Touring Mayo’s many Tuars

Townland tales

SUN BLEACHED WHITES A linen bleaching green near Kilbroney, Rostrevor, in Co Down (c.1890). Pic: The Lawrence Photograph Collection, NLI

John O'Callaghan

The Irish word ‘tuar’ has many meanings and as a root-word it is found in over 20 placenames scattered all over County Mayo. In the past, ‘Tuar’ generally signified a bleach-green or bleach-yard, where items were spread out to dry. Most commonly, this applied to fields alongside small streams, where clothes might have been washed and then dried along the banks.
Another meaning of ‘tuar’ is dung or manure, and by extension, a cattle-field, sheep-run or a lea or pasture. Yet another meaning is a ‘sign’ or ‘omen’, and it can be used in this sense as a verb to augur, or presage, future events.
The most common manifestation is in the townland name Tooreen, and there is at least one Tooreen in five Mayo baronies, with two in Tirawley.
‘Tooreen’ is the diminutive form of ‘tuar’, ‘tuairín’, meaning ‘little bleach-green’. There is a townland in Newport called Bleachyard, one of a few townlands that is usually referred to by its English name. On it is translated to ‘Chlós an Tuair’, defining ‘tuar’ as paddock, (cultivated) field or pasture.
In the long-distant past, bleaching and drying were mainly outdoor activities, and they were closely related. Whether you were spreading off-white linen on the ground to bleach in the sun, just putting your laundry there to dry or hanging it on a breezy line, you wanted a ‘grassy corner well open to the sun, sheltered from high winds... the attentions of wandering poultry... and the incursions of pigs, puppies and calves... they not only soil the clothes, but will tear and even eat them’, according to Irish novelist Katherine Purdon, writing in ‘The Laundry at Home’ (1902).
In most instances as a toponym, it is taken as a bleaching ‘green’, a field or pasture.

Scattered across the county
At present, Tooreen in the parish of Aghamore, four miles from the town of Ballyhaunis, is probably the most well known of Mayo’s Tooreens, due to its hurling team’s recent achievement in reaching the All-Ireland GAA Intermediate Club Hurling semi-final in Croke Park on January 14. But this most famous Tooreen was once the most infamous! Why? Because the devil was alleged to have danced in a ballroom there in 1958.
Interestingly, Ballyhaunis is in the barony of Costello, where we also encounter Tooraree, Tuar an Fhraoigh, ‘the pasture of the heather.’
The townland of Tooreen in Ballyovey parish, in Carra barony, is situated in the south of the parish, about 2 kilometres from the village of Partry. On the N84 towards Ballinrobe, it is off to the right, before the tree-lined section leading to Keel Bridge.
Staying in Carra barony, there are several more ‘toor’ townlands – Toormore (‘Big Tuar’) East and Toormore West, near Ballyvary, on the N5, just past Turlough.
Tourmakeady, ‘Mac Keady’s (Mac Eadaigh) Green Field’, is another, at the southern end of Carra barony. A well-known Gaeltacht in Mayo, Tuar Mhic Eadaigh lends its name to three other townlands, Tourmakeady East, Tourmakeady West and Tourmakeady Mountain and, to the unusual name of Toornawood.
Moving a little further southeast into the barony of Kilmaine, we encounter two townlands called Toorard, An Tuar Ard, ‘The High Pasture’ and (possibly?) Turin, a corruption of ‘tuairín’ that may be a corruption of ‘torn’ meaning a ‘kiln.’
The neighbouring barony of Gallen, delivers another Toorard along with Tooromin (Tuar Uaimín), ‘Pasture of the Little (?)Cave.’
Tirawley barony is next, well endowed with two townlands named Tooreen, as well as a Tooreenphilip (Tuairín Pilib), or ‘Pilib’s (Philip’s) little (?)Pasture; Tooreencappul (Tuar an Chapaill), ‘Little Pasture of the Horse’; and a Gortatoor, Gort an Tuair, ‘Field of the (?)Pasture.’
The Barony of Erris contains only Toorglass (An Tuar Glas), or the ‘Green (?)Pasture’, situated not far to the east of Belmullet on Blacksod Bay, off the main approach road.
Toorrevagh in Achill is a corruption of ‘An Taobh Riabhach’, meaning ‘The Grey (Mountain-)Side’ and is spelt ‘Tieverewagh’ on Bald’s map of Mayo (1830). However, O’Donovan (mistakenly?) calls it Tuar Riabhach, ‘Grey Bleachgreen’. It is an abandoned village, indicated off the coast on the six-inch map, but a mile north. It should have been shown to the south of Dooega, where the walls of houses can still be seen.
The other three in the barony of Burrishoole (aside from Bleachyard in Newport) are Tooreen; Toorbuck (An Tuar Boic), ‘(?)Pasture of the Buck’; and Toorgarve (An Tuar Garbh), ‘The Rough (?)Pasture.’
Finally, we arrive in Murrisk Barony, where we meet yet another Tooreen, just outside Louisburgh, near the national school on the road to Kilgeever Cemetery; and another Toormore, a group of houses in the southwest of the townland of Strake on Clare Island.
It seems one could spend a lifetime touring the tuars of Mayo!

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’