Holy lands, bountiful seas

Townland tales

Bellataleen and the greater Murrisk area


John O'Callaghan

The townland of Bellataleen, Béal an tSáilín, ‘the mouth of the little sea-inlet’ or ‘the ford of the little briny inlet’, is the principal townland surrounding the village of Murrisk. It takes its name from the tidal pool on the right as you drive along the R335 towards Louisburgh, between the side-road (‘The Barrier’ as it is called, or causeway) leading to Murrisk-na-Bol and the little football pitch opposite The Tavern restaurant and bar.
The actual townland begins a couple of hundred metres before the causeway road and stretches to the bridge at Campbell’s bar, where another side-road to the right takes you down to Murrisk Abbey. On the opposite side, the pilgrim path to the top of Croagh Patrick begins and Bellataleen comes to a point just as the trail reaches the ‘shoulder’ of the Reek, at an altitude of about 450m.
The almost-Italian-sounding Bellataleen is a classic example of a coastal toponym, derived from sál, sáil, or sáile, anglicised to ‘saul’, ‘saulia’, ‘sale’ and ‘sal’, where the ‘s’ has become eclipsed by ‘t’. There are numerous examples of similar placenames around the country, such as Sáile on Achill Island, Salrock near Rosroe on the Killary, Kinsale in Co Cork and Lough Atalia in Galway city, to name but a few. Joyce mentions Bealathaleen, another little inlet with almost the same name, found seven or eight kilometres west of Tralee, Co Kerry.
Bellataleen contains the first part of the pilgrim path to undergo the path restoration work that commenced in December 2020 and is expected to continue for the next two years or so.
Looked at on a map, the part of Murrisk that juts out northwards into Westport/Clew Bay, appears to me like a camel’s head in profile, facing the trio of Annagh Islands, West, Middle and East, that stretch out from the coast at Killadangan. The ‘camel’s head’ comprises another trio of townlands, Carrowkeel, An Cheathrú Caol, ‘the narrow quarter’; Carrowkeeran, Ceathrú an Chaorthainn, ‘the quarter of the mountain ash’; and Murrisknaboll, Muraisc na bPoll, ‘the sea-marsh of the holes’.
These three townlands were once the epicentres of monastic life, at the abbey in Carrowkeel, for an all-too-brief period in the 15th and 16th centuries. They were also the heartland of a thriving fishing industry, out of the pier at Carrowkeeran, which reached a peak in the latter half of the 19th century and continued throughout the 20th century. An excellent account is contained in ‘Murrisk – The History of an Irish Fishing Village’, by Chris Grady and Murrisk Development Association, edited by Raymond Grady, published by CPR (Westport) in 2017.
The remaining coastal townlands in the ‘greater’ Murrisk area are Murrisk Demesne, site of the former Murrisk Abbey Hotel and currently under re-development, situated to the northwest of Bellataleen and Deerpark West, located immediately to the east of Bellataleen.
The main car park for Croagh Patrick is located in a separate townland called Meermihil, Mír Mhichíl, ‘(St) Micheál’s portion’ on the opposite side of the main road to Murrisk Demesne, ancestral home of the Garvey family. If you’d like to read more about the Garveys I recommend ‘Kilkenny to Murrisk’, written by Rosemary Garvey and designed and printed by Berry’s of Westport in 1992.
The bulk of the remaining area occupied by the holy mountain itself is contained within the two townlands of Lenacraigaboy, Léana na Creige Buí, ‘the grassy place of the yellow rock’, immediately west of Bellataleen, and Glaspatrick, Glais Phádraig, ‘(St) Patrick’s stream’, which reaches all the way to the summit, lies due west of Lenacraigaboy.
Historically, of course, Murrisk ‘punches way above its current weight’ as it also gives its name to the Barony of Murrisk, the pleasantly-plump peninsula, contained within the confines of Killary Harbour and Clew Bay. Consisting of 252 separate townlands, the barony extends eastwards to include the parts of the Partry and Maumtrasna mountain ranges on a line that runs roughly parallel to the Westport-Leenane (N59) road.
It is the placename itself that provides the most amusement to scholars of logainmneacha. Used in isolation, the old-Irish word muraisc simply translates to sea-marsh. There are references dating back as far as c 700, to the writings of Tírechán, that mention ‘hi-Muiriscc Aigli’, and the first official written usage of the term to describe the barony comes from around 1570, when it was designated to comprise of O’Malley’s country and the islands. Joyce claims it is ‘nearly synonymous’ with murbhach, as in Murrevagh (near Mulrany), Muirbheach, sandy coastal land.

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’.