October 31, 2019
Poulnabrone Dolmen, or portal tomb, is a popular tourist attraction in the Burren in Co. Clare.
By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Ireland is notable for many things, but high on that list is the dedication of its residents and organizations to preserving and sharing treasured antiquities. In cities, towns and across the countryside, there are monuments to the past – buildings, fortresses, castles, churches, abbeys, monasteries, and more, including portal and Neolithic tombs. Rather than plow under such heritage, the Irish respect, preserve, and share their treasures.
We visited the town of Kilfenora, Co. Clare, this spring, ostensibly to visit the excellent Burren Centre. Next door to the Centre is the Kilfenora Cathedral, which boasts the largest concentration of high crosses in the country. These limestone crosses are believed to have been carved in the late 11th or early 12th century, and include the well-known Doorty Cross. The cathedral, built in 1058 on the site of St. Fachnan’s 6th century monastery, has deteriorated over time but is still impressive so you can appreciate how much more impressive it must have been in its heyday.
The Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has reportedly allocated funds to ensure continued conservation and preservation of the Kilfenora cathedral, the crosses, and the cemetery.
The covered section of the cathedral is still used occasionally for Church of Ireland services and, thanks to its exceptional acoustics, for concerts from time to time.
When you next visit the Burren with its magnificent flowers and monuments, be sure to include a visit to Kilfenora. Both the cathedral and Burren Centre are well worth a stop, as is the nearby Burren Perfumery and Aillwee Cave (aillweecave.ie) with its Birds of Prey shows.
There’s so much to do in this interesting section of the country. (Aillwee is open in November and December by appointment only and has a Santa’s Workshop scheduled Nov. 29 and 30, Dec. 1, 6-8, 13-15, 20-22. There is a sensory morning on Dec. 6 from 11 to 2.)
There are many other tourist attractions in Co. Clare – in addition to the Cliffs of Moher - although places like Knappogue Castles in Quin and Bunratty Castle, which offer fun medieval banquets, do close for the winter. They reopen in the spring.
When you’re traveling across the country in search of more historic buildings, be sure to stop off in Loughmore, Co. Tipperary. Just off the N62, Loughmore offers history buffs the Purcell Fortress/Castle, the Abbey Church, the Mill, and the Cormack Memorial.
The Purcells, known as the Barons of Loughmore, built their castle/fortress on the west bank of the River Suir with a five-storied southern tower. The walls are 10 feet thick at ground level in the tower - and there is a spiral staircase from the basement to the top. The last baron, Nicholas Purcell (1652-1723), was a signer of the Treaty of Limerick in 1691. The barony ended when Nicholas died without a male heir.
The Abbey Church ruins are in the graveyard near the current Loughmore church and date back to medieval times. Also see The Mill that was built by Samuel Rudd in 1842 and the mausoleum where brothers Daniel and William Cormack are interred. The lads were wrongly accused and hanged in 1858 for the murder of a land agent. The true murderer finally admitted his crime after Daniel and William were executed.
St. Crunain’s holy well is also in that area and is said to heal arthritis and eye ailments. And, don’t miss Cahir Castle (tinyurl.com/h3y9d6m), The 1848 Famine Warhouse in Ballingarry, Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir, or the magnificent grouping of medieval buildings on a limestone hill known as the Rock of Cashel. There is a 12th-century round tower, high cross and Romanesque chapel, 13th-century Gothic Cathedral and 15th century castle there.
If you decide to wander from the Midlands over to the West Coast and into Co. Galway in search of historic sites, a stop at Thoor Ballylee near Gort is highly recommended. The Norman Tower and adjoining cottages were purchased in 1916 by W.B. Yeats, who had seen the property many times when visiting his patron, Lady Augusta Gregory, a co-founder of the Abbey Theatre who lived nearby. Lady Gregory’s home, Coole Park and Gardens, is now a nature reserve on 1,000 acres of land. It’s a lovely place to spend a day walking the trails and enjoying nature. See coolepark.ie for more information.
The tower has been restored and looks much the same today as when Yeats and his family lived there in the 1920s. There is now a picnic area, a large bus and car park, toilet facilities, a bookshop, and riverside walks to an old mill and mill wheel there. It’s well worth a visit.
Also in Co. Galway is Dunguaire Castle (Kinvarra), a 16th century edifice that offers medieval banquets from April to September. Like Bunratty and Knappogue, the banquets feature a theatrical performance with rhyme, verse, music ,and song. There is also a craft shop there.
You could scarcely mention Co. Galway without urging visitors to head north to Connemara for a tour of beautiful Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Gardens. Kylemore is often said to be Ireland’s top tourist attraction and you’ll see why when you visit.
The Abbey hardly fits into the historic-but-derelict category, thanks to the Benedictine nuns who have overseen the property for nearly 100 years. In 1868, an Englishman, Henry Mitchell, was touring Connemara and came upon an old hunting lodge set at the edge of a lake with mountains rising behind. He was stunned by the brilliant scene, bought the property for his wife, Margaret, and built a castle there with 33 bedrooms, four bathrooms, four sitting rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences. He added gardens, walks, and woodlands that eventually covered the 13,000 acres.
Sadly, Margaret died at the age of 45 after contracting an illness on a family holiday to Egypt.
Benedictine nuns settled at Kylemore in the 1920s. They ran a day school and boarding girls’ school there for 87 years until it closed in 2010. During their time, the nuns have restored the Abbey, Gothic Church and Victorian Walled Garden to their former glory. Upgrades and changes are ongoing even today. Be sure to stop in Kylemore’s outstanding café and gift shop while there too.
The 14th European Symposium for the Protection of the Night Sky that will take place in Mulranny, Co. Mayo, from Nov. 3 to 5, will be a sister event to The International Dark-Sky Association’s 2019 Annual General Meeting & Conference in Tucson, AZ, Nov. 8-9. The intercontinental collaboration highlights common challenges faced across the globe in the fight to protect the night sky from light pollution.
Attendees will gather at both events to examine best practices for night sky protection and to share their enthusiasm for the night sky. By collaborating on the events, ideas and outcomes will be exchanged internationally and strengthen the movement to protect the night sky. For more information, see darksky.org
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.