Gort (Co. Galway / Southeast)
Gort (An Gort – “the field” / Gort Inse Guaire – “field of the island of Guaire”) (pop. 2800), surrounded by stone-strewn fields separated by grey stone walls, is a friendly old market town with several good pubs / eateries, a strong musical tradition and a vibrant sports and cultural scene. (Photo – www.garrymiley.com)
Gort takes its full Irish name from Guaire, a C7th chieftain famed for his hosptality and generosity, whose right (giving) arm was said to be longer than his left.
During the Middle Ages, Gort was the stronghold of Guaire’s descendants, the Ó Seachnasaigh / O’Shaughnessy clan. Their castle was destroyed by Cromwellian troops in 1650, and their chief Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy was killed fighting for King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. His son Sir William O’Shaughnessy, who fled Ireland at the age of 15, fought as an officer in the French army’s Regiment of Clare during the War of the Spanish Succession, and was present at the inconclusive 1709 Battle of Malplaquet in the Pyrenees, where Brigadier General Sir Thomas Prendergast, 1st Bt, was killed six years after being granted the confiscated Gort estate.
John Prendergast-Smyth, who inherited the property in 1760, was made Baron Kiltartan of Gort in 1810 and Viscount Gort in 1816. He was succeeded in 1817 by his sister’s son Charles Vereker, a British Army officer who had participated in the defeat of the French troops marching inland from Killala Bay in September 1798. Uncle and nephew were largely responsible for the development of the town as a prosperous commercial hub, with three broad streets radiating from a spacious Market Square.
William Makepeace Thackeray wrote the following uncomplimentary account of his 1842 visit: “…we passed the plantation of Lord Gort’s Castle of Loughcoole, and presently came to the town which bears his name, or vice versa. It is a regularly built little place, with a square and street, but it looked as if it wondered how the deuce it got into the midst of such a desolate country, and seemed to bore itself considerably. It had nothing to do and no society”.
Gort was badly affected by the Great Famine and its aftermath; the local workhouse was crammed with dying paupers for two years after it opened in 1848, and again in 1861. Twenty years later the inmates were doubtless bemused to be invited to Coole Park by Lady Gregory, who visited them regularly to gather folk tales.
In 1882, at the height of Land League agitation, Sir William Gregory’s tenants refused to pay their rent, and when he threatened to implement ‘extreme measures’ he was advised by the police him to leave for his own safety; on his return the following summer, an amicable settlement was negotiated by Fr Jerome Fahy, a young curate in Gort.
The War of Independence saw two Republican brothers, Henry and Patrick Loughnane, arrested by the RIC in and handed over to the Auxiliaries in November 1920. Their mother was informed three days later that they had escaped from custody. Their mutilated and partially burnt bodies were found on the 6th December in a pond. The two men had evidently been tied by the neck to a lorry and dragged until they were dead. They are commemorated by a memorial in Shanaglish cemetery.
For a while recently about a quarter of Gort’s population was made up of Brazilians, many of whom came to work in the local meat processing plant, now closed. Some stayed on, and the town still has a surprisingly cosmopolitan ambience.
Gort Heritage Centre, housed in the former National School (1847), features displays about the history of the area, and also serves as a venue for productions by the local drama society. The Centre issues a Walking Guide to the town’s most interesting buildings.
The Market Square, pictured above c.1910, is distinguished by a recently restored C18th weigh-house, the gracious Courthouse (1815) and several other elegant buildings.
Sullivan’s Royal Hotel on the Square is a friendly family-run establishment, serving good carvery lunches, and also has a nightclub.
St Colman’s church (CoI) designed by James Pain, was built in 1811 on land donated by Lord Gort, enlarged 1877, and currently serves as the town’s Library.
St Colman’s church (RC) was built in 1825 on land donated by Lord Gort, and enlarged in 1854.
The former Barracks, a handsome complex, is now a furniture storehouse for Honan’s Antiques, a good place to browse for anything from Victorian mahogany sideboards or cast iron fireplaces to marble statues, oil lamps, clocks, mirrors and old musical instruments.
The Gallery Café on the Square serves great food, hosts regular art exhibitions, poety recitals, and music performances of all kinds, and also operates a pleasant hostel.
The Lady Gregory Hotel, a modern complex on the outskirts of Gort, is well reviewed.
John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort, was a British army officer who fought with great distinction in both WWI and WWII, winning the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy and rising to the rank of Field Marshal. A hotel in Winnipeg is named after him. His brother Standish Robert Gage Prendergast Vereker, 7th Viscount Gort, who bought Bunratty Castle (Co. Clare) in 1953, reroofed, restored and refurbished it with antiques at vast personal expense before presenting it to the Irish nation. The current Viscount Gort lives on the Isle of Man.
Gort Folk Festival takes place every October Bank Holiday weekend.
The Forge at Gort gives its name to a literary festival held every spring.
Lough Cutra is a lovely lake with several interesting islands.
Lough Cutra Castle
Lough Cutra / Loughcouter Castle, aka Gort Castle, is a huge Gothic mansion overlooking the lake. (Photo – http://gortchamber.com)
Originally designed c.1809 by John Nash for the Vereker family, it was finished in 1817 under the supervision of James Pain, who was badly injured in a fall from scaffolding but survived to live to 100.
John Prendergast Vereker, 3rd Viscount Gort, was bankrupted by relief schemes during the Great Famine. He sold the castle c. 1848 to the Limerick-born Peninsular War and colonial army hero, General Sir Hugh Gough, Baron Gough of ChingKangFoo in China and of Maharajpore and the Sutlej in the East Indies, Comander-in-Chief of the British forces in India, who in 1849 was made Viscount Gough, of Goojerat in the Punjab and of the City of Limerick, and was promoted to Field Marshal in 1862, seven years before his death at the age of 90. He was famous for wearing a white coat to lead his men into battle. (The current 5th Viscount Gough is a leading Freemason).
In 1920 the castle was closed, and apart from a brief Irish army occupation during “the Emergency” (WWII), remained so for forty years. In the late 1960s it was bought and restored by Prendergast descendants of the 1st Lord Gort. The current owner, Edward Somerville, has modernised the building and is engaged in restoring the estate.
The castle is a popular venue for weddings, with facilities for 200 diners, and is available for self-catering rental by groups of up to 16 guests. There are also three self-catering cottages located on the grounds.
A detour high into the boggy Slieve Aughty mountains is worthwhile for stunning views of Lough Cutra and little Lough Ballinakill to the west, Lough Graney to the south and the plains bordering Lough Rea to the north.
Kilmacduagh (“church of the son of Duagh”) is a small village close to the County Clare border.
Kilmacduagh monastery was founded in 632 AD by Saint Colman, son of Duagh, on land given him by his cousin Guaire. (Photo by Borvan53)
The monastic complex grew in size and importance to become the centre of a new diocese, and was plundered on several occasions as late as the C13th.
The prominent C12th Round Tower, over 30m / 111ft tall, leans significantly from the vertical. The walls are more than 6ft thick at the base, and the only doorway is 7m /26ft above ground level. The tower once had a bell, said to have been thrown into the adjacent Lough Avetia.
The Cathedral, built in the C11th to replace an earlier wooden structure, is an impressive ruin. Only an arch remains of the C12th church of John the Baptist. The other structures (Temple Mary, the Glebe House and the intriguing O’Heyne chapel) date from the C13th / C14th. The interesting stonework features to be seen throughout the complex are mostly inserts dating from the late C11th to the C15th.
Legend has it that Saint Colman built his monastery on the spot where, as he was walking through the woods of the Burren, his girdle fell to the ground. In late centuries the O’Shaughnessy clan lost the gem-studded girdle but retained Saint Colman’s crozier, which subsequently passed to the O’Heyne family and is now on display at the NMI.
Presumably due to a saintly benediction, it has long been a local article of belief that nobody could ever be killed by lightning in the diocese of Kilmacduagh. This legend was tested when one unfortunate was struck by a bolt of such strength that he was lifted through the air to land in the neighbouring diocese of Killaloe, where he duly expired.
The site commands splendid views of the surrounding landscape.
Ardamullivan / Ardmullivan Castle is a well-preserved early-C16th Tower House standing on the brow of a secluded valley and surrounded by trees. One of four O’Shaughnessy strongholds in the area, it was claimed on the 1567 death of Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy by his brother Dermot “the Swarthy”, aka “the Queen’s O’Shaughnessy” due to his support for the monarch. He became very unpopular when he betrayed the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Creagh, who had sought refuge locally. His nephew John challenged his ownership, and in a bloody hand-to-hand encounter in front of the castle to decide the issue in 1579, the claimants succeeded in killing each other. The castle has been restored in recent years.
Fiddaun Castle, located between Lough Doo and Lough Aslaun, is a lofty mid-C16th Tower House, inhabited by a branch of the O’Shaughnessy clan until 1727. Noted for its well preserved inner bawn wall, it is maintained by the OPW, but stands on private land. (Photo – Loeomyhero)
Tubber (An Tobar – “the well”) is a small village in the parish of Beagh, diocese of Kilmacduagh, south County Galway. It takes its name for a Holy Well called Tobar Rí an Domhnaigh (“well of the king of Sunday”). This was the venue of the first ever GAA hurling tournament, won by the Kilchreest team in 1885.
Tubber is also the name a larger community just across the border from the County Galway location. The Co. Clare village of Tubber is located in the parish of Kilkeedy (confusingly usually referred to as the parish of Tubber) in the diocese of Killaloe.
The Butler family of Bunnahow, although Roman Catholics, remained powerful landlords in the area during the C18th and C19th.