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An Clochán
View from John D'Arcy Monument on the Sky Road
Ireland adm location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 53°29′20″N10°01′16″W / 53.489°N 10.021°W / 53.489; -10.021 Coordinates: 53°29′20″N10°01′16″W / 53.489°N 10.021°W / 53.489; -10.021
Country Ireland
Province Connacht
County County Galway
50 m (160 ft)
(2016) [1]
Irish Grid Reference L655510

Clifden (Irish : An Clochán, meaning "stepping stones" [2] :14) is a coastal town in County Galway, Ireland, in the region of Connemara, located on the Owenglin River where it flows into Clifden Bay. As the largest town in the region, it is often referred to as "the Capital of Connemara". Frequented by tourists, Clifden is linked to Galway city by the N59.

Irish language Goidelic (Gaelic) language spoken in Ireland and by Irish people

Irish is a Goidelic (Gaelic) language originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language in substantial areas of counties Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal, smaller areas of Waterford, Mayo and Meath, and a few other locations, and as a second language by a larger group of non-habitual speakers across the country.

County Galway County in the Republic of Ireland

County Galway is a county in Ireland. It is located in the West of Ireland, part of the province of Connacht.

Republic of Ireland Ireland, a country in north-western Europe, occupying 5/6 of the island of Ireland; succeeded the Irish Free State (1937)

Ireland, also known as the Republic of Ireland, is a country in north-western Europe occupying 26 of 32 counties of the island of Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin, which is located on the eastern part of the island, and whose metropolitan area is home to around a third of the country's over 4.8 million inhabitants. The sovereign state shares its only land border with Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. It is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the Celtic Sea to the south, Saint George's Channel to the south-east, and the Irish Sea to the east. It is a unitary, parliamentary republic. The legislature, the Oireachtas, consists of a lower house, Dáil Éireann, an upper house, Seanad Éireann, and an elected President who serves as the largely ceremonial head of state, but with some important powers and duties. The head of government is the Taoiseach, who is elected by the Dáil and appointed by the President; the Taoiseach in turn appoints other government ministers.



19th century

The town was founded at the start of the 19th century by John D'Arcy (1785–1839) [3] who lived in Clifden Castle (built around 1818, now a ruin) west of Clifden. He had inherited the estate in 1804, when it was mostly inhabited by fishermen and farmers. The idea of establishing a town on the coast was first voiced by him in 1812. Bad communications and a lack of private capital prevented fast progress until the 1820s, when the potato crop failed in 1821–22 and D'Arcy petitioned the government in Dublin for assistance. The engineer Alexander Nimmo was sent to the area in 1822. He constructed a quay at Clifden (finished in 1831), and started a road to Galway. [2] :14,46 With these improvements to its infrastructure, the town began to grow. [4] :11

Clifden Castle

Clifden Castle is a ruined manor house west of the town of Clifden in the Connemara region of County Galway, Ireland. It was built c. 1818 for John D'Arcy, the local landowner, in the Gothic Revival style. Uninhabited after 1894 it fell into disrepair. In 1935, ownership passed to a group of tenants, who were to own it jointly, and it quickly became a ruin.

Alexander Nimmo FRSE MRIA MICE HFGS (1783–1832) was a Scottish civil engineer and geologist active in early 19th-century Ireland.

The Monster Meeting at Clifden in 1843 by Joseph Patrick Haverty. Daniel O'Connell is depicted in the center addressing the gathered masses. The Monster Meeting at Clifden in 1843.png
The Monster Meeting at Clifden in 1843 by Joseph Patrick Haverty. Daniel O'Connell is depicted in the center addressing the gathered masses.

It prospered until, in 1839, John D'Arcy died. By that time, Clifden had grown from virtually nothing to a town of 185 dwellings, most of them three-floored, two churches, two hotels, three schools, a police barracks, courthouse, a gaol, a distillery and 23 pubs. [2] :14 The population had grown to 1,100 and the town already sported the (as yet unpaved) triangle of streets still visible today. [2] :14 Products that were shipped out from Clifden Harbour included marble, corn, fish and kelp. However, John's son and heir, Hyacinth, lacked his father's abilities and confrontations with his tenants became commonplace. [4] :14–15 In 1843, Daniel O'Connell held a 'Monster Meeting' at Clifden, attended by a crowd reportedly numbering 100,000, at which he spoke on repeal of the Act of Union. [2] :14

Daniel OConnell Irish political leader

Daniel O'Connell, often referred to as The Liberator or The Emancipator, was an Irish political leader in the first half of the 19th century. He campaigned for Catholic emancipation—including the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster Parliament, denied for over 100 years—and repeal of the Acts of Union which combined Great Britain and Ireland.

Acts of Union 1800 acts of the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

The Acts of Union 1800 were parallel acts of the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The acts came into force on 1 January 1801, and the merged Parliament of the United Kingdom had its first meeting on 22 January 1801.

The town's surging growth and prosperity came to an end when the famine started in 1845. Large numbers of people died, as government help proved insufficient to deal with starvation, scurvy and other diseases. By 1848 90% of the population were on relief (receiving government money). Landlords went bankrupt as rents dried up. Many people emigrated to America. On 18 November 1850, Hyacinth D'Arcy put up his estates for sale and most of them were purchased by Charles and Thomas Eyre of Somerset. Hyacinth pursued a church career and became Rector of Omey and Clifden. Charles Eyre sold his share to his brother, who gave the estates to his nephew (Charles' son) John Joseph in 1864. [4] :14–15

Great Famine (Ireland) Massive potato famine in Ireland, 1845 - 1852, resulting in more than 1 million deaths, and similar numbers emigrating

The Great Famine, or the Great Hunger, was a period in Ireland between 1845 and 1849 of mass starvation, disease, and emigration. With the most severely affected areas in the west and south of Ireland, where the Irish language was primarily spoken, the period was contemporaneously known in Irish as An Drochshaol, loosely translated as the "hard times". The worst year of the period, that of "Black 47", is known in Irish as Bliain an Drochshaoil. During the famine, about one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

Somerset County of England

Somerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Its traditional border with Gloucestershire is the River Avon. Somerset's county town is Taunton.

In 1855, Sisters of Mercy from Galway came to Clifden and established St. Joseph's Convent, followed by an orphanage and St. Joseph's Industrial School in 1858. [2] :45

Sisters of Mercy religious order

The Religious Sisters of Mercy (R.S.M.) are members of a religious institute of Catholic women founded in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland, by Catherine McAuley (1778–1841). As of 2018 the institute has about 6200 sisters worldwide, organized into a number of independent congregations. They also started many education and health care facilities around the globe.

Early 20th century

Remains of the Marconi transatlantic wireless station Remains of the Marconi transatlantic wireless station.JPG
Remains of the Marconi transatlantic wireless station

Clifden gained prominence after 1905 when Guglielmo Marconi decided to build his first high power transatlantic long wave wireless telegraphy station four miles (6 km) south of the town to minimize the distance to its sister station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The first point-to-point fixed wireless service connecting Europe with North America opened for public service with the transmission of 10,000 words on 17 October 1907. At peak times, up to 200 people were employed by the Clifden wireless station, among them Jack Phillips, who later perished as Chief Radio Operator on the Titanic .

Guglielmo Marconi Italian inventor and radio pioneer

Guglielmo Marconi, 1st Marquis of Marconi was an Italian inventor and electrical engineer, known for his pioneering work on long-distance radio transmission, development of Marconi's law, and a radio telegraph system. He is credited as the inventor of radio, and he shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy".

Wireless telegraphy

Wireless telegraphy means transmission of telegraph signals by radio waves; a more specific term for this is radiotelegraphy. Before about 1910 when radio became dominant, the term wireless telegraphy was also used for various other experimental technologies for transmitting telegraph signals without wires, such as electromagnetic induction, and ground conduction telegraph systems.

Glace Bay Community in Nova Scotia, Canada

Glace Bay is a community in the eastern part of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia, Canada. It forms part of the general area referred to as Industrial Cape Breton.

On 15 June 1919 the first non-stop transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown crashlanded in Derrygimlagh bog, close to Marconi's transatlantic wireless station. When Captain Alcock spotted the green bog he thought it was a meadow where he could safely land his Vickers Vimy biplane. The plane's landing gear sank into the soft bog and was destroyed. Alcock and Brown were later transported back to Clifden town by stage coach with only minor injuries. When they returned using the Marconi Railway, the locals had helped themselves to parts of the plane as souvenirs. [5]

War of Independence (1920–1921)

Alcock and Brown landing site Alcock brown landing site.jpg
Alcock and Brown landing site

Events that would lead up to the "Burning of Clifden" began on 21 November 1920, Bloody Sunday. On that day, IRA members in Dublin attacked British officers and civilians believed to work for intelligence, killing eleven and wounding four. [4] :201–202 Later that day, British paramilitary auxiliary forces opened fire at Croke Park, killing twelve and injuring sixty. [4] :201–202 Thomas Whelan, born in 1899 in Clifden, was arrested and charged with the 21 November murder of Captain G.T. Bagelly. Although he maintained his innocence, Whelan was found guilty and executed on 14 March 1921. [4] :202–208 Following its Two for one policy that required the killing of two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) for every Republican executed, members of the IRA shot and killed Constable Charles Reynolds and Constable Thomas Sweeney at Eddie King's Corner in Clifden on 16 March 1921. In response to the RIC's request for assistance, a trainload of Black and Tans arrived from Galway in the early hours of St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1921, and proceeded to "burn, plunder and murder". [4] :177 They killed one civilian, seriously injured another, burned 14 houses, and damaged several others. [4] :209–213

Civil war (1922)

When the Civil War started in June 1922, Connemara was controlled by the Republicans. In Clifden, the population tolerated the Republicans but did not support them. The Republicans occupied several buildings. In addition, all petrol was confiscated, roads barricaded and made impassable, railway bridges were blown up and telegraph lines cut. Newspapers were forbidden. [4] :222

The Republicans burned the buildings they evacuated. In Clifden, the workhouse was burned in July. [4] :222 In addition, on 25 July, the Republicans set fire to the Marconi Station and fired shots at it because they considered the station "a British concern", [4] :177 and because the RIC had used the station to marshall reinforcements in March 1921. Transatlantic wireless service [6] was transferred from Clifden to the more modern Marconi wireless station near Waunfawr, Wales. By one reckoning, the station's closure caused an estimated 1,000 people to lose their livelihood. [4] :177

The National Army sent 150 men, and in the night of 14/15 August the National Army marched to town. However, the Republicans retreated and there was only minimal fighting. The National troops were warmly welcomed by the people of Clifden. [4] :223–227 The Republicans still controlled the mountains and waged a guerrilla war against the National Army. The Irregulars attacked Army posts and patrols, mainly by sniping, and attacked motor cars. On 13 October, Republicans burned down the Recess Hotel and nearby Glendalough House to prevent the National troops from using them as billets. [4] :227–230

On 29 October, the Republicans recaptured Clifden from the around 100 National troops stationed there. The attacking force consisted of around 350 men. They also had with them an "armoured car", called The Queen of the West. [2] :44 This was used to advance towards a defended barracks building. Eventually, the National troops surrendered. However, the Republicans did not occupy the town, which had sustained some damage during the fighting. Communications were once again severed, and the Irregulars took up positions around the town. [4] :230–233

Finally, on 16 December, the National Army returned to Clifden and the Republicans once again slipped away before its arrival. The townspeople again welcomed the Army and soon repairs started on bridges and the railway line. Soon the first train in seven months arrived in Clifden. [4] :234–236



The N59 road from Galway (77 km away) to Westport, County Mayo (64 km) passes through the town.

Regular coach services are provided by Bus Éireann and Citylink, connecting Clifden with Galway city. Some bus services operate through Oughterard, to the south of Lough Corrib, while others operate via Clonbur / Headford to the north of Lough Corrib.


A train at Clifden railway station CIE no. 589 (44704220350).jpg
A train at Clifden railway station

Beginning 1 July 1895, Clifden railway station was the western terminus of the Midland Great Western Railway Galway to Clifden line. The line closed in 1935. [7]


In 1989, a group of Clifden businessmen issued shares for a company and applied for planning permission for a 1,200 metre runway and associated buildings at Ardagh. A group of locals began to campaign against this proposal, later calling themselves "Save Roundstone Bog". Galway County Council refused planning permission for the airport due to feared damage to the natural beauty of the area, and because it was designated an 'Area of International Scientific Importance' (ASI). The 'Clifden Airport Co.' appealed and as a consequence of the legal proceedings, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, ASI designations were found to be unconstitutional. [2] :57 The company later proposed to exchange the site at Ardagh for part of the Marconi site at Derrygimlagh. However, this also failed due to local and nationwide opposition. Eventually, a smaller 600 metre runway was suggested at Cloon near Cleggan. [2] :59 This runway was built in 2008 and the airfield was supposed to be used for flights to Inishbofin. It has been assigned the airport code EICD but by 2012 it had not been opened for traffic. [8]


Clifden is the main town in Connemara; therefore it is home to a range of services. The HQ for the Connemara Garda service is in Clifden and the main fire station for Connemara is in Clifden.

Part of the services on offer is a public library. It offers material relating to the history of the area. The library hosts an ongoing programme of exhibitions, readings and other cultural events.


Clifden Castle Clifden Castle.jpg
Clifden Castle

Clifden is a tourist destination for people exploring Connemara. Places of interest in and around Clifden include:


The Connemara Pony Show is organised by the Connemara Pony Breeders' Society and has been held on the third Thursday in August since 1924. Since 1947 the show has been held in Clifden. [2] :46

Community Arts Week in late September offers poetry reading, lectures, recitals and traditional music. The festival was first started by teachers in Clifden Community School in 1979 to bring creative arts into the classroom.[ citation needed ]

During the Omey Island Races, horse racing occurs on the beach.[ citation needed ] In honour of Jon Riley, on 12 September the town of Clifden flies the Mexican flag.

Clifden main street 20140616-IMG 1729-Clifden IRE.jpg
Clifden main street


Clifden lies within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tuam and the Church of Ireland Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, and its Omey Union Parish. Clifden has two churches: St. Joseph's (Roman Catholic), completed in 1879, [2] :45 and Christ Church (Church of Ireland), built in 1853, replacing an earlier structure dating to 1810. [2] :45


Clifden is home to Naomh Feichin's GAA club. Clifden is also home to the Connemara Blacks, a rugby that draws team members from Connemara.[ citation needed ]

In literature

James Mylet's debut novel Lex is set in Clifden. In 2011 the British newspaper The Guardian described the novel as being set in "the fictional town of Clifden on Ireland's west coast", leading to at least one letter pointing out the inaccuracy of this statement. [10]

Notable people

Town twinning

See also

Related Research Articles

Transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown duo

British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. They flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane in "less than 72 consecutive hours". A small amount of mail was carried on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight. The two aviators were awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.

Connemara cultural region in County Galway, Ireland

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Ballynahinch, County Galway Town in Ireland

Ballynahinch or Ballinahinch is situated close to Recess in County Galway in the west of Ireland, on the road from Recess to Roundstone. It also lies on the route of the former railway line from Galway city to Clifden. The name comes from the Irish Baile na hInse meaning settlement of the island.

Conmhaícne Mara

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Omey Island A tidal island situated near Claddaghduff on the western edge of Connemara in County Galway, Ireland

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Ballyconneely Town in Connacht, Ireland

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Inishbofin, County Galway island in County Galway, Ireland

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Roundstone, County Galway Village in Connacht, Ireland

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Maam Cross Townland in Connacht, Ireland

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Connemara National Park national park

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Maumeen Lough

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Marconi Railway

The Marconi Railway was a 1 12 miles (2.4 km) long narrow gauge railway with a gauge of 2 feet (610 mm) at the Marconi Wireless Station near Clifden in the Irish County Galway.


  1. "Census 2016 - Sapmap Area - Settlements - Clifden". Census 2016. Central Statistics Office. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Robinson, Tim (2005). Connemara. Part 1: Introduction and gazetteer. Folding Landscapes, Roundstone. ISBN   0-9504002-5-4.
  3. "Landed Estates, Family: D'Arcy (Kiltullagh & Clifden Castle)". Landed Estates Database/NUI Galway. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Villiers-Tuthill, Kathleen (2006). Beyond the Twelve Bens — a history of Clifden and district 1860-1923. Connemara Girl Publications. ISBN   978-0-9530455-1-8.
  5. Alcock and Brown Museum in Clifden & Nora Thornton O'Donnell eyewitness
  6. The Clifden Station of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph System, Scientific American, 23 November 1907
  7. 1 2 "List of Irish railway stations" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  8. "Abandoned and little known airfields". Archived from the original on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  9. "Clifden and The Sky Road". My DiscoverIreland Blog. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  10. "Toibin tries his hand at poetry…". Irish Independent. 18 June 2011. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  11. Nee, Martina (26 April 2012). "Council agrees to twinning of Clifden with Coyoacan in Mexico". Galway Advertiser. Retrieved 2013-01-29.