Rathkeale, County Limerick is a town on the road between Limerick and Kerry, just 2 minutes off the N21. The town sits on the banks of the picturesque River Deel which makes its lazy way towards the River Shannon.
The opening of the town bypass some years ago has removed the bumper to bumper traffic that clogged the streets, and it is now possible to look at and enjoy this historic town at leisure.
The name Rathkeale is derived from the Irish Rath Gael meaning Gael’s Fort. This ancient fort was named in the Book of Rights (in Irish Leabhar na gCeart) which details rents and taxes due to the King back in the year 900.
The Holy Trinity Church dates from 1831, or possibly 1825, and was erected on the site of an earlier church. It is a very attractive building, with a lofty square tower, set in well-kept grounds.
The graveyard has some very old headstones, dating from the 1700’s. Buried here are many Palatine families who settled here in the early 1700’s, with their very distinctive family names, such as Bovenizer,Teskey, Shier, Sparling.
Some inscriptions can be seen here http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~joanne/monumental_inscriptions.htm.
Here too is the very imposing Massy Vault, built about 1800 and restored in the early 1900s.
Right beside the Holy Trinity Church is Rathkeale National School, catering for Church of Ireland children.
Further up the street there are some fine period houses with lovely features.
The town benefitted from the Andrew Carnegie library grants in the early 1900s and the refurbished library now also houses an arts centre
At the top of the street is the very impressive 19th Century Town Hall, with belltower, clock and imposing steps. It tells of a time when Rathkeale was a prominent county town.
The ruins of an Abbey founded by Gilbert Hervey for the Augustinian Canons of the Order of Arosia in the year 1280 dominate the limerick side of the town. In 1436, St. Mary the Virgin allegedly worked several miracles here. The monastery was suppressed in 1542. The ruins were lovingly restored by the local community in the 1970s and are a great asset to the town.
The town has some fine buildings…
and interesting laneways…
And interesting shop window where English Soccer Clubs and horses have parity with Virgin Marys
Further down the street is a house with a plaque commemorating Séan Finn who fought in the Irish War of Independence. He was killed on March 30 1921 near Foynes, Co Limerick.
Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church dominates the entire landscape. It is a high gothic-style structure built on a hill, with a high spire. The church dates from about 1864 with the spire having been completed in 1881.
The church interior is cathedralesque, with high ceilings, ornate pillars and stained glass windows.
The detail on the pillars is very interesting, comprising flowers of every description possibly of some significance as it is said that the bulk of the money needed to erect this church was raised abroad.
Just down the road from the Catholic Church is the Palatine museum, housed in this beautiful cut stone railway station house that was moved stone by stone from its original location a few hundred metres away to make way for the new road. It is now the definitive centre for all things Palatine, the Palatines being a group of German people who settled in this vicinity in the 1700’s
Just alongside the Palatine Museum there is access to the Great Southern Greenway, a beautiful walking and cycling amenity following the route of the old railway line.
And finally….before you head off to the sumptuous surroundings of Rathkeale House Hotel for a cuppa to send you on your way, I hope you get a chance to see Marilyn Monroe in her iconic pose from The Seven Year Itch on the main street.
Rathkeale has become something of a hidden gem, now that it has been bypassed. It does not always get positive publicity, but there is a lot more to it than we see in reality TV shows. Whether you are a local or a passing visitor, you could easily spend 15 minutes or an hour or so here, exploring some or all of the wonderful heritage and enjoy stepping back in time to when a town like Rathkeale was in its heyday.
When I was taking these photographs I met a neighbour, Catherine O’Sullivan in the street and when I told her what I was doing she said to me: ‘I love Rathkeale’. Now I know why.