The beating heart of Westport

Townland tales

Detail of Westport 1838 showing sites of old church and Cahernamart ring fort

John O'Callaghan

According to the website, County Galway has the most registered livestock marts in the country, at ten. This is five times the number in Mayo, where only Balla and Mayo-Sligo Co-Op are listed. The word ‘mart’ has an interesting etymology, in both Irish and English. My Chambers’ 20th Century Dictionary has two entries:
mart1: a place of trade; in Shakespeare it meant ‘to traffic’ or ‘to vend’; from the Dutch word markt, mart; cf. market.
mart2: (Scottish) a cow or ox fattened, killed (usually about Martinmas) and salted for winter use. [from Gaelic mart, cow, ox].
Martinmas is the Mass or feast of St Martin, November 11, a term-day in Scotland. As an English word, ‘Mart’ is synonymous with both market and fattened living or dead meat.
I have written about the Westport townland of Cloonmonad previously and this week attention turns to some of the other townlands that the town contains. The Book of Survey and Distribution, County of Mayo, (edited by Robert C Simington, Dublin, 1956) lists Carrowbeg, ‘the small quarter’, as one townland of five that constitute Westport, together with Cahernamart, Attireesh, Killaghoor and Cloonmonad.
Another, Westport Demesne, is three townlands in one. I will look at Attireesh, ‘the place of Fergus’s house’, Áit Tí Fhearghais; and Killaghoor, ‘the wood of the kite(?) or raptor(?)’, Coill an Chúir, in another article but today the focus is on Cahernamart, Cathair na Mart, ‘the stone fort of the beef carcasses’.
No trace of the original fort is visible today. In 1838, the Ordnance Survey surveyor “made every enquiry and search for the Cathir (sic) from which this town took its name but could find no trace of it. Its site is shewn (sic) within Lord Sligo’s Demesne, opposite the church [now in ruins] and nearly midway between that Lord’s house and the entrance to the demesne on the Westport side, but no trace remains except a round hillock.” It is the same today as the pictures illustrate.
Looking at the map, Cahernamart is the central beating heart of Westport. The first part of this name is straightforward as the Irish word ‘cathair’ is a ‘stone fort’ and there are thirty-two townland names with the anglicised ‘caher’ in Mayo, including Caher Island and Caher in Louisburgh. The Irish word ‘mart’ has two meanings, like its English counterpart. I always thought it meant ‘beeves’ as in ‘oxen’ or ‘cattle’, the living kind, and I had a mental image of a huge fort with loads of cattle retained within the walls. However, it transpires that ‘mart’ also means the plural of beef, as in ‘beeves’, meaning dead meat or beef carcasses as well as the fattened live animals. The stone fort may have been more ancient refrigerator than cattle pen!
The top of the left chamber is the James’s St Bridge or Doris Brothers’ Bridge. The Carrowbeg River marks the boundary of the townland between just below St Mary’s Crescent, across from the playground, and the North Mall bridge at the Fairgreen. This bridge marks the spot where the two chambers of the heart meet. The river boundary continues under Distillery Road and behind the Sacred Heart Secondary school. Then the boundary leaves the river, a little upstream of the railway viaduct, and travels along a very small part of Altamont Street, before turning south to reach Sandyhill (or Killaghoor). Then the boundary heads west to nosedive into Carrabaun, before turning north again along the wall of McConville Park. It wraps around the back (or west side) of St Patrick’s Terrace and shares a border with Cloonmonad on the Quay Road between Fitzpatrick’s and ‘Cottons Laundry’. The Demesne Wall is the boundary down as far as the Westport House access gate on Church Street and, at the river, the circuit is complete. This is a virtual ‘tour’ along the boundary of Cahernamart. Another way to describe it, as comprising all the principal shopping streets in Westport: James Street, Bridge Street, the Octagon, Shop Street, Mill Street, the Fairgreen, Altamont Street, South Mall, Castlebar Street, together with Peter Street, High Street, John’s Row, Tober Hill, Monument View, and extending into Leenane Road, Quay Road and the Louisburgh Road.  
Cahernamart borders Carrowbaun to the west; Carrowbeg to the north; Cloonmonad to the west; Killaghoor to the east; Knockranny, Cnoc Raithní, ‘hill of the ferns’, to the east and Westport Demense to the west.

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’.