Clara on the R436
|Elevation||57 m (187 ft)|
|Irish Grid Reference||N254325|
Clara (Clóirtheach or An Clárach in Irish) is a town on the River Brosna in County Offaly and is the 10th largest town in the midlands of Ireland. The town has a population of 3001 (2006 census), however a number of well populated housing estates lie outside the town boundary making the actual population higher. Clara has plenty of local services including churches, banks, credit union, schools, supermarkets, shops, garages, pubs, nightclubs and restaurants. It has its own Garda(police) and fire station while the Midlands regional hospital is located just eleven kilometres away in Tullamore. Clara has a strong association with sport. The GAA club looks after Gaelic football and hurling from under 8 to senior level. Clara also has a successful soccer club. The town has two swimming pools and a successful pitch and putt club. Clara's power lifting club has won a number of national and international awards. A golf driving range is located in the town also with the Esker Hills golf club located just outside the town. There is a local equestrian centre and sports centre also.
Clara is situated in the north of County Offaly near the border with County Westmeath, on national route N80 some 12 km northwest of Tullamore. Situated on a plain (Clóirtheach meaning plain or level place), the town is in reality an urban centre surrounded by a series of mini-villages. The town is connected to the River Shannon by one of its tributaries, the Brosna. Clara is the modern name of what was known as the Barony of Kilcoursey and Parish of Kilbride. The earliest known map of Clara dates from the Ordnance Survey of 1838.
While the town as we know it today was established by Quakers in the mid-18th century, there is evidence of community habitation for some time. Situated on the Esker Riada, the ancient thoroughfare which connected the east and west coasts of Ireland, numerous ring forts are to be found in the countryside surrounding the town suggesting that the early settlement may have been an important staging post for travellers. Just outside the town in Kilbride, the remnants of a 12th-century monastery testify to the existence of a vibrant religious presence. According to tradition this monastery was founded by St Brigid of Kildare (d.c 525 AD) and is linked by an ancient road to Durrow Abbey founded by St Colm Cille (St Columba). St Brigid's original monastery, founded shortly after her religious profession – her first foundation, would have been constructed in wood and consisted of a number of buildings surrounding a central church. These buildings were replaced by stone structures in the 12th century. The original parish was named after St Brigid: Kilbride (from Cill Bhride: the Church of Brigid). The ruins of an ancient church are to be found not far from the monastery at the foot of a hill (Chapel Hill) and this may have been the original parish church.
Politically the family which had dominion over the area was the Sinnach O'Catharniagh (Fox O'Carney) clan; they were referred to as the Muinter Tadgain (people of Tadgain). The O'Catharniagh were princes of Teffia (an area in County Westmeath). The ruins of their castle, Lehinch Castle, are to be found on a hill in Kilcoursey, less than a mile from the town centre. The McAuley family are also associated with the Barony of Kilcoursey. Mass rocks are also to be found in the hills outside the town, having provided secret places for Catholics to worship during the persecution which followed the Reformation.
The Fox family owned much of the district up until the 1650s. Following the involvement of the Chieftain, Hubert Fox in a rebellion in the 1640s – he was defending Catholic interests against the Puritan Oliver Cromwell who came to Ireland to suppress uprisings against English rule. Ironically, in 1599, Fox's father, also Hubert, had signed an agreement of "surrender and regrant" with the English crown to avoid the complete destruction of his estates following the Nine Years' War: the lands were returned to Fox senior in recognition of his fealty. Hubert junior, however, was not so inclined, preferring to stand by the family's traditional allegiance. Cromwell proved victorious and Fox lost his lands which were given to Samuel Rust, a Cromwellian soldier. He in turn sold the district to two families – the Armstrongs and the Bagots. The Armstrongs settled in the town and would eventually establish industries, notably a Linen factory which proved quite lucrative. Andrew Armstrong (1727–1802) built Clara House on the west side of the town in the 1770s – a fine neo-classical building. Members of the Armstrong family distinguished themselves in other areas of life. One of them, John Armstrong, uncle of Andrew, was Governor of Minorca and author of a history of the island in 1752. Andrew Armstrong died in 1802 and the estates were sold to a Cox family, another family with notable connections.
In 1825, the Goodbody family moved to Clara from Mountmellick and introduced industry into the town, trading under the name of J & L F Goodbody. Buying flour mills at Erry and Charlestown, they developed the river Brosna and used it to harness power for their factories. In 1864 the Goodbodys started a jute factory at Clashawaun. The jute was imported from India and the resulting bags were exported worldwide. In the last decades of the 20th century the factories declined and the last Goodbody's factory closed in 1984. The family had provided the people of Clara with employment in a number of areas: factory work, domestic service and farming. Other industries in the town included flour mills, distilleries, a brewery, manufacturers of tobacco, soap, candles, and clothes together with food processing companies.
As the town entered a heyday at the end of the 19th and for much of the 20th centuries, its prosperity led to a number of building projects. Stately houses litter the town and surrounding countryside as the various members of the Goodbody family set up their households. Thanks to Catholic Emancipation in 1829 a more prominent Catholic church was built on the outskirts of the town in Charlestown, but this proved too small and in the 1880s the parish, now St Brigid's Parish, built a fine neo-gothic church in the centre of the town on one side of the main square: a relic of St Brigid is preserved in the church. To cater for the needs of the townspeople, two religious orders founded communities and schools: the Franciscan Brothers arrived in 1821 and the Sisters of Mercy some years later. Other religious buildings in the town consist of St Brigid's parish church for the Church of Ireland community (Anglican Communion) looking down over the fair green and the Friends' Meeting Hall (Quaker) which is no longer in use. As the town prospered so did social life. Numerous cultural and sporting associations flourished in the town and continue to do so to this day.
On the 4th of April 2006 at roughly 08:30 a.m., one of the worst bus crashes in the history of the state occurred a mile outside Clara on the road to Rahan. A school bus, carrying approximately 30 secondary school students from Clara to Killina Presentation Secondary School, overturned on the road, killing one student and injuring many more. Emergency services from across the Midlands region were called to the scene to assist in resue efforts. The accident occurred nearly a year on from a similar crash in Meath that claimed the lives of 5 schoolgirls. In both cases were the buses involved found, afterwards, to have been severely substandard despite passing vehicle tests.
Clara railway station opened on 3 October 1859, and located beside Railway View Housing Estate. It is on the main Dublin to Ballina / Westport / Galway railway line. Clara was once a railway junction, with a branch to Streamstown on the now disused Athlone–Mullingar link. There was also a railway junction west of Clara serving the Banagher branch line. Clara is also served by the M6 Dublin/Galway motorway with junction 6 less than 5 minutes drive from the town centre. Consultation is ongoing regarding a small airport which is proposed on lands between Clara, Tubber and Horseleap.
St Brigid of Ireland (c 450 – c 525). Also known as St Brigid of Kildare. Born in Faughart, Co. Louth, Ireland, St Brigid was the daughter of a pagan chieftain and Christian slave woman. She was religious by nature and when she reached maturity she took vows under St. Mel. She founded a famous monastery in Kildare (Cill Dara) which became an ecclesiastical city and eventually the cathedral city of a diocese. She was revered as a saint in her own lifetime. She is buried with St Patrick and St Columba in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland: the three are considered the patron saints of Ireland. Her association with Clara is ancient: according to tradition she founded her first monastery there, the ruins of which are still extant. She is the patron of the parish of Clara and the local Catholic church preserves a first-class relic of the saint.
Matilda de Lacy (1223–1289). Born in Lincolnshire in England]in 1223, Matilda (Maud) was one of the most significant women of her time. The daughter of John de Lacy, the Earl of Lincolnshire and Margaret de Quincy, Countess of Derby, granddaughter of Walter de Lacy, Lord of Meath, she inherited a considerable fortune following her grandfather's death on 1241. As the eldest of her family, she inherited the family castle in Trim, Co. Meath and with it a number of estates. Unusual for women at the time, she exercised considerable power and influence. She was married to Peter de Genevre (died 1249). She founded a convent at Gageborough, a townland of Clara. She died in 1289.
Connall Mac Geoghegan (17th century). Connall Mac Geoghegan, known as Connall the Historian, lived in Lismoyny, a townland of Clara. He is noted by history as the translator of the Annals of Clonmacnoise, a chronicle of historical events in Ireland from pre-history to 1408 AD. His translation into English was complete by 1627 and was his work was praised for its understanding of the Gaelic idiom. The years of Connall's life are not known, but he was still alive in 1644.
Hubert Fox (17th century). The Irish love a rebel, and Hubert Fox can stake a claim to this affection. Chief of the Fox clan in the 17th century he resisted English rule and fought against Cromwellian forces. He lost his estates and fled his ancestral home, Lehinch castle, in 1641 with a price of 400 pounds on his head: the English even promised outlaws a pardon if they delivered Fox into their hands. A testament to the loyalty of the Irish, no one did, and he disappeared from history. Many lines of the Fox family today claim descent from him.
Fr James Dillon (c 1643- ?). Fr Dillon was the Catholic pastor of the parish of Kilbride (Clara). Born around 1643, he was ordained priest in 1688 in Ballyleoge, Co. Galway. He was appointed to the parish in 1704. He was an astounding pastor, but given the nature of the times he was the victim of much persecution. He was betrayed a number of times to the priest-hunters and several times arrested for carrying out his ministry, spending time in prison and almost dying of his ill-treatment at one stage. The date of his death is unknown, but he was buried in the cemetery of St Brigid's monastery in Kilbride.
Andrew Armstrong (1727–1802). As noted above, Armstrong was a successful industrialist in the town. Born in 1727 the son of Warenford Armstrong of Ballycumber and Elizabeth Bagot of Newtown. He was responsible for Clara's prominence as a manufacturing town in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
Robert Goodbody (1781–1860). Born in Mountmellick, County Laois, Ireland, on 9 April 1781, he was the son of Quaker parents, Mark Goodbody and Elizabeth Pim. The Goodbodys were already a prominent merchant family in the Midlands, but Robert would prove to be the one who would strengthen the family's position in Ireland's industrial elite. He moved to Clara on 17 October 1825 when he took over Brosna Mills and from this industry he founded a dynasty of merchants who would dominate not only the commercial life of the Midlands, but have considerable influence in Ireland and abroad. He married twice and had six children. When he was 74 years old he began writing his Memoirs which constitute not only an autobiography but also a valuable record of events in the Midlands including the rebellion of 1798, an important uprising against English rule in Ireland.
Vivian Mercier (1919–1989). Vivian Mercier was a foremost literary historian. Born in Clara in 1919 he studied at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen (Oscar Wilde's alma mater) and afterwards at Trinity College, Dublin, where he completed his doctorate entitled Realism in Irish Fiction. After a spell in Ireland working for a literary periodical, he went to the US where he held a number of positions in various universities, finally accepting a professorship at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1974. The same year he married his second wife, the Irish writer Eilis Dillon. He published a number of works in the area of literature and was a committed defender of the Irish language (Gaelic), writing a landmark work on Irish literature in 1964. He was also regarded as an authority on the works of Samuel Beckett. He died in 1989 and is buried in Clara with his wife, Eilis.
Br Placidus Timmons, OSF (1948–1997). Larry Timmons was born in Delvin, County Westmeath on 17 April 1948. He entered the Franciscan Brothers (Third Order of Penance) taking the name Br Placidus, and after profession was appointed to the Franciscan Monastery in Clara where he spent a number of years as a teacher in the Boy's Primary School. He was a popular figure in the parish, involved in numerous organisations and with a deep concern for the young and poor. In 1982 he was transferred to the Order's mission house in Kenya where he spent fifteen years teaching and helping improve the living standards of the local communities he served. On 22 January 1997 during an armed break-in, Br Placidus was shot dead. An investigation into his death revealed that his death was not an unfortunate mistake, but was in fact, deliberate: he was murdered for his efforts to obtain justice for the victims of a corrupt regime. His remains were brought back to Clara and a large crowd attended his funeral. He is buried in the community cemetery of the Franciscan Brothers. He is regarded as a martyr for justice by many.
Brian Cowen (born 1960) Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from 2008 to 2011. Son of Bernard Cowen, former TD and Junior Minister for Agriculture. He took office on 7 May 2008, heading a coalition government led by his Fianna Fáil party that includes the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats, with the support of independent TDs. He was a Teachta Dála (TD) for the constituency of Laois–Offaly from 1984 to 2011. He served as Minister for Labour (1992–1993), Minister for Energy (1993), Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (1993–1994), Minister for Health and Children (1997–2000), Minister for Foreign Affairs (2000–2004) and Minister for Finance (2004–2008). He served as Tánaiste from 2007 to 2008. He became leader of Fianna Fáil on the resignation of Bertie Ahern. On 7 May 2008 following the resignation of Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach, Cowen was nominated in the Dáil and elected Taoiseach. Within a short period of him taking office Ireland was hit by the global recession, a construction industry collapse and a near-collapse of the country's banks leading to job losses, wage reductions,etc. This caused him and his government to take many unpopular decisions. Brian Cowen's term as Taoiseach came to an end following the general election in February 2011. He did not contest the election and stepped down from public life.
Professional golfer Shane Lowry comes from Clara. He was born on 2 April 1987 and comes from a strong sporting background. His father Brendan played Gaelic football for Offaly, winning a senior All-Ireland medal in 1982. Shane's mother Brigid, née Scanlon, comes from a prominent sporting and musical family from Clara. Shane attended Clara's St. Francis boys national school and Clara vocational school. During his school years he played both football and hurling. At the age of 12 he developed an interest in pitch and putt and quickly began winning numerous prizes in the sport. In his mid teens Shane's interest turned to golf. Within a couple of years he was rising within the ranks of the amateur golf circuit. In 2009 he came to international attention when he won the Irish open golf championship, as an amateur. He turned professional shortly afterwards.
One of Clara's visitors provide it with some notability in the history of modern communications: Guglielmo Marconi. Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy on 25 April 1874, the son of Giuseppe Marconi and Annie Jameson, the daughter of Andrew Jameson of Daphne Castle, County Wexford, Ireland. He grew up and was educated in Italy proudly aware of his Irish and Italian heritages.
In 1895 he began the experiments which would eventually lead to his invention of the radiotelegraph system. He was a frequent visitor to Ireland and in 1905 he married the Hon. Beatrice O'Brien, the daughter of the 14th Baron Inchiquin. The marriage broke down and the couple were granted an annulment in 1927, after which he married the Countess Bezzi-Scali of Rome. He received numerous awards and honours including the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 and was conferred with the hereditary title of Marchese in 1929. He died in Rome on 20 July 1937.
Marconi was a friend of the Goodbody family and it was during one of his visits to Robert Goodbody at Inchmore House in Clara that he conducted some of his experiments which made important advances in the development of the radiotelegraph system. Marconi received considerable backing from the Goodbody family.
Special Area of Conservation
The Clara Bog visitor centre is located beside the town's library. A bog boardwalk (Accessible from Ballinough, off Tullamore road) is very popular with local walkers, but is virtually unknown to visitors. The board walk allows walkers to safely cross the surface of the bog. A much shorter, but more accessible bog boardwalk is also located 2 km from Clara on the main Rahan road.
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Clara continues to be an industrial town albeit not to the same extent as it had been. Farming remains an important way of life for many around the area. Plans for urban renewal during the economic boom never took off and the town did not benefit to the extent that other similar size towns did. In fact, in an era when political discourse is revolving more and more around the idea of "regeneration", Clara is truly degenerating. Many pubs and shops in the town are shut and have not been replaced. One pub that was burnt down has become an eyesore having never been rebuilt. Traffic congestion is increasing and the layout of the town does not help this. However nothing can be done about the towns layout as every building is on a preservation list. All of this is not surprising as the Irish Midlands and Offaly in particular are traditionally the most overlooked and underfunded part of the Republic. There is also a disturbing level of criminality in the town.
There is a strong musical tradition in the area producing numerous singers and bands of various genres and the Clara Musical Society.
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- "Clara station" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 7 September 2007.
- Gordon Deegan (8 June 2010). "Killarney park and Clara Bog fail to make Unesco shortlist". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2011.