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Loop Head

Remains of Doonlicka Castle
Remains of Doonlicka Castle

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.

The slight embankment along the cliff edge
The embankment along the cliff edge
The castle ruin in the 1890s, from the Lawrence Collection, in the National Library
The castle ruin in the 19th century, from the Lawrence Collection, in the National Library

In a nearby field is a monument to ocean-rowers lost at sea.

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Loop Head lighthouse
Loop Head lighthouse

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

Ruin of the WW2 look out post
Ruin of the WW2 look out post
The bay to the north of Loop Head
The bay to the north of Loop Head

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.

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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…..

Nesting on the rock
Nesting on the rock
Sampson's Island c.1890, from the Lawrence Collection
Sampson’s Island c.1890, from the Lawrence Collection

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