Wednesday, 20 September 2017
The old bridges, mills
and ducks on the river
On our way to Shannon Airport earlier this week to meet family members who are staying at the Rectory in Askeaton, two of us stopped for lunch in the pretty small town of Sixmilebridge in Co Clare, half-way between Limerick and Ennis.
The village is a just off the main N18 road, but is on the old ‘back road’ between Limerick and Ennis. If you think this is a pretty, sleepy village, then perhaps this is because Sixmilebridge is also a dormitory town for Limerick, Ennis and Shannon.
The village of Kilmurry is also part of the Sixmilebridge parish. But the commercial core of Sixmilebridge has tripled in size in recent years, with many new retail units and businesses, along with hundreds of new houses too.
Sixmilebridge is often referred to locally as ‘The Bridge’ and the full time in Irish is Droichead Abhann Uí gCearnaigh (‘Bridge of the River of O’Kearney’). The ‘six-mile’ part of the name alludes to the fact that this place is about six Irish miles from Thomondgate in Limerick.
Archaeological evidence points to prehistorical settlement here from as early as the Bronze Age, with ringforts, mounds, enclosures and wedge tombs in the area.
The original village grew up around a crossing place on the O’Garney River, which flows through the village. Donough O’Brien, 4th Earl of Thomond, built the bridge in 1610 – and from then until 1804, when the bridge at Bunratty was built, traffic between Limerick and Ennis passed through Sixmilebridge.
The village has wide streets and large squares that were laid out by the O’Brien family from the 17th century. By the end of the 17th century, development here was linked to the industrialisation of the area as people of Dutch origin found the river very suitable for milling. The east of the village was once its commercial part, with water powered mills, a brewery, a market house and a fair green.
Sixmilebridge became a river port where goods including rape seed oil and soap were exported and imported by boat from the mills just south of the village. Boats from Amsterdam sailed up the river almost as far as the town in the 17th and 18th centuries. But by the early 18th century the town had gone into decline and the river trade came to an end in 1784 when Henry d’Esterre built a toll bridge at Rosmanagher.
According to local tradition, the duel between Daniel O’Connell and John d’Esterre in 1815 arose from Daniel O’Connell’s refusal to pay the toll. However, the duel arose from a speech by O’Connell to the Catholic Board in 1815, when he described the Dublin Corporation as beggarly. At the time, d’Esterre was near bankruptcy and took this as a personal insult. He challenged O’Connell, and died two days after the duel at Bishop’s Court, Kildare.
In 1852, a magistrate and eight soldiers of the 31st Regiment escorted 18 people to Sixmilebridge to vote for Colonel Vandeleur, the conservative candidate in the Co Clare. In the ensuing affray, six people were killed and eight were wounded, one of whom later died.
One side of Sixmilebridge is in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killaloe, while ‘the Little Church’ on the Limerick Road is in Cratloe Parish and the Diocese of Limerick.
The remains of the quay walls, warehouses, soap factory and stone mill wheels can still be seen. Many of the old buildings in the village have been preserved and have found new uses.
The former Church of Ireland parish church of Kilfinaghty dates from 1810. It has a four-bay nave and a later three-stage entrance tower designed by the Pain brothers. It was restored in 2001 and is now an award-winning library.
The Old House Bar on Fair Green is a corner-sited detached three-bay two-storey house, built around 1775, with gablets over the first-floor windows. A plaque on the wall is inscribed ‘George’s Street 1733.’
This was the birthplace in 1917 of Dr Brendan O’Regan, who had the vision for developing much of the Shannon Region.
Ieverstown House, on the opposite corner of Fair Green, is a detached five-bay two-storey Georgian townhouse with a dormer attic. It was built around 1730-1770, and although it now seems to be crumbling it must have been an attractive townhouse in the past.
The Mill Bar on Frederick Square dates from around 1770, but has a stone plaque reading ‘Frederick Square 1733.’
The former woollen mills are now apartments.
The Miller Returns, a sculpture by Shane Gilmore, stands in the O’Garney River below the bridge. The sculptor claims this ‘is probably the manliest sculpture in Ireland.’ This is a shirtless, limestone man marching unimpeded through the waters of the river, carrying the heavy tools of millwork, recalling the 17th century settlers of Dutch origin who started the mill on the river.
Shane Gilmore points out that the strongman proved his brawn in 2009 when the statue held its ground as flood waters threatened to take the artwork downstream.
An attractive, novel feature in Sixmilebridge is the highly decorated but functional ‘duck inn’ on the O’Garney River. This is a floating raft with glass windows and painted walls that houses a large population of very happy ducks during winter. This is also where their locally consumed eggs are hatched and collected, and it forms part of the tourist trail of Sixmilebridge.