Tag Archives: River Arra

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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