The town of Woodford situated in a scenic area of Southeast County Galway, bounded on the one side by the Shannon River, the longest river in Ireland, and on the other side by the Slieve Aughty mountains. The Shannon widens out into the broad expanse of Lough Derg at Portumna and this, the largest lake on the Shannon, extends south as far as Killaloe. The lake frames the horizon as one looks east from Woodford and affords marvellous views when looking down on it from the heights of the Slieve Aughty. Just across the Slieve Aughty, some 30 miles from Woodford, is the town of Gort with its famous Coole Park and Thoor Ballylee, where the poet William Butler Yeats once lived. Crossing the Shannon at Portumna, 9 miles from Woodford, it is a short journey of 16 miles to Birr, Co Offaly, the site of Birr Castle and its famous telescope, which was built by the third Earl of Rosse in 1844 and was the largest in the world until 1917. The telescope was restored in Woodford in 1996.

Woodford Bay

The Woodford River, a tributary of the Shannon, flows by the town and is forded there by a fine triple arched stone bridge. Just above the bridge the river is dammed and broadens out into a small artificial lake called Woodford Bay or simply "The Bay". During the last century and the early part of this century this served as a source of water power, which powered a corn mill by day and provided electric light for the town by night. It fell into disuse in the 1950's when a government programme of rural electrification brought electricity to all parts of Ireland. Over the years it silted up and the weir was breached in several places. In recent years extensive dredging and repairs to the weir have restored it to the beautiful feature it once was, though it is no longer used commercially.

The Grotto

Just below the bridge is the grotto of The Virgin Mary. The statue stands on an old Mass rock, a flat stone slab on which priests said Mass for the people in Penal times, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the Catholic religion was outlawed in Ireland. During those times priests said Mass for the people, at the peril of their lives, often in wild isolated places like the Slieve Aughty, where the Mass rock came from.

Bark Hill

On past the grotto is Bark Hill, on which stands
the town church and two fine modern school buildings: the secondary school, which was built twelve years ago and replaced a much smaller building dating from the early 1960's, and the primary school which opened last year and replaced two old schools, one run by the Sisters of Mercy, for girls, and the Boys National School, run by the parish. Also situated on Bark Hill are the old Mercy Convent, a large imposing building, now converted into an old peoples retirement home; the Garda Station, on the site of the old Boy's National School, which is dominated by a tall and impressive, if somewhat ugly, communications mast; a funeral parlour; the Youth Club and the Parish Hall. The Parish Hall is a fine stone building, which housed an even earlier primary school than the ones mentioned above. It is now occupied by the East Galway Family History Society and is the location where birth and marriage records for the East Galway area have been computerised by a band of youthful and energetic workers, under the direction of Cora Flanagan.

The Town

On the other side of the bridge is the town proper, which is built on a hill stretching up from the river. The first house, next to the bridge, is Moran's at The Bay a traditional style bar and grocery business, which has been in our family since 1937, when my father started trading there. Until the 1940's the centre of the town was dominated by the old Protestant church, which was sadly pulled down and no longer exists. There are some old gravestones and the field behind is still called the Church meadow.

At the other end of the town is the old Waldorf ballroom, which was built by the McMahon family in the 1950's and ran successfully for a number of years, like many other similar establishments in the Ireland of the period. In recent years it has been acquired by the Tommy Larkin's GAA club and is the central venue for the Mummers Feile, held every December on the two days after Christmas.

Tourist Attractions

Woodford is less than three hours drive from Dublin and has many amenities. There are two golf courses within eight miles of the town, at Curra and Portumna, and there is fishing and boating on the Shannon. The area is good for walking including woodland walks. Woodford is strategically placed for travelling on to other scenic areas of Galway and Connemara and also to West Clare with its beautiful scenery and traditional music, which Woodford shares.

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