Reading the rocks

Townland tales

LOCAL LANDSCAPE Tawnydoogan – Doogan’s Hill and Wood from Creggaunawoddy. Pic: John O’Callaghan

Out and about in Louisburgh’s Creggauns

John O'Callaghan

‘Creagán’ is the Irish for a rocky/craggy place, and in the Louisburgh area alone, there are  four townlands area with ‘Creggaun/Creggán’ as a root word: Creggaunbaun, Creggaunroe, Creggannagappul and Creggaunawoddy.  
The first three of these townland names have pretty straightforward, credible translations: Creggaunbaun, An Creagán Bán, ‘the white rocky place’; Creggannagappul, Creagán na gCapall, ‘the rocky place of the horse(s)’ and Cregganroe, An Creagán Rua, ‘red rocky place’.
Cregganawoddy, however, presents more of a conundrum. I first visited the townland with Jimmy Corrigan, who was born there, and I returned recently with my friend ‘Geo’, who readily agreed to go and read the rocks with me. We concentrated on Cregganawoddy, as this is the most contentious placename of the four.
The accepted translation of Cregganawoddy is Creagán an Bhodaigh, ‘the rocky place of the churl or clown’, from ‘bodach’ meaning ‘serf; rustic, peasant’, ‘lout, churl’, ‘codling’, or ‘low-bred person’. However, I’d question this.
My own sense of it is that the name has more to do with a description of the location of the most obvious crag that we found: Either ‘i bhfódaigh’ meaning ‘hidden in, or of, the bog or sods’, as fód means ‘sod’. (This large crag is comprised of ‘conglomerate’, with large constituent ‘clasts’ – fragments of older rock, now broken up and embedded in a younger one.)
Or perhaps it refers to the place where heifers were kept, as heifer is ‘bodóg’ in Irish? Another possibility is a corruption of the word ‘mhadaigh’, ‘of the dog’. It’s impossible to know for sure.

Flax fields
Situated about the centre of the parish, Cregganawoddy is in the half-parish of Killeen, 7-8km south of Louisburgh, and west of the road from Louisburgh to Bundorragha Harbour. The rocks are described as ‘freestone’ and the soil is ‘mountain’, producing potatoes, corn and flax. ‘Freestone’ is defined as any easily wrought building stone without the tendency to split in layers – the opposite to ‘cling-stone’.
Flax is the raw material of linen and it was of major importance in the economy of Ireland in the early 1800s. Ulster produced about 80 percent of the flax in Ireland, but Mayo was the largest flax-producing county outside Ulster. Arthur Young in his book ‘A Tour in Ireland’, written in 1776, describes Castlebar thus: “Eight or nine years ago there were no linens here, but now 300 pieces are sold in a week; 200 looms are employed in the town and neighbourhood.”
This was probably due to encouragement from the landlords, and it grew further with the influx of settlers from Northern Ireland after the Battle of the Diamond in 1795.
Lord Sligo established accommodation for his linen workers on the Quay Hill (Westport), while Linenhall Street in Castlebar bears its name from a linen market sited there. Flax growing died out in Mayo by about 1870.

Clowns or hidden?
In his 19th-century tome, ‘Irish Names of Places’, Patrick Weston Joyce states: “Cregganawoddy, Creagán-a’-bhodaigh, little crag of the churl. A bodach is a clown, a surly, churlish, uncivil fellow; and this opprobrious term is still constantly heard [this is 1869] in various parts of the country.”
He goes on to cite several examples:
“Some such ill-conditioned person must have lived at, or owned, Knockawuddy near Clarinbridge in Galway, Knockavuddig in the parish of Clonmult in Cork, both anglicised from Cnoc-a’-bhodaigh, the hill of the clown or churl. Monavoddagh in the parish of Ballynaslaney in Wexford, signifies the clown’s bog.
“Clownstown, the name of a place near Mullingar in Westmeath, is merely a translation of Ballynamuddagh (Baile-na-mbodach, the town of the clowns), a very common townland name. Rathnamuddagh near the western shore of Lough Ennell in Westmeath [comes from] Rath-na-mbodach, the fort of the churls.
Joyce doesn’t mention Cuas a’Bhodaigh, a tiny, narrow inlet of the sea, anglicised to Brandon Creek, on the Dingle Peninsula, from where St Brendan is reputed to have sailed prior to his discovery of America. The late Tim Severin also departed from this tiny harbour when he repeated St Brendan’s voyage, recorded in his book ‘The Brendan Voyage’.
The reason I mention it, is because I am very familiar with this place since my childhood, as my father often walked with me there from his homeplace in Ballynahow to the ‘Cuas’.
The aspect of the little inlet is such that, when approached from the sea, it could be quite difficult to spot, and therefore may also have been called ‘Cuas i bhFódaigh’ or ‘Hidden Cove’, by the local fishermen. In any event, I suggest it here to strengthen my proposal that Creggaunawoddy means ‘the hidden crag’.
To compound the confusion, many local residents refer to the area as ‘Woodfield’, a completely false corruption of ‘woddy’ to ‘woody’!
As always, our rich placename heritage offers us much to disentangle and ponder as we work to preserve precious connections to our forebears and the landscape that surrounds us.

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’.