Maigh Cuilinn / Moycullen

An Overview from past to present

Treasa Bairéad

John Brown's Map of the Province of Connaught and Clare.
Library, Trinity College Dublin

Ancient Territories

Maigh Uilinn, Maigh Cuilinn, an Garraí Gamhain, barúntacht ó 1585 agus paróiste, sin iad na teidil a thugtaí ar an sean bhaile seo. Sa lá atá ann inniu tá Maigh Cuilinn suite ocht míle ó Chathair na Gaillimhe ar an mbóthar go dtí an Clochán.  Bóthar an Rí an tsean ainm a bhí ar an mbóthar seo, a roinn an paróiste in ndá leith. An Taobh Garbh a thugtaí ar an ndúthaí ó dheas, dúthaí álainn na sléibhte, na bportach agus na sruthán agus cloch eibhir ar fad ata sa taobh seo.  Ar an Taobh Mín tá dúthai saibhir na ngleannta agus an cloch aoil. Tá neart loch le fáil ar an dá thaobh.

The Parish of Moycullen lies 6.7 miles (10km) north west of Galway city on the N59. It has a rich and varied landscape and a unique culture. The meaning of Máigh Uilinn, the ancient name of Moycullen, gives some indication of the history of this celebrated locality.

Maigh Cuilinn can be interpreted as the Plain of the Holly but the mythological interpretation traces the origins of Maigh Uilinn to the tale of the Sea Deity, Oirbsiú Mac Allóid commonly known as Manannán Mac Lir or ‘Son of the Sea’ who gave his name to the Isle of Man, Oilean Mhanainn. He was slain in conflict by Uilinn, grandson of Nuadu of the Silver Hand, King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, in a battle on the western shore of the lake. Where Oirbsiú fell, a great spring emerged and formed the sheet of water known then as Loch Oirbsen and today as Loch Coirib. A great stone, Cloch Mhór Liagán, was said to mark the burial place of Uilinn and other heroes. It was demolished in the 1930’s during land clearance.

Before the Barony of Moycullen was formed in 1585 Moycullen comprised of the two ancient territories of Gnomór and Gnobeg. In the 12th century Mac Conraoí was chief of Gnomore and O’Heyny of Gnobeg. The Barony incorporated the Parishes of Rahoon and Spiddal and stretched into Connemara. The O’Hallorans were also landowners and reputedly built their castle at Ohery on Ross Lake.

For centuries the O’Flahertys had occupied the ancient territory of Muigh Seola east of Lough Corrib until they were invaded by Donal Mór O’Brien, King of Thomond, who led a party of English into their territory as did Cathal Crobh Dearg O’Connor, King of Connacht. At a later, date Cathal delivered Roderic O’Flaherty over to the English and he was put to death.

The O’Flaherty property was then handed over to the O’Connors. As the O’Flahertys tried to defend themselves, Richard de Burgo took over their fort and the O’Flahertys were expelled forever from Muigh Seola. From the middle of the 13th century they took over and ruled the vast terrain of Iar Chonnacht displacing the existing lords of the territory. They built their castles at strategic points throughout the entire territory; one of these was the castle of Moycullen located in the area now known as The Farm.

In 1558 Ruaidhrí Mór O’Flaherty entered into contract with Elizabeth I who “provided for his better maintenance of living, and in respect of his good and civil bringing up in England, he should have letters pattentes of the castle and house of Moycullen, and all other lands in Gnobeg”. This was to be the home of Ruaidhri (Roderick) O’Flaherty (1629-1718) one of the greatest of Irish scholars. His work as a historian and chronologist was known throughout Europe.

But the golden era for the O’Flahertys was well and truly over after a siege of nine months in Galway. The town surrendered to Coote, the Lord President of Connaught, and Cromwell’s troops set out to destroy the people, the place and the culture of Galway.

The O’Flaherty estate was confiscated in 1652 and Ruaidhrí (Roderick) O’Flaherty was left with a parcel of poor land in Páirc Lár between Furbo and Spiddal where he lived until his death in 1718.

In 1656 the Cromwellian Commission granted the Ffrench family of Galway over 2,200 acres in Moycullen. Part of this was O’Flaherty land. The Ffrenchs were transplanted from Galway city. They became extinct in Moycullen towards the end of the 1700’s and their estate was sold off.

In the 19th century, around the time of the famine (1845-1850), the wealth of Moycullen Parish was in the hands of landlords like Lord Campbell, Moycullen; James Kilkelly, Drimcong; George Burke, Danesfield; William Gregory, Clooniff; Anthony O’Flaherty, Knockbane; Michael Browne, Tooreeny and the directors of the Law Assurance Company (later to become the Land Commission).

The Famine 1845-1847

During the famine years, the suffering of the people of Moycullen is well documented in the Diaries of Patrick Fahy PP (1840-1848) and in other publications including ‘Connemara after the Famine’ by James Colville-Scott.

Starvation, disease and eviction were the order of the day. In September 1847 a temporary Fever hospital was set up in a house on the Mountain Road. It later became an orphanage for children aged 2-5 years, and later still a Presbytery. The house today, known as Mount St. Joseph’s, is privately owned.

Emigration resulting from mass eviction also took its toll on the population. Research has shown that the population of Moycullen in 1847 numbered 4,694. This compared to the 1996 figure of 2,784, gives some indication of the decline in the population. Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary (1837) quotes the 1831 figure of 5,965 inhabitants whereas; the most recent census of 2006 quotes 3,527.

Up to the 1940’s or 50’s the village of Moycullen was known to the Irish speaking community by its old name of An Garraí Gamhain or the ‘Pound Field’. Animals were impounded here if money was owed to the landlords, or in latter years if animals were found straying on the road, the Gardaí (police) took them to the Pound. The Pound, a circular stone walled structure is surrounded by the Fair Green where once fairs were held at regular intervals. Situated in the townland of Kylebroughlan, on the outskirts of the village, it remains unchanged*.

Moycullen was originally a townland surrounding the O’Flaherty Castle. That townland is now known as The Farm (An Fheilm) or Homefarm. Moycullen served as the postal address until the 1930’s.

The village of Moycullen as we know it today is formed by the coming together of four townlands at the crossroads, Ballyquirke and Killarainey on one side and Kylebroughlan with Gortyloughlin on the other. The expansion of the village itself in the 19th century was due mainly to the presence of the RIC barracks and its officers who built their homes nearby or married into an established public house like Geraghty’s.  Kelletts, once Geraghty’s, later to become Fox’s public house, was a Bianconi stopover on the Galway to Clifden route. Up to recent years a water trough, embellished with the Bianconi Coat of Arms and stone hitching posts, served as a reminder of these days.

The railroad to Clifden (1895-1935) replaced Bianconi. Moycullen Station was situated in Clochán, about half a mile from the village. The original station buildings are now residential, industrial and retail.

The RIC barracks is currently a well-known restaurant, The White Gables and the private dwelling that served as the courthouse for the ‘petty session on alternate Tuesdays’ was located where we now have a large shopping centre, An Cearnóg Nua.

Once described as the ‘Granary of Galway’, Moycullen supplied Galway City with an abundance of agricultural and horticultural produce including poultry, turf and ”scollops’ from the hazel woods. Women sold their handcrafts at the Galway market. Much of the agricultural land has since been sold and urban walls have replaced the dry stone-walls and hedgerows. Streams have been culverted and in some areas the landscape has been diminished. Several housing estates have been built and the number of one-off housing has increased.


At a time when forestry and vegetation covered the land, the first Christian monks made their journeys by boat. It is on record that some of the Corrib islands were home to religious communities such as one founded by St. Brendan and included names like Maeldún, Éanna, Cuana and Fursae. Many of the little churches or Teampaill here in Moycullen are named after the saints of the time, or by them such as Teampall Beag or Teampall Phádraig in Cluain nDaimh, Cill a’ Chlogháin – the little Church and Lisín in Corrach and Teampall Éanna – St. Enda’s Church in Cill Eagúla. Éanna is patron of Aran, Spiddal and Barna Churches. Cill Cáilín – Cnoc Bán, named after Cáilín a saint much venerated around the Connemara coast and “the Parish Church”, so called by the historian Ruaidhri O’Flaherty in his definitive work West or hIar-Chonnacht written in 1684. He describes the church as “the Parish Church, thereon its chief feast of late, is the Immaculate Conception, what ancient patron it had is not known”. Dr. Michael Browne, Bishop of Galway referred to this when he dedicated our present church to the Immaculate Conception in 1954. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated in 1854 by Pope Pius X.

The townlands of Moycullen, their content and boundaries were shaped by the generations of Moycullen people who went before us. They laboured to improve their modest holdings and preserved the culture they cherished.

They were a race apart. Though deprived and impoverished, they named their surroundings with the rich imagery of poets and artists. Every townland, field, lisín, stream and well, every stone and gap has a story to relate. These names are the legacy of a remarkable people. It is up to us to utilise them as much as we possibly can and to record these names for posterity when they will no longer be used or even remembered.

* The pound was demolished in early 2020 to make way for a housing development

This page was added on 13/05/2020.

Comments about this page

  • Thank you. Very informative.
    All 4 of my grandparents are from the Barony of Moycullen; namely Craig, Rusheenee and Lettermore.
    I still have many cousins in Leitir mor na Coille and the area in and around Moycullen village, and have visited many times.
    I’m now retired in Tampa, Florida, USA.

    By John F Kelly (10/07/2021)

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