Snipers and plunderers

Townland tales

Dooghill Pass from Lookout Hill

Mulranny, Dooghill, Clagganmountain and Murrevagh (upper)

We’re in the hill country northwest of Mulranny. The very mention of this name can cause consternation. Officially, on most maps, it’s Mallaranny, yet everyone calls it Mulranny. The former version is closer to the Irish, (An) Mhala Raithní, meaning ‘the hill-brow of the ferns.’  
A pleasantly short, way-marked stroll onto the open mountainside, up a few steps behind the old railway station, takes you out onto Lookout Hill, on the Lookout Hill Loop. Looking down onto the N59, snaking along the shore of Bellacragher Bay (Béal an Chreachaire, ‘the mouth of the plunderer’). Your thoughts could easily conjure up images of bandits and highwaymen of old who used this vantage point to ambush unsuspecting travellers making their way to and from Ballycroy.
The natural gorge, now spanned by a single-arch railway viaduct, built in 1894-5, has long fascinated writers. The combination of dark forest and beetling cliffs towering above both sides of the road can still engender a feeling of foreboding. The Ordnance Survey notes of 1838 describe it as ‘a very wild place: some remains of the wood formerly haunted by robbers’.
Although still in the townland of Mallaranny, the pass has been named ‘The Pass of Dukell’ by at least one writer, John Hervey Ashworth. Writing in ‘The Saxon in Ireland’ (1850), he visualised defending the pass “against an invading enemy. A wall built across would fortify the whole of the peninsula of Currawn, for Clew Bay on one side, and a long arm of Tullaghan Bay on the other, almost cut it off from the mainland.”
Ordering the driver of his ‘car’ to wait at the junction of the roads, he walked leisurely forwards, struck with admiration at the surrounding scenery. He was rewarded with sightings of goats, grazing in the high heath above the road; three seals on a rock offshore and every once in a while, the sound of a curlew shrieking.
The day I was there I saw no seals or curlews, but we did encounter a herd of Old Irish goats, nibbling at the whins.
The Pass of ‘Dukell’ (sic) is a corruption of the next townland along the N59, Dúchoill or Dooghill, as it is now written on some maps. In much the same way as Dúloch/Doolough translates to Black Lake, so Dúchoill/Dooghill becomes ‘Black Wood’ or ‘Black Forest’, even though the more correct Irish would be An Choill Dúbh. For comparison, there are four Cuilmore (An Choill Mhór) townlands in Mayo.
When WH Maxwell wrote ‘Wild Sports of the West of Ireland’ (1832), Mulranny was described as a ‘clachan’ or ancient settlement and it was not until the construction of the ‘new’ road network by Nimmo and Knight, around this time that the village began to develop. Later, the opening of the railway line to Achill led to the construction of the luxury Railway Hotel in 1895-7.
At the tip of the inlet of Bellacragher Bay, there is a tiny promontory ‘island’, named Oileán Beag on some maps, connected by a causeway to the mainland, with the remains of some rudimentary piers still visible. It was probably from this point that Maxwell’s ‘kinsman’, Frank O’Brien, sailed in a galley to join him for a stay in Croy Lodge.   
On Lookout Hill, if you’re feeling more energetic, you could extend your walk northwards to Benanea (Binn an Fhia, ‘Deer Peak’ or simply ‘Binn’) or to Knocknatintree, Cruach na Tintrí, ‘the Hill of Lightening’. En route, you may arrive at a ‘chop-shaped’ lake, named Loch Creag a Duileasc, the lake of the crag of the pondweed or lichen, two other meanings of the Irish word for dillisk.
This lochán is in the townland of Murrevagh, Muirbheach, ‘sandy coastal land’, that extends across the east side of Mulranny village and includes the golf links but not Rosmurrevagh Island, which is a separate townland. The horseshoe-shaped hill, bisected by the Glan stream, is known as Claggan Mountain, Sliabh an Chloigeann, ‘Head’, or sometimes, confusingly, Dooghill Mountain and the townland below is alternatively referred to locally as Claggan or Clagganmountain. Here in 1879, the attempted murder of Lord Sligo’s agent, Sidney Smith, returning from rent collecting in Ballycroy, resulted in the death of one of the assassins, Thomas Howard.
If you drive a few kilometres further north on the N59 to the Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail, you can enjoy a pleasant loop walk along the seashore and boardwalk.

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’.