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’.
The town has a very elegant square at its heart.
A 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)
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
At 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.
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.
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.
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. The 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)
Newcastle West is the hidden gem of the N21 – and it is well worth a visit!