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


Sixmilebridge is a vibrant town situated just a few miles off the new motorway, linking Limerick to the west of Ireland through Ennis and onwards to Galway and beyond. The area of Sixmilebridge has seen unprecedented growth during the Celtic Tiger years due to its proximity to Shannon Airport and Limerick city. However if one was to rewind back to the eighteenth century Sixmilebridge was on the main road from Limerick to the west of Ireland and was a booming market town with its own links to the continent through nautical trade from the now disused mills in Ballintlea. This history of milling and textile trade during the early roots of Sixmilebridge transformed the village we know today with the influence seen in the place names of the area. The name Sixmilebridge is one example as it has no relation at all to the Irish name of the area which is Droichead Abhainn Ó gCearnaigh or Droichead Abhainn Uí gCearnaigh which when translated directly into English mean ‘bridge over the river Kearney/O’Garney’.[1] While the earliest records of the village being called Sixmilebridge come from 1681 when Thomas Dineley visited the area and noted that the name derives from the villages distance from Limerick city by both the lower way by Ballintlea or over Gallows Hill, which were both six old Irish miles to Thomandgate Bridge in Limerick. The name of Sixmilebridge is not the only place in the area to have changed due to the English influence but it is the most drastic change. The small Catholic Church today in the parish is in Kilmurry which is an English adaption to the Irish name Cill Mhuire ‘Mary’s Church’ but while changing the name to English over the years the full name of Cill Mhuire na Gall meaning ‘Mary’s Church of the Foreigners’ was lost which is another indicator to the past of that particular area which remains unknown as to who the foreigners were.

The ruins of the oldest church and graveyard within the parish are situated in an area called Ballysheen which is once again an English adaptation of the Irish name Baile Uí Oisín which when translated directly ‘Oisin’s town/area’.[2] Ballysheen has other neighbouring town lands which have had the same faith in being adapted to from Irish to English such as Moygalla, Magh Eallach, ‘the plain of cattle’ and Castlecrine, Caisléin Crin, ‘castle among trees’, and if nothing else the research of the names these areas give us an insight into the historical significance these areas once had that could be lost in the English adaptation of the names. An area which plays a significant part in the history of Sixmilebridge during the nineteenth century is Rossmanagher which has a long reaching history tied with the name of the area, Ros Manachair, ‘the monk’s wood’.[3] However there are no ruins of any ecclesiastical settlements in this area as much of the area is on a floodplain to the Shannon Estuary so any ruins could well have been destroyed. When turning attention to place names of the areas in the village of Sixmilebridge there is no greater example of the influence the incoming landlords had on the area which have lasted to this day. There is very few Irish names existing in the village centre one of the only ones being the of parish name of Kilfinnachta in English and Kilfinaghty or Kilfinaghta in Irish meaning ‘church of Finaghta/Finaghty’ however there is very little know as to who Finaghta was only local folklore. The eastern side of the river in Sixmilebridge is called the Ieverstown which is after the family who built up this side of the village during the eighteenth century and whose descendants remain in their Ieverscourt House but among other places named during this period include Fredrick Square and Hannover Square.

While the western side of the village owes its origin to another landlord as it once was known as O’Brien’s Town, although this name is seldom used today, as the O’Brien family, Earls of Thomond in Bunratty, built up this area. Some names given by the O’Brien family remain today such as Orange Square and George’s Square which are all in close proximity to the old Protestant Church and the former police barracks. However with the positioning of Sixmilebridge on a river it meant many boundaries were along this natural boundary such as townlands, baronies, parishes and even diocese. As shown above the main parish of Sixmilebridge was Kilfinnachta but on the east side of the river it bounded with the parish of Kilfintenan which is more commonly known as Cratloe today or Creatalach, ‘the framework’ a name derived from the large woods there.[4] Cratloe or Kilfintenan parish is actually in the Diocese of Limerick while the rest of Sixmilebridge is in the Diocese of Killaloe and just to make research of the area even more compicated the Baronies of Bunratty and Tulla meet along the river also. From studying the placenames of the area some links to the areas past become very evident as many names come from an old Irish name in relation to a religious settlement from years ago or the more modern influences of the incoming English Landlords and ruling class as many of the names suggest from the impact they have left on the village. So it can be said from this observation that the Catholic Church and English rule have made and left a very strong impact on Sixmilebridge from the view of placenames as a start of this study.

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Changing ruling class in Sixmilebridge
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From Boom to Bust