Fields of silver and parsnips

Townland tales

Delphi Lodge, formerly owned by the Marquis of Sligo.  Pic: John O’Callaghan

Tawny tales within the barony of Murrisk

Tamhnach, f. Grassy upland; arable place in mountain. Also, ‘tamhnóg’.

The root word ‘tawny’ is very common in placenames all over Ireland, especially here in the west and in Ulster. It forms a part of 52 townlands in Mayo, eight in the barony of Murrisk. The English word ‘tawny’ means yellow-brown colour, but the placename has an entirely different meaning.
Tawnyard, An Tamhnaigh Ard, ‘the high grassy arable upland’, on the Sheeffry Pass (from Síofra ‘place of the fairies’) between Drummin (‘ridge’) and Doo Lough (‘dark lake’) is one of the prettiest places to visit. The townland name is shared with picturesque Tawnyard Lake, which can be admired from a viewing point by the roadside west of the pass.
Tawnyard borders another ‘tawny’ townland, Tawnycrower, Tamhnaigh Chreabhar, ‘(mountain) field of the (?)woodcocks’ – though this translation is unvalidated and may refer instead to horseflies, not uncommon here in summer. Tawnycrower lies above the road, closer to Drummin, and includes Sheeffry Bridge.
A tawny section of the Western Way, leads from near the bridge to the highest point along this long-distance waymarked trail, from where it descends northwards to Lough Lugacolliwee, Loch Log an Chollaigh Bhuí, ‘lake of the hollow of the yellow boar’. This is a very scenic walk and accessible to anyone equipped for hillwalking.
In the latter part of the 19th century, this townland of Tawnycrower was the epicentre of the Sheeffry silver and lead mines. Sheeffry mine is the only known mine location in Ireland where the mineral Millerite (nickel sulphide), is found in more than trace amounts.
Slinneán, the Irish for ‘shoulder-blade’, gives us Tawnyslinnaun, due west of Derrymore, An Doire Mhóir, ‘the large oak-wood’, with a ‘scapula-like eminence’, a common topographical feature, that refers to the rocky outcrops predominating the townland to the north and west.
The late scholar, ‘Logainmneacha Mhaigh Eo’ author Fiachra MacGabhann says it is no surprise that this particular body part was used in placenames, but was not cited by PW Joyce. MacGabhann rules out the meaning ‘flat place’ in Dinneen’s dictionary and states ‘mountain face’ would be more appropriate topographically. Slinnaun and Slinnaunroe are two more townlands in the parish of Kilmaclasser, in the barony of Burrishoole.
Returning to the Sheeffry Pass Road, and proceeding west, via the Glenummera River (the ‘glen of the ridges’), you reach the shore of Doo Lough. Taking a left, you will soon encounter the smaller Fin Lough (White Lake) on your right. You are now between the twin townlands of Tawnyinlough, named after the lake, and Tawnynoran, Tamhnaigh an Fhuaráin, the (mountain) field of the spring. The latter stretches up to Mweelrea, Maol Réidh, ‘the bald mountain expanse’, on the opposite side of Fin Lough.
I will return to these twin townlands again in an article on the townlands occupied by the Mweelrea Mountain Massif. For now, let it suffice to say that MacGabhann lists ten features under Tawnynoran and three under Tawnyinlough. The most famous of these is Delphi Lodge, formerly owned by the Marquis of Sligo and bought by Peter Mantle in 1986.
Mantle ran it as a commercial fishing lodge for over twenty-five years and played host to luminaries such as Prince Charles, Daniel Day-Lewis, the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Martin McGuinness. His sometimes-hilarious account of his time in Delphi is well captured by Mantle in ‘Double Delphi – The Rise and Fall of a Fisherman’s Fantasy’, published in 2017.
Two more ‘Tawny Townlands’ are to be found in the vicinity of ‘greater’ Louisburgh. You may not hear much about them these days because the fields have disappeared under Sitka Spruce plantations and are almost completely forested. Tawnydoogan, Tamhnaigh Dhúgáin, ‘Doogan’s mountain field’, is one I have visited once or twice, via Derrygarvebeg, Doire Garbh Beag, the ‘Small Rough Thicket/wood’ and it’s a pleasant forest walk. There’s probably nobody around today who knows who Doogan was, but the name survives in Doogan’s Hill and Wood.
The other one, Tawnymackan, Tamhnaigh Mheacan, ‘field of the (?) parsnips’, is on the Louisburgh-Leenane road, just north of Creggaunbaun (white, rocky place). The whole eastern two-thirds of it is forested, while the remaining western third is low-lying bog. Meacan is a root, ‘especially a tap-root or edible root’ and commonly understood to mean a parsnip. I don’t think you’d find many growing there nowadays.
Finally, there’s Tawnynameeltoge, Tamhnaigh na Míoltóg, ‘the field of the midges’, or Midgefield, between Laghloon (‘half-meadow’) and Brackloon (‘speckled-meadow’). Another of that name is found near Newport.
This is but a sample of the ‘Mayo Tawnies’ – another 44 await our discovery someday.
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’.