Fly me to Ummoon

Townland tales

EVER HOPEFUL A statue of Jesus gives away its allegiance to the green and red in Ummoon.

The Barony of Gallen townland that has baffled the experts

If you have ever visited Foxford, or the Michael Davitt Museum in Straide, along the N58, then perhaps, like me, you may have seen a signpost for Ummoon (Iomún) and thought, now that is an unusual name for a place. Once you cross Ballylahan Bridge over the Moy, you are in Ummoon.
A townland in the Barony of Gallen, cradled in a bend of the river Moy, Ummoon almost mid-way between Straide and Foxford. In shape, it bears a passing resemblance to a Scottish terrier, with the bulky half on the west side of the main N58 road.
However, nowadays, most of the houses in the townland are to the right (eastwards) as you travel in the direction of Foxford. This was not always the case.
Older maps (1847-64) show Barrowsfield Village, to the west of the main road and opposite the L13157, signposted to the right. The earlier (1817) William Bald’s map calls it Boroughfield. Today, no local person knows anything about it, probably because it was yet another of Mayo’s ‘deserted villages’, indiscriminately ‘cleared’ to extend the farm of the local landlord.
When I visited Ummoon recently, I met and spoke with some residents and I drifted into the almost neighbouring townland of Toomore. Ummoon is in the parish of Straide, while Toomore is in Foxford parish.

Mulling Ummoon
This page, Townland Tales, is all about meanings, so what does ‘Ummoon’ mean?
In the words of songwriter Paul Brady, ‘the answer is nobody knows’. The name appears to have been so misinterpreted and corrupted that even the experts like Fiachra Mac Gabhann and Nollaig Ó’Muraíle are baffled and cannot agree on a meaning.
The contributors to the Ordnance Survey namebooks in 1838 were equally stumped, and O’Donovan concluded the meaning was uncertain.
Now, I am not an etymologist, and my knowledge of any ‘era’ of the Irish language leaves much to be desired, but rather than accept Ó’Muraíle’s thesis – “Meaning unknown... One of the very few even fairly plausible suggestions as to the meaning of the name is that it may represent Iommhóin (‘im’ and ‘móin’), ‘a place in the vicinity of a moor or stretch of bogland’” – I propose ‘im-Mhuaidh’, or ‘on the Moy’.
The river Moy, ‘An Mhuaidh’ is the most significant landscape feature in the area and it has to have played a leading role in naming the townland. The person who compiled the website for the Parish of Straide partly agrees and translates Ummoon as Iomún/Uim Abhainn or ‘the harness (crossing) of the river’. If you pronounce it quickly out loud, ‘im-Mhuaidh’ sounds very like Ummoon.
An extract from Ordnance Survey Namebooks give some tantalising insights into the Ummoon of old: “376a. 0r. 8p. [Situated] in the north of the parish... north and east of the river Moy... Proprietor, Sir William H. Palmer, Bart. Let to Francis Taaffe Esq. [of Killedan], who sublets it to [35] occupying tenants...
“Soil, rocky... Bog, scarce... Prevailing names, Common and Fitzstephens. Ballylahan Bridge of 12 arches [spans] the river Moy on the south east boundary of this townland... [There is] one fort... Authority, John Common [of] Ummoon”
It can be quite revealing to compare the historical Griffith’s Valuation map (1847-1864) with the modern satellite image. Clearly, it is now completely ‘rewilded’ where the six buildings of Barrowsfield Village (west) were located, and the buildings and houses in Barrowsfield Village (east) are now the site of slatted houses and farm buildings.
Isn’t it fascinating, what lies beneath?

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’.