The Modern Parish

Kilfiddane is the official name of the modern day parish of Coolmeen – Cranny and is situated in the barony of Clonderlaw and contains 6,242 hectares. The length of the parish from Cragg to Shanahea is 11.2km and the breadth from Derrynalicka to Crossderry is 4.8km. There are twenty four townlands in the parish and the names of these townlands are mostly derived from geographical features of the district. Scenery within the parish is nicely enhanced with the Cloon River, the glaciated ravine at Erribul, the lakes at Carrowreagh and Derryguiha and the cascades at Carrowreagh and Clondrina.  Kildysart and Kilfiddane parishes were united parishes until 1868, they then commenced as separate parishes. The new boundaries contained slight adjustments. Clonkett (Kildysart) was allocated to Kilfiddane, while Effernan (Kilfiddane) was included with Kildysart. The whole of Cahircon, partly in both medieval parishes was given to Kildysart.   The peninsula of West Clare was first populated around 4,000 B.C. costal ring forts such as the three at Erribul testify that there was occupation around that era in the parish. These Neolithic people would have lived mainly on fishing and hunting. In fact the many man-made ring forts from the Stone and Bronze Age are proof that life existed in the parish many many years ago.  In this brief note we will not go into major detail on the Celts, the Dalcassians and the Corca Baiscinn tribes.  St. Senan who was born in Molougha, Killimer parish in 488 A.D. had a monastery on Scattery island where he lived from 540 to 560 A.D. Senan visited Coolmeen and his dedicated holy and blessed well still exists at Erribul, mass is celebrated at this site annually by Fr. O’Keeffe. Near Coolmeen church tradition has recorded that a stone contains knee prints of St. Senan. At Slievedooley, the print of his horse’s hoof can also be seen on stone. St.Senan from time immemorial was patron saint of the tribes of Corca Báiscinn and churches, holy wells etc associated with his name are found throughout west Clare to the present day. The old church of Kilfiddane derives from the building activity of the Augustinians in the fifteenth century. Kilfiddane parish is listed in the Ecclesiastical Taxation of 1302. Within the ruins of Kilfiddane church there is a vault ‘erected by Richard B Silles for self and family’. Richard Bolton Silles was eldest son of Richard Silles of Ballinvoher, Co. Kerry by Lucy Bolton of Mount Gale, Co. Kerry. He married Anne, daughter of Francis Cunningham Esq of Aylroe, Coolmeen. It was in the twelfth century that Mahon the great, great-grandson of Brian Ború invaded west Clare and laid the foundation of the McMahon dynasty there. Principal castles were built at nearby Cahircon and Clonderlaw and remained occupied by the local chieftains until Cromwell’s invasion. Irish history has had its share of turbulence with land confiscation, penal laws, rebellions and various acts passed by the British. Our parish ancestors of just a few generations ago had to struggle with suffering. In 1829 Daniel O’Connell was elected to the Parliament in Westminster he was massively supported by the people of Clare, and it is probable that landowners from the parish went to Ennis for the huge meetings that he addressed in the Square.  The famine of the mid 1840’s left its mark in the parish one quarter of the Ireland’s population died from starvation. In the folklore survey of 1937 we learn that “Kilfiddane graveyard was one mass of coffins, as the people were too weak to open the graves for those who were dead”. Many were forced to take shelter in the workhouses in Kildysart and Kilrush. Many people from Coolmeen and Cranny emigrated to America, Canada and Australia. In 1831 the National Schools were founded, these replaced the hedge schools of Penal Times. While on the subject of the Penal Days there is a Mass Rock in the townland of Cragg dating from that era.  There were several hedge schools in the parish. In the 1850’s, Patrick Glynn was a teacher in Shanahea N.S. Patrick is of the same Glynn family who composed the renowned song ‘The Hills of Aylroe’.  The present national schools in the parish date back to 1885 and 1981. Prior to 1885, Coolmeen had a schoolhouse located half a mile west of Haughs there are two references to this in the Clare Journals of 1877 and 1878. On August 30th 2006 Coolmeen National School scholars had a very successful fundraising reunion.  In Cranny a schoolhouse was destroyed by fire in 1886. This building was replaced in 1890 the building is now the property of the Meaney family. The first reference to a church in Coolmeen comes from the Catholic School Census of 1824 when we learn that Michael Houlihan in ‘parish chapel at Coolmeen’ was teaching 78 pupils. In 1828 on arrival as the new P.P of Coolmeen, Fr. Patrick Sheehy he told the congregation that he would soon have a new chapel built for them. Fr. Sheehy, who later became well known as a repealer and advocate of tenant right, was a man of extraordinary energy. He died in 1856 and it was remarked “that he built the three chapels of Kildysart, Coolmeen and Cranny without the slightest expense or trouble to his parishioners”. The Parochial House attached to St. Benedict’s Coolmeen was built in 1872 while the priest’s residence St. Mary’s in Cranny was built in 1888.The present Parish Priest of Coolmeen is Fr. John O’Keeffe, he is a man of the people and has being doing great work with parishioners and especially the youth of Coolmeen and the surrounding parishes since his arrival in 1989. There are 650 residents and 220 houses at present in the parish. Coolmeen/Cranny has produced many great students to the religious life such as the late; V. Rev Martin Hehir, Monsignor Patrick Donnelly, Canon John Clancy, V. Rev Fr. P.J. O’Connor and others. At present as I write we have some of our parish natives such as V. Rev Martin Keane, Sr. Mildred McNamara, Sr. Kathleen Doyle, Br. Patrick Madigan and Monsignor Sexton are all doing marvellous work. Sunday June 17th 2007 saw the celebration of V. Rev Fr. Joseph Haugh’s Golden Jubilee Mass. In this article it would be impossible to mention all of the religious life past and present from the parish.

Sport has played a major role in parish life through the years I can safely say Coolmeen surely holds a unique record for producing outstanding athletes. Shanahea native Dr. Michael Garry was capped seven times for Ireland in rugby. A note worthy of mention is that his brother Dr. Joseph along with Derryshane native Michael Galvin both lost their lives in the sinking of the Luisitiana in 1915. Seamus Power of Erribul won nine All Ireland Senior Cross Country titles in a row.  Ollie Markham won an All Ireland Senior title and five international for Ireland in boxing. Several more athletes and footballers hold All Ireland medals it would take a booklet on its own to complete the list. Coolmeen GAA Club has been active for the past 100 years and captured the County Senior Championship in the years 1919 and 1922. The GAA Park and Clubhouse was officially opened on Sunday 26th May 1985. The parish has also had hurling and camogie clubs. Last year on August 26th the Coolmeen Intermediate Champions of 1966 had a celebration and reunion to mark the 40th Anniversary. Cranny – Coolmeen Golf Society was formed in 1998 and has gone from strength to strength. The parish has a Youth Club, Legion of Mary and a P.T.A.A branch. Success has also been brought through drama to the parish most notable was the winning of the Scór 1973 Novelty Act, with an outstanding act by Anne Brann, Mike McMahon and Mary Sexton. 

Great legends and patriots were born in the parish of Kilfiddane. Lieutenant Peadar Clancy, to whom the annual weekend festival is dedicated to, must surely be the greatest son that Cranny has ever produced. He was born in 1888 and was executed in 1920. The Cranny Volunteers branch was formed in 1914.  Clancy’s role in the rising of 1916 and the years leading up to 1920 and 1921 were very eventful. Other heroes and natives of the parish from the era of the Black and Tans and the Civil War include; Martin Lynch, Jimmy O’Dea, Patrick Clancy, Albert Donnelly, Michael Breen, Mick Kennedy, Willie Shannon, Simon Hough, Denis Shannon, Mitchell Shannon, Walter Stephens, Dan Ryan, Mick Kenny,  T.J. Ryan, Thomas Breen. There was fierce activity against the Black and Tans in the parish, roads and bridges were cut, there were ambushes and in reprisals houses were burnt. In 1922 and 1923 Civil war raged throughout the country and it was a time of great sorrow and difficulty. Pte. P.McMahon of Shanahea was killed in action on the 22nd of March 1918 at Flanders, France during World War 1. At this stage we must not forget a great Cranny soldier of more recent years that is the late Lt. Colonel J. Alo McMahon.

Titled Houses of the parish include Cragg House, Erribul House, Moyroe House, Derryguiha House, Aylroe House and Coolmeen Lodge. Some of these houses are still occupied and contain attractive architectural work. The landlords were often nonresident holders of large acreage. Landlord or Agents names included the Barclays, Vandeleurs, Scotts, Studderts, Wyndhams, Finnucanes, Powers and Lennanes. With the introduction of the various Land Acts of the early twentieth century and the departure of the landlords, repossession of lands was regained by the tenants. Mary O’Doherty of Clondriana, a widow, was evicted from her house on October 7th 1848 by Agent Charles Keane assisted by four men; in 1849 almost 200 were evicted in Coolmeen.

Aylroe must be one of the most attractive locations in the parish, it contains the renowned hills and a panoramic view of the lordly river Shannon.  Also in Aylroe is the ruin of an 18th century ice-house. In the townlands of Birrenfadda and Clondrina are fine examples of 18th century lime kills. There are three Cillin graveyard located at Derryshane, Clondrina and Aylroe. A grinding mill located at Newbridge was operated by the Conway family in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The parish had its own resident Doctor at Lisvuriheen until the early 1970’s of whom the most famous was the late, Dr. David Barry. Also, a dispensary was the located at the Six Crosses. Life in the twentieth century had its up and downs for the people of Ireland and Coolmeen. The Economic War took place in the 1930’s and with that emigration occurred. The Second World War of 1939 to 1945 also brought difficult times. In the 1960’s Ireland had its first experience of Economic growth. Rural life has changed dramatically over the decades. Since the 1960’s all three post offices; Shanahea, Cranny and Coolmeen have closed. The creamery at Cranny has been demolished. Public Houses like Moloneys in Coolmeen and McMahons in Cranny have closed. Most townlands in olden days had their own shop, these have also disappeared. The most recent of the rural shops to close was McGraths’ at the Six Crosses in 2007.  Class sizes in the parish have also decreased. The forges no longer exist, this was a great focal point of days gone by. The farming scene has had major adjustments too; herd size and acreage has increased; farming is becoming only a part time interest in the majority of cases. Horse breeding and hunting has increased in recent years.  Tillage is also discontinued, the large garden of potatoes etc is no longer seen.  House sizes have also improved. There is little or no unemployment for the parish residents and all of this adds to a better life style. The cutting of turf is on the decrease even the mode of transport has been upgraded to four wheel drives. The majority of telephone lines have only been installed to the rural homes of the parish within the last thirty years and nearly every school kid now has a mobile phone. One tradition remaining in the parish is the annual Clondrina Wren, long may it continue. 

The oldest person in the parish until Tuesday October 24th 2006 was Martin Kenny of Gurtnafrehane, Coolmeen he was aged 100 years. Martie celebrated his 100th Birthday on August 24th 2006. Other centenarians of the parish in recent decades included Paddy McMahon of Carrowreagh who died on the 4th of March 1982 aged 102yrs. Another centenarian was Sr. Lucy Brooks of Shessive who died on 14th February 2003. Erribul native and Labasheeda resident to reach 101 years was the late Martin Crehan who died on 19th February 2003.

‘Today is a gift from God, yesterday is gone and tomorrow hasn’t come yet’.


Paul Markham.

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