The shores of Sruwaddacon Bay

Townland tales

BEAUTIFUL COASTLINE Sruwaddacon Bay and Rossport (Ros Dumhach or Rosduagh), from Barrnacuillew. Pic: John O'Callaghan

Where Conn’s Dog sleeps near the Hollow of Comfort

John O'Callaghan

Sruth-Mhada-Conn, Conn’s Dog’s Stream – or the Fast-Flowing Estuary of the Dog of Conn – is a beautiful ‘greyhound-shaped’ bay in Erris. I visited there recently on a misty-grey evening in late July, more suited to fishing than sightseeing.
I wanted to get a sense of the place. It was my first time in Ros Dumhach – the Ros (or Peninsula) of the Sandhill – and I was eager to get a feel for the area from a topographical perspective.
There was no missing the large sand dune, or dúach, that gives the place its name, sitting across from the tiny pier, 100 metres down the road from the local Gaelcholáiste Chomáin school.
Immediately across the road from the school I noted the large ‘For Sale’ sign on Denny’s Ferry Bar, Shop and Lounge, comprising the licensed premises and adjacent sheds. Further back up the road, on the approach to the village, there’s a rather sad-looking picnic area at a five-crossroads junction.
Over the course of my brief sojourn, I travelled each road in turn. It was very quiet, the only activity I witnessed was fishing, two shore anglers and two men in a tiny boat drift-netting in the estuary.
Things began to brighten up on the link road to Ros Dumhach Theas or Rosport South, a local cycle route. There were a lot less vacant houses, and the route had some very attractive farm buildings and colourful flowered gardens.

Ancient heritage
I knew this was an area steeped in ancient heritage, with a megalithic court cairn or stone circle located about 300 metres from the shore and recorded on my OSI 1:50,000-scale map #22 as ‘megalithic tomb’.
Fr Seán Noone, in his book ‘Where the Sun Sets’, says that “in 1953, a flint arrowhead was found here. A stone axe-head was found in 1957 and bog butter in a wooden vessel from a period before 1600 AD was found in 1968. All these items are now preserved in the National Museum.”
Like Westport, which was originally called Cathair na Mart, Rossport is an anglicisation of Ros Dumhach, or Rosduagh, bearing no literal translation of the original Irish logainm (placename). Even the perfectly acceptable word ‘ros’, discussed on this page a few weeks ago, has been corrupted to Ross, a word more often encountered in Scotland or as a Christian name. The simple word ‘ros’ means headland, peninsula or promontory, and Sruwaddacon wraps around it.
The best place to get a bird’s eye view of Ros Dumhach is to travel around the Long Hound Bay (of Conn), crossing the Muingabo River over Annie Brady Bridge and then the Glenamoy River, before turning right in the townland of Bellagelly South.
You will then pass through Aughoose (the Upper Field) and Pollatomish (the Hollow of Comfort, also known as Kilcommon). A side-road leading you uphill from the graveyard will take you to Barrnacuillew, or Barr na Coille (Top of the Wood) townland. From here there are excellent views of the full extent of Sruwaddacon Bay and all of the Rosport peninsula. Barrnacuillew is also the name of the hill located above and adjacent to the slightly higher Dooncarton or Caubeen Mountain, to the west of it in the townland of Glengad, that we will visit another day.

Bridges to the past
In the meantime, the previous paragraph has revealed quite a number of interesting logainmneacha, or placenames, to puzzle over this week. A ‘muing’ is a swamp or marshy area, and Muingabo is the marsh of the cows. This element is found in two other townlands in this locality, all within the Parish of Kilcommon – Muingerroon and Muingingaun.
Annie Brady, for whom the bridge was named, was the wife of Sir Thomas Brady, inspector of Fisheries, who made a generous contribution towards the erection of the first bridge over the river in 1886. In an area susceptible to landslides and occasional periods of sustained torrential rain, Annie Brady’s Bridge was swept away in August 1933.
The bridge was replaced by a narrow steel bridge about 50 yards south of the old one, and Mayo County Council retrieved the plaque to Annie’s memory from the river bed and the restored three-foot square, three-inches thick, white marble is once again part of the structure.
Glenamoy and Bellagelly deserve more fuller treatment in another article. For now, let it suffice to say Gleann na Muaidh may mean ‘Glen of the Moy’, or ‘na mbuaidh’ – ‘of the Victories’, while Bellagelly is translated as Béal an Ghoile, ‘the mouth of stomach’.     
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’.