Adare (Irish: Áth Dara meaning “ford of the oak”) is a village in County Limerick, Ireland, located south-west of the city of Limerick. Adare is designated as a heritage town by the Irish government.
The River Maigue is tidal as far as Adare, with the settlement forming around the eastern bank of the Maigue overlooking the fording point from which the village gets its name. Owing to the strategic importance of the river crossing, the Desmond castle was built overlooking the site near Ardshanbally (‘high ground of the old town’) and was first mentioned in 1226. Historically a market town, in the Middle Ages, Adare boasted three monasteries.
Owing to the influence of the Earls of Dunraven, who built the Adare Manor, a strict plan was laid out for the town in the early 19th century. The main street combines typical Irish architecture with the English styled buildings and infrastructure purpose-built for the Dunraven estate. Examples of the latter architectural forms include the thatched cottages near the entrance to Adare Manor.
Adare was renowned for the cultivation of the tobacco crop by the 4th earl of Dunraven, who owned the Adare Cigarette Company, situated on his estate. The firm employed c. 70 people in grading the leaves into five different categories consistent with their excellence, each being used for a special brand of tobacco.
Adare is a tourist destination and the local heritage centre, which gives insight into the history of the village, also hosts a number of craft shops. To take a stroll through Adare’s streets is to be brought back in time and through history to a place where the mix of centuries is part of everyday life. The main street is punctuated with beautiful stone buildings, mediaeval monasteries and ruins and a picturesque village park. The thatched cottages have survived for hundreds of years, and some of those cottages are home to arts and crafts shops and restaurants, while others are still privately owned.
A little stream flows through Adare. It can be found in the centre of the village and it flows under a two arched bridge called the Droichid’n. Just below the bridge it forms a small pool and this is known as the ‘Washing Pool’ or the ‘Linn Niochain’. In the 1800’s this was the traditional place for the women of Adare to wash their family clothes. It was also used as a watering place for animals. Since there was no washing powder or detergents, women did their washing on spittle stones in the stream bed, or by pounding the clothes with wooden beetles. At the turn of the century it was no longer used. In 1975 the pool was restored and the banks paved by Limerick County Council and the Adare Tidy Towns Association.
Local records show that there were three dovecotes in Adare. The Augustinian dovecote is on the Manor grounds and was built in 1830. There is very little of it left today however.
The second dovecote was part of the outbuildings of the Trinitarian Abbey. It is a circular building with a dome shaped roof and is about 17 feet high. The roof has a circular opening in the centre. The inside of the dove cot is filled with pigeon holes. These holes are formed by rows of horizontal flags with similar flags vertically between them. There are no other openings except for a small doorway 2 ½ feet wide by 4 feet high. During the 14th century birds were kept there to provide food for the monks. By the 1900’s the building had deteriorated badly. It was carefully restored by Limerick County Council in 1983.
The fountain is one of Adare’s central landmarks. It is situated near the Catholic Church and at the entrance to the burial ground. The fountain bears the inscription…‘Lord prosper thou our handiwork, in grateful memory of the zeal shown by the people of this village in quenching the fire at the offices of Adare Manor on the 18th of April 1844. This supply of water was brought and fountain erected by Caroline Countess of Dunraven’.
In 1844 a fire occurred at the offices of Adare Manor and local people assisted in getting water from a nearby source and saving all the building. As a mark of gratitude to the people of Adare, Caroline Countess of Dunraven had a fountain erected in 1855. Water was piped from a shallow well on the estate over a distance of a half mile. At the turn of the century the fountain was still used by locals and people arrived daily on their horse and cart to take the fresh spring water home. As well as providing water, it was a popular meeting place for the locals.
Trinitarian Priory (Holy Trinity Catholic Church)
The Monastery was founded in 1230 at the request of the Earl of Kildare, a Fitzgerald. It is the only Trinitarian Monastery known in Ireland. The Order was founded in France at the end of the 12th century and their purpose was to raise funds to rescue hostages taken during the Crusades to the Holy Land. The monks wore a white habit and thus the monastery was called the ‘White Abbey’. The Earl gave them land, milling equipment and access to the river Maigue for fishing. The monks lived and worked in Adare for 3 centuries. The monastery was attacked in 1539 and the community of fifty monks were killed. The monastery was also plundered and destroyed. In 1811 the first Earl of Dunraven began its restoration. The restoration was further progressed in 1852 by Edwin Richard the third Earl of Dunraven who was a Catholic. He attached a Lady’s chapel to the east end of the church. The building has since been used as a Catholic church. The church owns a very valuable chalice which was given to it by the Earl of Dunraven.
Dunraven Arms Hotel
Built in 1792 as a hunting lodge by the earls of Dunraven, the hotel also has a long history in hospitality—it was featured in the first Michelin Guide to the UK and Ireland (1911).
During the Civil War, there was heavy fighting in the town of Adare in county Limerick on 4/5 August 1922. Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army forces occupying the town came under artillery fire from pro-Treaty Free State troops. The Dunraven Arms Hotel, where the Republicans had set up their headquarters, was hit by a number of shells. The publicity department of the Free State South Western Command announced that when their troops entered the hotel, ‘all the rooms in the building were found to be bespattered with blood, showing that there must have been fairly severe casualties …’.
Mary Hartney, according to an Irish Republican Army list of Mid Limerick Brigade casualties, was ‘killed in Adare while attending our troops.’ She was hit by shellfire while working in the first aid centre at the Dunraven Arms and was one of only a few members of Cumann Na mBan killed in either the War of Independence or the Civil War. Lady Nancy Dunraven sold the property to the Murphy family nearly 40 years ago. Today the hotel is a member of Original Irish Hotels, the group of owner-run lodgings in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Augustinian Priory (St. Nicholas Church of Ireland)
This monastery was founded in 1315 by John Earl of Kildare it became known as the ‘Black Abbey’ because the monks wore black habits. The Augustinians owned almost 80 acres of land, several cottages and gardens in the village and a fishing weir on the river.
The Abbey was attacked and plundered during the 1500’s at a time when monasteries were being attacked around the country. It was restored in 1807 by the first Earl of Dunraven and was given to the Protestants in the village as a church. It is still used by the Church of Ireland community for worship.
The monastery consists of three vaulted rooms, a cloister, a garth, a court, a mausoleum, a gate tower and the main part the church. The Cloisters housing the Dunraven mausoleum are little changed from the covered arches where monks once walked and studied.
The north side of the Cloisters is bound by a range of buildings; the ground floor consisting of three vaulted rooms and above a long apartment which may have been the refectory or the dormitory. There is an interesting and very early font under the tower. The tower with its distinctive Irish battlements, so practical for defence, dates from the fifteenth century.
The work of Adare’s wood carvers can be seen in the stalls in the choir. There is also a famous desk and other carvings under the tower by the famous Yorkshire wood-carver, Robert Thompson. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s the church had an ‘Infirmary Squint’ which enabled sick members of the community to glimpse the high altar from their sick room. In 1814 the building was roofed and converted into a school and in 1826 the Quin family mausoleum was erected in the cloisters. It carries the Kildare and Desmond coat of arms. The church was again renovated in 1862 by Caroline, the Dowager Countess of Dunraven, who was responsible for installing most of the stained glass in the windows of the church.
Fourteen Arch Bridge over River Maigue
Originally built by the fifth Earl of Kildare circa 1390-1410, this bridge was widened in 1837 by the Earl of Dunraven who added the large refuges. The fifth to the tenth pointed segmental arches counting from the north side are original medieval arches. Downstream, the ring stones, spandrel walls and parapets are the work of the Dunravens. Its large number of spans, comprising fourteen arches, makes it a notable feature on the landscape. Apart from its practical and social function, the structure is of architectural, engineering and archaeological merit. The well-designed pedestrian refuges are a notable and very practical feature. Adare Bridge forms an attractive approach to Adare over the River Maigue.
Pope’s Quay, just a short distance down from the railway bridge, was established in medieval times and served the community of Adare until the middle of the last century. Turf and coal were brought by boat up the Maigue to the riverside quay.
The former Adare Courthouse is an impressive stone building at the roundabout in the centre of the village. The courthouse was built in 1863, when its construction was financed by the 3rd Earl of Dunraven. It was designed by the Limerick-born architect William Fogerty and was built by M Walsh of Foynes. It is a Gothic-style two-storey building, built of cut-stone external limestone walls and a pitched slate roof, with cut limestone copings and cut limestone chimney stacks.
For many years, this protected structure had not functioned as a courthouse and was closed to the public until recently. It was bought in 2017 by the publican Charlie Chawke. Since then, it has been restored, with the ground floor incorporated into the neighbouring bar and restaurant, and with a courtroom museum on the first floor. This is a detached, six-bay, two-storey building. The symmetrical façade gives the appearance of a pair of houses, each with three bays and a central door. The domestic element is further underlined as the building was designed to accommodate a caretaker on the ground floor and with a constable’s room at the same level.
The unadorned limestone construction adds a certain austerity to the façade which gives the building a civic dimension. The austerity might have been relieved by the proposed clock tower that was part of Fogerty’s original plans. The external staircase is another notable feature, and this is how the public accessed the court room on the first floor. The fine stonework adds artistic interest and is indicative of the quality of craftsmanship used when it was being built. The protected status relates not just to the building, but also to its ‘curtilage, fixtures and fittings.’
Adare Hall on the site of the old fairgreen was designed in an English Tudor style by the Architect, W. Clifford Smith was built in 1911 by the Earl of Dunraven. Three trustees were appointed by the Earl and the Rector of the Church of Ireland to look after the running of the hall. There was a billiard room and a library which was later used as a card room. Cinderella dances were held in the hall twice per month. They were called Cinderella because they finished by midnight. The Annual County Limerick Hunt Ball was also held there.
Desmond (Adare) Castle
The ruins of the Desmond castle lie on the bank of the river Maigue. It was built around 1200 by a Norman knight called Geoffrey De Marisco. Geoffrey had an argument with the Bishop of Limerick, Hubert De Burgh and had to leave Adare. By 1228 the castle was owned by the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare. These people were a powerful Norman family at the time. They lived in Adare from time to time but Kildare was their main base. Thomas, the 7th Earl of Kildare, was the King’s Lord Deputy and died in the castle in 1477.
For three centuries, until 1536, the castle was owned by the Earls of Kildare. After the rebellion of Silken Thomas, the castle was seized by the Earl of Desmond. He was loyal to the King and became Lord Treasurer of Ireland.
The Desmond Fitzgeralds made Adare Castle one of their important strongholds and one of a series of strategic Desmond properties along with the banqueting hall in Newcastlewest, Askeaton Castle and Castle Matrix in Rathkeale.
The Earl died in 1558 and was succeeded by his son Gerald. Gerald however was not loyal to the King and became embroiled in a long struggle with the Crown in what became known as the Desmond Wars. This was the most eventful period in the history of the castle and explains why this castle, property of the Earls of Kildare for some 300 years, should be called the Desmond Castle. On the death of the Earl of Desmond in 1583 the castle reverted to the original owners – the Earls of Kildare – but in 1657 the castle was dismantled by order of the Lord Protector Cromwell and the Desmond Castle has been in ruins ever since.
The castle is surrounded by a strong battlemented rampart with semi-circular bastions. It has a distinct inner ward and an outer ward. The inner ward has a three-storey square tower that forms the defensive core of the castle, surrounded by a moat. This square tower on the west side gives access to the outer ward, which two halls on the river side, including the large rectangular Great Hall
Near the Great Hall is the remains of the kitchen, bakery and service rooms. The main entrance with drawbridge is on the south side and was flanked by two towers. There is a moat that was surrounded by a curtain wall. A major programme of conservation and restoration works began in 1996 and has been completed in recent years. Tours of the 13th century Norman castle take place daily from June to the end of September by shuttle bus and can be arranged through the Heritage Centre on the Main Street, Adare.
Adare Manor Golf Club
In the late 1890’s the 4th Earl of Dunraven employed the Scottish professional Ben Sayers to design a 9 hole golf course on the Earl’s estate in Adare. This course was completed in 1900. In 1932 the club affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland and so the foundations of the current club were formed. Even as a 9 hole course Adare Manor Golf Club had many successes, principally the winning of the All-Ireland Final of the Pierce Purcell Shield in 1985. In 1992 the current 18 hole course, designed by Eddie Hackett, was opened and in the year 2000 the club celebrated it’s centenary. The Earl of Dunraven was President of the club for the centenary year. A 5,000 year old bog oak sculpture was erected at the back of the 18th green to commemorate this special occasion and a time capsule was buried at it’s base. This capsule is to be resurrected in the year 2050.
Thomas the 7th Earl of Kildare founded the Franciscan Abbey, also known as the Poor Abbey on 16 acres in 1464. It was dedicated to St Michael the archangel. The Abbey consisted of a church, cloisters, dormitories, library, three chambers, a kitchen, a bakery, an infirmary, three parks, a water mill and two fish weirs – one for salmon and one for eels. Apart from furnishing the church with glass windows, he also bestowed on it a bell and two chalices. Second and third chapels were erected and considered to be exquisitely beautiful. During the wars of the great Earl of Desmond the friars were thrown out of the Abbey. Queen Elizabeth gave the Abbey to a general called Wallop who allowed it to go to ruins. It has been in ruins since 1666 and has never been totally restored. Great credit is due to the Earls of Dunraven for taking an interest in the maintenance of the Abbey up to recent times. In recent years, every Easter Sunday, there has a dawn Mass held in the Franciscan Abbey.
Adare Manor and the Dunraven Estate
The history of the Manor can be traced as far back as 1226 when King Henry III gave a grant to Justiciary of Ireland Geoffroi de Morreis (de Marisco) to hold an eight-day annual fair following the Feast of St. James at his Manor of Adare. De Marisco left Adare following a row with the Bishop of Limerick.
The lands subsequently were granted to the Earls of Kildare, members of the Welsh-Norman FitzGerald family who came to Ireland in 1169. They looked after Adare and the Manor in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. When Silken Thomas rebelled in 1534 they lost the Adare Manor through the Act of Attainder which was passed against Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare, whose lands, castles and manors were forfeited to the crown.
In a letter dated 24 March 1547, the boy king Edward VI granted the Earls of Desmond “the manors and dominions of Croom and Adare, in the county of Limerick, to hold for life.” The grant was short lived; the Desmond Rebellions brought control of the lands to the St. Leger family. For the next century, the lands passed through 10 families: St. Leger, Zouch, Gold, Rigges, Wallop, Norreis (Norris), Jephson, Evans, Ormesby (Ormsby), and then Quin.
For generations, Adare benefitted from the benign patronage of the Quin family, Earls of Dunraven and descendants of Thady Quin (1645-1725), from Inchiquin, Co Clare, a lawyer who leased Adare Castle and estate from the Earl of Kildare in 1683. Valentine Quin built the first manor at Adare (1720-1730), and was the grandfather of Valentine Richard Quin (1732-1824), who became the 1st Earl of Dunraven. His son, Windham Henry Quin (1782-1850), was an MP for Co Limerick before succeeding as second earl. The second earl increased the family’s wealth and property in 1810 when he married an heiress from Wales, Caroline Wyndham of Dunraven Castle, Glamorgan – a marriage that altered the family name and influenced his father’s choice of title when he became a peer.
The third earl was also an enthusiastic archaeologist and astronomer. For three years, he worked at the Dublin Observatory with Sir William Rowan Hamilton, and he was a prominent member of the Royal Irish Academy and several archaeological associations. The third earl employed the English architect Philip Charles Hardwick (1822-1892) to complete AWN Pugin’s work at Adare Manor. Hardwick built a new wing and the Wyndham Tower, designed the gardens, and also worked in the village, designing a monumental cross and well and the Mercy Convent and schools near the old Trinitarian Abbey, and he completed the restoration of both the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland parish churches.
Seven Earls of Dunraven have lived and ruled in Adare since the house was built. The Dunraven estate extended to 39,000 acres. Thady Wyndham-Quin, 7th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl (1939–2011), who was crippled by polio while a schoolboy, lived with his family in a nearby house called Kilgobbin House. Unable to bear the expense of maintaining Adare Manor, he sold it and its contents in 1982 to an investment consortium. In 1987, the house was purchased by Irish American Thomas Kane from Florida. It was then renovated and converted to become the Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort. In 2015, Adare Manor was bought by Limerick business man J.P. McManus for an estimated €30 million.
Although the house dates back to the 1200’s, the modern mansion was built in 1832. Some of the walls from the original house remain. The style of the building is Tudor and it is built of large blocks of limestone of different colours, mostly grey. All the timber and stonework in the house was carried out entirely by labourers from the village. The oldest Cedar of Lebanon tree in Ireland and the British Isles is in the grounds of Adare Manor overlooking the 18th green.
The Dunravens built the Lantern Lodge. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there was a kitchen, two little rooms and a spiral staircase inside. It was called the Lantern Lodge because of its shape. The people who lived in the lodge worked for the Dunravens. They were in charge of letting people in to the estate. There was a big square of gravel in front of the lodge and it had to be raked every week. There was a walk from the lodge to the Manor called the Beggar’s Walk. Locals went up that walk for soup during the Famine.
Adare Methodist Church
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, visited the Adare area on ten occasions between 1756 and 1778 and local tradition has it that he preached under an ash tree near the ruins of the Franciscan Abbey on at least one of these occasions. The ‘Wesley Stone’ now marks the place on the Adare Manor Golf Club Course where John Wesley preached, and the Methodists hold a Field Meeting there annually in June. The first Methodist chapel in Adare was built in 1794 and the site of the chapel is marked on the 5th fairway in the Adare Manor Golf Club course. In 1873 the Countess of Dunraven laid the foundation stone of the present Methodist Church on the Black Abbey Road.
Christian Brothers Monastery
The austere stone façade of this building, indicative of its former use as a fever hospital, makes a notable feature on the streetscape. It retains much of its original form and fabric as well as interesting features such as the iron finial and bell, the sash windows and the date plaque which reads: ‘Deo et Pauperibus 1830’, which means ‘For God and the Poor’. Now in use as a school, it remains an important building within the town.
One of its famous past pupils Seán Ó Riada (1931 – 1971) was an Irish composer and arranger of Irish traditional music. Through his incorporation of modern and traditional techniques he became the single most influential figure in the revival of Irish traditional music during the 1960s. He became particularly famous for his film scores Mise Éire (1959) and Saoirse (1960). He left a lasting influence as founder and director of the ensemble Ceoltóirí Chualann (from 1961). His music still endures: his mass in Irish is still sung to this day in many churches in the Irish-speaking regions of Ireland.
Detmar Blow cottages
Detmar Blow (1867-1939) was a prominent architect of the Arts and Crafts movement. These cottages are designed in a similar style to the earlier nineteenth-century estate cottages of Adare Manor. The overhanging roof and timber supports are picturesque features which indicate the influence of the earlier structures. The buildings are notable for the retention of timber casement windows and the timber doors. They are prominently sited to the west of the Town Hall and to the north of a village green.
1. Our Lady’s Abbey Girls School ‘Old Days Old Ways’ (June 2001)