County Clare A History and Topography 1837 by Samuel Lewis
Miltown Malbay or Sráid na Cathrach is at the heart of an ancient area known as Kilfarboy. Sráid na Cathrach translates into “The Street of the Fort”, deriving from the existence of an Iron Age fort (An Cathair) near the site of St. Josephs Parish Church. The earliest inhabitants of the area were likely found on the rising ground to the north and east of the present town, stretching from the fort to the monastic foundation in the townland of Kilfarboy. It is suggested by some that Miltown comes from the Irish “Meall-Bhaigh”, meaning a treacherous coast or bay. It could also have taken the name Malbay from either the tradition of the witch, Mal, being drowned in the bay, or that of the volcanic eruption which drowned 1,008 people and separated Mutton Island from the mainland in 804.
Miltown Malbay grew in part because of developments at nearby Spanish Point. Thomas Moroney built the Atlantic Hotel in the early nineteenth century and for a time it rejoiced in the title of the largest hotel in the British Isles. The seaside resort developed as a refuge for the aristocracy and some of the lodges can still be seen today although only a small portion of the hotel ruin remains.
Miltown Malbay once had five corn mills, of which the ruins of three can still be seen. In 1825 Terence MacMahon owned a corn mill and Mary MacMahon a tucking mill and the growing town was referred to as POLL A MHUILLIN. This was later translated as the town of the mill or Milltown.
By 1837 Miltown Malbay contained 133 houses and 726 inhabitants. During the year of the abortive rising, 1867, the local resident magistrate wrote to the Under-Secretary at Dublin Castle because he was “seriously apprehensive of a Fenian outbreak” in the locality.
One of the greatest historical events ever witnessed in the town was the public address delivered byCharles Stewart Parnell in 1885. Although he was almost totally confining himself to parliamentary work at that stage of his career, Parnell agreed to come to Miltown due to his admiration for parish priest, Fr. Patrick White’s involvement in the land struggle. On January 26, 1885, Parnell came to Clare to turn the first sod for the West Clare Railway and later the same day came to Miltown for the meeting. Standing in front of the recently built parochial house, he addressed a crowd of over 20,000 and there were numerous bands in attendance.
During the Great Hunger, many tenants were evicted by the unpopular landlords, the Moronys. In later times Mrs Burdett Morony rack-rented tenants on her estate while the adjoining Fitzgerald and Leconfield estates maintained the most cordial relationships with their tenants throughout the 1880’s. By 1888 the situation between Mrs Morony and her tenants had escalated to such an extent that a boycott was operated against her. By the end of that year most of the shopkeepers and publicans of Miltown Malbay had been imprisoned for refusing to serve Mrs Morony or her servants.
During those turbulent times the Republic of Argentina attracted a lot of interest as a place to which to emigrate. Some people walked from West Clare to Cobh to avail of the assisted passage under the Free Emigration Act. Emigrants would have to work in the Argentine for two years and repay the fare of £8 to the Argentinian Government. Others emigrated to the United States, Australia, Canada and England.
During the Troubles three Miltown men – Patrick Hennessy, John O’Loghlen and Tim O’Leary were shot dead. Six or seven more were wounded by rifle fire when the combined R.I.C. and military forces opened fire on a crowd at Canada Cross. This occurred on April 14th, 1920. The occasion was to have been a welcome home party for Republican prisoners. Shooting broke out after the crowd had been ordered to disperse. The victims were buried in Ballard cemetery.
It was the granting of a charter to hold fairs which had consolidated Miltown’s role as a market town. The Market House and Fairgreen were the focal point for the fairs, which reached their height of popularity in the last century and early part of this century before giving way to the marts in the 1950’s. In addition to the monthly fairs where cattle predominated, the town also became well-known for pig fairs but they didn’t last as long.
Miltown has a long tradition of producing musicians and poets of renown, among them Micheal O’ Coimín, the gaelic poet whose work is still being studied more than two hundred years after his death in 1760. Essayist, poet, songwriter and cartographer, Tomás O hAodha (1856-1935) was active in the Gaelic League and with another Miltown man, Patrick Hehir produced the first wall map of Ireland in the Irish language. Miltown also proudly claims Willie Clancy, one of the greatest uillean pipers of this century. He left an important legacy to traditional music. He died in 1973 but his life and work is commemorated through the festival named in his honour which attracts musicians from all over the world to Miltown each year. Another of the parish’s famous sons is Dr. Paddy Hillery, who, following a distinguished career in politics became Irelands first EEC commissioner before going on to serve two terms as President up to 1990.