Banner: sunset over Knocknarea.
Queen Maeve's cairn.
Queen Maeve's Cairn, the enormous neolithic monument on the summit of Knocknarea mountain in County Sligo, 27 September 2011, taken about 6.30 in the evening. I had followed the trail up from the Glen, which may date to the building of the cairn, looking for the modern house foundations over Culleenamore and ended up finding several caves instead. It got very wet and misty near sunset. In the foreground is one of the seven satellite monuments on the mountain. A very powerful place.



Marcus MacEnery was the pen name of John Garvin, the Keash born scholar and antiquarian who wrote 'High Hollow Townlands' and the shorter piece 'Descendants of Kings' for the Roscommon Herald in the 1940's. Copies of the paper were sent to Chris MacDonagh while these were in the course of publication and the following pages carry the text as extracted by him.

Mr. Garvin had to abandon these works to giving his whole time to higher duties in the Department of local government where he was promoted assistant secretary in 1947 and secretary in 1948. He then took to reviews and analyses of Ango-Irish literature, particularly on the works of James Joyce, which he wrote under the pen-name of Andrew Cass. Following his retirement from the Department in 1966 he wrote under his own name. Included in his publications is James Joyce's 'Disunited Kingdom' published in Dublin, 1976 and in New York, 1977.

Special Notice appeared in the 'Roscommon Herald' on Saturday 4th, 1943, and the articles were published on Saturday's on the following dates:-

2nd, 23rd October, 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th November, 4th, 18th December.
1st, 8th January, 5th, 12th February, 6th, 13th May, 10th, 17th June, 1st, 8th, 22nd, 29th July, 5th, 26th August, 2nd, 16th September, 11th November, 9th December.
10th February, 10th, 24th March, 16th, 30th June, 1st September, 13th October, 3rd November.
27th April, 15th June.

of Important New Feature:


The author, Mr Marcus MacEnery, has utilised, in addition to the ordinary historical sources, the great wealth of traditional lore still current amongst the people in the baronies of Boyle, Tirerrill and Corran and he links this lore with the written sources in a manner not hitherto attempted for any area, so far as we are aware.

His study of the annals and genealogies in conjunction with bardic literature, has revealed aspects of family history, descent and succession not hitherto known or appreciated, and an entirely new light is thrown on the Mac Dermots and other leading families of the district for the period from 1300 to 1600.

In dealing with the period from 1600 down practically to our own times, Mr Mac Enery has had access to extensive manuscript collections, hitherto unpublished, and we are confident that the release of their contents in this work will prove of considerable value to historians and of great interest to the inhabitants of Counties Roscommon and Sligo.

The following are amongst the families, persons and subjects which will be featured in the serial as it proceeds: MacGreevy, MacDermot, MacDonagh, Bingham, St. Barbe, Clifford, The Composition of Connacht, O'Connor Sligo, King, Kingstone, Kingsborough, King-Harman, the love story of Una Bhan, the persistence of the 'Firbolg,' servile race in Connacht, French, Drury, the love-affair of Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bhan in its alleged relation to Hollybrook, Caulfield, Davy, Nangle, Henry, Sheeran, Sharkey, Sharcod, Conry, Coote, Molloy, a new critical analysis of the issue in the Battle of the Curlew Mountains, and a detailed review of the Abbots and monastery of Boyle.

The places particularly dealt with include Rockingham, Knockvicar, Cootehall, Croghan, Frenchpark, Kingsland, Killaraght, Keash, Ballinafad, Rathmullen, Ballymote, the Plains of Boyle (Magh Luirg), Loch Ce, Loch Gara, Loch Arrow, Castlebaldwin, Dromdoe, Carrigeenroe, Moytura, Ballindoon, Ardcane and Elphin.

The folk-tales prominent in the text include unfamiliar versions and interpretations of Cailleach na Cairrge and Seilg na Ceise, and local legends of the Gearran Ban, the Glass Gavlin, and Ballydearg O'Donnell, as well as numerous stories, hitherto unpublished, of particular families and 'characters,' such as Shaun Harloe, Jack Taafe, Joe Miles MacDonnell, and so on. The author embodies all these gleanings from the racy folk-memories in their proper historical settings, so that his history, literature and folk-lore illustrate and illuminate each other reciprocally.



Ancient history-makers forged a complicated snake-pattern of descent for the dynasty of Cormac Mac Airt, so that the families of his line are accustomed to trace themselves back over stepping-stones of meaningless names to Milesian Ereamhon and the gypsy kings of the Old Testament.

(The unfree rentpayers who supported these nobles, muttering their old tales around shieling fires, claimed that the same Cormac was nothing better than a Firbolg brat, the son of a servant girl in Ceis Corainn).

The snake-pattern branches out again, more authentically from Cormac through Eochaidh Muighmheadhon and his sons Brion, Fiachra and Aillill, to the three great families of the Connachta, the Ui Briuin, the Ui Fiachrach and the Ui Ailella.

Of the Ui Briuin was Muireadheach Muileathan (flor. 700 A.D.), whose descendants were called the Siol Muireadhaigh. The King of this Siol Murray in the tenth century was Tadhg of the Three Towers, from whose two sons, Conor and Mulrooney, descend the O'Connors of Connacht and the Clann Mulrooney, respectively. The latter were styled "O'Mulrooney" until one of them, Tomultach, son of Conor, son of Dermot, contesting in the 12th century for the headship of the Clann, assumed the new name of "MacDermot."

The Siol Murray were cradled in the heavy - grassed lands of Machaire Connachtach and the O'Conors became their predominant line. Their power spread from there over the other sub-kings of Connacht. Their nearest relatives, the Clann Mulrooney, they sent northwards, and as these adventures multiplied they ceased to be content to take the rents of the old Firbolg stock of Magh Luirg and the weak descendants of the Ui Ailella stock of Tirerrill. They started to degrade and extirpate and expropriate these old races and to settle their own numerous progeny in their place.

That Tomultach, who called himself "MacDermot" was nicknamed "Tomultach na Carraice" because he was supposed to be the first of the Clann Mulrooney to set up in the fortified rock-island which is called the Carraic of Loch Ce.

From that fortress this Tumulty of the Rock and his descendants ruled over the rich cattle-lands north of the O'Conor territories of Machaire Connachtach. MacDermot's country was bordered on the south by Croghan, Elphin, Cluanshanville and Castlerea and thence north-west and north by the river Lung and Loch Gara, the Corrlieu Mountains and Lough Ce and thence by the southern base of the Arigna Mountains, Lough Allen and the Shannon.

The boggy angle to the south-west of Lough Gara, called Airteach, was given to MacDermot Gall. The mountainy country to the north of Lough Ce (which had been ruled by the MacGreeveys) was called Tir Tuathail. This was granted to MacDermot Roe. The rest of the country south of Lough Gara, the Corrlieus and Lough Ce was Magh Luirg and contained some of the best land in Ireland for the use of cattle-kings and their creaghts.

Here the principal family of the MacDermots grew rich and powerful in alliance with their relations the O'Conors, and the tale of their plantation was not preserved in later times, except in the dark memories of the dispossessed, which retained the following:-

MacDermot, and insolent son of malediction, intruded without invitation on MacGreevey of Lough Ce and, cessed himself on that decent, princely man, himself and his hounds and horses and his long tail of kernes and poets and card-players and every other class of shuler and tinker that he had to his back.

Every morning he would set out from his lodgings, His hound at his heel, His hawk at his wrist, And his good black horse beneath him, and the way he would spend his day was to be plaguing the people and preying the lands from Ardcarne to the callows of Lough Gara and from that down to Muckelty and Knocknashee in the County Sligo, robbing and spoiling the clergy and laity without respect for God or man.

Its many the drove of cattle he brought back with him by force from the level plains of Corran and Leyney and that's the way he purchased followers for himself, dishing out the meat to evil-smelling tanners and hungry horse-thieves in the woody wilderness of Garranbane on the Corrlieus.

Back he'd come then to MacGreevey's house at night and sit in to his food without without salutation or acknowledgement, until, at last, when he was with them a year and a day in the house with him, MacGreevey ventured to clear his throat and ask of his honour, the friend of O'Conor, how long more he intended to stay.

Now, in all the space of that year and a day in the house with him, MacDermot never once looked in MacGreevey's direction, and when he heard him asking this question he just called one of his servants and asked him what class of a crathure was this MacGreevey behind him that dared to question his comings or goings.

Was he the swarthy little cripple that the people called Dubhthonach and if so wasn't it time they looked for a more suitable mate for his good-looking wife? With that, Lady MacGreevey swung a pan of gravy off the fire and let MacDermot have it down the back of his neck and the MacGreeveys rose up and stoned MacDermot and his men off the island.

That was all right, but it wasn't long before MacDermot was back with all his clann-men and the clann-men of his high-up friends and they surrounded the Rock with ships and swimmers and rafts loaded with barcheens of besoms and bogwood for burning.

The MacGreeveys kept them out of the fortress for the length of a summer's day, but when the night came MacDermot brought a boat as far as the watergate in the darkness and called the password to a spy he had inside. A little wooden shutter was pushed back and a purse of gold was the bribe handed up on the top of an oar. When the spy had the bribe in his pocket, he gave the word for surrender:

Loosen the chains! With that the watergate was thrown open and MacDermot's men punted and poleaxed their way in and inside there was killing and burning and blinding, knifing of naked sleepers, the spattering of brains on the rocks under the island wall and boat-men clubbing fugitives to death with butt-ends of their oars—Twas Domino with the MacGreeveys.

The tall, grey woman that be's seen on Loch Ce sometimes, taking quiet walks for herself on the water of an evening, that's Lady MacGreevey, her the MacDermots smothered in the smoke.

Queen Maeve's cairn, Knocknarea, County Sligo.
Queen Maeve's cairn, Knocknarea, County Sligo.

The MacDermots

The MacDermots introduced a new school of monks into the country, Cistercians from the County Louth, and these monks built a magnificent new Abbey, by the bank of the River Boyle between Lough Gara and Lough Ce, on the ruins of an old native monkhouse. This new abbey was Mainister na Buaille.

The MacDermots made themselves the protectors and the overseers of the monks and they granted them the use of the lands lying along the river and sloping up the side of the Corrlieu Mountains. Denis O'Daly was there at the foundation, a monk and a poet and a hymn-writer. The ould people had his verses in my time.

Tomultach na Carraice died in the year 1206 and his son, Cormac na Formaoile, assumed the leadership in his place, after disqualifying his uncle by blinding him. This Cormac and his brother Donagh, extended their father's conquests. They laid hands on Tirerrill and Corann, the two countries lying next to Magh Luirg across the Corrlieus to the north. Cormac's son, Conor, was put in charge of Tirerrill and Donagh's sons, who called themselves by the name of MacDonagh took possession of fortified places in Corann.

This land of Corann had never been Ui Briuin territory; it was in the hands of the O'Haras of Leyney and their sub-chiefs, the O'Dolans and the O'Concathas, (i.e. Battle-dogs, now generally englished "Battelle"). These families had their own complicated pedigrees extending back to ancient heroes, war-gods and fairies. For a thousand years they had been settled here in lands wilder but more distinctive than the Roscommon Plains. In the south of the barony, bordering on Coolavin and Magh Luirg they had the protection of the woody fastnesses on the northern slopes of the Corrlieus.

Their eastern boundary was the long high range of Carraic, extending from the Corrlieus northwards to the hills of Trian and the mountain of Ceis Corainn. Within these boundaries the country was an eruption of little hills with hill-glens and loughs and lochans and torlochs between them, worldeens cut off from each other by the narrow horizons of the vallies. But from the higher ground one could see the level plain of the rest of Corann and Leyney beyond it, a brown landscape fading into blue distances with Sliabh Gamph and Nephin and Cruach Patrick walling in the great world at its western ends.

There were remnants of old races rooted in these wildernesses: Luigne and Gailenga, Corco Fhirthri, Fir Builg, Gregraighe and Fir Domhann, and although dominated by the O'Haras, the descendants of Tadhg MacCein, they had ground enough to stretch their elbows and lived their lives without undue oppression, laborious, rent-paying tillage-men and herdsmen.

The Siol Murray in general and the Clann Mulrooney in particular might have been content to exact higher tributes and services from these ancient subject peoples without disturbing them in their settlements, but it happened that their own expansion into Galway and Mayo at the expense of the Ui Fiachrach now became blocked by the Normans who took these wider lands for themselves and it was thus that the MacDermots younger sons overflowed into Corann.

They were bitterly resisted and the process of invasion and expropriation lasted throughout the life-times of Cormac and Donagh MacDermot and their sons and grandsons.

During the same period the royal O'Conors were similarly driven in on themselves, so that instead of proceeding on triumphant itineraxies of all the strong-tided shores of Inis Fail they are found fighting for their lives in sinuous nooks of the Shannon or contending for useless bogwastes on the sides of the Corrlieus.

The MacDermots sided with Rory O'Conor in his contests with Felim, the son of Cathal Crove-derg and they were defeated several times by Felim's men and by the Normans and by O'Reilly of East Breifne.

In 1235 the Normans captured the Rock with wonderful engines of war, but Cormac MacDermot regained possession of it with the aid of O'Hostin, a spy he had in the foreigner's garrison. In 1237 and 1238 the MacDermots and other upholders of King Rory O'Conor were defeated by Felim on the mountain-slopes of the Corrlieus in Corann, namely at Cluan Cathe and Drumrat.

Felim's people and O'Reilly deposed Cormac and in the end of his days he had to see his wife taken from him by a son she had formerly for one of the O'Conors and this son of hers handed her over to O'Reilly in ransom of his own imprisonment. O'Reilly accepted the woman but blinded and emasculated the son.

Shortly afterwards, in the autumn of the year 1245, Cormac MacDermot died in the habit of a Grey Friar, in the Abbey of Boyle, victorious over the world and the devil.

To this Cormac the poets and historians of the MacDermots assigned a big place in their praise-poems and pedigrees, collecting loose threads of Finn-tales and old romances from the mouths of ancient inhabitants and re-weaving them in exaltation of the new rulers.

There was an old tale of Cailleach na Carraice current at firesides in Corann and Magh Luirg before the MacDermots were invented. It told of Ce, a beautiful maiden whom a water-fairy bore to Mananaan Muc a Lir when he was dwelling in the magic lake inside in the Hill of Ceis.

This unfortunate girl was bewitched with nut-fruit charms to the semblance of themselves by the Three Hideous Hags of Ceis Corainn. She was transformed into an insane old woman of yellow spits (Cailleach an Corainn), hounded into hag-leaps over the high hills and left a demented creature gesticulating at the harvest moon in the houseless valley of Scedhne.

Sorrel and water-cress and wild bird's eggs, goat's milk and health-berries, that was her diet till she came stomach-sick to Lough Ce by Smutternach and crossed the lake in high-flying jumps and came ashore to the house of a man called Caoilte Mac Ronain and he received the unsettled cailleach, giving her roof-shelter and board for a year and a day without question until she left him of her own free will, leaving him the promise that no Keelty would ever be drowned on Lough Ce till the crack of doom.

She came then at Samhain, back to the lime-white mansion of Ossian at the foot of Ceis and he received her with respect and gave her entertainment, etc., for the night and lo! in the morning her loveliness had returned, and she stood before Ossian, a beautiful, white-skinned daughter of the Tuatha De.

My father, she said, controls the white-maned horses of the sea; and she took Ossian with her on her steed to the other world beyond the end of this where the years pass unfelt. Death is not known there, with his sudden sharp nudges and his unchanging grin. There is no sorrow, only a long calm loveliness of lucent air and ever-blooming flowers, inviting happiness and rest, but mortal man is inclined to get unsettled even there and to want to come back and it was his unsettled mind left grey ould Ossian where St. Patrick found him at Elphin drawing stones in the cold when his companions of the Fianna were dead and gone.

This is the way the poets of the MacDermots re-told the story of Cailleach na Carraice:

A little story of this Cormac
I have to relate;
For fear of sounding tedious
I won't detain you long.

A great assembly he had around him one day on the green hillock convenient to his fortress, when what should they see darkening the view but a half-blind ould Cailleach of a woman, to ugly for prolonged scrutiny, red-haired and ragged, with hardly a clout of coarse linen to her chest.

She passed through the multitude
till she crossed the threshold,
and nobody questioned her
who was she or where from.

When this unfortunate creature came
to the Rock of MacDermot
she was hardly in the door
before a bed was prepared for her.

A little patch-work shake-down
in an elbow of the house;
that was her bedding for a twelve-month
without want of food or drink.

That was the generosity of the MacDermots would be everlasting; this was the prophecy of that cailleach when she got up, dirty and crazy, at the end of the year. For she was a woman under geasa, without liberty to go to the Promised Land until she spent a year in the one house without challenge and without begging.

For a few generations after the time of Cormac MacDermot the Normans retained the over-lordship of large parts of Connacht. In the year 1300, Richard de Burgh, the Red Earl of Ulster, built the castle of Ballymote at Ath Cliath an Chorainn near the mountain of Ceis and linked it with the Abbey-Boyle by a road across the Corlieus. When the Red Earl lost his grip on the countryside in the upheavals of Bruce's wars, the MacDonaghs again assumed the lordship of Corann and established themselves as a family independant of the MacDermots.

The Giant's Grave at Moytura.
The Giant's Grave near Highwood at Moytura in County Sligo.

The MacDonaghs

In the parishes of Tuamour and Drumrat, bordering on the Corlieus, there were large tracts of land belonging to the O'Hara bishops from whom they were now taken and granted to the monks of Boyle as an extension of the estate they had from the MacDermots on the other side of the Corlieus.

Tomultach MacDonagh, the lord of Corann, nominated his uncle, Tadhg MacDonagh, as Airchinneach of steward of these Abbeylands. He was admitted to the order of clerks at qualify him for this office, but he was a great warrior as well, large-sized, red-haired and ruthless, and he had a big family of sons, one of whom, Conor, was killed at the battle of Athenry in 1316, fighting under Felim O'Conor against the Anglo-Norman lords.

A road or track linking Ceis Corainn with the Red-Earl's Road ran along under the southern slopes of the Carraic hills. Water-springs and rivulets from the limestone heights fed a small lake in the central hill-glen.

In the throat of the lake-valley Tadhg put up a building which he used as a residence and a church and a guard-house. On the shoulder of Carraic behind him he had another guard-house, at Bearna Lagh, and to the west of Ceis his MacDonagh kinsmen had fortified the ancient residence of the O'Dolan's at Ballygolan and they had taken their gallows at Crocan na Croiche overlooking the road.

Southwards from Tadhg's lake-valley a stream flowed towards the Owenmore, though well nigh like to lose itself on the way in swampy swallow-holes, decaying woods and spongy bogs.

Between the mountains and the swallow-holes Tadhg "Manach" and his sons established themselves in their Teampall a'Mhanaigh and they were not welcome. The O'Dolans and their followers harried them from the woods. The farmers and serfs resisted the heavier dues and task-work which Tadhg and the Abbey of Boyle demanded.

The Leyney bishop placed the intruders under ban. The thieves of the Corrlieus ambushed the cattle and grain when Tadhg was conveying them to Boyle. Tadhg Manach's reply was to increase the number of his guards and the severity of his punishments. His red-mane became a very portent as he rode his rounds. From his judgementseat he spat death-dooms through his red beard.

The Manach Rua as the people called him, was the first feudal lord that this remnant of the ancient easy-going world had known and he held down the conquered hill-glens with red, foot-on-stomach tyranny.

When the Norman lords and their sheriffs and bailiffs disappeared after Bruce's wars, their courts and judges also passed into oblivion. The Manach Rua, in this hill-encircled kingdom, became supreme arbiter in all causes, lay and spiritual. He quenched altar candles and he quenched life according as he had a mind to and the journey from Teampall a'Mhananaigh at the lake to the gallows at Crocan ne Croiche became a Via Dolorosa for his enemies.

There was a calculated ritual in the enforcement of his dooms and the memory of it never left the land; Travellers had to remove their hats when approaching the Church, malefactors had to come to him for judgement on their knees, and later, they crept on their knees to the gallows, under the encouragement of whips, and they embraced and kissed the greasy poles, their predestined gateway to death.

These things were remembered in the folk-mind: judgement at Teampall a'Mhanaigh in the morning and execution at Crocan na Croiche under Ceis by noonday in the hot summer sun. And after six centuries one finds the memory still; dark, distorted and elusive as the recollected fears of childhood, but nevertheless identifiable.

He was called the Monarch Rua, I suppose, because he was a sort of an ould tyrant over the country and that his hair was inclined to be red. Temleavanny and Tully and Corrick and Carrucrury and the mountain up to the County Mearing that was his domain.

Duthaigh na Manach it was called, being monk's land belonging to the Abbey of Boyle. Twas him built the ould ediface was in the churchyard of Templevanny and he's buries there, under the long stone. His word was law in his day.

Monument to the Four Masters near Kinlough.

Monument to the Four Masters near Kinlough.

The Duthaigh na Manach people were in his power and strangers too, from once they crossed the shoulder of Corrick at Bearna Lagh. No traveller could pass without his leave and anyone coming near him without having his hat humbly in his hand was condemned. He had a guardhouse at Bearna Lagh and a prison (Priousan Thaidhg at Tampleavanny and a gallows at Crocan na Croiche.

The poor crathures he sentenced to death, they were flogged along the road from Tampleavanny and made walk on their knees to the gallows. There they'd by slung up by their knecks. The birds in the cliffs and coves of Ceis knew a hanging day as well as the poor gallows-bird himself: the kites and the ravens and the scald-crows would start sharpening their claws from once they heard the "meelamurther" of the flogging procession on its way from Tampleavanny, and once the crowd was gone they'd light on the dangling corpse.

And, begob, they were well fed. Sure weren't there cartloads of bones got there in Knocknacroy when the ditch was a making across the hill in Ketty Taafe's time?

Troth it was a poor, onesome ould place for men that had to go out there in the dead dark of night, attending to lambs dropped in the ould gallows-pit hollow, the time the ewes do be yeaning in the spring. A poor, lonesome ould place surely, with things stirring and moaning in the night.

When the Earls of Ulster ceased to hold sway in Connacht, their collaterals, the MacWilliam Burkes, and also the Jordans and Costellos, set themselves up as independant Ango-Irish chiefs in the ancient territories of Ui Fiachrach.

They took the place of the Ui Fiachrach also in emnity to the Siol Murray or to such factions of the Siol Murray as it suited them to oppose. About the same time a branch of the O'Conors which had settled in the north of County Sligo began to increase in power and influence and to claim lordship over the O'Haras, O'Dowds and O'Garas and the new MacDonaghs of Tirerrill and Corann.

Tomultach MacDonagh found his interests diverging from those of the MacDermots and he began to lean more towards O'Conor of Sligo than towards the Siol Murray of Roscommon. But his cousin, the Manach Rua, although resident in Corann, held his living from the Abbots of Boyle and their patrons, the MacDermots, so that he wished to maintain the old friendships and connection with the Abbey and Magh Luirg.

It happened that one of his sons, Brian, had an altercation with a namesake of his, Brian, son of Tumultach, and killed him in the heat of the quarrel. Brian, son of the Manach Rua, had to flee at once and he took refuge with the English of Connacht, namely with Mac Costello of Sliabh Lugha and with Mac William Burke. Maolrunai Fionn, another son of the Manach Rua, sided with the MacDonaghs against his brother.

Later in the year the MacDermots and MacDonaghs met Walter MacWilliam Burke and Gilbert Mac Costello for a conference at the head of Lough Gara.

"Whereupon some distastfull speaches passed between them: from words they fell to bloes of arms; in the end MacWilliam was overthrown, Bryan McTeige, MacDonagh was slayn by his own brother in revenge for Bryan (McTomultagh) McDonagh that he killed before."

MacWilliam's real enemy was Tomultach MacDonagh, to whose territory he laid claim on pretence of his succession to the Red Earl. There was no strong cause of enmity at the time between MacDermot and MacWilliam and when old MacDermot (Maolunai) retired to Boyle Abbey to make his soul, his son Tomultach, joined MacWilliam Burke against Tomultach MacDonagh who thereupon joined MacWilliam's rival, the Mac an Iarla.

The Children of Lir by Maud Gonne, illustration from Celtic Wonder Tales by Ella Young.

The Manach Rua

The opposing forces met at Bearna Mhil on the shoulder of Carraic. MacDermot and MacWilliam were defeated and the old Manach Rua, who was with them, was slain. His son, Maolrunai Fionn, was installed in seccession to him over the monk-lands of Duthaigh na Manach, under the protection and influence of Tomultach MacDonagh.

The Manch Rua's body was brought down and buried in the grounds of the church which he had built and which was called, after him, Teampall a Mhanaigh (Templum Monachi).

As a man slain in battle he was buried on the north side of the church (taobh na bhfear ngonta) but the clergy of the victorious side, the seculars, dishonoured him still further by facing his grave south to north instead of east to west and they placed over him a great stone, the way he'll lie there pinned down until the Monday of the meeting in Jehosophat.

While the Manach Rua was alive and victorious he had control not only of Duthaigh na Manach but also of the remainder of the parish of Toomour including Lug Mor Murhy at the foot of Ceis and the O'Dolan property between the gibbet of Crocan na Croiche and Feenagh Lake.

When his son Maolrunai Fionn was permitted by the MacDonaghs to succeed him in Dughaigh na Manach as Erenach for the monks of Boyle, it was on condition that he should surrender the Bishoplands of Carrowreagh, Grianan, Murhy, Dernaskeagh, Toomour, and Knockoconnor. The priests of the O'Hara bishopric resumed possession of these churchlands. The adjoining O'Dolan lands - "Ballygolan" - including Cloonagh, Feenagh, Crocan na Croiche and Cnoc na Fuiseog were retained by the MacDonaghs.

The churchlands, however, did not remain for long with the O'Hara bishops. According as the power of the MacDermots and the monks of Boyle increased, they helped Maolrunai Fionn and his descendants to regain the tenancy of Carrowreagh and Murhy and the remainder of the parish was taken by a branch of the MacDonaghs who had established themselves in the Castle of the Bricklew, between Corann and Tirerrill.

The descendants of Maolrunai Fionn, within a hundred and thirty years of the death of the Manach Rua, also got the Abbey of Boyle to obtain from the Pope the reservation to Cistercian monks of the vicarage of the parish as a benefice "won't to be governed by monks of the said monastery" and thereby secured that they or their relations such as the O'Ficheallaighs should have the profits of the vicarage.

They were also appointed as Erenaghs of other abbey-lands in Drumrat and Kilshalvey and at Rathmullen and Emlanaughton and so continued an important semi-clerical, semi-lay family, arbiters in all kinds of disputes, guardians of the peace of the Holy Church in their termon-lands islanded between the warring kinglings; aristocratic, proud and intolerant.

But when they invented a surname for themselves to distinguish their peculiar position from that of MacDermot or MacDonagh, they did not try to perpetrate any memory of the hated Manach Rua. They called themselves "Mac Maolunai Finn" and by that name they were distinguished in Templevanny and their other outposts for four centuries until the end of the old Gaelic life in these parts in the reign of Queen Anne.

The rule of O'Hara had been remote from Ceis Corainn and the priests of the O'Hara diocese were homely and benign. The prefeudal organisation permitted of the existence of respectable families of farming stock whose sons were not denied admission to the professions of law and poetry and medicine and the church.

These old families of Corann included the MacDiars, the MacBrehonys, the Killorans, the O'Lavins, the MacGettricks, O'Coineans and many more. These families were now degraded by having placed over them the younger sons and poor relations of the new aristocracy.

Even the poor wandering scholars and the poets who picked up with long labour and tedious memorising the art of specialised versifications within the narrow, aristocratic conventions of the time, these sons of learning were not heard in praise of life or love or our daedal earth-home or sun or moon or star; their verse must be confined to praise-poems in honour of the new masters and in glorification of the sinuous snake-patterns of descent which linked them with Mount Sinai and the Garden of Eden.

Those ruling members of the Ui Briuin who dwelt near the Corrlieus resurrected the legend that Cormac Mac Airt was supposed to have been born at Ceis Corainn and the tale which told that his daughter Grainne was given the cantred of Ceis Corainn as a dowry when she ran away with Diarmuid O'Duibhne. Here was undisputed proof that Corann was Ui Briuin territory!

Maud Gonne.
Maud Gonne.

And so was developed the story of Art Aonar's wife fleeing from the tryant at Tara and reaching her husband's lands at Ceis before she gave birth to a boy who thereupon, without the company of a Remus rival, was seized by a she-wolf and suckled in the caves of the mountain. In the next generation also, Diarmuid's son by Grainne was fostered in a swineherd's crannog on Tamplevanny Lake.

The aborigines in their turn, glossed the legends of their masters to give them a satirical import or to enhance their own importance; it was not Art Aonar's Tara wife who gave birth to Cormac, but a daughter, or else a Firbolg servantmaid, of O'Dolan of Ballygolan, with whom Art had settled for a while after coming out of the Fairy Palace of Ceis Corainn where he was living for seven years with a banshee.

The child was missing for a twelvemonth, until, one day, a man looking for sheep spied him playing with the wolfcubs in the sunshine, without a stitch on his back. A fire was lit and meat fried on it under the coves, and while the wolves were drawn off by the smell of the fal-shara, the people rescued the young Cormac.

Diarmuid too, that buck was well served by the people round here, and what return did he make them? If he saw a child on the roadside better-looking than his own, he'd step on it! Isn't that what he done to a poor pigboy's wean at Tampleavanny, - killed it with a shout.

That was the kind of life was in it in the time of Cormac Carty, dreeacht and tyranny and damn the hate else was ever practised by them oul clanmen. They enslaved the dark little stumpeens of Firbolg schlawvies till they had them so small you couldn't hunt them out of a cabbage-garden, and they're to be had still, rough-spoken little maneens transformed to mind buried treasure or diminutive cruiteens drawing turf with asses as small as themselves or standing in the market with bags round their shoulders in the rain.

The Far Downs were of the same breed, only better fighters. There were two classes of them known among the fairgreen factions, the Far Downs and the Bloody Far Downs, and the Bloody Far Downs were from far up the mountain. But sticks and stones couldn't stop the Head Buck Cat or the Master Eel or Mac Con, the King of the Water-dogs - any of them lads could put his tail in his mouth and whistle a regiment of his followers together to invade any house and demand what they liked - griddle-cakes and crocks of cream and butter and the use of the floor for their dances and assemblies.

These grotesque silhouettes on the scannon of legend are the only shadows of the peasant mind which survive from the period of prodigious dearth which followed the wars of Bruce and the fall of organised Norman power in Connacht. The country in the wailing forties of that century was a land of starvation, of wonderful and innumerable distempers.

The people died in fever and with fluxes of blood from every aperture of the body. Even while life still lingered, the human tabernacle was falling asunder in putrefaction.

There was great turbulence of winds and tempests, and portents and apparitions were seen and voices heard in the air. Showers of hailstones as big as crabapples fell at midsummer. Strange affections of the spine and limbs crippled men to crutchwalk and unheard of manias sent Christians all-fours on the highway, barking like dogs, frothing inarticulate shrieks and rolling white eyeballs to heaven.

Mermaid carving in Galway City.

Tobar Cloiche Righ

In 1362 the plague returned and this time it attacked the ruling families more than the poor. It crept under the shield and coat-of-mail of the knight. It carried off the lady from her grianan. It gave no credit on the score of poetry or logic or astrology. It mowed down princes and prelates in swathes. This time it was called Cluich an Righ, the King's Game.

At the junction of the church-lands of Carrowreagh, Murhy and Tuamour there is a holy well of pure spring-water which is called "Kingstone Well," Tobar Cloiche Righ. This water spring, it is said, sprang up when Goll MacMorna let a large boulder drop on the spot from the top of Ceis. The proper name for the well is Tobar Cluiche Righ, for it is associated with the story they tell of this Plague:

- There was famine in the country and faver, men crowding to the chapels and abbeys and seeing, maybe the priest himself drop dead at the altar, until one day a Culdee came to the congregation inquiring whereabouts was a certain well. - A well I saw in a vision, he said. -

It has an ould ash tree and a hazel clump above it, shading its pure spring water that's could enough to give you pains in the teeth the warmest day in summer. It flows away in a sruthan through a green annach of rushes into a white annach of cannavann and it has twelve dicket stones, smooth as duck eggs, in two sickle-shapes to its west side and to its east.

- So they told him that must be the holy spring forby th'ould forts across the annach from Tuamour Church. They brought him to the well and they asked him was that the place was shown to him in the dream and he said it was the very spot. -

There were thousands round him in no time, waiting to be blessed and he cured them with cups of cold water to their lips when they were bleached with the dryness of death. There were Stations performed there ever after, at Easter, for it was in the spring of the year that the Saint did his curing.

He lived a long time with them, till the country was healthy again and then, one morning, the people found his hut empty. He was gone the same way as he came, no man knows how or where.

The territories of the O'Conors and the MacDermots were freed from Norman domination in 1338 when MacWilliam Burke, for the protection of his own illegal holdings in Connacht, captured the Mac an Iarla, the rightful heir of the Earl of Ulster, fastened a stone round his neck, and drowned him in Lough Mask.

The "hereditary Gaelic lords" and the newly-Gaelicised Burkes and Costelloes were then left free and unfettered kings, tyrants and palatines, with full liberty to live in glorious anarchy, feudalism with the emphasis of feud, and Breitheamhnachta punctuated by head-hunting. "Ireland," exclaimed Burke's hack laureate, "Ireland is sword land; there are many precedents for her taking. It was right that she should fall to the Norman from the Gael the same as she fell to the Gael from the Danaan magicians and to the Tuatha De from the Fir Boilg."

"Ireland," returned the O'Conors, "or at least that part of it which may be governed from Cruachain, belongs to the Siol Murray, descended from the Royal line of Cormac and Conn and Tuathal Techtmhar to whose race all the men of Wrin swore loyalty by the sun and the moon and the stars. To O'Conor is reserved exclusively the kingship of Connacht."

But High Kings and, for that matter provincial Kings, were things of the past and could not now be revived. Every petty lord became a "king" in his own right. Even the "kingdom" of Machaire Connachtach, which was all that was now left to the O'Conors, was split in two in 1384, between O'Conor Don and O'Conor Roe. In the wars between these factions which extended over many subsequent generations, the Siol Murray of Sligo, (O'Conor Sligo and the MacDonaghs) generally supported O'Conor Don, while MacDermot and the rest of the Siol Murray of Co. Roscommon supported O'Conor Roe.

At this time there was completed for Tumultach Og MacDonagh of Ballymote the book which is called the Book of Ballymote, containing amongst other things, an account of the Takings of Ireland by successive peoples from across the sea such as Lady Cesair and her fifty women and three men who were drowned at Cul Casra, near Boyle, in the rising waters of the Deluge, all except Finntan who was asleep during the Flood: those of Parthalon and Nemed afterwards and then the small dark men of the Fir Builg who came out of Greece, runaways from the helotry of carrying clay on their backs to make the Lacedaimonian wilderness blossom like the rose, - an occupation to which they have ever since adhered in the black fringes of mountainy land where their lot is cast carrying lime and sand on their backs to fertilise their bare patches of cutaway bog and rocky uplands under the exacting provisions of improvement clauses in landlord's leases.

The Book of Ballymote contains also a version of the Dinnseanchus which treats of the placenames of Ireland and their origins, as for example the origin of the name Magh Corainn, the level plain of Corann, across which, from the Corrlieus on a clear day of distances one may see the thin blue triangle of the Reek, Patrick's lenten retreat of mists and bird-crys.

Magh Corainn, whence the name? Not difficult to say. Corann, harper to Dian Cecht, son of the Daghda ( from whom is named the high pinnacle of Bod a'Daghda on Carraic, over Tampleavanny), Corann called hither by dint of harp-strumming enticement Caelcheis, one of Derbriu's swine. ( He could charm the birds down out of the bushes or up out of the furrows of young peas, the same Corann, he was that good a musicianer). The hounds, heroes and war-dogs of Connacht pursued the swine as far as Ceis Corainn. Hence came the names of Ceis Corainn and Magh Corainn.

Here abode the gentle Corann,
his harp-music golden toned
Corann the fair-skinned was a poet
in the service of Surgeon Diancecht.

The Tuatha De (excellent name)
bestowed land without rent for his fine service
on Corann of the scothing strains.
For his learning he deserve high esteem.

Here abode this noble, generous person,
plying no savage business nor sinister art;
it was a mansion of hospitality and plenty
when this noble man lived here.

When Caelcheis was driven loose,
the savage pet-pig of Derbriu,
fleeing swiftly from the hounds of Connacht,
her way brought her to Corann.

Each man took the hand of the man next to him,
hemming in the swine with blood-lust
and the strong sow was slain -
triumphant was the outcome of that battle.

Ceis Corann, the gathering place of the hosts,
was thenceforth the name of this place of mighty herds
since the swine was killed there without mercy
in the lands where Corann lived.

"Seilg na Ceise," like "Cailleach na Carraice," was now re-edited to suit the new lords of Corann. Donagh, from whom they are named, was not dead two centuries but he had already passed into the timeless background of legend which, outside the sphere of written record, engulfs all the past and in which lie finnscealta and mirabilia, witches, werewolves, monster worms, and the devil and his mother and grandmother.

The passage-grave at Ardnaglass.
The oassage-grave at Ardnaglass, close to the area known as the Fairy Door in the north face of Benbulben.

History, mythology, poetry and folklore

New families, like the MacDermots and the MacDonaghs, forging for their houses a factitious tradition of continuity and long descent, welded the old legends into new patterns to suit their own claims. They mixed history, mythology, poetry and folklore and they made the gruel thick and slab.

- The way we were called "MacDonagh na Ceise," the original Donagh was a great warrior and a man of great power and he was forever freeing the people from pests ans ollphiasts and monsters of every description. There was a big black sow let loose on the people in them times to fulfill a prophecy.

She could only be kilt by means of a bullet made from Airgead na Croise Caoile, the Florin of the Slender Cross. That was the silver bullet that was to nick her, according to the prophecy, but where would the poor unfortunates of them times get money, white or brown? They had no coinage since the time crown-pieces were minted on Knocknarea by King Croney-Ban.

But this bould hayro, Donagh, - he had money minted in his reign in the Castle of Ballymote and he had the Airgead na Croise Caoile ready when the enchanted pig came down from the mountain and he chased her with his horses and then let fly at her with the Silver Bullet. That was the end of that wan.

A hungry-looking, tusked pig-beast with spiky bristles riding his back-bone adorns the MacDonagh coat of arms. Motto: morior vivere. They had another motto for them in the countryside:

A MacDonagh's bone
Leave it alone.

The establishment of the MacDonaghs as separate and independant chieftan-families in control of Corann and Tirerrill left the MacDermots cooped up in their own territories of Magh Luirg, Airtech and Tir Tuathail, with no spare living-room for the overplus of their families. Driven in on themselves, they fought amongst each other for grazing-lands and stock and bawns and crannogs and there was fratricide or cousin-slaughter to decide each succession and vendettas in revenge through each generation and untimely cutting-off of the period of life of each claimant to the lordship.

Tomultach an Einigh MacDermot, who reigned over Moylurg, Tir Tuathail and Airtech form 1421 to 1458 is one notable exception: He had a lengthy and comparatively undisturbed reign and he died in his bed. This Tomultach was the first of the MacDermots to try the experiment of attaining peace in his time by the aid of mercenaries - heavy armed Scottish red-shanks from the Western Islands whom he hired to keep the local factious in subjection.

The experiment was seemingly successful for there are few warlike exploits recorded of him, and this means there is practically nothing written about him by the annalists, who do not overmuch concern themselves with any records save those that relate to war, raids, plunderings and homicides, together with obits of the leading aristocracy of the Gael and Gall-Gael, each one of whom was the most powerful hero of his time and the most to be deplored as regards hospitality, daring, bounty, prowess and other synonyms.

Except for his grandson, Conor, who held the chieftancy of Moylurg from 1486 to 1497, no descendant of Tomultach an Einigh attained the headship of the Upper Clann Mulrooney and it is possible that the scribes who recorded the triumphs of the rival faction which supplanted his family were not anxious to perpetrate the memory of his family.

The praise-poets have however, perpetrated his memory and even when a good deal of the fulsome flattery and exaggeration is scraped off, if is evident that Tomultach an Einigh kept Moylurg in a state of peace and prosperity for nearly forty years and that the riches and stock which were wont to be consumed and destroyed in the continual wars were systematically applied by him to charity, festivity and patronage.

The verse-writers recalled the lavish hospitality of the old days of Cormac na Formaoile, those days which, although only two centuries past, now seemed so legendary and remote that they could assign the Cailleach na Carraice legend to them:

It was no less easy for that cailleach
to get lodgings in Cormac's hall
than it is to come to your manor
O king of Lough Ce, the many-quayed.

To Tomultech most fittingly descends the code of hospitality
from Mulrooney King of Ceis:
Few there are in the world
more open-handed or lavish.

MacDermot would give away his own eye
in fulfillment of his generous nature:
If you found a man to ask for that eye
MacDermot would not be the man to refuse it.

In 1446 Tomultach journeyed with many more of the Irish of Ireland to the City of St. James the Apostle in Spain and he returned safely after receiving the indulgences at the saint's shrine. To Spain with Tomultach there journeyed Margaret, daughter of O'Carroll and wife to O'Conor Offaly, she who had invited all persons of the Irish and Scottish races to two feasts and provided gifts and entertainment for two thousand seven hundred persons, besides gamesters and poor men. And she had caused the name of Maolin O'Maolconaire, chronicler of the Siol Murray, to be one of the first written in her Roll of Honour.

The High Altar in Sligo Abbey.
The High Altar in Sligo Abbey.

The names of Kings of Connacht and their descendants were made to tread an intricate snake-dance through the complicated metres of O'Maolconaire's verse and he achieved his honour on account of his historical knowledge and ingenuity. There was another poet in Lower Connacht at the time who was so eccentric as to drag into his poems numerous references to old finn-tales and pagan heroes, romances and sagas having no clear relation to the prowess or pedigrees of the lords of the soil. His poems were therefore not esteemed as were O'Maolconaire's and he was nicknamed "Maolseachlainn of the Fairy-tales."

Tomultach the Hospitable died in 1458 on the eve of St. Bartholomew's day and was buried in the monastery of Boyle. He was succeeced by his brother Aedh and when Aedh died in 1465 another brother, Conor, was elected in his place.

But the family of Tomultach's preceded Tomultach in the lord-uncle, Rury Caoch, who had ship, now felt that a further period in power was overdue to them. They accordingly refused to acknowledge the elections of Aedh and of Conor and took to the woody mountain-passes of the Corrlieus, from which they kept emerging to prey the lands of the elected chieftain. By a systematic assassination of all eligible candidates for the lordship amongst the family of Tomultach an Einigh they endeavoured to eliminate all rivals to their own claims. They slew Conor's son in 1462. They slew a grandson of Tomultach an Einigh in 1473. They slew another son of the chieftain Conor in 1478 and on this occasion they captured the Rock-Fortress and banished Conor himself. Then they set up one of themselves, namely Rory Og, son of Rury Caoch, as lord of Moylurg.

When he died in 1486, Conor, another member of the family of Tomultach an Einigh was appointed in spite of the family of Rory Og, but his rule was opposed by the six sons of Rory Og - Tomultach, Tadhg, Conor, Cormac, Diarmuid ar, Einigh and Cathal. They refused to hand over the fortress of Lough Ce until they were forcibly expelled from it after a two-year war. In 1493 they slew Conor himself, in treachery, and Tadhg, son of Rory, assumed the lordship. (From this Tadhg son of Rory Og son of Rory Coach descend the MacDermots of Coolavin). This branch of the family had now successfully eliminated all opposition and four of the sons of Rory Og held the lordship in succession, namely, Tadhg, Conor, Cormac and Diarmuid an Einigh. They "exultingly slew" the last surviving son of Tomultach an Einigh at Coillte Cleirigh in 1502.

Victorian picnic at the Banqueting Hall on the Hill of Tara.
Victorian picnic at the Banqueting Hall on the Hill of Tara. Photograph by William A. Green.

Carn Coirrshleibhe

But now a new generation of fighting MacDermots were growing up, namely the grandsons of Tadhg who had died in 1499. These were the nine sons of Eoghan son of Tadhg and they succeeded in beheading their grand-uncle, Diamuid an Einigh, at Lis Aedhain in Airtech, in the year 1533, and had their father Eoghan appointed as lord in his place.

Eoghan died in the following year and Aidh a son of Cormac, the chieftan who died in 1528 was elected. This Aedh was Abbot of Boyle and his election was opposed not by the sons of Eoghan, but by Eoghan's brothers Rury and Tomulatach. Rury was also an Abbot, of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity on Lough Ce, and war broke out now between the two Abbots until, in 1538, Rury bribed the doorkeepers of the Rock fortress and had ladders let down to enable them to enter the place in the night and they went in and captured the Abbot and his son Mulrooney and the arrangement they made was that half the lordship and the Rock with its freedom should be given by the Abbot Aedh to the Abbot Rury. A great feast was then given by Rury and his wedded wife. Sadhbh Burke, to poets and ollamhs and men of all other arts and to the nobles of the countryside.

There were now three distinct parties of the MacDermots contesting for supremacy in Magh Luirg - (1) Aedh, the Abbot of Boyle, and his son Mulroonai; (2) Rury, the Abbot of Trinity Island , and his sons Mulroonai, Cormac and Brian, and (3) the nine sons of Eoghan. They were all closely related : Aedh and Rury were first-cousins and the sons of Eoghan were nephews of Rury.

There came at this time an order from the KIng of England i.e. Harry Tudor, that the Monasteries were to be broken down and their wealth handed over to the KIng and that the monks were to be dispersed from their cloisters. Rury, son of Tadhg, son of Rury Og, son of Rury Caoch, went to the council of Erin which met in Dublin in 1543 and bought back the half-bally of Cluanshanville and the half-bally of Kilnamanagh from the Archbishops and the other bishops who were there and from the Judiciary, and Rury gave its own half-bally again to the monastery for the love of God.

In 1547 died the KIng of the Saxons and of Erin, i.e. King Harry, and it is certain that there came not in later times a better king than this king, and his daughter was crowned in his place i.e. King Mary.

So wrote Brian MacDermot in the family book of the MacDermots thirty years afterwards, with a request that every one who reads that should be given a blessing for his soul.

In 1549, Aedh, the Abbot of Boyle and half-lord of Magh Luirg, died and Tomultach Ban, one of the sons of Eoghan succeeded him as Abbot and old Rury, Brian's father, attained to the full lordship of Magh Luirg.

Heapstown cairn.
Heapstown Cairn an unopened 'passage grave' by Lough Arrow in County Sligo is said to be the fourth largest cairn in Ireland. It is located on the northern point of the lake, about 1 km east of the river Uinshin, and 5 km north east of Carrowkeel. In both location and mythological symbols Heapstown bears many similarities to Newgrange in the Boyne Valley.

In 1566 Sir Philip Sidney, Judiciary for Queen 'Eilisdabed,' returning from Sligo, esaayed the passage of the craggie mountayne of the Currlue, a passage bad enough, and the foulest place that ever he passed in Erin. Her chased he and chastised the ancient outlaws of that place called Garron Bane and came down into MacDermot's country in the entry whereof standeth an Abbey called Aboyle, the land utterly waste, the house ruined and not inhabited. To this abbey belongs a great quantity of very good ground which formerly yielded Her Highness (Eilisdabed) nothing. Sidney put in as tenant one Patrick Cusack who agreed to pay the Queen a good rent therefor, but this Patrickeen was unfortunately killed a few years afterwards at the Siege of Shrule and his death was generally lamented.

The gap in the Corrlieus through which the road from Ballymote to Boyle passes, has the hill of Gearran Ban on the right-hand and the peak of Brislagh on the left. Sidney's account of the freebooters who infested this fastness is borne out by the folk memories of them which have survived down to the present time :- There was only one class that wasn't bested by the clansmen: them was the horse thieves of Gearran Ban, the ones in the wood above the mountain, where the trees were so thick you could walk on the tops of them from Meanmore to Ballaghboy and back again to Brisla. No one but the robbers themselves could find their way in and out of that wilderness. Every class of outlaw joined them : men put out of their lands by the clanmen; gallow birds escaped out of the halter; bondsmen running away from the slavery on the land. And sich-like.

That robber-clann was better managed than them with lords over them; they held fairs on the side of the Corrlieus in peace and order. They had tradesmen of their own, blacksmiths and charcoal-burners and farriers and cow-doctors, and a sight of oud black knowledge that's lost now forever. They had the cure for every class of ailment in horses or cattle. They could quieten a mad colt with a whisper to leave him that tame you could steal the tail off him.

Faith, the people, the down-trodden badly blasted labouring man, would be in a bad way in the times of the Clanmen's wars but for the kindness of the Gearran Ban outlaws. They had tanyards aboo in Doineanachrain and they could shoe-leather chape as far as Bearna Loch Thailt. Big giants of them with wethers on their back, in they'd land to some honest imbecile schlawvey with a starving family, some harmless little besom-maker saying the Rosary on an empty stomach, and for the loan of a cauldron to stew the mate in they would give him lashings and leavings for a fortnight. A notable crowd of independant highwaymen, they were, the Kights of the Gearran Ban.

Sir Henry Sidney's "Garron Bane" of 1566 is the last peak on the western end of the Corrlieus, overlooking Lough Gara. The old road from Ballymote to Boyle passes through the gap between itself and Brishla and the county boundary between Sligo and Roscommon runs along the same line as the road through the gap - an indication that this pass is very old. Gearran Ban is 760 feet and Brishla 860.

One of the partisans of Hugh O'Connor, the rival of Felim, son of Cathal Crobhdearg was slain at Finn Charn on the Corrlieus. O'Keeffe of the Ordance Survey reported in 1836 that the Curlieu Hills have different names, viz., the Mountain of Gearadh; Breisleach in Co. Roscommon; Cur na Miolta, and Gearran Ban, which is on the road from Boyle to Ballymote there is a carn on Gearran Ban, the only one which could be called Carn Coirrshleibhe.

The Hag's Cairn at Sliabh na Cailleach or Loughcrew in County Meath.
The Hag's Cairn at Sliabh na Cailleach or Loughcrew in County Meath.

The Gearran Ban

Gearran Ban, the white nag, the reflection of the moon on the lakes, etc. (folklore); an gearran ban ag dul ar scath na copaige agus an chopog ag dul uaigh, the white nag seeking the shade of the dockleaf and the dockleaf receding from it, the name of a mountain in Slieve Felim; fear an ghearrain bhain, any vague personality. (Dineen).

Goran Ban, ooze from limestone. (Dineen).

The correct appellation is probably Garran Ban, the white coloured shrubbery. Or it may be a corruption of Carn Bann, an alternative for the thirteenth century Finn-Charn.

Carved Stone heads in County Clare.
Carved Stone heads in County Clare.

He was there anyway, an ould relic of the giants, a monstrous spectacle with the head and chest of a man and the body and four legs of a horse. And the first duty this Gearran Ban had to do, as soon as he got up in the morning, was to eat the first Christian he met, and he fasting. Beyond that he wasn't a bad neighbour atall and he'd warn you himself to keep out of his way before breakfast, the way he wouldn't have to be eating the neighbours and he's always face west into Leyney and Tireragh or on towards Croagh Patrick to feast off some stranger in them parts.

He lived in his ould cashel there above on Gearran Ban, that's called after him. The minute the sun touched his ould cairn of stones from the east, he was up and off and prowling for himself and it was to the west he always faced.

The outlaws and horsethieves were in no danger from him because it was Christians he was put there to ate, and sure them bucks only gave their children half-baptism. But wan night they planned to rob his cashel and stale the gold shoes off his feet, they were met with an army of weasels with razors in their teeth; they never tried to rob the Gearran Ban again. On morning of summer with the landscape silent and lonely before him in the lucent air, the Gearran Ban stepped out and faced down to make for the level plain of Corann stretching past the Ceis north-westwards. He moved down the pass with mild majesty, gentlemanly, upper-turbed, humane.

Towards him, by bad luck, he sees coming towards him a redshanked girrseach of the people of Mac Gilla Goothe, a neighbour's daughter. He stops her and regretfully he informs her that he is obliged to eat her.

The sharp, keen helliloos and lamentations she sets up fill him with compunction and again he expresses his regret, but points out that this matutinal ritual is imposed on him by geasa, being the conditions Balor ( the Baltic Battling-Ram) exacted on releasing him from the subterranean stable that was his prison-cell when the people of Fomor had himself and the Glas Gavlin impounded down a mine-shaft on Sliabh an Iarainn.

- Sure maybe its only an odd lump of me you'll be eating, says she, and the rest of me to be spread out here in torment for the wolves to chew by moonlight.

- Oh no, the Gearran Ban replied. What I do not eat I shall take with me. Your plump juicy quarters I shall bring to Mor Ni h-Orain, the woman who lives furthest west in the world where the shadow of Croagh Patrick darkens the landwash of the main ocean. A tender piece of girl-flesh, that will be a welcome gift for her in her filial anxieties, for she maintains her age-withered, helpless parents these hundreds of years, feeding them in a cradle with suckling bottles full of soup.

- Ah, wirrasthru, is this the end of me, the girl said. And me thinking you were gone this morning when I stepped out with me basket of griddlecakes and butter and me can of milk for the mehal of the men we have making a battery for the tachar of thould road, to keep it from slipping into the swallow-hole.

- You may leave your basket and can on the ground there, said the Gearran Ban. I shall see that they are deliverd safely to the mehal. Now undress, please.

- Thank you, sir, said the girl. And you were always a gentleman, so maybe you'lld turn your back a minute, the way I won't be seeing you taking the full of your eyes out of me while I'm taking off me.

- Certainly, said he (suiting the action to the word). With this, she ups with a black-handed jack-knife out of the basket and gives him one cruel cut in the belly that rips him to the heart and before you could say "cut amach" she was gone through the bushes to the dark sanctuary of a hazel thicket.

One piercing scream that deafened the beasts of the wilderness and dropped little birds stone dead out of the trees, that was Gearran Ban's death-cry and he ran after that in a red scannon of blind agony with his puddens trailing in briar-tangles for an Irish mile, till he crossed the mearn stream at Corrigeen-a-gowna and dropped down dead.

There's a little green spot in the heath up there, just this side of his cashel, and the deepest drifts of snow that ever fell, there never remained a flake of it on that little patch. That must be where he'd buried. I often seen it myself in the depths of winter, and a foot of snow round it was as clear and green as it would be in the middle of summer. Isn't that wonderful now?

The myths of two eras of pre-history cling round the Gearran Ban. One is the era prior to the introduction of written records and the other the folk version of all past time which lies beyond the memory of living man.

The Giant's Load.
The Giant's Load, or Proleek dolmen in County Louth. Photograph by W. A. Green.

In the foregoing version of the tale there is a mixture of the two eras, one in the reference to Balor and the legendary Formorian battlefields from Moyturra to Slieve an Iarainn, and the other in the girl's mention of "being built on the Ballymote road. It is practically certain that the latter event to the year 1823 sums of money was presented to the Spring Assizes "to build a battery at Derranoghern on the road from Ballymote to Boyle, barony of Corran." In the folk-mind this public work is now pushed back to an antiquity synchronizing with Balor.

More sophisticated legend makes a national character of the Gearran Ban. He was originally one of Adam's horses, later of the hunting stud of Nimrod. He served for a while in the wars of Troy and passing thence to the sons of Mile Espainne he appeared at successive periods of Irish history to act as a war- horse for the nation's chosen leaders - Brian Boru, Owen Roe O'Neill and - ironically enough - the traitor Balldearg O'Donnell who has himself long since become a folklore character.

Folklore experts are themselves the best exorcists and a Mor Ni h'Orain is a sun-goddess and the Gearran Ban the reflection of the moon on lakes, the intimacy recorded between them in the legend may now be dismissed, no doubt, as a piece of lunar-solar symbolism.

But it is said that mothers in secluded nooks of high hollow townlands on the Corrlieus can still quieten their children by threatening to saddle the Gearran Ban and let him take them off with him on his nefarious rounds.

Circle 27 from above.
Circle 27 at Carrowmore from above.

The lords of Ballymote

The Corann heritage of the MacDonaghs was honeycombed with "Bishoplands" as well as "Monkslands" and in the neighbourhood of Keash and Culfadda these were held by descendants of the quondam semi-clerical family of the Giollachriost MacDonaghs of Brickleve Castle.

These MacDonaghs were entirely different, save in their ultimate origin, from the Clann Dhonnchadha na Ceise, and the lords of Ballymote so that even the name of MacDonagh as the proprietor of lands in Corann does not clearly indicate a unified chieftaincy control operating from Ballymote for from their former old castle of Muilleann Adam, which appears to have been located near the ancient O'Dolan stronghold at Feenagh in Keash, probably at that portion of Knocknawhisheog (Larkhill) townland, which was anciently called Rina a Mhuillinn.

Apart from their alliances with the MacDermots, which rendered them almost entirely independent of the MacDonaghs, the family of the Mac Maolrunai Finn, as erenachs of the abbey-lands of Duthaigh na Manach, occupied an important privileged position in the countryside.

The erenech was required to be a Latin scholar and, by virtue of his office, was the usual arbitrator in various kinds of controversies and cases arising in the surrounding lordships as well as in his own termons.

The judgements and penal sentences of the first erenach, the Manach Rua, remained a dark memory in the minds of the people for more than five centuries, but, apart from the tradition of frightfulness associated with his name, there has also been a vaguer, but equally persistent, recollection of Templevanny as a sacrosanct spot once approached with reverence and respect, the abode of a succession of dignatories to whom the people had recourse as petitioners in a formal manner.

It is commonly believed that termon-lands such as Templevanny were especially exempt from the ravages of war; peaceful, flourishing oases in the wastes of the surrounding profane tribes.

It is even averred that they were so well protected by the Peace of the Holy Church that blacksmiths working in their precincts did a brisk trade forging armour impartially for all their warring neighbours. It is unlikely that conditions such as these prevailed in the marches of the Corrlieus in the times and circumstances herein surveyed.

If the marchlands were originally made neutral church territory for the purpose of isolating the baronial lords from each other, it will be evident from the actual records of preys, incursions, marches, counter-marches, burning of churches, cleric-slaughters and so forth that no spiritual sanctions prevailed against the war-lords innate propensity to destroy all before them, animate and inanimate, spiritual and lay, nobiles et ignobiles.

The post of erenach which came to the Templevanny family with their ruddy founder, Tadhg Manach, may be considered to have departed from them with the death in February 1584, of the ruddy Giolla Glas, i.e., an Giolla Glas rua, son of Brian Buidhe, son of Ruairi Cleireach, son of Lochlann , son of Conor, son of Maolrunai Fionn, son of Tadhg Manach (the Manach Rua).

Giolla Glas died young and his three sons, Ceadach, Owen and Brian, and their relatives were obliged to use their wits to retain as much rights as possible in those lands which they had held as hereditary erenachs for nearly three hundred years, but which they now occupied as mere tenants-at-will of the Queen's grantee.

Surveyors of inquisitors of any kind were not welcome in the neighbourhood and persons suspected of prying out the full extent of the abbey-lands were likely to disappear, if not strongly protected on their rounds. Tales of the challenging and killing of suspect strangers passing the Templevanny road are part of the folk memory.

The intention of the MacMaolrunai Finns was to claim as much of the lands as possible to be estates of inheritance of their own in no way subject to monastic tenure. By violence, intimidation, bribery, influence, and a general conspiracy of silence many quiet back-hills remained in the white Limbo of official non-space, which was nicknamed "Ua Breasail" after the elusive sea-wandering isle of that name in the ocean-stream beyond Teach Mhoir Ni h-Orain.

By 1585 the four quarters of "Templemanagh" were recorded as belonging to the Queen in right of the Abbey of Boyle and two further quarters of the same name (probably Carrowreagh and Murhy) were put down as belonging to the Bishopric of Achonry. But many adjoining townlands, such as Carrichnahorna, the three Trians between Ceis and Carraic, Dernaskeagh, and even Tuamour, where the old parish church was situated, had temporarily escaped the vigilance of the inquisitors.

Nevertheless, the official machine was bound to wear down all opposition and penetrate all conspiraces of silence in the end. Giolla Glas Rua's cousin, Manus Riabhach MacMaolrunai Finn, would put his name down as a juryman to a verdict finding the Queen the lawful owner of some salt-tanged grasslands at Aughris, twenty miles away from his living as Lisconvy near the Mass-house of Coill Fada.

And Cathal MacDier, priest of Aghanagh, who had no great sympathy for regulars, was prepared to assent to the finding that the Mendicant Dominicans of Ballindoon owned a half-quarter of land with its tithes and that there was also a cell of the same order at Clonymeaghan in Corann, with the quarter of Konyvogue and its tithes and that these possessions legally belonged to the Queen and had for a long time remained uncultivated and concealed. Cathal MacDier was a priest of a family which for many generations held church livings in Corann and Tirerrill. During the 15th century they, like the Brehonys, the Cloones and other families of churchmen were being elbowed out of their benefices by the monks and the friars.

The State and the State church held the winning hand and, in course of time, through indifference of jealousy or for personal gain, any required number of inhabitants could be found to swear away the lands of erenachs to the Queen and the lands of the priests to the Protestant Bishop. And according as the Queen or the Bishop received the lands, they were as a rule, in this part of Ireland at least, passed to strangers, generally protestants and Englishmen, so that the scribe had to record sadly that the Saxons had established themselves in many places.

Sir John Perrott came as Lord Deputy in 1584 and a Governor of Connacht whose name was Sir Richard Bingham came with him. Bingham captured Ballymote and plundered Corann. Soon after official proceedings leading up to the "Composition of Connacht" were in full swing.

The Queen commissioned Sir Richard Bingham on the 15th July, 1585, to compound with the chieftans and lords of Connacht for a definite rent out of every profitable quarter of land (i.e. land bearing either horn or corn) and the terms of agreements also provided for the renunciation by these chieftans and lords of the arbitrary duties thertofore extracted from the lesser freeholders of their "countries".

Certain lands in demesne were bestowed on the chief lords in lieu of these exactions and both the chief lords and the lesser freeholders were given estates of inheritance in agreed proportions of their "countries".

The "Composition of Connacht", ostensibly designed to remove what an honest Englishman, Sir Henry Sidney, called the very root of the Irish Chieftan's ruin, namely, the uncertain grant and unstable possession of their lands, was (soon to become) a kidskin, which bred germs of uncertainty, instability and strife in every lordship of Connacht. Bingham stood for the enforcement of the Indentures and he hanged, burned and spoiled the dissenting tanists all over the province.

He was of course supported by the lords with the major estates of inheritance, although even they had an inadequate appreciation of the limitations within which they could rule as sovereign despots for the future. In his zeal for the settlements of the composition, Bingham out-stepped the limits of the English law himself and his murders, massacres and extortions gave the people a very poor impression of the "curse and order of the laws of England."

Circle 57 at Carrowmore photographed by Robert Welch in 1896.
Passage-graves Numbers 56 and 57 at the Carrowmore megalithic complex. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Keash and Surroundings

"The person who was Governor from the Queen over the province of Connacht this time (1589) was Sir Richard Bingham and all of the Clann William whom he did not hang he set at war with the Queen; and the Clann Domhnaill in like manner: and he set the posterity of Toirdhealbhach Donn O'Connor and the posterity of Aedh son of Felim and Muinter Flannagain And O'Rourke and MacFlannchaid and the posterity of Brian Luighneach and Muinter Airt into that war, all of them that he did not hang. And he made a bare polished garment of Connacht."

By 1590 the province was certainly very thoroughly annoyed. Brian Og O'Rourke was preying and spoiling the County of Sligo and sacking Ballymote under Bingham's nose. William Taafe and a company of slick adventurers prostpecting for concealed abbey-lands had been driven from the Corrlieus by the O'Rourkes, MacDermots and MacDonoughs. He was to return to these lands after winning the battle of Kinsale.

The troubles convinced Bingham of the need for establishing a strong fortress at some central point which would command the pass between Lough Ce and Lough Arrow and also the Yellow Pass across the Corrlieus. He detailed one of his Captains, John St. Barbe, to build such a fort and by December, 1590, Bingham reported to Burghley that "a new fort, erected in the strait of the Curlews, doth good service." There has been some confusion over the location of this fort, but it almost certainly refers to the castle at Ballinafad. St. Barbe remained its constable until his death in 1628.

Making allowance for all his difficulties and the undoubted double-dealing of the most of the Irish, Bingam's conduct of affairs as Governor of Connacht at a very critical time was impolitic, arbitrary, bloody and tyranical. His ruthless government was not even efficient, for all sorts of illegalities and expropriations were going on in this terrible interregnum between the fall of the Gaelic and the rise of English power, when no species of law or justice seemed to prevail. Bingham's own captains set up on their own as freebooters, carving out estates for themselves with their swords, and similarly the petty underlords amongst the Irish descended on lands which had been depopulated by the wars and appropriated them.

In the summer of 1593, Brian Og O'Rourke invaded Corann again, plundered Ballymote and burned thirteen villages in the neighbourhood.

If one climbs the old road from Ballinafad to Ballymote, on surmounting the first slope one comes in view of the western world in so far as ancient man knew it. It was as far as they could go, there being as they used to say, no houses beyond Croagh Patrick. At that point, there are on the slope westwards of the valley adjoining the range of hills which we used to call Corrig and in fact these are the names of the townlands which are contained in the southern and south-western viewpoint on the slope of the hills, Carricknahorna East and West, Templevanny, Tully and by that time you are approaching a further valley and a cleft in the hill between Corrig and the adjoining mountain-mass called Keash.

As one passes the higher points of the Carricknahorna section of the hillside there is a slope which is certainly precipitous and if one had workers able to devote time to it, and decided where the right angle of descent from the pinnacle above lay, at the bottom of the hill one would find cut in the rock, a pathway up the steepest section of the hillside so as to bring you out at the pinnacle.

That pinnacle you cannot see from the hillside and the road nearer the mountain, but if one viewed it say from the railway line into Ballymote one would find that the pinnacle in question is clearly delimited against the sky and forms a column with a head on it, that represents, and I think four or five thousand years ago, was definitely interpreted as representing, the human phallus.

After that you come to Keash. Keash is a place well written about in ancient manuscripts and in foldlore. Its predominant feature is the line of caves half-way up the mountain, which have the appearance of a sea-side strand with caves opening into the ocean. The shapes would suggest the opposite of the masculine figure to which I have already referred, and would suggest the feminine. However, they were treated in later folklore as representing doorways to the house of Finn MacCumhaill, the leader of the Fianna.

Mullagh na Céise mar a bhfuil Teach na Féile (Féinne).
To Doras Breá gleígeal nár druideach 'riamh.
Tá bá dá dtreaghan agus moilt dá róastadh,
agus siúd é an sógh ná raibh ag an Cacach 'riamh.

Sógh - prosperity, luxury, good cheer.
Bacach - an area of high ground near Ballaghadereen
Tá bá dá dtraghan - meaning uncertain.

These are a few verses of contempt for Bacagh, the mountain near Ballaghaadereen, and of pride in the foodstuffs that were available and cooking in the caves of Keash.

To go back to the name of the column which I have already referred to and called it a phallus - in Irish it is called 'Budagh Da' and that suggests that it represents the phallus of the good God. I checked with Phillip Green, the Celtic scholar in Trinity, and he has agreed that the pronounciation could have evolved into that over the centuries. I got the pronounciation from the oldest inhabitant of forty-five years ago, who left no record except what I obtained from him.

Carricknahorna and Keash were so closely associated that it was apparently agreed to share the pilgrimages which celebrated the festival of Lughnasa between them as part of the old celebration. In pagan times these hillsides were regarded as sacred to the pagan cults that then obtained, they were owned by the druids or whatever kind of people had for themselves the celebration of the pagan cults. The whole of this hillside from the start in Carricknahorna East as far as Keash was made over to the religion of the pagans.

When the christians came along and were recognised by the lay authorities, they took control of these hillsides and their religious establishments showing their claims to ownership may still by found along the hillside. First at Carricknahorna East in a place which went by the name Teach na gCailleach Dubha that indicated that there was a nunnery there in ancient times.

Then we come to Templevanny which is on the western side of the mountain where the column to which I have referred stands. Templevanny is in the valley below, and there are the ruins in the local graveyard of a church which was called Temple a Vanny because it was associated with one monk as the founder of it, he belonged to the Cistercian order that penetrated there from the Abbey of Boyle, and I have come across his name in the Mac Mulrooney Finn family as Tadg Rua, hence the church was called Temple a Vanny. Rua and his name came down to later ages as a terrible tyrant, and he was known in Ango-Irish as the Monarch Rua. Monarch being a mistake for manach, a monk.

Further along the road to Keash, there is a low hill under the Keash range called Grennán and there are the remains of a little church also. I have indicated the Monarch as the little tyrant of the fields of Templevanny, but here, not any more than a mile or two away, the local eminence of Greenan, which represented a place devoted to the worship of the sun, was stated to me to record the memory of a tyrant called Ruan Rua.

I am quite prepared to accept this latter as the original name, because it has been identified as the name for the wandering sun, and therefore the chief centre of the activity of a cult devoted to solar adoration. Why was the manach of Templevanny turned into a monarch, and turned into a tyrant - well the answer is that the ultimate conquerers, the English, who came along and seized on every effort to denigrate the Celtic chieftans who were there before them, seized on these pagan gods who had been denounced by the early christians as tyrants.

They put local names on them instead, that they might more readily by identified with the more recent landlords which had been imposed upon them by the English regime.

Passing from Greenan one descends to a lower part of the valley and here there is a remarkable spring well called Kingstone Well. It has been regarded for centuries with a certain amount of awe, as there was a lingering suggestion that it was used during the Black Death to succour thousands who were dying in the valley, that the local monks who ran the Church of Toomour came out to help the dying and relieve the sick as far as was possible by their ministrations. The 1836 and1837 survey marked it as Kingstone Well. It had been suggested, and I'm not quite sure whether the suggestion was adopted, that it be called Kingston Well after Lord Kingston who was the brother of the local landlord, Lord Lorton. These are all interesting flatteries designed for the noblemen of the nineteenth century.

Kingstone was translated from Clocha an Ri as meaning the stone of the King, in actual fact, the name was Cluiche an Ri which means the King's game. Definitely the local suggestion of people dying by hundreds in the locality is borne out by the name of the well - King's Game - was that which was given to the Black Death in all the countries of northern Europe in their own languages, and in Irish, Cluiche an Ri is the name which was given in other countries, and in all of them the word means chess. Chess was a game which payed no special regard to kings and queens or bishops, it took them in its turn, the same as it took the knave and the pawn, so one word adequately represents the way in which our analysts described this terrible disease, that came again and again from the 1340's for a hundred years.

The Church of Toomour itself gives its name to the parish popularly known as the parish of Keash. It comprises of the parish of Toomour and what is called the half-parish of Drumrat, which is centred on a neighbouring village called Culfadda. I will leave the architectural features of this building to others, and must confine myself to commenting on an altar, so called, which is situated in front of the church.

On the altar stone, so called, there are or have been a number of rounded stones, some obviously of marine origin, which were known to have been used in olden times but not in living memory of any person I've consulted, for cursing people against whom the popular or ecclesiastical wrath was directed. One can recall the poem about Cormac Mac Art who incurred the hatred of the pagan clergy:-

They loosed their curse against the king
They cursed him in his flesh and bones
And daily in their mystic ring
That turned the Maledictive stones.

(From a poem by Sir Samuel Ferguson)

Keash and Surroundings - John Garvin. This is a verbatim transcript of an interview with Dr. John Garvin, a native of Keash, of 34 Laburnum Road, Dublin 14, on December 14, 1985, by Bridget O'Connell, Supervisor, Teamwork T6-85-271, for the Bricklieve and Keash Mountains Survey. Reproduced in the Corran Herald, 1995, no.28.

Creevykeel court cairn, built about 6,000 years ago, one of five near Cliffoney village in the north of County Sligo.