donghaile, the tribal land of the O'Gradys. A number of historical and archaeological sites in the area suggest that it was inhabited more than four thousand years ago.

In 1738 Alexander Woods, a linen manufacturer from Limerick, leased two-thirds of the parish of Iniscealtra from the Dalys of Dunsandle, Co. Galway. His plan was to establish a Protestant community working in the linen industry. The rent for the first four years was to be a mere peppercorn on condition that Woods would construct, by 1742, fifty houses fit for tradesmen and manufacturers, a slated house for religious worship, a school and market house. He was also obliged to set aside twenty acres of parkland. Mountshannon was a perfect setting for Alexander Woods and by 1751 seventy girls were employed in the spinning school. A number of shoemakers, weavers and carpenters were operating in the village. In 1759 the first pub was open. The success of the linen industry brought prosperity to Mountshannon in the early years. However, by 1766 Alexander Woods was dead. His only son died shortly afterwards. By 1790 his grandson, also called Alexander, was dead and the Woods family had enormous debts. In 1773 linen prices had collapsed, wreaking havoc on the whole economy of the village.

In the 1790's William Francis Reade and George Tandy took over the lease and divided the parish between them. The Reades built Woodpark House and the family lived there until it was burnt down in 1922. The Tandys lived in Mountshannon House. Faction fights were a common occurrence during the first half of the nineteenth century. Alcohol was a major factor and on fair days violent outbreaks reached their peak. Many Protestant families left the area at this time.

Samuel Lewis, writing in 1837, gives us this description of Mountshannon - " a village, in that part of the parish of Inniscalthra which is in the barony of Leitrim, county of Galway, and province of Connaught, 7 3/4 miles (N. by W.) from Killaloe, on the road from Woodford to Limerick; containing 171 inhabitants. This place is beautifully situated on Lough Deirgeart, on the confines of the county and province. Here and at Knockafort are piers, where vessels of 20 tons burden can load and unload. It is a constabulary police station; and petty sessions are held here. There is a market-house; fairs are held on the 28th of Feb., May, Aug., and Nov.; and a patent exists for a monthly fair, which is not held. It contains the parish church, and a R.C. chapel, erected in 1836."

In 1841, before the famine struck, the population of the parish was 2,510. Ten years later, in 1851, the number had dropped to 1,457. Some died of starvation and some emigrated. Philip Reade, then landlord, worked hard at alleviating the hardship and suffering, spending over 10,000 and setting up a loan fund to help tenants.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the land agitation movement was very strong in the area. Eventually the Irish Land Commission took over the Reade and Tandy estates and distributed the land among the tenant farmers. This paved the way for the development of Mountshannon village as a focal point for the farming community in East Clare, though tourism has now become a major business.

Today Mountshannon is a sleepy, picturesque village on the shores of Lough Derg. It is a popular and peaceful haven for tourists. It once relied on the peak Summer months for its tourism revenue but now enjoys a steady year round trade. There are many walking routes in the area, over mountains, through woods and by the lake. Other attractions include boat trips to Holy Island, the Woodpark pitch and putt and golf course, and pony trekking. The Aistear Iniscealtra project was officially opened in 2000. It tells the story of Irish spirituality over 9,000 years.

Winner of several Tidy Towns Competitions, this tree-lined village is extremely popular with anglers and boatmen who avail of the fine harbour and pier facilities here. The bay is calm and sheltered.