Mullet rocks

Townland tales

Looking across Frenchport to the ruins of Glebe House

Mulling placenames and history on the Mullet Peninsula

John O'Callaghan

The Mullet Peninsula is a great place to get away from it all and explore some interesting townlands with curious names.
A few weeks ago, we headed out north-west of Belmullet via the village of Corclough (An Chorrchloch, ‘The Prominent Rock’); itself a popular name as there’s another Corclough on the ‘way in’ to Belmullet from Glencastle/Bun na hAbhna.
Our first stop was at the lovely new car park and picnic site at the end of the road in Aughernagalliagh, Eochair na gCailleach, ‘the (?)Nook of the Nuns’. (There were two tables with attached seating made from that popular black, made-in-Mayo, recycled plastic, now almost ubiquitous at many of our Wild Atlantic Way stopping points.)
Over lunch, we had uninterrupted views of Eagle Island (Oileán sa Tuaidh, ‘Island in the North’), with its 67-metre-high, white-towered lighthouse – the first of four to be built in Iorras in 1835. Automated in March 1988, the west tower light flashes white every ten seconds with a range of 26 nautical miles. Use of the east tower was discontinued in 1895, due to severe storm damage.

Stone defences
The purpose of our visit to Aughernagalliagh was to find Dún na mBó, or Doonamo. The name is locally pronounced Dún na mBó, the Promontory Fort of the Cows. However, it is not improbable that the correct ancient name is Dún Modha, as in Cuan Modh/Mó or Clew Bay, and that it derived this name from Modha, one of the Clann hUamor Belgae, an ancient Belgian tribe.
This is a fortified promontory. A wall extends across the neck of the headland, or ‘ros’, from water to water so as to fortify it. The wall is built of stones, without cement.
An interesting feature at Dún na mBó is the upright stones, driven into the ground on the leeward side of the wall as an additional defence, known as a chevaux-de-frise. Tradition asserts that this, the chief fort of Erris, was built by the Burkes. Later, it was said, during the ‘Battle of Cross’, the inhabitants penned their cattle in it for safety, hence the name.
There is a sculpture by Travis Price at Dún na mBó covering a blow-hole. The inspiration for the piece is written on a plaque nearby:

“The early Celts believed in ‘thin places’ – geographical locations scattered throughout Ireland where a person experiences only a very thin divide between past, present and future times; places where a person is somehow able, possibly only for a moment, to encounter a more ancient reality within present time; or places where perhaps only in a glance we are somehow transported into the future.”

Coincidentally, ‘Thin Places’ is the title of a beautiful new book by Kerri Ní Dochartaigh, published this year to widespread acclaim.

Mainland Ireland’s oldest rocks
We headed due south via the townland of Termoncarragh, Tearmann Caithreach, with its cemetery, lake and bird sanctuary, via a narrow road that brought us through Scotchport and on to Glebe, An Ghléib, at the northern extremity of Frenchport (Port na bhFrancach) strand and pier. The gate leading up to Glebe House was padlocked and the house is now in ruins.
We parked up and walked around the outer rim of the beach to where the tide was just coming in and we returned via the water’s edge, taking pictures as we went along of the red boats anchored in the bay off the tiny pier at Frenchport. Later, we realised the approach road to this pier was just off the Annagh Head Road. To reach Annagh Head by road requires a drive of almost 12km whereas our round-trip beach walk of less than 3km took us over and back from the Annagh peninsula.
Both Dún na mBó and Annagh Head are two of the most significant Geological Heritage sites in Mayo. In fact, the rocks at Annagh Head are so old, 1,753 million (or 1.75 billion) years, that this site is of international importance, as it represents the oldest rocks on mainland Ireland. (The most northerly island of Ireland, Inishtrahull, off Donegal, comes in at 1.78 billion years.)
The rock type is mostly gneiss (pronounced ‘nice’), originally igneous, later metamorphosed. Doonamo rocks, metamorphosed siltstone and sandstone and dolerite dykes, while ‘younger’ at around 58 million years, also contain mineral fragments (clasts) as old as in Annagh.  
Our final stop was at Termoncarragh Graveyard. We arrived after a commemoration ceremony involving the unveiling of a plaque in memory of drowned Italians. Their bodies washed ashore here in 1940 when the SS Arandora Star, a former cruise ship, commandeered by the British during the war, was torpedoed off the Donegal coast while en route to Canada.
History of all kinds can surely be found on the Mullet Peninsula.

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’.