Kilkee Victorian Town
The Heritage Council
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Kilkee is renowned as one of Irelands premier seaside tourist towns and regarded as one of the safest bathing places in Ireland being protected from the full force of the Atlantic by a reef known as the 'Duggerna Rock’ upon which are the famous natural swimming pools, known as the Pollock Holes.
Kilkee derives its name from the Irish Cill Chaoi that means Church of Chaoineadh Ita or St. Caoi's Church. It was by this name Cill Chaoidhe that the coastal town got its first mention under in the Annals of the 14th Century, ancient Irish texts. In the late 15th century, Kilkee Castle was constructed by the MacSweeney's as supporters of the MacMahons and later of the O'Briens. At the beginning of the 1800s, Kilkee was just a small fishing village. There was a large aristocratic community in Limerick who because of the Napoleonic Wars couldn’t take the Grand Tour of Europe. They were looking for an alternative. Kilkee offered them the natural amenities and bathing areas so coveted at the time. They were also drawn to the area’s unique climate. The air here benefits from the west winds journey across the broad expense of the Atlantic Ocean being warmed by the Gulf Stream.
The horseshoe bay was surrounded by sand dunes, which was the location of some of the local fishermen’s cottages. These was rented out to the Limerick tourists and started to be advertised in Limerick newspapers as salt lodges. In the 1820s a paddle steamer service from Limerick to Kilrush was launched providing easier access to Kilkee. In the 1830s Kilkee expanded to accommodate the numerous wealthy visitors from Ireland and overseas and this is when many of Kilkee’s Victorian buildings originate. Gradually the town grew as wealthy merchants from Limerick wanted holiday homes by the sea, resulting in a building boom in the 1830s. As demand for lodgings in Kilkee grew, several hotels were built. Along with these, three churches were built, a Roman Catholic church in 1831, a Protestant church in 1843 and a Methodist church in 1900, reflecting the cosmopolitan feel of the town in that era. In the early 19th century when it was featured on the front page of the Illustrated London News as the premier bathing spot in the country. In 1892, the West Clare Railway was extended to include Kilkee and brought with it another tourism boom. At its height, the railway carried nearly 250,000 people to Kilkee annually.
At one stage in the 1800s the beach was divided into three parts, the middle part for men and the two outer ones for women. This arose when local magistrates received complaints that men were bathing naked. Women were more modest, they entered the water by means of bathing boxes or machines which were towed out into the sea so that a lady could dip in the sea away from prying eyes. The first bathing box erected in the West Clare resort in the 1830s was known as the Lady Chatterton. These bathing boxes were used for changing up to the 1950's. The 1901 census revealed that a number of single or widowed women were listed as owning bathing-machines and offering donkey rides as their occupation. The sea wall and embankment around the bay was begun on the west side as part of famine relief work in 1846 and completed in the 1860s.
Kilkee has had a number of famous visitors over the years; Sir Alfred Tennyson visited on a number of occasions in the 1940s and Charlotte Bronte spent most of her honeymoon in Kilkee in July 1854. She wrote of her trip "Here at our Inn - splendidly designated 'the West End Hotel' - there is a good deal to carp at, were in a carping humour - but we laugh instead of grumbling - for out of doors there is much indeed to compensate for any indoor shortcomings, so magnificent an ocean - so bold and grand a coast - I never yet saw." In 1896, the Crown Princess of Austria visited the town. In 1961, Che Guevara and his group visited and stayed in Kilkee as they were unable to fly from Shannon airport due to fog. In a local bar a young Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick met with Che. Jim later went on to produce one of the worlds most famous and iconic posters of Che Guevara called VIVA CHE in 1968.
The famous movie director John Ford, shot a short film called ‘One Minute’s Wait’ in Kilkee. It was one of three short stories of Irish life that Ford weaved into a feature-length film called ‘The Rising of the Moon’, released in 1957. ‘One Minute's Wait’ is a comic story about a train station and glimpses into the lives of the passengers. It starred Maureen O’Hara.
A popular tradition on the seashore is venders selling cooked periwinkles to tourists. The periwinkles are particularly popular with tourists from Limerick, who have coveted this delicacy at Kilkee for hundreds of years. There are six different species of periwinkle at Kilkee and the only edible one is found throughout the shoreline. Local fishermen continue to set pots for lobster, edible crab and crawfish. Deep-sea fishing and shore angling from high rocks are popular pursuits and Pollack, ballan wrasse and couger eel are often caught.
For the bird watching enthusiast, the bay and sandy beach is the focal point of Kilkee. Rocky coastal zones, attracting many waders and gulls fringe the sandy beach in the bay. Early morning excursions are best during the summer as the birds tend to avoid the beach when it is occupied by holiday makers. Autumn and winter are by far the best times to visit for good birding. Life on this storm battered coast can be hard and flocks of birds regularly take shelter on the beach and the grassy slopes during times of rough weather. In winter the beach and bay are the main attractions with lots of wading species like Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher. Roosting flocks of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls can have European visitors like Mediterranean Gull mixed with Common and Black-headed Gulls.
The sandy beach forms part of the Kilkee SAC (Special Area of Conservation) which is a rich and diverse marine environment. The beach at Kilkee is composed of brown-coloured, poorly sorted sand and is fairly flat over most of its width. There is a small amount of drift weed on the strand line and a sand hopper community is present. In the mid shore, polychaete worms are occasional to abundant. At the low shore, polychaete worms are evident and amphipod crustaceans are common.
The Strand Races are horse races contested annually on the Kilkee strand. They first began in the 19th century on the sand-hills where the golf club is now. The races are normally held over two days in September, when the summer season is drawing to a close. The course is made by placing poles on the beach and when the tide goes out the races begin.
Site Recommendations and Observations
It is recommend that a specific location with the town be identified as the site for interpretation. Although
Kilkee has rich Victorian Heritage, this is somewhat lost on visitors as many would find it difficult to identify without some form of interpretation. It is recommended therefore, that
appropriately located and suitable site interpretation measures be used to help the visitor orientate themselves and identify where the Victorian heritage locations are and read the stories behind them. It is suggested that the main interpretation could be located at the bandstand near Kilkee beach and from
here a trail of markers could be placed in the footpaths leading visitors on a Victorian Heritage and Local History Trail around the town and the west end.
The following three statements apply to all site recommendations:
- ‘All proposals must comply with all planning, local authority and other statutory requirements.’
- ‘All proposals for development within, adjacent to or with the potential to affect a Natura 2000 site will be subject to an Appropriate Assessment Screening. To ensure that a Habitat Directive Assessment is carried out to assess the likely impacts on Natura 2000 sites in order to comply with Article 6(3) of the Habitat Directive and in accordance with the requirements of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.’
- ‘All projects must be undertaken in accordance with the Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points Remedial Works Guidelines, including the Ecological Method Statement.’
Sources of Information
1) Interview with Laura Foley
2) Interview with Carmel Madigan
3) Newspaper articles
4) Online research
Other Research and Facts
Kilkee or Doogh, a village in the parish of Kilfieragh, barony of Moyarta, County of Clare and province of Munster, containing 1051 inhabitants. In 1837 it consisted of 153 houses; since which time several houses and bathing lodges have been erected, the village being much frequented as a bathing place chiefly by the citizens of Limerick, on account of its remarkably fine strand sheltered by a ledge of rocks stretching across one third of Kilkee Bay.
Blue Flag Beach