These pages describe ByRoute 12 between Banagher (Co. Offaly) and the western terminus at Lisdoonvarna (Co. Clare).
Fairy / Wish Tree near Clonfert, festooned with rags and medical paraphernalia (Photo courtesy of Sara Glennon, whose excellent 2009 travel blog about Ireland starts here and includes some interesting observations about Yoko Ono and a similar tree here)
Brackloon Castle, a C15th O’Madden Tower House, was frequently attacked. The stronghold was taken by troops loyal to Queen Mary I in 1554, and captured by Cromwellian soldiers in 1650, when members of the defeated garrison were forced to jump or be thrown from the high battlements to their deaths. This was also one of many stops on The O’Sullivan Beire‘s tragic 1603 winter march from West Cork to Leitrim, now signposted as the Beara – Breifne Greenway walking route.
Clonfert (Co. Galway / East)
Clonfert, nowadays just a rural townland, was once a famous centre of learning.
Clonfert was the location of a monastic settlement founded c.560 AD by St. Brendan the Navigator, who is credited with discovering America long before Columbus, and is reputedly buried on the site. The community flourished for many centuries; at one time there were over 3,000 monks in this place. It was attacked several times by Vikings, burnt down three times in the Middle Ages, and finally destroyed by Crown forces in 1541.
Clonfert Cathedral (CoI), all that remains of the ancient monastery, is a mid-C12th edifice, restored in 1664 by Bishop Wolley. The site, still in use, has been used continuously as a place of worship for nearly 1,500 years. (Photo by JohnArmagh)
This curious little cathedral cathedral is famed for its beautiful western doorway, arguably the finest surviving example of Irish Romanesque art with its extraordinary depictions of animal and human heads, vegetable mofifs etc. A carved mermaid commemorates the founder.
Being a convenient hub for students in the centre of Ireland, and still widely regarded as an educational seat, Clonfert was proposed as the site of a new University during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but the proposition was rejected and Dublin obtained the Charter.
The Bishop’s Palace, built by Bishop Wolley c.1650, was the home of pre-WWII British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley from 1952 until badly damaged by a fire in 1954, and is currently an ivy-clad ruin.
The Friars’ Yew Walk, made up of cross-shaped paths through trees said to be 1000 years old, is a beautiful place for meditative strolling.
Emmanuel House, a Roman Catholic centre for prayer and evangelisation, has an interesting mid-C20th Oratory in striking architectural contrast to the medieval cathedral.
Our Lady of Clonfert church (RC), one mile west of the cathedral, is the home of the Madonna of Clonfert, a C14th wooden painted statue regarded as a significant art treasure.
Lismore Castle, now quite ruined, was the principal seat of the O’Madden clan in the C15th. It later passed to the Burkes, and the Daly family subsequently added a large mansion.
Eyrecourt & Meelick (Co. Galway / East)
Eyrecourt (Dún an Uchta) (pop, 800), formerly known as Dononaghta, is a peaceful rural community, long associated with the Galway Blazers and East Galway hunts.
The village was founded Col. John Eyre, a Cromwellian officer granted extensive land in East Galway. His descendants included Edward Eyre, the Mayor of Galway who presented Eyre Square to the city in 1710.
Eyre Court / Eyrecourt Castle, built c.1670 on the site of a former O’Madden fortress, was an early classical country house, noted for its exuberantly carved wooden interior features. Badly damaged by fire in 1840, the increasingly dilapidated mansion was finally abandoned in the late 1920s, and subsequently stripped (the magnificent C17th Grand Staircase imported from Holland was purchased c.1950 by US press tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and is currentlystored in the Detroit Institute of Arts). An atmospheric photo of the ruin can be seen here. The demesne gates were restored in 1993, and the grounds are occasionally open to the public.
The Eyrecourt Vintage Festival attracts big crowds each June, when splendid old steam engines, tractors and other early farming machines are put through their paces.
Walking Route at Rooaun, near Meelick (Photo by Kieran Campbell)
Meelick (Mileac – “marshy land”), long an important crossing point on the River Shannon, is the location of a ruined medieval Franciscan Friary. The church, dating from 1414, is thought to be the oldest place of Roman Catholic worship in continuous use in Ireland.
Meelick lies roughly opposite the mouth of the Little Brosna River. This stretch of the Shannon Callows features numerous boggy islands complicating navigation, eased since the early C19th by several busy river locks.
Meelick Island, claimed as a crannog by some, was the site of an important battle fought in October 1650, towards the end of the Wars of the Three Kindoms. The Royalist-sympathising Kilkenny Confederacy‘s 4000-strong Connacht Army led by Ulick Bourke, Marquess of Clanricarde, lost some 900 men when it was routed by a smaller body of English Parliamentarian troops led by Col. Daniel Axtell.
Meelick was fortified against possible French incursions upriver during the Napoleonic War by the construction of a Martello Tower and the positioning of the Keelogue battery & blockhouse on nearby Incherky Island.
The area supports large populations of native and migrant wildfowl, perhaps best observed on Friar’s Island.
Meelick is not far from Portumna on ByRoute 11.
Lawrencetown & Kiltormer (Co. Galway / East)
Lawrencetown / Laurencetown (Baile Mór Síol Anmchadha – “the big town of the descendants of Ambrose”) (pop. 500), a scenically located village in the parish of Clonfert, is a friendly place with a strong equestrian tradition and a couple of good pubs.
It derives its official Irish name from Ambrose O’Madden, an ancient chieftain whose descendants occupied the entire area later known as the Barony of Longford. The immediate district was also recorded historically as Oghilmore after a medieval O’Hill stronghold near the adjacent village of Oghil.
The village takes its English toponym from the descendants of John and Walter Lawrence, brothers who came to Ireland as part of Lord Deputy Perrot’s retinue in 1571. They and their successors established strong marriage links with the most powerful dynasties of the region, and became prominent local landlords.
Lawrencetown village was founded by Walter Lawrence c.1700, enlarged by Rear Admiral Peter Lawrence in 1750, and rebuilt by Col. Walter Lawrence in 1765, with a view to promoting linen manufacture in the west of Ireland. Although this objective was stymied by oppressive legislation, a market town thrived for almost a century, supported by a woodwork industry.
Ballymore Castle, a Tower House the southern outskirts of the village, was built by John Lawrence in 1585 on land acquired through his marriage to the daughter of The O’Madden. Damaged in the Nine Years War, it was repaired in 1620 by his son, Walter, whose successor John married three times, into the O’Donelean, O’Kelly and McCoughlan families; as a Royalist supporter during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, he was dispossessed by the Cromwellian Redistribution.
The castle was granted to Sir Thomas Newcomen, who leased the property to the Lawrences for many years. Title to the property was held for a time by the Eyre family of Eyrecourt.
Thomas Seymour, a member of an old Somerset family who fought as an officer in the victorious Williamite army, took up residence c.1700, and his descendants remained until 1906. The family first modernised the castle, then added a large two-storey house in 1815, and bought the freehold in 1824. Eleanor Seymour, wife of Captain Peter FitxWalter Lambert of nearby Castle Ellen, was Edward Carson’s grandmother. David Seymour, whose mother was a Lawrence, had a distinguished military career in Australia before becoming Queensland’s first Police Commissioner. Walter Gordon Seymour was the first County Secretary of Galway County Council from 1899 to 1925. Members of the family are buried locally and at Clonfert Cathedral.
Major Belassy rented the castle in 1948 from Mrs. Hale, a relative of the Seymours who had inherited the somewhat reduced estate. Claiming delays in the transfer of money from his English accounts, he obtained credit facilities from many shop owners and farmers in the local area. Time passed but the excuse remained unchanged. The family car was often seen leaving the castle at night and returning in the morning. It was eventually discovered that the valuable silverware of the castle was been removed during there nocturnal excursions. The major was arrested and received a short prison sentence. Mrs. Hale returned and paid some of the debts incurred by Belassy to uphold the good name of the castle, which was subsequently sold to Joe Naughton, whose family remain in residence.
Lisheen cemetery, in use since ancient times, is primarily notable for the C19th Seymour Mausoleum.
Bellevue / Lisreaghan
Bellevue House was a mansion built c.1750 with inherited maternal wealth from plantations in the West Indies by Col. Walter Lawrence, a cultured individual who met Voltaire and wrote at least one play in Italian, La Virtuosa di Teatro.
A firm supporter of Grattan’s, he raised a corps of Irish Volunteers known as the Bellevue Volunteers in 1782. He was a co-treasurer of the Independent Electors 1783, delegate to the National Congress in Dublin 1784 and a dedicated volunteer to the end. In 1792, when the authorities determined on the destruction of the Volunteers by the establishment of a militia, he erected the huge trophy in Coade pottery over the doorway of his mansion in memory of the Bellevue Corps with the defiant motto, Pro Rege Saepe, pro Paria Semper.
The Volunteers Arch / New Gate, built about the same time, bears carved mermaids and a Latin inscription which translates as “Liberty after a long servitude was won on 16th April, 1782 by the armed sons of Hibernia, who with heroic fortitude, regained their ancient laws and established their ancient independence.”
A Gothic Cottage with tromp d’oeil flying buttresses is the most striking of a number of curious follies on the former estate.
He died in 1796, leaving a son, Walter, who had 14 children, seven boys and seven girls. The C19th was a period of financial decline for the family, who were forced to sell much of the property. In 1912 there was a great sale of their accumulated art treasures. The mansion was demolished c.1924. No member of the family in the male line is now alive.
Kiltormer is a tiny village famed for its champion GAA hurlers. The community has a strong oral history tradition, and claims to have been the site of the last pistol duel fought in Ireland.
The Kiltormer Group is a popular traditional Irish music band.
Clontuskert (Co. Galway / East)
Clontuskert, a rural parish on the River Suck, is studded with ancient Ring Forts.
Clontuskert Abbey, an Augustinian Priory established in the late C12th on the site of a monastery founded by Saint Baedán (d. c. 809 AD), was destroyed by fire in 14o4, and rebuilt on a much grander scale. It was notorious for corruption, and in 1473 the Prior was accused of keeping concubines and murder. Monks were still in residence as late as 1637. (Photo – www.clontuskert.com)
Part of the Ballinasloe extension of the Grand Canal, cut roughly parallel to the River Suck in the early C19th, is now a dry overgrown channel, with remains of a bridge at Lismany and an aqueduct over the Ballinure River.
Lismany House was the residence of Scottish entrepeneur Alan Pollok, who established one of the most advanced commercial farms in Europe in the late C19th.
Gortnamona House was the home of Edward Lynam, whose friend Percy French wrote the beautiful Woods of Gortnamona on a visit shortly after his beloved wife’s death in 1891.
Somerset House, long the seat of the Seymour family until 1940, gave its name to the Somerset Hoard, s collection of gold and copper artefacts found by a farmer tilling his field in 1947, now in the NMI. A number of Bronze Age burial sites are located in the area.
St Matthew’s church (CoI), erected in 1818, overlooks “Bloody Hollow“, where many were slaughtered during the 1691 Battle of Aughrim.
Clontuskert is close to Ballinasloe on ByRoute 13.