A remote and unfrequented glen

Townland tales

LEGEND OF THE LAKE Lough Nacorra can be translated as ‘Lake of the Serpent’, and according to lore, some of St Patrick’s banished snakes ended up here.

The wild and beautiful townland of Barraglanna, south of Croagh Patrick

John O'Callaghan

Barraglanna (Barr an Ghleanna, ‘Top of the Glen’), is a townland located south of Croagh Patrick. One glen or valley from which it takes its name is the upper part of the Owenwee River (Abhainn Bhuí, ‘Yellow River’) catchment area. It can be a lonesome spot at any time of the year, but especially in mid-winter, when you head out to catch the dying rays of a watery sun, setting somewhere south of Louisburgh.
I drove out from Westport, turning right after Knappagh, towards Brackloon, and then bearing left into Owenwee townland. After a few kilometres on the main artery through the bog, I negotiated an S-bend that leads down to a concrete bridge. I was now in Barraglanna, and the townland boundary follows the course of the stream I had just crossed that flows from Lough Nacorra (Loch na Cora) and soon merges with the Owenwee.
I parked and started walking. In no time at all, I was taking a left onto the Western Way, south. Straight on would have taken me around to Taobh na Cruaiche, the explicit name of the townland at the ‘Side of the Reek’.

Lough Nacorra means ‘Lake of the Crag’ – or, as we were all told when it was pointed out to us from the top of the Reek, ‘Lake of the Serpent’ – the place where some of St Patrick’s banished snakes ended up. The Irish word ‘Cora’ can mean ‘weir, rocky crossing-place in a river or a rocky ridge extending into sea or lake’ or ‘a worm, a reptile’, so who knows?
The lake occupies about 100 acres and is equally divided between Baraglanna and the neighbouring townland of Lenanadurtaun (Léana na dTortán, ‘Grassy Place of the Tufts’).
One thing we do know is that ‘Bareglanna’ is named in the Inquisitions of Mayo of 1607, and William Bald also includes it as ‘Baraglana’ on his Bogs of Mayo map of 1812 and sheet 18 of his 1830 map of Mayo.
Another ‘curiosity’ of Bald’s map is that he names the 288-metre hill in the southern part of the townland as Knocknabrucky (Cnoc na mBrocaí, ‘Hill of the Badgers’). While I did not encounter any badgers on the day I wandered through, I will definitely be more on the alert for them in future.
Significant also is the fact that nowadays, this townland is completely uninhabited. In the Griffith’s Valuations of 1847, it is recorded as having been leased to a John H Simpson by the Marquis of Sligo.

Tracks and paths
Barraglanna can also be reached from the townland of Cuilleen (An Coillín, ‘The Little Wood’) in the west, via Glenbaun (‘White/Fallow Glen’) and Glencally (‘Hags Glen’). I have walked this twice with my brother-in-law, John Walsh. John pronounces it ‘Barrlanna’, ‘elipsing’ the Irish definite article ‘an’, which has already been shortened to ‘a’ over time. This is very common in Irish placenames where the Irish ‘an’ (‘of the’) gets eclipsed in the spoken word to ‘a’ or dropped entirely.
It was winter each time I visited, and I recall John pointing out the stone fort in Glencally townland, where there are many ‘white’ fields, fallow with rocks. John took me to the ruins of what may have been Simpson’s stone house, built in a tranquil spot to the west of Knocknabrucky and its ‘twin peak’ of 297m elevation, immediately to the north.
An old ‘high’ track leading to the house is still clearly discernible underfoot, while the Durless (meaning ‘stronghold’ or ‘fortified enclosure’) to Drummin (‘Ridge’) or ‘the Mám’ road runs parallel to it on a lower contour line. John’s brother Pete later informed us that the ‘mortar’ used in the walls of the house contained some bull’s blood and animal hair, obviously an enduring mixture!
There is much to commend a walk along any section of the forest track in Barraglanna and the lower slopes of Ben Goram, or ‘Blue Peak’, to the east of Croagh Patrick. Here, a donkey-track leads up to ‘Reilg Mhuire’ (Mary’s Graveyard), the western station below ‘Leaba Phádraig’, the ancient name for the top of the Reek. One is simultaneously alone with nature, in a starkly wild and beautiful sense, and yet conscious too of the imprint of man, in the relatively recent forestry and the pilgrim path winding its way to the summit, looming in the near distance.