Irish placenames deciphered: a Joycean Gaelic tour of Ireland
By: Brendan Patrick Keane | Published Friday, December 21, 2012, 4:07 AM | Updated Friday, December 21, 2012, 4:07 AM
In the land of Óg, shee
put on her arget brogue
ed moy gal
along the owen sally
; over the droghed dub
down the brick boher boy
into the caher glas
Travelling Ireland means reading a landscape that talks two languages--one an original; the other, its slang-like echo. James Joyce was obsessed with the meaning and sound of Irish place-names. Using his namesake PW Joyce's references, logainm.ie and PotaFocal.com, I've tried to construct a short thematic "tour" through the vocabulary of the Irish landscape.
A traveller can learn to read Irish placenames as words from an environmental language. Irish can also tell secrets and summon sublimnity from the text of Éire
's land--Éire was, afterall, a goddess before she was shrunk down into a fairy romance.
The slang names for Irish locales are the more familiar. Written in the Ebonics of Ireland--the Hiberno-English dialect--names like "Cork" and "Galway" and "Lisseycasey" echo between original meaning and the disoriented English approximation of Gaelic sounds. Going Gaelic in Ireland makes a trip there more beautiful, because funny Irish names are really musical sounds with a vocabulary of meaning.
You can learn the Irish words for various colors from the landscape, for example, by beginning in the capital city.
Hibernobonics is a somewhat cheeky alternative to the academic term Hiberno-English. In Hibernobonics, Ireland's capital is called "Dublin."
The word is kind of a slang take on the Irish language original. The capital's name comes from the Gaelic "Dubh Linn," which means "Black Pool."
The word "black" in Irish is "dubh" and can sound like "dove" or "do" or "dub" to an English speaker's ears. Hibernobonics produces a half dozen variations on the Irish word dubh, including also "duv" or "duff," as in the Irish last-name Duffy, which comes from "Ó Dubhthaigh," which means "descendant of Dubhthach--the Black One." Somehow, amidst these pleasing variations, it's not hard to keep track of the basic sense that in Irish, black is dubh
You can do the same for other colors. Irish is a beautiful language, not least because it is married to a beautiful landscape.
Go to Moyarget in Antrim, for example, next to the five star beach, in Roger Casement's part of the world to mine the Irish word for silver. When a native speaker says "Magh-airgid," the Irish words sound like "Moy-arget" to an English listener, and so the Hibernobonics speaker will spell the Gaelic original in an English way. You'll see this newer word "moy" all over Ireland, because there are plains or "magh" everywhere
. "Airgid," (arget) the Irish word for silver
, is also the Irish word for money. Moyarget also has a "Silver Plains" flute band that takes to Gaelic appellation and Orange parades in equal measure. Irish is an Indo-European language, and so like the Latin word argentum for silver (Ag on the periodic table), airgid ('arget') comes from a pre-Celtic pre-Greek ancient root--'arg'--which meant 'shining.' "Moy"
is a common geographical term in Ireland for "plain." "Gleann" which gave English the word "glen"
is ubiquitous in Ireland because there are so many valleys. "Móna"
is bog; "gort
" and achadh/'augh'
are used in placenames to denote a "field;" "ath" or "ah" is Irish for "ford" or the shallow crossing of a river;
and "cluain" is found a lot to signify a "meadow." Buaile an Charraigín or Boleycarrigeen in Wicklow means "upper grazing field (buaile, 'boley')
of the small rocks (carraigín, 'carrigeen.')
Other major geographical terms indicate various-sized hills or mountains, both megalithic and geolithic. Sliabh or 'slieve' means mountain
, as in Sliabh Bladhma or Sliabh Bloom, whence came the name of Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Ulysses by James Joyce. Bladhm, 'bloom' means flame
in Irish, of which Joyce was well aware, and so he made the nemesis of Bloom, the English translation of bladhm: Hugh 'Blazes' Boland. The Irish name Hugh, comes from the word "aodh" and means "fire."
Leopold Bloom (flame) and Hugh (fire) Blazes Boland are both born from Irish Gaelic etymology. The translations of 'bloom-bladhm-flame'
enrich a reading of Joyce's books, as much as a reading of Ireland's landscape itself.
Such Gaelic etymology games are at the heart of Joyce's imagination. His own wife, for example, Nóra Barnacle was immortalized by Joyce's translation of her last name, so that he freckles his works with allusions to the barnacle goose. Her last name Barnacle comes from Galway and is a translation of the original Irish name cadhain, 'kane' which means goose or specifically the "barnacle goose"
--a totemic animal in his work, and also to the Keane (cadhain, 'kane')
family. My father's father's family are catháin from Clare, and derive the name from cath for "battle,"
and so catháin, 'keane' means "battler;"
as the Cathach, or the oldest surviving book of the Irish library, written-out by Colm Cille, means "Battler." It may mean this, because it was the subject of the world's first copyright legal despute, heard by Irish brehon or judges. Still, I prefer to think of a wild goose being my family's progenitor. Irish imagination is as knotty and connective as the genes.
Other elevations found in the vocabulary of Ireland's geography include ard
etc. Brí Ghabhann or Brigown in Cork means "the brí, 'bree' or hill
of the smith (gabhann, 'gown'
But back to colors. Yellow in Irish is "buí," which sounds like "bwee" or "boy"
in Hibernobonics, as in Ballaghboy, County Clare, which means "yellow way" or "beallach buí." Bealach ('ballagh')
is a common Irish word, and might remind Americans of early pop song "Faugh a Ballagh!" a ditty from the late ninteenth century, where the song title is the Irish war cry "fág an bheallach!" "clear the way!" "fág the ballagh!"Red or dearg (jahr-ig)
is a wonderous color in Irish story. Lough (loch, lake)
Derg (Dearg) is the third largest 'lake' in Ireland, shared by three counties, Galway, Tipperary and Clare. The lake's original name is Loch Deirgderc, or "lake of the red-eye."
The red-eye in question belongs to an ancient character from Irish literature named Eochaid, who pops up in lots of stories, and rightly deserves to have a lake named after his eyeball.
When in Avalbane, you might think about how the Irish word for "white" is "bán" but becomes "bane" in the Irish slang of English. Avalbane is a place named for its white ('bane'/bán)
aval/abhall or orchard.
Irish as a written language begins with Ogham, an alphabet key inscribed vertically along a spine or trunk, where each letter refers to a tree. Ireland once abounded in trees, but because that's where rebels and Algonquins hide, the forests did not escape the ax of English expansion. English colonists have long feared the woods, and cleared much Irish and American forest in pursuit of security.
Irish placenames often remember forests long gone. Each ogham tree can correspond to at least one place in Ireland that is also named for a sacred grove or tree.
There are two common Irish words for grove or forest found all over the island. Keelty in Clare comes from coillte, the Irish word for forest
. County Roscommon is named for the "ros" or sacred grove
founded there by Comáin in the 700s AD. Russagh Ros Each, in County Offaly means, "wood of the horses," where "ros" means wood and "each" or "agh" is Irish for "horses."
Ros na Rún, the famous Irish TV show, means "peninsula of secrets," because "ros" can mean two things, "woods" or it can mean "peninsula"
in Irish topography.
Mullacrew in Louth is Mullach Craoibhe, "the summit of the spreading trees," where mullach / 'mulla' is Irish for summit
and 'crew' or 'creeva' or craoibhe is "branches."
The first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, was known by his Algonquin (really Gaelic) name An Craobhin Aoibhinn, The Beautiful Branch. He came from Ros Comáin, the woods of Comáin, and he was thought himself to be an exemplary bough of oak from the very old ros of Irish culture.
"Coll" is Irish for "hazel," and Colehill or An Chúlchoill is a place in Offaly which means "back (cúl, 'cole')
of the hazel (choill, 'hill'
)." Moycullen in Connacht is the plain of "holly," because "cullen" is the Hibernobonics approximation of "cuillin" which means "of holly"
while "plain" is "moy" or "magh" or in Gaulic France: "magus."
Ballaghkeeran in Kilkenny is "the way lined with quicken trees," where "caorthainn" or "keeran" is Irish for the rowan or quicken
. Rossbehy, near Killarney is Ros Beithe, the birch (beith / 'behy'
) grove (ros / 'ross').
Unshinagh is Uinseannach in Armagh, a place producing ash trees (uinnse / 'unshi'
). Derry city or Doire means "an oak grove."
Durrow or Darú in Kilkenny is mentioned by Bede the English scholar who gives an etymology of Durrow when he writes about "a noble monastery in Ireland, which, from the great number of oaks, is in the ...[Irish] language called Dearmhagh [Darwah], the field of the oaks."
Ballaghaderreen or Bealach an Doirín in Mayo or Maigh eó means "the road (bealach / 'ballagh')
of the derreen (doirín / 'derreen'
) or little oak wood." Maigh eó means itself "plain of the yew," where the word "magh" or "plain" is spelled "may" like "moy" and eó, 'o' is the Irish word for "yew."
Ballaghderreen, Mayo would translate into "Way through a Little Oak grove on the Plain of Yew."
Lisnaskea or Lios na Scéithe in Fermanagh means "the fort (lios / 'lis'
) of the sceach / 'skea' or whitethorn tree
." The village gets its name from the Skagowra or the Sceach Ghabhra, which was the whitethorn tree under which The Maguire was once inaugurated chief of the Maguire clann. Clans and bally often organized their sense of unity around a massive sacred tree (bile, 'billa'
) in the center of their community or on their lands.
Aghavilla or Achadh Bhile in Leitrim means "the field (achadh / 'agha'
) of the bile / 'villa' or sacred old tree
." France is like Ireland with Gaulic placenames. Billom in Auvergne, in the middle of France (Gaul) was once called Biliomagus in Gaulic (actually Latinized Gaulic, which is analogous to Hibernonbonics or Anglified Gaelic), which means "plain (magus) of the sacred trees (bili)," "bili" is like the Irish word "bile" and "magus" is like the Irish word "magh" or "moy" or "plain."
The bile was a tended tree, and its branches were revered, and the tools of office were made from its boughs. Deciphering French placenames is often enriched with a knowledge of Irish language and topography. The city of Lyon is named for the same God of Irish legend that gives his name to County Lú north of Dublin. When Rome occupied Gaul, they made Lyon an administrative center, and called it Lugdunum--Fort (dún or 'don' is the Irish word for fortress
) of Lúgh (Lú is the supreme mercurial god of the Celts).
[London similarly means--literally--"Lú's Fort."]
There are lots of common Irish words for fortified communities: dún, rath, lis, caher, cashel
etc. Cluain na gCaiseal or Cloonnagashel in Mayo means the "meadow of the castles."
Irish martial arts (Na hEalaíona Troda)--of which Lú was skilled--was often taught by women--such as Scáthach who taught CúCú--and a weapon of choice in Batadóireacht--a subset of Na hEalaíona--was called the Dreen or Draighean, a branch of the blackthorn
, and also the name of a village in Antrim.
Aghowle or Achadh Abhla in Wicklow is named for "a field of apple trees," where abhla / 'owle' is an older word for "úllord" or orchard.
Clonsilla or Cluain Saileach in Dublin is the "meadow of sallows." The Yeats version on the traditional poem Down by the Sally Gardens describes love lost in a willow garden, where sally or sallows (from saileach)
is another English word borrowed from the original Irish, this time for willow.
Ireland should have by now the reputation for having among the finest gourmet organic produce in the world, and according to food prizes on the continent, some bally are emerging from famine legacy and rediscovering the cornucopia of Ireland with vengeance. Through place-name wisdom, traditional foods are whispered from the imagination of Ireland's poetic locales, salivating mind and mouth with lovely words for food.
Clonliff or Cluain Lus in Fermanagh is "the meadow (cluain or 'clon'
) of herbs (lus or 'liff'
)." Lusmagh or Lusmhaigh in Offaly is "the plain (magh) of herbs (lus)." Annacramph or Eanach Creamha in Monaghan means "the marsh (eanach / 'anna'
) of the wild garlic (creamha / 'cramph'
)." Clonmel or Cluain Meala in Tipperary is "the meadow (cluain) of honey (mil / 'mel'
)." Gortahork or Gort an Choirce means "the field (gort
) of the oats (an choirce / 'ahork'
)." Macan in Cavan means "a place producing parsnips (meacan / 'macan'
)." Monivea or Muine an Mheadha in Galway is explained by the Four Masters to be a place of "the shrubbery (muine / 'mon'
) used for mead (an mheadha / 'ivea'
Occupying the landscape less these days, animals find final refuge in the names of places all over Ireland.
Coneykeare in Carlow is just like Coney Island
in Brooklyn, both were named by Irish speakers in honor of the "rabbit warrens" (coinín or 'coney' is Irish for rabbit
). Anywhere in the Irish diaspora you see the word coney or conín, think rabbit. Clontarf or Cluain Tarbh where I lived at 92 Kincora Court is according to the Four Masters, "the meadow of the bulls," where Brian Bóromha (bull of bulls) unified the clanns and liberated Ireland from Vikings.
My favorite Dublin placename is The Shelbourne Hotel, which comes from Shelbourne or Síol Brain in Wexford and means "the seed (síol / 'shel'
) of Bran / 'Bourne.' Bran means 'Raven"
in Celtic languages, and is the root of Brandon, Bourne, Brendan and Brenus who conquered Rome. I prefer to think of Brénainn or Bran in their boats sailing towards Brazil to any blackbird of death picking on the carcass of an empire. Brazil
is, incidentally, an Irish placename too, coming from the name for the mystical island called Hy-Brazil in older Irish, which means "island (í, 'hy') of beauty (bres, 'braz')". Ned or Nead
is a village in Derry, and is also simply the Irish word for "a nest
." Moynalty or Magh nEalta in Meath means the "plain of the flocks (na nealta / 'nalty')."
Lugnaquillia or Lug na gCoilleach is the highest mountain in Wicklow, and means "the hollow (lug)
of the cocks or grouse (na gCoileach / 'naquillia')
." Drumillard or Droim Iolaird in Monaghan means the "the eagle's (iolar / 'illard'
) ridge (droim / 'drum'
). Gay island or Gé in Fermanagh means "goose (gé, 'gay') island."
Altnaveagh or Alt na bhFiach in Tyrone is "the cliff (alt) or glen side of (na bhfiach / 'naveagh') the ravens
." Bran is another word for raven, fiach, 'feagh.'
Cadhain is another word for goose, as in Achadh Cadhain or Aghakine in Longfort which means "field (achadh, 'agha'
) of the goose (cadhain, 'kine' or 'kane' or 'keane'
Pollacappul or Poll an Chapaill in Galway means "the hole (poll
) of the horse (capaill / 'cappul'
)." Cloonlara or Cluain Lára in Kerry means the "meadow (cluain / 'cloon'
) of the mare (láir / 'lara'
);" Leamlara or Léim Lára in Cork means "the mare's leap (léim / 'leam'
)." Aughrim or Eachroim in Galway means "the ridge (droim / 'rim'
) of the horse (each / 'augh'
);" while Aughinish or Each Inis in Clare means "the island (inis / 'inish'
) of horses (each / 'augh'
)." Horse in Irish is "capall" or "each," where the latter shares a root with the Latin "equestrian"/each and "caballo"/capall.
Mocollop or Maigh Cholpa in Port Láirge means "the plain (magh / 'mo')
of the calves (colpaí / 'collop'
)." Ballinalee or Béal Átha na Lao in Longfort means "the mouth (béal / 'ball'
) of the calves (lao / 'lee'
is the more familiar word)." Clonygowan or Cluain na nGamhan in Offaly is "the meadow (cluain / 'clon'
) of the calves (gamhan / 'gowan'
)." Drumbo or Droim Bó in Down means "the cow's (bó / 'bo'
) ridge." Drumgowna or Droim Gamhna in County Lú means "the ridge (droim / 'drum'
) of the heifers (gamhna / 'gowna'
Glenagarey or Gleann na gCaorach in Dublin means the "glen of the sheep (na gcaoirigh / 'nagarey'
);" while the Ounageeragh River or Abhainn Áth na gCaorach in Cork means "the river ford of the sheep," na gCaorach: 'nageeragh'
." Drummuck or Droim Muc in Tyrone is "the ridge of the pigs (muc)."
Altaturk or Altan Torc in Antrim is "the glen side (altan,
like the group) of the boar (torc / 'turk'
)." Whereas Ballincollig or Baile an Chullaigh in Cork, is "the town of the boar (collaigh / 'collig'
Keimaneigh or Ceim an Fhiaigh in Cork, means "the step (ceim / 'keim'
) of the deer (an fhiagh / 'aneigh'
)." Annahilt or Eanach Eilte in Down means "the marsh (eanach / 'anna'
) of the doe (eilit / 'ahilt')." Cloonshannagh or Cluain Sionnach in Roscommon means "fox (sionnach / shannagh
) meadow (cluain / 'cloon'
)." Brockagh or An Bhrocach in Cill Dara means "a place of badgers (broc / 'brock'
Drumsna, or Druim ar Snámh in Leitrim means the "ridge of swimming (snámh / 'sna
')," and may refer to animals (including people). Annaghaskin or Eanach Eascann in Dublin, near Bray; means "the marsh (eanach / 'Annagh'
) of the eels (eascainne / 'askin'
Drumavaddy or Droim an Mhadaidh in Monaghan means "the ridge of the dog (an mhadra / 'avaddy'
)." Breaghva or Bréachmhaigh in Clare, means "the plain (maigh / 'va')
of the wolves (breach / 'breagh'
). Lisnagat or Lios na gCat in Armagh means "the fort (lios / 'lis'
) of the cats (na gCat / 'nagat'
Irish placenames also invoke people, whether, chieftains or gods or poets; and sometimes without specifying any particular person.
Slievenamon or Sliabh na mBan in Tipperary means "the mountain of the women." Monamintra or Móin na mBaintreach in Waterford means "the bog (móin / 'mon'
) of the widows (na mbaintreacha / 'namintra'
)." Ballinamought or Baile na mBocht near Cork means "the town (baile / 'ball'
) of the poor people (na mBocht / 'namought'
There are places where the people of Ireland would gather in monster rallies, like the one Stephen O'Colbert called to Washington with Jon Stewart--like Daniel O'Connell, the late night boys had the same amplification problems in DC in 2010, O'Connell had at Tara in the 1830s. Ballinasloe or Béal Átha na Sluaighe in Galway means "the ford-mouth (béal átha / 'balli'
) of the gathering crowds (na sluaighe / 'nasloe'
). Naas or Nás in Kildare is the most ancient residence of the kings of Leinster and yet another Irish word for place of gathering. Pubblebrien or Pobal Bhriain in Limerick means O'Brien's people (pobal / 'pubble')
. There are lots of Irish words for pobal in the sense of people, such as clann or muintir or tuatha or tír or bally. Monasteranenagh or Mainistir an Aonaigh in Limerick means "the monastery of the fair (aonaigh / 'anenagh' which comes from the Irish word for "one" "aon" and so a fair has the sense of 'oneness.'
Some places are associated with professions. Ballingowan or Baile an Ghabhann in Kerry means "the town (baile / 'bally'
) of the smith (gabhann / 'gobha'
)--the Irish blacksmith gets his professional name 'gabhann' from Goibniu (later Gobban Saor) the Hephaestus smith god
of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Ireland's Olympian pantheon, resident at Tara.
Ballinree or Baile an Rí in Tipperary means "the town (baile / 'bally'
) of the king (rí / 'ree'
)." Rí is related to the Latin word rex, which is related to the word "reach," as in the reach of the rex is his region. In this way, the Irish god Lú has an epithet--Lámhfhada--which means long-hand implying his kingship and metis or skill. The silver spire in the middle of Dublin is reminiscent of Lugh's spear--the Areadbhar--or the silver arm of Nuadha, another king whose severed arm was restored, as with his kingship, when a smith fashioned him a silver arm, called the Airgetlám.
Ballintaggart or Baile an tSagairt in Laois means "the town of the priest (sagairt / 'saggart' ) or (an tSagairt / 'intaggart')
. Ballinteer or Baile an tSaoir in Dublin means "the town of the carpenter (an tSaoir / inteer'
); while Derrynaseer or Doire na Saor in Antrim, means "the oak grove (doire / 'derry)
of the carpenters (saor / 'seer'
). Ballinaspick or Baile an Easpaig in West Meath means "the bishop's (easpag / 'aspick') town." Graiguenamanagh or Gráig na Manach in Kilkenny means "the hamlet (gráig / 'graigue'
) of the monks (manach / 'managh'
). Monabraher or Móin na mBráthar in Cork, means "the bog (móin, 'mon') of the friars (bráthar / 'braher'
Non-sanctioned professions are found in placenames, such as Ballingaddy or Baile an Ghadaí in Limerick which means "the town of the thief (gadaí / 'gaddy'
). As are the accoutrements of the opposing profession: Drumshallon or Droim Sealann in County Lú means "the ridge (droim / 'drum'
) of the gallows (sealann / 'shallon'
); Shallon or Sealúin in Dublin means quite literally "a hangman's rope or gallows."
To compliment the professions, we might take a trip through old industrial Ireland, and encounter some of the places that produced Ireland's china, linens and titanic ships. Aghnamullen or Achadh na Muileann in Monaghan means "the field (achadh / 'agh'
) of the mills (muileann / 'mullen'). Multyfarnham or Muilte Farannáin in Westmeath means "Farannan's mills (muilte, 'multy'
Drumcliff or Droim Chliabh in Sligo means "the ridge of the baskets (cliabh / 'cliff'
). Toor or An Tuar in Waterford means "a bleaching or drying place." Tuar also means 'omen'--
conflating perhaps the ghost and the floating white sheet in a terrifying word 'tuar'? Annahagh or Eanach Átha in Armagh means "the ford (eanach / 'anna'
) of the kiln (áith, 'hagh'
). Clooncunna or Cluain Connaidh in Limerick means "the meadow (cluain / 'cloon'
) of the firewood (connadh / 'cunna'). Slieve Anierin or Sliabh an Iarainn in Leitrim means "the mountain (sliabh / 'slieve') of the iron (iarann / 'ierin'
)--a source of iron ore for the áitheanna, 'aghanna' or kilns
. Teallach Dhúnchadha or Tullyhunco in Cabhán means "the anvil (teallach, 'tully'
) of Dúnchadha, Dunco or Dennis. An Teallach in Scotland is a magnificent mountain that also means "anvil" or "forge" in the Gaelic variation spoken there.
The vocabulary of Irish architecture points to a world, much like Japan, that was built in wood, and burned to the ground by successive invaders. Stone buildings are sometimes known to us only as ruins, because later colonial administrators took to the tí mór--the big houses--and cleared lands of sean tí (old houses). The American city, Baltimore
, gets its name from a place in Longford named Baltimore or Baile Tí Mór, which mean "village (bal / 'baile'
) of the big houses (tí mór / 'timore'
, like teepees, are often semi-permanent or nomadic constructions, meaning "old (sean / 'shan') houses (tí / 'tee'
)." Nohoval or Nuachabháil in Kerry means "new (nua
) habitation (chabháil / 'hoval'
)," which may be the origin of the English word "hovel
," which originally meant ""canopied niche or shrine for a statue or image," before it meant shanty.
The architecture of nomadism is settled in ancient placenames. Drumlease or Droim Lias in Leitrim means "the ridge (droim
) of the huts (lias / 'lease'
). Raphoe or Ráth Bhoth in Donegal means "the fort (rath / 'ra'
) or tents (bhoth, bothán / 'phoe'). This is the word that gave the famous Bothy Band their name
.Lynn or Lainn in West Mí means "a house or church." Errigal or Aireagal in Donegal means "a habitation; a small church."
My father (bull of bulls) grew up at 92 Errigal Road in Dublin, in a lovely little house. All the streets in his neighborhood were named for mountains in Ireland, including Errigal of Donegal. Errigal comes from the Irish word aireagal and means "little holy habitation," such as may have been found on that mountain and was certainly on that road. To hear my father talk of 92 Errigal Road, you would never forget what aireagal / 'errigal' means. Direction
The Irish, historically--like the Hindus--love shrines, and the landscape is littered with holy structures of all sorts, placed with a sense of the larger directions. Skreen or An Scrín in Wexford literally means "the shrine," for example. Tempo or An tIompú Deiseal in Fermanagh looks like the word "temple," but is actually a Gaelic ritual instruction from pagan times. An tIompú Deiseal or 'an Timpo deshill' is the clockwise turning dervish dance of old Irish sun worship.
James Joyce invoked the deshil, deshil deshil in his chapter from Ulysses--Oxen of the Sun--when he attempted in that chapter to recreate the genesis of Irish and British literature in his imagination from old druid deshil ritual. Literature in his history begins with the Gaelic chant and ends (to begin again) with the murmuring of Molly Bloom to herself at the end of Ulysses. Deshil means circumabulate, and it invokes the movement of the sun--(Tempo or an tIompú means turning, behave, transport, from the Irish word iompair
). The circular movement of being or beginning is inherent in Finnegans Wake--Finn Again Awake, where Fionn or Finn is Finn MacCool, the Irish hero is made sit-up and become again at his own wake.
Circumabulation is holy to the Irish mind, and Tempo is a great place to circumabulate sunwise. As would be Maigh Dheisil or Modeshil in Tipperary, the plain for deshil, or the southern plain, where deshil incorporates the words deis (right(-hand)) and deas (south).
Directions in Irish stem from a thoughtful sense of space that relates to the deshil ritual. Becoming starts in the east, with the south on the deis, or right side of the observer looking eastward. Turning deshil, the right hand progresses from the south, eastward, through the north until the winter of the circle in the west is passed and the right (deis) hand is south (deas) again.
Ros Oirthir or Rossorry in Fermanagh means the "eastern (oirthir, 'orry')
peninsula (ros)." An Clochán Beag Thoir or Cloghaun Beg Thoir means (little stone East (thoir). Soir is another east
Cluain Tuaiscirt or Cloontuskert in Roscommon means the "northern (tuaisceart, 'tuskert'
) meadow. Ráth Tuaidh or Rattoo in Kerry means "the northern (tuaidh, 'too')
An Chrois Thiar is Cross West (thiar
) in Mayo. Iarthar na Cathrach is City West (iarthar
) in Dublin. Siar is another west
Maigh Dheisil or Modeshill in Tipperary means "the southern (deisil, 'deshill'
)plain. Ráth Teas or Ratass in Kerry means the "southern (teas, 'tass')
Formaoil Íochtarach or Formoyle Eighteragh is the lower (íochtarach, 'eighteragh')
part of the river; Formaoil Uachtarach or Formoyle Oughteragh is upper or uachtarach, 'oughteragh
Worship by deshil and direction consciousness was subsumed in the Christian epoch, and the buildings of pagan worship were replaced and incorporated into the architecture of Christianity. Aglish or Eaglais in Kilkenny means "a church." "Church" is not sufficient to describe the differences between various Irish words for "holy sanctuary," such as eaglais/'aglish', cill/'cell'/'kil', domhnach/'donagh', díseart/'disert', urnaí/'urney', teampall/'temple,' termon/'tearmann' etc.
Aglishcloghane or Eaglais Chlocháin in Tipperary means "the church of the cloghaun / 'clocháin' or stepping stones
. Lots of Irish holy places are attributed to natural concepts or shamen recognized in Ireland as holy, but not in Rome or Mecca or somewhere legitimate like that. Desert or An Díseart in Cork means "a hermitage (diseart / 'desert'
)." Donaghcumper or Domhnach Compair in Kildare means "the church (domhnach / 'donagh'
) of the confluence (compair / 'cumper'
). Nurney or An Urnaí in
Kildare means "a prayer house."
Other architectural placenames belie a military landscape, dotted with fortresses and various fort-types--often circular--from thousands of years of history. Dunmanway or Dún Mánmhaí in Cork means "the fortress (dún / 'dun) of the gables (mánmhaí? / 'manway'?)." Rahaniska or Rath an Uisce in Clare means "circular fort (rath / 'rah'
) of the water (uisce / 'iska'
). Dingle is An Daingean
in Kerry and denotes another kind of Irish fortress. Bruff or An Brú
in Limerick is another kind of fort, with the connotation of being a mansion or hostel for comfort. Spiddle or An Spidéal in Galway is named for its former hospital ('spidéal, spiddle)
and current Ros na Rún setting.
The Irish have old roads. Ancient roads such as the tóchar, 'togher'
type seen in the Corlea Trackway are to be found still. The hurdles (cliath, 'clee')
for which Dublin gets its official name: Baile Átha Cliath describes as I understanded it a hurdled or wattled fence over the River Liffey. Such passages are very early forms of bealach or mám or bothar or gabhal or causeway constructions which give circulation to the human body of Éire's inter-connected communities. Gaelic Irish settlers built a hurdles (cliath)
over the Liffey ford (átha),
along a settlement (baile, 'bally')
that followed the river to its Black (dubh) Pool (linn) source: dubh linn / 'dublin
,' when they established Dublin before the Vikings settled with them there. Because Dublin means water, Joyce dedicated his imagination to the water goddess Analivia Plurabella. Baile Átha Cliath emphasizes that the first built environment drawing on the dubh linn dark pool was the baile or village of the hurdles (cliath) bridging north and south sides of the River Liffey's shallow ford (átha).
Drogheda or Droichead Átha in county Lú means "the bridge (droichead, 'droghed
') of the ford (átha, 'a'
)," referring to the Boyne River's shallow crossing made easier by a droghed.
Teampall an Tóchair or Templetogher in Galway means "the church (teampall / 'temple'
)of the causeway (tóchar, 'togher').
Áth na Cise or Annakisha in Cork means "the ford of the 'kish' or cise or wickerwork causeway. Ballinacor or Baile na Corra in Wicklow means 'the town (baile, 'ball') of the weir (corra, 'cor').'
Tiobraid Árann or Tipperary means "the well (tiobraid, "tipper
") of Ára (Árann, 'ary'). Rua Oileán or Roeillaun in Galway means "the red (rua, 'roe'
) island (oileán, 'illaun'
)." Órán Mór or Oranmore in Galway means "great (mór, 'more'
) cold spring (órán, oran
). Fionnuisce or Phoenix Park in Dublin took its name from a spring well near Áras an Úchtaráin which means "clear (fionn, 'Phoen'
) water (uisce, 'ix'
). An Abhainn Bhuí or Owenboy in Mayo could just as well be in China as it means "the yellow (buí, 'boy'
) river (abhainn, 'owen'
). Shakespeare's hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon likely incorporates the Gaelic Irish word for river abhainn, 'avon,' 'owen'
into its pedigree. Buaile an Fheadáin or Ballineddan in Wicklow means "the town (baile, 'bally'
) of the streamlet (an fheadáin, 'neddan'
Ceatharlach or Carlow means "quadruple (ceathar, 'car'
) lake (lach, 'low'
)." Sligeach or Sligo means "shelly (sliogeach, 'sligo')
as in shells (sliogáin)."
Some villages are associated with burial places. Caldragh or An Chealdrach in Leitrim means "an old burying ground."
Clonfert or Cluain Fearta in Galway means "the meadow (cluain / 'clon') of the grave (feart / 'fert'
)." Oileáin Uaigh or Owey Island in Donegal means "grave (uaigh / 'owey') island (oileáin / 'island'), where the word uaigh / 'owey' for grave
invokes "uaigneach / 'oweynock'" the Irish for "lonely, creepy, spooky."
Laght or An Leacht in Cork means "a sepulchre or monument."
Taimhleacht or Tallaght in Dublin is a word attributed to Biblical ages and that marks the "mass grave" or taimleacht of the people who followed Parthalon after the flood to Ireland. The Irish glossed the old Jewish stories with new characters and story sequels about what happened to Noah's grandsons for example, in Ireland.
Leaba Síoda or Labbasheeda in Clare means "the silken or fairy (síoda, 'sheeda')
bed, or grave (leaba, 'labba').
Moydow or Maigh Dumhain Longford means "the plain of the burial mound (dumhain / 'dow'
The cradle of civilization they say is in a place called Mesopotamia--where--it is said in the old Irish books--the Scythian poets melded together a Gaelic language for the Irish from the best quotes pulled from new tongues of the toppled tower at Babel. In Irish imagination, Gaelic is an international Esperanto, that soaks up influences from the rest of the world, and and assimilates them into the Gaelic.
If Mesopotamia means "between (Μεσο, 'meso'
) two rivers (ποταμία, 'potamia'
)," then perhaps Maigh Eadar Ghabhal or Magheradrool in Down "the plain (maigh, 'magh'
) between (eadar, 'er'
) junctions (gabhal, 'drool'
) is the birthplace of something liminal like civilization too. The location for the placement of "betweenness," as might be found in Idirghleann or Ederglen in Mayo, which means "between (idir, 'eder'
) glen)" is a central concept in Irish descriptions of sídh and Halloween, and may explain why Joyce's Hibernobonic word "quark"
from Finnegans Wake came to mean what it means in physics.
Toomore or Tuaim Mhór in Mayo means the "great (mór / ´'more'
), tumulus (tuaim / 'toom'
)," which are ancient Irish burial mounds where this world can become the otherworld.
Trileac or Trillick in Tyrone means "the three (trí, 'tri'
) monumental stones (leac, 'lick' means flat stone
). Tuaim Dhaoile or Tomdeely in Limerick means "the tumulus (tuaim, 'tom'
) of the river Deel (Daoile, 'Deely'). Ard Carna or Ardcarn in Roscommon means "the height (ard) of the carn or monumental stone stack
." An Ballán or Bullaun
in Galway is the word for devotional well-cups carved in rock. Slievenagriddle near Downpatrick; the mountain of the griddle
; the griddle is a cromlech on the hill. Cromleach or Cromlech
in Mayo is named for this other form of stone stack; as Cairthe or Carha
in Cabhán is also named for a megalithic form. Mothar or Moher means ruins
, and the Cliffs of Moher are named for a fort once built by Ó Ruan but long ruined nearby.
As the Olympic games are named for a bally in Greece, the Tailtean games are named for Tailtin or Teltown
on the Blackwater in Meath. Lú of the reaching rex arm began the games in honor of Tailte, his foster mother
. The games are held each year on Lúnasa, his feast day, 1st August
Suí Finn or Seefin means "the seat (suí, 'see')
of Finn Mac Cool," the Irish hero whose body of mythological literature inspired the troubadours to compose Arthur, Mark Twain to create Huck Finn and James Joyce to raise the hero back with Finn Agains wake. His throne is safe in Seefin.
Named for Finn MacCool's mother, the highest peak of the Múrna or Mourne Mountains
is Sliabh Dónairt or Slieve Donard. Dónairt was the son of the pagan chief of Ulster who converted to Patrick's gospel and founded a little church on the mountain. Long before Donard, the mountain was named for Sliabh Sláine or Slieve Slanga, Ireland's first physician
. Sláine's name is still found at Slane
Castle in Meath, and is related to the common Irish expression 'sláinte'
or 'good health!' A cairn dedicated to Sláine is still existent on Mount Donard. It is good practice to toast to someone's "sláinte" while thinking of Slieve Slanga and the antiquity of the Irish medical tradition, starting with Sláine, our first physician.
Lough Corrib flows into the Atlantic through the Galway River that gives Galway city her name. Oscar Wilde's father wrote a book about Loch Coirib, and built Moytura House there on its shore--Moytura being a mythological name recalling a titanic battle between gods. The lake gets its name from mythology as well, where Corrib (Orbsiu Mac Alloid) is a nickname for the Irish sea god Manannán Mac Lir
. Shakespeare reworked the story of King Lear from tales of Lir
, father to Manannán. Gaillimh or Galva or Galway was once a goddess
and daughter of Breasail who drowned in the river like Shakespeare's Ophelia and so gave her name to it. A woman was drowned in the dark pool of Dublin too.
Celtic mythology has inspired an enormous body of literature in modern times. The Ossianic vibe in Romanticism conjures pride in some cheeky dreamers, because if you scratch the surface of some of the most canonical Anglo-Saxon artists, you find a Gaelic Cyrano de Bergerac whispering the magic of the older Celtic tradition into his dreaming English ear. Hibernonbonics is the language of two languages that have a long history of cross-fertilization, one fertilization direction recognized more readily than the other.
Glenosheen in Limerick is a valley where Oisin or Osheen the poet
once composed in the vocabulary of the landscape of Ireland. His son Oscar
went west to the Holy Wood
, where his name Os Cara--friend of the deer--has been forgotten.
The pleasure of getting lost in the mythology conjured by Ireland's placenames is in many ways unique to that island because the island is tightly contained, like a book. Searching-out the gods and goddesses of the ancient stories is to become a kind of romantic also unique in many ways to Ireland. The Irish literary renaissance created a form in modernism now corrupted as kitschy (from the German 'poorly wrought') Celtic mysticism now made so plastic in New Age commodification culture coming from America. That plastic quality is all over Ireland too, but not amongst those Irish still connected to the organic historic Gaelachas and to the land and the language that makes Ireland a powerful generator of art. The warning of these stories is repeatedly proffered: you can submerge above your corporeal circumstances when you chase the argentine flash into the dark hole, but the body catches up when you come out into the yellow daylight.
The first stories of Irish fairy lore are placenames. The stories begin in the landscape of Ireland, but also in the names themselves. Bridget Cleary's monumental The Burning of Bridget Cleary explains fairy-thinking for its peculiar intelligence. Travel Ireland searching out the fairy places and that intelligence takes hold from the outside in.
Sión or Sion in Kildare, like Dún Síon or Dunshane gives a few more Hibernobonic words for the sídhe portal to the otherworld: shee, sion and shane.
At Brú na Boinne or Newgrange, the sun scurries beneath the earth, like the proverbial pot of gold on a leipreachán, 'leprechaun's'" back as he leaps through the proverbial rabbit hole where it's turtles all the way down. The sky time-piece taking refuge in the Otherworld below the earth has inspired many travellers to go into the night-town of Éire's subconscious.
Cnoc Chloch Grianáin or Clogrennan is "the stone castle of the grianán, 'grennan' sun-place
or summer residence." The sun enlivens mind and land. The cave is mind beyond consciousness. Ireland is freckled with sídh, 'shee' or fairy-world portals, and other subterranean places dedicated to the sun.
Cluain Cuas or Clooncose in Clare is "the meadow of the caves." Ovens in Cork is a Hibernobonic way of saying uamhanna, oovana or caves
Rashee or Rath Sídhe in Antrim is "the fort of the fairies." Banshee, bean sí or fairy woman
is the most famous class of Irish fairy resident in an English word, save for leprechaun or maybe Puck and pooka. Cheek is another Hibernobonics word for shee or fairy
. Cheek Point in Waterford is also known as Sheega Point which comes from the Irish Pointe na Síge, "the point of the sheegas or fairies
Áth an Phúca or Ahaphuca in Limerick means "the ford of the púca, 'pooka' or puck
. Shaekspeare's Puck gets his name from the Irish word for sprite. Carn na gCailleach or Carnacally in County Lú means "the carn of the good ol' woman (cailleach, 'cally'
). Gleann an Choire or Glenwhirry in Antrim means "the glen of the river Curry or Coire," where coire, 'curry' means a caldron
. The curry of the cally is the cauldron of the (good ol') witch.
Éire is a woman, a fairy, a winter woman, a goddess and a little girl. This is not just in the airland, but on the ground, where the earth of Ireland is the body of Erin.
Éire has her Tanderagee in Armagh. Ireland has her arse to the wind in Armagh, because Tóin re Gaoith or Tanderagee means "arse (tóin, 'tan') to the wind (gaoith, 'gee')." In Kerry, Éire, in the form of Ana, has An Dá Chích or The Paps, the two (án dhá
) breasts (cích
)." Claggan or An Cloigeann in Galway, where the tg4.tv movie by Na Cloigne was filmed, means "the skull (cloigeann, 'claggan'),
a round hill." Sean Gualann or Shanagolden in Limerick means "old (sean, 'shan'
) shoulder gulann, 'golden'
) or hill. Shrone or Srón in Ciarraí means "nose (shrone, srón
), a pointed hill." Srón Chaillí or Strancally in Waterford means "the winter woman's (caillí, cally) nose (srón, shrone) or point." Cluain Fiacla or Clonfeacle in Tyrone means "the meadow (cluain, 'clon'
) of the tooth (fiacla, 'feeacle'
); which is the same root for the unfortunate Hibernobonic village name Feakle or An Fhiacail in Clare. Whereas Ireland's Eye, an island in the Irish Sea, is like Brazil, which comes from Hy Brazil, where Hy or eye means í or island.
The most famous "mouth" or béal, 'bel'
of Ireland's many mouths, is Béal Feirste or Belfast.
After a few days mumbling the sounds of Irish amidst the breath-taking scenery of Ireland, a few words, adjectives usually, are used to sum it all up: beautiful, ancient, etc. Hibernobonics provides words perfectly suited to bursts of praise poetry for her majesty Erin.
An Seanmhullach or Shanmullagh is in Longford. "Old or (sean, 'shan'
) is a common adjective in Irish, and familiar to English speakers from the song 'Shan Van Vockt': An Seanbhean Bhocht, The Poor Old Woman
, a poetic euphemism for Ireland, and a way to speak about her in code. Sliabh Chuilceach or Slieve Cuilcagh in Cavan is at the Shannon source: cuilceach, 'cuilcagh means "chalky."
Lomchluain or Lumcloon in Carlow means "the bare or holy (lom, 'lum'
) meadow." An Lios Maol or Lismoyle in Galway teaches the word maol, 'moyle' or bald or dilapidated
fort. An Chaológ or Keeloge in Laois means "a narrow (caol, 'keel'
) ridge." An Airdmhín or Ardmeen in Donegal means "the smooth (mín, 'meen')
height. An Garraí Salach or Garrysallagh in West Mí means "the dirty (salach, 'sallagh')
garden." Gearrchluain or Garracloon means the "cut or short (gearr, 'garr')
meadow." Sliabh Corrach or Slieve Corragh in the Múrna Mountains means the "erratic, shifty, uneven, unreliable, unstable, wavy (corrach, 'corragh');
mountain." Iascaigh or Easky in Sligo means "Iascach, 'Eeska' or fishy
as in iasc, 'eesk' or fish
. Dún Uabhair or Donore in Cill Dara means the "fort of pride (uabhar, 'ore').
Derrydorragh or Doire Dorca in Armagh means "dark (dorcha, dorragh)
oak wood (derry)." Cluain Milis or Clonmelsh in Carlow means the "sweet (milis, melsh')
meadow." Ard Caoin or Ardkeen in Down, means "splendid (caoin, 'keen')
height." Tulaigh Álainn or Tullyallen in County Lú means "the beautiful (álainn, 'allen')
hill." Bréandroim or Breandrum in Leitrim means the "stinking (bréana, 'brean')
drum or ridge." Breaclainn or Bracklin in Iarmhí means "the speckled (breac, 'brack')
meadow." Sliabh Bearnach or Slieve Bernagh in the east of Clare means the "gapped (bearnach, 'bernagh')
mountain. An Chathair Gheal or Cahergal in Cork means the "bright (geal,'gal')
cathair, 'caher' or stone fort. Camas or Camus in Cork comes from the Irish word crooked or winding (cam, 'cam').
The highest mountain in Ireland is called Corrán Tuathail or Carrantuohill gets its name as PW Joyce explains "[because the mountain] descends on the Killarney side by a curved edge, which the spectator catches in profile, all jagged and serrated with great masses of rock projecting like teeth. Tuathail [thoohil] means left-handed, and is applied to anything reversed from its proper direction
; carrán (carraun) is a reaping hook
; and Carrantuohill is "the reversed reaping hook," because the teeth are on a convex instead of a concave edge."