Finding Nimmo’s Bridges

Townland tales

PICTURESQUE The elegantly arched Glannanean Bridge near Mulranny. Pics: John O’Callaghan

A visit to Cuillaloughaun and Owenduff

John O'Callaghan

Although An Corrán, ‘The Hook’, or Corraun Peninsula, is often considered part of Achill, it is a separate land mass. Almost completely surrounded by water, the isthmus that hooks Corraun onto the mainland is less than a kilometer wide between Bealacragher and Mulranny bays and, like Achill,  it too could almost be regarded as an island.
Previously, we have looked at Belfarsad, one of the 13 townlands that make up Corraun, and this week I would like to consider another two, through which both the R319 road and Great Western Greenway to Achill pass: Cuillaloughaun and Owenduff.
Coill an Locháin, ‘Wood of the Little Lake’, or Cuillaloughaun, is the first townland along the road after leaving ‘Mallaranny’. There is ample room to park at the first lay-by, about three kilometers from Mulranny and just around the bend after crossing Glennanean Bridge. Gleann na nÉan, ‘Valley of the Birds’, is the second valley of this name we have encountered in Mayo; the other one is in Srahatloe, near Aasleagh.
Glannanean Bridge is one of most attractive bridges, designed and constructed in 1829/30 by the Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo (1783-1832), Engineer to the Western District (appointed 1822; replaced 1831).
Nimmo was responsible for the construction of more than 30 bridges in Ireland, mainly in the maritime counties of the west, until his untimely death at the age of 49 in 1832. He designed, planned and built over 30 piers and harbours as well, including Old Head, Belmullet, Killala, and Roundstone. His name deservedly lives on in Nimmo’s Pier in Galway, and he once owned and lived in what is now the property of the Keane family at Maam Bridge. Both Nimmo and his successor, William Bald, did more than anyone else, before or after their time, to contribute to the cartography and built heritage of Mayo, Galway and other counties.

‘Ecclesiastical feel’
Glannanean Bridge is the most significant feature in the townland of Cuillaloughaun. It was constructed almost 200 years ago, and in the engineer’s report of January 1829, John Mulloy of Westport was paid for the delivery of stone and timber to the bridge – in boats called ‘lighters’. A Mr Smyth was cited as being the supervisor in charge of works. According to Nimmo the whole road into Achill was fully completed by 1830.
Although the river Glennanean is only a stream, a high bridge was necessary to span the deep gorge without diverting the road a considerable distance to a more level spot. (Thanks to Noël P Wilkins’s 2009 and 2016 biography of Nimmo for these details.)
The bridge is a simple, austere, stilted pointed-arch structure made of local red sandstone with a limestone arch ring, about 36 feet high from base to keystone. The bridge was noted and described by many travel writers over the intervening years, and it is listed in the Architectural Heritage of Mayo.
The face of the bridge has a pronounced ecclesiastical feel to it, notwithstanding the addition of more recent buttresses. Wilkins echoes 19th-century travel writers Mr and Mrs Hall’s description of the bridge as ‘picturesque’, referring to it as being ‘of considerable interest and finesse’ and ‘most appealing, an adornment on the road’. It’s well worth stopping and taking it all in. When I visited it recently on a hot July day, the traffic to and from Achill was heavy, and I had to be careful crossing the narrow road with its blind bends.

Abhainn Dubh
A mere kilometer-and-a-half along the road brings you into the townland of Owenduff, Abhainn Dubh, ‘Dark River’ or ‘Black River’, and to another of Nimmo’s bridges.
In a remarkable mispronunciation or anglicisation of the bridge name (for a Scotsman) Nimmo refers to it as the Onandoo Bridge. An obvious corruption of Abhainn Dú, this stream is a tributary of the Cartron (Cartrún, ‘Quarter’) River, a name taken from the central townland on Corraun, Cartron.
One of the other tributaries is called the Easandoo River (‘eas’ is Irish for waterfall). According to Wilkins, the limestone rings of both bridges are probably the stones delivered by Mulloy in 1829, since the sandstone used in the spandrels is local.
The Owenduff bridge is a much plainer affair than the Glennanean, resembling a smaller version of Erriff Bridge on the Westport to Leenane road. Glennanean itself is a simplified version of Nimmo’s celebrated Poulaphuca Bridge (1823) in County Wicklow.
The pointed arch of the bridge echoes the rugged natural buttresses of the Corraun hills in the background, well worth exploring.

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’.