ESCAPE TO IRELAND - #14 – Co. Kerry to Co. Clare
ESCAPE TO IRELAND - #14 – Co. Kerry to Co. Clare
Map of route for Day 14
Today was our final “travel” day on the formal tour where we relocated from the town on Dingle in County Kerry to the town of Ennistimon in County Clare. Along the way we made a few short stops, but mostly this was a driving day. Of course during any road travel in Ireland you are met with wonderful scenes of farms forming a mosaic of rectangles of varying shades of green bounded by low stone walls topped with a line of trees or bushes. Although abandoned farm houses are quite ubiquitous in the landscape, every once in a while a gem flows by the window like a ruined castle, or roman style aqueduct, or abandoned railroad bridge. Today was no exception.
The weather today was what they call a “soft day’ in Ireland. Overcast and misty with some fog from time to time but not really raining. This diffused, soft light coupled with the moisture on the vegetation made the colors much more vibrant than on sunny days. From time to time the clouds lowered into a light fog on the ground giving the landscape a mysterious or mystical appearance.
Old Train Bridge through the bus window
Light fog settles across the Irish farmland
Our first stop on our journey northward was Listowel Castle in the town of, well, Listowel. The castle which is on the banks of the Feale River was originally a rectangle with a turret tower in each corner, very similar to Bunratty Castle, however all that remains today are the two towers and the high wall that connects them to each other capped with an arch.
It is thought there was a castle here in the 13th century but the present castle was probably built in the 15th century by the Fitzmaurices. The castle overlooks a strategic ford on the river. It was only after 1600 when Listowel castle had been all but destroyed that a village began to emerge from the rubble and people slowly began to set up new homes near the abandoned stronghold.
Whatever the true origins of the castle, it is documented that it came into the possession of the Fitzmaurice family during the thirteenth century. The Lords of Kerry - as they were known - showed themselves to be consistently disloyal to the crown during the Desmond and the O Neill wars. But due to their political prowess and intermarriage with other families they always seemed to survive. Their principal seats were at Ardfert and Lixnaw but they always considered Listowel to be of particular military importance because of its strategic position on the Feale river.
The Lords of Kerry seemed to have many grievances with their neighbors such as the O Connor Kerry Clan to the North, the Knights of Glin to the east and the O Briens of Thomond on the other side of the Shannon River (aren’t those great names). The Lords of Kerry also fought regularly with the Earl’s of Desmond who were the overlords of all the territory. The Fitzmaurice’s consistently refused to accept the Earl’s authority and this led to much ‘unrest’ between them. Of course there was also the impending threat from the English.
In November of 1600 the castle came under attack in what turned out to be its a final conflict. It was Sir Charles Wilmott who ordered the attack against the castle. His Elizabethan forces had already wreaked a trail of destruction throughout Kerry before setting their sights firmly on the last remaining pocket of resistance here at Listowel.
After three weeks of attack on the castle Wilmott was aware of the fact that his forces were running short of ammunition and artillery. Therefore he decided that the digging of tunnels and the planting of mines was the most efficient was to undermine the foundations of the castle and thus enter it and flush out its occupants. A tunnel was dug but due to a spring it became flooded. They dug a second tunnel and reached the castle’s foundation. Once the foundation had been undermined, the castle folks knew they had no choice left but to surrender. They pleaded for their lives but Wilmott told them that if they left the castle before it was blown up their fate would be at his discretion.
Nine of the castle’s occupants were hanged immediately equaling the number of English soldiers killed during the siege. The women and children were allowed to go free and later the remaining members of the garrison were executed. After the women and children were released it was brought to the attention of Wilmot that Thomas Fitzmaurice’s son and heir Patrick aged about five, had been smuggled out on the back of an old woman. Wilmot ordered a search and interrogated the prisoners as to his whereabouts. A priest named Dermot Mac Brodie had given the old woman directions for hiding the child until he could be brought to his father. He was interrogated and revealed that the child was hidden in a cave about six miles from Listowel. In return for the information Brodie’s life and the child’s were spared. The son Patrick was captured and sent to England as a hostage.
Castle life must have been very different than what we know today. Even so, I’ve often wondered how they dealt with the call of nature in these big castles – especially while under attack. In the included diagram of the castle below, take a look at the lower half on the right side of the building for how they constructed the castle to accommodate this need.
Remaining side of (restored) Lisowel Castle
Listowel Castle looking up from the front door
Depiction of life in a castle
The Shannon Ferry is a 20 minute crossing of the River Shannon between the counties of Clare and Kerry.
Prior to the introduction of the service the quickest way to travel between the two locations was via Limerick city, an 85 mile (137 km) journey. The ferry service therefore saved hours on the travel time between Kerry and West Clare. It is a very popular with the tourist trade going between Dingle or Killarney to the south and The Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, and Galway to the north.
Although it was a nice, but windy, ride there really isn’t much to see as you cross the river. A power plant on either side of the river and the unimpressive Tarbert light house (72 feet, or 22 meters high) is about it.
The River is the longest river in Ireland at 224 miles (360.5 km). It drains the Shannon River Basin which covers one fifth of Ireland. It represents a major physical barrier between east and west with fewer than thirty crossing-points between Limerick city in the south and the village of Dowra in the north.
The river is named after Sionna, a Celtic goddess. It has been an important waterway since antiquity, having first been mapped by the Graeco-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy. The river flows generally southwards from the Shannon Pot in County Cavan before turning west and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean through the 63.4 mi (102.1 km) long Shannon Estuary. Limerick city stands at the point where the river water meets the sea water of the estuary
Tarbert Lighthouse – Shannon River Estuary
Milton Malbay has only been around since about 1800 but grew rapidly once established. By 1821 it had a population of 600. During the Great Famine (1844 - 1848) many farmers were evicted by the unpopular landlord Moroney. In the years after the famine the (Protestant) Moroney family went on with rack renting and evictions. At some point the population had enough of this and implemented a boycott of the Moroney family by refusing to do any business with them. The government did not like this and imprisoned all pub-owners and shopkeepers who refused to serve the family or their servants. By the end of 1888 most pub-owners and shopkeepers were in jail.
Other than stopping for lunch, our main activity here was to see The Music Makers of West Clare. This is an Irish music heritage and training facility. It features photographs; many posters with information related to the rich musical history and traditions in Ireland, and a short video featuring several local Irish musicians and with some history of the origins of some instruments. On our visit we were treated to a demonstration by some wonderful Irish dancers – including the wife and daughter of Paddy, our bus driver.
The Music Makers of West Clare
Willy Clancy (1918-1973, Uilleann Piper) statue, Milton Malbay, Ireland
Lehinch is a small beach town on Liscannor Bay in County Clare. It sits halfway between Milltown Malbay and Ennistimon. When you come into town from the south, the road is following the coastline. As soon as you get into Lehinch the road makes a 90 degree turn to the east but in front of you is a long, broad, pure sand beach stretching almost a mile to the Inagh River. In fact the beach actually continues on the other side of the river for another half mile or so. The beach is quite wide and extends well into the bay with a very gradual drop off making it ideal for families as well as surfers learning how stay vertical while riding a wave.
In the Middle Ages, the O'Brien clan dominated the coastline however their castles (Liscannor and Dough castles) are now ruins. The tower of Dough Castle stands in a golf course. As late as the 18th century, Lehinch was still a small hamlet with only a few fisherman's huts. It grew in the 19th century to over 1000 people by 1835, but it was not until later in the century that the infrastructure of the town developed and it became a seaside resort following the opening of the West Clare Railway in 1887.
The West Clare Railway closed in 1961, but the town has retained its popularity and in recent times has become a renowned surfing location. In 1892 the Lahinch Golf Club and Course was established and is now considered a world class links course. In addition to the golf course, the town contains several small cafes and restaurants, a church, pubs, a couple of hotels, various shops and a collection of surfing schools. In the summer of 1996, Lahinch Seaworld and Leisure Centre with an aquarium, a 25metre indoor swimming pool, children's pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, and other facilities opened. With all of these attractions, along with the pristine picturesque beach, Lehinch continues to be a very popular seaside town where folks come for a week or weekend at the shore
We arrived here late in the afternoon for a rest stop of an hour and a half. When we arrived a stiff afternoon breeze had come up. This made the kite flyers and kite surfers very happy and didn’t seem to bother the regular surfers all that much at all. There were several dozen surfers practicing out in the water, on the beach itself was a group of a half dozen or so being shown how “get up” on a board by an instructor, and there were a handful of kite surfers taking advantage of the strong wind. But, as it was pretty late in the day, most of these adventurers were packing up or at least getting ready to come in for the day.
Going out for a couple more rides at the end of the day
Kite surfer bringing it in
Surfer ready for another ride
Watching the sun go down behind the clouds
Our final stop for the day was at our hotel in Ennistimon(sometimes spelled Ennistymon). Ennistimon (Irish: Inis Díomáin) is a country market town in County Clare. This is a popular tourist spot with a typical Irish main street boasting a collection of Trad. (Traditional) Irish pubs.
The River Inagh flows through town and there is a small Cascades behind the main street. Evidently this cascades is quite impressive when there is water, but as you’ve noticed in these travel logs we haven’t had much rain for nearly 3 weeks. As such the grand cascades was a mere trickle and not at all impressive.
Our hotel was The Falls Hotel (formerly Ennistymon House) and was right at the base of the cascade. This is a classic hotel with over 140 rooms. The building traces its roots to medieval times and was the seat of the O’connors who owned much of the land from here to the Cliffs of Moher. Around 1564 the O’Briens of Thomond took possession of the tower house and castle, part of which serves as the underground vaults and the north gable of the old hotel. They called this castle the "middle house" being situated between the other O’Brien castles at nearby Dough and Glann. Daniel O’Brien, Lord of Clare, trained his recruits here to form the famous regiment “Clare’s Dragoons” in the 1680’s. He and his troops later immigrated to France where they became the vanguard of the French army. In the 1760’s, the O’Brien’s built Ennistymon House on the site which now forms part of the Falls Hotel.
At some point in the early days of this period the town grew up around the castle. After a few spelling changes and translations from early Irish, the present day name Ennistimon roughly translates to "island of the middle house" or "river meadow of the middle house” referring back to the 3 castles owned by the O’Brien’s.
In the early part of the 20th century, the house was the property of the MacNamera family whose daughter Caitlin had a turbulent marriage with the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Their marriage was said to be fueled by alcohol and infidelity. Dylan himself described it as “raw, red bleeding meat”. Their lives together is well documented on the walls of the hotel. They remained married until Dylan’s death in 1953 after 16 years of tumult.
Falls Hotel & Spa at Ennistimon
Falls Hotel & Spa
Cascades at Ennistimon from Falls Hotel & Spa
Like much of the western world, Ireland too got caught up in the financial disaster of the mid 2000’s as money (for banks) got cheaper. Like in the US, the banks pretty much did away with all the rules they had been using for deciding if a borrower could afford a mortgage. As a result there was a tremendous housing boom and outside of every town new modern housing developments sprang up and were sold to people many of whom could not afford to pay the mortgage on them. Sound familiar? This was called the “Celtic tiger”. When the bottom fell out the banks went bust and were bailed out by the government on the insistence of the EC and the IMF. But of course they did nothing to help the people being evicted and so the entire economy collapsed.
So far in Ireland none of the bankers or those who caused the mess have gone to jail and no legislation has been put in place to keep it from happening again – sound familiar? But some legislation was passed in relation to the event. They passed laws to protect the banks. One of the bankers fled to New York where he set up shop and started doing the same thing. When the Irish tried to get the US to send him back he resisted extradition. However, not long thereafter he was arrested in the US for fraud and all of a sudden he changed his mind about extradition and returned to Ireland. So, he’s now living it up in Ireland, waiting for his court date where most expect him to be patted on the head, slapped on the wrist – but not too hard – and acquitted of all charges.
As a contrast, in Iceland, one of Ireland’s closer neighbors to the north, it was quite different. There they jailed about 90 bankers, wrote off the debts of the people and stopped the foreclosures. You know, those darnn socialists, just can’t be trusted to do the wrong thing. I wonder if jailing bankers, writing off the debts of poor and middle class people who were screwed by unscrupulous financial institutions and keeping them from losing their homes is what Trump means by “Let’s Make America Great Again?”
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This brings us to the end of our 14th day (7th day on formal tour).
Episode 15 will take us to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren.
I hope you enjoyed reading this travel log and will read accounts of future trips.
- Images of this trip can be found on my website at.
The Ireland blog series can be found here:
This Blog can be found online here:
Thanks for reading – Dan
Keywords: Blog, County Clare, DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogIreland, Dingle, Ennistimon, Ennistymon House, Falls Hotel, Ireland, Lehinch, Listowel Castle, Milton Malbay, Shannon Ferry, The Celtic Tiger, The Music Makers of West Clare, Travel Blog, Travel Log
Nice, I especially liked the kite surfer and the beach scenes. Thanks!!
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