Since I had a little while in the library, I had some time to quickly read through a few of the books in the local history section.
The story of the First World War in Ireland is of course very different to that of the First World War in Britain, as there was the additional element of the fight for Irish independence. This book is the story of Michael Brennan’s war, in memoirs which he completed in the 1930s. He writes about how he was involved in the Easter Rising and how he then spent the next few years in and out of prison.
Brennan was interned for some of the war and found himself for a period at Reading prison, in what was formerly the women’s prison. He found himself here amongst people of primarily German and Austrian nationalities, but anyone who was considered a threat to the nation was in danger of being imprisoned.
He also writes that “I have always emphasised to volunteers that armed action was only one arm in our fight for independence. I maintained that good propaganda was the other arm and the most important part of this was our own conduct. It was easy to behave well to our friends, but I argued that our critics and political opponents might become friends if we impressed them by our standards of conduct”.
Brennan went on to become the Irish Defence Forces Chief of Staff between 1931 and 1940 and died at the age of 90 in 1986. The book at Ennis Library also has a personal connection to Brennan since he has signed it inside the front cover.
This small book has an introduction to the history of the town, explaining that it has its origins in the early thirteenth century when the O’Briens, the Kings of North Munster, moved their principal stronghold to the area. The town didn’t though grow much in size and by the beginning of the eighteenth century it was a modest unwalled town which was smaller than Galway and Limerick.
It was only in the second half of the eighteenth century that the town started to really grow in size, and the book notes that the jurors of the corporation complained that “the carriages and chairs were daily in danger of being overturned by the vast number of horses, baskets and other lumber that on market days take up the whole street”.
The infrastructure also struggled and most of the roads to and from Ennis were in a poor state of repair, with the Clare grand jury who was responsible for them simply not having enough money to fix them. So, in 1734 a Road Act was introduced to establish a series of toll roads, something which proved to be of benefit to Ennis as at least people could get there.
The book also gives some population figures for Ennis in the eighteenth century, starting at 886 in 1700, going to 1,367 in 1720, to 2,108 in 1740, to 3,251 in 1760, to 4,906 in 1780 and to 7,567 in 1800. Although many of the urban improvements didn’t even start until the nineteenth century, and they were hardly completed then, the book notes that it was during the eighteenth century that “the essential pattern of urban life had been established”.
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Peter by John Bradley
This large colourful book was published in 2015 and is generous in terms of the number of photographs inside of it. What is now Ennis Cathedral was conceived as a church in the 1830s, although it wasn’t opened and blessed until 1843. There were renovations in 1894 and in 1973, and it eventually gained the status of a cathedral in 1990. A more recent substantial project was the restoration of the spire in 2004, which cost a not insignificant €1.6 million.
The level of information is deep, without making the book unreadable. Although I’m still wondering why the beautiful railings which were added around the church in 1876 were ripped out in 1973 to be used instead in the garden of a private house in Killoo, Clarecastle. I also like how the cathedral clock became known as the ‘four faced liar’ as every one of the four faces told a different time.
Ennis at Work in the 19th Century by Lucille Ellis
This book is the story of how the town of Ennis grew during the nineteenth century, although it has been written from the perspective of certain occupations and families from the period. As a result the text feels rather random in places, although it’s an interesting look at some of the important families in the town.
The author quotes a description written in the 1770s by John Howard of the town’s hospital, which was the County Infirmary on Mill Road, who wrote:
“The County Infirmary at Ennis, built around fifteen years ago, has two wards on the first floor, one for each sex. The floors and walls were very dirty. None of the patients had sheets, two excepted, who said they brought in all their bedding; the others lay on a little hay or straw, and had hardly any blankets to cover them. No fuel”.
Sounds a marvellous model of medical care…… Anyway, the book does seem a bit loose in its construction, but there are a few interesting photos of buildings in the late nineteenth century.