Why I didn’t know what I was looking at

Denis Lenihan

My Place

As I am sitting at my home, to the south east of where I live, I am looking across O’Callaghan’s Mills, Killuran and Slieve Barnagh Hills for the last 50 years. To my left is Moylussa hill near Killaloe. The hills sweep across to the right by Killuran, Broadford and onto the 12 O’Clock Hills and slope down into Sixmilebridge. As I look at the hills, which are only 3-4 miles from me, I never took too much heed of what was out there. The terrain is very much drumlin country, with streams and rivers coming from the hills where they merge together and flow through O’Callaghan’s Mills onto Doon lake and to the O’Garney river in Sixmilebridge.

The upland is of very good quality for pasture and a portion of the lower section would be of peaty land, easy to work with and is very good for tillage. In part of these low lying areas is bog. Normally bogs in the mountain areas would only be 3 feet deep but the low lying bogs could be up to 9 feet deep and the turf would be of great quality. As there was a steep hill from the bog, the only way to transport the turf was via donkeys and baskets. Resources were pooled between the farmers in the area and each farmer’s donkey and baskets were used to transport the turf. We would have a convoy of 4 to 5 donkeys drawing turf from the bog. One man would stay in the bog to oversee the loading, one man would oversee the unloading at the top of the hill and the children would travel up and down with the donkeys to ensure the donkeys got to their destination. Once this was completed the farmers would collect the turf with their horse and cart.

I didn’t know much of the history of the area until I spoke to old people in the locality and I was surprised with what I found out.

Portal Tombs

Portal Tomb Elm Hill

We have one Portal Tomb in the parish of O’Callaghan’s Mills. Portal Tombs were used as burial chambers around 5,000-6,000 years ago. The tomb in the parish is situated in the middle of a large elevated field on Matthew Cooney’s land in Elm Hill. I am very familiar with this tomb as when I was 15/16 years old I worked there during the summer holidays helping out doing farm work. To me at that time, it was just a number of big stones with a white thorn tree situated at the eastern side, covered with briars and nettles. I never asked Mick Cooney anything about it as it didn’t have any meaning to me at that time.

Possible Portal Tomb, Moanogeenagh

A quarter of a mile from the tomb in Elm Hill, in the lands of Liam Mulqueen in Moanogeenagh is remnants of what may have been a Portal Tomb. This tomb is situated on an elevated site overlooking Doon Lake.  There are three standing stones, one metre square and in the surrounding area there are a number of stones of similar size lying on the flat. There is one large stone which looks like a cap stone on the ground. This is noted on the 1915 ordnance survey just with an “X” encased with a circle. If this was a Portal Tomb which had collapsed, I feel that the stones would have fallen on top of each other. Liam Mulqueen heard through folklore that this was in fact used as a mass rock. We will never know… somebody may be able to shed some light on this someday. Has anybody ever heard of a tomb that was started and never finished for whatever reason?

Ring forts and Fairy Forts

There are at least 10 Ring Forts in the parish, mostly built on elevated ground. These Forts were settlements around 2,000-3,000 years ago. The one I am most familiar with is the one located only about 1,500 yards from my home place in Cloonnahilla on our neighbour Mick Lenihan’s land.

Coolnahill Ringfort

We were always hearing stories about the fairies so we were scared to go near the fort when we were young. When we visited our neighbour Mick, we had to pass the fort and we were always told to be home before dark because the fairies would be out. Our neighbour Mick would often come “on the courd at night”. When the supper was over we would all kneel down together as a family and say the rosary. If we were in the middle of the rosary when Mick arrived, he would join in and finish the prayers with us. When the prayers were over, the conversation would start about the weather, the price of cattle at the fairs and any local gossip.

There might be a lull in the chat and my father would say:

“Well Mick, Did you see any fairies out tonight?” Mick would pause for a few seconds and Mick would reply

“No Dunny, I didn’t see anything tonight. They wouldn’t be out yet and anyway the night is a bit too wet and windy for them”.

The conversation would continue between them as if we weren’t in the room and we not realising that the story was really meant for our ears.

“The only time you would see them would be on a clear moonlit night around 12:00”, Mick replied

“And when did you see them last Mick?” my dad would ask,

and Mick would say (pause)

“It must be 5 or 6 weeks since I saw them last.”

There was a long pause and we were wondering what was coming next and they were so serious that it had to be the truth.

“I was going home from here and it was a lovely moonlit night and when I got to the gate with the “Fort Field” I saw two of them just out from the fort and they were milking a cow.” said Mick

“And what size were?” my dad would say.

“I suppose they were the height of the seat of the chair more or less” Mick said

“They would come out two at a time. One would hold his hat and the other would milk the cow into his hat. When the hat was filled, the two fairies would run back into the fort and two others would be ready and waiting to come out and the process would be repeated and so on”

My dad would ask “Mick, would you pass them on the way home”

Mick would say, “Oh God, not at all. I would never disturb them in the field. That would be unlucky. I came back down here again, down the bóithrín and back again by the road to my own house.” 

Then my dad might say, “Did you see any sign of the big white horse lately?”

Mick would say, “No, we won’t say anything about the big white horse tonight”

And so to this day we are still wondering what the story about the white horse was all about.

Then the conversion would change to something else and shortly after that my dad would say, “Time for bed, now off ye go!”

We would go upstairs to bed. We wouldn’t dare open the curtains to look out in case of what we might see. We would jump into bed, go well down under the covers and pull the blankets over our heads. Those were our bedtime stories.


Ballymacdonnell Cillin

In the parish we have 5 Cillíns. These were sites where unbaptised babies were buried and date back a few hundred years. They ceased to be used in the 1940’s. They are located in Ballymacdonnell, Dooras, Mount Allen, Doon and Elm Hill.

I visited the Cillín in Ballymacdonnell. It is enclosed by whitethorn trees and one ash tree. There is a large stone to the east and several smaller stones which would have marked where the babies were buried.

Celtic Cross at O’Callaghan’s Mills Church

Around 2010, the local parish priest Fr Ryan showed great interest in the Cillíns. A Celtic Cross was erected outside the church in O’Callaghan’s Mills. He got a lovely marble plaque and had the names of the Cillíns inscribed on it. He brought one stone from each of the Cillíns and placed them

in front of the cross and had a ceremony to remember the forgotten babies.

Bullaun Stone

Killuran was the name of the parish a couple of hundred years ago. It was the site of a church at that time which doesn’t exist anymore. The burial ground was beside that church and the graveyard at the church was extended around 70 years ago and the stone from the church was used to build the wall around the extension.

Bullaun Stone outside Killuran Cemetery

There is a bullaun stone located outside the wall of the graveyard to the south east. These stones date back thousands of years and were used for grinding corn. There is a hollow in the stone for that purpose. It’s likely this may have been used as a holy water font as it was located near the church entrance. The present church which is in O’Callaghan’s Mills was built in 1849.

Teerovannan Castle

Teerovannan Castle

Teerovannan castle is situated on the banks of the Mill River that passes through O’Callaghan’s Mills. It is said that the castle was built by Rory, son of Síoda MacNamara with masonry and architectural details dating 1480-1500. It was recorded in 1837 that the Teerovannan castle was in ruins. A lot of the stone was removed for the building of houses and may have been used to build a bridge near the castle.

The Mill, O’Callaghan’s Mills

The Mill in O’Callaghan’s Mills. The Wheel is 14ft high and 4ft wide

O’Callaghan’s Mills got its name from the O’Callaghan’s clan that moved from an area in Mallow Co. Cork at the time of the Cromwellian plantation. The Mill was built in 1772 by John Coonan on the site of a derelict mill, on the lands of Cornelius O’Callaghan. Used to grind corn, some of the flour was used in a bakery in the south west end of the Mill. It was in working order until shortly after World War II. Shortly, before operation ceased, the power source changed from water to electricity.

The last owner was May Smyth, who also owned a shop, hardware, bar and was the village undertaker. At that time the coffins didn’t come ready for use. The lace and handles came separate.  May stored the coffins in the mill. If there was an upcoming funeral she would say to somebody in the shop, come down to the Mill, we need to get a coffin ready for such a person who has passed away. May would get her hammer and tack and start putting on the lace on the coffin. I often had to hand drill for the handles and the cover and put them in place. In the village was a great character named Donat Minogue who was very witty. He often composed poems about events and happenings in the locality.

May’s father-in-law John Smyth was the previous owner of the Mill and was looking for a working man to help with the bags of corn, so he said to Donat Minogue one day, ‘if you know a good man to send him my way’. A man arrived and John said as a joke to the worker that he needed a reference from Donat. The reply that Donat sent was in verse:

He is the first to the table and the last to leave it, the first to bed and the last the leave it, he’s mighty strong but mortal lazy, feed him well and work him easy.

The Mill in O’Callaghan’s Mills which has been converted into a dwelling house

The present owner of the mill is my nephew Martin John Lenihan and he has living accommodation in a portion of the south western section of the mill.

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