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The Rocky Road
by Paddy Brennan

Flora and Wildlife of the Rocky Road

The Rocky Road
The Rocky Road

In writing of the Rocky Road one has to pre-date written manuscripts and refer to early human settlements in the areas that later became the parishes of Drumcliffe and Killone. Pilgrims travelled the route to the Killone area for a mid-summer festival, which was held around a well in the latter mentioned vicinity. Marcus Keane suggested that the well at Killone was dedicated to Jun, a Babylonian divinity.

The foundation of Killone Abbey is said to have been around 1189, but it may actually be older. Founded as a nunnery, the abbey provided many services to the surrounding community. Donators of the land were the O'Brien clan and many of the abbesses were known to be of that family. With the introduction of Christianity and the foundation of the Abbey at Killone, the well of Jun, adjacent to Killone Abbey, now became dedicated to St. John the Baptist and a pattern of religious services replaced the old Pagan ways.

Ennis shares one characteristic with cities like Dublin, Cork and Limerick - it was founded on an island. Modern visitors now find it difficult to find this island (Inis). In 1216 Donnchadh Cairbreach O'Brien moved the royal seat of the O'Briens from Limerick to Clonroad in Ennis. This in turn led to a settlement on an island in the Fergus. From this settlement the route to Killone was well travelled, as it became the main route of travel from this settlement to the south west of the county.

Around 1240/1 a number of travelling Friars were given shelter by Donnchadh Cairbreach O'Brien in Ennis and, after a short stay, they left. Returning in 1247, they founded an abbey by the banks of the Fergus. The present abbey was built by Turlough O'Brien before his death in 1306.

We can now date the route from Ennis to Killone and St. John's Well to be definitely established from 1306. Thousands of people used to visit St. John's Well on June 24 and the road became known at 'The Pilgrims Road'. The only part which still now remains in its natural condition is the Rocky Road.

With the Cromwellian Plantation of the mid 1600s, Catholicism was outlawed. The Penal Laws came strictly into force and practice of the faith of the majority went underground. With this the annual pilgrimage to St. John's well became a memory.

Ennis was granted a charter to have two fairs per annum in the mid 1600s. These fairs brought many rural dwellers into town to sell their stock and wares. The Rocky Road being the south westerly route into town, it was over this road that the stock was driven into the fairs of Ennis, which were held on Clonroadmore (now Carmody Street), and on the present Fairgreen. Many farmers would set out the day before for the fair. The area known as 'The Hawn', leading down to the stream, became a stop- off point for the refreshing of the stock before proceeding to the fair the next day. The pound was also used to fodder the stock.

In the latter part of the 19th century my grandfather told of how he and his father, and many other farmers, brought cattle and horses to fairs in Ennis and they used this same Rocky Road on the route in from Cragbrien, Ballyea, to reach the fairs. They watered their stock at the 'Hawn'. This information has also been passed on by my late father as he too walked the journey from Cragbrien to Ennis. The right of way remained open until the 1930s when gates were erected to both ends of the road to prevent the travelling community camping on the route, and secure stock on lands adjoining the Rocky Road. A swing gate was in operation to allow pedestrians walk the route but a key was to be had at both ends of the road for those who brought 'stock' through the passage. The original swing gate is still in operation at the Hawn entrance.

The Hawn
The Hawn

Starting a walk today on the Rocky Road we enter the area at 'The Hawn' which is short for shruthán or stream, which runs at the right as you enter. The new housing estate that you see in front of you, has been instrumental in changing the bank of the Hawn very much over the past two years. Originally, the road was on a higher level and sloped gently down to the stream. The cottage that you see on your left is over 200 years old and was built as a 'Pound Cottage'. It is built of cut stone (now plastered over). You can see a fine example of this stone if you look at the chimney stack. From two gables of the house ran a cut stone wall, 8' high enclosing about a half acre. The Pound was run by the Carroll family for the last 100 years, and they lived in relatively good circumstances having the use of some 9 extra acres for grazing of cattle and goats, or a horse, as the time desired. The menfolk were also stonemasons by trade, the inheritor of the cottage (Brud?), marrying a German housekeeper in service to Joyces of Edenvale. (Miss Carroll sold the cottage and lands in 1999 for building development).

During the war of 1939-45 the area adjacent to the Rocky Road known as the Carteagh became a very popular 'amenity area' for townspeople of Ennis as a picnic area. It was also the provider of Hazel, Ash, Black and Whitethorn for firewood when other fuels were rationed for the less well-off inhabitants of the area.

In the 1960s and '70s the Hawn became a favourite spot for washing motor cars, especially taxi cars. Sunday morning often saw a queue waiting with their buckets and sponge to rid their cars of the grime of the week.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that the Rocky and Carteagh was also well known as a courting spot, and the assumption that many an Ennis child was conceived here could be well founded.

The Carteagh
The Carteagh

On both sides of the Rocky Road is the Carteagh. This is an area of limestone cragg, similar to the Burren in north Clare. The Carteagh has similar flora to the Burran, and it is at its best in the late Spring. It also has native woods such as Blackthorn, Whitethorn, Ash, Oak, Sally, Birch, Hazel among others that seem to grow out of the rock. Wildlife also bounds here including the Fox, Red Squirrel, Stoat, Field Mouse, Rat, Lizard, a species of crossed fox/domestic cat and the Goat.

1954 was celebrated as 'Marian Year' in Ireland. This celebration saw quite a number of 'Marian Shrines' to the Blessed Virgin being erected in Clare. Many of these shrines, including the ones in the People's Park in Ennis and in Kilrush, got their unique stones from the walls on the upper part of the Rocky Road.

There is one other interesting item associated with the Carteagh. As you walk up about 200m., look directly back down the road. You will see the tower of the Cathedral of St. Peter & Paul in Ennis. This Cathedral was built in the period from 1842 and finished around 1877 - the spire you see was the last to be finished and the stone was quarried from a quarry here on the Carteagh, on your right as you look back to Ennis. This tower was built by Carroll, stone mason and contractor.

In the latter part of the twentieth century and right up to the present day the Rocky Road is used once again as a pedestrian walk to both St. John's Well, which has revived the mid-Summer ritual of Mass and dancing at the crossroads, and as a safe, environmentally friendly leisure walk off the main thoroughfares leading to and from the town of Ennis.

In 1989 a grant of £25,000 was made available by Clare County Council to improve the amenity known as the Rocky Road and the intention of the council was voiced to purchase the area as an amenity park for the town of Ennis. This money was never used. Is this area worth saving? This question was asked of the people of Ennis in the year 2000. Gladly the answer was a resounding, Yes.

Looking Towards Ennis
Looking Towards Ennis

The National Roads Authority set in motion the purchase of lands in the area with a view to constructing a western bypass of Ennis - this bypass would have taken some 100 yards from the middle of the road in the form of a round-about. This proposal is to cut the existing Rocky Road in two, leaving about a half mile of it in its present condition. Though the bypass is given the go-ahead the right-of-way is protected for pedestrians by footbridge. Also the animal wildlife is to be given access under the new bypass. The roundabout proposed for the middle of the Rocky Road has now been moved off the road, some 30-40 metres, to the south.

The above came about after a very public local campaign that was also nationally highlighted in both the press and television. Over 2,000 signatures were sent to the Minister leading to local TD's, Euro MP's, Senators, County and Urban Councillors being won over to the cause of preservation.

The campaign also led to motions at both urban and county councils to purchase the portion of the Carteagh and Rocky on the town side of the proposed bypass as a wilderness park for the people of Ennis. This proposed and passed motion is still a work in progress for our councils.

Clare County Library wishes to thank Clare Local Studies Project for preparation of raw text for this publication.