Sixmilebridge (Co. Clare / South)
Sixmilebridge (Droichead Abhann Uí gCearnaigh – “Bridge of the O’Garney / O’Kearney River”) (pop. 1700), set in picturesque surroundings on the old “back road” linking Limerick City and Ennis, is a friendly and vibrant town.
The “Duck Inn”, a raft floating on the O’Garney River with a decorative but functional thatched roof, glass windows and painted walls, is occupied during winter months by a thriving population of ducks. (Photo – Rainer Weidemann
The original settlement gradually came into existence around a crossing place on the O’Garney River between the castles of Bunratty and Knappogue. The eponymous bridge was erected in 1610 by Donough O’Brien, 4th Earl of Thomond.
Thomas Dineley, who visited in 1681, was the first to record the curious English toponym: “From Bunratty, the seat of the Earl of Thomond, into the town of Sixmilebridge, belonging also to that noble family, is 3 [Irish] miles; from whence to the city of Limerick, to which are two ways, namely by the oil mills and the seat of the Mc Namaras beyond it, or over the high mountain, famous for its admirable prospect, hanging as it were over Sixmilebridge town and commonly known as Gallows Hill; this is the upper, the other the lower way to Limerick and from town to the city six [Irish] miles either way, whence the town hath its name”. (The 2240-yard Irish mile was introduced, along with the Irish acre and the Irish perch, during the 1652 Cromwellian land distribution).
Development accelerated with the arrival of Henry Ivers, who Dineley described thus: “This gentleman. . . has in time, by his industry, acquired £1,000 a year; the first and chiefest of his rise was occasioned by his being concerned in the revenue as clerk to the king’s commissioners for applotting quit rents.” In his 1690 will, proved at Dublin in 1692, Henry disinherited his eldest son for marrying a lady “of noe fortune and rejecting considerable fortunes I had proposed for him,” and settled the estates on his second son John, who changed the family’s surname to Ievers.
Dutch merchants connected with the victors of the Williamite War invested in the local milling industry, and Sixmilebridge grew into a industrial port, manufacturing rapeseed oil, soap, textiles, paper, beer and other goods for export and importing products from the Netherlands, with boats from Amsterdam sailing upstream for 90 years to the Oil Mills at Ballintlea just south of the town (where the old quay walls and stone mill wheels can still be seen).
The O’Briens of Cappagh Lodge developed the upper end of the village, known as O’Brien’s Town, while the eastern part, laid out in 1733, soon came to be called Ieverstown. Although the bridge over the river remained the main focal point, the fair green and market house became the commercial hubs, while handsome public buildings and private dwellings lined three large squares and wide streets named in honour of the Houses of Orange and Hanover.
Henry D’Esterre‘s dastardly erection of a toll bridge at Rosmanagher in 1784 effectively rendered the river unnavigable, ending trade with Holland abruptly. (Locals claim that Daniel O’Connell‘s refusal to pay the toll was behind the notorious 1815 duel in which he mortally wounded Captain John D’Esterre).
Sixmilebridge suffered a further reverse with the construction of Bunratty Bridge in 1804, as the town was no longer on the main road to the West. Mills and factories closed, fairs were discontinued, and by 1837 the market house roof had fallen in. The Great Famine took its terrible course, followed by massive emigration, and by the second half of the C19th the former hive of industry had declined into a sleepy village.
The “Celtic Tiger” years around the turn of the second Millennium saw Sixmilebridge transformed from a rural village into a dormitory town for the Shannon Industrial Zone / “Midwest” region and one of County Clare’s principal population centres. Hundreds of modern housing units were built in and around the district, while the commercial core of the town tripled in size with the establishment of new retail premises and businesses.
Kilfinaghty Public Library is housed in the splendidly restored Kilfinaghty parish church (CoI), built in 1733 and used as a place of worship until 1970 (the original tower was replaced in the mid-C19th).
Many other old buildings in Sixmilebridge have found alternative uses. The re-roofed market house now contains auction rooms, the courthouse is a childcare facility, the RIC police barracks houses a credit union and the former Woollen Mills are due to be converted into apartments.
Sixmilebridge church (RC), built in 1858 to replace a previous thatched structure erected in 1779, is unusual in having no patron saint. During the Troubles, a chalice was stolen by British soldiers but later recovered. Since then, the Blessed Sacrament has not been kept in this church, and so to this day it is technically a chapel of ease.
Ballyarrila / Ballyrella Castle, a Tower House thought to have been built c.1470 and known to have belonged to Bryan Mac Namara, son of Daniel Roe Mac Namara, in 1580, was acquired and renamed by Henry Ivers c.1666 and demolished in 1735 by his grandson Colonel Henry Ievers, who salvaged a stone fireplace dated 1648 and re-erected it in the hall of his new house, where it still stands. (Image – www.clarelibrary.ie)
Mount Ievers Court, noted for its beguiling dream-like quality, is widely considered one of the finest early country houses in Ireland. Set in lush parkland and sheltered by beech trees, it famously resembles an exquisite if somewhat melancholy doll’s house.
Possibly inspired by Inigo Jones’s Chevening House in Kent, Mount Ievers was designed in a mixed Carolinian / Queen Anne style by John Rothery and completed after his death in 1737 by his son Isaac. 11 masons earned five shillings a week and 48 labourers were given five pence plus food, drink, clothing and in some cases accommodation. With local labour and most materials sourced regionally (the slates came from Broadford, the massive oak-roof timbers, 34 tons in weight, from Portumna via Lough Derg), the cost of construction costs came to £1,478 7s. 9d. – a comparatively small amount by the standards of the time.
The house rises three storeys over a basement, its height accentuated by a steeply pitched roof, tall chimney stacks and the subtle architectural device of reducing the width of each storey by six inches. The elegant seven-bay fronts are almost identical save that one is of silvery-grey limestone ashlar and the other of brick imported from Holland as ballast and now faded a beautiful shade of pink-grey. (Photo – www.clarelibrary.ie)
The interior has vaulted basements, original panelling and ceilings with geometric panels and modillion cornices, a magnificent staircase with fine joinery of alternate barley-sugar and fluted balusters, and lovely late Georgian chimney-pieces, including a Bossi. The long gallery on the top floor, possibly intended as a ballroom, was a feature found in only one other Irish house, Bowens Court in County Cork, also built by Isaac Rothery and demolished by fools in 1960.
William Ievers (1818-1901) ran away to sea at 15, saw naval action in Constantinople and the Aegean, and sailed to the Spanish Main, Chile, Peru, Canada and the South Seas before settling down in Dublin as a merchant c.1848. In 1855 he migrated with his wife and six children to Melbourne, Australia, where he prospered as a rate collector / estate agent, and built a replica of his ancestral home, also called Mount Ievers.
Mount Ievers has a delightful fresco in the drawing-room depicting a panoramic view of the house, and demesne c.1740. The formal gardens have disappeared, although the fish ponds represented in the fresco have been restored the present owner, Squadron-Leader Norman Ievers, who has done much (together with the Irish Georgian Society) to ensure the survival of this magical building.
Viewing strictly by appointment only.
McGregor’s Pub is the home of the highly regarded Sixmilebridge Folk Club: members host regular Sunday evening sessions open to the public and hold a Winter Music Weekend Festival every January.
The Jamaica Inn is a popular independent hostel with a restaurant and self-catering facilities.
Dine & Wine Restaurant has received excellent reviews.
Kurt Russell filmed the Disney adventure movie Guns in the Heather (1969) in the Sixmilebridge district.