Welcome to my ‘5 Things Friday’ blog, this week I’m taking a look at some interesting facts about Co. Clare.
Population of Co. Clare: 117,196 (2011 Census)
Area: 3,450 Sq. Km (1,330 Sq. mi)
Co. Clare, often called the ‘Banner County’ is one of Ireland’s most picturesque counties. With incredible natural attractions from The Cliffs of Moher, The Burren and Lough Derg, to some of Ireland’s top
man-made visitor attractions including Bunratty Castle, there are many amazing things to see and do right across the county. Clare is also home to the world’s oldest matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna, which takes place every September. Of course, with such an esteemed as Clare comes many interesting facts and people associated with it throughout history. Through my research for Ireland Planner I’ve come across many interesting things about the county I either didn’t know, or had forgotten, and I’ve listed 5 of my favourite below. This is not an exclusive list, just things I enjoyed learning or things I think you might find interesting. And don’t worry, there are many more to come in the months ahead…
Co. Clare is home to Europe’s most westerly airport at Shannon. It was here in 1947 that the world’s first duty-free shop was established by local man Brendan O’Regan. O’Regan was an extraordinary man who, amongst other things, went on to found Shannon Free Airport Development Company in 1961 (later Shannon Development). The development around the airport led to Shannon town springing up, the first in over two centuries on this island and he went on to develop the Bunratty Folk Park and many other local initiatives.
Originally designed to provide a service for Trans-Atlantic passengers between the United States and Europe, Shannon’s Duty-Free shop allowed them to shop for less while their flights stopped in Shannon for refuelling on inbound and outbound legs of their journey. It was immediately successful and was subsequently copied worldwide. Of course nowadays if you are flying internally in Europe, duty-free goods cannot be purchased, however some places in Europe, such as Livigno in Italy and the Canary Islands in Spain are outside the EU tax union and so still continue duty-free sales for all passengers.
Kilfenora is a village in Co. Clare world famous for its musical connections, being home to The Kilfenora Céilí Band. It was also a shooting location for TV show Father Ted and fans who visit the area will recognise many of the buildings (and some of the locals!) from the show. But did you know that the Pope is also Bishop of Kilfenora, under a Papal Dictate that goes back as far as 1883?!
The Bishop of Kilfenora was a separate title until 1750 when the Roman Catholic Church united it with Kilmacduagh in Co. Galway, and then both were united in the Diocese of Galway. But Kilmacduagh was in the ecclesiastical province of Tuam and Kilfenora was in the province of Cashel. But there is a church rule that states that no bishop can be split between two provinces. This means that Kilfenora comes under an Apostolic Vicariate and the Pope is nominally Bishop of the area! To all intents and purposes, the Bishop of Galway looks after the clerical and administrative duties relating to Kilfenora, but technically it comes directly under His Holiness Pope Francis as its ‘universal bishop’.
This song, written by Percy French, is a well-known song, but did you know that it originated in Co. Clare? French was travelling from Sligo and left early in the morning to travel on the West Clare Railway to head to a speaking engagement elsewhere but arrived so late at 8pm in the evening that the audience had left! The train was slow and had apparently been stopped by the driver for no good reason. French sued the railway company for loss of earnings and wrote the song ‘Are Your Right There Michael’ in revenge. It went on to become popular in music halls across Ireland and Britain, mocking the West Clare Railway. The company in return tried to sue unsuccessfully and legend has it that French turned up late at Ennis courthouse for the libel hearing! When questioned about this by the judge, he responded that he had travelled the West Clare Railway and the case was thrown out. When it closed in 1961, the West Clare Railway system was the only narrow gauge railway in Ireland still offering a passenger service. Part of the railway has re-opened in recent years and passengers and school groups can enjoy trips on the Slieve Callan steam locomotive.
John Phillip Holland, considered the father of the modern submarine, was from Liscannor in Co. Clare. He developed the first submarine to be commissioned by the US Navy as well as the first Royal Navy submarine which was called the ‘Holland 1’ in his honour. He was a teacher for many years in Ireland before moving to the United States in 1873. Shortly after his arrival, he slipped and fell on an icy street in Boston and it was while he was recuperating with a broken leg that he refined earlier submarine designs he had created in Ireland and really started to get somewhere. His first submarine the ‘Fenian Ram’ was launched in 1881. Holland continued to refine and work on this design over the next few years and after much trial and error, he launched his first viable submersible prototype in 1897. She was bought by the US Navy in 1900 and eventually commissioned as the USS Holland. After spending the majority of his life dreaming about and designing submarines, Holland passed away in 1914 and is buried in New Jersey.
Brian Boru, the legendary High King of Ireland who fell at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, was born in Killaloe, Co. Clare in circa 941. His age at the time of the battle is disputed, ranging from 73 to 87. To think that he went into battle at that age and that long ago when early death was common is just incredible. Boru is widely credited as Ireland’s greatest High King and with keeping the Vikings out and trying to bring about the unification of the four provinces of Ireland under his rule and his legacy is widespread today. In fact, the Brian Boru Harp, housed in Trinity College, Dublin, and named in his honour, and a left-facing image of the harp is the national symbol of Ireland and is pictured on our currency. Incidentally, a right-facing image of the Boru Harp is also used as the registered trademark for Guinness!
So there you have it for another edition ‘5 Things Friday’. Some of my favourite ‘interesting things’ about lovely Co. Clare. There are many more as I say, but I’ll save those for another day. Please feel free to comment below or share the blog with your friends.
As always, Happy Irish Travels