After our family group had finished our few days in Kenmare on the Iveragh Peninsula, it was time to head north to Clare and our next home for a few days in the coastal town of Doolin. A member of our group had heard that the town of Adare on our route had been described as one of the prettiest in Ireland and would make a great stop along the way for lunch. They proved to be right. It was easy to get a park and so we strolled along the main street of the village, admiring the thatched roofs of the houses. We had decided we would head for Adare Manor for lunch and take in the impressive sites of this heritage market town that was first mentioned in written sources early in the 13th century. The town was built around a ford over the Maigue River that runs from the south to empty in the Shannon Estuary.
While the town is around 800 years old, the two main attractions, Adare Manor and the main street’s thatched cottages, arise only in the 19th century. The manor was built by the Earl of Dunraven in the ‘Tudor Revival’ style and was designed to impress. It used the Calendar as a theme for the design with 365 stained windows and 52 chimneys. The village’s thatched houses were built for the workers involved in the construction of the manor; they were lucky workers given that Ireland was in the grip of the Potato Famine at the time and good food and good jobs were scarce in the countryside.
Well before the Dunraven family built the local manor, Adare was an old town that hosted three monasteries. Dominating the centre of town is the Holy Trinity Church which started life as a monastery of the Trintarian order of monks who were formed in the twelfth century to rescue hostages taken during the Crusades. The official beginning of the Trinitarian Abbey was in 1230 but may have begun earlier. Its survival today has had a torturous path, being in ruins by the early 19th century but was gifted to the local Catholic parishioners by the second Earl of Dunraven and his later heirs provided funds for its restoration. It is the local Catholic Parish Church today. It is a beautiful old church and great to have a wander around inside.
Heading towards the bridge over the River Maigue, the second of the original three monasteries built in Adare is to be found on the left. It is called today St Nicholas Church and was refurbished in 1811 and belongs to the Church of Ireland. (The image above is the view over the river to St Nicholas from in front of Desmond Castle.) It was founded in 1316 as an Augustinian priory by the first Earl of Kildare, John FitzThomas. Not all of the original priory has survived the centuries; it only functioned for 200 years before the monasteries of England and Ireland were destroyed by Henry VIII in the 1530s. The monks were forced out of Adare and their buildings fell into ruin over the next 200 years before the site was taken over by the Church of Ireland.
The image above is of Desmond Castle taken from the other side of the bridge near St Nicholas Church. Like successive Church Buildings are re-erected on important, central places, Castles tend to be built on strategically defensible spots that give the locals control over trade or traffic routes through the area. It is believed Desmond Castle was built on the edge of the Maigue River on the site of a previous stone ring fortress erected in the 11th century.
We all know the significance of the date, 1066, which was when the Norman Conquest of England was completed. However a gap in my understanding of the history of the British Isles was that the Normans a century later moved into Ireland, initially by invitation and later in deliberate conquest. Their success in conquering Ireland was not only the lack of unified opposition in Ireland, but the Norman military tactics and their castle building were superior to the native Irish resistance. Desmond Castle was built in Adare by invading Norman lords as were many others in Ireland. A Welsh-Norman Family, the Fitzgeralds, is credited with the construction of Desmond castle. It changed hands a number of times over the next few centuries but eventually was laid waste by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1657. Significant restoration has been done to the castle and visitors are able to book themselves tours of this magnificent relic; times available are between 10am and 4pm.
As time was short for us, we walked on past the castle walls to have a look at the ruins of the third monastery in Adair, the Franciscan Friary, further along the river-bank towards Adare Manor. While the Fitzgeralds in the 13th century were building a castle in Adare to dominate the countryside, two centuries later in 1460 their descendants were founding a Franciscan Friary to ease their path to heaven along with the citizens of their domain. Today it is a ruin in the grounds of Adare Manor; in fact a golf shot hit off course could lead to a tourist exploring the grounds of the friary being struck by a wayward golf shot. We certainly enjoyed wandering the ruins of the Friary buildings and then on to the cemetery that ran along one side of the friary. I try not to romanticise ancient ruins but I was struck by the sad beauty of two small chapel building in the grounds of the cemetery; one of these (in the image on the left) was the original St-Nicholas-Church before the parish moved worship over the bridge to today’s parish church. In 1807, locals were still worshipping in this old chapel and when they moved, an oak door from this ancient stone building went with them to their new centre. The other image on the right shows the Chapel of Ease that was once part of the Friary.
From the Franciscan Friary we were able to cross over the Maigue River and head through the beautiful grounds of Adare Manor to our lunch date.
There is a mention of a manor at Adare in 1226 from a document published by the English King, Henry III. Whatever manor was on the land was passed on to the Fitzgerald Family in 1169, the Welsh-Norman Family who arrived with the other Norman gentry to overtake large portions of Ireland. The Fitzgerald Family’s hold on their land in Adare lasted approximately four centuries until their power over significant parts of Ireland worried the English King Henry VII. The 9th Earl of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald was courteously invited to visit London where he was executed in the Tower of London. His son, Thomas Fitzgerald (‘Silken Thomas’ no less) decided to lead the Kildare Rebellion (1534-5) that involved a failed attack on Dublin castle. He was executed and his lands, castles and manors were forfeited to the King of England. The land surrounding Adare was passed on to the Desmond Family.
There was a manor on these grounds in the 17th century but it was rebuilt in the early 19th century retaining part of the earlier structure. It was completely refurbished in 2017. It is a beautiful building to visit and lunch, and strolling in the grounds is a delight. After lunch I would recommend going for a walk up to the Manor Lodges and the Carriage House. Just beside these buildings can be found some greenery enclosing a collection of Ogham Stones, those mysterious stone markers from early Celtic history in Ireland that have engraved marks in the Ogham script. The resort map gives the following explanation.
These stones, dating from the 5th and 7th centuries, were brought to Adare Manor from Kerry by the 3rd Earl of Dunraven. They have been carved with messages in Ogham: a medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish Language….Of the 400 or so known surviving Ogham Stone monuments throughout Ireland and western Britain, many seem to have been used as territorial markers or memorials, with names and genealogies inscribed along their length. Many Ogham letters were named after sacred Irish trees and the original purpose of Ogham may have been similar to that of the Nordic runes, with magical and religious significance.
Adare is a village that speaks of a long Irish history and the atmospheric image below of three of its ancient buildings captures one of the moods of this lovely place. The artist is William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854) and the image shows the Augustinian Friary on the left, Desmond Castle in the centre and the ruins of the Franciscan Friary on the right.