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Tullylish Parish, County Down


Ir. Tulaigh Lis ‘hillock of the fort/enclosure'


The parish of Tullylish now contains 19 townlands, reckoned as 14 in 1657 (Inq. Down (Atkinson) 134).  The church site which gave the parish its name was first mentioned in the Irish annals in 809 AD, when its superior Dunchú, princeps Telcha Leiss, was killed "beside the shrine of Patrick in the house of the abbot of Tullylish" (i tigh abad Telcha Liss, AU).  A reference to an another holy man, Erc Nasca, appears in the martyrologies for May 12th, where the entry is translated "Erc of the fetter, i.e. in Telach Léis" (Mart. Tall. 42); "hallowed Erc Nascai", glossed "from Tullylish in Ulster Iveagh" (Féil. Óeng. 124,130n; Atkinson's Dromore 100).  The medieval notes to the Calendar of Oengus explain the epithet by saying that St Erc wore a fetter in the river, when he was praying (an early Irish penitential practice) or washing (Féil. Óeng. 130-1).  The river must have been the Bann, which flows close to the parish church.

The parish name later appears in the registers of the Archbishops of Armagh: Tullaghlyss in 1422, Tolachlys in 1526, and in the foundation charter for the diocese (1609) as Tullaghlisse.  Tullylish townland and Lenaderg, listed in 1427 as if it were a parish name (Reg. Swayne), were church lands.  The earliest ruins of the old church in Tullylish are late 17th-century, but it is on the earlier site, placed "eccentrically within an oval earthwork about 150 ft by 130 ft across, the enclosing ditch and outer bank of which can be traced" (ASCD 336).  It is beside the river Bann, close to the bridge at Banford.  This was the largest fort in the parish (Lewis' Top. Dict. ii 659b), out of nine forts left in 1834 (OSM xii 142a).  The graveyard is mentioned along with that of Hillsborough (Croimghlinn uachtrach) by the 18th-century Co. Armagh poet Art Mac Cumhaigh as being a burial place of the Magennises (Marbhna Airt Óig Úí Néill §32). A history of the parish was compiled by the Rev. E.A. Myles, Church of Ireland rector of Tullylish for 60 years from 1896, and published in 1936 as an anonymous pamphlet titled Historical notes on the parish of Tullylish (Myles 1936).

The later Irish references to the early church are clear evidence for the etymology suggested for the parish name, earlier Tulach Lis, and later the dative form Tulaigh Lis.  The five earliest forms use telach, an old by-form of tulach "hillock".  The occasional spellings with -leiss, -léis suggest an alternative second element lías, gen. léis "fold, pen", presumably referring to the same earthwork.  The alternative may have continued in use, as suggested by occasional spellings and one local pronunciation of the name.   If the knoll is the one on which the church ruins stand, it is surrounded by a large ancient enclosure or lios, which apparently also guarded the ford nearby (Banford).

 The place-name now also belongs to the townland in which the old church was situated.  However, it appears that there was originally another name for the townland of Tullylish, q.v. 


Muhr, K. (1996): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 6 p. 327-30, where the parish and its subdivisions are treated at greater length.

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