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Travels in County Clare 1534 - 1911
(extracts from The Strangers Gaze, edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh)

Lady Chatterton, Rambles, 1838.

Lady Georgina Chatterton was born Henrietta Georgina Marcia Lascelles, the only child of the Rev Lascelles Iremonger, prebendary of Winchester. In 1824 at the age of eighteen she became the wife of Sir William Chatterton of Castle Mahon, County Cork. After his death in 1855, she married secondly Mr Heneage Dering, formerly of the Coldstream Guards. Her second husband was received into the Catholic church in 1865 and was followed ten years later by Lady Chatterton herself. Heneage Dering ascribed his conversion to ‘the conscientious struggles and continual act of Catholic self development’ of his wife which marked the whole tenor of her life. A prolific writer of wide interests, Lady Chatterton has over thirty publications to her credit, including such works as The Pyrenees with Excursions into Spain (1843), Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, Selected and Translated (1851) and The Heiress and her Lovers, (1863). Although secondly married, she continued to publish under the name Lady Chatterton. No one can read her work without being struck by her high moral tone and her earnest desire to do good. She bubbles with enthusiasm as she discovers the hidden delights of Kilkee and West Clare. Writing, however, for the growing tourism market, she avoids the scenes of squalor and destitution and her style, while well-meaning, tends to be superficial and non-judgemental.

On Friday last we went to Cratloe woods, to pass a day with its young and interesting owner, Mr Augustus O’Brien. It is opposite to Vermont on the other side of the Shannon; but we drove round by Limerick, and crossed the fine new bridge which has been lately built there. I was curious to see a place which has such attractions for its youthful proprietor, as to induce him to forego all the pleasures which have been inviting him to London during the season. Of neighbours, at least rich ones, he has few; but he is surrounded by the interesting, intelligent, grateful Irish peasantry. . .

The cottage we visited was one of a better class; a well-dressed woman was ironing her husband’s linen, and her old mother-in-law was sitting in a comfortable chair near the fire. She showed us to her inner room, where two pretty twin children were asleep in a nice cradle. Besides a china press and wardrobe, this room contained a bookstand filled with religious books. But it was the old grandmother’s countenance which riveted my attention more than all these refined wonders of an Irish cabin. She was deaf, and could not hear the musical voice of the young squire, but her eyes were fixed on him with a look of intense gratitude and delight. . .

On Saturday we proceeded to Dromoland. It is a splendid abode, now nearly finished, and offers that
Western front of Dromoland Castle
Western front of Dromoland Castle
phenomenon in Ireland, or indeed in any country, a magnificent place erected without ruining the possessor. Sir Lucas O’Brien lives there in a style of hospitable splendour, which does credit to his good taste and kind heart: the rich are welcome, and the poor taken care of. In both these agreeable employments he has an able assistant in his interesting wife. The comfortable cottages which on all sides may be seen without the walls of the park, bear testimony to the goodness and liberality of their landlord. The castle contains some good pictures, and many interesting portraits of this ancient family. In the entrance hall is one of their great ancestor, the celebrated king Brian Boroihme. The upper gallery is full of these interesting memorials of bygone days; and the present possessor of Dromoland has placed them in richly carved frames, which accord admirably with the florid and beautiful architecture of the building. There are two by Sir Peter Lely, of Lord Clarendon, and his daughter, the Duchess of York. . . .

On Monday we came here, making a detour to visit the ruins of Quin Abbey. It stands in a green plain near the clear river. The cloisters resemble those of Askeaton, and are in as good preservation; indeed the whole building, except the roof, is entire. Most of the chimney-pieces remain; and a peasant woman, who came up to speak to me as I was examining an old monument, said that her grandmother remembered when it was all perfect. I looked on these cloisters with great interest, as the place where the monk who composed those beautiful lines to Lady O’Brien, was wont to meditate and pray.

While we were in the abbey, the funeral procession a young girl entered the ruined building, and, as is always the case in Ireland, several groups dispersed themselves in various directions, each to weep over the grave of their own friends. . .

And a beautiful and strange scene it was to see this crowd - the men in their sober attire, and the women in the brilliant coloured dresses they wear in this part of the country, scattered over the green sward before the venerable ruins of the old abbey. Not one bonnet was there: all the women wore either their own dark hair dressed in the simple Grecian fashion, or the head covered with a sort of white linen veil, or bright coloured handkerchief, or the hood of the red or blue cloak, which forms an invariable part of their costume.

At a cottage, in the village of Quin, we were amused at seeing the following sign over the door.

‘Here lives a man who don’t refuse
To make or mend both boots and shoes;
His leather’s good, his work is quick,
His profits small - so can’t give tick.’. . .

After visiting the lead mines of Mr Singleton, where a great deal of work is going on, we continued our journey, passing through Ennis. At Ennistimon, a primitive little place in a mountain valley, we stopped to bait the horses, and took advantage of the delay to enjoy a pleasant walk to a gentleman’s place on the opposite side of the river. We went first under the bridge, which is thrown over a broad expanse of flat rock, now quite dry, except a narrow stream at one end; but in winter a torrent descends from the mountains, and rushes over the flat rock with such precipitancy, that we were told, persons could walk under the fall, ‘as they do at Niagra,’ said our guide, without being wet. Under the first ledge is another not so broad, and so on are successive ledges of rocks to the plain below.

On the steep bank above, a country-house is situated; it is well-wooded, and with a little care might be made a lovely residence. . .

On this spot there stood formerly a castle of the O’Briens, and the rooms still contain many pictures of that ancient family. When I viewed these expressive representations of noble minds, still living on the old canvas, I rejoiced to think that the same generous spirit survives in their descendants, as I had so lately witnessed both at Cratloe and Dromoland. There is also in this venerable house at Ennistimon, a portrait of the celebrated old Countess of Desmond, who is said to have lived to the age of 162. . . .

Miltown; Thursday. We ventured to-day, as far as the Phoul-a-kirché; and were tempted by the report of some boys, to try a visit to the puffing-hole, represented by them as a mile off; but which turned out to be nearly three. . . The sight of the foaming surge was very grand; but the state of the tide was such as not to admit of the puffing-hole exhibiting itself: we determined, therefore, to wait, and took shelter from the high wind under the lee of an old wall - the last remains of an ancient castle. I found a fisherman there, who was waiting until the tide had sufficiently fallen, to enable him to gather the sea-weed which has been detached from the rocks during the late storms; a poor girl, content with some of an inferior description, was hard at work collecting it on the beach.

It is gratifying to know how sea-weed is now valued, when compared with its neglect until a comparatively late period. Formerly, the production of kelp was the only object for which it was collected - the introduction of barilla fortunately destroyed this trade, and sea-weed is now much more profitably made use of as manure.

My friend, the fisherman, told me that they often venture in their canoes ten miles to sea; their fish is bought up by dealers for the Limerick market, and they sometimes get £2 for a boat of fish, turbot fetching from 2s. 6d to 5s. In winter, they catch hake and haddock. The condition of the peasantry here, seems anything but miserable. Potatoes sell so low as 1d. a stone, (14lbs); milk from a penny to three-halfpence a quart; turf is abundant; and fishing sometimes affords a very profitable employment - but it is a dangerous occupation on this coast. The canoes are very frail. They consist of a slight frame-work, over which canvas is lightly stretched, and then saturated with tar, so as to become water-proof: their great lightness and buoyancy enable them to live in a very heavy sea, if properly and steadily managed; and therefore they are perhaps better adapted to this coast, than stronger boats would be. Accidents, however, frequently occur. Only two nights ago, a man and a boy lost their lives; they imprudently crossed a sea, which struck the boat, and broke it in pieces. . . .

Kilkee, Friday. After having travelled so much over the dusty and beaten track infested by the usual summer tourists abroad, I find infinite pleasure in exploring the grass-grown and interesting nooks of deserted Ireland - in arriving at inns where they do not know by rote the whole list of one’s wants; where the landlady’s face expresses a refreshing mixture of surprise, awe, and pleasure, in which cannot be detected that cold, confident, sum-total-of-a-bill sort of look, which is visible on the blazé countenances of foreign innkeepers.

Then how delightful the feeling that you have put a few rare shillings into the tattered pocket of a post-boy who has returned the touching answer to a reproof you gave him for having his harness in such bad order, ‘Plaze yer honor, we haven’t turned a wheel this six months, no wonder the harness should break; faix ‘tis broke we are ourselves for want o’ work.’ Then I delight in the blundering eagerness of the chamber-maid, whose kindness proceeds from her good nature, and not from the hope of reward. Good humour and good nature seem to me the great characteristics of Irish women of all ranks; I never saw a people whom it is more difficult to put out of temper. . . .

Monday evening. We decided on a visit to Loop-head, which is said to be about eighteen or twenty miles from Kilkee, and is the point which with Kerry-head forms the mouth of the Shannon. The most striking circumstance of our drive, was the density of the population; the country in every direction being covered with cottages. But when we consider the usual abundance and cheapness of the Irish “staff of life,” potatoes, the occasional assistance which fishing affords, and the abundance of fuel, it is not to be wondered at, that as a residence this coast should prove so attractive. All goes well, so long as the harvest is favourable; but the consequences of a failure of the potato-crop are frightful. There is no intermediate step between plenty and starvation.

The road is excellent, being part of the coast-road, constructed some years ago, during a season of scarcity, and still kept in order by the Board of Works. After having passed the village of Cross, we left the Ross-road to the right, and got to a miserable, but singular-looking place on the Shannon, near its mouth, called Kilbaha; there we left our car, and proceeded on foot over a most rugged road, towards the light-house, the distance about four miles. ...

The Head itself is a rock, separated by a perpendicular cleft, forty or fifty feet wide, from the main land. It is the abode of sea fowl, who by their screams expressed their disapprobation of our approach. . . For some time after we left the light-house, we had a delightful walk on smooth turf, along the cliffs, whose ledges were covered with sea-fowl; in some places, drawn up lines, in the most exact order. We saw the place where, three or four years ago, about two acres of the cliff had fallen in, with so tremendous a crash as to shake the light-house, through half a mile distant.

We passed a curious wild bay, where people were collecting sea-weed for kelp, a trade now almost abandoned on this coast; and about three miles from the light-house came to the celebrated natural bridges, the chief objects of our expedition, and which, without the other attractions of this interesting coast, would have amply repaid us. These bridges connect the sides of a long narrow chasm, from thirty to forty feet wide, originally in all probability a cave, the roof of which fell in, leaving, in a wild and beautiful freak of nature, these bridges standing. . . .

In a quiet little bay, near Ross, is one of the spas which are of frequent occurrence on this coast, and which have performed wonderful cures on invalids.

After getting over a rugged road, now under repair, and having paid contribution to the workmen, who good humouredly intercepted us by drawing a line across the road, to make us ‘pay our footing,’ a common custom in the South of Ireland, we joined our car at the place appointed, having walked a distance of about nine miles.

Our return was by Carrigaholt, which has the appearance of a thriving village. It is situated in a pretty bay of the Shannon, into which a small river discharges itself. A tongue of land forms one side of this bay; at its extremity is the ruin of a fine old castle, which belonged to the celebrated Lord Clare, who as at one time the proprietor of all this country. . . .

Carrigaholt holds constant intercourse with Limerick, in the transport of turf and corn. An excellent road leads to Kilkee, along which we dashed right merrily, beating hollow two cars which had the impertinence to contend with us. One of them, to our driver’s great delight, was put hors de combat by the loss of a wheel. We reached Kilkee exactly at seven, after a most gratifying excursion. . . .

Thursday; Vermont. Yesterday we left Kilkee, and returned here. On our road to Kilrush, the first stage from Kilkee, we passed through Moyska [Moyasta], which is the head-quarters of turf, and great indeed must be its traffic in this article to obtain a name, in a country whose bogs are the great features and sources of wealth and commerce. The cottages in that neighbourhood, as I remarked all along the western coast of this county, are excellent. In some parts of Ireland, chimneys are held in contempt, as unnecessary assistants to the doors and windows: here, however, they are in such estimation that one or two false ones are frequently added by way of ornament.

The construction of the cottages is very good; the real bonâ-fide chimney is never at the gable-ends; it always occupies the centre of the house, the flue being in the partition wall between the rooms - by which means the house is more generally and thoroughly warmed. A cottage of tolerable size, such as would probably belong to a ‘sthrong farmer,’ has generally two sinecure chimneys at the gable ends. The houses are well roofed, and the thatch protected from the effects of the storm by a neat net-work of rope, which whilst performing the most useful office, is very ornamental also. . . .

Kilrush is a thriving place: as it rained, and we could see nothing of it, we were delighted when the pair of horses were ready to convey us to the fair Fanny O’Day’s ‘half-way house,’ between Kilrush and Ennis. There is a police station near it; W--- fell into conversation, while changing horses, with the sergeant of the party. He said the country was perfectly quiet, and the roads may be travelled at all hours in perfect safety; and yet he told W--- of two events which show the singular disregard of the lower orders of the Irish for human life. A woman had that day been committed for having given a piper, apparently without provocation, a blow of a stone on the head, of which he died; and lately, at a neighbouring village, two men quarrelled as to which of them was the better dancer - when one of them went out quietly and brought in a stone with which he killed the other on the spot!

Near Ennis the scenery is rocky and picturesque; the great horse fair of Spancel Hill, which is in the neighbourhood, took place on the day we passed, and gave great life and animation to Ennis. Here we parted with our good-humoured post-boy, who had driven us from Kilkee; for though we exchanged horses, our postillion remained constant to us. For the thirty-six English miles we gave him seven shillings, which delighted him - he said, ‘he had never before got so much for a job.’ After leaving Ennis we passed near the ruins of Clare Abbey, which are very beautiful.

Killaloe, Monday morning. I am sitting at an open window in Clarisford House, which looks on a lovely view of mountains, valleys, and the fine woods which surround this place. . . We were told that Killaloe is chiefly indebted for improvements to Bishop Arbuthnot. He restored the cathedral, which he found nearly a ruin. The long bridge, over the impetuous Shannon, was impassable when he came to the see, seven of the centre arches having been carried away; owing to the Bishop’s exertions, they were replaced by the five large arches which now exist, making the bridge one of fifteen arches. He also rebuilt the Episcopal palace, which is now a most comfortable house; and adorned the grounds and gardens.

In the evening we had a delightful walk through the grounds, and along the banks of the canal, which runs near the Shannon. We then went to evening service, where the effect of the music in the dimly-lighted church, was very solemn and impressive. . . .

Tuesday evening. Yesterday, before nine o’clock, we were at the quay of Killaloe, after having breakfasted at Clarisford with Mrs S ---, who, with her usual kindness and good nature, was up to see us off. The morning was fine, and lake smooth, when we embarked in the steamer for Portumna. . .

The steamer was obliged to anchor near Portumna for want of water, and wait for the arrival of the Dublin packet. We took advantage of the delay, and landed to see the remains of Portumna Castle, the property of Lord Clanricarde. It was unfortunately burnt down about eight years ago; in a few hours nothing but the bare walls were left. The house seems to have been of James the First’s time; the ruins are extensive. Soon after we rejoined the steamer, a smaller one arrived -we exchanged cargoes in part, receiving a great many more than we gave, and then returned. A strong wind and heavy sea were now against us, so that cloaks and indianrubbers were very comfortable, as was also a bad luncheon, though off the scanty remains of a bad ham. We stopped for a moment to land a lucky passenger at William’s-town, so called for futurity, the ‘town’ now consisting of a single house. This house is an inn, intended to be the great thoroughfare on a road between Ennis and Dublin, thus avoiding the detour by Limerick.

A high wind ruffles the temper as well as the sea; and ours was not smoothed by another stop to take a great additional lighter in tow, laden with sixty tons of slate. The slate quarries are, I think, near Derry, and are said to produce better slates, in point of quality, than the Welsh quarries, but inferior in colour. We arrived at Killaloe in about three hours and a half, and were delighted to get on shore. Not far from the landing-place there is a hotel, which commands a beautiful view of the lake. We heard it is excellent, and much frequented by persons who come to admire the surrounding scenery, and to enjoy the fishing on Lough Derg - but the hospitality of our friends at Clarisford prevented our seeing more than the outside.

Extracts taken from Lady Georgina Chatterton, Rambles in the South of Ireland During the Year 1838, 2 vols (London 1839), ii, pp 170-227.

Miseries and Beauties, 1835
Jonathan Binns


Clare Sketch Book, 1842
William Thackeray