1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Clare (county)

CLARE, a county in the province of Munster, Ireland, bounded N. by Galway Bay and Co. Galway, E. by Lough Derg, the river Shannon, and counties Tipperary and Limerick, S. by the estuary of the Shannon, and W. by the Atlantic Ocean. The area is 852,389 acres, or nearly 1332 sq. m. Although the surface of the county is hilly, and in some parts even mountainous, it nowhere rises to a great elevation. Much of the western baronies of Moyarta and Ibrickan is composed of bog land. Bogs are frequent also in the mountainous districts elsewhere, except in the limestone barony of Burren, the inhabitants of some parts of which supply themselves with turf from the opposite shores of Connemara. Generally speaking, the eastern parts of the county are mountainous, with tracts of rich pasture-land interspersed; the west abounds with bog; and the north is rocky and best adapted for grazing sheep. In the southern part, along the banks of the Fergus and Shannon, are the bands of rich low grounds called corcasses, of various breadth, indenting the land in a great variety of shapes. They are composed of deep rich loam, and are distinguished as the black corcasses, adapted for tillage, and the blue, used more advantageously as meadow land. The coast is in general rocky, and occasionally bold and precipitous in the extreme, as may be observed at the picturesque cliffs of Moher within a few miles of Ennistimon and Lisdoonvarna, which rise perpendicularly at O’Brien’s Tower to an elevation of 580 ft. The coast of Clare is indented with several bays, the chief of which are Ballyvaghan, Liscannor and Malbay; but from Black Head to Loop Head, that is, along the entire western boundary of the county formed by the Atlantic, there is no safe harbour except Liscannor Bay. Malbay takes its name from its dangers to navigators, and the whole coast has been the scene of many fatal disasters. The county possesses only one large river, the Fergus; but nearly 100 m. of its boundary-line are washed by the river Shannon, which enters the Atlantic Ocean between this county and Kerry. The numerous bays and creeks on both sides of this great river render its navigation safe in every wind; but the passage to and from Limerick is often tedious, and the port of Kilrush has from that cause gained in importance. The river Fergus is navigable from the Shannon to the town of Clare, which is the terminating point of its natural navigation, and the port of all the central districts of the county.

There are a great number of lakes and tarns in the county, of which the largest are Loughs Muckanagh, Graney, Atedaun and Dromore; but they are more remarkable for beauty than for size or utility, with the exception of the extensive and navigable Lough Derg, formed by the river Shannon between this county and Tipperary. The salmon fishery of the Shannon, both as a sport and as an industry, is famous; the Fergus also holds salmon, and there is much good trout-fishing in the lakes for which Ennis is a centre, and in the streams of the Atlantic seaboard. Clare is a county which, like all the western counties of Ireland, repays visitors in search of the pleasures of seaside resorts, sport, scenery or antiquarian interest. Yet, again like other western counties, it was long before it was rendered accessible. Communications, however, are now satisfactory.

Geology.—Upper Carboniferous strata cover the county west of Ennis, the coast-sections in them being particularly fine. Shales and sandstones alternate, now horizontal, as in the Cliffs of Moher, now thrown into striking folds. The Carboniferous Limestone forms a barren terraced country, often devoid of soil, through the Burren in the north, and extends to the estuary of the Fergus and the Shannon. On the east, the folding has brought up two bold masses of Old Red Sandstone, with Silurian cores. Slieve Bernagh, the more southerly of these, rises to 1746 ft. above Killaloe, and the hilly country here traversed by the Shannon is in marked contrast with the upper course of the river through the great limestone plain.

Minerals.—Although metals and minerals have been found in many places throughout the county, they do not often show themselves in sufficient abundance to induce the application of capital for their extraction. The principal metals are lead, iron and manganese. The Milltown lead mine in the barony of Tulla is probably one of the oldest mines in Ireland, and formerly, if the extent of the ancient excavations may be taken as a guide, there must have been a very rich deposit. Copper pyrites occurs in several parts of Burren, but in small quantity. Coal exists at Labasheeda on the right bank of the Shannon, but the few and thin seams are not productive. The nodules of clay-ironstone in the strata that overlie the limestone were mined and smelted down to 1750. Within half a mile of the Milltown lead mine are immense natural vaulted passages of limestone, through which the river Ardsullas winds a singular course. The lower limestone of the eastern portion of the county has been found to contain several very large deposits of argentiferous galena. Flags, easily quarried, are procured near Kilrush, and thinner flags near Ennistimon. Slates are quarried in several places, the best being those of Broadford and Killaloe, which are nearly equal to the finest procured in Wales. A species of very fine black marble is obtained near Ennis; it takes a high polish, and is free from the white spots with which the black Kilkenny marble is marked.

The mineral springs, which are found in many places, are chiefly chalybeate. That of Lisdoonvarna, a sulphur spa, about 8 m. from Ennistimon, has been celebrated since the 18th century for its medicinal qualities, and now attracts a large number of visitors annually. It lies 9 m. by road N. of Ennistimon. There are chalybeate springs of less note at Kilkishen, Burren, Broadfoot, Lehinch, Kilkee, Kilrush, Killadysart, and near Milltown Malbay. Springs called by the people “holy” or “blessed” wells, generally mineral waters, are common; but the belief in their power of performing cures in inveterate maladies is nearly extinct.

Watering-places.—The Atlantic Ocean and the estuary of the Shannon afford many situations admirably adapted for summer bathing-places. Among the most frequented of these localities are Milltown Malbay; with one of the best beaches on the western coast; and the neighbouring Spanish Point (named from the scene of the wreck of two ships of the Armada); Lehinch, about 2 m. from Ennistimon on Liscannor Bay, and near the interesting cliffs of Moher, has a magnificent beach. Kilkee is the most fashionable watering-place on the western coast of Ireland; and Kilrush on the Shannon estuary is also favoured.

Industries.—The soil and surface of the county are in general better adapted for grazing than for tillage, and the acreage devoted to the former consequently exceeds three times that of the latter. Agriculture is in a backward state, and not a fifth of the total area is under cultivation, while the acreage shows a decrease even in the principal crops of oats and potatoes. Cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs, however, all receive considerable attention. Owing to the mountainous nature of the county nearly one-seventh of the total area is quite barren.

There are no extensive manufactures, although flannels and friezes are made for home use, and hosiery of various kinds, chiefly coarse and strong, is made around Ennistimon and other places. There are several fishing stations on the coast, and cod, haddock, ling, sole, turbot, ray, mackerel and other fish abound, but the rugged nature of the coast and the tempestuous sea greatly hinder the operations of the fishermen. Near Pooldoody is the great Burren oyster bed called the Red Bank, where a large establishment is maintained, from which a constant supply of the excellent Red Bank oysters is furnished to the Dublin and other large markets. Crabs and lobsters are caught on the shores of the Bay of Galway in every creek from Black Head to Ardfry. In addition to the Shannon salmon fishery mentioned above, eels abound in every rivulet, and form an important article of consumption.

The Great Southern & Western railway line from Limerick to Sligo intersects the centre of the county from north to south. From Ennis on this line the West Clare railway runs to Ennistimon on the coast, where it turns south and follows the coast by Milltown Malbay to Kilkee and Kilrush. Killaloe in the east of the county is the terminus of a branch of the Great Southern & Western railway.

Population and Administration.—The population (126,244 in 1891; 112,334 in 1901; almost wholly Roman Catholic and rural) shows a decrease among the most serious of the Irish counties, and the emigration returns are proportionately heavy. The principal towns, all of insignificant size, are Ennis (pop. 5093, the county town), Kilrush (4179), Kilkee (1661) and Killaloe (885); but several of the smaller settlements, as resorts, are of more than local importance. The county, which is divided into 11 baronies, contains 79 parishes, and includes the Protestant diocese of Kilfenora, the greater part of Killaloe, and a very small portion of the diocese of Limerick. It is within the Roman Catholic dioceses of Killaloe and Limerick. The assizes are held at Ennis, and quarter sessions here and at Ennistimon, Killaloe, Kilrush and Tulla. The county is divided into the East and West parliamentary divisions, each returning one member.

History.—This county, together with part of the neighbouring district, was anciently called Thomond, that is, North Munster, and formed part of the monarchy of the celebrated Brian Boroihme, who held his court at Kincora near Killaloe, where his palace was situated on the banks of the Shannon. The site is still distinguished by extensive earthen ramparts. Settlements were effected by the Danes, and in the 13th century by the Anglo-Normans, but without permanently affecting the possession of the district by its native proprietors. In 1543 Murrogh O’Brien, after dispossessing his nephew and vainly attempting a rebellion against the English rule, proceeded to England and submitted to Henry VIII., resigning his name and possessions. He soon received them back by an English tenure, together with the title of earl of Thomond, on condition of adopting the English dress, manners and customs. In 1565 this part of Thomond (sometimes called O’Brien’s country) was added to Connaught, and made one of the six new counties into which that province was divided by Sir Henry Sidney. It was named Clare, the name being traceable either to Richard de Clare (Strongbow), earl of Pembroke, or to his younger brother, Thomas de Clare, who obtained a grant of Thomond from Edward I. in 1276, and whose family for some time maintained a precarious position in the district. Towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth, Clare was detached from the government of Connaught and given a separate administration; but at the Restoration it was reunited to Munster.

Antiquities.—The county abounds with remains of antiquities, both military and ecclesiastical, especially in the north-western part. There still exist above a hundred fortified castles, several of which are inhabited. They are mostly of small extent, a large portion being fortified dwellings. The chief of them is Bunratty Castle, built in 1277, once inhabited by the earls of Thomond, 10 m. W. of Limerick, on the Shannon. Those of Ballykinvarga, Ballynalackan and Lemaneagh, all in the north-west, should also be mentioned. Raths or encampments are to be found in every part. They are generally circular, composed either of large stones without mortar or of earth thrown up and surrounded by one or more ditches. The list of abbeys and other religious houses formerly flourishing here (some now only known by name, but many of them surviving in ruins) comprehends upwards of twenty. The most remarkable are—Quin, considered one of the finest and most perfect specimens of ancient monastic architecture in Ireland; Corcomroe; Ennis, in which is a very fine window of uncommonly elegant workmanship; and those on Inniscattery or Scattery Island, in the Shannon, said to have been founded by St Senan (see Kilrush). Kilfenora, 5 m. N.E. of Ennistimon, was until 1752 a separate diocese, and its small cathedral is of interest, with several neighbouring crosses and a holy well. The ruined churches of Kilnaboy, Nouhaval and Teampul Cronan are the most noteworthy of many in the north-west. Five round towers are to be found in various stages of preservation—at Scattery Island, Drumcliffe, Dysert O’Dea, Kilnaboy and Inniscaltra (Lough Derg). The cathedral of the diocese of Killaloe is at the town of that name. Cromlechs are found, chiefly in the rocky limestone district of Burren in the N.W., though there are some in other baronies. That at Ballygannor is formed of a stone 40 ft. long and 10 broad.

See papers by T. J. Westropp in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy—“Distribution of Cromlechs in County Clare” (1897); and “Churches of County Clare, and Origin of Ecclesiastical Divisions” (1900).