Inchicronan Abbey was built in the twelfth century on the site of an earlier monastery. It is situated on the lake of the same name, at the tip of a long peninsula.
The abbey was sacked and burned by Cromwellian troops under General Ludlow in 1651. The treasures of the abbey were reportedly placed in a large urn and thrown into the lake, where even today they are supposed to be guarded by a huge eel. Conor O’Brien, husband of Maire Rua of Leameneh Castle, was mortally wounded in the battle against the Cromwellian army.
In centuries past when Crusheen had no priest, the monks of Inchicronan would go to Crusheen to perform the last rites for the dying. It happened that one stormy winter’s night a man arrived at the abbey and asked one of the friars to attend his dying mother. The friar, deterred by the wildness of the weather, decided to wait until the morning when the storm had abated. The woman, however, died in the night. When the monk passed away, he was buried in the Abbey graveyard. On several occasions since, when someone in the village was about to die, lights have reportedly been seen moving across the causeway and through the village, hovering over the home of the unfortunate before crossing over the lake and back to the abbe graveyard. The lights are said to be the spirit of the friar making the journey he had not made in his lifetime.
Wedge tombs date from c2000 BC and are so called as they are generally wider and higher at the front (usually the western) end. Both unburnt and cremated human remains have been found, with cremation the more common. Wedge tombs were often covered by cairns but there is no trace of one here on side of Slieve Callan, although the tomb appears to sit on an island of green among the brown of the surrounding bog. Knockalassa has never been excavated.
The Fianna were a large body of warriors who served as an elite army to the High King of Ireland, Cormac Mac Art. They were charged with protecting the kingdom from invasion and fought many battles with foreign armies as well as with otherworld foes.Diarmuid Ó Duibhne was a youthful hero of the Fianna, although cursed with a “ball seirce”, or “love-spot”, on his forehead. He was forced to wear a bandanna, for any woman sighting the ball-seirce would immediately fall in love with him. After eloping with Grania, daughter of the king and fiancée of Fionn MaCumhaill himself, the young lovers were chased around Ireland by a furious Fionn and by Diarmuid’s former comrades of the Fianna. After a long series of adventures, terms were finally agreed and Diarmuid and Grania lived happily in his native Kerry for many years. Diarmuid was killed while hunting the great boar of Benbulben, when a vengeful Fionn deliberately withheld the cure to the hero’s wounds. Most counties contain a site associated with the pursuit of Diarmuid and Grania, and Clare is no different – Knockalassa is shown on the old maps as “Diarmuid and Grania’s Bed”.
Ellen Hanley was born in Co Limerick in 1803, a friendly, pretty girl whose kindness and innocence led to her neighbours calling her the Colleen Bawn.
When she was not yet sixteen, she was seduced by a John Scanlan, scion of a prominent family who had just returned from service in the Napoeonic Wars. Scanlan caused her to elope, tricked her into a fake marriage and kept her hidden in the village of Glin for six weeks. Scanlan’s mother, unaware of his actions, then arranged a match for him that would bring a fine dowry.
He decided to get rid of the young Ellen and conspired with his servant Stephen Sullivan, a fellow veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, to murder her. On July 15th, 1819, they persuaded her to join them on a boat trip across the Shannon. Some days later, her body was discovered by a Patrick O’Connell on the shore of his land at Moneypoint in Co Clare. It was obvious that she had been murdered.
John Scanlan was arrested immediately, and, despite being defended by Daniel O’Connell, was found guilty of murder. The judge interestingly ordered an early execution, “lest the powerful interest of his family should procure a respite”. As it was, the family were able to have the reportage suppressed and the trial and execution was not reported in the newspapers.
Stephen Sullivan fled to the Tralee area of Kerry and there laboured for farmers under the pseudonym of Clifford. Twelve months later he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and brought to the police barracks. His real identity was discovered when he was recognised by a prisoner in custody who then informed the RIC. It was during the trial of Sullivan that Scanlon’s role in the brutal murder of Ellen Hanley was exposed to the public. Stephen Sullivan was also hanged.
The Colleen Bawn was buried in Burrane graveyard, near Killimer, in a grave offered by Peter O’Connell, brother of Patrick. Peter, a hedgeschool master and a Celtic scholar, was laid to rest himself in the same grave some seven years later.
On the side of Tountinna mountain overlooking Lough Derg are the remains of a megalithic tomb dating from no later than the bronze age.
It is a spectacular location and in legend is associated with a high-status Leinster king who was killed here with a small group of his men in the early eleventh-century. One story has it that the Leinster men were visiting Brian Boru in Kincora to pay tribute but became embroiled in a dispute ostensibly about a chess game. The Leinster men departed, but were caught up with by Brian’s men; a skirmish followed, and the Leinster men were killed.
Another story says that the king was on his way to marry the daughter of Brian, but that Brian’s wife Gormfhlaith, who didn’t approve of the match, arranged to have the party ambushed on their way to Kincora. The reality, of course, is that the grave was here some 3000 years before the birth of Brian Boru. Very little is known of the tomb builders, their language, beliefs, or customs.
Although little remains of Dough castle today, it is still among the most widely recognised landmarks in North Clare. It was originally built by the O’Connors, the lords of Corcomroe, in 1306. It was sited at the strategically important mouth of the Inagh River, where it could control both land and water traffic. In 1471, the chieftain was murdered in the castle by his nephews and was buried at the end of what is now the main street of Lahinch. A cairn was erected in his memory, and this gave rise to the official Irish name for Lahinch, Leacht Ui Chonchuir, or O’Connor’s cairn.
The castle later passed to the O’Briens, one of whom, Daniel, gave “hospitable and humane” shelter to English settlers who were threatened by the Irish rebellion of 1641. In return for his actions, Dough castle was spared from being demolished or slighted by the Cromwellian army. By 1675 it was described as a tall battlemented tower with a large two-storey dwelling house attached to one side. Large windows with flat arches and slab lintels replaced the older slit windows. The present ruin is the result of various collapses due to the castle having been built upon sandbanks. One wall had fallen before 1839, and a considerable mass, with the chimney, fell in 1883. These sandbanks were reputedly the home of Donn Dumhach (Donn of the sandhills), a si prince who still haunts the scene, and the sandhill near the bridge is also supposed to be haunted. No trace has been found of a supposed underground passage, filled with valuables, leading from the castle to Liscannor.
Eddie Lenihan in his book “In the Tracks of the West Clare Railway” relates the tale of another O’Brien, lord of the nearby Moy Castle. When going to the battle of Dough he locked his wife and children into a vault under the castle to keep them safe from attack in his absence. Unfortunately, he was killed in the battle and the door was never again opened. What became of those inside is unknown………………..
On 26 July 1914, a white yacht, the Asgard, arrived in Howth with a cargo of 900 rifles and 29000 rounds of ammunition smuggled from Germany. Up to a thousand Irish Volunteers and Fianna scouts were there to unload the guns, while the harbourmaster, coastguards and police were ordered away from the vicinity. The Volunteers then marched with the arms to Dublin, and the “Old Howth Guns” were used in the Easter rising of 1916. The yacht, owned and sailed by Erskine and Molly Childers, is now preserved and on display at the National Museum in Dublin. The “Howth gun-running” was a pivotal event in Ireland’s long struggle for independence, and is commemorated every year at the site where the Asgard docked.
The harbour was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century, with much of the stone being quarried at nearby Kilrock. In 1811, 300 of the workers rioted. A detachment of soldiers was called in by Lord Howth to quell the riot and some of the labourers were so severely maimed that they did not survive, while six of the ringleaders received lengthy jail sentences. In all, over 600 labourers were employed in the building of the harbour and to accommodate them, over 150 houses were built in Howth. A new church was built c.1814 by the labourers, and to honour their work, commemorative carvings were incorporated in the front of the building depicting the wagons used to haul stones for the harbour. The church later became the parochial hall.
On August 12th 1821, the nobility and gentry of Dublin turned out at Dun Laoghaire for the arrival of King George IV. Banners flew and bands played, and a crowd estimated at 200,000 awaited the British monarch. However, at a quarter past four, the steam packet Lightning moored instead in Howth, where a small crowd of onlookers witnessed the King, unattended by a single soldier, disembark and shake hands with several farmers and fishermen. The imprint of his footsteps were cut into the landing stone at the time and can still be seen at the end of the West Pier..
There had been previous quays at Howth and its use as a port is well documented in medieval times. In 1323 food prices had risen dramatically in England and Europe due to famine, and with supplies already scarce in Ireland as a result of the invasion of Edward the Bruce of Scotland, ten guards were appointed by the government in order to prevent ships from leaving the port without permission and to prevent the exportation of food.
Despite the occasional presence of pirates (see previous post “Howth and pirates”), Howth was considered one of the most convenient ports for traffic from England, and notable people who disembarked here included Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (father of the future king Richard III) in 1449, and Lord Mountjoy (the Lord Deputy who defeated Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell at the Battle of Kinsale) in 1600.
The most unwelcome arrival was probably in 1347, when the Black Death came to Ireland. It appeared first in Howth, where apparently it resulted from a visit by a Chinese ship. By July the epidemic had reached Dublin and then it quickly spread throughout the country, killing up to a third of the population. Similar to other European countries, the highest mortality appears to have been in the towns; and as most of the Anglo-Normans lived in towns with the native Irish spread throughout the countryside, the plague was perhaps one factor in the Gaelic resurgence of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Howth harbour, of course, has always been home to a local fishing fleet, and the industry reached its apogee in the late-nineteenth century when the herring fishing drew boats from all of Ireland, England, Wales and especially from Scotland. By 1878, almost 1000 boats congregated in Howth for the herring season. A church was built for the mainly Scottish presbyterians, the Mariners Hall on the West Pier. While the fishing industry has declined greatly, particularly since joining the EU, Howth is still a working harbour with a sizeable fishing fleet. In 1994, a memorial was erected on the harbour to all those lost at sea
Overlooked by the picturesque St Mary’s Abbey and Tower Hill, the harbour today is a major tourist attraction, with a large marina, cafes, bars, markets, promenade, and playground, and is a good place to start a “Heritage tour” of Howth
The peninsula of Howth features in many of the mythological tales of ancient days, particularly those relating to the Fianna. The Fianna, under the leadership of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, protected the kingdom of Ireland from invasion and fought many battles with foreign armies as well as with otherworld foes. They counted in their midst many of our greatest warriors including Fionn himself, his son Oisin, and his captain but sometime enemy Goll Mac Morna. Others included Caoilte Mac Ronan, who was renowned for the speed at which he ran. On one occasion, the king, Cormac Mac Art, asked to have a fistful of sand brought to him every morning from each of the four shores of Ireland, as he would know by smelling them whether the feet of a foe had landed on them during the night. Three of his men offered to perform this daily function. The first said he would have the sands collected as quickly as a leaf falls from a tree, but the king was not satisfied. The second man said he would have the sands collected as quickly as a cat sneaks between two houses, but again the king was not satisfied. Caoilte Mac Ronan, for he was the third man, said he would have the sands collected as quickly as a woman changes her mind. “Good”, said the king, “will you go now and collect the sands for me?” “I have already returned with them” replied Caoilte.
Perhaps the strongest and bravest of the warriors was Oscar, a son of Oisin and grandson of Fionn. He was always to the fore in battle and was the Fianna’s choice whenever single combat was called. When Oisin returned to Ireland from Tir na nOg centuries after departing with the Otherworld nymph Niamh of the Golden Hair, he met St Patrick and spoke thus of his son: “If I saw Oscar and God fighting hand to hand on yonder hill, and if I saw Oscar laid low, then would I admit that God was a strong man.” Oscar, along with many other heroes of the Fianna, died at the battle of Gabhra, near Skreen in Co Meath. On hearing the news of his death, his wife Aideen, the daughter of Aengus of Howth, herself died of sorrow. She was buried in Howth and her resting place was marked by a giant dolmen still called “Aideens Grave.”
The dolmen lies among the rhododendrons in the grounds of Howth castle. The capstone is estimated to weigh about 75 tons, the second-heaviest one in the country, and over the millennia it has slipped backward to the ground, splaying the portal stones and breaking the supporting stone. The tomb has never been excavated , but portal dolmens are known to date from the Neolithic period, from c4000BC to c2500BC, thousands of years before the arrival of the Celts (and, of course, the Fianna!). They were usually covered with a mound of earth or small stones, although some such as Poulnabron in Clare are so spectacular that it has been suggested that they may never have been covered.
On arriving at Howth Castle, the visitor goes through a set of large gates. The gates (and a lodge which was knocked down some years ago) were built with the winnings of Peep o’Day Boy, a champion racehorse owned by Thomas St Lawrence, the 30th lord of Howth (1803-1874). Thomas was passionate about horse racing: in 1853 he opened Baldoyle race course and won the first race himself on a horse called ‘Lambay’. ‘St Lawrence’ was another of his successful stable, but the star was surely ‘Peep o’Day Boy’. Thomas bought him in 1848 and just days later the horse won £170 in a single race. Later that year he won the prestigious Chester Gold Cup and then finished second in the Great Metropolitan Stakes in Epsom. A few years later, the horse was sold to the Tsar of Russia for 1600 guineas and exported. (If the name seems vaguely familiar, it may be because of the “Peep o’ Day Boys”, a violent anti-Catholic agrarian association in Ulster in the eighteenth century. Lord Gosford at the time observed of the Peep o’ Day Boys that they were a “low set of fellows who with guns and bayonets, and other weapons break open the houses of the Roman Catholicks, and as I am informed treat many of them with cruelty”. The gates of the Castle are of course a testament to the horse, not the 18th century Ulster gang!)
Going on up by the castle itself, it is worth looking at the old gate tower. Dating from the fifteenth century, it is most likely the gate at which the pirate queen Granuaile was denied access in 1576, as a result of which she kidnapped the young heir. The tower, along with the sunken gardens, feature in a 1963 B-movie made by a young Francis Ford Coppola, a horror movie called “Dementia 13” – you can check it out on Youtube
Mona Incha is situated on what was once an island in the now-drained Lough Cre. The twelfth-century church has a finely decorated Romanesque doorway and chancel arch. The head of the high cross dates from the twelfth-century, although the base is from the ninth-century.
Giraldus Cambrensis wrote of the island in the thirteenth century that “no woman can land on it without dropping down dead as soon as she touches the shore; and the same thing happens to the female of any of the lower animals. This has often been proved: for the females of dogs, cats, and other animals have been brought over to make trial: and they have always died the moment they reached the island”
On the coast road from Kilkee to Loop Head lies Castle Point, the fabulously scenic promontory site of a 16th century castle built by the McMahons. While significant ruins were photographed in the mid 1850s, little remains today apart from a small grass-covered mound of stones and a slight embankment running along the clifftop.
In a nearby field is a monument to ocean-rowers lost at sea.
The first lighthouse built at Loop Head was in 1670, consisting of a single-story cottage with a signal fire on the roof. The present tower was erected in 1854 and is now a museum, the operation of the light having been automated in 1991. Not far from the lighthouse was a WW2 look-out post but this now lies in ruins
There have been many shipwrecks along this stretch of coast over the centuries. Intrinsic Bay is named after a ship, “Intrinsic”, which, travelling from Liverpool to New Orleans, was dashed against the cliffs in January 1836, with the loss of all fourteen crew. Edmond Point is called after the “Edmond”, sailing from Limerick to New York which split in two and sank there in November 1850 with the loss of 98 lives. In 1894, the ship “Inishtrahull”, going from Glasgow to Limerick, went missing without trace, until in 1985 a section of the bow was picked up and identified in Kilkee.
The area was the subject of great controversy in the 1850s when a prominent land owner and agent Marcus Keane, was accused of proselytizing – he refused to allow a Catholic church to be built on the peninsula, and, at a time of great poverty and want, provided food for the pupils of the Protestant school at Kilbaha only. Keane was notorious in Clare for enforcing the eviction of many hundreds of poor families, with the result that he acquired the sobriquet the “Clare Exterminator”. After his death, his body was placed in a lead-lined coffin in a vault in the old cemetery in Kilmaley. It disappeared shortly thereafter, however, and despite many searches by the authorities, it was seven years before it was located, buried surreptitiously in another part of the graveyard, with the handles and nameplates removed from the coffin.
Just off Loop Head is a large rock, some fifty feet in length and rising about two hundred feet in height. It is referred to as “Sampson’s Island” in a photo taken at the end of the 19th century, but I can find no further information on who Sampson was. In olden times, Cuchulainn and some of his Ulster pals were on a hunting expedition in the midlands when he caught the eye of an old witch or hag named Mál. Brave and all as he was, Cuchulainn took to his heels for fear that the hag would enchant him. He fled to the West with the hag on his heels, until he finally reached Loop Head and ran out of land. With a mighty leap he jumped on to the rock, but Mál was determined to have her good-looking warrior and she followed him onto the rock. Cuchulainn then leapt back onto the headland, Mál also made the leap but, unfortunately for her, she landed on an overhang. The ground gave way and she plummeted the two hundred feet into the raging sea below. Three days later, her body washed up near Quilty, and to this day the bay is called Malbay. The scene of the jump became known as Ceann Leime, or Leap Head, and over the years this has changed to Loop Head…..
From the earliest times and for thousands of years, our prehistoric ancestors marked their sacred spaces with megalithic and wooden monuments. The Celts too had their sacred spaces, were deeply reverential toward the trees, rivers, mountains and the landscape as a whole. What wonder, then, that one of our defining national characteristics is our connection with the natural landscape which has surrounded us, our ‘sense of place’. Even 800 years of colonial wars, which saw the violent separation of the Irish people from the land of their ancestors, served not to break but to strengthen the spiritual bond between the people and their environment. Similarly, in more recent times, while emigrant ships brought many of Ireland’s youth to Kilburn, to Sydney and to Boston, the sense of place did not dilute but in many instances became deeper ingrained. No matter where we find ourselves, or how many generations removed from Ireland, we all carry within ourselves a piece of our homeplace.
The above plaque, erected on Cowbooter Lane, Howth, in 2010, celebrates one man’s “sense of place”. Cowbooter Lane sixty years ago was a pleasant little laneway with a small stream beside. John O’Donovan, the great Celtic scholar, visited Howth in 1845 and referred to the stream as “Cul Cuar”. He commented that the name derived from the Gaelic, describing a crooked corner, or angle, of the stream. PW Joyce, an authority on the origin and history of Irish place names, wrote that the words ‘booter’, ‘boater’ and ‘batter’ in place names are corruptions of the Irish word ‘bothar’. It is probable therefore that the lane also took its name from this crooked corner or angle and would therefore have been known as ‘Cuar Bothar’. A law passed in 1655 during the reign of Charles II required that uncouth Gaelic place names be replaced by names more suitable to the English tongue, so it seems likely that at this stage the name of the lane was converted from Cuar Bothar to Cowbooter.
The antiquity of the lane harks back to the ancient days of the Fianna. The Fianna were a large body of warriors who served as a sort of volunteer army to the High King of Ireland. They were charged with protecting the kingdom from invasion and there is an entire cycle of tales relating their many battles with foreign armies and otherworld foes. Fiacha, their first leader, was the grandson of Crimthann, king of Ireland, whose royal fort was on nearby Tower Hill (see the separate entry on “Crimthann and Howth”).The royal fort overlooked Balscadden Bay, where the Fianna had a ship which was required to be ready to sail at any time. Not too far away, Duain Mac Dairine was stationed as a look out above Kilrock quarry on ‘Carraig an aon fhir’ (“the lone man’s rock”). In many of the tales of the Fianna, reference is made to their hunting on the Hill of Howth, and it is believed that there was a camp of some sort near the summit. The direct path that would have been used by the Fianna in travelling between Balscadden and the summit would be along Cowbooter Lane.
At the top end of the lane is Cannon Rock – so called because Silken Thomas Fitzgerald positioned cannon there during his rebellion of 1534. It overlooked Balscadden bay, where any Crown reinforcements would be expected to come ashore. Again, it is easy to imagine that Cowbooter Lane would be the natural path to use in the rebels’ travels up and down to the shore at Balscadden. The rebellion failed and Fitzgerald surrendered to the Crown after receiving guarantees of safety for himself and his family (despite the guarantees, he and his five uncles were executed for treason at Tyburn in 1537).
An Cuar Bothar and Cowbooter Lane were not the only names by which the road has been known. At different times it was called ‘Blackberry Lane’, ‘Rocky Road’, and ‘Molly Mons Lane’. In 1832 a cholera epidemic broke out in Dublin and temporary hospitals were built around the city and county, including one at the corner of Cowbooter Lane. The laneway then became Hospital Lane, and as such it features in WB Yeats’ tale ‘Village Ghosts’. Yeats lived in Howth in the 1880s and in Village Ghosts repeats some of the tales he heard
“There is a farmer… a man of great strength, and a teetotaller. His wife and sister-in-law, musing on his great strength, often wonder what he would do if he drank. One night, when passing through the Hospital Lane, he saw what he supposed at first to be a tame rabbit; after a little, he found that it was a white cat. When he came near, the creature slowly began to swell larger and larger, and as it grew he felt his own strength ebbing away, as though it were sucked out of him. He turned and ran….”
“By the Hospital Lane goes the ‘Faeries’ Path’. Every evening they travel from the hill to the sea, from the sea to the hill. At the sea end of their path stands a cottage. One night, Mrs. Arbunathy, who lived there, left her door open, as she was expecting her son. Her husband was asleep by the fire; a tall man came in and sat beside him. After he had been sitting there for a while, the woman said, ‘In the name of God, who are you?’ He got up and went out, saying, ‘Never leave the door open at this hour, or evil may come to you’. She woke her husband and told him. ‘One of the Good People has been with us’, said he.”
The above information was gathered by Leslie Ó Laoi, who thought that perhaps the walkers who use the lane might appreciate some knowledge of its history. He took it upon himself to put up a laminated sign, replacing it regularly over the years as the elements took their toll. As a tribute to Leslie’s lifelong dedication to heritage and culture and to his tireless work on behalf of the community of Howth, the Howth Peninsula Heritage Society erected a permanent plaque on the first anniversary of his death on 17 April 2009.
Ni bheidh a leithead aris ann
Footnote: The lane also featured in the RTE documentary series “Thou Shalt Not Kill” as the site where Kay Boyne was beaten and strangled to death in 1948 by her lover John Fanning. A brief account of the case is given at http://www.theforensicexaminer.com/archive/winter08/5/