ISLAND HOPPING Two Murrisk seaweed farmers walk across Westport bay from Annagh Island Middle. Pic: John O’Callaghan
Some weeks ago, while exploring the northern parts of the Mullet, I mentioned Annagh Head and Termoncarragh. The latter’s root word, ‘tearmann’, means ‘sanctuary’, ‘presbytery’ or grounds associated with a church, while ‘annagh’, means ‘marsh’ or ‘swamp’. Both are very common placenames in townlands all over Ireland. In Mayo alone, there is an Annagh (An tEanach) townland of one kind or another in almost every barony, except Burrishoole and Clanmorris.
There are two Termons in Erris – Termoncarragh (or Tarmoncarragh) and Termon, both located on the Mullet Peninsula. (Some of you may have read Fr Kevin Hegarty’s Second Reading column in last week’s The Mayo News, in which he told us that Tarmoncarragh is his favourite graveyard in Ireland.) The Irish word ‘tearmann’, originally applied to ‘termini’ or boundaries, and in this sense, it corresponds with the Latin ‘terminus’. However, the meaning was later expanded to signify a sanctuary or asylum.
Annagh here, Annagh there
The Annaghs in Carra Barony include a townland in Islandeady Parish and nearby Annagh Lough. Lough Lannagh in Castlebar has the same root meaning.
In the Barony of Kilmaine, Annagh is situated in the southwest corner of the parish, bounded on the south, west and east by Lough Mask. The soil was reported in 1838 to be ‘part pretty good and a great deal very bad and liable to flood’. The ‘Annies’ in Creagh Demesne, near Ballinrobe, signifies a marshy area.
In Erris, Annagh Head is the western terminus of Annagh townland, lying 4-7.5 kilometres northwest of Belmullet. Bounded on the north by Portnafrancach (Frenchport) and Thoneamace (Back of Mace – ‘mace’ or ‘más’ is a long, low hill), east by Thoneamace and south and west by the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly the property of Major Bingham, Annagh forms an isthmus or promontory projecting westward for 2.4 km.
There’s another Annagh in Aghamore in the Barony of Costello, where it also gives its name to a parish, near Bekan. In Tirawley barony there’s Annaghbeg, or Small Annagh, located in Kilfian civil parish, and in the barony of Gallen, in Killedan civil parish, you’ll find Annagh Hill.
For good measure, there is an Annagh Island in Kilbelfad civil parish in Tirawley, and another in Kilcommon, Erris.
Murrisk’s three Annagh Islands
There are lots of Annaghroes, Annaghdowns and Annaghmores, but before getting completely swamped (!), let’s turn to the three Annagh Islands in the parish of Oughaval/An Nuachábhail (‘The New Foundation’) in the Barony of Murrisk.
The Westport to Louisburgh road passes Annagh Island West, Annagh Island Middle and Annagh Island East, situated on the seaward side between Killadangan/Coill an Daingin (Wood of the Fortress) and Deerpark West.
Accessible at low tide, these three lowly islands contain a wealth of heritage and topography. Mostly composed of salt marsh, they are heavily grazed by sheep in the summer. In earlier times, the tide would not have been as high as it is today.
There is a row of standing stones at the first of two possible entry points at Site No 5 on the Clew Bay Archaeological Trail. However, the day I visited, I approached the islands from the Deerpark West gate, closer to Murrisk. (If you also decide to venture this way, please ensure the gate is kept closed.)
The biggest of the three, Annagh Island East, was inhabited until famine times, but sadly, nobody remained living on the island after the 1840s. There is a lake named Annagh Lough, two metres above sea level.
For such a small island, there are at least three named features located on it. The first is Carrynchorry (Cora an Choire, or Rocky Ridge of the Strong Current), located between the south of Annagh East and the north of Annagh Middle.
Then there’s Gubananny (Gob an Eanaigh, or Point of the Marsh), the most northerly point of Annagh East, and Rinduff (An Rinn Dubh, ‘The Black Promontory’), on the western side, a rough, stony strand.
Annagh Middle contains Croaghnamona – Cruach na Móna, or Stack of Turf – the name given to the east end of Annagh Middle.
In 1838, Annagh West was part of Killadangan townland, containing four named features: Killeagmore (Cill Liag Mhór, (Big) Graveyard of the Pillar-Stones); Killiagaunlumpa (Cill Liag an Lumpa, Graveyard of the Pillar-Stones of the Lump); Killiagaunummera (Cill Liag an Iomaire, Graveyard of the Headstones of the Ridge) and Sruffaunbaun Strand (An Sruthán Bán, The White Stream).
The first three names are believed to describe monuments erected in the Bronze Age, and one line of standing stones forms a winter-solstice alignment.
The best time to visit is during low spring tides, usually coinciding with a full or new moon – you then get a few hours to walk the shores, observe the seaweed harvesters and get plenty peace and quiet.
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’.