Cliffoney is a small, ancient and extremely historic village in the north of County Sligo, within the ancient Gaelic kingdom of Carbury. Cliffoney lies close to the headland of Mullaghmore to the west and the fabulous glacial Gleniff Horseshoe Valley to the east.
The name Clia Fuinne means the Ford of the Wattles or Hurdles, from the ancient ford over the Cliffoney river at the north end of the village. This has been a main routeway, along the coastal plain between Donegal and Sligo since the neolithic or new stone age, when farmers from the continent began to land here in large numbers 6,000 years ago.
The oldest buildings in Cliffoney are the five megalithic mounments about the village, built on an outcrop of sandstone, in a line that closely follows the modern road. The best known of these is Creevykeel, one of the finest examples of a full court tomb in Ireland. Cartronplank is another court tomb, and was probably bigger than Creevykeel when complete, but is now quite ruined. Two more monuments are found in Creevymore, while another by Creevykeel was broken up to build a forge around 1880.
It would seem that Cliffoney was a very important area during the neolithic. The monuments around Cliffoney are of a very different kind to those found at Finner, Carrowmore and Carrowkeel, and would seem to have been built by a different people.
The large monument at Cartronplank was known as Toomnafearmore, the Grave of the Great Man. The name indicates that the person believed to be buried there was a giant of the Formorian, race one of the early tribes who contested the ownership of Ireland with the Tuatha Dé Danann during the Second Battle of Moytura.
Cattle-raiding is a central theme running through every story in the canon of Irish mythology. Cattle first arrived in Ireland transported by sea with the neolithic farmer colonists from Brittany. The oldest domestic cattle remains come from the famous and controversial Ferriter's Cove on the coast of County Kerry. Dating to about 4,350 BC, they are extremely early given that the Irish neolithic begins about 4,000 BC. It is highly that they are the remains of a shipwreck during an early attempt to colonize Ireland.
We can be certain that when cattle did begin to arrive, they were highly prized and regularly stolen from the early farmers by non cattle-possessing neighbors - be they neolithic or mesolithic. I can easily imagine that the large centrally enclosed courtyard at Creevykeel was used as a sacred neolithic cattle pen, something between a temple and a cattle market.
Early Christian Cliffoney
There are a large number of raths, ringforts and cashels in the Cliffoney region. Cliffoney remained an important river crossing from ancient times, and cattle farming has been important here since cattle arrived in Ireland. Several of the Cliffoney forts are fine examples, being large raised platform raths with stone-lined internal chambers called souterrains. There is an excellent example close to the ruined megalith of Creevymore, close to Cliffoney bridge. The fort is an oval earthen platform, and stones from the megalith may have been used in the construction of the souterrain. Another fine example is at the top of the hill on the Ballintrillick road, between a pair of cottages on the left.
The largest enclosure surrounds Saint Brigit's well close to the village. This earthen ecclesiastical fort is some 40 meters in diameter. The original church at Cliffoney, Tempeall Bui, was located about 200 meters to the north. The church was probably dismantled and removed sometime before the Ordinance Survey mapped the village in 1837. It is likely that the stones were used to build the extention to the Cliffoney Inn when Lord Palmerston had the schools and church built.
St Brigit's well was a popular site with passing pilgrims. The well is within the ploughed out ringfort, and was one of five wells within a small area. A famous cattle fair was held here since antquity, but was stopped by the church many years ago. The cross slab is an unusual engraving with a clockwise swastika in the top of the cross, and probably dates to the Seventh century.
The mass of the Dartry Mountains cuts the ancient territory of Carbury off from the rest of County Sligo. Between the mountains and the sea, the land was given to forest and bog. There were two roads passing through this region, one hugging the base of the mountains, the other passing through Cliffoney on the coast. During the medieval period Cliffoney, surely witnessed many armies passing through, as the O'Donnell's fougth many wars here while laying claim to South Sligo and North Roscommon. There is a mention of Red Hugh O'Donnell's armies camping at Carrownamadoo a few miles south of Cliffoney. There were medieval castles at Grange, Tullaghan and Kinlough, but none are recorded in Cliffoney. Many of the ring forts would still have been in use at this time.
Cliffoney is home to a long-running traditional music session which was held in O'Donnell's Pub every month for forty years, in memory of Father Michael O'Flanagan. A community based rambling house - teaching session held in the Old Barracks ran for eighteen years. The music sessions are currently suspended indefinitely during the pandemic.