An Caiseal / Cashel (Co. Galway / West)
An Caiseal / Cashel is an scattered coastal community at the head of Cashel Bay, an inlet from Bertraghboy Bay.
Cashel Hill / Cnoc an Chaisil (311m / 983ft) has a distinctively shaped summit commanding breathtaking views over a stunning island-dotted seascape, inland lakes and mountains, with unspoiled, wild terrain and dispersed rural dwellings, with some ruined houses pre-dating any known records. (Photo . www.clifdenbookshop.com)
St James church (RC), designed by Thomas Hamilton and completed in 1902, is a handsome Gothic edifice with a curious spire in the hillside Caiseal Ard / High Cashel.
The old part of the cemetery north of the church is surrounded by the remains of the ancient stone Ringfort that originated the toponym. Since it has long been used as a burial ground and there is a famous Holy Well, Tobar Chonaill, close by, it is likely that this was an early Christian religious settlement. The track running by the graveyard represents the old road from the west.
Altoir / Altoir Ula, about a mile west of the graveyard, is an impressive wedge-shaped gallery grave dating from the end of the Stone Age or beginning of the Bronze Age, about 3500-4000 years ago, and is the only known megalithic tomb in the South Connemara area. Originally the whole construction would have been covered by a cairn, traces of which can be seen around it. The structure is believed to have been used as a Mass Rock in Penal times.
Guglielmo Marconi, the early C20th radio pioneer, chose Cashel as the site for some of his experiments with Morse signals.
Traditional livelihoods such as seaweed harvesting, hill farming and turf cutting are still common in the area, but the main source of local employment is tourism, especially Cashel’s two upmarket hotels and a number of local B&Bs.
Cashel House Hotel ****
Cashel House Hotel is romantically set amidst beautiful gardens running down to a private foreshore.
Cashel House was built in 1840 for Captain Thomas Hazell, an English agent for a Scottish firm buying kelp, a trade along this coast then worth some £10,000 annually. Over the next fifty years, he and his wife laid out a lot of the gardens.
From 1919 to 1951 Cashel House was the family home of the first official representative of Ireland in the USA, Jim O`Mara TD, a keen botanist who imported exotic plants and created ‘the Secret Garden’.
In 1952 the house became the home of Lt Col. Brown Clayton and his wife, formerly of Brownes Hill in Carlow. During their time at Cashel House they had Harold McMillian, the British Prime Minister, stay as their guest, and also gave the Garden its notable collection of Fuchsias.
In 1967 the house was converted into a hotel by Dermot and Kay McEvilly, and received international attention in May 1969 when General De Gaulle and his wife spent two weeks of their Irish holiday here after he resigned the presidency of France.
The hotel restaurant, occupying a large conservatory attached to the side of the house, is famous for its locally-produced food, and is open to non-guests.
Cashel House Hotel has received widespread recognition and numerous awards over the years for its relaxed hospitality, friendliness, elegance and efficiency.
Cashel House is also the home of the Connemara Pony & Sport House Stud Farm.
Over the years many artists have spent time in Cashel, from Lucian Freud, Paul Newman and Claire Bloom to Bono and The Edge.
Zetland Country House Hotel ****
Zetland Country House Hotel, surrounded by gardens on an elevated site ovelooking Cashel Bay, is a known mainly for its luxurious elegance.
Built as a fishing lodge in the early C19th, the house got its present name from the relatively popular Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1889 to 1892, Lawrence Dundas, 3rd Earl (and later 1st Marquess) of Zetland (i.e. the Shetland Islands).
The hotel, extended and developed by the Prendergast family and currently owned by Colm Redmond, has an excellent reputation, particularly for its superb restaurant, open to non-residents.
Parts of the coastline around Caiseal / Cashel are often stained saffron yellow due to the seaweed covering the rocks and picturesque stone slipways.
Old Quay & Dún Riacháin / Doonreaghan (Co. Galway / West)
Old Quay is in the townland of Lettercamus / Lettercamsy on a peninsula jutting eastwards into Bertraghboy Bay.
Dún Riacháin / Doonreaghan is a small community at the head of its own inlet from Bertraghboy Bay.
Doon House was built by Thomas Hazell, who was also responsible for Cashel House. During the War of Independence the house was subjected to a vicious attack by the Black & Tans; the then owner saved himself, escaping across Cashel Hill. Having had a number of different owners, the property was bought in the late 1960s by Robert Jocelyn, 10th Earl of Roden, who made it his family home. The Doonreagan estate has houses available for holiday rental, and an auditorium suitable for workshops and seminars.
Former British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes is on record saying that it was whilst living locally in the 1960s that he made his big breakthrough in his writing and in everything to do with himself.
Tuaim Beola / Toombeola (Co. Galway / West)
Tuaim Beola / Toombeola is a rural district where the local community has suffered the closure of its its post office, public house and school. (Photo and info by Fergal Claddagh)
The area stretches between Roundstone Bay and the foothills of the Twelve Bens / Pins, called the Beanna Beola in Irish Gaelic; as Beola means “lips” in modern Irish, the mountain range’s name is sometimes translated as the Lip Hills. But according to GH Kinahan‘s 1884 article in the Folk-Lore Journal, Beola was one of the Fir Bolg. Tuaim can mean a hillock or burial mound, even though its proximity to the English word Tomb makes some Gaelgeoirs a bit nerv0us; the Irish word is quite ancient and evidenced in old place names. Tuaim Beola should therefore be translated as “the Tomb of Beola”, being the legendary burial place of Beola, a giant who once walked the Twelve Pins.
St Patrick’s Friary, founded by the chieftain of the O’Flaherty clan in 1427 with authorisation from Pope Martin V, housed a small community of about eight Dominican friars for some 130 years, but was reportedly deserted at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth I‘s reign (1558).(Photo by Fergal Claddagh)
According to one source, “Teig-na-bullie-O’Flaherty …. used the stones thereof to construct his Castle of Ballinahinch, situated upon a small island in the lake of Ballinahinch“, while another claims that “the Protestants removed all the walls and the church itself to build a castle in the neighbourhood“.
Perhaps as a result of a report that “the place is mountainous and boggy and is as an island in the extreme west of the kingdom, so there is not frequent recourse to it of religious, and moreover the whole barony is very populous and there is hardly one Protestant there. ……. So that three or four religious could live in Tombeola for the salvation of that almost abandoned people“, the monastery was re-erected before 1731, and had three resident monks in 1767.
According to local lore the last of these, Fr John Tully OP, endeavoured to escape arriving soldiers by swimming across the river, but was shot in the water and died. He was buried at the roadside on the east bank of the river roughly opposite the site of the priory.
The Angler’s Return, a well-established commercial fishing lodge overlooking the Abhánn Mór / Owenmore / Ballynahinch River, has delightful mature gardens and a bluebell wood.
Toombeola Bridge spans the neck of the inlet off Roundstone Bay where the river flows into the sea. The bridge was completed in the early 1830s as part of the many improvements to roads, bridges and piers in Connemara and around Ireland made by the great Scottish civil engineer Alexander Nimmo. The river drains a number of interconnecting lakes and rivers, managed exclusively for fly fishing.
Toombeala Bridge is linked by the R341 with nearby Ballynahinch in the interior of Connemara.
The Twelve Bens from Roundstone Bog (Photo by Sherwood Harrington)
Roundstone Bog is an intricate patchwork of marshy land, streams, rivers, lakes and low hillslopes covered with forestry plantations, providing a varied habitat for interesting flora and fauna, now a SAC. It is traversed by the scenic Bog Road, a single rural lane from near Toomboala Bridge to Ballinaboy Bridge near Clifden.