Clues to the past in Cloonmonad’s name

Townland tales

This week’s townland: Cloonmonad, Westport


John O'Callaghan

The townland name can be one of the most mysterious and contentious of the ‘logainmneacha’ (placenames) to be found in Ireland.
There are literally thousands of townlands in every county and within each townland there are many other named significant features, mainly topographical: bridges, points, headlands, streams, hills, hollows, tracks, trails, rivers, mountains, meadows, drumlins, turloughs, woods… the list is endless.
Added to this are people’s proper names, saints’ names; upper, lower, north, south, east, west, quarters, halves, thirds. What makes them so intriguing is that in many cases we no longer know who these once-famous holy, mythological or notorious people were, or why they got the townland named after them. Furthermore, even the ‘experts’ are divided among themselves as to which corrupted version of the translation to accept.
One convenient example, that coincidentally contains a little bridge in its southwestern corner, is the coastal townland of Cloonmonad, Cluain Muanad, ‘Muanad’s meadow’ or, possibly, ‘The Meadows’.
Cloonmonad encompasses the Quay Road from ‘Cottons’ to Westport Quay, including the Point and Roman Island, with the Demesne Wall as its northern boundary. Stretching south to include most of the old railway line, from the new bridge beside the basketball court and skate park, to the bus depot, it terminates in a place called Luggykelly Bridge, Log Uí Cheallaigh or (O’)Kelly’s Hollow. The almost invisible bridge, ‘situated about 12 chains south of the bathing-house at the Quay of Westport’, conducts a small stream into the tide, just before the tiny pier that juts out from the bend in the road, opposite Schoolhouse Lane.
The Ordnance Survey ‘Name-books’ described Cloonmonad as follows: “It comes within ten chains of the west of Westport, and reaches to the part of the Quay that is road-like into Clew Bay. In this townland are salt pans, baths and the Quay of Westport. It has, also, two ancient forts and a standing stone. The latter is 10 links high, and is two chains southeast of the north fort.”
Now, while the ‘Cloon’ part of this name poses no difficulty as ‘cluain’ is the Irish for meadow or lawn, the second part is much more problematic.
In 1838, John O’Donovan, the principal OS man-of-letters, opted for the translation ‘habitation’ for ‘meannad’ and so Cloonmonad became the ‘lawn of the habitation’ – or basically the place where all of the local people employed in the great Demesne or big Estate of the Brownes, lived.
Another accepted, but disputed, translation of ‘Monad’ is as ‘someone’ called Muanad or Míonait, ‘the name of a virgin saint of Drumcliffe’ who presumably lived here at one time, ‘fadó, fadó’, and who gave her name to the area. However, if you search the literature for St Muanads, or Monads, you generally hit a brick wall.
The sad fact is that over the centuries, Muanad or Monad, has been long forgotten and whoever she was, how she lived, or what she tended to in her meadows has been lost forever. We will never know for sure if a person of that name ever existed. There is some evidence that a Monat or Mona, from the old Irish Muadhnad/Buadhnad, may have come from the Abbey in Banada, Co Sligo and that Meenbannad/MínBeannaid in Co Donegal and Banada/Beannada, take their names from her.
The original Irish names of the townlands or ‘baile fearainn’ as they are called in Irish, have been so transformed over the years and can become corrupted so easily, it is not surprising many names are indecipherable today.
How someone ‘heard’ the name four hundred years ago, and how they passed that name on to succeeding generations, and more importantly, how those who could read and write recorded that word, if they actually wrote it down, can be fiercely complicated. The accents of someone from Mayo, Kerry, Donegal or Dublin vary widely to this day. Therefore, if the mapper of the area happened to be from the east coast or from England, then the way the townland name sounded to them may have been vastly different to the way a local person pronounced it.
In any case, we are left to ponder the origins of the townland name and speculate where the forts may have stood, in relation to the standing stone, which survives to this day in Celtic Court, off Springfield Drive. The townland name is preserved in Cloonmonad House, a B&B on the Quay Road that appears in Google map searches, and also in Cloonmonad Close, located near the Westport Quay Community Centre.

John O’Callaghan MA MBA PhD is a mountain walk leader and has organised and led expeditions both at home and abroad. He has served on the board of Mountaineering Ireland and is currently on the Irish Uplands Forum board. In 2012, he wrote the winning article that secured Westport’s accolade as the Irish Times’ ‘Best Place to Live in Ireland’.