A Walk through Medieval Ennis

Ita Lawton

Ennis is the county town of Clare since 1597.  Its medieval streetscape is still recognisable today in the Town Centre.  Abbey Street, O’Connell Street and Parnell Street are the main streets of this layout.

The meeting point of the three streets is the Height, where the Medieval market was held. Several laneways or byways connect these streets to Market Place where the market was moved to in the 1800’s.

The following provides a description of the medieval features which can still be seen in Ennis today.

  1. Abbey St.

Ennis Franciscan Friary

Built in the 13th century by King Donnchadh Cairbreach O’Brien for the travelling Friars of St. Francis, the  ancient Friary / Abbey after which this street is named, has been at different times been an abbey and school, a courthouse, stables during Cromwellian times and a Protestant church .



Arcade of Cloister Ennis Franciscan Friary

In the 1400’s, up to 600 students studied and lived in the cloisters  of the Abbey, which today is a public bar and restaurant called the Monks Society.






17th century staircase

It has a 17thcentury oak staircase internally and a monk’s graveyard in the beer garden. At the entrance to the Friary is a pair of Jostle stones which protected the corners of buildings from speeding carriages and carts. Next door is Cruise’s / Cruce’s house dated 1658, which today is part of the Queens’s Hotel.  John Cruise was an English settler.

In her will of 1686, the famous Máire Rua O’Brien, who lived at Leamaneh Castle between Kllfenora and Corofin requested that she be buried in the Abbey alongside her second husband Conor O’ Brien. However, no marker exists to confirm this. She retained her lands at Leamaneh Castle by asking one of Cromwell’s officers to marry her, as Catholics had to forfeit their holdings following the Cromwellian confiscations. John Cooper was the officer who became her third husband. They had two children together but were estranged in later years.

The middle house of a terrace opposite the Friary includes part of a medieval Tower house or Castle, which has only recently been discovered (Info: Risteard Ua Croinin). John Cooper is reputed to have lived here after his separation from Máire Rua.

Jacobean Chimneystack Abbey St. Ennis

Further down Abbey Street, above the pizza and burger shops, an early 1600s Jacobean chimney stack can still be seen on the roofline, indicating the age of these buildings.









  1. The Height (O’Connell Square)

The Old Courthouse Ennis

The statue of Daniel O’Connell stands on the site of the original Ennis Court House which was designed by Francis Bindon and built between 1735 and1745.    Part of a remaining wall can be seen on the gable of the 3.ie phone shop.   The location of an old well is marked by an inscribed paving stone to the gable end of the same building.  A livestock and food market was held every week at the front of the Court House from medieval times.  It was an important commercial and social hub which is clearly illustrated in an 1820 painting by William de Turner. The Court House was demolished in 1852 and a new Court House dating from 1850 was constructed on the New Road.

  1. O’Connell St.

Jostle stone at Cooke’s corner

Brogan’s public house and Maurer’s jewellery shop were originally one building with a Jacobean chimney stack at the Cooke’s Lane side. There is a late 18th century archway at Brogan’s.

Cooke’s Lane had a theatre, a prison, a schoolhouse and a fever hospital at various times. There are jostle stones at the O’Connell St. end of Cooke’s Lane.

The Town Hall restaurant is built on the site of a Tower house dating to the 1250s.  It was used as a jail with an archway crossing the street to allow prisoners access to an exercise area.   The curved wall of the tower house can be seen on the stairs to the banquet suite in the Old Ground Hotel reception desk area. There is a fireplace from Leamaneh Castle in the upstairs room of the tower.  The hotel incorporates an early 18th century mansion and the jail’s dungeons are in the basement.

The street opposite Ennis Cathedral leads to Barrack St. and Square. During an excavation in 2015 / 2016 by Graham Hull and Kate Taylor, prior to an upgrade of the town’s water supply system, a previously unknown medieval graveyard was discovered here. Fairs were also held on the open area in Barrack St up to the 1640’s.

  1. Parnell St

McParlands, Parnell St., Ennis

Mc Parland’s house on the corner of Parnell Street and Chapel Lane has been restored by Clare County Council. The oldest oak timber framed house in Ennis, it is one of the very few remaining examples of this type of structure in Ireland and has a fine Jacobean chimney stack.  There is evidence of an earlier house on that site. Harriet Smithson, a well-known actress in London and Paris and wife of the composer Hector Berlioz, was born in this house in 1800.   There are two plaques on the side wall.  One dates the house to 1600 and the other commemorates James Barrett.  He was born in 1722 and served as a priest for forty years. In 1806 he chaired the first meeting in Ennis to seek Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the Penal Laws. He died in his house in Chapel Lane in 1806 and is buried in Old Drumcliffe cemetery. His memorial plaque was paid for by people of all denominations as he had actively encouraged good relations between Catholics and Protestants throughout his life.

Former Penal Church in Chapel Lane

Chapel Lane, which connects Parnell Street and Market Place is the most atmospheric of the medieval lanes in Ennis.   Its two and three storey terraced buildings have traditional shopfronts inserted.  Many of the buildings date to the 1600s. The Community Hall was once a Catholic church built in Penal times in 1735.








Victorian post box Bindon St

Although not medieval in date there are some interesting Post Boxes around Ennis. The oldest is Victorian and is located in Bindon St. Another is inscribed Edward VII and is located at the Friary entrance.  The third is inscribed George V and is located on O’Connell St opposite the TSB bank. The latter is the only one of the three still in use.

I hope you take time to wander through the many laneways between O’Connell St and Parnell St leading to the Market area and explore Ennis‘s medieval past.

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