Thursday, 15 October 2020

Croom is a colourful
place to visit, even on
a rainy autumn afternoon

Croom, Co Limerick, is colourful, even on a rainy autumn afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

On a rainy afternoon earlier this week, two of us visited Croom (Cromadh, ‘Bend in the River’) in Co Limerick. Croom is 8 km south-east of Adare, on the River Maigue, north of the point where the Camoge River joins the River Maigue after forming a loop to the south and west of Monasteranenagh Abbey.

Croom was of considerable importance from an early date. Its history dates back to pre-Christian or early Christian times, and three ringforts have been located north of the Croom-Rathkeale road, a mile from Croom.

Two single-banked ringforts were demolished in 1972-1973 when new houses were being built. When the sites were excavated, Elizabeth Shee-Twohig found human and animal remains, an iron knife, a bronze penannular ring and a bone comb side-plate. A preservation order was placed on a third ringfort nearby. In all, over 65 ring forts have been identified in the area.

Colourful pubs and shopfronts near the river in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Although the River Maigue is now tidal only as far as Adare, it was once tidal as far as Croom, making it a transit route for the Viking ships in the ninth and tenth centuries. Traffic and commerce along the Maigue River involving Danish Vikings and the Ui Donnabhains provide an insight into the alliance between these two groups in the late tenth century.

The earliest mention of Cromadh in the historical annals is in 1151, when ‘a great predatory excursion was made by Ruaidhri, son of Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair (Rory O’Connor), into Thomond; and he carried away many cows, and burned Cromadh.’

However, Croom did not develop as a town until the castle was built. The town was walled in 1310, and over the intervening years both town and castle often shared the same story. Croom was an important crossing on the River Maigue, giving access to Connello and West Limerick.

Croom was the principal base in Munster of the FitzGeralds of Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

For a time, the FitzGeralds of Kildare had a Munster base in Croom. They owned extensive lands in the Maigue valley, including lands at Croom and Adare, while their rival kinsmen, the FitzGeralds of Desmond, owned much of the rest of Co Limerick.

Although Maynooth later became the principal seat of the FitzGeralds of Kildare, they retained their Maigueside lands and castles by the River Maigue adopted Crom Abu as their motto.

The Countess of Kildare was living at Croom Castle in the winter of 1601 when the northern chief, Red Hugh O’Donnell, arrived in Croom with his men after their overnight march across the frozen Slieve Felim to link up with the Spaniards who had landed at Kinsale.

The civil survey in 1654 after the Cromwellian wars found that in Croom ‘there is a broken bridge on the river of Maigue near the castle.’

The grave of Sean O Tuama in the Church of Ireland churchyard in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Ten years later, Daibhi O Bruadair, one of the last the great Gaelic poets in Co Limerick, wrote, ‘now Croom itself is a misery, scattered little town, which is situated on the banks of the Maigue, and the beer of that village has no strength in it, except, indeed, that I hear that good minister of the place has a fine old brew which is delightful to drink.’ The rector of Croom at the time was Canon John Lillys.

Although Daibhi O Bruadair did not speak favourably of Croom, apart from its rector, some Gaelic poets who lived there in the 18th century warmly sang its praises. Indeed, Croom owes much of its later fame to the school or court of Gaelic poetry, Scoil Eigse or Cuirt Eigse that flourished there in the 18th century.

The poets who frequented the school were known as Fili na Maighe, the Poets of Maigue. They included Sean O Tuama (1709-1775), owner of the pub where the poets met and who is buried in the Church of Ireland churchyard.

Other poets in Croom included Aindrias Mac Craith, a hedge-school master from Kilmallock, who was known as An Mangaire Sugach or ‘The Merry Pedlar.’ The Maigue poets wrote love songs, elegies, drinking songs, patriotic songs. Slan le Maigh (‘Farewell to the Maigue’) by Aindrias Mac Craith is the best-known of their poems.

The mills at Croom date from the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Lyne or Lyons family, who were living in Croom by the early 18th century, are associated with both Croom House and Croom Castle. There is a ruined mill along the banks of the River Maigue and a newer mill built by Henry Lyons in 1788 and a working mill until 1927.

A workhouse was built in Croom in the early 1840s to house the destitute. It became a general hospital serving Co Limerick in 1924, and in 1956 it became a Regional Orthopaedic Hospital.

Croom railway station opened in 1862. It closed to passenger traffic in 1934, to goods traffic in 1963, and finally closed in 1967. The town has been by-passed by the N20 Croom Bypass since 2001.

The Maigue Poets celebrated in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A new Civic Centre opened in Croom in 2014 and includes a restaurant, library, public computers and function hall.

Today, the well-preserved ruins of Croom Castle lie hidden from view behind high walls.

It was a rainy afternoon, and with the Covid-19 restrictions there was nowhere to get a coffee. But Croom was still a colourful pace to visit, and two of us went off in search of Croom Castle, the two parish churches, and the Round Tower and church ruins at Dysert Oenghusa.

Colourful cottages near the churches and the castle in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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