From the Cliffs of Moher to The Burren, from castles to monasteries, the ‘Banner County’ is a treasure trove for the visitor. David Tucker takes us on a whistle-stop tour of some of its attractions.
With an abundance of antiquities and archeaological remains, Clare has a rich legacy to the lives of its historic and pre-historic inhabitants. The county is home to at least 2,300 earthen and stone forts, 130 megalithic tombs, 190 castles, 150 ancient churches, three cathedrals, eight monasteries, 10 stone crosses, five round towers and numerous lesser monuments.
The present county formed from a very early period as a native principality, Tuath-Mumhan, or Thomond, signifying ‘North Munster’. The area was divided into cantreds or baronies, each occupied by their ruling families.
The O’Loughlins, O’Garbhs, O’Briens, O’Connors, O’Deas, McMahons and McNamaras were the main clans. Together, these families are generally referred to as the Dalcassian families, from Dal gCais, a name for the eastern half of the county.
The O’Briens were a major force in Thomond from earliest times. The Danish Vikings raided this county on many occasions during the 9th and 10th centuries. They were finally defeated at the beginning of the 11th century by the most famous of the O’Briens, Brian Ború, who also led the army which defeated the Danes of Dublin at Clontarf in 1014.
Following the Norman invasion, Thomond was granted to Thomas de Clare, who attempted to take control of the county but was eventually defeated by the O’Briens. The O’Briens were later made Earls of Thomond and thereby remained the major force in the county for centuries. The county boundaries were established by the English administration in 1565.
In its introduction to Clare, the Clare Library says that, following the defeat of the 1641 rebellion of the Catholic Confederacy, Clare was set aside to accommodate the ‘delinquent proprietors’ – those proprietors whose land was confiscated because they did not actively oppose the rebellion. Parts of the lands of the existing Clare landholders were confiscated to accommodate these landholders.
The county was badly affected by the Great Famine of 1845-47. The population was 286,000 in 1841 and by 1851 had been reduced to 212,000. Over 50,000 people died between 1845 and 1850 and many emigrated, mainly to Australia. The decline in population continued during the subsequent one hundred years, falling to 73,500 in 1966. A gradual increase has been occurring since then and the 1991 census recorded a population of 91,000.