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

Thomas Lacy, Sights and Scenes in County Clare, 1859

Thomas Lacy of Wexford, sometimes styled ‘the dacent Lacy’ was the author of two books England and Ireland: Home Sketches on Both Sides of the Channel (1852), and Sights and Scenes in Our Fatherland (1863). In the 1840s Lacy was employed as assistant to the solicitor responsible for negotiating rights of way for the extension of the railway from Dublin to Wexford. The railway afforded him the opportunity to tour extensively in Leinster and Munster. In his accounts he ‘always looked upon the sunny side of the picture’ and avoids scenes of poverty and deprivation. His second book is a useful record of different tours he undertook in Ireland between 1853-61. Lacy’s accounts are remarkable for the detail in which residences, public buildings and the interiors of churches are described. He came to Clare on at least two occasions. His first visit followed the extension of the railway line to Ennis in 1859. Taking the mail car from Ennis he toured Ennistymon and the north Clare area. On his second visit in 1860 he recorded in considerable detail the coastline from Kilkee to Loophead. His detailed description of Ennis cathedral is of particular value as it is the only record we now possess of the interior decoration of the church before the initiation of the extensive changes carried out over the last century and a half. In later life Lacy was employed as borough treasurer of Wexford town.

At six o’clock on Monday morning, the 24th of October [1859] I took my seat in one of the carriages of the train which leaves Waterford for Limerick, and being anxious, with as little delay as possible, to enter the county of my destination, I obtained a ticket for Ennis, where the train arrived at half-past eleven o’clock, and having partaken of some refreshment, I started by the midday car for Ennistymon where we arrived about half-past four o’clock in the evening. . .

In the neighbourhood of Ennistymon the tourist will notice, on the summit of a verdant elevation, the fragment of a once important stronghold, called Glan Castle. The small town of Ennistymon, which is situated in a valley, environed by handsome sheltering hills, forms part of the parish of Kilmanaheen, in the barony of Corcomroe, about seventeen miles from Ennis, and 128 from Dublin. From its low position, it is, generally speaking, remarkable for the moisture of its atmosphere, and, as a matter of course, for the dampness of its streets. The Ennistymon river may be said to intersect the town, leaving, however, the most considerable and important portion of it on the eastern side. This river, after flowing beneath a substantial bridge of six arches, falls over a ledge of rocks that extends across its entire bed, which is about 200 feet wide, and in its descent forms a splendid cascade; thence, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile below the town, it forms a junction with the river Derry. The waterfall here mentioned is a very interesting feature, and the river in its immediate vicinity being, upon each of its banks, enriched with fine trees, appears to great advantage, and excites the notice and admiration of the visitor. On a gentle eminence immediately north of the town stands the Protestant church, a handsome cruciform edifice, of some thirty years’ standing, in the later English style of architecture, with an octagon tower on its southern side resting on a massive quadrangular basement. From its situation, at the north entrance to the town, this striking house of worship appears to great advantage. Ennistymon House, a fine square building, is situated on a handsome elevation which overlooks the river, at a short distance from the church. This enviable mansion, the residence of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Macnamara, is surrounded by a richly wooded demesne, which is margined on the west by the gently flowing river, and on the north by a romantic glen. . . .

The Catholic church, a spacious cruciform structure, with a gallery in the end of each transept, is situated on a gentle eminence west of the river, and forms an exceedingly interesting feature in the surrounding and varied scenery; while the very neat cottage that occupies a still more elevated site west of the town and the church, in which the parish priest and his two curates reside, is also a pleasing and an agreeable object.

The ruin of the old Protestant church of the parish stands within the ancient popular burial-ground of the district, which is situated on the summit of a hill at a short distance from the town; and although merely consisting of the side walls and gables of a small plain structure, from its commanding and elevated position, presents a comparatively imposing and interesting appearance. The school of the Christian Brothers is likewise situated on the eastern side of the town, and is calculated to attract the visitor’s notice; while the consciousness of the benefit it confers on the rising youth of the neighbourhood calls up feelings of unmingled pleasure in the minds of those who take an interest in the welfare and happiness of the humbler classes of the community. There is a good Sessions House, with an attached bridewell, in the town. The market, which is held on Saturday, is well supplied with the prime necessaries of life; there are seven fairs in the year. It is to me a source of no small regret to be obliged to say that at this time the town presented little or no evidence of advancing prosperity. It was formerly celebrated for the manufacture of woollen stockings, which, although inferior in quality to those of Connemara, were equally strong and lasting. But, except in the rural districts, even this source of employment has become almost extinct. . .

Proceeding on the following morning to view the celebrated Moher Cliffs, which are situated on the western coast of this county, I passed through the nice village of Lahinch, about two miles from Ennis-tymon. This place, which is much frequented in the summer season, on account of its fine bathing strand, being favourably situated on the inner extremity of the Bay of Liscannor, contains several new and handsome houses, and some neat shops, with a good Roman Catholic church, a school, under the National Board of Education, and an excellent hotel, called the Victoria. A new and strong boundary wall runs along the margin of the strand in the immediate vicinity of the town, within which the broad and ample roadway forms a delightful promenade. At this period of the year, when the seekers after health or pleasure, like summer birds, had flown, the village looked rather dull; but in the bathing season, doubtless, it is a gay and animated place. . . .

About two miles from this place the tourist will arrive at the town of Liscannor, which is situated on a part of the bay of that name, and to which vessels of small size can find access. A new Roman Catholic church, of oblong form and plain character, has lately been erected in this village, which shows a small chancel on its eastern end, and four windows in its northern side. It is entered in the same side by a neat porch, vastly superior in its style and workmanship to the church of which it is adjunct. A handsome belfry rises above the apex of the western gable, while a plain cross stands upon that of the eastern or chancel end of the building. This small town is situated in the parish of Kilmacrehy and barony of Corcomroe. The ruin of the ancient church, which is situated near the village, and in the immediate vicinity of the old churchyard, consists of the gables, side walls, and the finely pointed arch that divided the nave and choir. On a handsome eminence, south of the village, stands the ruin of O’Connors Castle, which was a strong square fortress of large proportions. It is still in a state of comparatively good preservation, and, from its elevated position, appears an interesting object for many miles on the land, and a striking landmark from the sea. Near this remarkable feature is the handsome cottage, the seat of Charles O’Connell, Esq., which stands close to the edge of the beetling cliff that at this point overhangs the sea. This picturesque and romantically situated cottage, although in an exposed and wild locality, is considered a very healthy residence. Sea Mount, the handsome residence of the Right Rev Dr Fallon, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kilmacduagh, is favourably situated about a quarter of a mile from Liscannor. The house, which is rented by his Lordship from George O’Brien, Esq., the son and successor of Cornelius O’Brien, Esq., deceased, presents a rich comfortable appearance, and is surrounded with nice plantations. The tourist will next arrive at Birchfield, the seat of George O’Brien, Esq., and cannot fail to notice the very handsome mansion, which is of quadrangular form, with a nice octangular turret rising on each angle, the summit of which stands one story higher than the main edifice, and is decorated with embrasure battlements; while the mansion on each of its four sides is enriched with an ornamental parapet. The celebrated Thomas Steele, Esq., who was a friend of the late proprietor, and an engineer and architect of no mean pretensions, drew the plan of this building. The grand facade, before which is a rich lawn, displays itself to the south, and is entered from a fine granite platform, which is approached by three or four steps. The grounds, which are of considerable extent, are intersected with handsome drives and walks, while those immediately adjoining the house are richly planted. . . .

Having, within a comparatively brief period, viewed some of the most remarkable and important features on this part of the western coast and its neighbourhood, I returned to Ennis, where at Camody’s [Carmody’s excellent hotel I found comfortable quarters. This establishment is exceedingly well conducted, the prompt attention and civility of the servants being surpassed only by the politeness and urbanity of the clever and sensible proprietor. . . .

A very handsome bridge of a single arch, with cut stone parapets, was built some twenty-five years ago, at an expense of £800, and crosses the river on the site of a former bridge, nearly opposite the abbey grounds. In the vicinity of this bridge is a handsome modern street, lined with fine new brick houses of uniform height and regular proportions, which is called Binden Street. Extensive mills, some of them belonging to Russell and Co., of Limerick, and others to Mr Ballatine of that city, are situated on the banks of the Fergus, in this part of the town. In this section of the town also, but on the opposite side of the river, is situated the fine Court House, which is considered to be good value for £16,000, although, as I was informed, it was built under a contract for the sum of £12,000. The contractor who, previous to his having entered into the engagement, was worth £4,000 or £5,000, became by the fulfilment of it a ruined and broken man. It is a handsome quadrangular building, the grand façade consisting of a centre and two flanking wings. A splendid portico, extending the entire length of the centre, is formed by six fine columns of the Ionic order, supporting a magnificent entablature complete in all its parts, above which rises an elegant pediment. The centre, the fronts and ends of the flanking wings, are of pure granite, and the rear of hammered limestone. The columns rest on an extensive platform, which is approached by nine steps that, like itself, are composed of granite. At the extremity of the spacious area immediately in front of the grand centre, is a large Russian gun, one of the trophies of the Crimean campaign, which, at the solicitation of the chairman of the Town Commissioners, was presented to the town. In the north-western suburbs, at a short distance from the Court House, but on the opposite side of the river, are situated, close to each other, two seminaries or colleges, in one of which, under the direction of Mr Fitzsimon, the president, are educated a large number of young gentlemen, many of whom are intended for the priesthood, and carefully prepared for entering the college of Maynooth. The other establishment is under the immediate superintendence of the Rev Mr King, a Protestant clergyman, and is partly supported by a grant from the trustees of the charity of the benevolent Erasmus Smith. These valuable institutions, which are surrounded with boundary walls, and entered by handsome gates, being enriched with ornamental trees, form remarkably pleasing and agreeable features.

The fine new Catholic church of Ennis, which is also the cathedral of the diocese of Killaloe, is nicely situated at the entrance of the splendid road which leads to the town of Killaloe. It is a lofty and substantial cruciform structure in the English-Gothic style of architecture, the front, quoins, door-jambs, and window-edgings, being of fine granite, and the remainder of the building of a compact greyish stone. It is entered in the western face of the tower, which at present rises no higher than the first story. There is a door in each end of the transept beneath a fine elliptic Gothic arch, over which is a splendid window in the perpendicular style, of three lights, the pointed arch of which is enriched with elaborate decorations; while from the apex of the gable springs an enriched characteristic cross. The windows of the nave, three on each side, are of the same style as those of the transept, and like them, and the arches of the doorways, are decorated with label-mouldings. The interior presents a fine appearance, the nave being divided from the aisles by nice wooden columns of a rich oak colour. The altar, composed of Caen stone, is strikingly beautiful, the sides, on a line with the rich tabernacle, being furnished with elegant statues, those on the Gospel side consisting of the Blessed Virgin, St Mary Magdalene, and St Bridget, the latter bearing a crosier, the symbol of high ecclesiastical dignity. On the opposite side appear St Joseph, St John the Evangelist, and St Patrick. Above the altar-screen is a beautiful painting, being a copy from one of the first masters, the original of which is said to have cost £12,000, and has been placed in one of the London galleries. The most prominent figure in this splendid picture is that of our Blessed Redeemer, who is represented in all the meekness of early youth. That part of the transept on the Gospel side of the church is furnished with a deep gallery, which is so admirably constructed as to enable every person who obtains access to it to have a full view of the priest during the celebration of the mass. In the opposite portion of the transept, in which there is no gallery, handsome confessionals have been placed. In front of each section of the transept are two magnificent arches, extending from a strong and handsome central column to the side walls. In the western end of the nave, a remarkably strong and well-built gallery has been erected for the beautiful and powerful organ, built by the late Mr White, of Dublin, who was a native of Enniscorthy, in the county of Wexford. This ponderous instrument with its appurtenances, as I was informed by the Very Rev. Dean Kenny, the excellent parish priest, weighs no less than 30 tons. On the left-hand side, within the western end of the nave, and beneath the organ gallery, is an uncommonly fine baptismal font, of black marble. The ceiling of this lofty structure is of rich panelled work, constructed on the principle of the ceilings of the Houses of Parliament, by which the voice of the preacher or officiating priest becomes so far concentrated as to be perfectly audible to the whole of the large congregation. . . .

In the vicinity of High Street, which may be considered the centre of the town, a new bridge was at this time being built across the Fergus, which is considered a great improvement. On a fine open space immediately in front of the entrance to this bridge, a lofty pedestal, based on a massive square platform, was then nearly ready for the reception of the statue of the illustrious Daniel O’Connell, which the patriotic and public-spirited people of Ennis resolved to erect to the memory of Ireland’s most distinguished and self-sacrificing public man. In Jail Street, on the site of what was formerly the old county prison, has been erected a new town-hall, which presents a handsome exterior, but which, from want of funds, or from some other cause, had not up to this time been entirely finished. . . .

While proceeding from Ennis to Limerick, I stopped at the Quin station, and availed myself of the interval between the passing of the mid-day train and that of the evening, to visit the celebrated ruins of Quin Abbey, which are situated about two miles from that place. This abbey, which is one of the most perfect and complete ruins that I have seen in this country, is situated on a gentle elevation, which slopes down to the eastern bank of the clear river that flows before its western front, which in its southward course, after passing beneath a handsome bridge of three arches, becomes ultimately lost in the Fergus. . . .

Quin is a parish in the barony of Bunratty, about six miles from Ennis. In the village, which is near the ruins of the grand abbey, there is little worthy of the tourist’s notice, save the Protestant and Catholic churches. The Protestant church, which is of long standing, but which has recently undergone considerable improvement, is a plain structure with a square tower. It is handsomely situated on the western bank of the Quin river, at a short distance east of the ruin which, as an appendage of the celebrated abbey, was rendered subservient to the purposes of charity and benevolence, affording shelter and hospitality to the poor and the stranger in the old monastic times.

The Catholic church is a handsome and spacious cruciform structure in the Gothic style of architecture, with a nice portico of cut stone. It was erected about twenty years ago, at an expense of £2,000, which was defrayed by general subscription. At the time I paid my visit it was undergoing considerable improvements, chiefly confined to internal decoration and embellishment. The angles of the nave and transepts are strengthened on the outside by fine buttresses, from each of which rises an ornamental pinnacle; while the apex of each transept, as well as that of the nave, is decorated with a highly wrought Gothic cross. The interior is very beautiful, the fine clustered columns that adjoin the altar, and the part that connects the transepts with the nave, being alike remarkably grand and striking; while the altar itself - which is of Caen stone, with columns of the Cork, Galway, and Armagh marbles - and the elegant statuary command the attention and the warmest commendation of the visitor. The doors leading into the nave and transepts are of elliptic character, with label-mouldings. The windows, three in each side of the nave, are high, and of two mullions; while those above the transept doors, and the three in each of their sides, are of a single mullion. . . .

On my return from Quin Abbey to the Ardsollous and Quin station, I availed myself of the time still at my disposal, and proceeded to take a view of Dromoland, the seat of Lord Inchiquin, which is about two miles in an opposite direction from this station. It is a very handsome place, and the mansion, a fine castellated structure, one of the most magnificent specimens of a modern baronial building to be seen in any part of Ireland. . .

The Quin river, in its devious windings, flows through portions of this fine demesne. Returning from Dromoland, I was just in time for the last train to Limerick, by which I proceeded to that fine city. . . .

[Kilkee], which is so numerously and fashionably attended, especially by the citizens of Limerick, is about to have a railway opened to it from the maritime town of Kilrush, from which by land it is but seven miles distant, although by sea it is some thirty-four miles from it, being situated at Moore Bay, on the western shore; its distance from Limerick is about fifty statute miles, from Ennis twenty-five, and from Dublin 170. In anticipation of the opening of the railway, Major Macdonnell, the owner of the property on which the town stands, is about to build a large and commodious hotel, the plan of which, together with a new terrace and adjoining houses, has been prepared and exhibited at the principal hotels in the town. The handsome site chosen for these buildings is called, after the gallant proprietor, the Macdonnell Terrace. Moore’s hotel, which occupies one side of a quadrangular area called Wellington Square, is an excellent house, and shows its front to the bay and to the Marine Parade, which is a continuation of the fine roadway that extends from the bridge that unites this portion of the town to the older part, and leads to what is called the West End. On the verdant lawn before the front bands of music occasionally play, and fireworks are sometimes exhibited. At a short distance in the rear of the hotel is an old and venerated spring called St Senan’s Well, long resorted to on account of its miraculous efficacy in the cure of many diseases; it is enclosed by a small building in the style of a mortuary chapel, with a plain cross on the apex of the western gable, which was erected by the kind and liberal proprietor, Major Macdonnell.

At some distance west of Mr Moore’s hotel is a new establishment called the Warren Hotel, from its proprietress, Mrs Warren, who for many years kept the well-conducted house known as the Triton-ville Hotel, in the centre of the Crescent. This house was built expressly for her accommodation by the excellent proprietor, and from her high character and superior management, it will doubtless be considered a desideratum by a large number of the respectable visitors to this rising and very interesting town. It is admirably situated on a gentle elevation immediately above the south-western side of the bay, which can be seen to fine advantage from the commodious dining-parlours and sitting-rooms. The Catholic church, a lofty cruciform building of comparatively modern erection, is finely situated on an elevated site in the eastern part of the town. The principal entrance in the western end of the nave is flanked on each side by a semi-octagon tower surmounted by embattled ornaments, above which, within an elliptic Gothic arch, is a handsome window of two mullions, over which rises the pointed gable, surmounted by a characteristic cross. There is also a door in each transept, over which is a window of a single mullion, with two windows of the same size and style in each side of the nave, and one in each side of the transepts. The altars are very neat and appropriately ornamented, the grand or central one being enriched with a beautiful painting of the Descent from the Cross; with one of the Blessed Virgin above her altar on the Epistle side, and one of the Crucifixion above that dedicated to St Joseph on the Gospel side. In the rear of the gallery in the western end of the nave is the organ, a sweet toned and powerful instrument.

Immediately west of the church is a large substantial building of modern erection, two stories in height, in which are commodious schools under the National Board of Education, for boys and girls. The Protestant church is situated near the centre of the Crescent, and is a handsome oblong building with a neat porch at the western end; a strong graduating buttress rises on each angle of the church, and a pilaster on each angle of the porch. The east window is of admirable proportions, and, like those in the sides, four in each, is in the Perpendicular style. Near the church is the school, under the direction of the Protestant rector, a remarkably nice house in the Elizabethan style of architecture. There is also a dispensary in the town.

Extracts taken from Thomas Lacy, Sights and Scenes in Our Fatherland (London 1863), pp 679-701.


An account of Post Famine Clare, 1861
Henry Coulter


A Walking Tour, 1864
William Barry