The Great Western Loughs

Lough Cullin & Lough Conn

View from cairn near summit of  Nephin (806m) of Lough Conn in the foreground and Lough Cullin in the distance, with Levally Lough (on ByRoute 14) to the right. (Photo by Pamela Harrington)

Lough Cullin and Lough Conn, are said to have been created when Fionn mac Cumhaill was out hunting with his hounds Con and Cuillin; they came across a wild boar and gave chase to it, but as the boar ran, water poured from its hooves. The hounds ran ahead of Finn and Con ran ahead of Cuillin. The lead hound chased the boar for days until a lake appeared, and poor Con was drowned. The boar swam back to land and repeated the performance with Cuillin.

Lough Cullin is fed by a stream grandiosely called the Tobergal River, the rather more impressive Clydagh River (popular for whitewater rafting) and the Bellevary River formed by the confluence of the Castlebar and Manulla Rivers.

The River Deel flows into Lough Conn and through Lough Cullin to exit near Foxford to join the River Moy, which normally discharges into the Atlantic Ocean at Killala Bay but has been known to reverse course in certain circumstances.

Lough Cullin is shallow, with several tiny islands and many half-submerged rocks, making it somewhat dangerous to attempt motor boating, so hiring an expert local ghillie is recommended. In addition to the annual salmon runs, anglers come here regularly to fish for brown trout, roach, perch, pike, tench and eel. Although Lough Conn has long been considered the better fishery, experts point out that all fish heading upstream to the larger lake must first pass through Lough Cullin, and the astute angler has just as good a chance at the big fish there.

Healy’s Restaurant & Fishing Lodge, beautifully situated on the western shore of Lough Cullin, was originally a coachman’s lodge on the Earl of Lucan‘s estate, converted into the family-run Healy’s Hotel c.1850 and renamed by new owners in 1997.

Pontoon (Co. Mayo / North)

Pontoon (Pont Abhann) majestically overlooked by Nephin (806m), is located at the (very solidly fixed concrete) bridge linking  the two short tapering peninsulas that separate Lough Cullin from Lough Conn; both lakes have long been renowned for their salmon and wild brown trout, making this one of the top fishing destinations in Ireland.

The Pontoon Bridge Hotel***, in operation since 1890, has its own private harbour, fleet of boats and experienced ghillies, plus a dedicated School of Fly Fishing.  A large rod room, drying room and freezing facilities are available as well as a tackle shop selling salmon and trout flies, baits and lures. Spinning rods, fly rods, wet gear, waders and wellingtons are available for hire on a daily basis. Although the hotel went into receivership in 2011, we can still personally recommend this establishment. (Photo –

The Ballroom of Romance, an excellent BBC film adaptation of William Trevor‘s story of the same name, set in1950s rural Ireland, was shot in Pontoon in 1982. The director was Pat O’Connor and the principal actors were Brenda Fricker, John Kavanagh and Mick Lally.

There are a number of lovely old oak forests, lakeshore walks and sheltered beaches in the vicinity, notably at Drummin Wood and Carrickbarrett Woods.

Pontoon is not far from Foxford on ByRoute 15, and is also linked via the scenic Li34 to Castlebar on ByRoute 14 and by a rural backroad to Parke and Turlough on ByRoute 15.

Lough Conn, overlooked by mighty Nephin (806m)

Loch Con is held by some to mean “the lake of the hounds”; the story goes that the fierce hounds of the chieftain Modh pursued a wild pig into the lake, where they drowned.

Lough Conn is dotted with wooded islands, several of which are very accessible and make good picnic spots.

Lough Conn – the western shore.

Knockfarnaught hill is the location for two Ringforts, a cromlech and a Stone Circle. Opposite the hill is a large fort known as Lios na gCorp.

Carrowkeel Castle, built by the de Burghs, has left little trace. Carrowkeel and the surrounding land belonged in 1857 to Walter Burke QC (d.1871), noted for representing tenants in several ejectment actions, whose namesake nephew was murdered in 1882 while evicting tenants from his Curraghleagh estate near Claremorris.

Lahardane (Co. Mayo / North)

Lahardane / Lahardaun (Leathardán – “half the hill” / “the gentle slope”) (pop. 500) is a village between Lough Conn and the splendidly rugged Nephin (806m).

Addergoole Abbey, situated on a tranquil point jutting out into Lough Conn, was associated with Saint Ciarian, and gave its name to the local parish. Long the site of a cemetery, all that remains of the medieval monastery is a low church ruin blanketed with ivy.

The 1798 French Invasion

The French Invasion led by General Humbert in August 1798 was supported by the people of Lahardane and the surrounding area.


The local priest, Fr Andrew Conroy, educated in Nantes, guided the Franco-Irish troops via the Barnageehy / Windy Gap mountain pass; the Crown forces, who had been expecting the invaders to go to Foxford, were caught unprepared, and the resulting debacle came to be known jocularly as the Races at Castlebar. Arrested soon after the uprising was put down, Fr Conroy was hanged on the Mall in Castlebar, and probably buried in the old abbey in Addergoole cemetery.


Celtic Cross memorial to Fr Conroy’s bravery was erected in 1937 by Michéal Ó Tiomanaidhe (1853 – 1940), a locally-born Gaelic scholar, writer and folklorist who had lived in Australia for many years.

St Patrick’s church (RC) has a plaque and stained glass windows commemorating 11 parishioners killed on the RMS Titanic when it sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912. Only three members of “the Adergoole 14”, local emigrants who boarded the ship at Queenstown, survived the disaster; one became a nun and another lived to a hundred. The church bell is rung in an annual ceremony commemorating the tragedy, which is rather tastelessly exploited for tourism purposes (“Welcome to Ireland’s Titanic Village“); major centenary events are planned for 2012 by the Addergoole Titanic Society, whose website is informative about the area.

Lahardane Fair Day, held every year on 15th August, long a religious holiday, used to be a traditional Harvest Festival combined with a livestock market and ’Hiring Fair’ for farmhands, but nowadays serves as a fundraising event for the local National School. Another old tradition that has been revived is the Donkey Fair on the preceding Sunday, starring mares, foals, jack donkeys, mules, jennets and a display of donkey carts.

Lahardane is linked by a rural road with Bofeenaun on ByRoute 14.

Errew & Castlehill (Co. Mayo / North)

Errew is

Errew Abbey

Errew Abbey was founded in the C6th by Saint Tiernan, reputed to have been either a grandson or great grandson of Awley and the patron saint of Crossmolina. The monastery was originally called Mainishir Taobh Thiar do Shruth.


The present ruins are those of a building of the 12th century which was probably erected by Tirawley Burke.


Errew Abbey, founded in the C6th by Saint Tiernan, the patron saint of Crossmolina, who is buried on the monastic site, was the ecclesiastical centre of the territory ruled by the dominant Irish chiefs of the neighbourhood. Errew was the centre of activity in the southern side of Tirawley. Saint Leogar was at one time Abbot of Errew but no details of his life are available. Another of Errew’s monks Fiolle Aeda O’Muingin became Bishop of Cork in 1152 AD. Nearly acentury after the conquest a native chief Fionn O’Lachtna Lord of Bac (Backs) used Errew as the spiritual capital of his possessions. In 1413 A.D. Henry Barrett was taken prisoner in the monastery by the Mac Wattin Barrett Lord of the locality. It is said that St. Tiernan appeared nightly to Mac Wattin demanding release of the captive, until he dedicated a quarter of land to St Tiernan’s Shrine. Thomas Barrett – Bishop of Elphin for thirty years and one of the most eminent men of his time in Ireland – died at Errew in 1404 and was buried in the Abbey.


In 1536 A.D. the Burke’s took refuge in Errew but were driven out by their enemies the O’Dowdas, MacDonaghs and O’Connors. In Cromwellian times some monks who remained after the monastery had been dissolved and plundered by the reformers were put to death by the planters by being torn apart by wild horses. Over 100 years ago the Abbey and lands of Errew passed into the possession of lewis O’Donnell and later Granville Knox.

Castlehill (Caorthannán), a village near the northwestern shore of Lough Conn, was the location of Keerhanaun / Keerhannaun Castle, of which little evidence remains.

In early medieval times the area was inhabited by the Gamarad, prehistoric rulers of Connacht. One of their chieftains, Ailill Finn, is said to have resided at Dun Atha Fene, now Caorthannán townland. The legend of the Táin Bó Flidhais , aka the Mayo Táin, tells the story of a cattle raid on Ailill Finn and his wife Flidais.



Enniscoe / Inniscoe owes part of its name to Saint Mochna, who died on March 30th 637.


At some stage there was a church at Inniscoe called Killadavarogue; this word seems to suggest something in the nature of a novitiate.


1368: Enniscoe was passed from the Barretts to the Burkes.


Edmund Albanach Burke, a descendant of the first de Burgh settlers, lived at Inniscoe in the C14th. He was the son of Sir William Liath de Burgh. He acquired his nickname from the time he spent in Scotland from the spring of 1316 as a hostage for his father, after the latter’s release by Robert the BruceThe murder of his brother, Walter Liath de Burgh, in 1332, directly led to the destruction of the de Burgh Earldom of Ulster and Lordship of Connacht. Warfare between the de Burgh factions climaxed with the murder of a cousin, Edmund de Burgh of Clan William by Albanach at Lough Mask in 1338. Albanch was driven from Connacht for this, but gathered a fleet which harassed the coast of Connacht till he was delivered a royal pardon in March 1340. He was able to maintain himself as the most powerful lord west of the Shannon, over the O’Conor’s and Clanricardes’. He spoke Irish, wore Irish type dress and assumed the titular name Mac William Íochtar. He died in 1375.

In 1386 forces from Sligo Castle devastated the orchards of Inniscoe and Castlehill.

In 1570 Richard Burke of Castlehill was hostile to the other Burkes of Tirawley and opposed them in widespread revolt against the Crown which by 1586 had been crushed by Richard Bingham, who won the Battle at the Windy Gap and brought the prisoners to an island on Lough Conn.

Castlehill is linked via the R316 and an exceptionally scenic stretch of the R312 with Beltra on ByRoute 14, and is close to Crossmolina on ByRoute 15.


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