Croagh Patrick and Bertra from Bartraw Island. Pic: John O’Callaghan
Pondering the placenames of Thornhill and Bertra Beach
This time the spotlight is on Thornhill, one of the townlands in the Barony of Murrisk that is known by its English name. This was not always the case. The northern part of the townland was called Knock Ribbeen by William Bald on his 1812 and 1830 maps, and the eastern part Thornhill.
It seems that the hill, 21 meters high, south of Bartraw Strand, to the right of the road leading to the car park, is the source of the name. ‘Ribbeen’ is translated as Roibín or Robin, the diminutive of the name Robert. The name alternated until 1838 and then Lord Sligo officially named it Thornhill. For comparative purposes, see Derryribbeen in Kilmaclasser, Burrishoole.
A sceach is ‘a thorn bush, whitethorn’ and a sceichín is a word to describe a little hedge, whitethorn or hawthorn. There is also a Sceichín na Cúirte and Lios Eibhlín proposed as the original root forms of Skeheen and Lisseveleen townland in the barony of Kilmaine. Also Carrowskeheen in the barony of Tirawley and Skeheen itself in Costello barony.
Another local example of it is in the diminutive Sruhaunaskeheen in Bundorragha in the parish of Kilgeever. Such a placename was also transferred to other places; see, for example Thornhill or Mullandreenagh in Cavan (Census 1851). It is not clear which form is the older of the townland name in Monaghan, Thornhill or its Irish version Cnoc na Sceiche.
In the Ordnance Survey Namebooks of the late 1830s it states: [Thornhill is] ‘Situated [on Clew Bay] about 5¾ miles west of Westport... It is the property of the Marquis of Sligo and contains 307a. 3r. 14p... There is a fort, or camp site, near the west side.’
I wanted to look at Bartraw, a ‘subtownland’ of Thornhill, and Thornhill itself, because of the popularity of ‘Bertra Beach’ and its proximity to Westport.
During the summers of 2021/22 the machair dunes on the beach were the focus of a ‘Save our Dunes’ project and people are being asked not to walk in or on the dunes. In late October 2022, the first draft of ‘Bertra 2050’, a Community Stewardship of Bertra, Vision document, was officially launched during Westival. The ‘Bertra Connected’ Facebook page has more details.
If you go to Bertra at low tide, the visit would not be complete without a walk to ‘Bartraw Island’ at the northeastern end of the beach, a circuit of the island, followed by another walk to the stream at the most easterly point of Thornhill Strand, in the opposite direction.
Thornhill Strand is a composite of three smaller beaches and contains a few named headlands or points and other features, described in detail below and shown on the accompanying map. Starting at the western end of Bertra Beach and moving westwards, in order of appearance:
Curraghmore Point, An Currach Mór, ‘Big, Wet Bog,’ a shoreline, with rocks. Here, Currach refers to ‘wet soft, marsh’, describing low, wet land to the south.
Cooneenbeg Point, An Cúinnín Beag, ‘The Little Corner,’ on the north coast of Thornhill, east of Bunnatruffa Point.
Bunnatruffa Point, Bun an tSrutha, ‘The Bottom Of The Stream’, refers to rocks on the northern coast of the townland; they are located off the mouth of a stream.
Creekasheen Point, (?)Creig na Síne, ‘The Rock Of The Stormy Weather’, lies at the shore mouth on the north-west coast of the townland. Síon translates as ‘weather (usually bad, stormy, see Ó Dónaill) and the qualifier in the proposed meaning. Looking at the official form only, it is worth considering críoch, as in ‘limit, boundary...’ as another basic element of this placename.
Corrawautia, An Charraig Bhaite, ‘The Drowned Rock’, is a rock off the north coast of the townland, north-east of Curraghmore Point and west of Bartraw Beach.
Bartraw Beach and Bartraw Island, (?)An Bheartrach is the beach is a sandbar connecting the coast with Bartraw Island, on the south coast of Clew Bay. Barr can mean ‘in general, top, tip, end;’ or ‘tip, point, upper part, extremity’ as a pre-qualifier to trá, beach, in this case, but ‘sand-bank’, ‘oyster-bed’ is suggested, particularly on the forms of O’Donovan and Giblin.
The wonderful ‘Logainmneacha Mhaigh Eo 2 Barúntacht Mhuraisce’, by Fiachra Mac Gabhann, has been a great resource in these Murrisk meanderings.
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’.