Craughwell & Ardrahan (Co. Galway / Southeast)
Craughwell (Creachmhaoil) (pop. 700), a peaceful village noted for its neatness, is home to the famous Galway Blazers Hunt.
The village green has two statues sculpted byDonal O’Murhcadha; one is of Lady Augusta Gregory, and the other depicts the blind poet Anthony Raftery (c.1784-1835), widely regarded as the last of the great Gaelic bards.
St Cleran’s House
St Cleran’s / Issercleran, a splendid manor house built by a branch of the Burke family in 1784, was the 1820 birthplace of Robert O’ Hara Burke, famed for co-leading the 1860 Burke & Wills Expedition, the first successful attempt by Europeans explorers to traverse Australia from south to north; both leaders, most of the camels and all but one of the seven men who had crossed the continent died on the return trip.
Hollywood film director John Huston, who spotted the mansion while out hunting with the Galway Blazers in the 1950s, described it as “one of the most beautiful houses in all of Ireland“. He lived here graciously with his family for 17 years, entertaining numerous celebrity guests, and named an octagonal pavilion after his daughter Angelica.
The 45-acre property was purchased and restored in 1997 by American entertainer Merv Griffin, who had a history of the estate, Tale of a Manor House by William Henry, privately published in 1999. Filled with treasures from all over the world, it was run as a luxurious boutique guesthouse / hotel until shortly after the media tycoon’s death in 2007, and was put on the market in 2008 with an asking price of about $5,000,000.
Caherdangan / Strongfort, another C15th Burke Tower House, has been restored as a private residence.
Lambert Lodge and Aggard House, two impressive houses that were both homes to branches of the Lambert family homes, are still in residential occupation.
Ardrahan (Ard Raithín) (pop. 300), an attractive village with a broad market square, is situated at the junction of the R347 and the busy N18, but still retains much of its rural charm despite the passing traffic.
The Battles of Ardrahan
Located in the district once known as Trícha Máenmaige, the tribal land of the Conmaicne Maonmhagh, Ardrahan was the site of a great battle c. 800 AD, recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters, waged by Neide mac Onchu mac Finnlugh, described as the Cú Chulainn of the Conmaicne, at which Eidhinn son of Cléireach was killed “along with a great host”.
400 years later, in 1225, Ardrahan was a stronghold of the O’Heyne / Hyne chieftains of Maigh Aidhne, who with the help of other clans inflicted a historic defeat on the advancing Normans (celebrated and in Thomas Davis’s popular 1840 ballad The West’s Awake). Despite this setback, the entire region was soon conquered by troops under the command of Richard de Burgo.
Maurice Fitzgerald was granted Ardrahan in 1236; his castle just north of the village is now little more than a stump with an earthwork surround.
Ardrahan’s Church of Ireland edifice was built in 1809 at the highest point of the village; after several years of disuse, it was reopened in 1996 and extensively restored in time to celebrate its bicentenary. The baptismal font, dating from c.1000 AD, is believed to have been removed from Corcomroe Abbey. The churchyard contains remnants of earlier structures, including substantial sections of a medieval church, and the boundary wall incorporates the base of a claicteach / Round Tower (one of only four in County Galway), indicative of an even older monastic settlement.
Tulira / Tullira Castle, a C15th McHubert Burke stronghold, was extended into a Victorian mansion in 1877 by Edward Martyn (1859 – 1923), the fervently Roman Catholic homosexual nationalist playwright “pillar of the Celtic Renaissance” who co-founded the Abbey Theatre with WB Yeats and Lady Gregory, was one of the first members of Sinn Fein, helped to revive interest in Irish stained glass and also established Dublin’s Palestrina Choir. He was a cousin of the Hungarian sculptor Ferenc Martyn. The mansion is still a private residence. (Photo by 2000miler)
Rahaly Castle is a restored C13th Tower House, occasionally used as a venue for parties, concerts etc.; until recently it was available for self-catering holiday rental (suitable for groups of 6-9 people), but is currently for sale.
Cregaclare House, built in 1802, was recorded by Lewis (1837), as the seat of James S Lambert, but was later leased and eventually bought by John Bingham, 5th Baron Clanmorris. Only the ruins of a basement and remains of stable yard and gateways are visible. The site of a nearby ruined medieval church was used for a Bingham family mausoleum, but those buried there were later re-interred in the local Church of Ireland grounds.
Ardrahan is within easy reach of Kinvara and Kilcolgan on ByRoute 1.
Kiltartan (Co. Galway / Southeast)
Kiltartan (Cill Tartain), a rural district on the eastern edge of the Burren, has famous literary associations. “Kiltartanese” was the name given to the local Hiberno-English dialect reproduced by Lady Gregory in her collections of legends and folklore.
Kiltartan Cross, where the blind minstrel Raftery met and fell in love with the “Beauty of Ballylee” Máire ní hEidhie, is movingly conjured in WB Yeat’s classic 1919 An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, one of three poems commemorating Major Robert Gregory (1881 – 1918).
The Kiltartan Gregory Museum, opened in 1996, occupies a schoolhouse built in 1892 at the behest of Sir William Gregory and designed by his brother-in-law Francis Persse. In addition to a recreated classroom, exhibits dedicated to Lady Gregory and her literary circle include photographs, manuscripts and First Editions, along with material on the Great Famine and traditional folklore. The museum adjoins the Kiltartan Millenium Park and picnic area. (Photo – www.genslin.us)
Banninamantain / Kiltartan / Castletown Castle, a C13th de Burgo structure destroyed by Cromwellian troops in 1650, has long been an atmospheric ruin, beloved by Lady Gregory in her time.
The Gort River rises locally; it is the most prominent of several rivers and streams that flow through the porous limestone landscape, disappearing into subterranean tunnels and reappearing unexpectedly at intervals before reaching Galway Bay.
Coole Park, a beautiful lakeside forest estate on the Coole River acquired in 1768 by Robert Gregory, an East India Company official, was inherited in 1847 by Sir William Gregory (1817 – 1892), an erudite Anglo-Irish politician who enjoyed the society of leading Victorian writers and artists in London, travelled extensively, and served as the British colonial Governor of Ceylon.
A childless widower, in 1880 he married Isabella Augusta Persse (1852 – 1932); they toured Spain, Italy, Egypt, India and Ceylon, and for a time hosted a sparkling artistic salon in London. Their only child, Robert, was born in 1881.
The widowed Lady Gregory went on to become a leading figure in the Gaelic Revival movement, turning her much-loved home into a major literary centre, regularly filled with writers and artists. She edited collections of folk tales, wrote stories and plays, and enthusiastically nurtured the talent of others, most notably WB Yeats, with whom she and neighbour Edward Martyn co-founded the Abbey Theatre.
Path in Coole Park (Photo by lulu913)
Both Lady Gregory and WB Yeats drew great inspiration and spiritual solace from the estate’s “seven woods”, seasonal lakes, river, streams and wildlife, celebrated in the poet’s 1919 Wild Swans at Coole and his elegiac 1931 Coole Park & Ballylee.
The property was bought by the State in 1927, and the house was barbarically demolished in 1942.
An impressive walled garden remains (with an “autograph tree” bearing initials carved by the Yeats brothers, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, Sean O’Casey, Violet Martin, Augustus John, Douglas Hyde, George Moore and many others), and the former stable block now incorporates a Visitors’ Centre with interesting audio-visual displays and a modest but elegant restaurant.
Coole- Garyland, a statutory Nature Reserve extending over 400ha / 1000 acres, is notable for its limestone karsts and turloughs (seasonally disappearing lakes, unique to western Ireland), with signposted paths through mature deciduous woodlands providing opportunities to observe rare plants, flowers, insects, mammals and birds, especially wildfowl.
Thoor Ballylee is a C16th de Burgo Tower House that WB Yeats bought for 35 pounds in the summer of 1919, modernised slightly and lived in with his wife Georgie (née Hyde-Lees) and their two children until 1929; in a letter to a friend he wrote “out of doors, with the hawthorn all in blossom all along the river banks, everything is so beautiful that to go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind.” The thick-walled tower has a pretty garden, and the battlement commands a view of vast stretches of the Galway plains. Restored as “Yeats’ Tower” in 1965, it is now a museum with audio-visual displays and an adjoining tea room. (Photo –www.gortonline.com)