Topographical Features and layout of ‘Old Quin’

Based on the Final Archaeological Excavation (2015) Report of TVAS 2017

We know that Quin was a militarily and strategically important location due to its midway location between Limerick and Galway (or the strongholds of Munster and Connaught). No town existed where Ennis later developed and Clár (Clarecastle) was likely accessed by water rather than road. Quin therefore was on the most direct route between these two important provincial locations. Such was its convenience that it was a stop-over for the Catholic Confederate army heading to Limerick after its defeat at Aughrim in 1691; the place at which the new high Sheriff John Perrot met the compliant Thomond supporters and English troops on his way from Galway to Limerick in 1584. Following the Cromwellian Conquest big house estates and towns such as Newmarket and Ennis would evolve requiring road network infrastructure.*

Where exactly was the road and bridge over the River Rine? The new bridge was later built circa 1800. Where was the original village of Quin; what type of buildings and usage were likely to have existed? All of this is the subject of the exploration that follows. It relies on much conjecture so is open to challenge but I have used whatever historical sources available to base this on.

Looking firstly at the road location, we can avail of the 1658 Down Survey Pre-Inquisition maps (diagram 1); David Rumsey 1736 map (diagram 4b); 1777 Taylor & Skinner map (although this is primarily a road map and the scale does not aid exact location); the Clare County Grand Jury Map 1787 (diagram 4a); the first Ordnance Survey Six Inch Map 1845 (diagram 7); the 2015 Trench 2 excavation carried out behind the existing St Marys Church (diagram 2).

Looking at the Down Survey map covering the Barony of Bunratty/Parishes of Clooney and Quin, the first challenge is the orientation. All maps are nowadays orientated along a northerly axis. This was not the convention of the time. Reorientation cannot be an exact science as these maps were primarily sketch maps laying ‘down’ the location of townlands for later redistribution to the new planters and loyal subjects. However we can do so to a standard that is acceptable for our purposes. See diagram 1. We must be aware at this point that townlands have been divided, merged and renamed since and so comparison to present day townlands also poses a challenge (e.g. Keefe/Keevagh). 

Diagram 1

We now see the road from Limerick enters Quin from a south-to-north direction through the boundaries of Ballykilty and Feighquin. It remains west of St Fineens Church& Quin Friary before turning northeast above Dangan Breac Castle (highlighted above in blue). The road leaves Quin in a north-easterly direction towards Clooney adjoining the southerly edge of the townland of Creevagh. It then follows a meandering direction toward Clooney and later heads north toward Crusheen.
But it is its positioning in Quin we are concerned about here. For this purpose, the excavations carried out in Trench 2 in 2015 are relied on see Diagram 2. 

Diagram 2

This reveals the location of the road to be east rather than west of St Fineens Church heading in a SE to NW direction. The authors of the TVAS report following the excavations suggest therefore that the original bridge is likely to have been approx. 110m NE of the existing bridge. 

This would coincide with the location of the original village and place the Church and Friary on either side of the road. We can now speculate on the likely location as follows Diagram 3:

Diagram 3

It likely enters the village from the Snugboro direction at Malachys Bar and leaves beyond the viewing point following the existing Tulla Road.

From the 1658 Down Survey map (diagram 4), we know that there was one road into and out of Quin. Looking then at the 1736 David Rumsey and 1787 Grand Jury map we can see that there was then a road pattern akin to the present-day network and its location. The road now crosses the river at the same location as the present bridge. This map was produced 10 years before the building of the existing bridge. It is possible that a temporary structure existed before the existing stone structure.

Diagram  4a                                                                           Diagram 4b

 We now turn attention to four specific buildings that have been mentioned in various sources and will try to identify their possible location.

  1. The friary had a large attached school (studium) and probable library (scriptorium) in the mid-seventeenth century which was possibly built in the fifteenth century. This building was approximately 15.8 by 12 metres, which is quite substantial.
  2. Tig na Saor. The House of Masons has also been mentioned as a substantial building located somewhere south of the friary.
  3. We know that a watermill existed from records of the re-allocation of properties following the 1607 court of inquisition. The mill is mentioned as part of the properties of the friary.
  4. Village House A rectangular, stone-built, probable house with dimensions of approximately 6.40m by 4.70m. This structure is similar in size to 15-20 other structures seen from aerial photographs and lidar of ‘Old Quin’.

Our first point of reference is Henry Pelham’s 1794 drawing of the friary and some surroundings. In diagram 5 we can see what may be St Fineen’s Church, circled in red and the Sgoilteacht circled in blue. The shadowed profile of the friary is difficult to interpret without actually standing close to Pelham’s likely viewing point. Diagram6 profiles the existing friary to aid in this endeavour.

Diagram 5                                                                                 Diagram 6

Diagram 7 is the first 6inch Ordnance Survey map of 1845. This also shows a building (shown in blue loop) to the east of the friary where we would expect the school to be located. It is not shown on the later 25inch scale OS map. A building is also shown on west side where a gable wall remains (might this be The House of Masons?).

Diagrams 7

What of the building shown between St Fineens and the Friary, is this the House of Masons? There is nothing to assist in clarifying this from any records looked at, but it seems to be substantial in dimensions. The foundations are clearly visible today, with remnants of the walls rising up to 1.5 metres. A blackthorn bush has taken up residence in the protection of its depression.

How do we know a water mill existed? An inquisition of 1607 referenced the estate of the friary that included a water mill in the town of Quin. A mill would usually require some element of riverside reconstruction to allow sufficient supply and flow of water. The river slowly meanders at a gradual descent arriving and then departing the village except for an approximate 50 metre length adjoining the existing bridge. Here the river is narrowed, banked by stone support walls and it reaches a very fast flow due to the gradient drop. This may also have occurred as a result of engineering alterations undertaken during the construction of this bridge in 1800. The authors of the TVAS report speculate that the mill most likely existed close to this bridge. The same 1845 Ordnance Survey map referred to above also shows the Rine River to be much different in spread than it is today with the stretch from the new bridge as the only suitable situation.

It also shows a bounded property site where the present day community garden is located and text which appears to read ‘Ruins’. See diagram 8 below.

Diagrams 8

The fourth structural feature that we will look at is the village house identified in the TVAS report arising from excavations in Trench 2. See diagram 9 below

Diagrams 9

We are all familiar with the features we see on the ground as we approach Quin Friary along the current footpath. These present as mostly positive and sometimes negative ‘humps and bumps’. The majority of these earthworks appear to represent the remnants of rectangular structures, some larger and some smaller. Other features are indicative of pathways/laneways and land boundaries. These earthworks resemble so-called ‘Deserted Medieval Villages’ found elsewhere. Further excavation will probably be required to determine the exact location and possible building use. Given the strategic importance of this village as a stop-off between Limerick and Galway; its proximity to the original castle and later friary; the fact that this has been recorded as an important centre of learning, we can speculate that there was likely to be village houses, animal housing, premises to facilitate travellers and their animals, student accommodation, etc. located on this site.

The old village would have evolved, flourished, died or been destroyed over time. Did it evolve as a support base for the Norman Castle or later under the patronage of the McNamaras? Was it destroyed by the McNamaras when they burnt the castle or was this doneby Cromwellian troops as part of the destruction of the friary?

The old road through Quin may have been suited to foot and horse traffic but not carriage. Did the later road network through Ardsollus Toll bridge linking the newly developing towns and the big houses shift the development of Quin west to its present location thereby undermining Old Quin?

Much of this article is purely speculative. More work needs to be undertaken on the site of Old Quin. The TVAS report pushed the conversation forward in terms of the above topics. Hopefully it will be taken further again in the near future by academics and professionals who specialise in this field of research.

*Donough O’Brien, the Earl of Thomond joined O’Neill & O’Donnells Ulster army at the Battle of Kinsale. Seeking safe passage on their retreat, is it likely that they would have passed back through Quin on this journey?

Note on Maps

No maps exist currently that pre-date the Cromwellian Conquest.

The earliest maps were the 1658/9 Down Survey maps which set down on map from those parts of the country which were available for plantation. The English county system had not been put in so these maps described Baronys and Townlands then in existence. They were orientated such that a complete barony could be set out on the same sheet. Orientation, scale, and positional accuracy were not of concern.

Allocation of properties in many cases obliged the planters to develop the landscape similar to the English ways, so new estates, roads, village/towns, markets, and facilities for trade started to appear. This created a need for more reliable and accurate maps from then on. Route maps, estate maps, Grand Jury maps, waterway, and coastal maps were amongst those to appear from that time on.

Diagram 10 Lidar Survey to include Old Quin

Michael Maguire.


November 2023