Sublimely scenic, richly named

Townland tales

ONE MAN AND HIS DOG Seamus Nee, a fount of local knowledge, walking the townland with his dog, Ben.

Twin townlands of Lettereeragh and Bundorragha

John O'Callaghan

This week we’re back on the Killary, funnelling into the tiny harbour/village of Bundorragha, where the main road (R335) from Aasleagh to Louisburgh turns sharp right towards the Doo Lough valley.
This is a sublimely scenic area, blessed with mountains, rivers, lakes and streams, as well as the majestic fjord. There are so many topographical features packed into these twin townlands of Lettereeragh (Leitir Iarthach, ‘Wet Western Hillside’) and Bundorragha, (Bundoracha, ‘Dark River Mouth/Bottom’), it would take more than one page of  to cover them all.
When I first visited in late August 2020, right at the outset of this Townland Tales ‘odyssey’, I met with local resident Seamus Nee. He kindly showed me some of the more-interesting places located on his farm in Lettereeragh, the townland to the east of the Bundorragha River.
Out from Seamus’s back door and across a small field, a series of steps carved from stone lead up to a tiny graveyard, a cillín, on top of a small hill. This is the Top of Tully Cillín (from ‘tulach’, the Irish for small hill). A beautiful final resting place, it was consecrated by Fr Paddy Mooney (then PP of Leenane) on August 11, 2003. Seamus told me that one of his uncles, who died as an infant, was one of the last to be interred here.
He also showed me an old lime kiln where shells from a nearby shell midden and ‘imported’ limestone were once burned for use as fertiliser on the farm, a common practice in coastal communities all along the western and southern seaboards. Seamus’s grandfather, Pat Nee, originally from Roundstone, was living in Glenagimla (aka Glenagevlagh) in the early 1900s and relocated to Lettereeragh in 1906. Seamus worked in forestry and took over the running of the farm from his father, Martin.

‘Logainmneacha Mhaigh Eo 2, Barúntacht Mhuraisce’, by Fiachra Mac Gabhann, lists 32 different placenames under Lettereeragh. These include mountain tops (Ben Gorm), streams (Sruthán), sea-coves (Cúinnín), promontories (Gob/Gub), valleys and tiny villages (Ballyheer, Tully).  
Some have personal names, including Skeagh Nancy (Nancy’s Reef or Nancy’s Point), Pollcathleen (Cathleen’s Gully) and Gar’s Glen. The latter is a corruption of ‘An Gleann Gearr’, The Short Valley, running along the southern boundary, close to the coast and the main road and known locally as ‘Guard’.
One placename, possibly one of the longest in Ireland, is Cooneenskirragohiffern (‘The Little Creek of the Slip to Hell’) – a bit of a mouthful but certainly descriptive. Located at the eastern end of the townland, where the Sciorradh go hIfreann (‘Slide into Hell’) stream enters Killary, it marks the divide between Lettereeragh and Letterass and the boundary between Aghagower and Kilgeever civil parishes. Together, they constitute most of the Barony of Murrisk.
However, Lettereeragh, in common with all of the townlands in the Leenane/Killary area, is in the RC parish of Kilbride (Cill Bhríde), Co Galway.

Welcome landmark
Bundorragha (Bun Dorcha), along with being the name of the townland, is also the name of the two-kilometer river between Fin Lough and the tiny harbour/village of Bundorragha. The river follows a fault line that commences in Doo Lough and runs south through Delphi and Fin Loughs.
There are 25 different placenames in Bundorragha, and anyone who has fished the river will know at least 20 others, as every pool and each 100-metre stretch of the river has its own distinct name. The national school, founded here in 1897, is now a private house.
The most westerly point of Bundorragha is Gubsruhaunatallan (Gob Shruthán an tSalainn, ‘Mouth, or Point, of the Streamlet of the Salt’). The others are Gubpollaveal, Gubnamona, Gubarush, and Gubacooneen (the Point of the Hole of the River-Mouth, Turf or Bogland, Little Headland and Little Corner, respectively).
The tiny island of Illaunballa (Oileán Baile, ‘Island of the Townland or Home’) lies just offshore, in the Killary, west of Gob na Móna. Tom Gallagher, writing in this paper in April 1959, stated this was the first landmark reached by local fishermen on their return from the ‘higher seas’ long ago, and he said it was known as Home Island.
Seamus Nee still refers to it as Illaunballa, and many of the Irish placenames survive in their original form, while others – such as the Deadman’s Stream, a tributary of the Bundorragha – have English names.
I hope this sampling of the wide selection of placenames from these two townlands will encourage you to explore your home place. Maybe chat to locals about the placenames around you too – it can open up a whole new understanding of the landscape. My visits to Lettereeragh and Bundorragha certainly confirmed for me how important it is to engage with the people who live in a locality and hear their place-lore.

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’.