Iar Connacht – Barony of Moycullen
Maigh Cuilinn (“Plain of Holly / Cullen”, referring to a legendary local giant) has long been anglicised as Moycullen. (Photo –www.moycullenweather.com)
The barony of Moycullen, created upon the shiring of County Galway in 1585 and historically spelt Muckullen, occupies the roughly triangular region defined by the southwestern shore of Lough Corrib and the Atlantic coast between Galway City and Camus. Much of it was within the Civil parish of Killanin, larger than the current Roman Catholic parish of the same name.
As part of the Connemara Gaeltacht, the area is nowadays blithely marketed as Connemara South, with the Galway Bay shore more accurately promoted as Cois Farraige.
The coastal districts are traversed by ByRoute 1, which takes in Na Forbacha / Furbo, An Spidéal / Spiddal, Indreabhán / Inveran, Baile na hAbhann/ Ballynahown, Rós an Mhill / Rosaveal, Casla / Costelloe, An Ceathar Rua / the Carreroe Peninsula, Cinn Mhara / Kinvara, Camus, An Scríob / Screeb, An Gort Mór and Rosmuc.
John Murray‘s Handbook for travellers in Ireland (1866) referred to the interior as a region of desolate and barren hills: “Indeed, the whole of the district is very little different from that described by Moly- neux in 1709. ‘I did not see all this way three living creatures, not one house or ditch, not one bit’ of corn, nor, I may say, one bit of land, for stones: in short, nothing appeared but stones and sea’.”
Nowadays it is still a sparsely populated region of gorse-clad bogs and forestry plantations interspersed with low hills and numerous lakes, many inaccessible by road. The area is good for walking or riding, with a range of historical remains including churches, wells, cairns and other ruins.
The principal inland route across the region is the N59 linking Galway City and Moycullen and Maam Cross and Clifden in Connemara proper via Oughterard, which is also linked by a secondary road with Rós an Mhill / Rosaveal and Casla / Costelloe.
Maigh Cuilinn / Moycullen (Co. Galway / West)
Maigh Cuilinn / Moycullen (pop. 2000), officially within the Connemara Gaeltacht region and thus bureaucratically labelled only in Irish Gaelic, is nowadays a mainly English speaking satellite community of Galway City, with most residents commuting to the regional capital for work, school, and commercial reasons. The town does not cater very well for tourists.
Ruaidhrí Ó Flaithbheartaigh / Roderick O’Flaherty (1629 – 1718) was born in Moycullen Castle, which he later inherited along with its estate. He was the last de jure Lord of Iar Connacht, and the last recognized chief of the O’Flaherty clan. He lost the greater part of his ancestral lands to Cromwellian confiscations in the 1650s. The remainder was stolen through deception, by his son’s father-in-law, Richard Nimble Dick Martin of Ross.
O’Flaherty is mainly remembered as a historian. He was educated in classics and studied traditional bardic learning under Dubhaltach Mac Fhir Bhisigh. His book Ogygia (1685) was an alternative to the Anglo-Irish chronicles and the first work of Gaelic historiography to be printed in London.
Cumann Staire Ruairi Ui Flatharta, aka the Moycullen Historical Society, has issued several interesting publications.
Connemara Marble Industries processes samples of the distinctive green rock, quarried elsewhere in the region, to produce fine jewellery.
Connemara Celtic Crystal Ltd, a family-run business manufacturing a wide range of coloured crystal artefacts, is housed in the former railway station, which served the old Clifden line from 1895 to 1935.
Ballyquirke Lake, south of the town, is fished for bream, roach, rudd, perch, pike, eel and hybrids.
Maigh Cuillin / Moycullen is linked by the N59 to Galway City
Ross Lake is the largest of a series of interlinked local loughs popular with coarse anglers fishing for roach, bream, tench and hybrids. Access is by stiles and footbridges, with some special facilities for disabled people.
Rosscahill & Killanin (Co. Galway / West)
Rosscahill is a rural lakeside district between Maigh Cuillin / Moycullen and Oughterard.
Ross Lake House Hotel is a splendid mid-C19th country house set amidst rolling lawns and mature woodland. The Killaguille estate was bought from the Martin family of nearby Ross House in 1853 by James E Jackson, land agent for Lord Iveagh at Ashford Castle. Killaguille House, a protected edifice, was converted in 1969 into a hotel catering mainly for anglers, and since 1981 has developed a reputation for home comforts under the management of Henry and Elaine Reid, who have an excellent no-weddings policy.
Ross House was the birthplace of Violet Florence Martin (1862 – 1915), the youngest of 16 children born to a powerful landlord and his wife who lost most of their property. She wrote under the pen name of Martin Ross and jointly with Edith Somerville penned the celebrated Reminiscences of an Irish RM.
St Brigit’s Gardens, owned by Jenny Beale and designed by Mary Reynolds, feature 11 acres of native woodland and wildflower meadows with a nature trail, an ancient ring fort, Standing Stones, interlocking stone circles, a thatched roundhouse, a woman sculpted out of the earth itself, and art produced by some of Ireland’s premier craftsfolk, plus a spectacular calendar sundial, the largest of its kind in Ireland. Divided into sections with seasonal Celtic themes, parts of the gardens are rather twee, but the vegetarian café is excellent. (Photo – www.gardenlovers.ie)
Killanin (Cill Aininn) was an old Church of Ireland / Civil parish described by Lewis in 1837 as “very extensive“, stretching across most of the barony of Moycullen to include some of the South Connemara Islands, but containing “large tracts of bog and mountain“, and supporting a population of fewer than 9000 inhabitants (before the Great Famine). The Roman Catholic parish was at that time co-extensive with its Anglican counterpart, but as a result of the extraordinarily bitter Killanin Schism of 1893, described by a prominent jurist as a “truly medieval dispute” between two priests, the modern parish occupies a vastly reduced area.
Baron Killanin is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, created in 1900 for the lawyer and politician Michael Morris (1826 – 1901), Lord Chief Justice of Ireland from 1887 to 1889 and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary from 1889 to 1900. He had already been created Baron Morris of Spiddal in 1889.
His eldest son, the 2nd Baron, a barrister, briefly represented Galway Borough in the House of Commons as a Conservative and also served as Lord Lieutenant of County Galway from 1918 to 1922.
He was succeeded by his nephew, Michael Morris (1914 – 1999), the 3rd Lord Killanin, a prominent author, journalist, film maker and sports official who served as President of the International Olympic Committee from 1972 to 1980, thus bringing the name of Killanin to international attention.
The 4th Baron is a film producer, usually credited as Redmond Morris. His younger brother is the well-known racehorse trainer Mouse Morris.
Killanin is the location of a scenic 5km trail, popular with runners.
Rosscahill and Killanin are close to the shores of Lough Corrib.
Aughnanure Castle is a good example of an Irish Tower House. Much of the surrounding area was occupied by the O’Flaherty clan, but was taken over by the first Earl of Ulster, Walter de Burgo, in 1256.
Oughterard (Co. Galway / West)
Oughterard (Uachtar Ard) (pop. 3000), a rather quaint town with an attractive rural hinterland on the banks of the Owenriff River close to the western shore of Lough Corrib, grew up as a village in the C19th, and has long been best known as the chief angling centre on the lake.
The O’Fflahertie / O’Flaherty tribe, one of the first groups to settle and thrive in the area, was very powerful and owned a sizeable area from Galway city to Clifden on the west coast. Their eastern lands were invaded in the C13th by the Norman de Burgo family, who built the original “castle” in the area. The O’Fflaherties re-conquered their land within a hundred years and retained control of the territory until the C16th,
Kilcummin parish took its name from Cill Chumin, the church of Saint Cuimin, an early Christian structure that once stood on a site near the Owenriff River where a Holy Well was long the annual scene of pilgrimage on 14th October and the ruins of a post C14th church are still visible. The parish was transferred from the diocese of Annaghdown to the wardenship of Galway in 1488.
Between 1841 and 1851 the population of the parish fell by 20% due to famine deaths, disease and emigration. Long established landowners went bankrupt – the Martins and the O Fflaherties and 40% of the land in Oughterard changed hands. Many tenant farmers became labourers or were unemployed. Large numbers were leaving in a state close to destitution and the famine left many orphans.
Kilcummin church (CoI) was built in 1810 on land acquired from Arthur St. George from Tyrone, Galway for the nominal sum of 10 shillings. The two
wardens were two local landlords called Thomas Henry O Fflahertie and Thomas Parker O Fflahertie. The church, consisting of the present nave and tower, was a small neat edifice that seated 70. Services were also held in the Barracks in Camp St. for the convenience of the military. In 1810 tithes of £140 were collected from the general population of 9000 Catholics and 50 -100 Protestants. The building was renovated and extended in 1852. The church, contains a number of commemorative plaques to the Martins and the O Fflaherties. Three granite high crosses in the churchyard stand over the graves of Robert Martin 1905, Edith Martin 1908 and Robert’s wife Connie 1914.
The church of the Immaculate Conception (RC) serving the new parish of Oughterard, was erected to replace ‘a diminutive thatched shed by Fr Joseph Kirwan, who collected funds as far afield as London. The church, the second largest in the county after Tuam, was consecrated by Galway’s first bishop, Dr. George Browne in 1837. Its roof was damaged in the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ on 6th January, 1839. A dispute between the two noted Connemara landlord families of O’Flaherty and Martyn over the land on which the church and presbytery were built was finally settled by the intervention of Daniel O’Connell in 1840. January 1879 saw a disastrous fire destroy most of the building.
The Sisters of Mercy convent in Oughterard was established in 1858,
Oughterard Railway Station opened on 1 January 1895 and finally closed on 29 April 1935.
Ross Castle, also located outside Oughterard, was founded in the C15th century by the O’Flaherty clan, but he mansion visible today was built by the Martin family in the C17th.
The Glengowla Mine, abandoned in 1865, is noted for its rare and beautiful octahedral crystals of fluorite and quartz.
The Quiet Man Bridge, located 5 miles past Oughterard, down the Leam Road, was the setting for iconic scenes in the 1950s film “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
The church of Our Lady of the Valley at Glann (RC), erected to counter proselytising in the northern section of the parish, was begun by Archbishop McHale in 1852. This church served this lake district well until it was demolished to make way for a new building, which was blessed and opened by Bishop Browne in 1960. Designed by architect Simon Kelly, the building is a simple rectangle and being in an exposed situation on the lakeshore, is designed to counter northerly winds with the windows set only on the lee side. The church has a fine “Our Lady of the Glann’ window over the entrance depicting as well as the Virgin, a distant view of the village of Glann, Lough Corrib and Connemara mountains
The route to An Teach Dóite / Maam Cross traverses an amazing variety of wild moorland, bog, lake and mountain scenery, ideally explored by taking the Western Way walking trail.
An Teach Dóite / Maam Cross (Co. Galway / West)
An Teach Dóite / Maam Cross, aka Maum Cross, is a major regional crossroads in the townland of Shindilla, in the barony of Moycullen, a few miles east of the traditional border of Connemara proper.
The junction itself is nothing special, but overlooked by Mount Leckavrea (660m) in the Maumturk mountain range, and surrounded by beautiful lakes, the district has some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland.
An Teach Doite – “the burned house” – is said to be a reference to an annual event held in days of yore known as the Bogmen’s Ball, where steaks were cooked on shovels and fire was often the result.
This crossroads has been a traditional trading post for livestock and goods since time immemorial, and was the location of a monthly fair for hundreds of years. Maam Cross Mart has recently been relaunched.
The Maam Cross Horse Fair, held annually in late October, is an atmospheric one-day event featuring cattle, sheep ducks, geese, hens, rabbits, donkeys and farm produce, as well as the popular Connemara ponies.
Maam Cross railway station, a stop on the old Galway – Clifden line, opened in 1896 and finally closed in 1935. It is said that this stretch of the railway took many years to construct due to the difficult boggy terrain.
John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952), starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Sullivan and Barry Fitzgerald, was partly filmed in and around a riverside cottage near Maam Bridge. The original is in a ruinous state, but a reproduction “White O’Morn” is open to tourists in Maam Cross.
The Connemara International Marathon comprises a Half Marathon, a Full Marathon and a 39.3 mile Ultra Marathon, all held on one day in late March or early April, starting and / or finishing at Maam Cross. The 2009 event attracted a record 3,600 entries.
Beyond Loughanillaun, north of An Teach Dóite / Maam Cross, lie Lough Maumwee and Maumwee Mountain, an outlying eastern summit of the Maumturk range.
An Teach Dóite / Maam Cross is linked by the R336 northwards to Maam / Maam Bridge on the shore of Lough Corrib and southwards to Screeb Cross on ByRoute 1, and by the N59 to Oorid Lough inConnemara proper.