Ennis, County Clare

The narrow, one-way streets of Clare’s busy county town still have a medieval feel to them. Ennis grew up around a friary founded in the 13th century when wandering Franciscans were befriended by the O’Brien King of Thomond. A famous school flourished in the shadow of the Abbey – which still stands, roofless but with its tall tower intact, close to the fast flowing River Fergus. The cloisters and the church are rich in medieval carvings and the 19th century tomb in the church incorporates panels from a royal tomb that once stood there, possibly erected in 1470.

A statue of the 19h century patriot Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) towers over the High Street on a tall Doric column. In 1828, County Clare elected O’Connell to the British House of Commons, but as a Catholic he was prevented from taking his seat. A year later the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed, and in 1830 he entered Parliament.

The De Valera Museum and Library, housed in a former Presbyterian church across the river, commemorates another Irish patriot, Eamon de Valera (1882-1975). He was elected to the House of Commons by East Clare as early as 1917, and was a leader of the Irish Free State and the Republic as president of the Executive Council and hen Taoiseach (Prime Minister) for most of the period 1932-59. He was President from 1959-73.

The area West of the O’Connell monument is laced with bustling markets and old-world lanes. In the Catholic Procathedral, an early Gothic Revival work of the 1830s with a tall, spikey belfry, there is a memorial to Father James Barrett. He is remembered as he childhood guardian of opera singer Harriet Smithson, wife of the French composer Hector Berlioz, who grew up in Ennis.

Ennis is a real hidden gem that is worth a visit on your Ireland tours.