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The changing ruling class in Sixmilebridge and the impact they left on the community, 1650-1900 by Jayme Keogh


This leads onto an intriguing point on how a historical legacy of a person or family can be moulded and in turn how their actions have moulded Sixmilebridge over the years and the people in it. As in the case of the D’Esterre family their negative actions created this lasting legacy in the village of one of dis-satisfaction among the people for what they saw as horrible acts and the stories of which have been passed down from generations to generations. When looking at a family’s historical legacy one has to be very careful as one bad action or mistake can tarnish the name of a family and popular history can tend to sometimes only remember this and a case of this in the Sixmilebridge area is Col. Wyndham or the Baron of Leconfield. Wyndham is mostly remembered for his part in forced eviction throughout Clare during the Famine even though he offered assisted migration and then at an even more local level in Sixmilebridge he is remembered for being one of the landlords whose tenants were involved in the Election Massacre of 1852 and this popular history of the area has forgotten his all his work as a progressive landlord. This work included the building of schools, the upgrading of farms and more significantly he constructed very well built houses with slate roofs which are still scattered around Sixmilebridge today, with the distinctive plaque with year of construction and ‘L’, and many of which were inhabited until the mid-twentieth century yet this has been overlooked or outweighed in people’s eyes by his earlier actions. The best way to sum up Wyndham is’ for some he could do no right and for others he could do no wrong’ yet the latter is rarely spoken.[134] The same impact on the legacy to the landlords can be compared to the legacies left by the more infamous priests of Sixmilebridge from the nineteenth century three of which stand out the most for their active rules in local political affairs who are Fr. Cornelius Clune, Fr. Michael Clune and Fr. Little.

These three parish priests all played no small part in turning Sixmilebridge into a very politically active area and these priests even succeeded in taking over the mantle as the ruling class of the area from the now weakening landlords. Sixmilebridge was not alone as this period was seen as the high point, in both politics and status, for the clergy throughout Ireland.[135] However the priests of Sixmilebridge all took this to another level and it was Fr. Cornelius Clune who set this benchmark while leading out the first mass meeting for Daniel O’Connell in County Clare and his leadership in these political matters was the first of its kind to be seen in Sixmilebridge. His replacement and namesake Fr. Michael Clune was every bit as active politically which was highlighted in the Election Massacre of 1852 with his prominent role in matters. Following these events the new status held by the clergy was seen in that Fr. Clune was found not guilty in court despite clearly playing a large role in agitating the crowd that day. Fr. Michael Clune was then replaced by Fr. Little who once again carried on the tradition now of being very active politically but it is very hard to say that following on from both Frs. Cornelius and Michael Clune that there was pressure on Fr. Little to carry on the leadership qualities previously shown or was Sixmilebridge just lucky to have had these three politically active priests in a row. Fr. Little was also lucky to have been found not guilty in court but his greatest work has to be his willingness to co-operate with the Ievers family and encourage the rebirth of Irish in the area which was something new to see two contrasting sides of the ruling class working together to benefit the common people. But it could be also seen as the changing of the times within Sixmilebridge and the country as a whole and rather than ignore the changes Fr. Little embraced them reaped the benefits as well as the people of Sixmilebridge.

It is through the different actions by each priest that moulded their historical legacy even though they were predominantly on secular issues but it is this kind of leadership from the Church that has helped mould the people of Sixmilebridge over the years but this was only possible once the Church had taken over power from the earlier ruling class the landlords who very much so had made their mark on the people. The start of this can go back as far as the naming of the area and the subsequent building of the village by the O’Brien’s and the Ievers which made the area one of a very few areas within Clare with an industrial history although the extent of which was never too successful but yet has left its impact on the history of the village.[136] The reminder of this past is very distinctive once you enter the village today with an iconic statue of a miller in the river, as a tribute to the past, in the centre of the village and along with the architectural layout of the village and place names such as Ieverstown, Frederick Square to name a few make sure the history of the areas past will never be forgotten despite the areas booming growth, in the last twenty years, as a result to the growth of the Shannon airport and industrial zone. The sense of the spirit and togetherness within the village today is now carried by the very successful hurling club which the area is known for around the country since their All Ireland success on St. Patrick’s Day 1996.

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