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Clonakilty received its first charter in 1292 but was re-founded in the early 17th century by Richard Boyle, the first earl of Cork. He settled it with 100 English families and planned a Protestant town from which Catholics would be excluded. His plan ultimately failed: Clonakilty is now very Irish and very Catholic – the Presbyterian chapel has been turned into a post office.

From the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries more than 10, 000 people worked in the town’s linen industry. The fire station stands on the site of the old linen market.