Lough Rea, a 260ha limestone lake fed by seven underground streams, is renowned for its pure water. Several of the islands are thought to be crannógs. Corry’s Fields on the northwestern shore provide a pleasant area for strollers and birdwatchers. Swimming, angling, boating and sailing amenities are also available. Local tradition holds that a drowning takes place every seven years. (Photo – www.athenryac.com)
Loughrea (Co. Galway / East)
Loughrea (Baile Locha Riach – “Town of the grey / dappled / speckled lake”) (pop. 4500), is named for its location on the northern shore of Lough Rea.
Long a regional garrison town and agricultural hub, Loughrea is nowadays primarily a dormitory satellite of Galway City, and is also home to a number of modern industrial plants, plus several friendly pubs and eateries.
There is strong archaeological evidence of habitation in the Loughrea area since prehistoric times.
The earliest recorded settlement was founded in 1239 by Richard Mór de Burgo, ancestor of the Earls of Clanricarde, and became an important medieval walled and moated market town, for many years bigger and more valuable to the Crown than Galway City.
A 1650 meeting of the Connacht nobility in Loughrea failed to come up with a strategy to resist Cromwell’s troops, and vast tracts of land were reapportioned from 1653 onwards.
Loughrea was where the Jacobite General Charles Chalmont, Marquis de St Ruth, died from injuries received from a Williamite cannonball at the nearby Battle of Aughrim on 12th July 1691.
Loughrea prospered as a centre of commerce and small industry from the mid-C18th until the Great Famine, which reduced the town’s population by more than a third.
The tail end of the Land Wars saw a shop barricaded in 1906 against an RIC attempt to enforce an ejectment order against the local Land League secretary issued by agents of Hubert de Burgh-Canning, 2nd Marquess of Clanricarde, reputedly one of the worst absentee landlords in Ireland. The eviction proceedings attracted so much notoriety that legislation was passed to protect urban tenants against political persecution.
Modern Loughrea is striking for its ethnic diversity.
Alhough no trace is left of the original de Burgo castle, a town gate survives, as does the only working municipal moat in Ireland; a remaining section of the old town wall has been incorporated into a pleasant waterside walk, while the traditional fair green is now a lakeshore park.
St Mary’s Abbey was founded c. 1300 by Richard Óg de Burgo for the Carmelite Order; extended in 1437, it remained in operation under the protection of the Earls of Clanricarde until despoiled by Cromwellian troops in 1652. The atmospheric ruins are surrounded by graves. (Photo by leics)
The Order of Discalced Camelites arrived in Loughrea in 1645 and maintained a fugitive presence during the Penal Laws era. A blow-by-blow account 1645 – 1983 is available here.
The current abbey, church and convent, erected during the C19th under the auspices of Sir John Burke, 2nd Bart of Marble Hill (disdainfully recorded by a rival branch as “of peasant stock“), are still major religious centres.
The C18th Linen Hall, remodelled c.1860 and later used as the Town Hall, was converted into a cinema in the mid-C20th.
The Courthouse (1821) on the old Fair Green is one of the best preserved in the region.
The former “pro Catholic cathedral“, a plain early-C19th structure, is now a funeral parlour.
The former Church of Ireland edifice, built in1821 and restored after severe lightning damage in 1832, now serves as the municipal library.
The Temperance Hall, on the site of the former military barracks, is used as a venue for concerts and cultural events.
St Brendan’s Hospital on the Lake Road was originally Loughrea Workhouse, built to a standard design by George Wilkinson in 1841. Its history is described in an excellent article here.
St Brendan’s Cathedral (RC), the episcopal seat for the diocese of Clonfert, designed by William Byrne and completed in 1903, is a Celtic Revival edifice on the lakefront, with beautiful interior ornamentation (including banners designed by WB Yeats), attractive stained glass windows and an interesting museum.
Loughrea’s Turbulent Priests
Fr Anthony Dominic Fahy, born in Loughrea in 1805, ordained as a Dominican in Rome and trained in Ohio, was head of the Irish chaplaincy in Buenos Aires from 1844 until his death in 1871, and has several places named after him; by his own account, he acted as consul, interpreter, postmaster, financial adviser, employment agent, matchmaker, marriage counsellor and judge for his community, and as an ardent supporter of Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, approved the 1848 arrest (by Fr Michael Gannon) and subsequent execution of 8-month pregnant Camila O’Gorman and her lover Fr Ladislao Gutiérrez.
Fr Thomas J Hegarty, born locally c.1862, was already a Marxist at the time of his New Mexico ordination in 1892, and went on to become one of the 1905 founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), aka the Wobblies, a leading anarcho-syndicalist movement in the USA.
The Loughrea Poetry Festival is run evey October Bank Holiday weekend by BAFFLE (the Bowes Academic Fellowship & Fraternity of Literary Esoterics).
The Aille cross-country equestrian trail passes near Loughrea.
O’Dea’s Hotel, formerly the Railway Station Hotel, run by the same family since 1898, was long the mainstay of visiting participants in local hunts with the famous Galway Blazers, but appears to have recently gone out of business.
Current accommodation facilities in and around the town include a range of B&Bs and the nearby Meadow Court Hotel.
Cloghan Castle, an imposing edifice built in 1236, was last inhabited in the C15th by Hugh de Burgo. The fortress stood derelict for hundreds of years, until Michael Burke began a meticulous restoration programme in 1973, completed in 1996. With landscaped grounds, seven large bedrooms, and a Great Hall seating up to 120 diners, the Castle nowadays caters mainly for wedding parties etc., and is aso available for exclusive self-catering rental.
Kilchreest & Castledaly (Co. Galway / Southeast)
Kilchreest (Cill Chriost) is scenically located near the northern hills of the Slieve Aught / Aughty range. The Roxboro River flows through the parish.
Iserrkelly Castle, originally a C14th O’Kelly stronghold, was modernised by the McHubert Burke family as a typical C16th Tower House. It was attacked by Red Hugh O’Donnell during the Nine Years War.
Roxborough House, a late C17th mansion, was long the seat of the powerful Persse family, and the 1852 birthplace of Isabella Augusta Persse, aka Lady Gregory.
Republican vandals torched the main building in 1922, but “The Grand Gate” and the bell-arch still stand, as do the stables, coach-house, forge, kennels, cow-houses, dairy and carpenters’ shed.
An extensive walled orchard sheltered fruit trees planted along paths lined with strawberry and gooseberry bushes (cutting of which were sent by Col. William Persse to his comrade George Washington for use in the gardens of the White House in Washington DC).
Castleleboy, another of the Persse family’s once extensive properties in the area, is the location of a ruined C19th Round Tower.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached in Kilchreest three times. His last visit was in 1789, at the age of 86.
Lough Belsragh, a lonely moorland lake about 2 miles south of the village, is the legendary home of a monster alleged to have capsized a boat belonging to the local landlords, the Persse family.
Castledaly is named for a medieval Tower House, now an atmospheric ruin. Occupied by the Blake family from the late C16th, the stronghold was known as Corbally until 1829, when it was purchased by James Daly, who had it remodelled, added a new facade, and renamed it Castle Daly. His family had come to the district from County Westmeath during the 1650s Cromwellian Redistribution. The Daly mausoleum can be seen in the grounds of nearby St Theresa’s church.