The History of Lisdoonvarna Spa Wells

Legend has it that on a fine Spring day, back in the early 1700’s, a huntsman was making his way through the marshy land beside the Aille River, when he was struck with a hideous smell. Following the odour through the reeds and the mud, he discovered it came from a spring concealed in the wild scrub. When he reported his discovery, word spread quickly. It was a time when people had great faith in the healing powers of wells and springs.
The huntsman’s discovery started a chain of events that would turn the surrounding area into Ireland’s finest Spa Town. More wells would be discovered and the town was to become a holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of people, from all over the world.
Lisdoonvarna would one day host Europe’s largest Matchmaking Festival and be the venue for one of Ireland’s greatest Music Festivals. But it would take almost 150 years for it to come to fruition.

This is the story of Lisdoonvarna….

Irish Spas were beginning to develop in places like Lucan (Dublin), Chapelizod (Dublin) and Mallow (Cork). The more educated population was beginning to appreciate the beauty of the countryside and the seaside scenery, along with the benefits of the Spas.

Walking through the countryside or along the seafront was becoming part of the whole Spa holiday experience.

The landlords around Lisdoonvarna realized that the growing demand for health Spas, along with some of the most beautiful scenery in these islands, made their property a potential goldmine for tourists. England was at war with France, so many British tourists began to look at Ireland as a safer destination to explore.

All that was required now, was have it endorsed by some physicians and respected doctors.

Dr Sylvestor O'Halloran
Dr Charles Lucas

The beneficial effects of Lisdoonvarna Spa was first noted in 1751 by famous Limerick surgeon, Sylvestor O’Halloran (far left) and in 1757 Dr. John Rutty gave an account in his “Mineral Waters of Ireland” publication.

 Dr. Charles Lucas (left), physician and politician, described the water as “the most powerful he ever met for removing obstructions, particularly from the liver”.

Hely Dutton’s Statistical Survey of the County of Clare was published in 1808 for the Dublin Society as part of a series of surveys covering the counties of Ireland. The context of these surveys was in the wake of the 1798 rebellion, the Act of Union 1800 and the Napoleonic Wars when the economic development and the improvement of agriculture in Ireland was increasingly important. Britain was beginning its industrial revolution and the survey would make interested investors and capitalists aware of the economic potential of their sister island. In the survey, Mr Dutton said: 

 Lisdoonvarna Water has long been celebrated for its’ virtues, particularly in   obstructions and some find it beneficial after a winter’s drinking of bad whiskey from private stills: it is strongly ferruginous and of an astringent taste and strong smell, but not fetid. The spa would be much resorted to, if accommodation for drinkers could be had, but the health of those who go there is more injured by damp, dirty lodgings in cabins, than benefited by the use of water.

However, all these respected physicians could not kick start the development of the Spa wells, despite the positive accounts of its’ health benefits.

The problem was with the poor quality of lodgings and amenities in the town at that time and lack of investment.

Increasingly, the same familiar complaint occurs – lack of decent accommodation, caused by a shortfall in suitable buildings available for a sufficient lease.

William Shaw Mason (1774–1853) was an Irish statistician and bibliographer. Amongst his work was A Statistical Account and Parochial Survey of Ireland. In the early 1800s, he wrote about the area of North Clare:                                                   
The parish of Kilmoon, in a part called Lisdoonvarna, has a noted spa, which was analysed by Doctor Lucas and pronounced by him the most powerful spa he ever met for removing obstructions, particularly from the liver. He declared     it contained more of the quality of Lapis Hibernicus, than any spa he could ever find in Ireland. It is resorted to very much in the season, is allowed by those who use it to be very powerful; and all acknowledge to receive very great benefit from it. It would be much more resorted to than it is, if the accommodations were better.

Hely Dutton 1808 survey

Gradually, changes began in the quality of accommodation within the town.

The first hotel in the town was The Royal Spa, opened in 1832, built by John Reidy.  The money he had, was sent to him by his father, who was banished to Van Dieman’s land for rebelling against wealthy land owners. The money he sent home was used to build much of Lisdoonvarna.

Several cottages were built in 1837 for visitors, however, a Mr Knox who stayed there in his writing said: The intended occupants must carry with them both provisions and furniture!

The Ordnance Survey Map of 1842 (above) shows few dwellings in the townland of Rathbane. Rathbane is where most shops, hotels and dwelling are now.