Gateway to a lake district

Townland tales

WATERWORLD Loch Choire Dhú and other lakes, with Belfarsad and Achill Sound in the background. Pic: John O’Callaghan

Mayo’s Belfast hides more magical lakes than you could shake a stick at

John O'Callaghan

Belfast is in the news again recently with the Kenneth Branagh film getting a lot of coverage in the media. While there are lots of ‘Derrys’ or ‘Doire’ (oakwood) placenames dotted around our county, Mayo also has its own ‘Belfast’, ‘Béal Feirste’, or Belfarsad as it is more commonly called.
Belfarsad is a townland on the west side of the Curraun/Corraun/Currane (An Corrán, ‘The Hook’) peninsula, the sickle-shaped isthmus situated between Mulranny and Achill Sound.
Corraun is almost an island in its own right, but more often than not it gets subsumed into Achill, its larger island neighbour to the west. As you cross the Michael Davitt Bridge on your way into Achill, if you look across the Sound to your left, you will be looking over at Belfarsad.

Raised ridge
The meaning of Belfarsad/Béal Feirste is ‘Mouth of the Tidal Ford’ or ‘Mouth of the Pass or Ferry’, and it is the same as Belfast, Co Antrim, in Northern Ireland.
For a comparatively small townland of just under 695 acres, Belfarsad contains a wealth of named toponyms – over 60 different placenames are listed under the entry for Belfarsad in ‘Logainmneacha Mhaigh Eo, Imleabhar 3, Acaill’, by Fiachra Mac Gabhann (2014). Many are also recorded on the map of Achill and Clare Island, published in 2016, by EastWest Mapping.
Quoting from the ‘DUP’ – ‘Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names’, by Patrick McKay (Antrim 1999) –Mac Gabhann elaborates on the definition of the townland name:
“See Béal Feirste in Antrim: ‘[meaning] mouth of the sand-bank ford… the sand-bank ford was across the mouth of the river Lagan. The little river Farset which flows below High Street and enters the Lagan near this point has also been named from the ford’ (DUP 21 sv. Belfast).”
Mac Gabhann quotes the Dictionary of the Irish Language compact edition, Dublin, 1983:  
“(1) The basic meaning of the word fearsaid is ‘a shaft attached to a chariot; a stick used for winding or spinning yarn, a spindle’ and (2) ‘a raised bank or ridge of earth or sand, generally of a bar or shallow near the sea shore or a ford in a river’.
“Niall Ó’Dónaill in Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla, Baile Átha Cliath, 1977, developed the latter sense and has it as a ‘ridge of land in tidal waters, a tidal ford’.”

Belfarsad interests me because the ‘bog road’ heading east into the Corraun hills from Belfarsad Bridge, along the Belfarsad River, takes one into a topographical and geomorphological wonderland, where you could spend hours exploring on a fine day.
There are lakes, rocks and high ‘platforms’ or ‘terraces’ in the northern corries. After walking 1.5km you are in the townland of Srahmore (An Srath Mór), ‘The Big Strath or Holm’ and it is here that most of the lakes are located.
I have visited the area a number of times over the years, once across the plateau overlooking the lakes and, more recently, we took the approach from Belfarsad and circumnavigated several of the lakes at the 180-200m contour level.

Hidden gem
The largest lake, and the only one located fully within Belfarsad townland, is called Loughaun or Loch Áine, in honour of some Ann. This is at the end of a side-track from the main bog road, and we did not visit it.
We first encountered the tiny tarn, Loch Barr Fhiodán a tSaic, meaning ‘Lake of the Top of the Stream of the Sedge’. There’s a faint path across the heathery high ground leading to Loch na mBreac Caoch, ‘Lake of the Blind Trout’, a name frequently encountered in west Mayo hill lakes. Then we proceeded to the forestry perimeter fence near the outlet stream from Loch na Samhnachán, ‘Lake of the Slob-Trout’, also known as Loch Láir, or ‘Middle Lake’.
(A waymarked trail leads east from here, first via a fire-break in the forest and then via a track to emerge onto the R319 road about 4km from Mulranny at Owenduff, (‘Abhainn Dubh’, ‘Black River’), that rises in Loch Choire Dhu, the highest corrie lake, also known as Lough ‘Cullydoo’, a corruption of ‘Corrydoo’.)
Our recent walk did not take us that far into the corrie, instead we climbed the little hill overlooking the next lake, ‘An Loch Cam’ or ‘The Crooked Lake’ and onwards to Loch Thamhnaigh an tSrutháin, ‘Lake of the Stream of the Mountain Field’, from where we returned to the bog road and back to our car.
This miniature ‘lake district’ is truly a hidden gem, well worth the effort involved in finding it.
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’.