Killaloe/Ballina is a twin township spanning two counties, East Clare and North Tipperary.
Two saints are honoured locally, Lua/Molua and Flannan.
The town of Killaloe is named after Lua. The Gaelic name for Killaloe is Cill da Lua which means Church of St. Lua.
Flannan, who was the son of a local chieftain, is said to have died in Killaloe in 778.
Killaloe/Ballina is unique in having two oratories built about 3 centuries apart. These are the churches of St. Flannan and St. Lua.
However, Killaloe is probably best remembered as the place where Brian Ború held his kingship one millennium ago.
Outside the town of Killaloe, on the Scarriff road, lies Béal Ború or Brian Ború’s Fort. To look at it today it is a large circular structure consisting of two built up rings. However archaeological excavations have shown that it was a simple homestead (a ring fort) which was occupied in the 10th & 11th centuries. This is where Brian Ború, his family and his large army of Dalcassian soldiers lived.
When Brian was crowned High King of Ireland in 1002, he broke with tradition and choose not to take his seat at Tara in Co. Meath but returned to his fort in Killaloe. During his reign, Brian extended and strengthened this simple homestead and turned it into the well known Royal Palace of Kincora, which occupied the area where the Catholic church in Killaloe stands today. No trace of this palace remains but from early writings a description of it can be made. Kincora or in Gaelic, Ceann Coradh meaning Head of the Weir, was a high stone enclosure inside of which were a number of circular houses made of timber & wicker. Outside of this enclosure were a large number of houses which were scattered out as far as Béal Ború. These houses the 3,000 or so Dalcassian soldiers which Brian kept camped around his palace at all times.
The Great Hall where Brian entertained his guests was in the centre of the palace, Brian’s’ throne was on a raised platform and the seats of the Kings of Leinster & Connaught were on either side of him. Other chieftains and family members sat in various seat around the floor according to their rank. The cooking was done in the middle of the floor and the smoke escaped through a hole in the roof.
While Brian was High King he ruled his county well. He worked hard to try to unite the four provinces of Ireland (Munster, Leinster, Connaught & Ulster). He repaired much of the damage that was done by the Vikings, such as replanting forests which had been cut down to build Viking ships.
However, the threat of Viking attack was always present and this was what led to Brian’s’ death at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Although Brian, his oldest son Murrough and many of his army of soldiers lost their lives at this battle, it is said to have ended Viking rule in Ireland.
Killaloe/Ballina is full of other historical monuments and sites, including various churches and forts, all dating from different ages.
The Graves of the Leinstermen –
a pre-historic chamber tomb, which consists of a line of small slate slabs, dating from the Bronze Age and cannot be dated later than 1,000 B.C. This site, like so many other in the area, is linked to Brian Ború, because it is here that the King of Leinster and his men lost their lives at the hands of Brian Ború’s soldiers. There are a number of stories as to how this came about. Some say it was because of a chess game, others say that the King of Leinster was on his way to Kincora to claim the hand of Brian’s daughter in marriage. When the King fell mortally wounded, he ordered his soldiers to bring him to appoint where he could see his beloved Leinster and hold him upright there until he died.
St. Flannan’s Cathedral –
A church existed in Killaloe since the coming of Christianity to Ireland. During his reign, Brian Ború is said to have built a church on or near the site of the present Cathedral.
Dónal Mór O’Brien (King of Munster) erected a Cathedral in Killaloe, which was based on the Romanesque style of architecture. However, it is recorded that this was burnt to the ground in 1185 by Cathal Carrach of Connaught.
It was replaced by the present structure early in the 13th century. It is built of yellow and purple sandstone and dates from the transition between Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The Cathedral has been restored and renovated a number of times since its original construction but it still contains windows and carved stones from earlier churches.
The Pier Head and the Canal –
The Inland Steam Navigation Company had its Headquarters in Killaloe in the 18th & 19th centuries. It ran regular services from Killaloe to the upper Shannon.
During the Great famine (1845 – 1848) and in the immediate post-Famine years, thousands of people embarked here on the first leg of their journey to a new land.
The canal was used to transport passengers and goods between Limerick & Dublin and this was the main method of transport prior to the introduction of the Railways.