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Magheramesk, County Antrim


Ir. Machaire Rátha Meisce ‘plain of the fort of the drunkenness’


 The townland of Magheramesk is in the extreme west of the parish of the name, bordered on the west by the parishes of Ballinderry and Aghalee.  Magheramesk parish and townland take their name from a first-millennium story about the genealogy of the people called Uí Dearca Céin ‘descendants of Cian’s daughter’ who were once important in this area.  They descended from a woman of the Cianachta tribe of Dungiven who became the second wife of the Dál nAraide or Cruithin ancestor figure Cronn ba Druí, ‘Cronn who was a druid’. There were eight children of the marriage, seven sons and one daughter, Óchae.  The early text explains that one of the brothers, Fróecher Furtre, ‘violated his sister, that is Ochae, through drunkenness, and from that Ráth Meisce ‘ringfort of drunkenness’ is [named]’.  Their son, Fergus Foga, was the first man in Ireland to use the small spear called foga, but the last king of Ulster in the Ulster Cycle talesAlso, because of the incest, ‘the offspring of Fergus, that is Corcu Óchae, are named from the name of Óchae, Fergus’ mother’, rather than from their father as was usual in Ireland (CGH 143a50 p.155).  St Molua of Laloo in Ballinderry belonged to the Corcu Óchae, who also feature in the earliest version of the origin-legend of Lough Neagh.  Rather surprisingly, the place-name was preserved to the present as the name of a parish.  The 1306 papal taxation called it the ‘church of Rathmesk’ (Ecclesia de Rathmesk), a 15th-century document on the lands of the Bishop of Down and Connor mentions Rathmesge with two carucates, and the 1615 terrier calls it Ramisq.  Irish machaire ‘plain’ was often used of church land and the result is Magheramesk: Machaire Rátha Meisce ‘plain of the fort of the drunkenness’ (Reeves EA 48, 172).  The surviving early church was in Trummery townland, where a round tower fell in 1828.  However some memory remained in 1837 of another church site and burial ground in Magheramesk itself (OSM xxi 122).  The ‘bottom of the limestone hills’ in the parish is the site of wells, and Magheramesk townland contained near the burial ground one of the three ‘most remarkable’ wells in the parish (OSM xxi 113).  It had been visited for cures and a large stone at the base of the well bore the print of St Patrick’s foot, like an ‘inaugurating stone’, but by 1837 the stone had been removed and used in a modern building (OSM xxi 121).


Kay Muhr

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