The Historic Houses of Clarefield Townland
The townland of Clarefield is located in the Barony of Moyarta and the Electoral Division of St. Martin’s in County Clare. It is bounded to the west by the townlands of Querrin, Newtown East, Rahaniska and Shanganagh and by Termon East to the north. To the south is the Shannon Estuary. On its eastern boundary is Cammoge and Poulnasherry Bay. The Bay extends three miles inland in two different directions and a ferry operated at its mouth in the past, which saved a four mile walk around the Bay on a journey from West Clare to Kilrush.
The area was heavily wooded when first inhabited and access by sea was likely to have been very important. There are numerous ring forts and other monuments scattered all around this area dating from the first centuries. The Clan that ruled this area before the arrival of the Normans was the McMahons. As part of the McMahons’ tribal land, it was free from imposts from the O’Brien’s. Probably for this reason, this area is not mentioned in the ancient rental of the O’Brien chiefs, dated about 1380-90.
The McMahons held this land until late in the reign of Elizabeth I. After their revolt against her Government, in the closing years of the sixteenth century, it was confiscated by the Crown, and granted to Sir Daniel O’Brien, ancestor of the Viscounts of Clare. The lands, with the unusual feature of a dwarf wood, are duly recorded in the “Book of Distribution” in 1655.
However, everything was to change with the Norman invasions of the 12th and 13th centuries. The Barony of Moyarta came into existence around the 1600s. In 1641 it was divided in ownership between the Earl of Thomond and Sir Daniel O’Brien of Carrigaholt. Their ownership was confirmed at the Cromwellian settlement of 1667.
In 1712 the Earl of Thomond made a lease forever of the above townlands and other townlands in the area for the annual rent of £40 to Anthony Hickman and Richard Freeman. The townlands of Clarefield and Cammoge were sub- leased to Joseph Cox in the late 1700s and amounted to 279 acres. The annual rent was £58-07-05
In 1720, Richard Bury built a large house in Clarefield townland which he named Mountpleasant. Richard was the second son of John Bury of Shannon Grove in County Limerick. The Bury family owned 6,000 acres in the Barony of Kenry in West Limerick. Richard Bury also had houses in Limerick and London. Clarefield would have been easy to reach by boat from the family lands in West Limerick.
Mountpleasant House is a two-storey, five bay, brick faced, hip roofed house facing south over the River Shannon estuary and Scattery Island and is 40m above sea level. It has corbelled additions to the two front second-storey corners and there are three arched indentures in which are the two external sets of ground floor windows and front door case. The house was in the shape of a T with a large two-storey return, which held the staircase and housed the kitchen. It had beautiful plastered ceilings.
There was a fine walled garden and a folly to the east of the house. Utility buildings are located to the east and south east. A tree lined drive approaches the house which had a gate lodge at its entrance. The house had a well in the basement of the kitchen area and there is also a well on the left side of the driveway entrance gate. A Barrow (burial mound), possibly dating to the Iron Age exists to the east of the house and was never touched by the workers during the construction. There was also a boathouse and small jetty and a working salmon weir and a walkway down to the shore from the house. The family owned the rights to the ferry across the mouth of Poulnasherry Bay.
The Cox Family
Joseph Cox purchased Mountpleasant House and Demesne in 1799. During the 1800s, the Cox family built three more large houses on their lands – Mary Ville [Clarefield House], Kate Ville and Clarefield Cottage – for family members. There were a few brick houses built in the area for the workers in the 1800s but only the ruins of them now remain. Other local residents were dwelling in mud houses at best and during the famine of the 1840s and evictions in 1850s, 60s, 70s and 80s, a great number of families were evicted, emigrated or died and there is no evidence of their existence now.
Joseph Cox was in favour of the Act of Union of Ireland and England. His mission was to build a church and school and proselytise in the area on an Evangelical Protestantism’s conversion crusade. They built a Protestant school and church, known as the Preaching House, near the entrance gate to Mountpleasant House, however nothing remains today.
By 1814 the house had passed to Benjamin Cox and by 1837 his son Captain John Cox was in residence.
Changes in Land Ownership
The Irish Famine from 1845 to 1849 changed the whole landscape of Ireland. The days of the landlord were coming to an end. The Land wars in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s led to the formation of the Land League under Michael Davitt and Acts of Parliament in 1870, 1881, 1903 and 1909 enabled most tenant farmers to purchase their lands. Along with these problems Great Britain was torn apart, by the Home Rule bills.
The tide was turning and the Evangelical Protestantism’s conversion crusade in the Clarefield region, spearheaded by the Coxes, along with the political situation and the collapse of their income led to the family selling up in early 1900s. The estate was divided by the Land Commission among local tenant farmers after passing of The Land Acts. Five Land Acts were passed by the English Parliament between 1870 and 1909. The Coxes moved to Kilkee and lived happily in the area for many years.
Mountpleasant House in the 1900s
Thomas and Elizabeth Ronaldson with their two daughters Eileen and Kathleen from Scotland bought the property. They had a lot of servants and my Mum, Eileen Counihan Brown, remembers going to great parties there in the late 1920s and early 1930s. One of the daughters, Eileen, fell in love with an English Officer while stationed in the area in the early 1900s. However on her way to get married it was discovered the officer was already married. She subsequently never got married. Kathleen moved away with her mother and Eileen stayed to look after her father. The Economic War with England in the 1930s which was the result of the recession following DeValera’s decision to not pay England the Land Purchase Annuities which amounted to over 3 million annually, caused great hardship in Ireland and was the main reason the Ronaldson’s sold up in the late 1930s.
The house was subsequently bought by John Chambers from Killimer in late 1930s, who had two daughters and ten sons. One of the daughters, Kathleen, married Michael Maguire who was renting Clarefield Cottage at that time.
John Maguire, a brother of Michael Maguire, who was a butcher, bought Mount Pleasant house and lands in 1945 from John Chambers for £500. He never lived in the house, using the land to fatten cattle.
The house, in a state of disrepair, was bought in 1973 by Baron Ernest Valentin Von Wedal of Cadaques, Spain and his wife Paget Aisling and a new chapter began. The Baron had just sold Shannon Grove in West Limerick, which incidentally was the house where the first owner and builder of Mount Pleasant, Richard Bury, was born.
The Baron hosted a large camp of hippies living in tents on a field by the shore at Cammoge over many summers in the mid 1970s. So in Clarefield there was a Woodstock atmosphere every summer. The Baron died in Sussex in 2003, aged 65, and his wife Paget still owns the property but now lives in East Sussex. The house sadly has again fallen into ruin, with the roof collapsed and the land is leased out to farmers.
Mary Ville [Clarefield House]
Mary Ville, built by the Cox family, is located 2.5 km east of Querrin in the townland of Clarefield. It was in the possession of the Cox family in 1855 (Griffiths Valuation) when James and John farmed 70 acres. The house is still standing today, although derelict. Some mature trees surround it and the original gateway, drive and some farm buildings are still in use. It is a one and half storey, three bay house, built of cut stone which is now plastered over. The central front door faces north with a magnificent view over Poulnasherry Bay and West Clare. A small one storey return juts out into a yard adjoining the rear.
The remnants of a tower are located on a rise to the south of the house and local folklore says it was one of St. Senan’s churches. According to legend, a ringfort known as Cathair O’Caoidheam, was a giant’s (whose name is thought to be the origin of the place name Querrin) dwelling. It is reputed to contain a treasure which was buried by the giant. The ringfort is located in the corner of a field south of the house.
A John Cox lived in the house in 1919, when it went into chancery and was bought by John Blake who had returned from fighting in World War I. John unfortunately suffered from ‘shell shock’ or what we call nowadays Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and he shot himself in the early 1930s. According to local stories, his blood could be seen on the walls for many years.
John Blake’s family sold the house to the O’Dea family along with the farm of 70 acres. The O’Dea’s, a highly educated family were the last people to dwell in this house. They all remained unmarried. One of the brothers was an architect and ran into trouble with the Inland Revenue for not declaring himself a millionaire. He ended up paying a lot of tax and some say locally that he was an early winner of the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes. The other brother ran a pedigree herd of Herefords and won many prizes throughout the country. The last of the siblings died c. 2010 and the land and house was bought by John Brew. Unfortunately the house has deteriorated and is now derelict.
Kate Ville is an early 19th century, one storey, three bay, hip roofed lodge over a basement, facing east overlooking Poulnasherry Bay. It has a central fan lit front door, reception rooms either side of the hallway, with the kitchen and bedrooms in the basement. The original gates, piers and farm buildings are all still in use.
Built in 1814, William Cox was recorded in residence in ‘Guy’s Directory of Munster’ 1893. The house changed hands in the late 1800s and was bought by J.J.Callahan who married Susan Pilkington. It remained in the hands of the Callahan family until the late 20th Century.The house is now in the hands of the Nestor family and is the only one of the four original houses built by the Cox family in Mountpleasant Demesne inhabited today.
Clarefield Cottage, built in the early 1800s was the home of Joseph W. Cox. It had a small acreage of around 90 acres. This eight bedroomed house still has all the original doors and floors. Adjoining the house is a big stable yard with the original walls surrounding it. On the other side of the house was once an apple orchard. Most of the trees are now gone but the original boundary walls are still standing. A surviving tree in the orchard is a 300 year old hardwood. The house was lived in by Joseph Cox until he died as an old man in early 1900s.
Michael Maguire took over the land from the Land Commission in the early 1900s. He and his wife Kathleen Chambers lived here and reared their family of eleven children. Kathleen lived on in the house after the death of her husband, until she died in 2013. The house has been unoccupied since and is unfortunately rapidly deteriorating. The present owner Frank Maguire has kept the roof intact but the cost of restoration would be exorbitant. Six of his brothers emigrated to Chicago and have not been home since their mother died.
Built in the late 1700’s, Crotty’s Cottage was probably the home of the fisherman running the nearby salmon weir. Only one gable wall survives. It is situated by the shore to the west of Mount Pleasant. The area is now known as Crottys Point and it outlines the eastern part of Querrin Bay.
Patrick Crotty was the last known inhabitant. He farmed 90 acres at least until 1890, when some of the land was redistributed by the Land Commission. He had a large family. One of his brothers had emigrated to Australia and maybe he spent some time there but the story goes he bought a flock of sheep and unfortunately sheared the sheep in September the same time as happened in Australia and all the sheep died over the winter. None of his children wanted to stay living in the area so he sold out to the Land Commission and the O’Dea family became the new owners in the 1930s.
This single storey Council house, built in 1920, has a slate roof with two separate chimneys, a front porch and three bay windows. It is still in good repair. There are some outhouses to the rear. Situated to the southeast of Maryville, about 500 yards over the brow of the hill, it is completely surrounded by trees and invisible unless you knew it was present. With a bit of work it could be used again. However it has not been dwelt in since the Second World War.
When some of the Coxes land was taken over by the Land Commission, the Downs family bought a section in 1916 for £600, agreeing to pay interest of £3-10-06 on the £600 every May and November. They had an annual tenancy with a rent of £26 under the Irish Land Acts. As there was no house with the land a house was built by the Council. Downs had a dairy herd. In the early days he went daily with his milk to the Creamery in Doonaha, the site of which is occupied today by Doonaha Hall. Later a new creamery opened beside Blackweir Bridge and on his way home from here in 1938 his horse bolted and he fell off the cart and was killed. All the family emigrated to England during the Second World War and the house has been empty since.
The entrance to this house was along the shore going north into Poulnasherry Bay. The ruins of the house can still be seen today. Thomas and Margaret McGrath had three sons and two daughters, born between 1880 and 1891. The family moved to Doonaha around the 1950s and now own Green Acres Caravan Park and they still own the acreage in Cammoge.