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An Clochán
View from John D'Arcy Monument on the Sky Road
View from John D'Arcy Monument on the Sky Road
Clifden is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 53°29′00″N 10°01′00″W / 53.4833°N 10.0167°W / 53.4833; -10.0167Coordinates: 53°29′00″N 10°01′00″W / 53.4833°N 10.0167°W / 53.4833; -10.0167
Country Ireland
Province Connacht
County County Galway
Elevation 50 m (160 ft)
Population (2011)
 • Urban 2,056
 • Rural 557
Irish Grid Reference L655510

Clifden (Irish: An Clochán, meaning "stepping stones"[1]:14) is a town on the coast of County Galway, Ireland and being Connemara's largest town, it is often referred to as "the Capital of Connemara". It is located on the Owenglin River where it flows into Clifden Bay. The town is linked to Galway city by the N59 and is a popular tourist destination for those touring Connemara.


19th century[edit]

The town was founded at the start of the 19th century by John D'Arcy (1785–1839)[2] who lived in Clifden Castle (built around 1818, now a ruin) west of Clifden. He had inherited the estate in 1804, when it was mostly inhabited by fishermen and farmers. The idea of establishing a town on the coast was first voiced by him in 1812. Bad communications and a lack of private capital prevented fast progress until the 1820s, when the potato crop failed in 1821-22 and D'Arcy petitioned the government in Dublin for assistance. The engineer Alexander Nimmo was sent to the area in 1822. He constructed a quay at Clifden (finished in 1831), and started a road to Galway.[1]:14,46 With these improvements to its infrastructure, the town began to grow.[3]:11

It prospered until, in 1839, John D'Arcy died. By that time, Clifden had grown from virtually nothing to a town of 185 dwellings, most of them three-floored, two churches, two hotels, three schools, a police barracks, courthouse, a gaol, a distillery and 23 pubs.[1]:14 The population had grown to 1,100 and the town already sported the (as yet unpaved) triangle of streets still visible today.[1]:14 Products that were shipped out from Clifden Harbour included marble, corn, fish and kelp. However, John's son and heir, Hyacinth, lacked his father's abilities and confrontations with his tenants became commonplace.[3]:14–15 In 1843, Daniel O'Connell held a 'Monster Meeting' at Clifden, attended by a crowd reportedly numbering 100,000, at which he spoke on repeal of the Act of Union.[1]:14

The town's surging growth and propsperity came to an end when the famine started in 1845. Large numbers of people died, as government help proved insufficient to deal with starvation, scurvy and other diseases. By 1848 90% of the population were on relief (receiving government money). Landlords went bankrupt as rents dried up. Many people emigrated to America. On 18 November 1850, Hyacinth D'Arcy put up his estates for sale and most of them were purchased by Charles and Thomas Eyre of Somerset. Hyacinth pursued a church career and became Rector of Omey and Clifden. Charles Eyre sold his share to his brother, who gave the estates to his nephew (Charles' son) John Joseph in 1864.[3]:14–15

In 1855, Sisters of Mercy from Galway came to Clifden and established St. Joseph's Convent, followed by an orphanage and St. Joseph's Industrial School in 1858.[1]:45

Clifden is the birthplace of Jon Riley, Saint Patrick's Battalion's commander, who fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American War in the 19th century, and John Bamlet Smallman, Irish-Canadian businessman (1849–1916).

20th century[edit]

Clifden gained prominence after 1905 when Guglielmo Marconi decided to build his first high power transatlantic long wave wireless telegraphy station four miles (6 km) south of the town to minimize the distance to its sister station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The first point-to-point fixed wireless service connecting Europe with North America opened for public service with the transmission of 10,000 words on 17 October 1907. At peak times, over 400 people were employed by the Clifden wireless station, among them Jack Phillips, who later perished as Chief Radio Operator on the Titanic.

One 19 June 1919 the first transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown crashlanded in Derrygimlagh bog, close to Marconi's transatlantic wireless station.

War of Independence[edit]

Events that would lead up to the "Burning of Clifden" began on 21 November 1920, Bloody Sunday. On that day, IRA members in Dublin attacked British officers and civilians believed to work for intelligence, killing eleven and wounding four.[3]:201–202 Later that day, British paramilitary auxiliary forces opened fire at Croke Park, killing twelve and injuring sixty.[3]:201–202 Thomas Whelan, born in 1899 in Clifden, was arrested and charged with the 21 November murder of Captain G.T. Bagelly. Although he maintained his innocence, Whelan was found guilty and executed on 14 March 1921.[3]:202–208 Following its Two for one policy that required the killing of two RIC members for every Republican executed, on 16 March 1921 members of the IRA shot and killed Constable Charles Reynolds and Constable Thomas Sweeney at Eddie King's Corner in Clifden. The RIC requested assistance. In response, in the early hours of St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1921, a trainload of Black and Tans arrived in town from Galway. They then proceeded to "burn, plunder and murder".[3]:177 Terrorizing the town, they killed one civilian, seriously injured another, burned 14 houses and damaged several others.[3]:209–213

Civil war[edit]

When the Civil War started in June 1922, Connemara was controlled by the Republicans. Almost all members of the Connemara Flying Column of the War of Independence were on the Anti-Treaty side and some of them became the leaders of the Western Division of the Republican Army. In Clifden, the population tolerated the Republicans but did not support them. The Republicans occupied the barracks on Main Street, the workhouse and Sunnybank, a large house north of town. In addition, all petrol was confiscated, roads barricaded and made impassable, railway bridges were blown up and telegraph lines cut. Newspapers were forbidden. Doctors had trouble caring for their patients due to the breakdown in communications.[3]:222

After the Free State Army took Westport, the Republicans followed a scorched earth policy and burned the buildings they evacuated. In Clifden, the workhouse was burned in July.[3]:222 In addition, on 25 July, the Republicans set fire to the Marconi Station and fired shots at it. This was ostensibly because they considered the station "a British concern".[3]:177 Another explanation offered later, was that the station had been used by the RIC in their March 1921 call for reinforcements. Transatlantic wireless service [4] formerly provided by the Clifden station was transferred to the more modern Marconi wireless station near Waunfawr, Wales. By one reckoning, the station's closure following the Republican attack caused an estimated 1,000 people to lose their livelihood.[3]:177

On 12 August, the National Army sent 150 men led by Colonel-Commandant Austin Brennan from Galway by ship. They landed at Kilronan on the Aran Islands. After resting, the troops attempted a crossing but just 15 miles from Clifden Quay this was abandoned due to inclement weather. Another try, on 14 August, was successful, with 50 of the troops landing at Mannin Bay, south of Clifden, the remainder travelling on to Inishturk. There they transferred to local fishing boats and crossed to Kingstown Bay, around five miles north of Clifden. In the night of 14/15 August the National Army marched to town from the north and from the south. The southern detachment had previously secured some bridges and the road to the Marconi Station. However, the Republicans managed to retreat in advance of the National Army towards the Twelve Pins and there was only minimal fighting. The National troops were warmly welcomed by the people of Clifden.[3]:223–227

The Republicans still controlled the mountains and waged a guerrilla war against the National Army, which was unable to dislodge them. The Irregulars attacked Army posts and patrols, mainly by sniping. On 30 September, the Republicans announced that from then on all motor cars in Connemara would be attacked. On 13 October, Republicans burned the Recess Hotel and nearby Glendalough House to the ground to prevent the National troops from using them as billets.[3]:227–230

On 29 October, the Republicans managed to recapture Clifden from the around 100 National troops stationed there. The attacking force consisted of around 350 men, who came by motor car but mostly by sea. They also had with them an "armoured car", called The Queen of the West,[1]:44 and made from a ship’s engine boiler plates. This was used to advance towards a defended barracks building in order to drop off mines in front it, thus partly demolishing it. Eventually, the National troops surrendered but they were well-treated and commended on their 'clean fight'. However, the Republicans – once having expelled the Army – did not occupy the town, which had sustained some damage during the fighting. Communications were once again severed, and the Irregulars took up positions around the town.[3]:230–233

Finally, on 16 December, the National Army returned to Clifden and the Republicans once again slipped away just before its arrival. The townspeople again welcomed the Army and soon repairs started on bridges and the railway line. Soon the first train in seven months arrived in Clifden.[3]:234–236

Dialing Code: 095
Coast Guard: channels 16,26 and 67
RNLI Lifeboat:



The N59 road from Galway (77 km away) to Westport, County Mayo (64 km) passes through the town.


Regular coach services are provided by Bus Éireann and Citylink, connecting Clifden with Galway city. Some bus services operate through Oughterard, to the south of Lough Corrib, while others operate via Clonbur / Headford to the north of Lough Corrib.

Clifden Catholic Church.


From 1895 to 1935 Clifden was the western terminus of the Midland Great Western Railway. Clifden railway station was opened on 1 July 1895, but finally closed on 29 April 1935.[5] The railway station was later converted into the Station House Hotel, flats, shops and a museum.


In 1989, a group of Clifden businessmen issued shares for a company and applied for planning permission for a 1,200 metre runway and associated buildings at Ardagh. A group of locals began to campaign against this proposal, later calling themselves "Save Roundstone Bog". The Galway County Council refused planning permission for the airport due to feared damage to the natural beauty of the area, and because it was designated an 'Area of International Scientific Importance' (ASI). The 'Clifden Airport Co.' appealed and as a consequence of the legal proceedings, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, ASI designations were found to be unconstitutional.[1]:57 The company later proposed to exchange the site at Ardagh for part of the Marconi site at Derrygimlagh. However, this also failed due to local and nationwide opposition. Eventually, a smaller 600 metre runway was suggested at Cloon near Cleggan.[1]:59 This runway was built in 2008 and the airfield was supposed to be used for flights to Inishbofin. It has been assigned the airport code EICD but by 2012 it had not been opened for traffic.[6]


Clifden is the main town in Connemara; therefore it is home to a range of services. The HQ for the Connemara Garda service is in Clifden and the main fire station for Connemara is in Clifden.

Part of the services on offer is a public library. It offers material relating to the history of the area. The library hosts an ongoing programme of exhibitions, readings and other cultural events.


Clifden is also home to the Connemara Blacks, which is the rugby team that is prominent in Connemara.


  • The Connemara Pony Show, organised by the Connemara Pony Breeders' Society and held on the third Thursday in August since 1924. Since 1947 the show has been held in Clifden.[1]:46
  • Clifden Community Arts Week in late September offers poetry reading, lectures, recitals and traditional music. The festival was first started by teachers in Clifden Community School in 1979 to bring creative arts into the classroom.
  • Omey Island Races: horse racing on the beach.
  • Clifden Regatta.
  • In honour of Jon Riley, on 12 September the town of Clifden flies the Mexican flag.
Clifden town centre


James Mylet's debut novel Lex is set in Clifden. The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom reviewed the novel as being set in "the fictional town of Clifden on Ireland's west coast", leading to at least one letter pointing out the inaccuracy of this statement.[7]


Clifden lies within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tuam and the Church of Ireland Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, and its Omey Union Parish. Clifden has two churches: St. Joseph's (Roman Catholic), completed in 1879,[1]:45 and Christ Church (Church of Ireland), built in 1853, replacing an earlier structure dating to 1810.[1]:45

Places of interest[edit]

Alcock and Brown landing site
Remains of the Marconi transatlantic wireless station

Sister cities[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Robinson, Tim (2005). Connemara. Part 1: Introduction and gazeteer. Folding Landscapes, Roundstone. ISBN 0-9504002-5-4. 
  2. ^ "Landed Estates, Family: D'Arcy (Kiltullagh & Clifden Castle)". Landed Estates Database/NUI Galway. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Villiers-Tuthill, Kathleen (2006). Beyond the Twelve Bens — a history of Clifden and district 1860-1923. Connemara Girl Publications. ISBN 978-0-9530455-1-8. 
  4. ^ The Clifden Station of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph System, Scientific American, 23 November 1907
  5. ^ "List of Irish railway stations" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  6. ^ "Abandoned and little known airfields". Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  7. ^ "Toibin tries his hand at poetry…". Irish Independent. 18 June 2011. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  8. ^ "Clifden and The Sky Road". My DiscoverIreland Blog. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  9. ^ Nee, Martina (26 April 2012). "Council agrees to twinning of Clifden with Coyoacan in Mexico". Galway Advertiser. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 

External links[edit]