Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Mossley - is this an Irish name?

Mossley Mill
The village of Mossley, in Newtownabbey, is dominated by the old mill, which now accommodates the offices of Newtownabbey Borough Council.  I have a certain affection for the place because my grandfather worked in the mill, his family lived in Mossley, some of my aunts and uncles worked in the mill and my father was born and grew up in Mossley.
Recently I was looking at the Wikipedia page for Newtownabbey and came across the following statement about the origin of the name Mossley.
The following housing estates have Irish-derived names ... Mossley (likely from Maslai).
In fact the name probably arose from the town of Mossley in Lancashire and a family named Grimshaw.  Nicholas Grimshaw was born in Lancashire in 1734 and there he learned about the cotton industry.  He came across to Ulster and in 1776 he advertised in the Belfast Newsletter, promoting new techniques for linen, cotton and calico printing at Greencastle, three miles north of Belfast.  By 1800 he was one of the most important men in the cotton industry
On his death in 1805 his sons Thomas and Edmund carried on his well-established business at Whitehouse.  They also took over other mills in the area and Mossley was one of them.  Edmund continued the printing business until 1834 when it became more lucrative to convert to flax spinning.
As confirmation of the real origin of the name I refer to A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names by Dr Patrick McKay:
The name Mossley has been imported from England where it is found as the name of a town south-east of Oldham in Lancashire.  The name means 'clearing by mossy land', from OE mos 'peat-bog' + OE leah 'clearing'. 
The earliest record of the name in reference to the village in Ulster is in 1839.
Two things strike me about this and one is of course the unreliability of Wikipedia.  It is useful but needs to be treated with caution.  The second thing is that there is a tendency on the part of some Irish cultural enthusiasts to claim everything as Irish and try to find an Irish origin or association for everything, even when it isn't there.  This is another example of that tendency.


  1. Brother Nelson, my grandmother was a Moss and my grandfather was a Moses and I have always believed that those were Ulster names. I sure hope so.

  2. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzx


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