Clara, County Offaly

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Irish: Clóirtheach
Clara on the R436
Clara on the R436
Clara is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 53°20′34″N 7°36′49″W / 53.342661°N 7.613525°W / 53.342661; -7.613525Coordinates: 53°20′34″N 7°36′49″W / 53.342661°N 7.613525°W / 53.342661; -7.613525
57 m (187 ft)
Irish Grid ReferenceN254325

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 3,242 (2011 census), however a number of housing estates lie outside the town boundary making the actual population higher.[citation needed] Clara's local services include 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 approximately eleven kilometres away in Tullamore.


Clara is situated in the north of County Offaly near the border with County Westmeath, on the regional road R420 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.


Industrial heritage

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 Menorca 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.

Main Street Clara c. 1915

Death of Father Niall Molloy[edit]

See article Death of Niall Molloy

Father Niall Molloy (14 April 1933 - 8 July 1985) was a Catholic priest who was killed in mysterious circumstances in Kilcoursey House in Clara, County Offaly, the home of Richard and Therese Flynn. When the Garda Síochána arrived, they found that there were signs of violence in the Flynn's bedroom and that there was a large bloodstain on the carpet. The priest died the day after the wedding of the Flynns' daughter Maureen. Flynn was charged with manslaughter and with actual bodily harm, but the judge at his trial, a family friend, directed the jury to give a 'not guilty' verdict. In 2011, a medical examination of brain tissue kept after the original post-mortem revealed that there was a high probability that the priest was alive up to six hours after the initial attack and therefore may have lived if medical help had been summoned. Molloy was parish priest of Castlecoote, County Roscommon at the time of his death.

Clara Bus Crash[edit]

On 4 April 2006 at roughly 8:30 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 rescue efforts. The accident occurred nearly a year on from a similar crash in Meath that claimed the lives of 5 schoolgirls. In both cases the buses involved were 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.[6] 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 AthloneMullingar 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. In 2008 there was a proposal for a small regional airport in the area, which later fell through[7]


Clara has a strong association with sport.[original research?] The GAA club looks after Gaelic football and hurling from under 8 to senior level. Clara also has a successful soccer club.[original research?] The town has two swimming pools and a 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.[citation needed]

Notable People[edit]

  • St Brigid of Kildare, 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 in 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,[citation needed] 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.

Guglielmo Marconi[edit]

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[edit]

Two kilometres from the town centre lies Clara Bog, a raised bog which contains rare flora. It was considered for nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[8]

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.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Census for post 1821 figures.
  2. ^ Archived 7 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-24.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Lee, JJ (1981). "Pre-famine". In Goldstrom, J. M.; Clarkson, L. A. (eds.). Irish Population, Economy, and Society: Essays in Honour of the Late K. H. Connell. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
  5. ^ Mokyr, Joel; O Grada, Cormac (November 1984). "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700–1850". The Economic History Review. 37 (4): 473–488. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1984.tb00344.x.[dead link]
  6. ^ "Clara station" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 7 September 2007.
  7. ^ "Ambitious plan to build new airport in midlands". Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  8. ^ Gordon Deegan (8 June 2010). "Killarney park and Clara Bog fail to make Unesco shortlist". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2011.