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

Fr Anthony MacBrody, Description of Thomond, 1669

In 1669 the Franciscan Anthony MacBrody, a friar of the Irish college in Prague, published a large work called Propugnaculum Catholicae Veritatis, in which he defended the Irish nation against the calumnies of English writers. He was incensed at the claims of writers such as Camden, Stanihurst and Carew, who claimed that the Irish had been unlearned and were made civil through their intercourse with the English. MacBrody was a descendant of the illustrious Mac Bruaideadha, praise poets and hereditary historians to the O’Briens of Thomond. As a young man he joined the Franciscan order, completing his novitiate in Quin. He travelled to Rome in 1643, where he studied under Luke Wadding. He later transferred to the province of Bohemia and taught at the college of St Mary of the Snows, Prague. While much of his account of Clare is based on his own experiences, he obviously had access to William Camden’s Britannia and Sir James Ware’s works on Ireland. MacBrody viewed his native county through the uncritical eye of an exile and was clearly given to exaggeration as he tried to impress his readers on the continent.

Thomond (formerly a most noble principality, the home of the Dalcassian clan), is also known as County Clare, a name derived from the castle of Clare, one of the residences of the O’Brien family, prince of Clare (now called the earl of Thomond). Those who follow Camden in saying that that castle was built and named by Richard, the earl of Clare, who once lived there, are completely wrong. The castle, together with Clare Abbey was built by the most devout prince Donald O’Brien before the English made their way into Ireland about 1158. Donald was the first of his family to personally pay homage to Henry II. It was his son Donat O’Brien known as Caribrac, prince (or king) of Limerick, who was held in the highest esteem by King John on account of the many loyal services rendered to the crown of England. That place, then, is not called Clare after the earl of Clare; it comes, rather, from the name of a bridge which once spanned the river Fergus; the word clare means a board in gaelic. And so from that wooden bridge which was once the only crossing over the Fergus, the place came to be called Clare.

British writers have not been adverse to describing my native Thomond (which has three baronies, respectively soft, mountainous and stony), but they err magnificently. So I shall try to defend it briefly against false histories such as [Geraldus] Cambrensis, Camden and others of their ilk, by describing it in a way which never strays even one step from the truth.

Thomond, a fairly important part of Laithmogia (old name for southern half of Ireland), is situated in the northern corner of Munster, beyond the Shannon (Ireland’s principal river). It is bound on the east and south by the curving flow of the Shannon river. On the west it is bound by the open sea, and to the north by County Galway in Connacht. It is so circumscribed, in fact, that access to it by land is possible only from the south through Limerick (the finest city in Munster) or from the north through the border with Connacht.

It has beautiful skies and healthy air; its land is fertile in many places, and it abounds in wild birds (especially pheasants, partridges, falcons, hawks, eagles, quails, ducks, geese, wild cocks and hens, woodcocks, blackbirds, thrushes, cranes, swans, and many other species of birds) in great profusion. It also has a great variety of woods and forests, as well as many mountains, sunny hills, fields and plains. It is rich in rivers (the principal ones being the Shannon and the Fergus) and lakes (the most important being Lough Derg which extends long and wide along the noble Shannon and forms the division between Ormond, Thomond and Clanricard near Athlone; so large that it is at least fifty miles around it), and these abound in almost every kind of fish, especially salmon, eels, trout, etc. It is so blessed in all of these things that it could not be better.

So great too is the abundance of wheat, barley, and oats gathered into the barns in Thomond that it would be right to call it the seat of cereals. Hence the fact that it often charitably helps out neighbouring provinces. It is also rich in metals, especially silver, and so abounds in ironore that from the ironworks at Tomgraney alone great quantities of iron are exported to England every year. The great multitude of flocks of sheep further enhances the splendour of this blessed fatherland. Day and night, they wander along the hills and fields and shady groves, without fear of thieves or wolves (though the kingdom is not entirely devoid of the latter). Like almost every county in Ireland, this province also abounds in the finest horses; I have sometimes seen as many as sixty well-groomed horses in the stables of the head of the O’Brien family, the earl of Thomond, at Bunratty. You will also find almost every kind of domestic and wild animal there, except camels, mules, donkeys, elephants, etc. I know of no better place in the world for hunting; wolves, deer, foxes and hares are hunted and captured.

Not least of this province’s ornaments is the great quantity of fine multi-coloured marble. There are also many towns, castles, churches and monasteries. The chief towns are: Ennis, Clonroad, Killaloe (episcopal see), Kilfenora (episcopal see), Killinnaboy, Coroffin, Quin, Drekud [Six-mile-bridge?], Scariff, Clondegad, Kilrush, and Tobar Rian Douin (the well of the king of the world).

Saints and Holy Wells
Beside these, and several other gifts of nature, Thomond is also blessed with supernatural gifts, such as several wells formerly made holy by saints. People who drink of the water from these wells with devotion are cured of various ills, as the daily experience of several centuries testifies. One of these wells is called Tobar Rian Douin, from which the town takes its name, not far from the house of my father Miler Brouder in Ballyogan. He died in 1668, the year I wrote these things; he was then in the 81st year of his age and the 58th of his marriage with my mother Margaret Moloney. There are also wells dedicated to Saints Senan, Donatus, Caimin and Cronan, and two to St Brigid. St Michael’s well was first found 36 years ago, and since God worked many miracles through it (as everyone in Ireland knows, even the heretic English), I shall say a few words about how it was found, lest the memory of it perish.

A lady of ancient lineage, Lady Marian O’Gorman, lost her husband Sir Thomas O’Gorman, Lord of Tullycrine in the barony of Clondegad in Thomond. She was about fifty-two years old at the time; I knew her well as she was a close relative. She suffered so much from sciatica and a stone in the kidney that she could not sleep day or night with the pain. She tried several doctors, but in vain; the human skills of the doctors could do nothing to relieve the pain. The devout Lady Marian left aside vain hope in human medicine, and drawing on her Catholic faith, she sought divine help through the intercession of St Michael, the most glorious prince of archangels. Michael, commander of that angelic army, hastened to the aid of the suppliant lady. The pain lessened. The following night he appeared to Marian in a dream and spoke these words to her: ‘Tomorrow, you will go to the shrine dedicated to my name’. (In Irish it is called Cill Mhichil, which means the shrine dedicated to St Michael, where there is a chapel dedicated to his name). ‘When you have heard mass, you will go the cemetery and where you see a clump of reeds you will dig the ground. When you have done that, a copious flow of health-giving water will flow forth. As soon as you drink of this water, and wash your hands and feet in it, you will be completely cured.’

Good Catholic that she was, Marian paid no heed to the angel’s advice the first time, for she knew that dreams were not to be trusted unless they were clearly from God. The prince of angels appeared to her a second time in her sleep, and warned her to give top priority to what he had previously ordered her to do. Still, on her confessor’s advice, she wanted further proof of whether this inspiration was coming from God or not. So, in spite of increasing pain, she declined to carry out the order. But at the same time she continued to pray to St Michael for help. The Archangel appeared a third time; if she did not heed the divine warning this third time, he said, she would suffer irreparable damage.

Next morning, Marian called her confessor and her son Thomas O’Gorman, and told them of what she had seen and heard in her third dream. With the consent of both men, she had herself driven immediately to the designated place, about an Irish mile from her home. There, she first went to confession and received holy communion. Then, in the presence of many people, she ordered the earth to be dug up. The parish priest, Mr Dermot O’Queely, took up the spade in the name of God, and he had no sooner sunk it in the ground than a spring of the clearest water gushed forth. All the Catholics sank to their knees at the sight of this miracle, and gave thanks to God for this unexpected grace. Marian wept for joy and, calling on further help from her heavenly protector and the assistance of her servants, she approached the full well. She tasted the water, washed her hands and feet, and she was instantly restored to full health as if she had never been ill. That same week, so greatly did the devotion of the people to the glorious prince of angels and to the recently blessed water increase, two people who had been blind from birth had their sight restored. Three cripples also walked; one of whom could only crawl about on his hands and knees for the previous fifteen years.

The fame of the miracles worked at the new well increased daily, and a huge crowd began to gather there from all over Thomond and the whole of Munster. Eventually they came from all the provinces of Ireland, especially on the feast of St Michael and on the anniversary of the apparition; there were times when as many as 6,000 received holy communion there on one day.

Miracles at the Well
As God continued to favour the place with miracles, the faith and devotion of the people grew towards this sacred place. In the first year alone, the parish priest listed out 300 miracles to the late bishop of Killaloe, the most reverend John O’Molony, a cousin of mine. All of these were people who has tasted the water from St Michael’s well with devotion and were restored to their former health by the power of God. The following years too, up to my departure from the country in 1643, an equal number of miracles were authenticated by a notary public appointed for this purpose.

The only miracle I witnessed with my own eyes happened on the feast of St Michael in 1642. A poor man called Donatulus (little Donat, or Donnachin) was so crippled from birth that his heels were attached to his buttocks. For many years he used to be carried about Clanricard and Thomond from house to house on a horse, or sometimes propelled himself in a little hand driven cart, in search of food. With the assistance of some devout people he was present at St Michael’s shrine, along with thousands of others from all over Ireland, on the day and year I mentioned. About 11 o’clock in the morning, just after the sermon, Donat (I forget his surname) was brought to the well by some devout person, in spite of the milling crowd, and washed in its waters. No sooner had he done so that Donat suddenly stood up before all those people, rejoicing and praising God as if he had never been crippled. He did the customary rounds of the church and cemetery on his bare feet in the most lively fashion.

I was already a Franciscan at that time, and I was able to see for myself the marks of his heels and calves on his buttocks; I even touched them out of curiosity. Nor must some heretic say that several such ailments can be cured by the natural powers of water. No, it was not customary for the sick to bathe there as they do at the Caroline Spa and elsewhere here in Bohemia and at the various healthgiving waters around Europe where doctors send people. Here, people first armed themselves with firm faith in God, and hope in the invocation of the Blessed Archangel Michael, and then drank a little of the water and wet their faces with it rather than washed themselves properly. The power by which they were healed came from elsewhere, not from the natural properties of that water. But let’s get back to the subject.

The Diocese
In olden times there were three episcopal sees in Thomond, namely: Killaloe, Scattery Island and Kilfenora. But in the reign of King Murrough II, Scattery was joined to the cathedral of Limerick. The episcopal seat of Killaloe was on the west bank of the Shannon, which was occupied in the sixth century by the abbot St Molua; hence the name Killaloe (or Kill-Maloe) by which it is known in popular parlance. After Molua’s death, he was succeeded by his disciple St Flannan, son of King Theodoric, who was consecrated in Rome by Pope John IV. He is credited with being Killaloe’s first bishop. King Theodric continued to be one of this see’s greatest benefactors; he endowed it with a great quantity of land. Theodoric was succeeded in these generous steps by their highnesses Prince Morrough, king of Ireland (who died on the 6th Ides of March 1124 and was buried at his own request in this church), and Donald O’Brien, prince of Limerick, who, according to Ware, has been greatly praised by historians for his generosity to this and many other churches.

About the end of the 12th century the ancient cathedral church of Roscrea, founded by St Cronan, bishop and abbot, was joined to the see of Killaloe. As a result of this union, the diocese of Killaloe became quite rich and extensive: it was about 60 miles long and, not counting the various small chapels and shrines, it had 126 parish churches. It would be tedious, however, to treat of all of these individually. We will come to Scattery Island when dealing with Limerick, to which, as we have said, it was united.

The diocese of Fenabore, commonly known as Kilfenora, is situated in the barony of Corcomroe, and was founded by St Fachtna, of whom more presently. As far as I know, this see is the smallest in the whole of Ireland; it has no more than fifteen parishes. Nevertheless, the bishop can support himself comfortably.

Princes and Monasteries
There are many holy places in this principality famous as places of pilgrimage, and are still frequented as such despite the tyrannical madness of the heretics. The most famous for their miracles are Iniscaltra, once the see of St Caimin, and Iniscaha, the see of St Senan. There were also 80 churches, parish or other, in Thomond before Henry VIII’s time, as well as eight monasteries, namely: Clare Abbey, Scattery, The Island of the Canons (known in the vernacular as Illan na gCanonach), The Island of St Cronan (commonly known as Inishcronan), St John the Baptist’s (commonly known as Kiloen), St Mary of the Fertile Rock (known as Corcumruo), Kilshanny, Inish (known as Inishcluanruada), and the monastery of Quin.

The noble monastery of the Canon’s Regular of St Augustine by the river Fergus, called Clare Abbey, was founded by Donald O’Brien, prince (or king, as some would say) of Limerick and Thomond, before the coming of the English.

Scattery, also belonging to the Canons, was restored by Terence O’Brien, king of Ireland. The monastery of the Island of the Canons, belonging to the Canons of St Augustine, was founded by the above mentioned Donald O’Brien, prince of Limerick, as was that of Inishcronan.

The monastery of St John the Baptist was founded by Prince Donald O’Brien for the nuns of St Augustine.

That of St Mary of the Fertile Rock [Sanctae Mariae de Petra Fertili], and its cell at Kilsanna, was founded by the same prince for the Cistercian monks.

The monastery and church at Ennis, on the banks of the river Fergus, was founded about 1280 [recte 1240], for the Friars minor of St Francis, by Donat Cairbreac O’Brien, that most devout and powerful of princes, who, according to Bruodin’s Chronicles and Miler junior Mac Bruodin, founded up to 80 monasteries, parish churches and chapels throughout many parts of Ireland.

The noble monastery of Quin was built of pure marble for the said Franciscan Friars about 1433. It was built by the illustrious Baron Maconus MacNamara, head of his dynasty, who built himself a beautiful mausoleum in the choir of the church.

In the choir of the Franciscan church in Ennis (now unfortunately used as a parish church by the heretics), the founder had a marble mausoleum built for himself and his descendants; it is known as the burial place of the O’Brien barons of Inchiquin. And since he did not want to be separated from his Bruodins even in death, he had a beautiful marble tomb built for them next to his own, where to this day most of the Bruodins are buried; the Bruodins of Maynoe are buried on St Caimin’s Island, i.e. Inishcaltra, as they live too far away [from Ennis].

In the same choir you will find the lineal descendants of Brian O’Brien and the illustrious McMahon family.

They have a beautiful altar tomb, adorned with several marble statues and columns. Further down the same church several noble families, especially the Clanchys, Nealons, Deas, Gilroys, Hehirs, Considines, etc., have fine marble altar tombs. The Earl of Thomond’s tomb is in the ornate chapel to St Francis within the church. . .

We shall now name the oldest noble families who ruled the nine baronies of Thomond up to the time of Cromwell’s tyranny. Some were ‘Most Illustrious’, others just ‘Illustrious’, while finally there were those who were just ‘Noble’. They were: O’Brien (from this royal family come the Earls of Thomond, Earls of Inchiquin, Barons of Ibrickan, Viscounts of Clare, to mention but a few of their glories), MacNamara or O’Mara, McMahon or Matthews, O’Connor, Fitzpatrick, Loghlin, O’Dea, Grady, Clanchy, Nealon, Sunigan, Delahoyd, Nerinhy, Bruodin, Hogan, Elmers, Britt, Davoren, Conry, Chruttin, Torenton, Cormican, Bourke, Fanning, Arthur, Blake, Graji, Hehir, Gorman, Gilriagh, Molony, Cahane, Caii [Kay?], Morisy, Considine, Flanigan, Gripha, Carmody. I do not wish to detract from any family by the order in which I have named them, and there may be other noble families which I do not remember just now.

Let that be enough about Thomond.

Taken from Antonio Bruodino, Propugnaculum Catholicae Veritatis (Prague 1669), pp 958-71; and Chris O’Mahoney and Brian Ó Dálaigh, ‘A Seventeenth Century Description of County Clare’ in Dal gCais 9 (1988), pp 27-38.

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