Postcards from Newcastle West

In July 2013 we enjoyed some wonderfully warm weather, with clear blue skies and up to 15 hours of uninterrupted sunshine.  In the last few days of the month we have had torrential thundery downpours, interspersed with hot sunshine and sunshowers.  Sunshowers are a very local phenomenon and are as the name suggests – showers  and sunshine at the same time. It can be raining across the street but perfectly dry and sunny on the other side!  It was on a ‘sunshower’ morning that I  happened to have the  camera to hand to take a few snaps of my very attractive local town.

A medieval town, Newcastle West, is the principal town of  the  County  Limerick, outside of Limerick City.  Known at one time as Castlenoe, and then Newcastle, it is now officially Newcastle West, although often referred to still as simply ‘Newcastle’.

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The  town has a very elegant square at its heart.

DSCF1546A 15th Century  Banqueting Hall dominates the streetscape, where the Earls of Desmond had their feasts.  Mounted on a plinth in front of the building  is a figure of the 14th Century Gerald FitzGerald  on horseback,entitled “Gearóid Iarla”  (Earl Gerald)

DSCF1549The Arra river flows through the town. After heavy rain it can be spectacular as huge torrents  of water crash over the rocks. Today it was quiet and serene – little more than a babbling brook.

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The medieval complex as seen from the banks of the River Arra. This is a view familiar to thousands of travellers on the very busy main Limerick to Tralee/Killarney road. However, by simply taking a small detour for a coffee break  these travellers would be pleasantly surprised  to find  a very pleasing and attractive town centre.

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The tree-lined square with Desmond  Banqueting Hall at the southern end.  Also at the southern  end of the Square is a memorial statue of the renowned local poet Michael Hartnett, created by Rory Breslin.DSCF1542

Such is the popularity of Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) that  each year Newcastle  West hosts a hugely successful Poetry Arts and Literary Festival named in his memory. Eigse Michael Hartnett is a prestigious event attracting notable figures from the arts, creating a  town a-buzz  with events, for all interests and ages.

DSCF1555At the other end of the square stands an impressive work by the renowned sculptor Cliodhna Cussen. Standing on the base of an old water pump, the bronze and limestone work  depicts a buttermaid, milk churns and a mill wheel, in recognition of the importance of  the dairy industry to this area. I love this work, especially the buttermaid in her  flowing costume holding her butter pat, which was an important part of the butter-making process.

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Cliodhna Cussen is  a native of Newcastle West and also created the work “Gearóid Iarla”located outside the banqueting hall . She is an artist of considerable repute with installations in many locations throughout the country.

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Detail on the ground at the  Cliodhna Cussen sculpture, with a cow in the centre.

This site was once home to a bronze cross that had been installed some years earlier  in the 1950s, to mark the Marian year  and the Latin inscription associated with it can still be seen on the plinth – see below.DSCF1558

Newcastle West was once home to a very adventurous female aviator called Sophie Peirce whose family lived in the square, in the 3 storey house on the left of the picture.  DSCF1561The plaque commemorates Sophie, who in the 1920s was one of the most well-known women in the world, a pioneering aviator, a dispatch rider in World War 1, and who helped  introduce  women’s athletics into the Olympics. (Sophie  will feature in a dedicated post on this site in due course)

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Newcastle West is the hidden gem of the N21 – and it is well worth a visit!

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21 Comments

Filed under Home, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland

21 responses to “Postcards from Newcastle West

  1. Wow, what a great insight into Newcastle West and its social history. I spent quite a bit of time around there in the early 1980s when I was doing a study of the Cheshire Homes in Ireland and got a wonderful welcome from all the residents and staff at the Cheshire Home there. I never really got to learn much about the town then so am delighted to have a chance to catch up now!

    • The Cheshire home is still there and is a very well supported part of the community. My Newcastle West view is of the town centre only – probably the most amazing amenity is the Demesne – a vast parkland with tens of thousands of trees, walks, exercise equipment, sports fields – a great resource for the town.
      Glad you enjoyed the postcard!

  2. It looks like quite a lot of famous and talented people come from there.

  3. You do realise that a visit to Ireland could be a very long one with all the treats you keep revealing… what a beautiful place with so much history. You would make a great guide..
    It makes such a difference to see a place through the eyes of someone who is passionate about the history of their surrounds. Yet another to add to my must see places…

  4. I passed through there two years ago and detoured down to Tournafulla and the surrounding area to investigate my ancestral roots. Thank you for such an enlightening post!

  5. Interesting writing and very well captured photos… 🙂

  6. Thank you for a great post SV. I’ve never been to Newcastle, having not particularly liked Limerick itself on a visit long ago. If out west in future I’ll certainly pay a visit.
    Lindie Naughton has, of course, written a book about Sophie Peirce; she hoped to punt it for a film at one time but to no avail I guess.

    • Newcastle has come along in ‘leaps and bounds’ in recent years and is a really nice town. Sophie was a bit of a lady – I must do a post on her – her story would make a great film! Thank you for dropping by!

  7. Kav Martin

    My husband and I were in Newcastle West in September-October 2012 and really enjoyed the Town and visiting Paddy Whelan’s. Little did I know then that just a few months later I would have an interest in the Peirce family of that Town, in connection to researching my local history here in Australia.
    We look forward to a third trip back to Ireland, hopefully not too far in the future.

  8. asdfas asdfasdfas

    The Square was known as The Mall when I was a child, as it was the exercise area for the soldiers stationed in the large premises directly across from the castle. It was always attached to/owned by those premises, but the deeds couldn’t be found when Bill Roche (who owned the drapery shop as it then was) died.

  9. asdfas asdfasdfas

    On reflection, I’m wrong. The names were used interchangeably, because ‘the mall’ really was just the raised bit in the centre. I’ll check with my sister, who’d remember better.

  10. Pingback: Postcards from.. | A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

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