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Kilkee - A History

Kilkee - A History

Kilkee (Irish: Cill Chaoi, meaning "Church of Chaoineadh Ita - lamentation for Ita") is a small coastal town in County Clare, Ireland.

It is located midway between Kilrush and Doonbeg on the N67 road. The town is particularly popular as a seaside resort with people from Limerick City.

The horseshoe bay is protected from the Atlantic Ocean weather by the Duggerna Reef. Kilkee has regularly been awarded the Blue Flag by the European Commission. In 2006, a statue of Richard Harris was unveiled in Kilkee by actor Russell Crowe who spoke very highly of the town saying it had some of the best public walks in the world.

During the early part of the 19th century, Kilkee was just a small fishing village but in the 1820s when a paddle steamer service from Limerick to Kilrush was launched, it began to attract visitors.[7]

It has been a resort since then and was featured on the front page of the Illustrated London News as the premier bathing spot in what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. As the town was more accessible to people from Limerick rather than Clare, holidaying in Kilkee became more of a Limerick custom, due to steamboats travelling daily up and down the River Shannon.[8]

Gradually the town grew as wealthy merchants from Limerick wanted holiday homes by the sea, resulting in a building boom in the 1830s. As demand for lodgings in Kilkee grew, several hotels were built. Along with these, three churches were built, a Roman Catholic church in 1831, a Protestant church in 1843 and a Methodist church in 1900, reflecting the cosmopolitan feel of the town in that era.[8]

In the 1890s, Kilkee had yet again another boom, when the West Clare Railway opened up to goods transport, improving commercial life in the area, as well as providing a relatively fast means of travel to and from the town. As Kilkee was famous for its bathing spots and natural beauty, many prominent people in society travelled to Kilkee including Sir Aubrey de Vere, Charlotte Bronte (who spent her honeymoon here), Lord Alfred Tennyson, Sir Henry Rider Haggard and in 1896, the Crown Princess of Austria visited the town.[9]

The entertainer Percy French was a regular performer in the town and an incident on the West Clare Railway on the way back from Kilkee prompted him to write the song Are Ye Right There Michael. Although it has become more developed and modern in recent years, the town retains some of its 19th-century Victorian feel.

Maritime History

Due to Kilkee being located beside the sea, a lot of the towns history involves the ocean. One contributing factor to the growth of Kilkee was the fact that the beach is one of the safest in Ireland, being protected by the force of the Atlantic Ocean by the Duggerna Reef, better known today as the Pollack Holes. In the Illustrated  London News in 1849, the resort was described as 'Western Brighton'.[10]


On the 30th of January 1836 a ship from Liverpool bound for New Orleans named the Intrinsic was blown into a bay near Bishops Island in Kilkee. The ship was dashed repeatedly against the cliffs and sank along with her crew of 14, of which none survived. The shipwreck site is now called 'Intrinsic Bay'.[11]


Main article: Edmond (1833)

A chartered passenger sailing vessel named the Edmond sunk at Edmond Point on the 19th of November 1850. The ship was sailing from Limerick to New York City but was driven into Kilkee Bay by a storm. As the tide was so high, the ship was driven all the way to Edmond Point, where it split in two. Of the 216 on board, 98 drowned in the disaster.