Ordnance Survey Letters, Place Names of Co. Westmeath

The Ordnance Survey Letters referring to the County. Abridged & Edited.

Rev. Paul Walshe, M.A. Published 1915

Inis Ainghin identified – The parish of Bunowen.

September 1, 1837

Dear Sir,
After having studied the islands of Lough Ree day and night for three months, I succeeded at last in identifying all to a demonstration. It would have been easier to do if nothing had been written upon them since the days of Colgan, but the writings of Ware, Harris, Archdall and Lanigan, from which I have extracts very carefully made by O’Keefe, have bewildered me like so many ‘ignes fatui’ The difficulty which presented itself to me from the commencement was to identify these three islands, Inis Éndaimh, Inis Clothrann, Inis Ainghin. What are there modern names? The remaining islands retain their ancient names to this very day.
Yesterday being a glorious day, O’Conor and I hired a boat at Athlone, and we rowed up Lough Ree with considerable rapidity. The scenery is magical, but tame and tranquil, Slieve Baane being the only object which adds a little sublimity. Lough Ree is thick set with very beautiful islands sparsely scattered in it, here a cluster, there a solitary island. We landed on Carbry’s island to see if it contained anything of antiquarian interest and to learn if possible, who the Carbry was from whom it received its name, but it contains nothing but a cottage belonging to Mr. Naghten. From this, we proceeded to Hare island, a large island, wooded with native timber, and containing a good large cottage belonging to Lord Castlemaine. This, I said to myself, was very imposing to an early saint to settle upon it ; let us try if we could discover any monument of its early inhabitation by God’s blessed people. We landed, and were struck very forcibly with the civilisation of the place. Mrs. Duffy, and whose husband took care of the house and the island, at once showed us a small church of the primitive age, but with its lancet windows very much injured. I asked her how long she was living on the island, and she said 40 years. “Did you ever hear any name on the church?” “No.” “Did you ever hear any name on the island but Hare island?” “No.” “Why was it called Hare island?” “From the number of hares and rabbits that used to be on it, but there is not one now.” “When did it cease to be a burial place?” “About 100 years ago as the old people say” “Is there any holy well on the island?” “There is”; and she walked to the place and showed it. It lies near the shore, and is now nearly choked up with briars and rotten branches. “Has this well any name?” “No.” “How do you know then, that it is a holy well?” “When I came to live here about 40 years ago, I saw rags tied on the bushes which then grew over it, and the old woman who had the care of the island before me, told me not to use the water of it for washing, or boiling potatoes, that it was a blessed well, and it might not be proper use for it.” “Is that old woman still living?” “She lives in Cuasan, just opposite my finger on the other side of the water; her name is Rose Killen.” “Do you think she knows the old names of the island, the church and the well?” “It is very likely that she does, because she, and I believe her father before her, was born on the island, and she knows Irish, which I do not.” “Did you ever hear that there was any old stone with old letters or crosses on it?” “Indeed there was, and I saw many gentlemen striving to read it, but no one ever did, or could. I was looking for it here the other day, but could not find it.” “Do you think that anyone would steal it?” “No.” I looked for it and found it. It is exactly like Petrie’s Clonmacnoise stones and inscribed thus:

It means ‘Pray for Tuathal O Huran (see note at end)

We got across to Cuasan and made out Rose Killen, whom I questioned very cautiously. “What was the name of the holy well on Hare Island?” “I never heard it, but I often saw people make stations at it.” “What used the people call Hare island in Irish?” “Inse Ainín” “That’s all right” said I. She then went on to tell me that three lords of the name Dillon are interred in the graveyard, and that she often heard it said that the Dillons built a friary on the island.

O’Conor has found that the old people living in the parish of Bunowen all remember Ins’ Ainín is the Irish name of Hare island. Now, the only question meaning to be settled is, can there be any doubt as to whether Inse Ainín be the Inis Ainghin of the old writers. It will be seen at once from analogy that Ainghin would be pronounced Ainín, for Caoimhghin is pronounced Caoimhín at Castlereagh and Finghin is pronounced Finín in every part of Ireland. There is no doubt about this, and no one will ever now question it.

The Down survey calls this island ‘Inchigin alias Hare Island’ but it is not ‘Inchigin’ – here a mis-transcript for Inchingin’? The inquisitions make frequent mention of ‘Inishingine’ or ‘Inishingyn iacens in Lough Rey continens i cartronam’ which is certainly the Hare island.

The three islands are, then at once identifiable, and retain their names to this day. Ancient Inis Éndaimh is modern Inse Éanach, near Lanesboro. The local plural of éan ‘a bird’ is éanacha, g. éanach, and the natives imagining that Inis Éndaimh means ‘birds’ island, pronounced it Inse Éanach, instead of Inse Éannaimh. Ancient Inis Clothrann is modern Inse Cloithrinn, the Quaker’s island. Ancient Inis Ainghin is modern Inse Ainín, Hare island.

From the Hare island, we proceeded to Friar’s island to see if it contained any remains of a friary. There is not a trace of a monastery now to be seen on it.
The parish of Bunowen is called in Irish Bun abhann, signifying ‘river mouth’, a name originally given to the townland in which the old church is situated, and from its position at the mouth of a small river called the Glasson river, which rises in Loughmakeegan, near Mr. Smithfield’s residence in Sunfield. (The name Saintfield is an accurate translation of the old Irish name for the place ‘Achadh na gréine’. John Hogan, the son of a Dublin solicitor, settled there in 1805 and called it Auburn)

The parish was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as appears from a holy well,’Tobar Mhuire’, or Ladywell, situated close to the north west of the old church, at which stations were formerly performed on September 8, which is now the patron day of Bunowen and the other parish which is united to it.

(Walsh Note: At the outbreak of the rebellion of 1641 the townland of Bunowen was the property of Pierce Dillon and Thomas Dillon. In a patent of the year 1669 we find granted to certain persons named Goodwin ‘the castle towne and all the forfeited lands of Bunowen.’ Bunowen included the subdivisions of Tullimore (Tulach Mór = Great Hill), with a mill; Bogganboy (Bogán buidhe’ = Yellow soft ground) and Aghacurra (perhaps Acadh coradh = field of the weir, was it was situated by the river side)

In this parish, in the townland of Portlick, there was a castle, said to have been built by the Dillons, and repaired by Mr. Smyth who occupies it at present. ‘Port lice’ , which means ‘bank of the flag’ is said to have received its name from a flag on the bank of the lough on which women used to beetle clothes.

(Walsh note: Portlick belonged to the Dillon’s before Cromwell’s time. After the Restoration in 1663, Thomas Viscount Dillon, head of the Mayo branch of the family recovered it. His representative Theobald Dillon, was killed at the Battle of Aughrim. The Smyth family got possession of the place early in the 18th century.)

The people here well remember that the ancient name of the barony of Kilkenny West was Cuircneach and that it was the country of the Dillons, the ruins of whose castles are pointed out at Ballynacliffy, Littletown, Ballynakill and Portlick. (see note)

Your obedient servant,
John O’Donovan.

Walsh notes: The Dillons had several castles besides these mentioned. Ballynacliffy is Baile na cloiche = the town of the stone castle

The Parish of Ballyloughloe
September 4, 1837

Dear Sir,
The parish of Ballyloughloe derived that name from a small village of the same name, situated about five miles east and north of Athlone, in which the parish church and chapel are situated. But the people never call the parish Ballyloughloe, but Calree, which was the ancient name of Magawley’s country in Westmeath. The name Ballyloughloe seems to have been originally that of a castle situated on the bank of a lake called Loch Luatha, and to have been in latter ages transferred to the parish. Of this castle only one vault now remains, but its site should be marked on the ordnance map. I was always under the impression that Ballyloughloe was an English castle or garrison, but I find that tradition ascribes the erection of it to Magawley, the Irish chief of Calree.
(Fr. Walsh notes: Loch Luatha is called Loch maighe luatha and Loch Maighe uatha, also Loch maige uath. The ancient tale of the Hostel of Da choga explains these variants. The plain extending eastwards from Athlone, in the direction of the modern town of Moate, was anciently called Magh n-uatha, and the lake would then be Loch Maighe uatha “the lake of Magh n-uatha”. When the Hostel was destroyed by the Connacht people, Luath, the wife of Da choga, escaped to this spot, “and a burst of gore brake from her heart, so that from her Loch Luatha is named.” The similarity of the names led to confusion.)

The following are the chief remarkable places of Ballyloughloe:
1. The lake called Loch luatha. This has been drained and is now just dried up. It lies to the north of the old house of Mount Temple, and about four years ago it covered about 2 acres during the winter months. It still pours out a stream, which turns a mill at the townland of Creeve, and flows on to the Shannon.
2. The site of Magawley’s castle of Ballyloughloe, of which nothing remains but one vault as already remarked
3. Dunegan castle, now a ruin, in the townland of the same name
4. Not far from the site of the castle of Ballyloughloe is shown the site of a small abbey, but no remains of any walls. Imediately to the west of the site of the abbey is a fine spring called Fuarán, which is the general term for a cold spring throughout the district. To the east of the abbey lies a subdivision of the townland of Mount Temple, containing about one hundred acres called Grianán, which name it receives from a fort which stands upon it.
(Walsh notes: there is not and never has been a townland called Ballyloughloe. Two townland names at least, which were in use until the Cromwellian period were obliterated by the Temple family, who gave the name Mount Temple to the place. These appear in the Down Survey map and in the Book of Surveys as Grynan and Monkestowne. The castle was situated on Grynan)
5. Near the Protestant church are the ruins of a small chapel, said to have been built by the Magawleys, chiefs of Calree.

Calraighe was certainly the ancient name of a territory comprising the parish of Ballyloughloe, as appears from several evidences
1. The parish is always called Calree by the people
2. There is a chapel in Ballynurry called the chapel of Calree
3. There is a townland in the parish called Boyanagh Calree
4. The hill of Tullymagawley preserves as a ‘monumentum aere perennius’ the name of the ancient Lord of the soil. It was perhaps, the hill on which Mag Amhalghadha was inaugurated. Mag Amhalghadha of Calraighe an chalaidh is of the southern Uí Néill, and descends from Maine, the progenitor of the men of Teffia.
The following ruins of castles are still to be seen in this territory of Calraighe, and if, according to tradition, they all belonged to Magawley, he must have been a chief of no small power:
1. The castle of Carn
2. the castle of Creeve
3. The castle of Cloghamarshall (Cloghmarichall)
4. the castle of Moydrum.

An esker (Gairbh-eiscir ‘rough eiscir) or low ridge of sand hills runs very conspicuously through this parish, and in the townland of Mount Temple, is cut across and formed into a military moat of ample dimensions and remarkable height, and I should not at all be surprised if this moat, with its attendant residences was the feature originally called ‘Baile loch luatha’. It appears from the Book of Lecan that this esker could not be the celebrated boundary called ‘Eiscir Riada’ which extends from Dublin to Galway, as that ridge strikes Clonard, Moylena (two miles north of Tullamore), and Clonmacnoise.

It is now one o’clock at night.

Your obedient servant,
John O’Donovan.

Bruidhean da choga – The Parish of Drumrany – The parish of St. Mary’s (Brawny) – The parish of Kilkenny West.


September 6th, 1837

Dear Sir,
We took a long journey through the territory of Machaire Chuircne and identified ‘Bruidhean da choga’ at once. It is on a very conspicuous hill in the parish of Drumrany, situated about six Irish miles to the north east of Athlone. It originally gave the name of Breen to a ballybetagh, but in latter times it has been divided into the following divisions, which are now considered townlands: Breenmore Upper, Breenmore Lower, Breenbeg Upper, Breenbeg Lower. The bruidhean itself is situated in the townland of Breenmore Upper.
It is a fort of earth two hundred and four paces in circumference and containing within it the ruins of a castle, the erection of which tradition ascribes to the Dillons, who were lords of Cuircneach from the period of the English Invasion. There was originally a large circle of stones surrounding the fort, from which it might be inferred, perhaps, that it was used for religious purposes as well as for defence. This circle is now much injured, but it can still be traced. The castle is now a formless mass of ruins, but the fathers of the present old natives remember to have seen a considerable portion of it standing, which was used as a ball alley, and visited by the best ball players then in Ireland, England and America. On Petty’s printed map of Westmeath, Brinemore is shown as a castle and placed nearly midway between Athlone and Ballymore Loughsewdy. There can be no doubt that this fort is the Bruidhean da choga of the ancients. It is in Machaire Chuircne: “The Judiciary of Ireland plundered the castle of Bruidhean da choga in Machaire Churcne.” It contains a castle within it which is always called by the Irish Caisléan na Bruidhne, and what is stronger proof, there is no other place called Bruidhean in Cuircne. The word bruidhean (pronounced breen) is understood throughout Ireland to mean a fairy place, but it appears from ancient Irish tales that the word was used to signify any splendid house.

The patron saint of Drumrany is Enóg, whose memory was celebrated here on September 18th, and whose pattern was held on the Sunday following. His well is called Tobar Enáin, from which one might suppose Enán and Enóg are synonymous. The well lay in the townland of Drumrany near the old church, but was smothered up twenty years ago by George Lennon, Esq.

In the townland of Carrickaneha in this parish is a large rock said to have been cast thither by one of the giants from Knockaisty hill in the parish of Killare, a distance of three miles. He intended to send it further, but failed by some mischance or other. Carraig an éithigh signifies ‘the rock of the lie’.

In a bog lying a short distance to the east of the townland of Ballycloduff, in this parish, rises a stream which is of very great importance to the topographer, for tradition is constant and unchanging as referring to it as th natural boundary between the territories of Cuircne, Calraighe and Breaghmhaine (Brawny). Cormac Martin, a very old man of eighty seven years, a farmer, living in the townland of Curraghroodle, at the foot of Bruidhean da choga, told me with great confidence that the stream divides the ancient patrimonies of three ancient families of Westmeath, namely the country of Dillon of Cuircneach from those of Mac Amhalghadha of Calraighe and O Braoin of Breaghmhaine. This strem takes various names according to the lands through which is flows, but Athbreen (Breensford) seems to be the most current name of it.

On Crosshill (in the townland of Twyford), in the parish of Ballyloughloe, there is a curious sculptured ancient cross, said to have been removed from an old graveyard in Twy by the father of the present Lord Castlemaine. No trace of this graveyard is now visible, but the cross proves that there was an ancient church there.

Cormac Martin says that it is the constant tradition in the country that O Braoin’s country extended to Athbreen. Tradition says that the castles of Cuasan and Garrycastle in the parish of St. Mary’s, were built by the same family of O Braoin. Edward O Breen, of Darroge, near Ballymahon, is the present senior of the name, and his father who was called Cornet O Breen, held Garrycastle and some of the adjoining country until about twenty years ago when he sold or mortgaged it to Mr. Machum. It is said that his son has since recovered part of it. They all write the name O Brien or O Bryan now, which will confound them with those of Thomond. Cuasan castle is so called from a curious cave (cuasán) lying near it.
(Walsh note on Edward O’Brien (E. O Breen above). Edward O’Brien who settled at Darroge on his marriage (in 1817 or thereabouts) with Elizabeth, ony daughter of Robert Sandys of Creevaghmore, in Longford, was the son of John Aylward O Brien of Bessford, in the same county. He had five children, two sons, Percy and Edwin, both of whom died without issue, and three daughters, Caroline, Emily and Frances. The representatives of Caroline, who married Samuel Halliday of New York, and Frances who married James O Brien of Ormond Quay, Dublin inherited the property. They had an interest in the lands of Taylorstown, otherwise Habsborough, in Mullingar parish.)

Kilkenny was originally the name of a church erected by or dedicated to St. Canice, the patron saint of Ciannacht in the county of Derry, and of Achadh Bó and Cill Chainnigh in Ossory, but was afterwards extended to the townland and parish, and afterwards again to a castle of the Dillons, which gave name to the barony. The word West is added to distinguish it from the great Kilkenny in Ossory. The ruins of Cainneach’s little oratory are still pointed out in the townland of Kilkenny, as also the remains of the castle. Near the ruins of Cainneach’s chapel still springs a well called Tobar Chainnigh, which is fast losing its sanctity. There are also some ruins of a monastery in the same townland which Sir Henry Piers states to have been an establishment of the Knights Templars, and which was founded according to Lodge, (Peerage i. 145,) by Thomas great grandson of Sir Henry Dillon (who came to Ireland in 1185) a priest, who was buried therein. In this parish are also in ruins the castles of Ballynakill, Littletown and Ballynacliffy, and the nunnery of Bethlehem.

Your obedient servant,
John O Donovan