Up the Dog’s Glen to the Sunny Spot

Townland tales

Lough Coire an Aifrinn.  Pic: John O’Callaghan

Glennamaddoo and Greenaun


John O'Callaghan

Glennamaddoo, Gleann na Madadh, ‘Valley of the Dogs’, is in the spotlight this week. Just off the N59 between Rosturk (‘Promontory of the Boar’) and Mulranny. Take the link road, L54395, to the right before Bunnahowna Bridge, uphill for 700 metres, past a water-treatment plant. You will come to a brand-new car park serving the Great Western Greenway, an excellent starting point for exploring the surrounding trails on foot or by bike.
I like the townland of Glennamaddoo, or ‘Dogs’ Glen’, in the barony of Burrishoole, because it’s a great place to encounter some curious placenames. Make a beeline for the top of the glen, and when you reach the highest point, you will be standing on the ridge of the Nephin Beg Mountain Range that stretches in a long crescent between Mulranny and Bangor Erris. The views in all directions are superb and some interesting topographical features too.

Ridge of many names
The highpoint itself requires some explanation because, like many peaks that straddle a mountain ridge, it is known by a number of different names, depending on which side you farm your sheep or which map you’re using. In height, it is a modest 501 metres. However, this is significant enough to qualify as one of Ireland’s 406 ‘Arderins’ – summits of 500m+ and 30m prominence.
Approached from Glennamaddoo (and using the new Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Adventure Series map, ‘Clew Bay Croagh Patrick and Clare Island’), it is named Claggan Mountain NE Top, Sliabh na Claigne NE Top, meaning ‘Skull-Shaped Mountain Top’. A long-winded description and at some remove from Claggan Mountain, several kilometres to the west. I had my doubts that the local sheep-farmers referred to it as such.
Michael Hughes introduced me to Brendan McLoughlin of Knockmanus, Cnoc Mhánais, ‘a man who knows every turtóg (tussock) on every hill in the area’, and Brendan confirmed that he would say ‘Top of Glennamadthu’ as the highpoint of the southern valley and ‘Greenaun’, when approaching from the Ballycroy side.   
On the EastWest Mapping Wild Nephin map (2015), cartographer Barry Dalby calls it Greenaun Mountain. Grianán literally means a ‘sunny spot’, usually on an ‘eminence’. It has several other meanings in a domestic context. It can mean a ‘sunny upper room’ or ‘gynaeceum’; a ‘sunny balcony or terrace’, a ‘bower’ or ‘summerhouse’. It may also refer to a ‘person of sunny disposition’ or ‘loved one, darling’ as a term of endearment.
Greenaun is also the name of a townland to the north of the ridge and I can see why the Ordnance Survey Namebooks of 1838 may have recorded the ‘eminence’ as Greenaun Mountain – if the cartographers were getting their information from that side.

Lake view
Regardless of what the mountain is named, it is a lovely, sunny spot, on a good day. I have visited this peak a few times over the years and the principal focus of attention when you get there is Loch Anaffrin, the corrie lake below in Coire an Aifreann. Named after a Mass Rock, formerly located down the northern gully, marked ‘Gap of Curraffrin’, where Masses were celebrated outdoors during Penal times or in periods of persecution of the Catholic faith. The original Mass rock may now be buried under a rock slide, as no trace of it is visible today.
Lough Anaffrin is actually in Bellaveeny townland, Béal Átha Ó bhFiannaí, ‘Mouth of the Ford of the Uí Fhiannaí’, the 13th largest townland in Mayo, in the Barony of Erris. It supplies water to Ballycroy and can be accessed from the northwest via Bellaveeney Wood.
Placenames like this are common all over Ireland. Ardanaffrin, in Co Roscommon, ‘Height of the Mass’ is one townland. Another in Donegal is called Corraffrin from cor, a round hill. In North Mayo, in the parish of Kilcommon, not far from Belmullet, there’s a townland called Drumanaffrin and there’s a Mullanaffrin (from mullach, a summit) in Co Cavan. One of the highest hills in the Comeragh Mountains in Waterford is called Knockanaffrin.
In addition to these logainmneacha, there are two other Greenaun townlands in Mayo, one across Lough Mask, west of Ballinrobe in the Barony of Ross, and the other in the parish of Ardagh in Tirawley, to the west of Ballina and just north of the road to Crossmolina. Finally, there is also a tiny townland, spelled ‘Greenan’, having the same meaning in Irish, slightly west of Claremorris and another called ‘Greenans’, southwest of Pontoon, in Turlough Civil Parish.

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’.