History of Moygownagh, Crossmolina in Co. Mayo

This parish is situated in the central-west of the barony of Tirawley. It is bounded on the N.W., N. and E. by the parish of Kilfian; S. by the parish of Crossmolina; and W. by the parish of Kilcommon in the barony of Erris. The story of how the parish got its name is told in the 7th Century “Life of St. Cormac”, taken from McFirbis.

It relates how St. Cormac, while on a journey, came to the place now called Moygownagh, where he met St. Daria who was abbess of a nunnery there. She received him so hospitably that on his departure he blessed her and her place of habitation, and prayed that Moygownagh would abound in cows and herds. His prayer was answered, and from them on the place was known as Magh Gamhnach, which means ‘Plain of the cows with calves’.

Although the feast of St. Daire falls on the 26th October, there is no monument in the parish erected in her honour. St. Cormac, however, gives his name to the Church and one of the schools in the parish. It is thought that St. Daire’s Convent was situated where the old cemetery now stands.

In ancient times, Moygownagh and most of Kilfian and a small part of Crossmolina formed the territory known as Bredach. It would appear that long before the coming of the Welsh Normans in the 13th century, or the formation of the present parishes, this district of Bredach formed a unit of ecclesiastical as well as of civil administration.

There was a Protestant church near Garranard Post office and the Post Office itself was the parson’s residence. The stones remaining in the old Protestant church were used by Patrick Quinn to put into the foundations of the present Parochial House when he was building it.

The present church was built in 1846 by Father James McNamara. It is situated in Ardvarney townland, once owned by landlords called Stackpole.

In 1876, Landlord William Orme of Owenmore owned 7,566 acres of land in Moygownagh. Owenmore House was built around 1847 and was the first house to have electricity from the river. When the estate was divided by the Land Commission in 1926, the house, grounds and 2 or 3 small fields were purchased by a Knox family. The house was put up for sale in 1950 and was purchased by Major Marcus McCausland.

Fortland is in Moygownagh parish and contains about 188 acres. Fortland was built in 1810 by an Oliver Jackson of Enniscoe. He was succeeded by his son, George Humphry, a barrister who was also an agent to the Fetherstones of Glenmore. Around 1860, he carried out all the evictions in Behy, Ballaghamuck, Gurtnahurra, Attishane and Garraun. Fortland was sold circa 1907 for £850 and purchased by Adam Cooke, an ex RIC man.

Stonehall House was built some time after the 1798 rising by another Knox family who lived there until after the famine. It was taken over by the Scotts who lived there until the estate was taken over by the Congested Districts Board.

There are traces of an old school in Fortland, which was in use in the 1840’s or 50’s and another in Fairfield Lower.

There is a court cairn in Lessany townland. About two hundred metres to the east, there is another earthen and stone mound. It has two large Ortostals or Jamb stones and a large amount of boulders that have been bored and blasted or wedge split. At the rear of Moygownagh church, there are two wedge tombs known locally as Druid’s altars.

By Maeve Dunne

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