Carrigaholt Castle and Bay
The Heritage Council
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Carrigaholt Castle, now in ruins, is the former residence of MacMahon family who built the castle around 1480. The MacMahons were the chiefs of the Corcabascin Peninsula, the old name for Loop Head. Like most medieval tower houses, this was strategically located for defensive purposes. It is located at the end of the fishing pier overlooking the Shannon Estuary and the harbour, providing an excellent view up and down the bay. The castle was enclosed by courtyards and high walls on one side and rocks and bay on the other. The castle is of typical tower house design, bearing all the defensive features associated with them; it is five storeys high, has a mural winding staircase, pistol loops and a murder hole inside its main doorway.
The castle was occupied by Teige Caech "the short sighted" McMahon in September 1588 when seven ships of the Spanish Armada anchored at Carrigaholt. He provided aid to the Spanish, which did not go down well with the English overlords, who had ordered all Spanish to be killed. The following year the renegade fourth Earl of Thomond, Donagh O'Brien captured the castle after a four-day siege and, in breach of the surrender terms, hanged all the defenders.
Ownership then passed to the Earl's brother Donal O'Brien, who was responsible for inserting many of the castle's windows as well as the fireplace on the fifth floor, which bears the date 1603. Donal's grandson was the celebrated third Viscount Clare who resided at Carrigaholt and raised a regiment of horses known as the "Yellow Dragoons" for the House of Stuart King James II of England's armies. After the forfeiture of his extensive estate by the Williamites, the castle was acquired by the Burton family, who lived there until the late 19th century. The building today is in ruins and is under the care of the Office of Public Works. It is not possible to enter the castle itself at present.
The village of Carrigaholt, meaning ‘Rock of the Fleet’ grew up around the castle and its pier was a very vibrant commercial centre, with many goods being transported in and out. In 1837, Samuel Lewis recorded that up to 400 locals were employed at the pier and six hookers, of seven tons each, and upwards of 500 currachs were active near the pier. The town of Carrigaholt was a thriving town with many shops and services. In recent years, during construction works the remains of a light railway was uncovered. This was to transport goods from the town to the pier.
It is possible for visitors to take boat trips from Carrigaholt Pier around the peninsula to see the only resident group bottlenose dolphins in Ireland, as well as amazing views of the coastline, cliffs and geology around Loop Head. There are about 200 dolphins living in the estuary, an EU Special Area of Conservation, and calves are born every year. There are three main areas that the dolphins frequent, where they eat mackerel, herring and salmon, depending on the season. What makes this area so special is that the river Shannon flows in from the midlands, bringing nutrients from the bogs and meets water from the Atlantic, rich in plankton.
Carrigaholt is a popular spot for fishing and angling; trips can be arranged in local boats. The fish caught include cod, pollock, haddock, whiting, hake, spur dog, ray and lots of mackerel, which in turn can be used as bait for other species including blue shark and large skate. Carrigaholt also has a safe sandy beach used for swimming and water sports.
There is an undisturbed view of the bay from Carrigaholt, making it popular with birdwatchers. In winter the bay can have Great Northern Diver, Cormorant, Black Guillemot, a small flock of Brent Geese with the occasional Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, and Red-throated Diver. The beach and rocky shore hold wildfowl and wading birds for example; Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Grey Golden, and Ringed Plovers, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Sanderling Turnstone and the Bar-tailed Godwit.
Rare migrants can be observed up the Moyarta River that flows under the main bridge on approach to the village from Kilkee. Common Eider, Little, Glaucous and Iceland gulls, Great and Arctic Skuas have all been observed from the top of the main pier wall on open water beyond the castle. Gannets sometimes perch on the pier wall and Black Guillemot nest in the walls and have nested in the old castle.
Site Recommendations and Observations
Being a WAW Discovery Point, it is recommended that all proposed improvement measures and recommendation tie into and compliment the official WAW interpretation proposals being undertaken by The Paul Hogarth Company and any proposed Failte Ireland site improvement measures.
Due to the prominence of Carrigaholt Castle in the local landscape, it is recommended that dialogue should be initiated as soon as possible between all stakeholders, tenants and landowners regarding possible future public access and improvements to the site.
Due to the sites proximity to the village centre, it is recommended that consideration be given to locating some interpretation in the village centre as people can then walk from there to explore the area.
It is recommended that the existing car park be resurfaced and lined provision of additional parking should be considered during the peak season. Parking counts should also be undertaken during the peak season to confirm and quantify any additional parking requirements. It is recommended that cycle parking be considered at this site.
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 Geoff McGee
3) Online Research
Other Research and Facts
Carrigaholt Castle- http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/places/carrigaholt1837.htm
Bird watching - http://www.clarebirdwatching.com/
Extract from County Clare: A History and Topography 1837 by Samuel Lewis
Re:Carrigaholt Pier 1837 'A small quay or pier was constructed partly by the late Fishery Board and partly by grand jury presentments : it is of considerable service to agriculture and the fisheries, and is frequented by six hookers, of seven tons each, and upwards of 500 corrachs, which give employment to about 400 persons, particularly in the herring fishery, which commences in July. This is the principal place in the neighbourhood for the shipment of agricultural produce ; 900 tons of grain, 700 firkins of butter, and 3000 pigs, having lately been shipped here in one year, by three individuals : it also exports hides to Limerick.'
Category of Interest