Cycling through the Rosses

Townland tales

Coastal Burrishoole contains lots of placenames with one thing in common

John O’Callaghan

The Irish word ‘ros’ translates as either a wood or wooded headland – at least that is the meaning understood in the southern half of Ireland. The second meaning is a promontory or peninsula, and that is the only one applied in the northern half of the country.
Ros is conspicuous by its absence from Robert Macfarlane’s book ‘Landmarks’ (2015), in which he name checks hundreds of ‘place-words’. While ‘rhu, roo’ (meaning ‘headland’ in nearby Galloway, Scotland) and the Irish word ‘rosán’ (meaning ‘brushwood or understorey’) are included, it is surprising that ‘ros’ is omitted.
Donegal’s ‘Rosses and Gweedore’ may be immortalised in song, but there are more rosses in the single Barony of Burrishoole, on the Mayo coast, than in all of Donegal. In the short distance between Westport and Mulranny there are a total of 21, including two ‘little headland(s)’ or ‘Rosín(í)’ – anglicised to Rusheen(s).

A bunch of Rosses
Heading down the Golf Links Road out of Westport, you enter Carraholly, An Cheathrú Chailaidh, translated as ‘the quarterland of the callow or holm’, located within the townland of Rusheen, An Roisín, meaning ‘The Little Promontory’.
You will have passed ‘Rusheen House’ on the Westport House Estate and the water treatment plant on your way. This is a popular cycling route from the town.
Rosmoney, Ros Muine, means ‘Point of the Thicket/Shrubbery’. A townland due west of Money (An Mhuine), Rosmoney is best known as the home of Mayo Sailing Club and for Collanmore Island, former offshore base of Glenans Sailing School. Inishgort Lighthouse, marking the entrance to Westport Harbour, is clearly visible from the point at Rosmoney.
Rosmindle, Ros Miondail, or ‘Miondal’s Headland’ is next. It is accepted that this ros is named in honour of someone called Miondal, or Mandeville, perhaps. It is not known for sure, and I could not find any record of this family name in the area.
Roscahill, Ros Cathail, ‘Cathal’s Point’, is named after someone called Cathal, one of the commonest names in Ireland in the early Middle Ages. Indeed, it was a favourite name of the O Connors of Connacht throughout the medieval and early modern period.
Rassakeeran, Ros an Chaorthainn, is not a peninsula; it is translated as ‘The Wood of the Rowan Tree’ but classified as a non-validated name. The townland is located between Ardkeen to the west and Moyna to the east. This is the heart of Kilmeena parish, with ‘Moyna’ coming from St Myna. Míona appears to represent a rare personal name – possibly Midgna, which appears in the great Middle Irish work, ‘Acallamh na Senórach’.
Rostoohy, Ros Tuaithe (‘Country Headland’), and Rosnakilly, Ros na Cille/Coilleadh (‘Head of the Wood/Church’), are two neighbouring Rosses, forming one peninsula. Rostoohy is a very pretty harbour.
Rosdooaun, Ros Duáin, is another non-validated name, but it most likely means ‘Duane’s Point’. It is bounded on the north by Roslaher, Ros Látháir, the ‘Point of the Building’ and Rossow, Ros Abha, possibly ‘Eabha or Eva’s Point’.
Rosbeg, Ros Beag, ‘Small Ros’, is very narrow, extending westwards of Roslaher. It contains a megalithic tomb, known locally as Diarmaid and Gráinne’s Bed. Retracing our steps to Rosdooaun and crossing Rossow Bridge into Corragaun, we reach the next peninsula to the north.
Rossanrubble, Ros an Riobaill or Eireabal, ‘Peninsula of the Tail’, so called because of its shape, stretches out to Rossbarnagh (Island), the ‘Point of the Island of the Limpets’.
Rosclave, Ros Cléibh, the ‘Ros of the Basket’ is the last before Newport, bringing to thirteen, the total number of Rosses between Westport and Newport, on the eastern shoreline of Clew Bay.

Rosmore and more
Rosmore, Ros Mór, or ‘Big Headland’, is the long peninsula marking the northern shore of Newport Bay. Rosgibbileen, Ros Gibilín, or ‘Giblin’s Point’, is the first peninsula encountered west of Burrishoole Channel.
Another townland called Rusheens, takes us out to Rossyvera, Ros Uí Bhéara. Although this is another non-validated name, it is generally accepted to mean ‘O’Berry’s Headland’. A former US ambassador to Ireland, Walter Curley, lived here.
Roskeen South, Ros Caoin Theas, is next. This translates to ‘Calm Headland’. Caoin may be a surname like Keane or Quinn.
Rosgalliv, Ros na Gaillimhe, ‘Headland of the Sandy/Stony Place’ and Rosturk, Ros Tuirc, ‘Headland of the Boar’, are the next two Rosses. Gaillimh is the Irish for Galway and Rosturk is famous for its eponymous castle, seat of the Stoney family.
Finally, we arrive at Rosmurrevagh, Ros Mhuirbhigh, the headland that extends seaward from Murrevagh townland. Murvey is a corruption of Muigh-riabhach or Muir-bheach, and translates as ‘Grey Plain’, ‘Sandy Coastal Land’ or ‘Sea Plain’.
And that brings us to the end of our cycle through the Rosses of Burishoole – enough to keep your head spinning in along with your bike wheels!

Dr John O’Callaghan is a mountain walk leader who 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’.