A friend of mine once described the parish of Athenry as a place where it would be impossible to die of thirst as it had a pub in each corner thereof and several pubs in the centre. The parish stretches from Egan’s (pub) in Coshla to Laffertey’s in Cahertymore and from Burke’s in Colemanstown to Holland’s Brier in Moyvilla. I live in the shadow of one of these pubs in the townland of Moyvilla, on the most southerly part of the parish and indeed the diocese of Tuam where it snuggles unobtrusively into the diocese of Galway by which it is bounded on three sides. Moyvilla is an area of fertile, arable land of some seven hundred acres approximately and a commonage of about one hundred acres. This commonage is now shared by twelve farmers and is commonly known as ‘the Turlach’. ’Turlach is the Irish name for a winter lake.
This turlach is in my opinion the most historic part of the parish of Athenry and is celebrated in all the Irish histories and authentic annals from as early as 245 A.D. – two hundred years before the coming of St. Patrick. It was recorded then as ‘Turlach Airt’ because it was the scene of the Battle of Moyvilla fought between Art the Solitary, Monarch of Ireland and Lughaidh Mac Conn. Lughaidh had been exiled for maladministration of laws and resolved to be avenged and returned by sea with a powerful foreign army. He landed at Maree near Oranmore and pitched his camp there for seven days, giving a chance to his influential to gather further troops among the Irish. We are told that Fionn Mac Cumhail, although general-in-chief of the Irish forces, sold his loyalty to Lughaidh. Lughaidh then marched from Maree towards Athenry. The Monarch Art, undeterred by the disloyalty and defection of Fionn, met the invaders at the turlach. The contest was a fierce one, many leading princes were killed and Art himself was slain by Lughaidh who severed his body in two with his sword. According to legend, Art’s horse bolted, with the body of Art on its back. Nearing Kilcornan one half of the body fell from the horse onto a rock. This rock was called ‘Cloch-leath-Airt’ (the rock of half of Art) and gives its name to the present day townland of Cloglahard. After his victory Lughaidh was proclaimed High King of Ireland.
The same ‘Turlach Airt’ is recorded again as the scene of another bloody contest in 1067, between Hugh O’Connor, King of Connaught and O’Ruairc of Breffini where O’Connor was killed and his death recorded by the annalists. One historian when referring to Turlach Airt suggested that “it would be creditable to have a monument erected in that spot”. So far the suggestion has remained unheeded and poor Art and his historic battlefield have been ruthlessly consigned to the realms of oblivion: ‘unwept, unhonoured and unsung’.
Written by Lena Conroy
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published August 1995
Castle Ellen House
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