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History of Kilfenora, Co. Clare

Kilfenora is a small country village on the north of county Clare. It is an inland place centrally situated 8km south-east of Lisdoonvarna and roughly the same north-east of Ennistymon and Lahinch. On a clear day looking directly east from O'Brien's Tower or some such vantage point on the Cliffs of Moher, you might spy the spire of its Cathedral; yes, Kilfenora is more than it seems.

Second only to Corcomroe Abbey in ecclesiastical and historical importance is the Cathedral site at Kilfenora (The Church on the White Brow or meadow), however, Kilfenora embraces an existence since early Christian settlement, the status of diocese since the 12th century (with the Pope as its bishop since the 17th century), and in the post Reformation period the earliest examples of ecumenical experience when Protestant and Catholics shared the Cathedral as a place of worship, and which to the present day they still do. All of Irish ecclesiastical history and art, including some exceptional Celtic high crosses, can be found here.

Once known as the City of the Crosses, of which there were at one time seven in various locations demarking the monastery/village, of these still five can be accounted for. The 'Doorty' Cross with its elaborate carvings is probably the most famous. It once lay fragmented in the cemetery surrounding the Cathedral and was only discovered and reassembled in the 1950s. The original is now restored and housed in the north transept of the Cathedral under the daring glass roof structure erected in 2005 to protect and preserve the cathedral's many artifacts from weathering and traffic.

For many generations Kilfenora, built around the monastic settlement and set in some of the richest farming land, thrived as a market town. Its modest population of less than 200 inhabitants supported the few pubs, groceries, and post office. Like most small towns and villages in the west of Ireland in the mid-to-late 20th century it fought to stem the flow of emigration and its decline.

In the 1970s the local community inspired by the extraordinary limestone landscape known as the Burren - a one hundred square kilometre vastness of desert-like 'stone-dunes', becoming aware of the richness of the heritage that surrounded them and the uniqueness of the flora and fauna decided to make Kilfenora a focal point for the growing tourist traffic. A Co-operative was formed, Comhar Conradh na Boirne, and the Burren Display Centre, with its emblem painted on its gable wall of the blue gentian, one of the Burren's rarest flowers, opened in 1975. Recently the Centre has been extensively enlarged and the interpretative display augmented. This is an essential point of departure for orientation, and information for visitors to the area.

Kilfenora and its environs have much to offer. Less than ten kilometres to the northeast of the village on the way to Ballyvaughan stands the Poulnabrone portal dolmen (2500BC). With its flat capstone tilted upwards resting on its bearers, it's an instantly recognizable symbol of the Burren. A visit to the Burren can take just one afternoon or for some the rest of their lives. It is the person, who takes time to walk through its sunken valleys, hike its green roads, climbs to the summits of its hills, visits its recessed oratories, explores its underground caves, sees its turloughs (disappearing lakes) fill or empty, finds its rare orchids, etc., who is rewarded here.

After spending some time in the Burren, Kilfenora Hostel provides the perfect end to your day where you can relax in a "home away from home". Stroll up the village, listen to Irish music and try Irish set-dancing in the Vaughan's Barn, or simply relax and enjoy a pint with the locals in the pubs.

About Kilfenora Hostel

From The Clare People 04.10.05

Until now, a couple of local bed and breakfast concerns were the only ones to offer accommodation to visitors and tempt them to make more than a day trip of their time in Kilfenora.

This week, Orla opened the doors of her new hostel and learning centre which can accommodate 46 guests at a time and will, she hopes, encourage people to spend more time in Kilfenora to the benefit of the whole area.

No stranger to business, Orla grew up in the pub trade as her parents, Kay and John, ran Vaughan's pub.

"It was my parents who first thought of opening a hostel back in 2000, but we were all travelling at the time," said Orla.

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From The Clare Champion 27.5.05
The building that is taking shape between Vaughan's pub and the Church in Kilfenora is located on a spot that has hosted leisurely tennis matches and hectic sheep sales down the years€Orla Vaughan, who has availed of hostel accommodation on her travels throughout Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia, will oversee the running of The Kilfenora Hostel.

While those who will stay in the hostel won't be aware of it, the location was once central to commerce in North Clare. Well central if you happened to be a sheep farmer in the area. "Originally", Orla says, "it used to be a garden. Apparently my grandmother, Nellie Vaughan, had a lawn tennis court there. She also kept greyhounds and rose bushes out there. Then my grandfather got this bright idea, he decided he'd sell sheep there. Much to my grandmother's dismay he covered the whole place in concrete! Then when my Dad got the pub he took over the sheep selling and it only finished up in 1998".

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