Ballyvaughan Bay on the south side of Galway Bay is a popular area for boating, kayaking etc. (Photo – www.tripadvisor.com)
Ballyvaughan itself is almost enclosed by rocky lagoon-type barriers of land and rock: the Rinn, to the west and a farther, more broken extension from Bishop’s Quarter to the east. There are also several small islands such as Black Island, Gall Island, Green Island and several nameless lumps of land and rock encompassed by this Ballyvaughan reef.
The bay extends eastwards from Finvarra Point, past Scanlan’s Island, Muckinish Island, Muckinish Bay and the Pouldoody oyster beds before turning south through Poulnaclogh Bay, into Pouldoody Bay and finishing at Bell Harbour.
Ballyvaughan & Bell Harbour (Co. Clare / North)
Ballyvaughan (Baile Uí Bheacháin -“Town of the Beacháin (Behan) family” / “Townland of the Mushrooms”) (pop. 300), a charming C19th fishing and farming village, is an ideal base from which to explore the Burren. (Photo – www.trekearth.com)
Three small ring forts are known to have existed in the vicinity, and the foundations of a medieval O’Lachlen stronghold (taken by Sir Henry Sidney‘s forces in 1569) are visible near the harbour.
Ballyvaughan’s old piers were constructed c.1800; a new quay was built in 1829 and the New Pier dates from 1838. The locals prospered from the thriving herring industry of the time, exported vegetables, oyters and bacon and imported goods from Galway and turf from Connemara. For awhile Ballyvaughan was the official capital of Northwest Clare.
The Great Famine made its effects felt, but the fishing community survived better than many purely agricltural populations. However, the oyster beds ran out due to lack of replenishment, and the local herring industry gradually died.
The village fountain, erected in 1875, was fed by artificial reservoir constructed by local landowner Lord Annaly, providing one of the earliest public water supplies in the county.
In May 1921 an unit of approximately 25 IRA activists ambushed a party of 10 Royal Marines and their sergeant in the village, captured some weapons and withdrew. Four of the British men were wounded in the attack, two mortally.
Ballyvaughan benefited greatly from the Rent an Irish Cottage scheme started c.1967.
Nowadays, Ballyvaughan is a busy tourist resort with several great pubs, eateries, hotels, B&Bs, self-catering cottages, shops selling a wide range of goods, arts & crafts galleries and other amenities. The construction of a new pier and slipway (2006) has opened up the area to boating, fishing, scuba diving and other sea activities.
Newtown Castle / Burren School of Art
Newtown Castle, on the edge of the village, is an impressive round C16th Tower House on a square base, still inhabited by the O’Lachlen family in the C19th.
The Burren College of Art, founded in 1993 by Michael Greene and Mary Hawkes-Greene, has restored, modernised, extended and built around the edifice to accomodate students’ needs.
The church of Saint John the Baptist (RC), an impressive Gothic edifice set in landscaped grounds, was founded in 1858, destroyed by storms in 1862-63, and rebuilt in 1866.
The Village Hall is from May to October the venue for a Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings and an unusually good Crafts Fair every Sunday.
The holiday rental Irish Cottages although rather twee, are actually very comfortable.
Hyland’s Hotel is our personal recommendation for at least one night, primarily for the superb choice of breakfast fare.
Ballyvaughan Development Group has an interesting and informative website.
The Burren Way walking route starts / ends in Ballyvaughan.
Ballyvaughan is close to Poulnabrone dolmen, Caherconnell Stone Fort, and Aillwee Cave in the Burren.
Bishop’s Quarter / Bishopsquarter is the location of a sheltered sandy beach, traditionally regarded as a seaweed collection point.
Drumcreehy churchyard features several interesting graves, including that of Peter Comyn, a sometime member of the local gentry who was hanged in 1830 for murdering his landlord.
Muckinish Castle, the O’Brien fortification where Owny O’Loughlin was imprisoned before being put to death by Capt Brabazon at the Ennis Assizes of 1584, still stands, rather pathetically encroached upon by a modern housing estate.
Bell Harbour / Bellharbour / Bealaclugga (Beal na Chlogha – “Mouth of the Rocks”) is little more than a collection of thatched holiday cottages on the almost entirely landlocked Poulnaclogh / Pouldoody Bay, famous for its excellent oysters and also a good place to observe birds and seals.
Corcomroe Abbey (Mainistír Chorcho Modhruadh), aka the Abbey of the Burren and Sancta Maria de Petra Fertilis (“Saint Mary of the Fertile Rock”), a Cistercian monastery set in its own little valley, was probably founded for the by Dónal Mór O’Brien of Thomond in 1194. (Photo by Andreas F Borchert)
Several battles were fought locally between the O’Briens of Thomond and their many enemies; in one 1267 engagement Conor Carrach O’Loughlin and O’Donnell Connachtacht O’Brien slaughtered a force led by Conor na Siudane O’Brien, who is buried in the Abbey Choir.
Memorial effigy of Conor na Siudane O’Brien of Thomond. (Photo by Andreas F Borchert)
After King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Abbey lands were (re-)granted to the O’Briens as Earls of Thomond, under whose protection the monks continued in situ for many years; the last Abbot was apponted in 1628.
Loughrask (“The pond of the fight”) is associated with a legend that, before the Battle of Corcomroe in 1317, Donagh O’Brien met a hideous hag washing blood from severed limbs, foretelling his doom. The same hag presaged the destruction of the House of O’Loughlainn, as recounted in the eponymous 1984 ballad by singer / songwriter Danny Carnahan.
The Oughtmama Valley (from Ucht Mama – “the Breast of the High Pass / Bosom of the Hill”) was the site of a monastery founded in the C6th by Saint Colman MacDuagh of Aran Islands fame. Another three churches were later erected in the valley, the smaller two being the most ancient. The main church, dating from the C12th, is dedicated to St Colman; within the chancel may be seen fragments of slabs with early Irish inscriptions.
Turlough Hill above the church ruins is the location of an Iron Age Hill Fort and a cairn commanding magnificent views of Galway Bay.
Bellharbour is the address of the Burren Outdoor Education Centre.
Bell Harbour is connected by road to Carran near the northern edge of the Burren National Park.
Finavarra, New Quay & Burrin (Co. Clare / North)
Finavarra, New Quay and Burrin / Burren are neighbouring hamlets forming the nuclei of a scattered farming and fishing community; noted for its striking scenery, this is a great area for walking and cycling.
Finvarra / Finavarra Head is a lovely place for a walk; a particularly good route starts behind St Patrick’s church (RC) and goes north along Abbey Hill.
Finvarra House (c.1768), now in ruins, was 0nce the splendid home of William Skirrett.
Parkmore Fort is an interesting double-ringed Rath with a central soutterain.
Finavarra Point features an unusual oval Martello Tower built in 1807 and bequeathed to the State in 1999 by Mrs Maureen Emerson.
Linnane’s is an unpretentious waterfront bar / restaurant, best known for its delicious crab cakes and fresh seafood dishes.
The Russell Gallery has established an exceptional reputation for fine art and ceramics.
Mount Vernon is a late C18th farmhouse built by Col. William Persse, a member of a local landlord family and American War of Independence comrade of George Washington, who is said to have gifted the three cypress trees in the walled garden.
100 years later it was owned by a direct descendant, the famous art collector Sir Hugh Lane, who died on the torpedoed Lusitania. It passed to his aunt Lady Gregory, whose literary guests included WB Yeats, George Russell (AE), JM Synge, George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey.
The house is filled with beautiful paintings and antique furniture, some dating from Sir William Gregory‘s period as Governor of Ceylon. Three fireplaces were designed by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Augustus John. The grounds feature lovely walled gardens.
Nowadays it is run by Mark Helmore and Aly Raftery as an upmarket B&B / Guesthouse with a special emphasis on superb evening meals.
The Flaggy Shore, where the limestone slabs of the Burren seems to slide into Galway Bay, is a good place to spot otters when there are not too many people about. Celebrated in Seamus Heaney‘s Postscript, it is a popular area for strollers in summer.
Lough Murree, a brackish freshwater lake within metres of the seashore, overlooked by Knockvorneen (77m), is a rich wildlife habitat. The recent spotting here of an exotic Australian black swan stirred great excitement amongst the birdwatching community.