Clann Historic Sites
The land of their ancestors is now long-lost to the McAuliffes; the castles that were the visible sign of their rule over Clanawley have been obliterated from the landscape. Most of their people have been scattered to the far corners of the world. Yet even today there are sites in what was once Clanawley that the McAuliffes can regard as special to the clan. While in Ireland for the McAuliffe Clan Rally in Newmarket in July 2008 I was able to visit four such sites and this page is my report of those visits.
Castlemacauliffe was the principal castle of the McAuliffes but has been totally demolished. Thanks to Rally Chieftain John Paul McAuliffe, arrangements were made with the farmer on the land on which the castle stood for a group to visit the site, just prior to the 2008 Rally. For anyone hoping to see the remains of a castle, the sight would be depressing, for nothing remains save the ground on which it stood.
After a walk through the fields accompanied by the farmer, who was very hospitable and helpful, we arrived at a part of the farm known as Castle Field. Near the edge of a hill overlooking the river we walked by a cow-track into a small hollow overgrown by trees. Fallen leaves from the trees cover much of the ground but it is still possible to see piles of stones underneath. These are the stones that would have formed the base on which the castle was built. There is some evidence of terracing in the stones below the castle site, above the river. Despite a good look around the castle site I was not able to see a single stone that could have been part of the actual castle.
The absence of building stones confirms previous reports that all the stones had been removed many years ago. We were told that the nearby farm house and farm buildings had been constructed using stones from the castle. An inscription on the house shows that it was built in 1875. It is most likely, therefore, that that was when the major demolition of the castle ruins took place. Some of the cornerstones and window stones can be seen in the farm buildings. These buildings themselves are now in a poor state of repair, having developed their own antiquity.
Reports suggest that some stones remained at the castle into the early 20th Century, around the 1920s or 30s, at which time they were used for stone walls dividing fields on the farm. Stone walls that we saw a short distance from the castle site were most likely built from castle stones. I was told that some of the stones were used in the construction of the James O'Keeffe Memorial Institute in Newmarket but a local informant told me that stones from the castle site were used as rubble for forming the base for the building, not in the building itself, which perhaps is more likely.
More about MacAuliffe castles here. More photos of the castle site here.
A short distance outside of Newmarket and not far from the site of Castlemacauliffe is Clonfert Cemetery, an ancient burial place of the McAuliffes. When a group of us attending the rally visited the cemetery we found many graves of McAuliffes. The oldest grave I saw was dated 1771, but there were many graves in poor repair and even partly buried in the ground, so there could have been some older than that. I do not know when burials commenced at the cemetery. The oldest dates we saw were later than the destruction of the castle, which must have been sometime before 1661 as the Downe Survey of that year reported it to be then in a derelict state.
I had earlier been told about the grave of a man who was reported to have lived to a very great age but I was surprised to find that the gravestone of Malakey McAuliffe in Clonfert records that he lived to 170 years. A photo of the gravestone can be seen in the Rally Photos album - see link below. As can be seen in the photo, the last digit of the date on the stone is partly obscured by a plant but it appears to be a '4' so the date is probably 1774.
The cemetery is easy to gain access to, being just outside Newmarket on the road to Ballydesmond and a walk around the gravestones can be very interesting. I have yet to find out if any calaloguing of the graves has been done.
More photos from Clonfert Cemetery here.
This rock on a rough walking track just outside Newmarket features in the Legend of Mealane (Meelan, Mealane, Moylan are various spellings). Briefly, the legend has it that Meelan was the daughter of a MacAuliffe chieftain. She was to marry a young man, O'Herlihy, but before the wedding she went for a walk and was seen to disappear into the small cave in this rock. She was not seen again and was believed to have been taken by supernatural powers.
Moderate fitness and good walking shoes are required as the track winds through forest along a hillside above the river and has some steep sections. The track only takes a few minutes to walk and children can manage it if closely supervised. The track is NOT recommended in bad weather as it can become very slippery. The cave itself is not spectacular but worth visiting because of the legend attached to it. You'll need to seek local advice on how to find it.Read the legend More photos here
I was not able to visit Taur Mountain until a few days after the Rally so, unfortunately, I did not have the information to share with those attending.
Driving north only a short distance from the village of Taur I came to a prominent hill that I assumed to be Taur. I asked local people and confirmed that it was. Although I was certain that it must be the hill I had come to see I did not want to risk the possibility that I might have travelled halfway round the world only to climb the wrong hill. I then enquired about whose permission might be sought to walk up the hill as it is on farmland. I soon found out who was the owner of the farm and I approached him for permission to walk on his land and climb the hill. He had no problem with that and was very helpful in pointing out the best access.
There are two ways to go to reach the top of Taur. An old track goes up from the road. One local man told me that the track has not been used for many years but the farmer told me that he sometimes goes up there himself, and although it has become overgrown in places it is still possible for someone who is reasonably fit to negotiate it. This was the traditional route.
The other route a bit further up the road allows a car to be driven quite close to the top after going through a couple of gates. There is then a short walk through a pine plantation, a barbed wire fence that is not difficult to get through and a final climb up the hill. That was the route I took, accompanied by my sister Alice. Good footwear is required as the first part of the climb up the hill once you get through the fence is quite boggy. This is peat land with a mixture of grasses, sphagnum mosses and marsh plants. While my boots enabled me to easily get over the ground, Alice, who was wearing sneakers, had to pick her way much more carefully.
I was delighted to find some of the little marsh plants in flower and took the opportunity to photograph several of them. These photos, along with views on Taur, can be seen in the Photo Gallery - see link below. Another bonus was finding the wild bilberries which were ripe and although the fruit is small the taste is pleasant enough to make the picking worthwhile.
The view at the top is outstanding. From the top of Taur it is possible to look for miles in every direction, although the view back toward the way we had come is becoming obscured by the growing pine plantation.. Apart from that obstruction, there is a 360 degree view from Taur. I regretted that I had come without a compass as that prevented me from being able to accurately identify distant features, One can see why the hill was so important to the McAuliffes. In times of conflict they posted sentries there to watch for signs of advancing enemy forces. From Taur they would have been able to look north to the River Shannon and across to the hills of West Clare, west to the plains of Kerry, east to ,,, and southward across Cork. Such a view would have been invaluable to them in preparing to defend Clanawley from attack.
On the top of the hill is a large, irregular mound of stones. There is also a concrete plinth built in more modern times as a survey marker. In later discussion with the farmer I was told that the stones were believed to have been there since the time of the Druids. He told me that there are no stones to be found on Taur and they would have been carried up there, most likely from near the base where there are two quarries. He also told me that each year a group of people goes up there to mark a day important to the Druids. Another local man told me that it was said that a king used to spend nights on Taur; he did not know what time frame that might have been in and whether it might have been in the days of the McAuliffes. Obviously, there is more research that would be useful to do in order to learn more of our history.
The landowner was very hospitable. I told him about the McAulife clan and the importance of Taur to them in ancient times. I asked him if he might allow a group to go up there at the time of the next Rally; he said that he would have no problem with that.
More photos from Taur here
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Clann Historic Sites
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