Tulla is generally translated as TULACH, meaning a hill, but the name of this East Clare village is merely a shortened version of its full name, TULACH NA NASPAL, the hill of the apostles, or quite possibly TULACH NA NEASPAG, the hill of the bishops.
Tulla church was founded about 620 by Mochuille, or Mochulla, son of Dicuil, and was fortified by his converts. He was consecrated a Bishop and died at a great age at some unknown date during the seventh century. In 1086 the monastery was blockaded and nearly taken by Tadhg, son of the titular king of Ireland. In 1141 a detailed account of the life of St. Mochulla was written by a monk in the neighbourhood of Limerick.
The village of Tulla grew up around St. Mochulla’s monastery and he became its patron saint. The place was known as Tulach na n-easpoc. It appears as Tulach in 1278. It is named among the parish churches of the diocese of Killaloe in 1302 as Tulach. In 1314, Murchad O’Brien and the Clan Thoirdhealbhaigh ravaged east Clare. The church of Tulach was broken into and despoiled of much goods.
The church and its lands were seized in 1611 as the Reformation spread through Ireland. The Protestant church, whose ruins can today be seen in the Tulla cemetery, was built in 1702 and abandoned in 1812.
Around 1680 Fr. William Connellan was parish priest in Tulla. The “Penal Laws” were in operation at this time. In 1704 all Catholic priests were required to register and Fr. Connellan was one of those to do so, at Ennis, in July of that year.
In 1712 there was an outbreak of agrarian violence and as a result the Penal Laws were more rigidly enforced, resulting in the arrest of Fr. Connellan for saying mass illegally. A government report of 1731 stated the following about Tulla “In this parish there are two Mass Houses, one a very old one, and another a new one. There are two Popish priests, William and Andrew Connellan, there are, likewise, two Popish schoolmasters.”
In 1837 Samuel Lewis said of the village that ‘this place seems to have some claims to antiquity, there are numerous remains of ancient castles, formerly the residences of its landed proprietors.’ A number of ruined tower-houses are still evident within the surrounding area.
Tower-houses became very popular in Gaelic-held areas in the later middle ages and are densest in the west of Ireland in the matrix of Old English and Gaelic lordships in south Galway, east Clare and east Limerick. Donagh and Rory MacNamara are recorded as the owners in 1590 of Fortane Castle and also Garruragh Castle. Garruragh Castle is significant in that it may in fact be, as indicated by Maurice Craig, an earlier structure or tower which may have been modified by the removal of one storey or more and the insertion of regular fenestration and a new doorway to convert from fortification to dwelling. The remains of the McNamara castles, Tulla, Lisofin and Lismeehan and of the O’Brien Formorla and Tyredagh are for the most part still evident today.
Tulla’s significance as a market town and service centre for the adjacent rural population was reflected in the number of important buildings such as market houses, a courthouse, a dispensary and a fair green. The physical fabric of the town developed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Tulla, as described by Lewis in 1837, derived as a main trade location from ‘its situation on a public thoroughfare’, his observation supported by its inclusion in the ‘Taylor and Skinner Road Maps of Ireland 1778’ on the route from Dublin to Ennis by Nenagh and Killaloe. It is also worth noting the inclusion on the same map of the principal seats of the local gentry at Kiltanan (Malony esq.), Gregane (Malony Esq.), Garuragh (Harrison Esq.), Lismeaghan (Westropp Esq.) and Fort Ann (Westropp Esq.).
Lewis also refers to these residences and there is more in his account of the area in 1837.
Of the town itself, Lewis comments that it ‘is pleasantly situated on a hill, and is surrounded with highly interesting scenery, enlivened with numerous elegant seats and pleasing villas’. The significance of the town is reflected by the erection of a courthouse in 1838 and Lewis informs us that a chief constabulary police force was also stationed in the town at this time. The mid eighteenth-century market house on Main Street was also used as a Royal Constabulay barracks in 1919. Lewis also notes that a market was held on Thursday and on May 13th and September 29th fairs, chiefly for the sale of cattle.
Lewis also refers to the ‘improved lines of road now in progress’, which were the subject of an extraordinary meeting of the Cess payers of the Barony of Tulla upper at the Courthouse in Tulla on January 13, 1847. During the famine the poor were employed on relief works on making new lines of road. One such road is still in existence near Garruragh Castle as are the remains of a famine workhouse and ‘Soup School’.
In 1812 a loan of £500 was granted by the Board of First Fruits toward the cost of the erection of a church on the Kilkishen Road, Tulla. The Board of First Fruits was an important branch of the established church and between 1712 and 1833 assisted in the building of churchs and glebe houses. According to Lewis the church was ‘a neat edifice with a spire’ and the glebe-house was ‘a good residence near the church’ and the glebe comprised 2 3/4 acres’. Unfortunately, the church was demolished in the mid 20th century, but the graveyard with various cutstone grave markers and mausolea still remains. A stable complex constructed adjacent to the original church building survives today, and is due to be developed as an Arts Centre by Clare County Council.
The proximity of Ennis town to Tulla (approximately 10 miles) can be considered as one of the contributing factors in the decline of Tulla as a market town in the twentieth century.
With the coming of modern transportation, markets and saleyards began to be centred on the larger towns and rail centres. Tulla’s role as a trading centre diminished. Today it is a small, busy town which is still the commercial centre for the surrounding district. A lot of innovative projects are underway and there is a strong community spirit. It has a great tradition of music and is home to the famous pipe band and the award winning ceili band
NB: Local Genealogist available upon request: Dalcassian Origins (Jane Halloran Ryan, LLB) ; http://www.dalcassianorigins.com/
Natural and Cultural Landscape
Tulla, the Capital of a Barony, is a compact, pretty, Market Town, with a large Market-House, a wide open Street and some good Buildings, from it’s advantageous situation, name and improvement, it may be justly call’d an handsome, rising, Village, it really affords a commanding prospect of the agreeable adjacent country for many miles, and is in the centre of a rich and respectable neighbourhood.’ Historic extract, J. Lloyd 1780
Tulla is located in east Clare in an area known as the Clare Lakelands. This landscape is part of the western edge of the Irish Central Lowlands characterised by a topography moulded by glaciations into a tightly packed mass of rounded hillocks, interspersed with a multitude of diminutive lakes and bogs. The town is located in an extensive low drumlin area extending east from Clooney towards Feakle, and the southern boundary transforms gradually into the Kilkishen loughlands. The name of the village in Irish is Tulach na nAspal, the hill of the apostles, or Tulach na nEaspag, the hill of the bishops.
A ruined church survives on top of the hill or tullach from which the place take its name, however, these eighteenth-century remains mark the site of an earlier foundation by St. Mochulla and the location of a monastic community.
Places of Interest
Tomeens or To-mines, probably derive their name from TOMHAIDHM, an eruption or bursting forth of water. The Taumeens were formed by the action of the underground river eroding an open gorge, destroying the roof of its cavern.
They are situated between the ruined Kiltannon House, once the seat of the Moloneys, and the dangerous remnants of Milltown Castle, owned by Cuvea McNamara in 1580. The Kiltannon river runs underground for over a quarter of a mile. Its course can be followed through the belt of woodland growing over and on both banks of the river. The greenery is interspersed by numerous pits through which the water can be seen. Natural bridges exist between the openings. During the nineteenth century concerts were held in some of the caves. See also Lloyd’s Tour of Clare 1780.
Wedge-shaped Gallery Graves
These are fairly numerous in the Tulla region. Many of them were recorded in the “Survey of Megalithic Tombs in Ireland” by Ruaidhri de Valera and Sean O Nuallain. There is one in Moymore six hundred yards east of the Kiltannon river; another is inconspicuously sited on rough boulder-strewn ground south of the avenue leading to Derrymore House, at Clogher, north-east of Kilkishen. There is a ruined one about
five hundred yards south of the bungalow built on the site of Maryfort House at Lismeehan. South of the road from Newgrove to Tulla the Milltown wedge-shaped gallery grave stands on level pasture land. About one-third of a mile north-west of Newgrove bridge is the Ballyslattery or Newgrove monument. The ruins of what might be another wedged-shaped gallery grave stand close to a fence on the brow of a ridge overlooking Maryfort and Castle loughs. In fact, the three baronies of Tulla Upper, Tulla Lower and Bunratty Upper contain between them over forty such monuments . Many of them are in fairly inaccessible areas, on rough, boggy or mountainous terrain. Eugene O’Curry mentioned that in 1829 there were seven graves in Milltown townland alone.
The Castles of Tulla
These included Fortane which was owned in 1580 by Donagh and Rory McNamara, who also held Garruragh Castle. Tulla castle was owned by Donald Reagh McNamara; Formorla and Tiredagh castles were owned by Turlogh O’Brien; while Lisofin and Lismeehan were owned by Rory McNamara. The ruins or sites of most of these tower houses can still be located today. Fortane castle should not be confused with Fortanemore, a late seventeenth century house east of Tulla. The ruin of Fortane castle is near the site of Maryfort House which was demolished in 1967.