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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839

Parish of Kilmacreehy (c)

The celebrated Cliffs of Mohar bound this Parish on the north west, and are so called from an old caher commonly called Mohar-Ui-Ruaidhin, i.e., the Ruined Rath, Lios or Caher of O’Ruaidhin. This Mohar or Ruin stood formerly on the northern cliff near the point of land called Hag’s Head and was broken up some thirty years ago to supply materials for building the telegraph at the Head. I believe the present form of this name to be no older than about the year 1760, when Michael Comyn, a native Seanchaidhe, founded a wild Irish Romance on three remarkable localities in this neighbourhood, namely Mohar-Ui-Ruaidhin, Liscannor and Killstuitheen, a well-known reef of rocks that runs across the mouth of the bay here. In this romance Mr. Comyn attempted to derive these topographical names from three pagan brothers called Ruaidhin, Ceannir and Stuiffeen, the two former occupying Moher and Liscannor, and the latter an enchanted palace in the mouth of the bay, over which he had power to draw a watery veil whenever he wished or occasion required.

On a certain time, these brothers made a plundering excursion into the extreme west of the Co. of Clare and carried away a large prey from three brothers who lived at Loop Head who, on discovering their loss, gave chase (pursued) to the plunderers and overtook them not until they arrived at the mouth of the River Eidhneach, just as they were stepping in on their own Territory. The pursued immediately turned their prey in upon a little island which stood to the north of the river (now vanished, but the place still retaining the name of Creach-Oilean [2] or the Island of Plunder - Prey) and turning about on their pursuers, a bloody conflict ensued in which the plunderers with all their adherents were killed, and their dwellings in return, plundered and demolished, Stuiffeen’s excepted, who, on his leaving home took the precaution to draw the sea over his mansion and not leaving the secret of removing with any of his people in the town, there it and they remain ever since, with the waves eternally breaking over them, and seen from the land and by some of the fishermen once in the seven years.

It is strange that Comyn did not see the inconsistency of mixing up the name of a Pagan man with a Christian ecclesiastical term, as Kilstuiffeen must surely mean the Church of Stuiffeen and clash as a cotemporaneous pagan term with Lios and Mohar. But we have better evidence for the derivation of the names of Mohar and Kilstuiffeen than anything that could be produced on the subject by Mr. Comyn, or I believe any of his cotemporaries.

For the real name or filiation of Moher we have a pretty and melancholy stanza addressed by some native bard to the ruins of Mohar and published in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society in the year 1808 by Theophilius O’Flanagan, who, I think, ascribes its origin to Hugh Mac Curtin and produces this isolated stanza as the whole of the original.

I think he is wrong in the first place and I can prove that he is wrong in the second, as I have seen a beautiful poem on the subject in the collection on Messrs. Hodges and Smith of College Green, to which the above was but a concluding stanza, and from its correctness in style and sentiment I would take it to be above the accomplishment of either Hugh or Andrew Mac Curtin (superior to anything that Hugh or Andrew Mac Curtain could compose). The stanza above referred to runs thus:-

A chuilim an cheoil bhrónaigh san dún dubh tall
As doilbh an róimh nósmhar so fút go fanne
Móthar Uí Ríogh mhórdha na múra mbeann
Gan coire (tuireadh) gan slogh ceolta na lubadh lann.

Thou melancholy singing dove on yonder black dun,
Dismal and defenceless is the ruin on which you perch,
The ruins of O’Riogh nobly pinacled mansion,
Without a cauldron (invitation) troops music or tilts.

I shall not pretend to say that my version of the original stanza is correct, as I only have it from memory, but if it be correct the translation will be found true, though very unmusical.

From this verse it would appear that the bard addressed himself to the ruined mansion (rath) of a descendant of Fergus Mac Riogh, who was the great ancestor of the O’Loghlins, O’Conors and their dependants, in Burren and Corcomroe, and according to the division of the territories made between the two Chieftains the Moher must have been the ruins of an O’Conor Mansion and that Mansion was very probably a Caher. As for Killstuiffeen, they have another account of it on the opposite coast or side of the bay, where it is believed that it was the name of an ecclesiastical town that stood on the land there, but was swallowed by an earthquake which extended along the coast as far as Mutton Island (Inis Caerach) which was, on that occasion, divided into three parts, and that several hundred lives were lost in the shock.

I cannot well believe that this is an ancient tradition but rather think it is derived from the account of that earthquake preserved in the Annals of the Four Masters, which say:-

A.D. 799. There happened a terrific storm, thunder and lightning on the day before the Festival of Saint Patrick in this year, so that one thousand and ten persons were killed in the Territory of Corcabhaiscinn and the sea divided the Island of Fitae into three divisions.

It is proper to observe here that the place on which Kilstuiffeen is supposed to have stood was no part of the ancient Territory of Corcabhaiscinn, still the shock that overturned or rent Mutton Island might very well be supposed to extend so far to the north.

The name Kilstuiffeen is not, however, in its present form a correct or historical name, but evidently a corruption of Kill-Scoithin, that is the Cell of Scoithin of Sliabh-Mairge, and I remember a passage in the Leabhar-Breac which places a Church of Saint Scoithin’s somewhere on the coast, in the sea, opposite to Fear-n-Arda, where the waves are seen to rise to the top of the Derteach or Penitentiary. I believe it is well known that the Territory of Fear-n-Arda forms a Barony in the Co. of Louth at present, but whether that is the only Fer-n-Arda in Ireland is a question that I will not at present take upon myself to settle.

There is another place in the mouth of the Shannon called Cill-Stuiffeen, and which is seen as a town once in every seven years. Baile-Phaidin, mentioned in O’Donnell’s route in the year 1599 as a fortified place or castle, is in this Parish but has now nothing of antiquity about it.

I collected the following names of rocks, etc., from the fishermen in the Bay of Liscannor, and which have not made their way into the Name Book, viz:-

Poll Camm; Leac-na-Sagart; Tobar-na-Sagart; Aill-a Chaor; Colbha-na-Teide; Ceann-Toll; Poll-Tir-Aodh; Gabhog-na-bhFaoilean; Aill-na-Searach; Cul-Róin; Poll-a-Duinin; Leac-na-mBo; Clab-Eoghain; Poll-na-Cuasnaoile; Poll-Mhaire-ni-Cheirin; Leac-Ruadh; Leaba-Mhic-Crithe.

                                                                                                 Your obedient servant,
                                                                                                            Eugene Curry.