Claremorris (Co. Mayo / South)
Claremorris (Clár Chlainne Mhuiris) (pop. 4000), until recently the fastest growing urban centre in Mayo, is a pleasant town in a valley surrounded by rolling drumlins, eskers, woods and lakes. It has a good range of pubs, eateries and accommodation options.
Clar Cloinne Mhuiris is usually translated as “the plain of the family of Maurice”, referring to the descendants of the famous Norman invader Maurice de Prendergast who came to Ireland with Strongbow in 1170. A dubious local tradition has it that the toponym derives from a clar (“board / plank”) laid as a bridge over the river linking Mayfield and Clare Loughs by his son Gerald de Prendergast, who is credited with erecting the 13th Brize Castle near Balla.
While Claremorris appears not to have existed as a town much before the C18th, the district has undoubtedly been inhabited for many centuries, as evidenced by the remains of Ringforts dotting the landscape.
St Mary’s Abbey was founded by the de Prendergast family in 1288 for the Carmelite Order at Ballinasmalla, a place thought to have been used for Christian worship since the C7th AD. The local parish at the time was served byKilcolman church near Barnycarroll. At its zenith the Abbey was an extensive complex with its own mill-race. Although the buildings suffered after its official 1585 dispossession, the Moore family of Brize Castle helped the monastic community to survive, and Carmelite friars appear to have remained here until 1870.
Although not originally on any principal road or trade route, Claremorris was probably a venue for markets and fairs before the Wars of the Three Kindoms. The fact that several Big Houses were built locally suggests the presence of enough inhabitants to meet the need of the gentry for tenants and / or servants.
By 1777 the basic layout of the town around its distinctive market square was in place. In 1802 it was described a “the only real town in the barony”, having “dwelling houses … built of stone, with chimneys and mostly separate outhouses” and a regular postal service. Several public buildings were constructed in the first decades of the C19th. By 1836 Claremorris had some 1400 inhabitants and about 300 houses, principally slated, a large Courthouse (1822), a constabulary and revenue police headquarters, a brewery, 12 privately run schools, two churches and a Wesleyan Methodist Meeting house.
Denis Browne (1763-1828), a son of the 2nd Earl of Altemont and much feared magistrate, nicknamed Donncha na Rópa (Dennis of the Rope) for his handling of participants in the 1798 Rebellion, served as MP and and High Sherriff of County Mayo and exerted harsh control over Claremorris for almost 30 years.
Between 1820 and 1880 Claremorris and its environs endured the ravages of hunger and disease on a number of occasions, most fiercely during the Great Famine.
Claremorris Workhouse, belatedly opened in 1852, operated until 1918. In 1909 the Tuam Herald recorded the wedding of two inmates aged 84 and 79.
In 1879 a meeting to plan the protests at Irishtown that led to the formation of the National Land League was held in Nally’s Hotel in James St (the premises were later converted into a bank, now a branch of AIB).
Claremorris Weather Station, located 2 km from the town centre, began operating in November 1943 and provided detailed weather reports to the Allies during WWII, playing a significant factor in the choice of 6th June 1944 as D Day for the invasion of France. In 1996 staff were relocated to Knock airport.
Located at the junction of the N17 Galway / Sligo road and the N60 Castlebar / Roscommon road, Claremorris was long a major traffic bottleneck. By the late 1990s, over 13,000 vehicles were trundling through the town daily. The problem was considerably eased by the opening of the N17 bypass in 2001.
McMahon Park, donated to the town by a family of that name as an amenity area aroundClare Lake, contains an old toll bridge that locals claim replaced the original clar laid by Gerald de Prendergast.Formerly polluted waste ground, the Park now features here a pleasant Loop walk around the lake, which is popular for coarse fishing and contains a 2000-year-old crannog, woodlands inhabited by a wide range of wildlife, a bandstand and a picnic area in addition to municipal sports fields.
Ballinasmalla Cemetery, in and around the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey’s C13th church,contains several interesting monuments. The Abbey was in use for religious services until c.1875, and an annual Mass is still held on the site.
Claremount House, built in the early C18th, was the home of George Browne, third son of the 1st Earl of Altamont, in the 1760s. His daughter and heiress married Dominick Browne of Castlemagarret and ownership appears to have passed to his family. TheKirwans lived in the house in the late C18th, and the notorious Dennis Browne occupied it from 1798 to 1828. In 1858 it was bought from Lord Oranmore and Browne by Murray McGregor Blacker, who sold it 1874 to the Sisters of Mercy. The nuns converted the house into a convent, renamed it Mount St Michael and ran a number of educational projects, principally a girls’ secondary school which relocated to modern premises in 2000.
Killegar House, leased from the Macgarrett Castle Brownes throughout the C19th by the Kelly family, was converted in 1945 into St Colman’s College, a secondary school for boys.
St John’s church (CoI), an imposing edifice with a splendid tower and steeple in the town centre, was opened in 1828 together with the adjoining Schools, and served Kilcolman parish until c.1963. The building is now the town library, also used as a venue for art exhibitions and musical events.
Claremorris Workhouse (1852), used as a British Army barracks from 1918 to 1922, was occupied by the Claremorris Bacon Co from 1930 to 1989, and is currently derelict.
Claremorris Railway Station
Claremorris Railway Station was opened by the Great Southern & Western Railway Co in May 1862 at the western end of the line from Dublin / Athlone, which was extended to Castlebar in December of the same year, and reached Westport in 1866.
Plans drawn up in 1872 to run a line from Claremorris to Cong came to nothing.
The Claremorris / Balinrobe line was opened in 1892 by the independentBallinrobe & Claremorris Light Railway Co. This company was absorbed by the Great Southern grouping in 1925. The line was closed to passenger traffic in 1930 and finally closed altogether on 1st January 1960.
The “Athenry & Tuam Extension to Claremorris Light Railway” reached Claremorris in 1894. This line ceased to carry passengers in 1976 and was finally closed in 1990.
The Claremorris / Collooney Junction (Co. Sligo) line, one of the last to be constructed in the C19th, was opened in 1895, closed for passengers in 1963 and for freight in 1975. The permanent way, still largely intact, crosses difficult terrain of rock and bog, and must have been a major feat of engineering; inspired by the “supply road” constructed for the Japanese Imperial Army by British POWs during WWII, the line is hence locally nicknamed the Burma Road.
The railway lines around Claremorris were frequently disrupted during the War of Independence and the Civil War.
Claremorris Station is currently served by Intercity services between Dublin andWestport / Ballina, and is due to form part of the planned Western Rail Corridor providing Commuter services between Limerick and Westport in 2014. If campaigners succeed, Claremorris may eventually also be served by trains to / from Sligo town.
St Colman’s church (RC), an impressive building next to the former RIC station, was inaugurated in 1911 to replace a chapel built in 1822 that was later converted into a Parochial Hall and finally demolished to make way for the Town Hall.
Claremorris Town Hall, erected in the 1960s, was for a time one of the most popular dance venues in the West. It is currently used for regular District Court hearings and a wide range of social activities such as Scouts and Foroige Club meetings, bingo, ceili dances, country markets, adult education classes, exhibitions etc., and is the main venue for the annual Claremorris Drama Festival.
The Claremorris Drama Festival, held over ten days and nights every March and now approaching its 42nd year, features plays performed by amateur drama groups from all over Ireland in competition for awards adjudicated by prestigious judges.
The Claremorris Agricultural Show, well established as one of the most important events of its kind in Connacht, with show-jumping, livestick championships, trade and crafts stands, cookery and flower-arranging competitions, ceili music and traditional Irish dancing, takes place every August Bank Holiday weekend, and normally coincides with theClaremorris Homecoming Festival to welcome locally-born emigrants and their families.
The Claremorris Open Art Exhibition (COE) held each September is nowadays a multimedia event with artists in many different fields exhibiting their work in shops, on gable walls and at various other outdoor sites. This outstandingly successful format has aroused much interest from around the country and abroad.
A Traditional Music Weekend is organised every October by the Claremorris branch ofComhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in honour of the late Johnny Cleary and Mattie Coyne.
Sir John Gray (1816-1875), MP, MD, JP, the Claremorris-born editor of the Freeman’s Journal was a leading Home Rule politician and trusted advisor of Daniel O’Connell. A statue was erected in Dublin’s O’Connell St in gratitude for his role in providing the city with its Vartry Reservoir water supply.
John Francis D’Alton (1882–1963), born in Claremorris and educated at Dublin’sBlackrock College, where he became a close friend of Eamonn de Valera, served as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1946 until his death, and was made Cardinal in 1953