Lough Gur (Co. Limerick / East)
Lough Gur is one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites, with the remains of at least three cranogs and some prehistoric cottages and field systems, Standing Stones, Stone Circles, Ring Forts, a wedge tomb and two castles. (Photo – Tom Clarke)
A walk around the crescent-shaped lake and the rocky Knockadoon peninsula (formerly an island) to admire all the megaliths and ruins, not to mention the scenic lake itself, the ducks and swans on it and the beautiful wildflowers that grow near the shore, would take the whole of a very well spent day. However, visitors should remember the words of David Fitzgerald, author of Popular Tales of Ireland (1879), who wrote of Lough Gur “no minstrel, piper, or poet would willingly spend a night within a mile of its shore, such was its fearful reputation and potency. Even to fall asleep in daytime on its banks was considered among them to be reckless folly“.
Rather more upbeat was the modern writer Richard Jones, who commented “to come here in the silence of an early morning, when the suns first rays sparkle upon its glassy surface, and the breezes are heavy with the fresh scent of the new day, is to feel that all things are possible and that the gods and fairies truly do walk amongst us“.
The Interpretative / Visitors’ Centre (1981), comprising two Disneyland-twee but spacious reed-thatched huts, supposed to mimic the kind built by local stone age farmers 4000 years ago, houses a museum displaying replicas of artefacts retrieved from the lake and its surroundings.
Black Castle, a C14th Desmond stronghold, is said to be where Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, on his return to Munster from his brief 1566 sojourn in the Tower of London (for insolence to Queen Elizabeth I after she rebuked him for the Battle of Affane), symbolically cast off his English apparel and donned native Irish garments. This was an ominous gesture for the castle, damaged in the Second Desmond Rebellion and largely destroyed the 1641 Irish Rebellion.
According to legend, Gearóid Iarla, 3rd Earl of Desmond, whose father had copulated with the lake goddess, disappeared in mysterious circumstances from this castle. Some claim he lies in an enchanted sleep in an underwater palace, doomed to rise every seven years to ride at the head of a fairy entourage around the lake at night on his milk-white horse until its silver shoes wear out.
Bourchier’s Castle, a late C16th Tower House, is private property. It was erected after the end of the disastrous Desmond Rebellions by Sir George Bourchier, an English general, whose youngest son HenryBourchier (b.c.1587) graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1605, became a Fellow the following year, got an MA in 1610, was knighted in 1621, and outlived not only his childless brothers but also most of his paternal cousins to become the 5th Earl of Bath in 1637 and Defence Commissioner at the 1644 Oxford trial of King Charles I.
New church, constructed in 1679 on the site of an older church used by the Earls of Desmond, is an atmospheric ruin. The grounds contain the unmarked grave of the poet harper Thomas O’Connellan, who died in Bourchier’s Castle in 1698.
The church of SS Patrick & Brigid (RC), aka Grange church, was completed in 1837. It contains an interesting altarpiece and a plaque commemorating the locally born Bishop John Hogan, who founded the Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri, in 1880.
The Grange Stone Circle
The Grange Stone Circle, close to Lough Gur, comprises 123 contiguous standing stones, with an internal diameter of approximately 46m, making it the largest and arguably the finest in Ireland. (Photo – www.themodernantiquarian.com)
Grange is unique in many aspects. It looks more like a form of henge monument than a conventional stone circle, and almost certainly had a ritual purpose.
It has been calculated that the narrow stone-lined passage entrance was aligned with the sunset on the festival of Samhain (ancestor of the modern Halloween). The largest of the axial stones looks toward the midsummer sunrise.
The enclosure would have been built in stages, and a date around 2000 BC has been determined. The people who built and utilized it must have had a high degree of social organisation.
Archaeological excavators have discovered two hearths, some animal bones (mainly cattle), a few unburnt human bones, some bronze materials, and numerous Neolithic pottery shards
Bruff & Fedamore (Co. Limerick / East)
Bruff (An Brú – “the Abode”) (pop. 4000), a sizeable town with two bridges spanning the Morning Star River, has several good pubs and a couple of decent restaurants.
The surrounding territory is scenic, and features several archaeological sites. It was formerly known as an Déis Bheag – “the small Decies”, and the full old name of the village was Brúgh na nDéise – “the Palace / Residence of the Déisí“, referring to an ancient sept later associated with the larger Decies territory in Co. Waterford.
The Grove, an attractive woodland area presented to the people of Bruff by Lord Limerick in 1915, is the site of the ancient mound / fort from which the village derives its name.
Ballygrennan Castle, a Tower House and bawn originally constructed in the C13th, and extended over four centuries, was a stronghold of the De Lacy family, who also controlled Bruff Castle, the last vestiges of which vanished in the early C20th.(Photo – Bits from Bruff)
Bruff was an important centre for the linen industry in the C18th.
The church of St Peter of Alexandria (CoI) dates from the C17th, and was refurbished in 1850 by the controversial Rev. Godfrey Massey, who tried hard to convert the majority of Bruff’s inhabitants to Protestantism. Extracts published in the Old Limerick Journal from his account of Bruff during the Great Famine can be read here.
The parish church of SS Peter & Paul (RC) was completed in 1829.
The town was the centre of IRA activities and British government counterinsurgency measures during the War of Independence, when the C19th Courthouse was destroyed. Bruff also saw heavy fighting in the Battle of Killmallock during the Irish Civil War.
The Sean Wall Memorial is a statue commemorating the Chairman of Limerick County Council and IRA Brigadier, killed at Anacorty in May 1921.
Ard Scoil Mhuire FCJ, a large co-educational secondary day school with landscaped grounds, was founded as a Convent School by the French Order of the Faithful Companions of Jesus in 1856 at the invitation of the parish priest, Dean Cussen, who is commemorated by a statue.
A Mural at the Hospital Road junction recalls the 1607 Flight of the Earls; a previous painting on the same wall depicted Patrick Sarsfield.
The Old Bank is a family-run luxury B&B with a pretty courtyard garden.
Bruff is linked by the R512 to Kilmallock on ByRoute 5.
Caher Guillamore & Rockbarton
Caher Guillamore and Rockbarton were identified by Lewis (1837) as “seats” of the O’Grady family; the latter was the home of the judge Standish O’Grady, Baron of the Exchequer, who on his retirement in 1831 was made Baron O’Grady of Rockbarton and Viscount O’Grady of Caher Guillamore.
Lewis mentions that the Caher demesne contained traces of the supposed ruins of an ancient city, and the remains of druidical structures. The estate was severely damaged by the Great Wind of 1839. The house has been in ruins since 1920.
Caherguillamore House, left vacant during the War of Independence, was chosen by the Bruff Battalion of the IRA as the venue for a supper dance to raise funds for the purchase of arms for local Flying Column. A decoy rumour was spread by word of mouth that the function was to be held in Herbertstown, but despite all precautions, the police learnt that most of the Column members would be in Caherguillamore on the night of 27th December 1920.
RIC constables, Black & Tans and British troops closed in on foot and surrounded the house and overcame the sentries before directing a hail of bullets through the windows, provoking mass hysteria within.The attackers burst through the front and rear doors with fixed bayonets and clubbing rifle butts on the young folk running for safety. The 90 women were herded upstairs and searched, while the 150 men were ordered to run a long gauntlet of green-blue, khaki and black uniforms. The Tans, infuriated by the death of one of their number in the initial stages of the attack, smashed the banisters and used the timber to bludgeon the men cornered in the corridors and passages.
Five IRA volunteers were killed, and 128 men were loaded into lorries and taken in convoy to Limerick where they were imprisoned in what was then known as New Barracks.
St Mary’s church (RC), aka Meanus church, is a neo-Gothic building with an imposing tower, completed in 1846 on land donated by Lord Guillamore. An interior plaque marks the 1857 burial of a Limerick solicitor’s daughter without mentioning the girl’s name.
Glenogra Castle, a C15th Tower House and bawn, where the Earl of Desmond was unsuccessfully beseiged by Lord Thurles in 1536, was already in a ruinous state by 1583. It was owned by the Fitton family from the late C16th and until the 1654 Cromwellian redistributions, when it was granted to the Bourchiers, later Earls of Bath. (Photo – Mike Searle)
Glenogra is known to have had 120 burgesses in 1298, indicating a population of between 500 and 800 people.
The church of St Nicholas, founded in 1410, is now a ruin in Glenogra graveyard, presumably the site of the abbey founded by the De Luces, mentioned by Lewis (1837).
Rathmore Castle is a C14th ruin, built close to the large ancient Ring Fort after which it is named.
Rathmore was the site of the 1148 Battle of Glenogra, where Turlough O’Briain, king of Thomond, won a major victory over a mixed army of Limerick Norsemen and natives who had conspired against him.
Fedamore (Feadamair, from Fiadh Damair – “the wood of Damar”) is a village and parish on the Camoge River.
The Thatch Public House in Fedamore is a very old hostelry of the best traditional sort.
The church of St. John the Baptist (RC), founded in 1830 and renovated in 1990, has an impressive painted ceiling and a late C18th font, found by a local CoI curate and presented to the church.
Fedamore’s atmospheric Old Graveyard contains a Flynn family headstone bearing the epitaph: ‘My sledge and hammers are declined, My bellows too has lost the wind, My fire extinguished, my forge decayed, And in the earth my vice is laid.‘
Rockstown Castle, visible from quite a distance, is a tall C15th Tower House with an internal spiral staircase. It was held by William Bourke in 1583, James Gould in 1600 and Captain George Ingoldsbye in 1655, and is still privately owned.
Rockstown church, an almost inaccessible ruin in an overgrown graveyard, is believed to be of medieval origin. There are memorials to members of the Barry family, one bearing their coat-of-arms.
Williamstown Castle is a late C15th / early C16th Tower House, said to have been built by one of the Bourkes. In 1839 it was “renovated and restored to its ancient appearance by Messrs Pain architects.” The castle is private property.