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Tale of The Windsor Castle

By Tommy McGrath


The Indianan Windsor Castle sailed from Bombay on the West Coast of India in August 1842 with a cargo of cotton, indigo, gum, sugar and spices. It sailed to the Indian Ocean and onto the Atlantic Ocean but around the 3rd March 1843 she was abandoned by her crew in circumstances that are unclear.

The first indication of her whereabouts were announced in the ‘Times of London’ on Monday 13th March 1843 which stated “The Windsor Castle from Bombay to Liverpool abandoned has been brought into Scattery Roads”. The same paper on 18th March had an intriguing sentence “The Windsor Castle it is said has run foul by an American ship on the 3rd March and abandoned by her crew. She is 900 tonnes with a cargo of a thousand bales of cotton. In the cabin they found a dead goat from which there was no offensive smell so it is supposed that its death was a recent occurrence and on deck everything appeared to be properly secure by the crew before abandonment.

The crew of the Windsor Castle with Mr McCleland (Captain) arrived in Liverpool on the Hudson Page from New Orleans which took them on board after deserting their vessel off Cape Clear in Africa. An obvious question at this stage is, was the Hudson Page, the American Ship that ran foul of the Windsor Castle? It would appear that the reason the Windsor Castle was abandoned was because she was dismasted, thus preventing the use of sails. We know this because in Kilbaha it was proposed that she be jury rigged (temporary sails).

While the Windsor Castle was missing, a steamer from cork and two others from Liverpool where six gentlemen had subscribed £600 and they had searched in vain for the abandoned vessel. Some surprise will be felt at the accidental navigation of an unmanned ship around Cape Clear and up North West on the Atlantic Ocean to the mouth of the Shannon in fact to within a few miles off land near Ross where the Kilbaha Pilots first boarded it.

The Times of London, 21st March 1843 in its newspaper accounts the sequence of events leading to the salvage reported that the Kilbaha Pilots brought her inside Loop Head and slightly further up the Shannon River near Dunmore Head. This was achieved by 3 crews using their canoes to tow the ship. The crews were led by David Melican and his crew of 5, Martin Hassett and his crew of 3 and John with his crew of 3. These 14 co-operated with James Hanrahan and his crew of 3 who remained on board. Once inside the Head at Horse Island the 18 Salvors took on board 17 other pilots and fishermen and accepted them as fellow Salvors. On the rising tide the anchor of the Windsor Castle was weighed and she was taken on tow by a hooker manned by some of the Pilots and then towed first by the Hamilton a revenue cruiser and then by the Erin Steamer ‘Kennedy’. At one stage the pilots in the canoes had to resume towage as the Windsor Castle was drifting too near the cliff for the large towing vessel to operate in safety, finally a steamer ‘the Shannon’ (Ferry boat from Foynes to Kilrush) for £20 towed the ship to safety anchoring in the Scattery Roads.

The prospect of salvage compensation prompted many local people to crowd on board. It was a distasteful task for the pilots to keep them away and prevent the ships contents being looted. This possibly explains why the extra people were taken on at Horse Island. A coastguard named Baldwin from Kilkee insisted on attempting to board by tying his boat to the Windsor Castle deck rail, the pilots on board cut it off and Baldwin brought charges against these men at Kilrush court on 30th March 1843. Baldwin failed to appear in court therefore the charges were dismissed.

It is clear that the chance discovery by the Kilbaha Pilots of the derelict Windsor Castle led to the continuous population of Scattery Island for the next 130 years. The landlord of Scattery island was Francis Keane’s brother of Marcus and his wife was Hannah Marie daughter of Sir Christopher Marrett of Limerick who owned the island. Some of the Pilots bought land on the island and their desendents were Sea Captains, Lighthouse Keepers, Sailors, River Pilots which made the fortunes of Scattery Island achievers famous all over the shipping industry.

There is a very old and strange English Law which governs shipping and it states that “if any person or latterly a beast escaped alive, the ship/property was not legally wreck and thus not forfeited to the crown, the local landowner or the finder. The owner retained title to his property if he claimed with 3 months. Apparently if there were no survivors (man or beast) then no owner could claim property washed up on the shore since it was forfeited as wreck.

Therefore one could assume that perhaps the pilots knew something of its circumstances. Did they know of the owner’s search which would explain the urgency for salvage and the fresh dead goat.

The commission of enquiry which opened in Kilrush on Monday 22nd May 1843 and was transferred to Dublin where the compensation issue for salvors was seriously addressed. Proceedings were slow that on the 22nd June, The Clare Journal noted that “there is every possibility that the enquiry continuing to Christmas. In August a decision had been made valuing the Ship and cargo £20,000 and awarding the salvors one quarter, £5000 distributed as shown on the table below:

Name Occupation Amount Paid
Behan Michael Pilot £163-16-6
Bradley Patrick Assistant £147-3-2
Brennan Daniel Assistant £110-7-4 – ½
Brennan Felix Assistant £110-7-4 – ½
Brennan Patrick Assistant £110-7-4 – ½
Brennan Patrick Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Brennan Stephen Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Canty Patrick Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Carmody Patrick Pilot £163-16-6
Carthy Parick Assistant £147-3-2
Costelloe Baraby Pilot £163-16-6
Costelloe Timothy Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Crotty Patrick Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Crotty Thomas Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Fennell Patrick Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Griffin Michael Assistant £147-3-2
Griffin Michael Pilot £163-16-6
Griffin Patrick Pilot £163-16-6
Hanrahan James Pilot £163-16-6
Hanrahan Michael Assistant £147-3-2
Hanrahan Michael Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Hasset Anthony Assistant £147-3-2
Hasset martin Pilot £163-16-6
Keane John Pilot £163-16-6
Keane Owen Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
McMahon Austin Pilot £163-16-6
McMahon Patrick Assistant £127-0-8 – ½
McMahon Patrick Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
McMahon Peter Assistant £110-7-4- ½
McNamara John Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Melican David Pilot £163-16-6
Melican John Pilot £163-16-6
Nash Patrick Assistant £147-3-2
Scanlan Michael Pilot £163-16-6
Total 18 Pilots / 16 Assistants £4714-15-0


Nine of the popular surnames associated with the island, Keane, Scanlan, McMahon, Brennan, Meehan, Hanrahan, Griffin, Hehir and Moran.

The courage, strength and determination of the Kilbaha Pilots has to be admired. That three canoes with light timber oars could move and steer 900 tonnes on the rough Atlantic and around the cross currents of Loop Head. Then they continued to protect the ship from looters and legally be rewarded payment for their salvage.

Below is a letter to the Limerick Reporter newspaper from the parish priest Fr. Malachy Duggan of Moyarta expressing his pride and commendation for the success of the Pilots:

Extract from ‘The Other Clare Vol. 36’

Holy Wells of West Clare Introduction

By Tommy McGrath

Traverse the desert and then ye can tell
What treasures exist in a cold deep Well
Sink in despair on the red parched earth
An then ye may reckon what water is worth
(Miss Eliza Cook)

I started by drawing a line from Doonbeg bridge to Moyasta bridge and from there to Loop Head. I discovered 12 Holy wells clearly marked on the ordinance survey map discovery series H63 4th edition. With the help of local people and the folklore department of UCD I got a little history on each site as I located the sites and put the information together I got more and more taken in as these are the some of the oldest known monuments that are slowly slipping away if we let it happen.

In early pagan times the people believed that the earth was the centre of the universe and the Gods existed in the centre of the earth so water that flowed from lakes, streams, etc. had little value. Water that sprang from the earth came from the Gods and had divine and healing qualities, therefore were places of worship. When St Patrick came to Ireland in 432 this practice was easier to incorporate into the Christian religion so he blessed the springs and called them Blessed Wells. Many churches and grave yards were constructed close to or around Holy Wells.

The popularity of visiting Holy Wells remained constant over the centuries. During the enforcement of Penal Laws in the 18th century when church and prayer houses were closed and the persecuted Irish people were forced to visit alternative places of worship so the remote Holy Wells were an escape from sectarian assault. Daniel O’Connell’s Catholic Emancipation saw greater religious freedom for Catholics in Ireland this resulted in a decline in the attendance at many Holy Wells in favour of churches.

The accepted term for Holy Well in the Irish language is either ‘Tobar Beannaithe (meaning Holy Well) or ‘Tobar Naofa’ (meaning Blessed Well). The surviving names of many wells are a direct translation into English from the Irish language after the pagan times. They were named after local Saints in West Clare example St. Senan, St. Martin and St. Cuam. It is thought there were thousands of Holy Wells in Ireland, natural springs, stone monuments, sea caves, etc. that have the power to cure illness through ritual and prayer. It was also believed that on special dates the power is strongest on the Christian or Pagan calendar.

The ritual is different for each well which involves walking around and praying an odd number of times in the direction of the sun and drinking, bathing or removing the Holy Water on completion of the ‘Rounds’ and finally a small piece of clothing or rag from the sick person is placed on a tree or bush close to the well or left in a crevice on the well and held in place by a small stone.

It was also believed that near every Holy site Satan or the Devil are present and if you wanted to put a curse on somebody you would complete the round in reverse taking the cloth and some water first, while cursing on an outward circle and finally discarding of the water and rag away from the Well. It was believed death or serious injury could fall on a person that performed such a round if the cursed person was not deserving of such an act. The use of water was strictly forbidden for domestic and agriculture purposes, in pagan tims if deliberately used it was believed the well would dry up or mysteriously move to another location and the sacred fish or eel would disappear and all healing powers would disappear with it.

We know that Water Worship and Water Cults have existed in Ireland since pagan times through references in ancient manuscripts and stories in Irish mythology. We know not only did Holy Wells exist at that time but were and continue to be very important to the Irish. Eugene O’Curry, our famous West Clare Professor of Ancient Folklore and History wrote in 1838 on the ordinance survey letters from Co Clare describing the Holy Wells in West Clare. James Frost in his “History and Topography of Co Clare 1893” also spoke about the existence of all the known wells of West Clare. Of the 12 Wells I visited, St. Martins in Querrin, Our Saviours Well in Killard, St. Kees Coast Road and St Senans of Kilkee are the best preserved while St Senans Well in Kiltenane and St Credauns in Kilcredaun are also well maintained. Our Wells are rarely visited today and because of coastal erosion and neglect some will be gone and lost forever very soon. I believe that between church and state the exact sites should put pressure on the powers that be to at least mark the locations for future generations.

Our Saviours Well

Killard Doonbeg Parish

The Irish name is Slanatoir An Domain – Saviour of the World which is unique as it is the only well in West Clare not called after a Saint.

Situated beside the graveyard in Killard overlooking the White Strand. The late Margaret Hastings (nee Normoyle) my neighbour in Farrihy was born and reared only 200 yards from Killard Holy Well, she described when she was young how her father would take them to the well to say three rosaries, 5 joyful on the outer circled, 5 sorrowful on the centre circle and 5 glorious decades while walking around the well for each decade. After the 15 rounds you could take or sample the holy water and it was believed your request might be granted. Holy Thursday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day was the time of year to “do the rounds”. She also described a steady stream of people attending the holy well over Easter and had to queue out along the graveyard road.

St Senan’s Well

Kiltenane, Bansha Doonbeg Parish

This is very well preserved and looks the same today as it did 200 years ago. The rounds were performed by going around the graveyard 9 times and then around the well 9 times while praying in no particular pattern. It was famous in the local farming community for the prevention of slugs in vegetables, wire worms on potatoes. If the head of the family took the water and shook it in the 4 corners of your corn field it was expected to have a great crop.

St Brendans Well

Farrihy Shore, Kilkee Parish called after St Brendan the Navigator

Unfortunately now this Well is in disarray but was once a famous place of worship for fishermen and farmers. I remember when locals would gather to clean and white wash the well each year and say a rosary when they finished. Each Curragh would have a small bottle of St Brendans water hung from the bow of the canoe to protect them out at sea and if the sea got rough they would hang the bottle on the outside of the boat tipping the waves to help calm the seas. Water from St Brendans well was used in every house in our area. Shaken over a sick animal or person going on a journey or even just the kids going off to school each morning.

St. Senan’s Well

Kilkee Parish

St Senans well is very well known and is located at the end of the well road that runs by the Victoria stream near the West End of Kilkee. Drinking water was sourced from this well with the overflow stored in water tanks where the women could wash clothes, etc. as shown in the 1800 photo. Today it is unchanged with a protective rail around it and is visited by locals as it is still an important site in Kilkee’s history.

St. Kees Well

Coast rd. Kilkee Parish

Legend has it that a holy hermit Saint Kees lived in the area and the monastic ruins on Bishops Island could have been his hermitage home. All the area around St Kees well during the 18th and 19th century was regarded as sacred ground. St Kees possibly preceded St Senan of the 6th century who is known as the patron saint of west Clare with his famous settlement in Scattery Island. Today St Kees well in the coast road is still visited by locals and tourists alike and many cures have been associated with the well. Also our town Kilkee gets its name from St Kees which its Irish is Cill Chaoi.

St Fiachra’s Well

Kilkee Parish

St Fiachras well in Kilferragh is located 1 km from Kilferragh church and graveyard. Local history is not very clear but Francie Scanlon who lives next to the well, has no recollection of his parents talking about any religious visits related to the well. His only memory is one of his father telling the story of a severe drought in the early 1920s where the well was sunk from 2ft deep to 14ft and people came from Kilkee for their drinking water.

St Martins Well

Querrin Carrigaholt Parish

St Martins Well is the best kept Well in West Clare. It is clean, flood lit and well maintained with accessible parking. It is the most visited during the feast of St Martin in November. Rounds are walked in three circular footpaths, five rounds and a decade of the rosary during each round. Holy water from St Martins Well is in most homes in West Clare. An overflow trough of holy water is also adjacent to the well where offerings of money are thrown in which is now more commonly known as a wishing well.

St Martin was born in 316AD and lived to 397 he followed his father’s footsteps as an officer in the Roman army. He found himself attracted to a new cult called Christianity and one very cold day he found a shivering beggar man on the road. He put his new religion into practice and cut his cloak in half and gave half of it to the grateful beggar. It is believed that God was so pleased he let the sun shine warmly for several days until the army replaced his cloak so today the few fine warm days in early November are called St Martins summer. His saintliness attracted a lot of attention and very soon he was designated Bishop of the Diocese of Tours. He was so alarmed by his new role that he hid in a barn to avoid the call but was given away by a noisy goose who attracted the churches pursuants to his hiding place. After his discovery the new bishop showed a vengeful streak by having the interfering goose killed and served for dinner establishing the tradition of eating goose on the feast of St Marin in 11th November.

St Senans Well

Tarmon East Kilkee Parish

This is one of the most interesting wells in the circuit. Local folklore states that St Senan’s father who was a farmer from the Killimer area also had land along the Estuary in Tarmon. During a very dry summer streams had dried up and cattle were very short of water. While helping his dad round up the stock a young St Senan looked around the area and at a chosen spot pulled up long grass and cleaned around an area with his hands and water started to flow. Hundreds of years later it is still flowing. In early 1940 a local farmer Thomas Murray mounted a pump in his backyard and fitted a pipe from St Senans well to his yard but because it was twice daily tidal the water got contaminated. In order to combat this he built a concrete tank around the well 10ft long x 6ft wide x 6ft high and it supplied water for the rest of his life Today as you can see from the photo it is quite crude but has lasted the test of time. The water still flows over the top of the tank and out to the estuary. If folklore is true and St Senan stood on this spot then it should also be highlighted.

St Credaun’s Well

Kilcredaun Carrigaholt Parish

Tober-Credaun was called after St Credaun, a disciple of St Senan and one of the most famous of the West Clare Wells in the last century. Pilgrims sometimes stayed the whole night with ailments from sore eyes to bad bones and deformities in children. Eugene O’Curry wrote in his 1838 Ordnance Survey Letter from Clare describing St Credaun’s Well as one of the most popular in Ireland with cures for eyes and limbs. Small stones and rags were used as offerings along with rosary beads and religious medals which were left on the blessed bush on the cliff top. Similar to the Well in Tullig it is tidal and as the tide goes out fresh water again begins to flow.

St Cuan’s Well

Kiltrellig Cross Parish

This well is called Tober Cuam after St Cuam one of the nine saints associated with St Senan of Scattery, that is said to be buried nearby in Ross adjacent to the old church in that area. The well is on the right hand side of the road that leads to Kiltrellig graveyard. Its water is believed to have powers to cure eyesight and skin ailments although it is walled in, it is in decline and no longer visited for favours by locals.

St Senan’s Well

Kilclogher Cross Parish

A small well on the cliff face between Kilclogher Point and the Grave of the Yellow Men. It is in a poor state and not easily visible because of coastal erosion. The cliff face has filled the well and slowed the water flow. According to local historian, Martin Roche, who was born and lived all his working life 200 metres from the Well. He remembers locals taking water from it, he said if you had a mare foaling, a cow calving or a woman due to give birth a sprinkle of St Senans water insured a swift and safe delivery. Because of coastal erosion and the dumping of earth the cliff face has filled the well and slowed the water flow to a trickle.

St Leonard’s Well

Cross Parish

This well is in the townland of Oughterard and is known locally as Tullig Well. It has a reputation to destroy wire worm, leather jacket and other parasites in crops. It was widely used by farmers near and far but with modernisation of agriculture it is almost impossible to find but for a cross on top of the cliff edge. The well is in a recess at the bottom of the cliff face that is tidal and as the tide goes out fresh water again begins to flow. The water from this well has to be used on nine rogation days and if you miss one day you must start from the beginning again.


Water is the universal sign and symbol of life in the cosmos. In scientific terms water may be the very source of life. It stretches beyond the visible world and into the shadows where we are all heading. Every county in Ireland is peppered with holy wells and now our masters want to control and payment for every drop of water. Our humble holy well will eventually be metered and the cost of a cure could be quite expensive.

This project was completed with the help of people like my good friend Paddy Nolan who has always been a wealth of local knowledge that will never be surpassed. The late JJ Downes of Bealaha who travelled with me locating some wells. Gearoid Green and Damien McInerney who had stories from their fathers, Francis Scanlon, Thomas and Mary Ann Haugh, Pauline Barry and last but not least Patrick Keating, Paddy while still young has a good knowledge of local history and folklore in the Loop Head area and assisted me with the wells in Cross and Kilbaha.

I must stress these are the oldest known local monuments dating back beyond Christianity and today they are only a stone throw away from the wild Atlantic Way they should be at least signposted with a little plaque explaining their history.

Adolf Hitler when asked by one of his generals why he did not use Ireland as a platform to invade England he said “if Ireland had as many oil wells as holy wells he would have annexed it years ago”.


Annie Curry’s Story of the Intrinsic Ship

By Tommy McGrath

While training for a career in teaching in the early 1900s, Annie was asked to submit an essay of a local story and her account of the tragic loss of a cargo ship called ‘The Intrinsic’ under Look Out Cliff West of Kilkee, later to be called Intrinsic Bay. This is possibly the only hand written account of what happened on the morning of the 30th Jan 1836.

Annie later married Paddy Donnelly and lived in Grattan St, Kilkee. She taught in Corbally School for over 30 years with the well-known teacher Michael Rue O’ Keane where she was held in the highest esteem. She died in 1941 and is buried in Kilferagh graveyard. Her daughter, Mary gave me this handwritten essay, old photos, postcards, etc. with a view to having them published.

The White Sisters

By Tommy McGrath

Two regular visitors to the holiday resort of Kilkee after WWII stayed for 3 months each summer and continued their visits up until the early 60s.  These ladies fascinated the locals and holidaymaker alike due to their dress and unusual behaviours.  They dressed in a ‘nun-like’ habit which was different to what the locals were used to as it was all in white with a large head gear that pertruded out over their faces.  Some locals said while they did not converse with anyone but sometimes stopped young girls and advised them against a confined life in religion.  This made locals uneasy as they saw it as a threat to the catholic religion.

They were biological sisters from Enniskillen Co Fermanagh and their names were Evelyn and Ann Dundas.  They first stayed in Brews Lodge Victoria terrace and shopped in Kents shop in O’Curry St (now the Central Stores).  They later stayed in O’Doherty’s house in O’Doherty’s Terrace (beside Methodist church) and shopped in what was later known as the West End Stores.  Their last holiday residence was the lodge over Josephine Nolan and Michael Burkes shop in O’Curry St. and shopped in Talty’s shop in O’Connell St (now Hayes supermarket).

Paddy Nolan remembers as a young student delivering meat for his father to the ladies and getting a 6 pence tip which would’ve been quite generous.  He also describes his sisters lodge ready for letting but after the two sisters took up residence they painted everything in white, walls, stairways, ceilings and doors, chairs, tables, and hall front door even the step outside turned white.

Sean Carney worked in Talty’s shop all his life and remembers them well.  He describes their accents as funny and hard to understand but said they were always very nice to him and always gave him a tip before leaving Kilkee.  He describes the all-white outfits as spotless with white shoes, gloves, shopping bags and one year they even had 2 small white dogs with them.  Sean also described how they loved bad weather and during a thunder storm would dance and sing outside under the storm with outstretched arms looking up to the thunder clouds even at night.  If the sea was rough they would stay in Kilkee for longer and as the waves crashed over the pier and against the sea wall they would dance and sing in joyous manner.

They had a brother who took them to Kilkee and collected them at the end of the season.  He also took care of any outstanding bills.

Foogagh Races

by Tommy McGrath

This nostalgic visit to the once famous race course was made possible by the instant recall of Foogagh’s oldest resident, Timmy Carmody who gave me a detailed account of the races as told to him by his father and grandfather.

“The Foogagh race meeting was one of the most popular racing events in the West of Ireland.  Big prize money and a Gold Cup was its attraction and was known locally as the ‘Landlord Races’.

It had a short and long course which ran from Nolans track field all the way up to Gull Island.  Con Griffins grandfathers’ house was on the side of the Dunlicky road and the only obstacle in the landlord’s way when he set out the course so the landlord ordered him to move his house to its present location without any compensation.

The landlord who lived at the site of the old ‘Hydro Hotel’ in Kilkee collected a levy from his tenants and business men in Kilkee to fund the races.  As he got old and feeble his agents looked after this and monies of course did not always find their way to the race fund and the landlord had to pay the winnings with borrowed money and the ‘Gold Cup’ was used as collateral for the bank.

Nolans track field was where the horses and jockeys prepared for the races and temporary stables were erected for the days involved.  All the race horses travelled by road therefore all local race meeting e.g. Ennis, Kilrush, Kilbaha happened during the same time of year.

A big disagreement once occurred when the horse of the landlord from Carrigaholt ‘May Morning’ was beaten by ‘old screw’, a horse belonging to a poor man from Kilkee bog.  The poor man asked the priest for advice before the race and Fr told him to change the jockey and he blessed the horse.  The landlord objected and the prize money was withheld, the course was invaded and the police were called to restore order.  Timmy’s grandfather described Bolands big field being full of hawkers, swinging boats and wheel of fortune during the race days.  One night during the races a storm blew up and the stalls were blown over and locals were out early to collect all the trinkets from the drains.

Early in the 1800s there was prosperity within the British Empire so the demand for horses and men for the British army was very high.  The prize money reached a peak of £100 in Kilkee per race during this time. Following the collapse of the Napoleon conflict the economy collapsed and it was 120 years later before prize money hit £100 again.”

Foogagh races were organised by the local landlord John McDonnell who lived on the site of the present Hydro complex in the West End of Kilkee.  The race course was on the left hand side of the present Dunlicky Road from Nolan’s track field to Bishops Island.  It had a short and long course, the parade ring was under ‘Look Out’ Cliff and today one can see the track of the horses still imprinted in the ground.  The present stone wall under look out cliff in cased the parade ring and across the road the Bookies had their pitch.  A timber stand of 60 ft long and 12 seats high was erected beside the bookies (which would currently be Tom Bolands big field) to seat the upper class people who attended the races.  Racing was viewed at the top of ‘Look out’ Cliff and outside the stone wall on the left of Dunlicky road which was built to enclose the race course.  The present Nolans Track Field was where thee horses were stabled temporarily and jockeys schooled their horses.

Foogagh races was up and running and in 1854 after an objection to the Kilrush Races the Racing Board recognised Foogagh so it then brought it under the I.N.H.S. rules and from then was reported in the racing calendar with records showing races intermittently from 1854 to 1890.  In 1854 the Clare Steeple Chase was held in Foogagh and won by ‘Nabolish’ owned by Capt Callaghan of Church Road (next to the present Marine hotel).

The races were a two day event and huge prize money because of a small supply of race horses. Heats were run with 3 horses, the winner went on to the final and the losers entered another heat where prize money was on average 2 to 5 sovereigns per heat with 30, 20 and 10 sovereigns for the final.  Reports on the races were good and it became one of the most popular in the West of Ireland.  With flat races of one mile open to horse hunting with an established pack of fox and stag hounds. Reports of huge crowds and great racing of three to five miles over a beautiful and sporting country.

Kilkee strand races were also held on the same year as Foogagh and there is no hint of animosity found quite the contrary.  Three of the same men acted on both committee.  The following chart outlines the overlap of members:

Fooagh Kilkee Strand
JC Phelps (Sheriff) F. Casy VS
RWC Reeves WJ Hartnett (Sec)
W. Burton John E. Fitzgerald (Clerk of the course)
Wilson Fitzgerald
FW Hickman
Lt Col Oakes Lt. Col. Oakes
Col Marrgat
Capt Twiss Capt. Twiss
Douglas Driver Douglas Driver

The Galway Races were held one week before Foogagh and Tramore was held one week after so the race horses were walked from one venue to another, eg. Galway to Gort (1 day) Gort to Lissycasey (day 2) Lissycasey to Kilkee (day 3).  One horse has a reputation of walking 1800 miles and competing in 17 races in one season.

The landlord John McDonnell died and was replaced by his nephew William Armstrong. The Foogagh steward in 1880 were TGS Mahon (Sheriff), Francis J. Hickman, JP Wilson, T.V. Fitzgerald, Capt. CG. Mahon, Capt. Fitzgerald RN, Dr. John Griffin, Dr. F. Rohan, Dr. PC Hickey (International Weight Thrower), JP McInerney (Secretary), AJ Hunter (Judge, Handicapper, Clerk of Scales).

Dr. O’Reardan rode Little Daisy on the first day and came second in the Kilkee Handicap of 60 sovereigns but messed up thinking he had another round to run.  He was replaced on the second day by P. Lynch but Little Daisy was again second.

The course was faulted for the three banks that were too high and straight thus causing a lot of mishaps in jumping.  Reports on the Racing Calendar of the Foogagh Meeting on the 7th and 8th October 1890 had a cautionary sentence which may well be the epitaph of Foogagh Race Course.  “The races went ahead despite the fact that a terrible tempest raged all through the night of the 6th and made match wood of the stand fixings and the race course was like the remains of a shipwreck”.  Thus backing up Timmy’s recount.

Despite the remote situation the difficulty of coaxing owners to travel long distances with their horses having to walk and no big centre of population to support a meeting, Foogagh races continued but not as popular.  The famine took its toile in small townlands and the population of Foogagh in this era was as follows:

Year 1821 1851 1861
Fooaagh Population 120 98 27
Knockroe Population 26 18 4

The beginning of the end is due to two factors.  The rising power of the Irish Land League and the growing popularity of race going.  Local races were held in Mullagh, Carrigaholt, Lahinch, Doughmore, Miltown and Moyralla.  Even the names of individual races carried an Ant-British message, ‘The battering Ram at Work Stakes’, ‘The Barricading Plate’, ‘The Irresistible Plan Stakes’, this led to attempts of a boycott of some races.

Standing at the top of Look Out Cliff, one realises a dream of horses parading in the ring inside the old stone wall and going on to gallop the big fields an jump the fences to the delight of landlords and peasants alike.  These people were still under British rule and were about to face the greatest catastrophe the Irish has ever known, The Great Famine resulting in our population reduced from ten million to less than three due to starvation, death and emigration.

My thanks to Timmy Carmody for putting flesh on the bones of a great Kilkee Sporting event over 160 years ago that could easily have been lost forever.


Sinn Fein Courts in West Clare 1819-1925


The Proclamation of the Irish Republic issued by the 7 signatories in April 1916 made a Declaration.

“Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government hereby constituted will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people”.

This part of the Proclamation, expressed in the most general of terms, is currently seen as part of the Nationalist Policy of breaking down English Civil Government and in its place, establishing an Irish Civil Government, and in particular the setting up of a form of court system to regulate legal affairs in the country. The proposal itself was not new in 1916, it had been proposed as early as 1905 in a speech to the National Convention by Arthur Griffith and repeated again in the subsequent Convention in 1912; after the rising in 1916, in the early days of 1919, the National Convention proposed the setting up of local Arbitration Courts. These were to be set up to exclude the British from any part in civil affairs and also to uphold the authority of the first Dail Eireann. The first Dail had met at the Mansion House, Dublin, on 21st  January 1919 and began the process of issuing Decrees, one of which was to establish Arbitration Courts throughout the country; by May 1920, Rules for the Courts were established, again by Decree of Dail Eireann, but in effect, there was already a system of local parish courts set up along the Western Seaboard, in particular in Clare and Mayo –  these were set up on an ad hoc basis without any formal legislative powers but had the wave of  nationalism as its main support


There had been an outbreak of serious agrarian violence in the West of Ireland from 1919 on which were dealt with in the local parish courts, set up initially to deal with the phenomenon of “cattle driving” and general defiance of the law. Apart from being an expression of nationalism, and as an alternative to the British Regime and its perceived unfairness, it provided a system of local/ peer oriented justice. The courts were run by local people, many of them Volunteers who acted not only as the local Constabulary (instead of the local RIC) but also held trials to deal with various matters which arose. The setting up and practice of the Sinn Fein courts had the effect of alienating the public from the established court system; so that, within a very short period of time, a network of alternative Tribunals was being used for the adjudication of disputes both civil and criminal. The public used them by virtue of a combination   of persuasion, peer pressure, novelty, and fear.


To an extent, the Sinn Fein courts became recognised as the de facto administration of justice in Ireland. Lord Dunraven wrote to the Irish Times –

“An illegal Government became the de facto government; it administers Justice promptly and equally …”

Cope, the Assistant under Secretary in Dublin Castle, in July 1920, warned the Cabinet conference in London that “the Sinn Fein courts were doing more harm to the prestige of the (British) Government than the assassinations”

Their political effect was also noteworthy; apart from the point of view expressed by Mr. Cope, Lloyd George raised the issue of the Sinn Fein courts during the talks on independence.

“I shall have to tell them (the Irish delegation) that we, (the British Government) shall have to scatter these courts”. It is noted that Griffith and Collins agreed in the course of those discussions that “something would be done” but nothing more than this assurance was ever given and in effect, nothing was done. It will be seen that as a result of the Sinn Fein courts, many of the Justices of the Peace which had been appointed under the British Regime resigned their positions.

Civil cases were withdrawn by litigants from the ordinary Civil Courts, Circuit and High Courts and dealt with by the Sinn Fein Courts.

It is beyond doubt that the Sinn Fein courts were out of the control of the first Dail, notwithstanding that in August 1919, the Decree setting up the Arbitration Courts was enacted but no specific arrangement was set up by the Dail to put these arrangements into effect.

It should be noted that Clare was the only place where a Constitution for the Courts was drawn up and the courts operated on parish and district levels. In an effort to attempt to centralise and control the courts, it was not until mid-1920 that Austin Stack, the Minister for Foreign Affairs sent out a circular attempting to deal with administrative procedures of the courts. Ultimately as will be seen later on, the first Free State Government took steps to bring the courts under their control and set up the system of courts which we know today and ultimately led to the demise of the Sinn Fein courts.


It may well be asked what exactly did the Sinn Fein Courts do. What subjects were dealt with by them?  The list is quite lengthy, as already stated, there had been an outbreak of serious agrarian violence and land disputes around this time and the resolution of such land disputes formed a major part of the matters dealt with; other matters were the return of property taken wrongly; the making good of damage to property or persons, the imposing of fines for assaults, robberies, and licensing offences.

This paper will look at the general reasons behind the courts, the matters dealt with by them, the parties who ran and organised the courts, the general locations in the West Clare area of such sittings in a line between Ennistymon and Kildysart, the prominent personalities in the West Clare area who ran these courts, some examples of the way things were run in the courts, the subsequent attempts to centralise them and their ultimate dissolution.


The setting up of Parish courts and District Courts, following the boundaries of the parish and county, was always likely to involve the local Parish Priest. Diarmaid Ferriter in a recent Irish Times review had this to say –

“Priests were generally Republican minded Sinn Feiners rather than IRA members; many of them were collectors for the Dail LOAN   and had a strong presence in the Clare Sinn Fein Constituency Executive as well as in Galway.”

He goes on to say that 45 priests held office in the Sinn Fein party at constituency level in the year 1920. Many priests served as Judges in the Sinn Fein courts. That trials in Kilfinane in Co. Limerick were held in the Parochial house and Church sacristy. Even in cases where the priest was not a member of the local Sinn Fein Court, many priests refused to recognise the legitimacy of the British Courts.

In Kilrush, the curate Fr Moloney was a judge in the Ballykett court; while his superior, Dean McInerney the PP was thought to be a strong Unionist!

In her article in the Old Limerick Journal, Mary Kotsonouris had this to say:

“The Parish Justices were elected by a convention consisting of local and Trade Union representatives, incumbent Clergy, the Sinn Fein Club and the Volunteers; those Justices in turn chose a bench of 5 Judges for the next Superior Court which was known as the District Court”. She goes on to say that the fact that they were Priests did not insulate them from criticism by disgruntled litigants. She gives examples of a Priest Fr. Fitzgerald in Abbeyfeale being the subject matter of a complaint to Austin Stack, the Minister for Home Affairs, and in another case, Fr. Punch in Ballyhahill   Co. Limerick was the subject matter of a complaint of prejudice.

Locally, apart from Fr Moloney, Matthew Bermingham of Ballykett was stated to be a judge in the Military courts; and in Kilkee, Fr (later Canon) Grace was also reported to have been a judge.


Closer to home however, we have the role of Fr. Pat Gaynor who, in his memoir, deals with his experience and knowledge of the Sinn Fein Courts in Quilty and Kilmurry Ibrickane.

(In this regard, I am indebted to Paddy Murrihy who drew the attention of Fr. Gaynor’s memoir to me.; also Paddy Waldron who described the experience of one of his relatives in the sinn fein court and who has supplied additional data about local courts; and Mary Fennell NT of Carrigaholt, who had information and statements in relation to her late father in law, Eamonn Fennell of Carrigaholt).

So here, at first hand, we have the recollection of a member of the Clergy who was involved in the Sinn Fein Courts throughout the years in question. He describes how a local P.P. Fr. Michael McKenna – who had served in the First World War in the British Army as a Chaplain in France,-   was the Commandant of the Local Battalion of Volunteers and was responsible for control of Sinn Fein in the area; the President of the Sinn Fein District Court in Quilty was another Priest Fr. Charlie Culligan of whom we shall hear more  later.

One of the first cases to come before the court, in July 1920, related to a dispute over a farm at Craggaknock near Mullagh owned by the McNamara family. As Fr Gaynor describes in his book

“Mrs. Dwyer, a talented Publican, had acquired the McNamara farm some years previously by letting the McNamara’s father run up bills in her shop, the bills, so it was said were mostly for drink”.

As described by Paddy Cotter to Paddy Waldron , Michael McNamara “was anxious for the drink” .After his death, his widow sued for the return of the 40 acre farm which had been acquired in lots, over a period of years by  the Dwyers who had become the owners of the entire  farm as a result;  the McNamaras now brought their case before the Sinn Fein Court. After a hearing lasting for 2 days, some form of satisfactory settlement was arrived at (we are not told the precise terms which is a shame! But was believed to be the payment of £125 by Mrs McNamara to the Dwyers in return for which the farm was returned to her. However, it is understood that the basis of her claim was that the sale was not valid, as her consent to the sale was not sought; also that her late husband did not give her any of the proceeds, all of which had gone to the Defendant to pay for drink).


Enforcement of the decisions of the Sinn Fein courts were normally in the hands of the IRA volunteers. They were known as the IRA Police and in addition to performing such duties as summons serving, policing the courts, and enforcing the Decrees of the local courts, they were particularly strict on publicans, calling to their premises to endure compliance with the Licensing laws. So much so, that in Fr. Gaynor’s words “not even the most prominent members of the IRA or Sinn Fein could venture in for a drink after hours!”

In another case, he deals with a case of two men who had refused to comply with an Order of the Local Sinn Fein Court that they rebuild a wall they had wrongfully demolished. As they were in defiance of the court, the community needed to be shown that the Sinn Fein court was able to enforce its own orders and so they were sentenced to be banished to Mutton Island off Quilty for 3 weeks. Despite the best efforts of the local RIC Constabulary to rescue them from Quilty (where the men were fed by the Sinn Fein volunteers), the RIC were unable to gain access to them and accordingly they served their term of exile, thus the prestige of the local court was maintained. However most other matters dealt with by the local courts over which Fr. Gaynor presided were less contentious.

On the occasion of one court where he describes “four thirsty men” who had been summonsed to appear before the court for having broken into the old Atlantic Hotel in Spanish Point and stolen a half barrel of porter from the premises, their penalty was an obligation to repay the cost of the barrel and to repair the damage done.


He also gives examples of other orders made by him in his capacity as local Judge; he instances an order that he gave to the Publican Davy Walsh in Mullagh to close down his pub for a week for selling drink after hours – it was not so much the offence of selling after hours but his concern was that it might change his attitude towards trading after hours which, if detected by the RIC, Fr. Gaynor was concerned that they  would possibly recognise the British Court if summonsed and which would lead to a loss of prestige for the Sinn Fein court.

Again, another order he made in Mullagh, that people attending fairs in Mullagh must leave the village by 4.00 p.m. lest they be prosecuted by the British Authorities either for being drunk or in case of the publican, for trading after hours. The reason was the same, to enforce the Writ of the Dail Court.

Another case in the Kilrush area was where a man was arrested by the Republican police and tried – he was convicted and sentenced to 3 or 4 weeks hard labour – which consisted of thinning turnips in Killimer!

There is also the description of the arrest in Kilrush of a man called Dunleavy who sold potatoes to the marines based in Cappa – he too was tried in Glenmore but was acquitted and released.


Fr. Gaynor does not spare some of his colleagues on the Bench, in some cases for sheer incompetence, but in more serious cases for causing serious miscarriages of justice. He named Jack Dwyer of Kilrush, who was a member of the Sinn Fein executive, and also a member of the Sinn Fein District Court as well as being a Clare County Councillor.  Fr. Gaynor regarded Jack Dwyer as not being very effective in his role as a member of the District Court, he describes him thus –

“quite useless… as a member of the District Court”

Jack Dwyer’s role as a member of the local Kilrush Sinn Fein court did not prevent him from breaching the Sinn Fein boycott on the Clare Champion when that August journal advertised Gallaghers tobacco (produced in Belfast) and to which Sinn Fein were opposed, not on health grounds but because they wrongly assumed that being a manufacturing entity based in Belfast, that it discriminated against Catholics, Gallaghers were one of the very few firms in Belfast who employed both Catholics and protestants.

Another judge, as described in a statement by Martin Mulqueen, was known as “Soldier“ Kelly as being ‘not much good’.


That the system was not in any way perfect, not least in the dealings with local land disputes, is also made clear by Fr. Gaynor. He cites two cases where a major injustice took place;   In mitigation, Fr. Gaynor says that the President of the Court – who you will recall was Fr. Charlie Culligan, the local P.P, was absent on both occasions. In his absence however, the Sinn Fein Court, in the two cases which he cites, in majority rulings, ruled in favour of the local IRA Volunteer , and against the party clearly entitled to the verdict. In that particular case, the IRA Volunteer – described in a most sarcastic manner by Fr. Gaynor as a patriot and volunteer who gave no services worth mentioning to the cause – succeeded at the first hearing before the court. Fr. Gaynor however, jointly with Fr. Culligan, set out to set aside  this perverse verdict but in order to do so, he had to dismiss the members of the court who had given the verdict and then to arrange to set up an alternative forum – which he called a “convention” – consisting of :

(i)  The officers of the local IRA Brigade.
(ii) The officers of the West Clare Sinn Fein executive.
(iii) Other elected members.

(We shall see later the effect of the setting up of the new court).

In the second case, again concerning a claim to house and land, so egregiously unjust was the verdict issued in favour of a man called Connors, again an IRA Volunteer, that Fr. McKenna- who, as you will recall, had been a British army chaplain, and, on his return to Ireland, was later the O/c of the local Brigade, had Mr. Connors arrested and tried before a courtmartial  comprised of the Battalion staff. At the time, Fr. McKenna was head of both the IRA volunteers and of the Sinn Fein Executive in the District. In the event, the Courtmartial sentenced Mr. Connors to a month in solitary confinement on Mutton Island. No sooner had that verdict been announced that Mr. Connors then applied to Willie Shannon who was the Brigade Chief of Police for West Clare (another section of the IRA) and without any notice to Fr. McKenna, to set aside the verdict and to enable Mr. Connors to evict the elderly owners from the house and land. As a result of getting the Order from Willie Shannon, Mr. Connors, with a number of Volunteers from Cooraclare, marched to the house in Mullagh where the elderly owners were residing and had them evicted. To resolve this particular matter, Fr. Gaynor had to call a convention of all the authorities serving under the Irish Republic in  West Clare, namely the Brigade staff, the Sinn Fein executive, and further elected members, and the newly reconstituted court overturned the entire verdict and ordered Mr. Connors to vacate the house owned by the elderly couple, namely O’Brien. However, again Mr. Connors refused to budge when Fr. Gaynor went personally to Mr. Connors to enforce the Order of the court that he vacate; some days later, however, to show that he meant business, Fr. Gaynor organised a gun party to execute Mr. Connors and it was only when Mr. Connors saw this enforcement squad were arriving at his door, fully armed, that he fled from the house and enabled the O’Briens to be reinstated.

It was also decided that no more land disputes were to be decided on by Parish Courts and would have to be dealt with at a more senior level. Clearly, even among the members of the SF executive, there was concern that there was an absence of justice and fairness manifest in these types of cases at least; these were clearly very serious matters and threatened the good name of the Sinn Fein courts.


Most of the matters dealt with by these local courts over which Fr. Gaynor presided were far less contentious. Joe Hurley, in an article on Doonbeg Parish describes the sitting of the Sinn Fein Court in Caherfeenick, but its precise location is unknown. It often became necessary to change the location of the court at the last minute, due to the possibility of raids on that location by either the RIC or the Black and Tans. On the occasion of one court where, as he describes it, “Four thirsty men” were charged with having broken into the old Atlantic Hotel in Spanish Point and had stolen a half barrel of porter from the Hotel – the penalty imposed was for them to pay compensation for the items damaged and stolen on that occasion. Interestingly on that occasion, they were told to appear at the local Sinn Fein Court in Craggaknock but at the last moment had to change from that location (a derelict house in a field in Craggaknock) to a different location as there was at that time a crack down by the RIC and also the Black and Tans who were still trying at that time to close down the courts. They were constantly getting tip offs from Fr. Gaynors own parishioners about the location of courts, as Fr. Gaynor puts it in his book “West Clare reeked with spies”.

He also presided over a land dispute in Craggaknock involving a Justice of the Peace called Christy Kelly who was involved in a dispute with a neighbour a Mr. Curtin, again over land. Mr. Kelly was summonsed to appear before the Sinn Fein Court in the disused farm house in the field in Craggaknock; Mr. Kelly shrewdly tipped off the Police as to the location, the Police, Soldiers and Tans arrived, there was a shoot-out as a result of which Mr. Curtin was shot dead and another Sinn Fein member, Michael Crotty of Kilrush, was badly wounded. Michael Crotty was a prominent publican in Kilrush and later married the very well-known concertina player, known as Mrs Crotty. Shortly thereafter, Fr. Gaynor was himself arrested and jailed in in Limerick and that terminated his involvement in the courts.


In statements given by Martin Mulqueen (Ballykett) and Patrick Bermingham (also Ballykett), they identified a number of locations for the holding of courts in the general Kilrush area. They identify the following:

  • Slatterys house in Ballykett
  • Daniel “Dootsie” Grogans house in Gowerhass
  • Glenmore
  • Brews house in Ballykett

Slattery’s house featured a case where as he describes in full of solicitors and barristers, and the presiding judge was Judge Davitt (is this Cahir Davitt who became a High Court judge some years later?) – this was a land dispute

The Glenmore hearing was an army case where a man was suspected of being a spy – this man was a teacher. The case was presided over by Tom McGrath of the East Clare IRA Brigade. In Patrick Berminghams statement he says

“the prisoner was found guilty and the right punishment was given “.

Later on, he states another teacher in Drumdigus national school who, he states  was “the leader of the spy ring in West Clare“ was arrested, tried and sent home to Tipperary.

By way of sub-note at to the role of Fr. Charlie Culligan – who you will recall was the President of the Sinn Fein Court in Quilty – he apparently had a liking for alcohol and apparently it was felt that he was not as effective as he might be. He was later the subject of an internal Sinn Fein inquiry/court martial held in Kilmihil – the record in Fr. Gaynor’s book is that he was let off with a reprimand, and warned as to his drinking and forced to take the pledge.


The Poet Brian O’Higgins who lived in Carrigaholt, and who was a founder member of the Irish College in Carrigaholt in 1913 and subsequently the Principal of the College was also one of the founder members of the Sinn Fein Courts in Co. Clare. He was elected as Sinn Fein TD for West Clare, in December 1919.  He presided over several courts held in Carrigaholt in 1919/1920.

Another member of the same court was Eamon Fennell, father of the late Jim Fennell, Publican, of West Street, Carrigaholt. Eamon Fennell was a former O/C of the 8th Battalion Clare Brigade and made a Statement to the Bureau of Military History in connection with his pension application. Eamon Fennell was born on 25th March 1885 in Carrigaholt, was involved in the 1916 Rising and was ready to take action on Easter Sunday 1916 until at 9.00 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning, he received Orders from Art O’Donnell of Tullycrine who had cycled from Limerick that morning with Orders to stand down. In his statement, Eamon Fennell described his involvement with the IRA volunteers in Carrigaholt from August 1917 onwards that the meetings were held in the Reading room in the village. He was subsequently arrested and on his discharge from jail, he said “I devoted a lot of my time to the work of the Sinn Fein and Arbitration Courts, as during 1920/1921, there was a considerable amount of disputes over land in the Carrigaholt area. These courts were always held in the old Courthouse. I acted as Arbitrator in a number of cases. The RIC had left Carrigaholt on 19th August 1920 after which the Barracks was promptly destroyed… (after they left) .. “The IRA and Sinn Fein Clubs there had to be responsible for law and order”. The location of the Sinn Fein Courts is understood to have been the premises recently known as Bidsie Brickes, used in more recent years by Finbar Murphy for his premises trading under that name.


To a great degree, the Sinn Fein and local courts were autonomous, particularly in Clare and Mayo where they had well established rules of procedure and regulation. These had been established from 1918 on and generally worked satisfactorily, with the odd exception and occasional miscarriage of justice. However it was self-evident that sooner or later, there would have to be some centralised system of justice brought into being.

In August 1919, Dail Eireann issued a Decree establishing Arbitration Courts on a national scale; however no steps were taken to establish Rules of Procedure. Notwithstanding this, the Sinn Fein courts continued, but it is evident that there was concern at the lack of formality and control by any central authority. The newspaper reports in May 1920, that the Kilrush Circuit sessions were more or less abandoned when all the cases were either settled or withdrawn, leaving the Judge with nothing to do so that in effect, the Sinn Fein courts had taken over seisin of the court proceedings, leaving the existing Crown Courts with nothing to do.

On 29th June 1920, Dail Eireann decreed that Courts of Equity and Justice were to be set up and the Minister for Home Affairs was to establish courts having a criminal jurisdiction, in effect putting in place regulated and country wide structures – and strictures – which had not existed before. In August, 1921, Austin Stack as Minister for Home Affairs then put into place steps to enforce the Central administration of the courts. Notwithstanding those three steps, no effort was made to displace or replace the Sinn Fein courts in favour of the courts now set up by the various Decrees of Dail Eireann.  The matter was further copper fastened by the passing of the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State so that by then, you had two parallel, Irish controlled, systems of justice. While the two parallel systems continued, there were several factors which led to the closure of the Sinn Fein courts. Unquestionably, one of them was the outbreak of the Civil War – where there was a split in the IRA volunteers between those pro-treaty and those anti-treaty; and, a second one, as described by Mary Kotsonouris, an executive decision had been taken by the Cabinet in 1922 to close down the Sinn Fein Courts. The dispute was exacerbated by the decision of Judge Diarmaid Crowley to make an order for Habeas Corpus for a political prisoner resulting in a dismissal of Judge Crowley by the Executive.

It appears clear that in October 1922, Dail Eireann issued a Decree bringing all the Sinn Fein courts to an end an d thus reversing the August 1919 Decree.

However despite the making of the Decree of October 1922, both sets of courts continued in parallel until eventually, a Judicial Commission was set up in 1923 which eventually ordered that notwithstanding the fact that there were 5,000 still before the Sinn Fein courts, they were to be dealt with under the aegis of the Judicial Commission.

Thus, Clare, which in effect had set up the Sinn Fein courts, also saw the very last set of cases dealt with by the Commission in Ennis on 23rd and 24th July 1925. Mr. Justice Meredith of the High Court sat in Ennis for those two days and dealt with all existing matters which were then in the list, to finalise the Sinn Fein courts in Clare. The merger were finally complete and thereafter, all proceedings were taken under the procedures laid down by the Courts of Justice Act 1924 thus establishing the validity and public recognition of the courts of the Irish Free State.

By way of footnote, it will be noted that all Judges mentioned up to now were male, there was a female Registrar in County Limerick, named Brigid Kennedy; however it was not until 1963 that Eileen Kennedy was made a Justice of the District Court, the first female to be appointed as a Judge – it is reported that her courtroom was “the most crowded for days, with people coming to witness the novelty to it all”.



The people’s Courts – Ireland’s Dail Courts 1920-1924 (Maguire, Hardiman and others).

The Dail Courts in Limerick (Mary Kotsonouris) old Limerick Journal, winter 1992.

Parish of Doonbeg Journal – Joe Hurley

Fr. Gaynor Memoir

The winding up of the Dail Courts 1922-1925 Mary Kotsonouris.

Retreat from Revolution – Dail Courts 1920/1924, Mary Kotsonouris.

Review – Irish Times 2015, Diarmaid Ferriter.

Statement of Eamon Fennell

Bureau Military History.

Statement of Martin Mulqueen , Ballykett,13th March 1971

Statement of Patrick Bermingham August & October 2006

Sea Serpent off Kilkee

An image of Co Clare’s sea-serpent – Victorian Ireland’s equivalent of the Loch Ness monster – has resurfaced after 144 years.

The artist’s impression of the bizarre ocean creature, allegedly spotted off the coast of the resort village of Kilkee, has been found lurking in the depths of a London archive.

The “monster” was the subject of various reported sightings in the 19th-century, including one in 1850 when it was seen, improbably, “sunning itself near the Clare coast off Kilkee”.

The most notable sighting was in September 1871, when the “large and frightening sea monster” was seen by several people, who “all had their nerves considerably upset by the dreadful appearance of this extraordinary creature” .

The story first appeared in the Limerick Chronicle and quickly caught the attention of Fleet Street, where even the London Times commented on the appearance of the “fabled sea serpent in Ireland”.

A large and frightening sea monster seen by several people off the coast of Kilkee, Ireland.

Vivid account

But the most vivid account was provided by The Days’ Doings – an illustrated newspaper. Their artist’s impression of the scene, published in October 1871, has come to light during the digitisation of an archive of Victorian illustrated newspapers by the Mary Evans Picture Library in London.

The accompanying story described how a “party of strangers staying at Kilkee, composed of several ladies and some gentlemen – one of whom is a well-known clergyman in the north of Ireland” had been out walking, at a place known as the Diamond Rocks. “All of a sudden, their attention was arrested by the appearance of an extraordinary monster, who rose from the surface of the water about seventy yards from the place where they were standing.

“It had an enormous head, shaped somewhat like a horse, while behind the head and on the neck was a huge mane of seaweed-looking water; the eyes were large and glaring, and, by the appearance of the water behind, a vast body seemed to be beneath the waves.”

The story also appeared in several other British and American newspapers.

The Crook Memorial Church Kilkee

by Michael Nolan

The leaflet/flyer announcing the programme of arrangements for the opening and dedicatory services of the Crook Memorial Church, West End, Kilkee on Sunday 3oth June 1901 was a source of curiosity leading me to ask who was the person to whom the church was dedicated, what was his relevance to Kilkee, what was his importance to the Methodist community and why it was necessary to have such a comprehensive programme for the opening of a small church in the town of Kilkee.

Kilkee had been growing in size throughout the early 1800s  when the bulk of the buildings now seen in the town were put in place.  The Catholic church, the convent, the old national school, the Church of Ireland were all in place before, the first Wesleyan chapel was opened in Albert Road, in 1853, in a building converted from a private house which is now the site of the Pantry restaurant. The  latter two buildings were built to cater for the increasing number of visitors to the town, of the non-Catholic persuasion,  and by the late 1800s, it had become clear that the chapel in Albert Road was not fit for purpose and could not accommodate the numbers of Methodists who were seasonal visitors to the resort. Accordingly, the premises in Albert Road was sold in 1900 for the sum of £142  and arrangements were put in train for the construction of the new Church in Geraldine Place, in the west end.  As the flyer puts it, the church was built – at a cost of about £700 – not only as a memorial to a greatly beloved Minister, but also to supply suitable accommodation for the ever-increasing number of summer visitors and tourists to the premier watering-place of Ireland.

So, who was this “beloved Minister“? William Crook was born on lst November 1823 in Newtownbarry, Co Fermanagh and was the eldest son of William Crook and Jane Vipond, educated at Drogheda Grammar school, was married in 1855 and had 9 children, 3 girls and 6 boys, one of whom also became a Methodist minister (George V Crook) and another one of his sons, William became a political journalist, of whom we will hear more later.

William became a Methodist minister and  served in over 20 parishes and districts throughout Ireland between 1848 and 1897, and was living in Galway at the date of his death on 16th October 1897, aged 73.  He served for considerable periods of time in what is now Northern Ireland. In 1866, he was appointed to bring greetings from the Methodist Conference in Ireland to the American  Methodist Church on the occasion of their centenary in 1866 and also revisited the USA on church business in 1881. He wrote a book entitled  “Ireland and the Centenary of American Methodism” which has been described as one of the really important books on the history of Irish Methodism.  He had several other publications one of them being “The ancestry of the Wesleys, with special reference to their connection with Ireland“ and two others, which were of a controversial nature, namely

THE IRISH QUESTION :  Does Mr Gladstones Home Rule proposal mean Rome Rule in Ireland? A letter to an enquiring English liberal on the Christian bearings of Mr Gladstones Home Rule Bill” – published in  Belfast 1888

It appears to be the case that this publication was in fact addressed to his own son William who, having gone to London after some years teaching in Wesley College in Dublin had got involved in politics in England, had been an unsuccessful candidate for parliament in London and who had been involved generally in politics in the UK on behalf of the Liberal party, and who had spoken out  in opposition to his own fathers views on Home Rule, at the Protestant Home Rule Association in 19887. Undaunted by the opposition of his son to his views, William Crook senior published a further pamphlet on the matter in 1893

“The proposed Home Rule: Its relation to the cause of Christ in Ireland – a letter addressed to the Methodists of England and Scotland“

Apart from his strong views opposing Home Rule, William senior, jointly with a Dublin solicitor Theodore Cronhelm, founded the monthly Irish Methodist paper The Irish Evangelist and was co-founder of the Methodist Orphan Society.  He was a delegate to the 1881 First ecumenical Methodist Conference in London and in the last 25 years of his life, he took a leading part in the reorganization of Methodism in Ireland, in the administration of missionary affairs, in the introduction of lay representation in Conference and in the union of the two branches of Wesleyanism.

He served in Bedford Row in Limerick from 1883 to 1885 and was chairman of the Limerick District during his time there and was in fact chairman of many of the other districts in which he had served.  He may well have visited Kilkee during his time in Limerick but there is no record of his being in the town. He is commemorated in a tablet in the Embury Heck Memorial Methodist church in Ballingrane, Co Limerick  and is buried in the cemetery adjoining that church.

So, clearly, it was felt that when a new church was to be opened in 1901, it should be dedicated to his memory. It was clearly a major operation; one suspects that the flyer was likely to have been distributed mainly in the Limerick and Galway areas, with two days being set aside for the services, with several speakers arranged for the second day of services, on the 5th July 1901. The proposed travelling arrangements, down the Shannon by boat from Limerick to Kilrush, via Tarbert,  and then a special train from Kilrush to Kilkee clearly anticipated a large number of participants at the services – with tea to be served on board the boat!  In passing, one cannot but admire the references to the special collection to pay off the cost of the construction of the church, the intention being that … ”after these services, no debt should remain“.  It is not known if members of the Crook family were present, or even invited,  to the services – his son Revd George V Crook is certainly not among the speakers but the reason for this is unknown. The church was in regular use until very recently.

Coastal Architectural Survey

Survey carried out by Clare Co Council in association with the Heritage Council.

The Clare Coastal Architectural Heritage Survey is an almost comprehensive survey of structures of vernacular, engineering and architectural value, constructed over the past three centuries.

Many hundreds of equally important structures were built prior to the year 1700 AD but these have been recorded and protected under the various National Monuments Acts since 1934 and are included in the Record of Monuments and Places, published by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government. Some overlapping has occurred where such monuments were considered to be of high architectural merit. This area was surveyed by Sarah Halpin.

You can download this survey (pdf 2Mb) by clicking here.

Life of Eugene O’Curry

Eugene O’Curry was born in Doonaha in Co. Clare, on the bank of the Shannon some miles east of Loop Head, in November, 1794. He had little formal education, but at an early age took an interest in Irish manuscripts. He was for a time a schoolmaster in his native district. About 1824 he moved to Limerick, where he worked for a period as a labourer until he got a post in the Limerick Lunatic Asylum. While there he continued his study of Irish manuscripts and appears to have become known as an authority on the Irish language.

In 1835 he joined the staff of the Ordnance Survey in Dublin, where he remained until the topographical staff was completely dispersed in 1842. In the survey, O’Curry was principally engaged on the study and interpretation of Irish manuscripts for the historical and topographical work. In the course of these years, he acquired a knowledge of the Irish manuscript material and of the older language that was probably unrivalled in his time. Most of his work in the survey was done in the office and the libraries, but he also did some work in the field. During his period in the Survey, O’Curry also found time to transcribe manuscripts for the Royal Irish Academy and for the library of Trinity College.

When his work in the Survey ended, he was employed by the Academy to catalogue their collection of manuscripts. His success with the interpretation of one of the early law tracts prompted the setting up of the Brehon Law Commission and he, with John O’Donovan, did the tremendous work of transcription and translation involved under the Commission in the years from 1853 until his death.

In 1854 he was appointed Professor of Archaeology and Irish History in the newly-founded Catholic university. In the following year he commenced the first of the two series of public lectures which later led to his most important works, lectures on the manuscript Materials of Irish History and on the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish. His other publications were few compared with those of O’Donovan, but his contribution to Irish learning was a major one, not only through the two works mentioned, but in the assistance he freely gave his contemporaries, Stokes, Petrie, Todd, Reeves and O’Donovan himself, among others. His transcripts also made many of the early texts more easily accessible.

O’Curry did not long survive his co-scholar, John O’Donovan, with whom his name is constantly joined. He died suddenly in Dublin, 30 July, 1862.